Fifty Shades of Grey, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, written by Kelly Marcel

Review written by Andrés Rosende

The sky is filled with dark clouds. A storm is coming. Or at least, that’s what we are promised. That is, in fact, the reason we are watching this film after all. That, and a good marketing and publicity campaign.

Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a literature student filling in for her sick friend en route to interview billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). She is cute, insecure and a little clumsy. He is sophisticated, mysterious, attractive… and filthy rich. Love a first sight? The lack of chemistry between Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan is so evident, that it’s difficult to get past this premise. But in any case, could a premise be more stereotypical?

She comes out of the building, suffocating, the rain cooling her down. Unfortunately, the promise of arousal doesn’t ever get fulfilled and the only word that comes to mind after watching these particular people naked in elaborate sex scenes for two hours is boredom. The film seems like a housewife fantasy of forbidden love and female “empowerment” (of course by being saved by a wealthy prince charming and being submissive to him). Is this Twilight all over again? Do we really need to make more movies about women discovering their own pleasure by serving men?

Mr. Grey stalks Anastasia, buys her first editions of her favorite novels, a laptop, and even a car. He flies her around in his helicopter and takes her to his amazing (and soulless) apartment. Old fashion seduction? Next thing we know, Christian wants Anastasia to sign a contract to become his submissive. Now we learn she is a virgin. They have sex and sleep together…. and an incredible discovery occurs to Ana. She likes sex! Eventually we get to the playroom where he keeps all his sex toys.

This is supposed to be the climax of the film, the hottest sex scene, with whips and chains and the whole shebang… but it looks a lot like a 70s soft porn TV film. Eroticism? It would seem director Sam Taylor-Johnson has no clue what that is. And neither of our protagonists look very much into it. Nevertheless, they look happy. Until that night, where she isn’t happy anymore. She wants to understand why (let’s keep in mind that her main conflict in the film is getting the powerful man to cuddle with her after sex!).

The answer comes as if from a third grade psychology book (he was poor as a child and abused as a teen). Anastasia comes to the conclusion that the only way to understand him is by being punished (really? Why?). And then, the movie ends. She has grown up. She is a woman, strong, independent. She doesn’t need him anymore.

I’m not sure if the intention of this relationship was for each character to help each other grow – Christian becoming more in touch with his feelings; Anastasia more open to new experiences – but the reality is, when that elevator door closes at the end, we don’t care. There is nothing profound here; just a bunch of sexist stereotypes about gender roles and paper-thin characters. Jamie Dornan hardly seems to do, or need to do, anything to inhabit his “character.” Because the only thing he needs to become Christian Grey is to be hot, rich, and a good lover. And that is all he is. Why would anyone fall in love with him? Dakota Johnson does a much better job trying to give life to a ridiculous cardboard character. Her performance, one funny scene (when they discuss the terms of the sex contract) and a few good songs are the only redeeming qualities of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Andrés Rosende is an LA based writer and director. He holds an MFA in screenwriting and directing from Columbia University. His films have played at festivals around the globe including Cannes, Sitges, Cleveland and South by Southwest, winning more than 40 international awards.

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

Belvidere directed by Ashleigh Coffelt, written by and starring Courtney Birk

Description: Belvidere is an experimental film about a girl who tries to move on from inevitable change.

Watch Belvidere here: https://vimeo.com/117457183

Bio: Ashleigh Coffelt and I have been making experimental short films for about a year now. After two full length features, and 15 shorts later we are now sponsored and have moved over to California to continue making our dream happen. I always told myself that I could be anything that I wanted to be, but never did I think that an independent filmmaker would be in the mix somewhere. I have finally found my passion. I just hope that everyone who watches this short appreciates it as much as I do. Courtney Birk.

Posted in Filmmaker Profiles

2014 Best Film List – Brendan Rose

As Voltaire wrote: Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien. The perfect is the enemy of the good. I take something similar away from the 2014 year in film: while the year was, I think, short on absolute masterpieces, 2014 constituted a varied, dynamic year in cinema, a year possessing a greater depth of high-quality offerings than almost any I remember. Just as Hollywood continued its obsession with war films and stodgy scientist-biopics (or combinations thereof), noteworthy auteurs took chances, creating idiosyncratic works of unique beauty, if not of hands-down perfection. Visually rigorous cinematography loomed large (Winter Sleep, Leviathan, Birdman, Ida, Inherent Vice, amongst others) just as thoughtful romantic-relationship films impressed (Love Is Strange, Top Five) and hipster vampires haunted our dreams (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Only Lovers Left Alive). But in the end, it was simple old solidarity which prevailed.

As with any year, there are some promising films I have not yet seen which may have easily found a place on this list. To name a few: Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh); Manakamana (Stephanie Spray & Pacho Velez); Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-liang); Citizenfour (Laura Poitras); Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller).

Without further ado, here is the 2014 film list:

Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne): Marion Cotillard paces this superb parable of the dog-eat-dog globalized economy as observed in rugged, industrial Belgium, with nearly every move by the brothers Dardenne coming off as pitch-perfect. Vive la solidarité!

Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan): This Palme d’Or winner may lack the mesmerizing mystery and poetry of Bilge Ceylan’s recent otherworldly effort, Once Upon A Time in Anatolia, but he astonishes here with this potent character study of a compromised, half-intellectual landowner in Cappadocia.

Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson): Smoked up and dazed and confused, P.T. Anderson’s ode to Thomas Pynchon, shady crooks and corrupt cops, and early 70s Los Angeles druggie, beach and low-life cultures captivates with numerous stand-out scenes, consistently powerful imagery, and a pervasive moody, wistful tone.

Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson): Anderson, for the first time in years, insists on providing his finely cultivated cinematic menagerie with compelling stakes – in this case an interbellum Europe about to explode – and the result is a spry, sensitive work seeped in an undercurrent of sad, regret-soaked loss.

Boyhood (Richard Linklater): The annual installments of this twelve-year-in-the-making film ebb and flow in quality and interest, but the sum of these dozen vignettes is nothing short of outstanding in terms of the scope of Linklater’s accomplishment.

Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu): This zany movie detailing a shambolic, doomed theatrical production helmed by a fallen action flick hero brims with punchy, unhinged energy. Its long tracking shots through tight backstage hallways and its tête-à-têtes in cramped dressing rooms dazzle.

Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski): A journey toward deeper self-identity leads a 1960s young Polish nun to learn of family secrets tangled in the tragic events of Europe’s recent past. Painterly camerawork, masterfully efficient writing.

Love Is Strange (Ira Sachs): A gem of a film, understated in its emotional intensity, precisely, subtly performed, and memorable for a poignant third-act ellipsis.

Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer): A finely rendered, offbeat sci-fi thriller. Scarlett Johansson handles alien material perfectly as Glazer’s film becomes progressively more uncomfortable and bleak.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (Ana Lily Amirpour): The most inventive American indie of the year is this Farsi-language, art-school-kid vampire movie, sardonic in tone, cleverly cultured, proudly singular in vision.

HONORABLE MENTION (in alphabetical order): Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev); Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch); Selma (Ava DuVernay); Top Five (Chris Rock); We Are The Best! (Lukas Moodysson)

2014 Best Film list compiled by Brendan Rose

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.

American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, screenplay by Jason Hall

Review written by Andrés Rosende

American Sniper opens with a scene full of tension. A convoy of American soldiers walks through the desolate streets of an Iraqi town. Our hero, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), overlooks the scene from a nearby roof, rifle in hand. He sees a mother giving a grenade to her young son, who runs towards the convoy. Kyle has to make an impossible call: either he kills the kid or his fellow marines could die. Eastwood takes us to the edge of our seats. You can feel the audience holding its breath. At this moment, we flashback to Kyle’s childhood, youth, and the reasons he became a NAVY Seal and the most deadly sniper in American history.

Clint Eastwood is one of the last – maybe the last – classical directors in Hollywood. His pulse behind the camera is always firm. His talent with actors is also obvious and he has never shied away from controversial themes, sometimes even presenting ideas against his own beliefs as when addressing euthanasia in Million Dollar Baby. All of this is true about American Sniper. It’s good drama, with a strong, complex character. It delivers a great performance and addresses a delicate issue. I was excited through the whole film and there are some scenes that are masterfully done, including the fore-mentioned scene when Kyle is forced to kill a child and the final showdown in the middle of a sand storm.

Nonetheless, I can’t call American Sniper a great film and there is something about it that bugged me throughout. Eastwood decided not to make a political comment with this story, not acknowledging that that is impossible. Therefore, what happens is that everybody brings to the theater his or her own views of this issue and filters the movie through them. Is Chris Kyle a psychopathic murderer elevated to an American icon, or is he a true hero, a patriot who scarifies his life for his country?

By the end of the film, it’s clear that Eastwood’s main concern is to add to the myth and portrait of a sympathetic hero – damaged by war, perhaps, but an honorable man who, despite all he goes through, is also a great husband and father. In doing so, he gives us a simplistic, good versus evil, black and white view of a war that should never have happened. In point of fact, American Sniper makes some dangerous associations: Kyle decides to join the SEALS after seeing the Twin Towers go down; a few months later he is killing people (every male 16 to 65 he encounters) in a country that had nothing to do with those attacks in New York. All of them are refereed to in the film as “savages.”

The film’s lack of a clear ideology has motivated a lot of hatred and irrational comments on its Twitter feed, which could stand as a lesson to artists that they should be very careful when addressing complex issues in a simplistic way. “American sniper makes me wanna go shoot some fucking Arabs,” one Twitter user wrote. Another commented: “Nice to see a movie where the Arabs are portrayed for who they really are – vermin scum intent on destroying us.” And yet another: “Teared up at the end of American Sniper. Great fucking movie and now I really want to kill some fucking ragheads.”

Contrary to what what Kyle’s father tells him in the beginning of the film, we cannot divide people in this world into “sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.” Life is much more complicated than that. And the Clint Eastwood who directed Unforgiving and Letters from Iwo Jima knows it.

Andrés Rosende is an LA based writer and director. He holds an MFA in screenwriting and directing from Columbia University. His films have played at festivals around the globe including Cannes, Sitges, Cleveland and South by Southwest, winning more than 40 international awards.

Posted in Film Reviews, etc.