Black Coal, Thin Ice – Could Have Been a Cliché, But Wasn’t

Indeed, Chinese filmmaker Diao Yinan wrote and directed the story following an inspector, Zhang Zili – played by the outstanding Liao Fan – who from 1999 (year A) to 2005 (year Z), got divorced, was fired from the Police force and became an alcoholic; a detective-evolution cliché.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.19.55Everything started in year A, when Zhang sees his wife – who asked for divorce – for the last time and the year when a first dismembered corpse was find in a coal refinery. This is a starting point of a series of murders, all of men.

Yin’s camerawork is breathtaking, some shots are extremely poetic, not to mention the transcendent photography. A sensitivity continuing, accentuating, getting warmer and darker as the movie goes.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.22.38 Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.23.03 Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.24.37Zhang along with his colleague Wang (Yu Ailei) found a lead, which turned very wrong – into a blood bath – causing the detective his termination.
With a same amazing style and light, the director offers a real pleasure for the eye; the neons of a suspicious underground.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.29.33 Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.29.44 Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 9.31.37An ellipse flash-forwards us to 2005; a new similar murder happened. Zhang, who was in bad shape, aimless, fell into Wang, who got promoted with the years. Lucky for Zhang he got the most important info, about the case, and lead him own investigation.
What saves Black Coal, Thin Ice, from turning into a cliché, is the relationship between Zhang and the woman who’s husband was the first murdered ; Wu Zhizhen (Gwei Lun-Mei). One of the best exploration of ambiguous desire.

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 8.32.32Zhang follows her, from where she works to where she lives, until they finally start to sew a weird relationship. Their evolution is combined with desire, love-like, and duty; Zhang wants to catch her in every way possible, catch a woman as cold as ice, expressionless, passive and yet very imposant.
In a very Nicolas Winding Refn-like atmosphere, the two characters are evolving around a sensitive police case, that distorts the genuineness of what, us, spectators, observe.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 10.28.49 Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 8.28.43Black Coal, Thin Ice, is a very poetic thriller, with overwhelming beauty wrapping up some scenes. It will more esthetically captivate you than catch you with its story (which is fragile), and yet, the cinematography will pushes you to focus on Zhang/Wu duo, and get the essence of BCTI.

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Insomnia – Guilty Conscious

I loved Christopher Nolan‘s debuts. Following, Memento and then Insomnia.
He showed all his great potential, flabbergasted us with his elaborated technique in the thriller genre.
And Insomnia gathered all the elements previously seen in his movies, elements of light, structure, and the use of human memory, or brain, through images well handled.

This 2002 film has created another layer though, something profound and complex. Insomnia deals with a feeling hard to get over to; guilt.

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Will Dormer (Al Pacino) is a brillant cop, but he is discharged from a case and sent to Alaska with his partner Hap (Martin Donovan) in order to solve a “casual” homicide.
A 17 years old girl is found on a pile of garbage, dead by strangulation. From that established situation, or point, the whole movie is going in circles around that growing little sphere of suffocation.

Quickly enough we’re caught in a chase between potential killer and Will. However, chases there in Alaska aren’t really easy, they are full of obstacles, if it is not rocks and fog, its wood and water. It isn’t going to be easy.
Indeed, in the first chase in the fog, lacking of sight, Will shoots to death an armed silhouette. Unfortunately it isn’t the killer, no, it is Hap, and the killer? He saw everything.

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Insomnia really begins here. Will won’t be able to sleep until the end of the movie. He said once that a good cop can’t sleep because he misses some pieces of the puzzle, and a bad cop can’t sleep because he’s lugging something in his conscious, well now he is caught between those two situations.
The murderer, Walter Finch (Robin Williams), a poor writer is thus going to blackmail Dormer, and suggests a partnership; a kind of “if you don’t say a word, everything is going to be okay, and I won’t say a word”.

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What Nolan did wonderfully is in drawing thin lines marking off the difference between those two men. Lines of morals, values and ethic. A tiny little silk determining that border differentiating a cop from a criminal; when both didn’t mean to kill, but each one had a particular situation to respond to. Nolan added an equation to the movie to which we may consider two options. One would be -x + (-x) = -x and x – (-x) = +x. Are they both guilty? Or just Walter?

The director worked on a perfect composition with flashbacks, present images and effects of insomnia. The cop is subjected to hallucinations, auditive and visual. Then sounds are louder, flashbacks of Hap’s death are popping here and there, and sometimes Will sees him. Nolan updated Hillary Seitz‘s scenario (already adapted from Erik Skjoldbjaerg‘s novel) thanks to visual aids, and did a more than a respectable job.

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The graduate suspense of what each character will do is keeping you alert, and curious, even though some things are pretty predictable, you might be inclined to questioned the plot anyway.

What is useful to retain from Insomnia is that sleeping is when your conscious in cleared, but death is when your conscious is purged.

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Pi – Mathematical Paranoïa

Belief: Darren Aronofsky possesses a superior mind.

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This director never disappointed me, always surprised me. He find the slightest vulnerability of the human being, and expand on it, turning the failing element into a psychological-harmful obsession.
In Pi, his first movie, Aronofsky, focuses on a men, named Max Cohen (Sean Gullette), who’s, due to a childhood accident, developed a higher intelligence. And as a genius, he’s neither happy, nor social. Mathematician, he became little by little obsessed with numbers, trying to find patterns everywhere.
He’s then approached by both, Wall Street spies trying to extort from him the existence and meaning of a potential financial glitch and a jewish corporation, believing the true name of God, is in the Torah and possesses 216 words.
Coincidence or not, 216 has been a known number for Max, who ran on it while he was working on computerize stuff. A bug? A holy number? Madness took him, and his obsession began.
Suffering from odd crisis, triggered by over-work, and pressure, Max, had been hallucinating, and developing a sort of tumor. Nevertheless, he continued to try to find the meaning of this number, a number which haunted his life, soon resumed to this only thing.

Persecuted by both organizations, he suffered from strong paranoia and experienced blurred memories recalling. Thus, Darren Aronofsky, didn’t only torture his character, but also his spectators, victims of Max’s craziness, and the consequences of his defective mind. Filmed in black and white, the glaucous, oppressive, even claustrophobic, atmosphere, just got heavier with this color choice. We are trapped into an intern point of view, and therefore, the main character’s brain, where we’re looking desperately a way to escape, but are not finding it, and deeply, don’t really want to find it. And all the power of the hypnotic movie, is this sort of technological cage representation, which is itself, constituted of patterns we are trying to understand, and not escape. Just like Max is trying to understand what’s been around him, and not trying to runway from it. Alas, it will lead him to dementia and psychedelic physical and mental crisis.

Capitalization, power, money, Israeli-Palestinian conflict or just illness? What is it really about?  The director, is giving this freedom to the spectator to interpret Pi, as he wants. However, it stays a stylish hallucinatory thriller, captivating and stifling.

The Iceman – Alias, The Polack

To play Richard KuklinskiAriel Vromen needed an iceman. A guy, who’s eyes wouldn’t let anyone, see through him; an actor like Michael ShannonImageWhen I first saw, the poster of the movie, (up there), I bursted into a fire of excitement. Shannon was the perfect choice. With the crazy look on his face, and yet, the man seemed so unpredictable, he was THE example of what exactly, Richard Kuklinski had the reputation of being. And even, the poster, is quite bipolar, itself. That is to say, on the picture, even though, Shannon could scare little, the table where he’s sitting at, is an element of seizure, between what’s happening over, and under it. More especially, what was, showed as appearances, externally, and what was expressed behind the whole family, caring father, image, that he was spreading. We can clearly see, if we look straight to him, that he’s just a weird guy, having a drink or a dinner, and the second we look down, we noticed the suppressor, and the thought of “that’s it, if somebody had to confront him, he knew he would die in the blink of an eye and without any noises” this thought was what made me craved to see this movie. Now, I would lie, if I say that I haven’t be disappointed about it.

The thing is, when you decide to adapt a real person’s life into the screen, it is more difficult than if you just wanted to write it. Therefore, you have to choose the path, or some specific side of the person’s life and develop it. Otherwise, you’d get something that scatters here and there, and probably a four hours movie. In The Iceman, Vromen, aimed at focusing the script on the bipolar personality of R.K, leading him to live a double life. The whole film is about the serial killer, dealing with, his husband and father job, and his criminal one at the same time. Something, he had been able to do, until the violent mood changes. And the director, is filming this evolution, and also explaining it, using some flashbacks of his earlier, and dark childhood. Basically, those scenes, and the ones where happen the killings are the best, but the many ellipses, and the lack of links between the different periods transitions, are setting a problem, and trasmitting the feeling, that we’ve been missing something. The movie then, gets the shape of a cloze.

However, despite the outstanding, captivating and disturbing performance of Michael Shannon, the style and the “film noir” genre used in The Iceman, are precluding it from totally drowning. That is to say, the different interactions between the characters, very quick and direct; the way the victims are killed, also quickly and in the shadow, just like it would be done in a Fritz Lang movie; and how the different decades are staged, the decor, the costumes, haircuts etc. had a big role in the “movie rescue“.

If we recall the story, Kuklinski wants the best for his family, things he never had, and, if he is obliged to get blood his hands, he will. But there is something important to see, the fact, that he’s not only doing this for his family, but also, for him; he’d been beaten for years, just like his brother, by his father. This one used to count in polish while whipping them with his belt, some trademark R.K will be using before killing. And this trauma, is important because, it had consequences, on both boys, while grown up. In spite of all the efforts made to fight against their genetic destroying nature , the urge to hurt in turn, had been too oppressive and needed. By killing other people, Richard is preventing himself to hurt the ones he really cares about. Nevertheless, he has a policy: he will never touch a child or a women.ImageThe action, takes place between, 1964 and the 80’s. We’re deep, in the “reign” of the American mafia, and it’s no surprise to discover Ray Liotta, indisputable mafioso, playing the role of Roy Demeo, the one hiring Kuklinski to do some dirty work. And even if, Richard is considered as a heartless murderer, just like his boss, we’ll only develop empathy and sympathy for our main character. This is all thanks to the way Shannon is acting. He’s incarnating a devoted and poignant father and husband, he’s ability to move from a state of mind to the other, is flabbergasting, and his cold, yet reassuring behavior, is putting the spectator into a curious but interesting position; a priceless performance, for a priceless feeling.

To conclude, The Iceman, is perhaps not the greater movie of the year, or of the thriller/biopic genre, but, it has potential and a pretty great cast. Now, I’ll keep in mind, the question everyone who’ll watch the movie will think about: Is your God, able to help everyone is distress? Yes, the Iceman has, in addition, an atheistic side, that I really appreciated. Image

American Nightmare – Welcome to America!

20130819-160409.jpgI was at a friend house when the idea of watching The Purge came out of my mouth. When I first heard of the movie I thought the idea was incredible! Then I read some reviews and I was quite confused; they were bad… However I was still very excited about taking a look at it.

Basically the story is set in a near future (2022) where once in a year, at night, for twelve hours, crime is no longer forbidden. No police, no ambulances, no help: here comes the purge. But, the purpose of this “violence-free” event, is to eliminate all homeless and poor people, so that not only the crime level decreases but also the unemployment rate, and of course the economy of the country will rise.

They call it “hunting”; every armed people going out there the n-night, are moved by only one goal, which is to find and kill the poor, just like you find and kill a dear in the forest. And it is discriminatory, as far as, poor people are belittle to the status of animals. It’s not only that they are rejected by the population and at the margin of the society, they aren’t even considered as human beings.

I wasn’t quite sure, if the movie meant to be a dystopia, but what I know, or at least what I noticed, is that James Demonaco is denunciating the violence in America, and showing the cause of this phenomenon, which is the fact that guns are allowed in the country. We are talking about a violence which keeps getting a higher and higher rate, and maybe the 12hours/years in the movie will be a solution in 9years from now.

Now, the film itself, starring Ethan Hawke married to Lena Headey ( what an awful couple they make), is very very disappointing and so obvious in many ways. The catalyzer of the catastrophic scenario, is Charlie Sandin (performed by Max Burkholder), son of a famous home security developer, James Sandin (Ethan Hawke), who wanted to save a homeless (Edwin Hodge), chased by a masked organization, who was screaming for help in their neighborhood.

Most of the actors are offering a shabby performance, and the whole atmosphere looked like a bad version of Funny Games US. Lena Headey (Mary Sandin) is the worst Naomi Watts ever, and her only good scene is at the end, when she smashed on the table the face of her neighbor (must be for sure her Cersei Lannister side), the children (Charlie and Zoey Sandin) are acting “too much” and can’t be taken seriously, the homeless guy Charlie wanted to save, Edwin Hodge has two lines in the whole movie and disappear every time… Only Rhys Wakefield, a fair Michael Pitt, has done a fine job in his psychopath role.

If we had to draw a curve, showing the thrills experienced throughout the movie, we would only see a few picks. Because, the suspense is near 0 and the script really looks like it was written by a tired James DeMonaco.

In a nutshell, the concept of The Purge deserves a strong 4/5 whereas the film itself a 2/5.

Stoker – A gothic tale.

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I was very excited when I bought Stoker from the DVD store. I thought “Hey! First Park Chan-wook‘s english film, I must try this thing.”

Nicole Kidman (Evelyne Stoker) in a big house, close to the mansion’s structure, pale green of the walls; this few things reminded me the atmosphere of The Others directed by Alejandro Amenábar. But then, came her teenage girl India (performed by Mia Wasikowska) and I said “Oh my God, this is a character running away from the Adam’s family!” This blending of style and cinematographic references (Hitchcock‘s Shadow of a Doubt) were very attractive and Park Chan-wook was, once again, offering us a different menu; however it is again about revenge.

Indeed, the story is about, a family torn apart when the father (the handsome Dermot Mulroney) dies in a “car accident”, and his brother, the so-called uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) came into the lives of the widow and the fatherless girl.
The relationship mother/daughter is defective, they are more represented as rivals than family and we can feel some jealousy between the two. Therefore, when Charlie came, the mother, literally jumped into his arms, and India, at the first place seemed more suspicious about this uncle who came from nowhere, but the more we go deeper and deeper in the movie, the more we ask ourselves “maybe, India is jealous, and angry about this uncle who choose her mother over her”. Thus, when he tried to get close to her niece , she rejected him, again and again.
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That’s when the most beautiful scene of the movie is showed. She was playing the piano, and Charlie came (again from nowhere) to play with her; and at this specific time, a duet was formed. They kept playing and playing this bewitching music, with from time to time some scary tones in it. And it felt like it was more than a duet; it felt like the music was the fruit of sexual tension or action; India was having sex with her uncle through the piano, and when she was close to reach the orgasm, her uncle stopped, and disappeared.
But the girl was somehow relieved, from something, even if we don’t know what yet.

The incest in the movie is trivialized, or at least used as an element of horror. The obsession the uncle had for India for years and all the manipulative actions he took to get close to her, was quite frightening. Until where sociopaths can go to get something which had been forbidden for a very long time?

We are spectators of the India’s initiation to crime. Her uncle killed, in front of her, a boy who was trying to rape her. He strangled him. And when she came home that night, she went to the bathroom to clean herself; and at first, I thought she was crying in the shower, but something totally different was happening…  She was masturbating thinking of the murder, and reached the orgasm when finally she came to the part where the neck of the boy broke.
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Here again, Park Chan-wook directed a disturbing but somehow fascinating scene, alternating different shots. It is unquestionable that Mia Wasikowska is perfect in movies where she has a relationship with someone older, and is doing a perfect job performing those roles. She seems pure, discrete and reclusive; but this is only outwardly. She develops through the film an admiration for this men who came suddenly into her life, and who is so different from his father, and had this attractive craziness, and captivating look into his eyes. Wasikowska might be representing one of the greatest actors of her time (even if sometimes, her tastes in movies can be discussed).

Every character in the movie is bringing mystery and awkwardness, and the whole atmosphere, the crimes, those different characters, all of this was kid of reconstituting the Cluedo (the deduction board game). We, spectators, knew about the weapon used by the murderer, and who it was, but we were watching the others finding out. Only the dead father brought some humanity and love to the film, and to India, preventing her, while he was alive, of finding she had a killer nature. He was controlling this.

We cannot be disappointed by Park Chan-wook’s work, even if you didn’t like it this much, you always find something which was worthing watching the movie. And this is the most important thing in a filmmaker’s work: trying his best to attract by any way the spectator’s eyes.
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The Call – Call for an emergency.

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What a shitty end.

The Call could have been one kind of a truly thriller masterpiece if we erase the outcome and rewrite it. The whole structure of the movie is nearly indisputable (despite some overused clichés) and Halle Berry‘s performance is quite convincing; we experienced somehow a sort of “I knew you my whole life” feeling, because of her easy-to-catch personality.
However, we keep asking this recursive “why”. Why is that movie ending this way?! Were they tired near the end of the writing of the script, so they decided to scamp it? Or did they make experiences with different samples of spectators and ends, in order to made them vote, afterwards,for they favorite outcome? I don’t know.

I will try to forget about this “accident” and remind myself of this incredible stress I was in, while watching The Call.
A psychopath killer, traumatized by the premature death of her sister, victim of leukemia, tried to retrieve his late sister’s hair, as if he owned them to her. For that, he keeps on tracking blond teenage girls. Jordan (Halle Berry) made a mistake the first time, she won’t do the next.

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Well, obviously Michael Eklund makes an outstanding fucked up psychopath. He seems too real, too natural, and this is what gives you the creeps. This sensation of “reality”, is at the edge of the unbearable. Unfortunately for the seeker of thrills, he will be disappointed because of the “clichés” I mentioned above.

It is important to add something about the performance of Abigail Breslin, incarnating the character of Casey Welson. She leaves us unsatisfied and especially, again, near the end because of for her “too much” and too superficial acting.

Nonetheless, the suspense is at his best, and we found ourselves being pretty active spectators.

One advice: if you want to plenty enjoy the movie, just stop 10minutes before the end.

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