"When an actor comes to me and wants to discuss his character, I say, ‘It’s in the script.’ If he says, ‘But what’s my motivation?, ’ I say, ‘Your salary.’"
This is a a no budget, low fi, mystery, suspense, sci-fi thriller shot on a Canon DSLR that is packed with more ideas than your average sci-fi blockbuster, most of them bordering on fantasy. This little flick is in the same vein as Primer (2004), Timecrimes (2007, where a lot is achieved with very little, all through strong writing and adroit execution and relying on ideas to produce ambitious, wide reaching, heady, twisty, mind bending, and high quality work.
The story begins when a ground of friends gather for an evening dinner party. Everything seems normal and ordinary until the power goes out. They soon discover that the entire neighbourhood’s power is down except for one house. A few of them approach the house to check it out and soon return somewhat shaken, having seen something they can’t quite explain. Soon strange and creepy occurrences start taking place; smartphone displays crack, banging on the door, car windshields are smashed, people appear in the shadows, and all of it somehow has to do with a comet passing Earth on that very night.
This is one of those one-location movies, where the entire movie takes place in one small setting, in this case, the confines of a house. And it is always exciting to watch what the filmmakers can do with limited resources and a group of actors, as they have to overcome many obstacles and find creative ways to keep us engaged and not lose our attention. And in that regard, Coherence (2013) surprisingly engages early on and keeps you hooked till the very last shot. It builds an eerie atmosphere and an unsettling tone. It gets you curious and intrigued as it explores themes of parallel universe, alternate reality, duality, individuality, the fear of the unknown, heady scientific ideas and theories, also managing to function as a relationship drama and a suspense thriller. The mystery keeps you watching and the actors keep you invested. Co-Writer and Director James Ward Byrkit proves that you don’t need gazillions of dollars and A-list star cast or expensive CGI to craft a truly engaging and satisfying sci-fi film.
Of course, movies like these never get big screen treatment and never make shit loads of money that most crappy sci-fi blockbusters do. But this will definitely turn into a cult classic in the near future and will be watched by many over and over, discussed, dissected, and studied, because that’s what great science fiction films do; invites its viewers to use their own interpretations, to reflect on the ideas explored by the film, to share their opinions and views on various elements of the film rather than numb them with relentless CGI and fantasy action, which is fun sometimes, but you end up purging the Science in the Fiction.
The only flaw I can find in the film is that sometimes the characters, their reactions, their motivation for the actions they take, some of the dialogues and a few performances don’t feel authentic and seem a bit forced at times. Also, the hand held aesthetic here took me out of the movie a couple of times, though it did add urgency and intensity to a few other scenes, but still the camera was shaking way too much and sometimes actors’ faces got cropped where they shouldn’t have been. But these are very minor flaws in a film that achieves so much and do not affect your overall experience.
The filmmakers of this little movie have proven once again that all you need is a unique idea, a strong screenplay, a single location, dedicated actors and skilled craftsmanship to make a solid, gripping, mind bending, sci-fi flick, or any flick for that matter. In that regard, Coherence deserves the love of the same audience that Primer (2004), Timecrimes (2007), Upstream Color (2013), Moon (2009) and many others of its kind have earned.
I give it 3.5/5✩ with a B
"I think your whole life shows in your face and you should be proud of that."
"Part of the sickness in America is that you have to think in terms of who wins, who loses, who’s good, who’s bad, who’s best, who’s worst…I don’t like to think that way. Everybody has their own value in different ways, and I don’t like to think who’s the best at this. I mean, what’s the point of it?"
Blue Ruin (2013)
Blue Ruin (2013) is a Kickstarter funded feature film that is probably little seen and almost completely ignored by the general public. But it got heaps of praise from critics and based on the reviews I gave this film a look. Boy, was I happy to find this little gem.
The story is about a beach vagrant, a homeless man living off of thrown away food, taking showers by breaking into people’s homes, and scavenging whatever he can find, while his permanent base is an old blue pontiac that belonged to his parents. One day he receives news from a local police officer about the release of a man who killed his parents years ago. Revitalised with new found purpose in life, the beach vagrant sets out to avenge his parents by killing the man responsible for murdering them. But soon after committing the deed he finds himself fending off the man’s entire family and forced to protect his estranged sister from harm. He then sets out to settle the score once and for all by taking matters into his own hands.
Tragic, funny and violent. This film is a quiet, slow paced, minimalist revenge thriller that takes its time to build up to a bloody, explosive climax. Don’t go into it expecting a full blown action packed, Charles Bronson-fronted action thriller, you’ll be greatly disappointed if that’s what you’re expecting. Instead it does something different within the familiar tropes of the genre. There are bursts of violence that come unexpected and out of nowhere, and the film strides along at a slow but purposeful pace, taking time to develop its lead character and his journey to become the who will protect what’s left of his family. It’s a character study within the revenge genre while never going over the top.
The film is very well shot and composed, the camera work is smooth and the plot is slight but carefully constructed, unfolds slowly to reveal a few unexpected twists that make things interesting. Writer and Director, also DOP, Jeremy Saulnier shows great craftsmanship and promise as a director. He has the makings of the next big director and he has a style of his own. This film shows what he’s capable of and it also shows when you do justice to crowd funding, especially when the end product is this good. I hope all those who shelled in their hard earned cash to fund this film got their money’s worth.
Marco Blair makes for a very unusual leading man but he really makes his character work. He projects a kind of sadness to him, he conveys the tragedy of his character’s life through his emotive, mostly silent performance, and rises to the challenge when he is required to resort to violence, showing a different facet of his character, who may appear weak, timid, and introverted but isn’t afraid to die and will do anything to protect his sister.
If there’s any fault in it, it’s that the film is a little too slow paced at times, with not much happening, except in-between and until the climax. And it still feels like as if Saulnier has a long way to go before his style can become a signature. At times this film can feel like the early works of a great director who will be known for his later, much more fleshed out and accomplished films. But that’s just me.
A well balanced performance and terrific film making make for a solid little revenge thriller that deserves a lot more audience than it got.
I give it 3.5/5✩ with a B
I love movies that are set in one location, with one character, movies that are a one man or one woman show; movies like 12 Angry Men (1957), Moon (2009), Cast Away (2000), Tape (2001), and recent movies like Buried (2010), 127 Hours (2010), Gravity (2013), All is Lost (2013) etc. Such movies are so much more fun to watch. They are exciting in that they bring the creativity out of its creators through the limitations of the setting/premise and it’s thrilling to see how they come up with clever ways to make the film engaging and not bore us.
Locke (2013) joins the same ranks. It’s a brilliantly executed drama set entirely within the confines of a moving car. Its lead character interacts with other characters only through a hands free phone installed in the car, that’s the dramatic structure, that’s where the conflict is built from. The movie opens on a construction site and then we see Ivan Locke get into his car leaving the site, later we find out he is a construction foreman and he has left things incomplete just hours before the commencement of a historic project. We find out that he’s made a mistake, he’s driving towards some place, and along the way he is going to make tough decisions, life altering decisions, decisions that will have ripple effects, decisions and choices that will affect not only him but people he knows, because he is willing to pay the price for that mistake. He’s a man with a purpose, a man who is in the driver’s seat, in control of his life, a man who will make everything okay, he will fix everything, he will take care of his personal, professional and private life. He’s a man fighting himself and his everything in his existence.
Locke (2013) is an existential examination of how one mistake or one decision can have drastic changes to your whole life, how the choices you make have an effect on everyone around you. “The difference between a moment and an instant is forever”, as one character tells Ivan Locke. Ivan Locke fights to overcome his demons, his flaws, his father, and various other conflicts to do what he thinks and believes is right. It’s a tense, gripping drama that requires an actor who can carry the film and keep us engaged throughout the ride. After all this is a movie about a man in a car, literally.
Tom Hardy’s the perfect man for the job. The camera stays above Hardy’s waist all through the movie and Hardy takes up the challenge of conveying the frustrations and emotions of his character through his face and hands, while communicating with other actors only through a hands-free phone. He commands the screen and keep us glued to the film till the end. He has proven himself to be quite a versatile actor over the past decade and he certainly drives this film home, excuse the pun.
Written and Directed by Steven Knight, the writer of the excellent films Eastern Promises (2007) and Dirty Pretty Things (2002), makes a confident second feature as a director after the disappointing Jason Statham vehicle Hummingbird/Redemption (2013). He could’ve faltered here as well, the film could’ve gone wrong in so many ways. But his focus on the character and the writing makes Locke (2013) a compelling watch. It’s a stripped down character study, where we get to look into the soul of a man who is tested by life and face the consequences of his decisions and choices. I was, however, a little underwhelmed by the revelation of the “mistake” Ivan Locke made, which initiates the whole plot. I thought it was something much more grave, something that was going to put Locke (2013) and the people close to him in danger, something that echoes a thriller. But instead it settles on a somewhat cliched reason for the mess Ivan Locke gets himself in.
But that’s just a minor gripe i have with the film. As it progresses forward, the dedicated acting and adept direction, and a unique setting makes up for the flaws. In the end I found myself liking this film a lot. It felt like watching a deeply engaging stage play that is both thought provoking and emotionally satisfying.
I give it 4/5✩ with a B+
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
One of the best films of the year. Epic in scope, ambitious in its execution, thought provoking in its ideas and themes with special effects that are truly ground breaking and revolutionary and taken to the next level, to the point where you can’t distinguish a motion-captured/CGI character from a human character because you’re so invested in the story. When they say special effects should serve the story not overshadow it, this is what they mean. There are no caricatures or simple good guys or bad guys. These are characters who have tough decisions to make, who are reacting to the change that is taking place around them, who have to protect their families, who have to rise up to their responsibilities, they are complex and not just one-note. The character development of Caesar is especially astonishing; seeing him going from a confused youth, a prisoner to a revolutionary from the first movie to a father, a husband, a leader trying to protect his people and keeping a shaky truce with humans in this movie.
Matt Reeves has really emerged as a director whose work should be keenly anticipated from here on out. He and his team of wizards have delivered us a mature, dark, and wholly refreshing vision and I can’t wait to see how they develop this saga forward in the next sequel, seeing how much potential it has generated from this sequel alone. I can already see them taking us a few more years into the future when Earth finally becomes a Planet of the Apes. As it stands right now, individually, it works just as well without even having to look back on the first movie in this franchise, and that’s a remarkable achievement. It sometimes feel like a small drama full of conflicts within the confines of a summer blockbuster.
Andy Serkis and Weta Digital have taken motion capture to the next level, quite possibly a human level. The performances by both (CGI) Apes and humans are great, but every time the Apes take over the screen, it’s breathtaking and a sight to behold, especially Caesar once again. There is a sense of power, command, ferocity in their presence and performance that the humans can’t match. You are completely invested emotionally and visually, that they look and feel real not just some computer generated fakery. The first film had some dodgy CGI effects but here, it’s so advanced and so well rendered that it looks like a giant upgrade. This could really be the film that could make history if the dim-wits at the Oscars actually acknowledge and honor Andy Serkis’ performance.
All in all, a thrilling and highly satisfying science fiction thriller that is hands down one of the best big-budgeted, summer blockbusters of all time; a sequel that leaves its predecessor far, far behind.
I give it 4/5✩ with an A-
P.S. Avoid the 3-D version as it adds nothing to the experience.
"If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great."
High and Low (1963)
A successful shoe maker business tycoon receives a call that his son has been kidnapped. But the kidnapper made a mistake and instead have kidnapped his driver’s son. He just put his entire fortune up for sale for a deal that will make him the largest share holder in a business deal against his competitors. Now, stuck in a dilemma and left to make a moral choice, the tycoon must decide whether to put his entire livelihood in risk and end up with nothing and a huge debt or save his driver’s son.
Despite having released over half a century ago, this Kurosawa classic still kept me on the edge of my seat, involved and intrigued all the way to the end. A surprisingly gripping, suspenseful, if a little straightforward and commercial for a Kurosawa film. The first hour or so takes place in the same location, setting up the plot and characters brilliantly through great writing and dialogues without ever shifting from one place or another. Then the drama moves to the police investigation side of the things.
It’s really expertly executed film, showing us a much more modern and advanced Japan and the changing culture and morality of its people. Not your usual Kurosawa affair, it’s a lot less complicated in terms of plotting and scripting but never too boring or predictable. It packs quite a punch and it’s definitely worth watching. Although, I was expecting much more than a straight up procedural drama.
I give it 3.5/5✩ with an B
The Hunt (2012)
A nursery teacher in a small community is wrongly accused of sexual abuse when one of the children reveals that he’s committed the act. But instead of investigating into the matter, the entire community condemns his actions and soon relegates him into an outcast, almost like a leper; little by little destroying him. But he refuses to fight back because he knows he’s innocent but it only makes matters worse.
A powerful, devastating and revealing human drama about misunderstandings, misguided accusations, how quick we are to jump to conclusions and condemn others without knowing the full truth, how a society responds to a particularly shocking incident, revolving around a difficult subject matter, who, without once thinking, makes quick implications because that’s how we as a society is supposed to respond to such matters, even giving in to rumors; exposing people’s hypocrisy and narrow mindedness.
Bolstered by a very strong, sympathetic performance from the great Mads Mikkelsen and crafted and executed with quiet, slowly building intensity, by the former Dogme ‘95 member, Thomas Vinterberg. The Hunt (2012) is one of the finest films to come out of Denmark. It’s a searing, shattering and thought provoking drama that deserves all the acclaim.
I give it 4/5✩ with an A-
"Civilization is like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of chaos and darkness."
"If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it - then I can achieve it."