A Trip To The Movies: Review – “The Tribe” 8.19.15

Plemya Movie Poster

As many of you might already know, including my movie meetup and discussion group whom I now see movies with weekly. I have what some may call somewhat of a unique approach to how I pick and choose what films I see. It’s really a rather simple one from my perspective that starts by following press on all of the major festivals that take place throughout the year. Festivals like Cannes (you can pretty much guarantee that if a movie premieres and is well received at Cannes, I will be seeing it later that year or whenever it gets released in the US), New York, Toronto, Sundance, Berlin, and Venice I keep on my radar all year, and then from that point I devise a list of whatever was well received at such and such festival. And that pretty much sums up how my list gets generated. Now there are some exceptions, like films from directors that I admire who choose not to premiere their films at any of the major festivals. Whic applies but is uncharacteristic and is somewhat of a rarity. But even more importantly, this “method” or “approach” to picking films opens up many doors to some of the more lesser known titles that do well at their festival premieres, but unfortunately just don’t seem marketable to a wide audience (and some might say aren’t meant to be). A lot of these are foreign. And each year there’s a pretty substantial list of about 15-20 foreign films that I flag that were well received at some of these festivals, many of them garnering nominations in several categories, and others who wind up winning. Those seem to be the ones I take a closer look at and almost always will add them to my list of movies to see whenever they wind being released here in the States.

Such was the case with “The Tribe”. A film that first caught my attention when it won multiple awards (3 out of the 4 it was nominated for) at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Second, and what struck me most, was that it had what appeared to be a rather unique concept – which was (and I quote) – “a movie that unfolds through the non-verbal acting and sign language from a cast of deaf, non-professional actors—with no need for subtitles or voiceover—resulting in a unique, never-before-experienced cinematic event that engages the audience on a new sensory level.” At first I thought to myself – “wait a minute…so basically a contemporary take on the “silent film”?. So while it certainly piqued my interest I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it. Then I kept reading one good thing after another after another about it and decided to myself that there must be something here of value. Knowing little to next to nothing about it other than the 3 awards it picked up at Cannes, the film’s highly original concept, and seeing the kind of trailer that I love but are rare nowadays in that it told you little to next to nothing about it, I jumped at the opportunity to see it during its 1-night/1 show limited engagement here in Portland.

“The Tribe” was nothing like I had ever seen before. It was a total immersive experience into the world of the all deaf characters that inhabited the film. It also totally went against any expectations or preconceived notions that I had going into it. What worked for me here on almost every level is the filmmaker’s ability to engage the audience and keep them on the edge of their seats throughout its entire 2+ hour duration. A mighty difficult task to do taking into account that it revolves around a group or “tribe” (i.e. a gang) of deaf Ukrainian boys in a boarding school (if you even want to even call it a “school” – those who see it will know what I mean) that spend little to no time in class (why would you if there’s nobody there to tell you to?). You see, to expand on the story much further would give away some key spoilers that could potentially ruin it for those who plan to see it. But what I will say is that in this this particular school its boys and girls operate and function in the furthest possible realm of anything you could imagine of what we deem as a proper school. Which forced and challenged the audience to guess what it really all revolved around. It’s a stunning achievement given the many shapes and forms the story takes on as it unfolds, and it brings you deeper and deeper into something you just might not thought possible. The cinematography is beautiful, with long tracking shots and very few edits that really allow the viewer unprecedented access into the proceedings. It’s somewhat of a “deaf crime film” that was incredibly intense; never mind highly controversial, with its highly explicit sex scenes and unspeakable acts of violence in its final act that I almost had to look away from (really). In trying to keep this short as again to not give away any spoilers, “The Tribe” wound up being the most truly unique experiences I’ve had at the theater so far this year, and I walked away from it speechless. It’s a master work of foreign cinema, and it should easily earn a spot on my list of the best films at year’s end.

[B+]

Cannes Favorite – The Tribe – Limited Engagement 1 Show Only – Hollywood Theatre

Wednesday, Aug 19, 2015, 7:30 PM

Hollywood Theatre
4122 NE Sandy Blvd Portland, OR

6 Portland Film Enthusiasts Went

Winner of multiple 2014 Cannes Film Festival Awards, THE TRIBE is an undeniably original and intense feature debut set in the insular world of a Ukrainian high school for the deaf. The movie unfolds through the non-verbal acting and sign language from a cast of deaf, non-professional actors—with no need for subtitles or voiceover—resulting in a uni…

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Weekend Recap: 2 Trips To The Movies (One Current One Back) Reviews – “Me And Earl And The Dying Girl” + Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) (6.27-6.28.15)

Winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Me And Earl And The Dying Girl” came with much anticipation (as you may have read in my Top 10 Films of the Summer Movie Season section). I essentially knew little to next to nothing about it. And only very recently saw a trailer for it when I was seeing another film last weekend. What I did know is that for a movie to be bestowed the 2 above awards at such a prestigious festival such as Sundance (the last film to have pulled off both awards was the year prior with Damian Chazelle’s “Whiplash”). So really knowing next to nothing about it, other than what I could discern by the movie’s title and a trailer that surprisingly revealed very little. This looked like it could be one of those perfect indie sleeper hits if from the little bit that I had heard turned out to be true.

METDG involves 3 central characters, all of whom I had previously been unfamiliar with prior to seeing this film. There’s Greg, the self-absorbed, quick witted loser who lives with his two eccentric parents (Nick Offerman playing his dad is a total stand out), Rachel, an acquaintance of Greg’s who we learn very early on is diagnosed with leukemia, and Greg’s “business associate” Earl, which is really what they just call him because together they make their own self produced films, which are more or less updates of older films of movies they love. Greg is coerced by his mother to go visit Rachel which he is reluctant to do at first because he knows it will be out of pity. But then the two of them sort of “hit it off” so to speak, and Greg becomes an integral part in Rachel’s treatment of her leukemia along with his (again “business associate”) Earl. As the two of them bind together to make Rachel a film in case she winds up succumbing to her disease.

This movie exceeded my expectations and then some. There were so many different components that I liked about it that it’d be a rather difficult task to list them all here. So I will stick to just the essentials. First off, is the razor sharp, funny, and witty script co-penned by author Jesse Andrews, who wrote the book of which the film is based on. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much consistently throughout an entire film in as far back as I can remember. The directing by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon was also another one of the film’s strong points, as the camera zips along at a rather fast pace which constantly demands the attention of the viewer. I also couldn’t get over the amount of winks and homages there were to so many great films that have come out through film history. Which any cinephile or film buff won’t be able to contain themselves to do nothing other than just smile each time a reference or nod is displayed on the screen. Then most importantly there’s the story itself – which does an outstanding job straddling the lines between drama and comedy. At times I found myself laughing hysterically out loud while at other I found myself holding back tears. Even more so it hit about every nerve on the human emotion spectrum possible which is uncommon and hard to do in this day and age of cinema. Lastly, was how invested I was in both the characters and story. I found myself thoroughly engrossed and immersed myself in both the story and the three central leads throughout the entire duration of the film. I’m already predicting this one, as early as it is in the year, to even quite possibly slip as a Best Picture sleeper hit come awards time at the end of the year. And as it should. METDG is one of those films that should undeniably be universally liked. And will please both independent film fans and fans of commercial audiences alike.[B+/A-]

Alfred Hithcock’s “Psycho” (1960) is probably one of my 10 all time favorite films of all time. To explain why you would really have to go into how I became a student of film as a teenager. With my film studies teacher at the time showing us this and I was pretty much blown away by it. Since then, I’ve done a presentation on it in a Psychology class as it’s considered the “first psychological” film of all time. A genre that would go and to be and still is my favorite. So for these couple and many other reasons I jumped at the opportunity to see it on the big screen. What’s so great about “Psycho” 55 years later after its release is how well it still stands up. Unlike other major motion pictures of that time, Hitchcock took a more unconventional and incredibly controversial film for its time, and made it into one of if not the greatest and most influential example of psychological horror in film history. Hitchcock clearly displays here why he was labeled “the master of suspense”. Viewing it even now 55 years later, he expertly and masterfully enters the audience’s psyche and creates a story filled with a constant sense of unease and extreme suspense and horror. It’s shot impeccably well, with various symbolic elements layered throughout (birds and taxidermy are a constant motif) and two stand out performances by Janet Leigh, who is billed as the main character but who dies halfway into the film in still one of the most impressively shot and undeniably murder sequences in the history of cinema – “the shower sequence”. Then there’s Norman Bates himself (played by Anthony Perkins) who plays the quirky motel manager to the utmost perfection. Then there’s the cat and mouse chase throughout, with Leigh’s character running off with a stack of money, only to disappear, and the number of people who follow Hitch’s trail of bread crumbs only to meet their inevitable demise. Then there’s the relationship with his mother, also expertly executed, where as a viewer, we’re never quite sure if she’s asking Norman to commit the heinous murders or if she just exists inside his head. There’s just so many remarkable aspects about the film that it’s hard to carve them all down to just a single review. Here’s what I will say, the film stands up and doesn’t seem in the slightest bit outdated 55 years after its release. And despite maybe being the most influential psychological horror film of all time, its also a great examination of mental illness and how inner conflict (Norman suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder) can lead to disastrous results. This was and still is a landmark achievement in film history. And one that still stands up as one of the most important and influential works of all time. [A+]

*Please Note Change In Movie/Time/Theater – This Sat 6/27 Me+Earl+The Dying Girl

Saturday, Jun 27, 2015, 4:45 PM

Regal Fox Tower 10
846 Sw Park Ave Portland, OR

5 Portland Film Enthusiasts Went

“Me & Earl & The Dying Girl”(2015)(This Weekend’s Meetup-Saturday, 6/27)Another festival favorite that won both the Audience Award and Special Jury Prize at Sundance. This looks like it could be this year’s sleeper hit that could wind up boding well with the Academy at year’s end. If early, positive praise from critics means anything.Please RSVP …

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A Trip To The Movies – Review: “The Theory of Everything” 1.24.15

This was yet another film that was up on my list because more so maybe now than ever in years past, I’ve become much more inclined to go out and try to see all of the Academy Award nominated films that I at least have the slightest bit of interest in. Given that I’ve pretty much seen almost everything out that I’ve really wanted to see (no easy feat let me tell you) I’m getting down to the last few remaining picks before the Oscars. This being on my list in that it garnered nominations for Best Picture, Actor (Eddie Redmayne – who won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama), and Best Actress (Felicity Jones). Both actors who I was previously unfamiliar with prior to seeing this film. That and I learned just recently that it was directed by the great British director and documentarian James Marsh, who won the Best Documentary award with his breakthrough documentary “Man on Wire” (2008) about French tightrope walker Phillippe Petit (still considered to be one of the best documentaries ever made by both myself and many other people I know). He then enlisted himself to do part 2 of one of the best made-for-TV movie/miniseries that was broadcasted on TV in Britain – 2009’s “Red Riding: In The Year of Our Lord 1980”. Which was incredibly dark and took a probing look at a team of investigators attempting to stop the infamous Yorkshire Ripper in the eighties and nineties U.K. Then followed Marsh’s next documentary, the one in which he would yet again win a coveted prize for Best Documentary at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival for “Project Nim”. Following this he came back the year after to release “Shadow Dancer”. A suspense/thriller starring the great Clive Owen about an IRA informant in 1990’s Ireland. So to be perfectly honest I chose this film with the Oscar nominations in mind first plus the fact that I’ve really liked all of the director’s work that I had seen up to this point. The movie begins circa the early 1960’s and introduces us to real life, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking (played by Eddie Redmayne), who by a chance encounter meets Jane (played by Felicity Jones). Both are PhD students in different areas of study. The two seem smitten with one another, and Stephen puts his thesis on hold to develop a relationship with Jane. He does however seem to be interested in explaining the theories of both black holes and the creation of the universe. One day his muscles give out while he’s walking and he crash lands on his head. While hospitalized, the doctors tell Stephen that he has been diagnosed with a neurological disorder that will affect his motor skills, and in a matter of time almost all of the major muscles in his body will shut down, disabling him from being able to talk, walk, or move most of his body. Naturally as anyone would upon hearing such devastating news, Stephen begins to isolate himself from the others around him in which he cares for, particularly Jane, who after some avoiding confronts Stephen and confesses her love for him saying that she will be by his side no matter what. The two soon happily marry and have their first child but Stephen’s condition seems to be worsening. He does however prove his theory on black holes, and in doing so winds up becoming a world-recognized physicist. Though with Stephen’s degenerative disease and his condition it makes Jane’s life increasingly difficult, as taking care of both her children and Stephen begins to become a bit too overwhelming for her. Will their undeniable love for one another persevere or will Stephen’s increasingly worsening medical condition force them apart? This is one of the major themes of the story. One in which the rest of the film goes on to explore. I mostly enjoyed this film despite a few minor critiques of it. But before I get there I think it’s important for me to highlight the incredibly outstanding performance by Golden Globe winner Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking who is truly the heart and soul of this picture. I always hear people, especially critics, talk about how much easier it is for an actor to play someone developmentally challenged, who are dying with a disease, or have a mental illness (though spoofed perfectly in 2008’s “Tropic Thunder”). I would tend to disagree, as I think these kinds of roles feel like they’re far more challenging for the actor (just watch Javier Bardem in 2004’s “The Sea Inside” and then come talk to me). Redmayne here is astonishing as is Felicity Jones as his wife Jane (though unlike his performance I thought hers was not quiet worthy of a Best Actress nomination, though not taking away from the fact that it’s still a very fine performance). It mostly works as a part bio-pic as a look into the life of Hawking while also placing equal focus on the love story element of both he and his wife. Both of which I thought for the most part were nicely done. James Marsh’s direction here is superb as is the film’s cinematography. I also really enjoyed the film’s score by Johann Johannsson, who receieved a Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination for Best Original score for his work here. My couple of minor criticisms is that it kind of shied over a lot of his scientific accomplishments and what made him so famous in favor of focusing on the relationship component of the film. I also thought it was a bit conventional dramatically in terms of how films of this type typically play out. That and while effective, it pandered to the audience a bit by tugging at their heartstrings. All of that aside I liked how it focused more of showing the unflinching nature of the degenerative aspects of Hawking’s disease and how debilitating it actually was rather than show him overcoming it. To me that aspect came across as very real and I thought that was the way it should have been shown (similar to how Roger Ebert’s illness was depicted in last year’s brilliant “Life Itself”) in order to give it a sense of authenticity. Despite my few minor criticisms of it, there’s a lot to like in “The Theory of Everything”, especially the two lead performances, especially that of Redmayne’s. This is a powerful film even though slightly flawed that has a deep emotional core that moved me deeply from beginning to end despite its contrivances that I was ultimately willing to overlook because it was such a beautifully made film. [B]

A Trip To The Movies – Review: ‘Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead’ 10.16.14

I practically almost made the mistake of choosing not to see this one in the theater. As it was only playing for 6 days at one of the local cinemas here in town that show rare, harder to find films that mostly go unnoticed by the general populace. What sealed the deal was revisiting the first one and watching the DVD extras. In it there’s a “From East To West” segment, that showed writer/director Tommy Wirkola and the group of actors flying from Norway to Utah to premiere the first film at the Sundance Film Festival back in 2009. What they captured was the uproarious audience reveling in all of the chaos and mayhem that was going on on screen. It didn’t look like there was a single member in the audience who didn’t look like they were enjoying the hell out of what they were witnessing on screen. A similar experience that I had with the first film except, unlike them, I had missed seeing it in the theater and wound up watching it on DVD on my own. Without a captive audience. I thought to myself well, given how much I loved the first installment and how much fun it looked like seeing it in a packed house had, I’m going to make a game time decision to see it on its last day at the last showing of the night. After some ramblings on with the person I bought the ticket from. Who had apparently really liked it and appeared disappointed at her employer’s decision to shut it down after one week (apparently it didn’t do very well in terms of ticket sales) I sat down and watched after one person after the next pile into the theater and knew I was in for a treat. As it seemed like the only way to see this type of film – with an audience.

The second one picks up from exactly where we left off with the first. Except in traditional sequel fashion, Wirkola throws us a quick montage of the series of events that transpired in the first. Martin, the only remaining survivor from the first, manages to escape a horde of Nazi zombies but gets into an accident. Through a white gaze we see him waking up in a hospital. Apparently Martin survived the accident and comes out uninjured. That is until the doctors tell him that they’ve gone ahead and reswen his amputated arm that he lost in the first. Not only that, but they’re pinning on h the murders that occurred in the first film. I mean after all, who in their right mind would believe he lost it because of Nazi zombies? Meanwhile, Colonel Herzog is back with force, and realized that he now holds a new gift. One that should ensure his agenda of complete and total Nazi zombie takeover. Martin also realizes he also has a new gift (or curse?) with his new reswen arm. He manages to escape in a scene of both absolute hilarity and depravity. Only to wind up at a WWII museum. That holds something that Colonel Herzog and his band of Nazi zombies want. Enter in the “Zombie Squad”. A group of rag tag zombie hunting wannabes who are about as novice as they come. Still, they hear of Martin’s situation of trying to fiend off zombies, and consider it their god given duty to fly from America to Norway to help. Both they, Martin, and the Norway police all band together and come up with a plan to reawaken the Russian soldiers from the dead to help them fight off the Nazi zombie clan. And that’s really when the fun starts, and an all out war ensues.

This movie is about as much fun as movies get. For those who are fans of the genre of course. If Wirkola brought his 70% arsenal the first go ahead, this time he goes all out. And proves why he is the reigning champ of the post-aught horror-comedy genre. Wirkola takes every first admenment right of what we’re allowed to show in film, and gives a big middle finger to censorship. If you thought the first one was sick. You really have no idea what you’re in for with the second. It purposefully chooses to go leaps and bounds above the first one, and presents us with something that’s equally as funny, demented, and balls to the wall sick, as filmmaking possibly can go. As if you thought you saw it all in the first one, this one has Nazi zombies wrecking havoc by pretty much any means possible, on the unsuspecting local townspeople. Wirkola raises it a notch with the level of over the top violence. A feat that I honestly didn’t think was achievable coming off the first. The main difference between this one and the last, is that if the first one relied more on its horror leanings, this one is far more on the comedy side. And effectively does so might I add. The last 20 minutes is complete and absolute insanity. With a German vs. Russian fight finale that rivals anything that we were shown in both 1996’s “Braveheart” or 2002’s “Gangs of New York”. That, and just when you think things are finally over. Wirkola hits the audience with an ending montage of a familiar classic rock background song that’s pure comedic genius and had the entire audience clapping when the house lights came on. Despite its more intentional comedic and sillier leanings, which I can’t see everyone liking, this is about as good as horror sequels go. Or better yet, sequels in general. A must see especially for fans of the first.

Grade: strong B