Movie review: Wind River

Movie reviews

Hello!

Let’s take a break from all the summer blockbusters of varying quality and give a chance to the dying genre of the regular movie. This is the review of Wind River.

IMDb summary: An FBI agent teams with a town’s veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation.

Taylor Sheridan

Wind River is a thriller, written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. Sheridan’s name might be unfamiliar to a lot of people, but cinephiles should know him for writing two recent marvelous pictures that both had some awards potential – 2015’s Sicario and 2016’s Hell or High Water. While Sheridan didn’t direct any of his previous scripts (Sicario was done by Villeneuve, and Hell or High Water by Mckenzie), he does have some directing experience, having helmed 2011’s horror film, Vile. Wind River is being distributed by the awards whisperers The Weinstein Company. Their involvement combined with Sheridan’s previous track record might actually give Wind River a chance to make some ways during the proper awards season. More importantly, the film highly deserves that.

Writing

Sheridan, similarly to his previous movies, has written a story that’s both thrilling and entertaining but is also thematically clever. Wind River, a film inspired by true events, is set on a Native American reservoir and the first victim of a crime is a young Native American woman. The local police are not equipped to solve the mystery, while FBI is also not willing to pay a lot of attention. This fictionalized account goes very much in line with the real life events (so, ‘inspired by true events’ sentence is accurate). As an anthropology student, I have studied a few cases of Native American women going missing in the north of North America and the local authorities doing nothing to find them (in class, we mostly focused on cases in Canada but the film’s Wyoming’s case was very similar). Wind River’s story at least had a somewhat happy ending and some closure, however, that’s usually not the case in real life. So, it was really nice for a film to end with a sentence about the statistics of missing Native women –  a call to action, even if it will probably go unheard.

The depictions of the reservoir life seemed quite accurate. The problems within a Native American community – the drugs and substance abuse, poverty, the loss of identity and the marginalization – were all mentioned. The relationship between the white Americans and the Native Americans was represented in a variety of ways. The viewers saw both a friendly relationship of a white man being, more or less, a member of a community and an outsider white American being seen as a hostile stranger (at least in the beginning). Lastly, even though some of the ideas and relationships in the film could be seen as very specific and having a limited crossover, the overarching themes of the picture were survival and family – two extremely universal concepts that are understood across all cultures.

I have mentioned the historical facts as well as topics of the movie, let’s now turn our attention to the actual detective story. To begin with, I found it refreshing to see an FBI agent and a local hunter working together and listening to one another, rather than competing to reach the same goal. It was also nice to see a completely professional relationship without any pushed romance being depicted. The reveal of who the criminals were – 5 white, less than bright, drunk men from a working class background – was maybe a bit disappointing at first but, on a second viewing, very much grounded and realistic. Plus, the scene that followed the reveal – the rapid shoot-out – was unexpected in the best way possible and also oddly satisfying.

Directing

While Sheridan’s directing style wasn’t groundbreaking, it was still good in its subtlety. His direction for the picture was mostly elevated by his own amazing writing. Visually, the film looked nice – the sweeping shots of the mountains and snow were naturally gorgeous, while the sequence of the snowmobile action added an element of effortless coolness. The pacing was very good too – the film was constantly building to a crescendo and also delivered on it. Wind River was definitely a great effort from a sort of new director.

Acting

At the center of Wind River, two Marvel stars were reunited – Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. They both did a magnificent job. It was nice to see Renner continuing his indie/awards career alongside his blockbuster-focused one (he was just recently in Arrival in addition to Civil War, MI5, and Age of Ultron). Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla) has really come into her own as an actress and is probably now more famous (acting-wise) than her older sisters.

The supporting cast, thankfully, provided an opportunity for some Native American/First Nations talent to shine, like Gil Birmingham (he was also in Hell or High Water), Julia JonesGraham Greene, and Martin Sensmeier. Jon Bernthal (Baby Driver, The Accountant, We Are Your Friends) also appeared in the film, reuniting with Sheridan, after having worked on Sicario with him. 

In short, Wind River is an emotional, smart, and entertaining thriller that deserves more recognition that it will probably get.

Rate: 4.4/5

Trailer: Wind River trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: The Beguiled

Movie reviews

Hello!

A festival favorite and one of the strongest summer contenders for the awards season – The Beguiled – has premiered, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: The unexpected arrival of a wounded Union soldier at a girls’ school in Virginia during the American Civil War leads to jealousy and betrayal.

  1. The Beguiled was both written and directed by Sofia Coppola, latter of which was awarded at the Cannes Film Festival – she became the second woman ever to the Best Director Award. I’ve seen some of her films (The Bling Ring and Lost in Translation), but I’ve always had her other pictures on my ‘To watch’ list. I really need to do a movie marathon consisting of not just hers but of The Coppola’s family tree films.
  2. The movie’s script was based on a book A Painted Devil by Thomas P. Cullinan and the main topic being explored was the taboo issue of female sexuality and, especially, the repressed female sexuality and its dangers. Thus, all the character development mostly revolved around this issue, with not much attention being paid to anything else. The actions of the women did not make them into likable characters, while their choices at the end of the film were really quite shocking, which, I guess, was the intention. I did like the jab at the ‘Southern Comfort’, though – it’s the food that kills you. Literally.
  3. The writing for the lone male character was the best and he was the most well-rounded individual. His slay manipulations could really be seen in Colin Farrel’s (The Lobster, Fantastic Beasts) performance: he knew what each of the ladies wanted him to be and fulfilled that role. He was the older brother and an adult of the world to talk to, he was someone to impress and a potential suitor. Mostly, though, he was the personification of the budding sexual fantasies. These type of manipulations in his demeanor and the bursts of anger made me kinda see his demise as weirdly justified.
  4. Coppola’s directing was full of classical elements, like the steady camera, the old school ratio, and the long shots. These long shots really dictated the pacing of the film. The Beguiled was slow but carefully crafted, however, I did feel that, on a few occasions, some shots were lingering for too long without any intensity in them to make up for the lack of literal action. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the way Coppola realized the setting of the Civil War, with the noises of the battle going off in the background, but never allowed it to overpower the romantic drama happening within the house. The Beguiled wasn’t a Civil War film but a romantic thriller set during it. For the first hour, it was quite innocent (flirty and cute), while the last half hour was full of unforeseen cruelty and insane choices (all those repressed feelings were just bubbling over).
  5. I’ve already briefly touched upon Farrel’s smooth performance, so, now let’s look at the female cast. Nicole Kidman (Genius, Lion), Coppola’s usual partner Kirsten Dunst (Hidden Figures, Midnight Special), Elle Fanning (Trumbo, The Neon Demon), Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys, Spider-Man), and Oona Laurence (Southpaw, Bad Moms, Pete’s Dragon) all starred in the picture. The sexual tensions and frustrations were palpable in all of their performances with the exception of the youngest cast member Laurence.

In short, The Beguiled is a beautiful and slow art-house cinema offering that focuses on a theme that is still not as widely discussed as it should be, in the year 2017.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: The Beguiled trailer

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Movie review: Okja

Movie reviews

Hello!

When the international release schedules fail me, Netflix provides. Let’s review their newest original picture Okja!

IMDb summary: Meet Mija, a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a fascinating animal named Okja.

Writing

Okja was written by the director of the film Bong Joon-ho and the author/journalist Jon Ronson. The narrative they crafted was just extraordinary. At a glance, the film appeared to be a live-action family adventure. However, in addition to being very entertaining all ages film, Okja was also unique, different, clever, innovative, and very topical. The premise, given in the opening, sounded insane but also sort or realistic (honestly, humans have come up with crazier solutions to the global problems). The familiar family film elements, like the child-animal bond (which sorta reminded me of The BFG), were mixed with the concepts of the corporate world, like bureaucracy, advertising, social media impact and public image, and GMOs – the ideas usually found in dystopian movies. On top of it, the distinct shades of the Korean culture, starting with the Korean language being used alongside English (I loved how the language barrier and translations were part of the plot), added another layer of uniqueness to the picture (it might not seem that out of the ordinary for anyone familiar with the cinema of the Far East).

Okja’s relationship with the vegetarian/vegan movement was super complex too. The film definitely placed the horrors of the mass meat production to the forefront and destroyed the barrier that the supermarkets have created between the production of meat and the consumer. The animal abuse was also hard to witness (tbh, now I am wondering whether animal rape is a thing) but it helped to prove a point that Okja was going for. The ideas expressed through the inclusion of the Animal Liberation Front were also fascinating. It is important to note that the screenwriters wanted to portray this group as peaceful yet still found ways to show its radicalness (beating one of their own for betrayal, starving to not leave a carbon footprint). I also appreciated the partially ambiguous ending of the film: while the personal win was achieved, the broader battle was lost. And yet, as the post-credits scene suggests – the fight continues.

Even though the movie was quite serious, it still had a few chuckle-worthy moments. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but the poop jokes in Okja were adorable rather than annoying. The company’s driver, who was completely done with his job, was also a hilarious addition.

Directing

The South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho directed Okja and did an excellent job. He is probably the most well-known to Western audiences for Snowpiercer – another topical and unique film that is still accessible because of its cast of well-known Hollywood actors. While I liked Snowpiercer a bit more, I still have plenty of good things to say about Okja. First, the tone – a weird mixture of satire, theater, and realism ( a less kooky version of A Series of Unfortunate Events). Second, the action – the chase sequence through Seoul was was both fun and entertaining yet still had a lot of heart to it. The score, which accompanied the said sequence, was also magnificent, from the trumpets in the instrumental score to the usage of the song ‘You Fill Up My Senses’. The design of the Okja animal was good too – she was a cross between a hippopotamus and pet pig. The CGI was okay too – not super photo realistic but good enough for the movie.

On a side note, the story of this film’s release is almost as fascinating as the film itself. Okja was first booed at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival for being a Netflix film and then received a standing ovation for being a movie of extreme quality. Not only do the festival goers can’t seem to make up their minds, they also appear to be living in the last century. The film release practices are changing and they should catch up to that or risk becoming irrelevant in their field.

Acting

The movie had an ensemble cast, lead by a young actress Ahn Seo-hyun, whose performance was so pure: full of innocence and wonder. The Hollywood heavyweights like Doctor Strange’s and Hail, Caesar!’s Tilda Swinton (once again, completely transformed for the dual role) and Life’s and Nocturnal Animal’s Jake Gyllenhaal (in an eccentric and cartoonish performance that still somehow worked) provided the support. Swiss Army Man’s Paul Dano also starred (he is always really good in non-mainstream/indie films), while Lilly Collins also had a small role – she is actually headlining the next Netflix original film – To The Bone.

In short, Okja is a delightfully smart and entertaining picture that you can watch from the comfort of your own home. The best Netflix film so far!

Rate: 4.2/5

Trailer: Okja trailer

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Movie review: The Lobster

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before the year comes to a close, I’m catching up on a few films that I’ve missed and I’m reviewing them on this blog. Today, we are talking about The Lobster – the highly regarded indie flick that had a limited and festival release last yeat, but only premiered in the majority of countries in 2016.

IMDb summary: In a dystopian near future, single people, according to the laws of The City, are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in forty-five days or are transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods.

Writing

The Lobster’s script was written by Efthymis Filippou and the director of the film’s Yorgos Lanthimos. In a sea of dystopian mainstream films, The Lobster stands out as a dystopian indie picture. It’s an absurdist story full of unique, original, funny, entertaining, uncomfortable, disturbing, and, of course, thought-provoking moments. It has a great narrative structure: the story starts without a warning, the viewer is just dropped into the world of the picture and left to figure stuff on his/her own. The surprises come in the first minute. The rest of the story is told organically through the great dialogue, however, the voiceover is also present and very effective. Its existence kinda makes the movie feel like a documentary, meaning that the events happening on the screen appear to be real, and, thus, even scarier.

The movie has some great themes and explores them in an interesting and fresh way. It basically takes the world’s obsession with love and perverts it to the max by making the process of falling in love into a mechanized rather than natural and organic thing. The film really succeeds in showing the radicalized absurdity of love and dating . It also asks the question of what is a real and what is a fake relationship. In addition, The Lobster accurately presents the contemporary view on the single people (the single people are still seen as less valuable members of society – we haven’t get rid of some conservative ideas just yet). The film also exaggerates the divide between the singles and the couples, by only presenting the two possible extremes without a middle ground. It also examines the taboo topics by making them appear as even more taboo than they are.

All of the characters in the film are reduced to a single feature and turned into ironized stereotypes not only for comedic but also for intellectual purposes. The animal symbolism is also very telling in the film, as lobsters are supposed to represent deep emotions while the film’s world seems to be completely emotionless. The Lobster also takes a subtle jab at today online dating culture which aims to match people up based on the percentage of their likeness and similarity. What happened to the ‘opposites attract’ idea?

Lastly, The Lobster’s ending is great: both satisfying and unsettling. It is definitely not a Hollywood type of a happy ending with the destruction of the dystopian world and the uncertain but hopeful future for the society. No, The Lobster ends with people stuck in an unfortunate situation, trying to make the best out of it.

Directing

The greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, with whose previous work I’m sadly not familiar with, does an absolutely stellar job with The Lobster. He presents the dystopian ideas in a very old-school, tradiotonal looking settting and really plays up this contrast between the normality and the absolute weirdness. He also gives the film a feeling of stagnation through the usage of the steady camera and the unmoving frame. The grim color palette also adds to the overall atmosphere. The great score by Johnnie Burn compliments the visuals really nicely. I especially enjoyed the mundane sequences which were accompanied with over the top epic and suspenseful orchestral numbers. The contrast was jarring and incredible.

Acting

All of the cast does an absolutely amazing job, bringing their nameless (for the most part) characters to life. Colin Farrel (Fantastic Beasts) is stunning in the lead, Rachel Weisz (The Light Between Oceans) absolutely nails her emotionless and actually quite scary voice over, while Ben Whishaw’s (SuffragetteThe Danish Girl, Spectre, In the Heart of the Sea, A Hologram for the Kingstiffness and monotony are jarringly appropriate too. Léa Seydoux (Spectre) and Olivia Colman (Locke) also deliver amazing performances.

In brief, the experimental art pictures (High-Rise and even The Neon Demon) are really hard to rate. I cannot put its worth into a number but I can tell you that The Lobster is a surreal, bizarre, and funny in that WTF kinda way film.

Rate: ?/5

Trailer: The Lobster trailer79027645349865d432662d9e4e919a6c.jpg

Cinema Camp 2016

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!

On my blog, I usually post movie reviews with a few sightseeing or more personal diary-like entries about my experiences doing various kinds of stuff. Well, today, I’m combining these two types of posts and writing about my weekend, which was spent at a Cinema Conference/Camp.

This particular cinematic event was held for the 7th time and was organized by non-governmental arts organization Meno Avilys. I had a chance to spend almost 4 days in the company of various Lithuanian and foreign filmmakers and film-lovers. The topic of the conference was The Eye of The Cinema, so we focused a lot on cinematography and camera work.

The conference was held at a newly refurbished and renovated Gelgaudiskis Manor and its surrounding areas – this is where the ‘camping’ portion of the weekend comes into the picture. The majority of the participants lived and slept in tents, with the exception of the organizers and specials guests, who stayed at a makeshift hostel. The catering services were established in a school cafeteria, so the whole conference had a ‘children’s camping trip’ kinda aura. However, this aura was also mixed with the feeling of bohemia. It was a strange and long weekend.

I’ll now go through each of the days of the conference and will elaborate on the various lectures and screening I attended.

I and a few of my friends, which are also cinephiles and/or film students, arrived at a camp on Thursday evening (Day 1). After registering and settling in, we had a chance to listen to the opening lecture by the Lithuanian Film Theoretic Lukas Brasiskis on the topic of the Eye of the Cinema. I really enjoyed his presentation and agreed with the idea that the Cinematic Eye can both transform reality and help a person look into it. Afterward, we watched Dziga Vertov’s experimental film Cinema Eye from 1924. We ended the night with philosopher’s Nerijus Milerius piece on the eye and its place in the Snuff Cinema.

Day 2 started with a few workshops, where the aspiring camera operators could learn the tricks of the craft from Lithuanian cameramen Eitvydas Doskus and Vilius Maciulskis. After lunch, the director’s Audrius Stonys lecture on the ethics of documental films took place. Then, another Lithuanian director Deimantas Narkevicius showcased some of his earliest works and held a Q and A session. The day was closed with meet and greet with Polish camera operator Adam Sikora and we also watched a film he has worked on with the director Jerzy SkolimowskiEssential Killing. During the night/late evening, a Russian Rock band Megapolis performed a visual and musical homage to the Soviet films that were never made due to heavy censorship called From the Life of the Planets. I loved the idea of this performance, just wish it wasn’t held so late in the evening.

Day 3 finally saw some female professionals sharing their ideas. The Researcher of Cinema and its Visuals Natalija Arlauskaite gave a lecture on Censorship, while the art critic Agne Narusyte discussed Performative Symbols in Cinema and Photography. The third day of the event also had three of my favorite lectures/screening of the whole camp. First, the American Film Theoretic Gabriel Paletz gave a lecture on Citizen Kane and Movie Climaxes, then the great French cinematographer Agnes Godard held a Q and A gathering and we also watched a movie she made with Claire Denis – Beau Travail. Lastly, we rounded up the night with an In Memoriam assembly for Abbas Kiarostami and enjoyed his brilliant work by watching The Wind Will Carry Us, which I had a chance to study at university.

On the last day of the camp/conference (Day 4), the focus was shifted more to the new technologies and modern ways of looking at cinema. The Lithuanian artist/programmer Bartosh Polonski told the participants about virtual reality and the opportunities that the current technologies create. Before lunch, the Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravicius held a test screening of his documental feature Mariupolis. The cinematic weekend was closed with an open discussion/panel with various operators: the aforementioned Eitvydas Doskus and Vilius Maciulskis, who were joined by Mindaugas Survila and Vytautas Katkus.

Overall, I had a really pleasant time at this event. My background in film is tiny, so I always take every opportunity to learn about the field from the professionals who work in it. I also tend to focus a lot on mainstream films, so it was really nice to be exposed to more experimental and indie features. It was also delightful to learn more about the cinema of my own country, as I do usually watch foreign films, especially those made in the English language. I arrived on Thursday with an open heart and an even opener mind and did not regret a thing. While I might need a break from indie and experimental films , I’m certain that I will be coming back to them more often than I did before.

Thanks for reading!

Photos from the event and the location it was held in:

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