Cinema Paradiso: Catching Up on The Little Films of 2014

Ash here! I realized I have had Chris as a special guest on my blog and have never really introduced him. Among our group of friends, Chris is known as the human IMDB (Internet Movie Date Base). He loves watching films and discussing their impact on our personal lives and their impact on society. He will watch any movie, even if he knows it will be bad, just to have a perspective and earn the ability to review that movie. Warning: Wife Bragging Moment: Chris is actually in school, as he works full time, to be able to teach History and Film Critique. It’s so empowering to watch him chase after what he loves the most. Wife Bragging Moment over. Thank you. Ok, here’s Chris!

When you see Guardians of the Galaxy four or five times, you tend to forget about those smaller independent films that can fall between the cracks in the high-octane summer blockbusters.  Such is the case with me these past three months, mostly due to budgetary reasons. I didn’t get the chance to venture out to see much of the smaller films that I was excited to see.  With very little class work due this week (yes, I’m in college for what has seemed like an eternity), I decided to catch up on some recent releases on Netflix and VOD.  Here’s my short takes on some recent little-known films you should maybe check out.

Blue Ruin

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray and Amy Hargreaves

Blue Ruin is the “revenge flick” that settles the revenge within the first 20 minutes of the film, only to see how this complicates things for the protagonist’s personal life.  Dwight, played by a fairly unknown actor, Macon Blair, exacts revenge on the man who killed his parents, only to have it backfire. As the film plays out, we find out how this blood feud may or may not have begun.  There isn’t anything especially unique or new about this film, but it’s well made and at times, a suspenseful film.  The director never tries to romanticize or agree with Dwight’s revenge nor condemn it either but instead, lets it play out as naturally as possible.  Dwight is trying to survive not by criminal skill but by improvising through his lively hood. Macon Blair gives a terrific performance, as someone who is grief stricken without laying on the emotions too heavy, something in which a top- billed actor would feel necessary to do.  The pain and anger is already placed on his face without him speaking one word at the beginning of the film. It’ll remind you of No Country For Old Men without the grandiose Americana characters and perhaps, with a more conventional satisfying ending too. The film is streaming on Netflix.

Under The Skin

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams and Adam Pearson

Last year was the McConaissance (Matthew McConaughey had a big year, from his scene-stealing performance in Wolf of Wall Street, to his Best Actor Oscar win and the run as Rust Cohle in True Detective), maybe we are now entering into the Scar Johanaissance?  Despite my stupid usage of the word “renaissance” hear me out on this.  She starts out her terrific year in maybe her best performance to date by only using perhaps her strongest acting asset: her voice, in the film Her. A few months later, she makes do with what she is given, in a thankless part in one of the biggest hits of the year Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Then she holds her own as the lead character in the action movie Lucy, which became one of the successes of the testosterone heavy summer movies.  Have I made my case yet?  If not, I offer you Under The Skin.

I’ll try to give as little away as possible while trying to describe and explain this film. Scarlett Johansson plays a mysterious woman who roams the streets of Scotland to seduce men into her sexual web (“sexual web” maybe the dumbest term I’ll ever write but it’s the best I could do), who are at no way aware of what they’ve gotten themselves into. What little I can tell you about Under The Skin, is that it is surely one of the more unique films of the year. An eerie, sometimes haunting film that deals with the familiar themes of sexuality and humanity, with a fresh perspective by director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast). In her performance,   Johansson is asked to be more of an observer of the world instead being an active part of it.  The film is asking her to react to things around her and to see how she deals with a world she doesn’t quite understand completely.  I won’t say this film is for everyone but if you’re looking for a cerebral, puzzling, dig deeper for answers film, then this may do it for you as it did for me. It’s available for rent on Netflix.

The Only Lovers Left Alive

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska and John Hurt

No character has been put on film more than Dracula. In a few weeks, we’ll be given a Dracula origin story: Dracula Untold (pretty self explanatory title).  With that, the subject of vampires has become a staple among the horror genre.  Every ten years we think we’ve seen every vampire story there is to tell and Hollywood gives us what we enjoy from our vampires all over again.  The sex appeal from True Blood, scariness from The Strain (I use scariness not because it is, but because that’s what the makers want it to be) and the silliness of The Twilight Series has kept vampires in cultural consciousness recently.

Jim Jarmusch (Stranger Than Paradise and Coffee & Cigarettes) doesn’t take interest in the familiar aspects of vampires.  Instead, Jarmusch’s interest is in the toll of living for a thousand years and what it would do to you spiritually and mentally.  Tom Hiddleston plays Adam, a reclusive musician who has become tired and burnt out on the world after “living” for a very long time.  He as become annoyed with the human race, which he calls zombies, that have wasted what they have been given while still fascinated with what they are capable of doing.  Jarmusch explains through Adam and Eve (played by Tilda Swinton) how we’ve lost appreciation for what came before us.  Our lack of love for the art, music, and literature that as shaped society has left us with an empty love for what is now considered art and popular.  The best moments of the film came from watching the relationship of Adam and Eve, to see what it would be like to be married to someone for several centuries, gives new meaning to everlasting love.  The lovers and the film are unfortunately interrupted by Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), who pays an unexpected visit to the home of our two lovers.  The visit takes away from the pleasure of watching Hiddleston and Swinton conversing, as people would do that have seen Rome built and burned. It may be the most romantic film of the year, but I haven’t seen About Last Night yet so maybe I should hold off on that statement.
Available to rent on VOD.

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