Monthly Archives: November 2013

Charlie Countryman (2013)

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See, this is why you should always watch a film that interests you no matter what, regardless of the general consensus. I don’t know why, but it seems like the past few years have been overflowing with hidden gems that many have dismissed, simply presuming that the opinions and habits of other (idiotic) film-viewers are infallible. Films like “On the Road,” “Only God Forgives, and “The Counselor” have all been notoriously smashed by critics and the general public alike, resulting in an abundance of undeserved negativity, virtually non-existent box office returns and so on. For example, I’ve read a few articles on all the aforementioned flicks, including “Charlie Countryman,” and they’ve all been deemed irrefutably flawed by the majority, in some way, on the top two reviewing websites, those being IMdB and Rotten Tomatoes. The only reason I bring those two up is because in my experience, they’re what a significant amount of movie-goers check for info and testimonials before heading to the theatre or renting a flick.

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People are impressionable you know, when they read a bad review, see terrible opening weekend numbers, it sticks with them, and as much as I try to be, I’m no different. I’ve been excited about “Charlie Countryman” for a while now, but when I saw this black hole of hate engulfing it, I became a little leery. The only thing that kept pushing me forward were my past experiences with the films I previously mentioned. They were all shot down before even being given a legitimate chance. So I vowed that I’d never toss a film to the wayside without due diligence, and boy has that attitude payed huge dividends. While not a contender for best picture of the year, “Charlie Countryman” does have purpose and merit. It’s different, intriguing, heart-wrenching. This might be a bad thing for some, but I like to be sad with a film just as much as I like to be content. So let’s do away with useless cinematic conventions and give the underdogs a chance. Finding films with value on the periphery are all the more rewarding and personal, they stick with you.

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“Charlie Countryman,” Directed by Fredrick Bond and written by Matt Drake, is an extreme love story you won’t soon forget starring Shia LaBeouf, Mads Mikkelsen, Evan Rachel Wood, Rupert Grint, and Til Schweiger. Not to mention tremendous supporting performances from Vincent D’onofrio, Melissa Leo, and John Hurt. Now, with a cast of this caliber, it’s easy to see how some have set the bar unreachably high. But let’s discuss the film itself for now, we’ll return to the performances in a bit. We join Charlie (LaBeouf) in a bit of a crisis, his mother is not longed for this world and he’s struggling with the simplicity of his existence. After his mother passes, Charlie sets off to Bucharest in order to keep a promise he made to her and to realize, experience his life. On the plane, Charlie finds himself in another precarious situation regarding death and promises. Upon landing, amongst the chaos and confusion, Charlie meets Gabi and immediately falls in love, but soon understands that anything worth while comes with sacrifice.

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Right off the top from the plot’s description, it’s clear to see that “Charlie Countryman” isn’t anything out of the ordinary story-wise. This isn’t a problem, simply push the tale’s lack of originality to the back burner and enjoy the film’s strengths. Director Fredrick Bond does a marvellous job capturing the harsh, underworld beauty of Bucharest. A city that doesn’t often get he chance to strut its stuff on the big screen. Complimenting the skylines and structures is a magnificent, entrancing soundtrack that is lively, ambient, and intoxicating. The score, for me anyway, was the pleasant surprise of the entire film. Now, although writer Matt Drake did struggle creating something of individuality and that will stand the test of time. There is some terrific dialogue that’ll give you reoccurring chills. He didn’t get a lot of things right with “Charlie Countryman,” but the one thing Drake’s script isn’t, is cliche.

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Getting back to the portrayals, I mean, what can one say? It’s hard to blame anyone here for “Charlie Countryman’s” faults. In the title role, Shia LaBeouf clearly cherished every moment on screen and the honest ambiguity the character afforded him to unleash. The sadness, happiness, and emotional range he executes is flawless. As for his character’s lover, Gabi, portrayed by the lovely Evan Rachel Wood, there’s nothing to dwell on brashly here either. The accent may get a little ridiculous at times, but she’s equally as emotionally invested as LaBeouf. Now, the main reason I caught this flick was to watch Mads Mikkelsen. No offence to the cast or crew, some of which whom I adore greatly, it’s just that he’s just near the top of my to-watch-list. While Mads doesn’t blow the top off “Charlie Countryman,” he doesn’t phone it in. With his resume, it’s simply hard to turn up a performance that rivals his greatness. The supporting cast is also superbly strong. Compiled of some of the best in the business, if the story and cinematic aspects don’t get you, the cast surely will.

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Superlatively acted, visually striking, and emotionally strong. “Charlie Countryman” may not have the staying power some might have hoped, but is definitely strong enough to evoke a response.

Charlie Countryman: 7 out of 10.

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The Last Days On Mars (2013)

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Ruairi Robinson’s “The Last Days On Mars” sure picked one hell of a time to unveil. With sci-fi stunners like “Europa Report” and Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar heavyweight “Gravity” already lighting up the screen so far this year, it appears this horrific space adventure is a tad too late to the party. That being said, although it certainly doesn’t measure up to its brethren’s immense successes, this little tale about a group of astronauts fighting off their colleagues turned space-zombies offers up a few moments of pure brilliance and one heck of a soundtrack. Make no mistake, this flick is only related to the previously mentioned gems by label only. Their content, premises, and aspirations are in no way alike. While all three are technically science-fiction, their sub-genres greatly differ. “Gravity” is more of a thriller, “Europa Report” a mix between mockumentary and drama, and our current subject “The Last Days On Mars,” is without question, a horror. So one must critique accordingly.

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Reading through some of the more harsh reviews out there, I noticed terms like “over-saturation” and “generic” getting tossed around, not to mention the opinion floating about that another perfectly sublime sci-fi epic was ruined by falling back to convention and common ploys. Then you have those claiming that “The Last Days On Mars” failed when compared to the genre’s efforts this year, and to their credit, they’re idiotically accurate. Of course it crumbles when lining it up alongside films like “Gravity,” the two aren’t even in the same league! All this criticism does is make it easy for those on the fence to get caught up in the negativity surrounding “The Last Days On Mars” and disparage it all together. When in actuality, it’s anything but your run-of-the-mill space horror. The acting is strong, the visuals breathtaking, and the soundtrack rivals those of past, great sci-fi epics. There is value here, one just needs to look beyond the mistakes.

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“The Last Days On Mars” is a lot like a plate of food you receive at a fancy banquet hall or that someone has ordered for you…instead of throwing it away, just pick around what you don’t like. Sure, you could be a baby about it and toss the whole meal out all together and miss out on something spectacular, or you can live a little and swallow the occasional bitterness just to say you had. This film, this plate, this smorgasbord of space, spectacle, sensation, and slaughter might be chaotic, inconceivable, and tired, but it’s also beautiful, stimulating, and rewarding. I can tell you in confidence that there is a hell of a lot things I genuinely loved about “The Last Days On Mars,” and yeah, a few that didn’t sit well with me. Yet, I’m not going to throw something away just because I don’t particularly like or agree with all of it, which is what a lot of viewers seem to be doing with this polarizing look at exploration and discovery.

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Director Ruairi Robinson makes his full-length feature debut with “The Last Days On  Mars,” and for the most part, it’s a reassuring, impressive one at that. He’s a little shaky from time to time, but doesn’t get too comfortable in his mistakes. At times, his quick movements and jumping around will nauseate you a tad, but other than a few questionable scenes, it’s a successful outing. There’s moments he captures of such beauty and atmosphere that they’ll leave you shaking your head in disbelief. If there is a weak spot in the film, it’s the screenplay. Scribed by Clive Dawson, the structure can seem nonexistent at times and the story a little worn out. That being said, there are some lines of dialogue that blew me away and moments of excellent substance that make up for any wrong doings.

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Max Richter, who’s probably best known for his musical contributions to Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” composes the original score for this flick…and what a score it is. I mean, What can I say? After I finished watching “The Last Days On Mars” I went and bought the soundtrack…that’s probably the best summary I can give. Go and give it a listen, you won’t be disappointed. As for the cast, led by Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, and Romola Garai, I felt they really grounded the film, gave it that human element is desperately needed. They frequently executed Dawson’s dialogue to heartbreaking effectiveness and melded into a dysfunctional, occasionally funny family on the edge of collapse and death in the middle of nowhere. Granted, things could have been a little stronger and consistent on the acting front, but for what they’re given, this cast does a respectable job.

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Look, this ain’t Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine,” Duncan Jones “Moon,” or Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity.” It has similar themes, motivations…you know, some fragments of those films, but not to the same extent, nor is it as thoroughly executed. Odds are if zombies in space isn’t a flavour you prefer, this film isn’t for you. That being said, its stunning visuals, transcendent score, and powerful characters make “The Last Days On Mars” a notch above the genre’s drivel, enough anyway to make it recommended viewing.

The Last Days On Mars: 7.5 out of 10.

 

The Guest List: Silver Screen Serenade

Another Friday is upon us…you know what that means don’t you? It’s time for another kick-ass edition of The Guest List! This week I am fortunate enough to have Cara from Silver Screen Serenade contribute her very own top 10 to the segment! If you don’t already subscribe/follow to her site, I highly suggest you do so…right after you read her incredible top 10!

If you’re interested in submitting your very own top 10 to the segment, here’s how! By the way, I’m still waiting on a lot of you to send a post over, so if you can, throw an e mail my way letting me know when I can expect it by.

All you need to do is shoot me an e mail (thecinemamonster@gmail.com) with your name, website info (if you have one), and the topic you have chosen for your top 10. If I like what I see, I’ll give you the all clear and you can begin composing your entry. Make sure to include a descriptive, yet brief introduction and a picture or clip for every entry in your top 10. Use my own top 10s as references. Then, send it back to me and we will discuss a date of publish.

I’m going to turn things over to Cara now, enjoy!

Top 10 Marvel/DC Villains: by Cara

Having just seen “Thor: The Dark World” (which is great, by the way), I am on a major superhero high right now. But you know what? It’s not just a superhero high. As they say, it takes two to tango. What fun would a righteous superhero be without a nasty ol’ supervillain? With that in mind, here are some of my personal favorite supervillains from the ever-expanding world of Marvel and DC films.

10: The Mandarin/Trevor Slattery (Iron Man 3)

Maybe in the end he’s not quite what we thought he’d be, but you have to admit that Ben Kingsey’s portrayal of The Mandarin is pretty freaking intense in Iron Man 3—even if (SPOILER ALERT) the whole persona is a farce. A terrorist with a vendetta against Tony Stark, he rocks his shades, wicked beard, fancy robe, and camo pants like nobody’s business, and the creepy way he talks will give you chills. And if that doesn’t work for you, maybe hilarious, ridiculous Trevor will win you over.

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9: Scarecrow/Dr. Jonathan Crane (The Dark Knight Trilogy)

In Batman Begins, Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow is the corrupt head psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, where he experiments on inmates with a hallucinogenic toxin that induces fear. He may not be physically imposing, but that mask is scary as all get out—especially after a dose of the toxin. The Scarecrow spreads his toxin across Gotham, and the resulting chaos nearly destroys the city. After his plan is foiled, the Scarecrow makes two delightful cameos in the Dark Knight sequels. He’s the only villain to appear in all three Nolan films, and that’s awesome.

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8: Red Skull/Johann Schmidt (Captain America: The First Avenger)

A supervillain and a Nazi? Can they get much more evil than that?! When we’re introduced to Captain America on the big screen, he’s fighting against Nazi Germany, and Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull becomes his biggest adversary. The ruthless head of the Nazis’ HYDRA research division, the Red Skull is obsessed with power, magic, and the occult, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get what he wants. His eerie appearance is the result of bad batch of super soldier serum. Funny how a similar serum makes Captain America so darn attractive…

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7: Mystique/ Raven Darkholme (X-Men series)

A staple of the original three X-Men movies, Rebecca Romijn’s shape shifting Mystique is easily one of the toughest mutants on the block. She may be a woman of few words, but it’s hard to find time to talk when you have so many asses to kick. This blue beauty is super athletic, super clever, and super loyal to evil best bud Magneto. Also, one time she snapped a guy’s neck with her feet. If that’s not the definition of a badass, I don’t know what is.

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6: The Green Goblin/Norman Osborn (Spider Man)

The first foe we get to see Spider-Man tackle on the big screen, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin sets the standard pretty high for tech-savvy supervillains. He’s got a fancy jet glider loaded with ammunition, lots of dangerous little bombs, and even some paralytic gasses—all of which put Spider-Man in some tight spots. Oh, and the Green Goblin is also hopped up on an experimental super soldier formula that makes him both very strong and very crazy—a great combination for a supervillain.

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5: Doctor Octopus/Dr. Otto Octavius (Spider Man 2)

Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus takes extreme body modification to a whole new level. You think piercings and tattoos are a big deal? How about adding four super strong robotic limbs? After an experiment goes awry, Doc Ock is at first horrified to find himself fused to the metal arms, but it doesn’t take long for him to give in to grief and obsession and use the limbs for a wicked, dangerous purpose. Even Spider-Man struggles with this handsy (tentacly?) foe.

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4: Bane (The Dark Knight Rises)

He may be hard to understand sometimes through his intense headgear, but the bulging muscles and sinister plans send a pretty clear message: don’t mess with Tom Hardy’s Bane. The lethal final foe in the Dark Knight Trilogy, Bane almost puts Batman out of commission for good with one backbreaking blow. As clever as he is strong, the villain successfully captures and shuts down the entire city of Gotham for months, nearly destroying it before Batman swoops in to save the day. He’s definitely one of the most intense villains on this list.

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3: Magneto/Erik Lehnsherr (X-Men series)

Graceful, charismatic, and totally ruthless, Sir Ian McKellan’s Magneto looks just as suave playing chess as he does manipulating metal for destructive, murderous purposes. And he does it all with a cheeky, grandfatherly twinkle in his eye. Formerly a close friend of benevolent telepath Professor Xavier, Magneto chooses a darker path in life—a path that is constantly at odds with the existence of pesky humans. A clever mutant who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, Magneto causes serious trouble for Professor X’s mutants in all three original X-Men films.

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2: Loki (Thor, The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World)

Without shame, I will admit that I love Tom Hiddleston’s Asgardian magician Loki slightly more than the villain’s brother and superhero counterpart, Thor. Often straddling the line between supervillain and anti-hero, Loki is a prominent figure in both Thor films as well as The Avengers. He’s embittered by jealousy and rage, and he craves power above all else, yet he’s also wickedly charming and funny. Plus, he’s constantly battling a secret soft spot for his bro, which just makes you wanna go “aww.” Fans have so much Loki love that they’re even petitioning for a solo movie. We can only dream…

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1: The Joker (The Dark Knight)

Like anyone else was going to snag the number one slot. Very predictable of me, I know, but Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as the intense, terrifying Joker in The Dark Knight will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the best portrayals of a supervillain ever. The Joker gleefully wreaks havoc in Gotham City, slaughtering citizens with a jagged smile and a chilling cackle. He’s a brilliant, twisted terrorist, but he’s also darkly humorous and completely fascinating. Without this supervillain, The Dark Knight simply would not be the masterpiece that it is. R.I.P. Heath.

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Okay then, what a list! Remember to head on over to Silver Screen Serenade and follow! A big thank you to Cara for contributing! Everyone have a great weekend!

About Time (2013)

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If you were to ask the casual film-viewer what their thoughts are as to what is ultimately hampering the romantic-comedy these days, odds are they’d reply that their premises, unfurling of events, and happy-go-lucky nature aren’t very realistic, therefore supremely disengaging. Put in layman’s terms, almost everything about them is far fetched which renders their message, their point, their reason for simply being inert and unattainable. The rom-com used to be and should still be one of the most elemental, down-to-earth, and audience compatible genres. Yet nowadays, it seems that every week another cold, forced, and faceless piece of less-than-romantic, unfunny drivel is released. To make matters worse, the dialogue is contrived and overly gooey, and the characters either come off as pretentious, act un-rightfully entitled, or are just plain out loaded…in other words, they’re nothing more than couple of spineless, snobby saps unworthy of your time. Thankfully however, “About Time” is none of the sort.

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Now, what’s quite ironic is that this aforementioned general opinion regarding the genre is itself fairly contrived, more just going with the flow instead of forming personal opinions…but there is a method to this madness. I mean, you used to go into the theatre to see a rom-com and be fairly sure that this, your dark, lonely existence would be illuminated…at the very least dimly lit by the opportunity, the chance at something with purpose. You know, something that would make the remainder of your days meaningful, bearable. Why? you ask. Well let’s face it, the honest truth is that this short span of time we have is extremely disheartening and the only thing that lights up our brief days is love, in its many transcendent forms. Today, you’re lucky if 10% of rom-com flicks are superb enough to evoke such a reaction and the rest miraculously flop, predictably.

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I know that some of you are married or have significant others, and even kids, so the previous rant might not apply to you. If this is the case, just smirk condescendingly at my vulnerability…but I digress. Look, if I’m to be honest with you, my readers whom I adore endlessly. Recently I had given up on the big “L” word and the genre entirely (neither had anything to do with my dismissal of the other). The last rom-com that I can confidently say I swept me off my feet was “Wedding Crashers,” so yeah, it’s been a while. This year however, I’m feeling slightly more optimistic, I’m still, slightly young so there’s still time to turn everything around, and it just so happens that two of my favourite films of the year are romantic-comedies, those being “Drinking Buddies” and the one I’m about to review, “About Time,” a good sign for my progression if you ask me (optimism). However, this being said, my previous statements about the genre still remain prominent and true. With the exception of a few here and there, the genre is suffering…but this debate is for another day.

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To switch things up rather abruptly, here’s a peeve of mine I hope you reflect. Don’t you hate it when a film’s marketing doesn’t do it justice or presents the flick itself incorrectly? This common, grave error occurs all too often and essentially leads to misinterpretations, bad auras, and critic negativity…you know, absorption misconceptions. A few off the top of my head, “Only God Forgives,” “On the Road,” and “The Counselor” just to name a few. Why I bring this up is because I fear that “About Time” was branded all wrong and that it’ll be misunderstood and underrated as a result…a thought my buddy brought up upon exiting the theatre that I had swirling around my head throughout its runtime that I agreed with.

To go even further off topic, did you know I went to the same university as “About Time” star Rachel McAdams, just a few years after she graduated? And Malin Akerman, but that’s besides the point. Doesn’t that suck? Here I am sitting alone, when I could be married to my ultimate crush had I been born just a few years earlier. Wow, this review got sidetracked in a hurry, let’s get back to the film.

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There are few who know love as well as Richard Curtis, and even fewer who can execute it to such an effective degree on the big screen. Director of “Love, Actually,” and scribe of “Notting Hill,” just to rattle off a few of his most notable rom-coms, Curtis is one of the most talented and perennial minds the genre has ever known. He continues down this road he has long trotted and helped solidify with another piece of solid gold containing such mesmerizing humanity and willing vulnerability that it rivals even his most accomplished outing, whatever you feel that may be.

Following a quirky, romantic lawyer who has the ability to time travel to any moment in the past and change whatever he wishes. “About Time” might not be Curtis’ most original piece, but is definitely the most inventive, funny, and emotionally relentless he’s ever conjured, in my opinion anyway. Granted, the story’s structure and premise is nothing you haven’t seen or heard before, but try not to focus on the weary ploy of a lonesome time-traveler. What is most mesmerizing, astounding, and rewarding about this flick doesn’t have to do with the story or thematic retread, but rather what Curtis accomplishes and evokes with it. There is only one other filmmaker (Drake Doremus) I know of that can capture those subtle, minuscule movements and glances that exude true happiness, sadness, and disheartening realizations as well as Curtis does here. For just his third feature behind the camera, Curtis shows the talent of a wily veteran. Regardless if you’re a fan of his work, a cinephile, or just becoming aquatinted, this is a must see.

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What’s even more important than having an invested, well-versed overseer conducting and directing the flow is a cast with chemistry, charisma, and honesty. Starring the lovely Rachel Mcadams, the immensely talented Bill Nighy, and sky-rocketing up-and-comer Domhnall Gleeson, it’s fair to say that “About Time” is formidable across the board. Gleeson, although remarkably skilled, still managed to stun me with his performance. The vast spectrum and depth of the emotions he portrays is decidedly accurate and plain-out staggering. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more authentic, driven performance this year. Nighy, who still flies unnecessarily under the radar here in North America, adds another flawless undertaking to his already stellar resume. Finally, the always radiant Rachel McAdams has somehow managed to leave me breathless once again. I’d love to go into more detail, but I don’t want to come off as a creep. All you need to know is that she delivers in every aspect…just stunning.

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Nothing like the negativity you’ve probably read or heard and is anything but what you expected. “About Time” is, without question, one of the sleeper hits this year.

About Time: 8.5 out of 10.

Little Favour (2013)

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I don’t normally watch short films unless they’re referred to me or nominated in that specific category at the Oscars…and even then it’s just to stay calibrated with the goings on in the film industry. It’s not that I find them to be a lesser form of filmmaking or anything like that, far from it. Simply put, they don’t interest me or catch my attention is what I guess I’m trying to say. Off the top of my head I couldn’t name you more than a handful of vignettes, let alone those that I rather enjoyed, and to be honest a lot of those that I do recall are made by Pixar. On the other hand, I do like to dip into the occasional anthology, but I don’t think they’re considered the same thing. I can’t grasp the concept of them. I feel it’s too much like jumping into a story at the climax. To their credit though, as the evolution of the short continues to progress, they tend to contain more and more effort into establishing a thorough, relative perspective. I don’t know, am I missing something? Please comment below with your thoughts and some references if you’ve got. Now, enough of my blabbering, onto the review.

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Not to be brash, but the only reason I watched “Little Favour” was for the same reason I think anyone will, Benedict Cumberbatch. Everything that man touches, I must witness. I’ve been an obsessor of his for a good long while now, as I’m sure many of you will attest to. And as I do with anything I post containing Cumberbatch, I implore you to watch his earlier work, specifically “Stuart: A Life Backwards” and “Hawking,” but I digress. “Little Favour” directed by Patrick Viktor Monroe, begins with Wallace (Cumberbatch), a war veteran dealing with PTSD attending a meeting with an old friend, James (Colin Salmon), whom Wallace owes a great deal of debt .Upon agreeing to babysit James’ little girl as a little favour, Wallace returns home with his new found responsibility and is viciously attacked and subjected to questioning by a group of thugs searching for James.

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The premise really is quite something, extremely intriguing. Nevertheless, I found it too short to absorb fully, I just couldn’t get into it like I would have preferred to. To its credit though, for its length, “Little Favour” did manage to grab me significantly, more than any previous short film anyway. Now, I don’t know if I’ve been spoiled by such rich, powerful performances recently, but I couldn’t help but want more from the ensemble. Or it could be that alongside Cumberbatch, it’s simply impossible to measure up. Salmon really is terrific, the shining star apart from Benedict himself. Other than that however, the performances left a lot to the imagination. What surprised me the most was Monroe’s camerawork, just superb. Hopefully in the near future he can helm a full-length feature, cause I’d really like to see what he can do. I’m sure it’ll happen because this little short will definitely spike his popularity.

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It never fails to astound me how Cumberbatch, one of the busiest, most sought-after actors working in the industry currently, continues to churn out gem upon gem without faltering. Then it hit me, when you’re this talented and love what you do as much as he does, is it work? I mean, I know it takes a strenuous effort to do what he does, it just appears impossible that he can steadily reach such a height without stumbling. But I guess that’s why he is who he is. While Cumberbatch’s performance here doesn’t measure up to his illustrious standards, it’s still fairly entrancing. I’ve come to the conclusion that his portrayal here is hampered by the film’s length and premise. It doesn’t hit him or orbit him as it should. He gives it his all, it’s just too small a sample size to deduce any effect, so not to any extent is this his fault. For its entirety, the performance of Cumberbatch is still very poignant, and considering how compacted the story is, the output of Cumberbatch is all the more potent.

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For all my unbalanced ramblings and flip-flopping, I’d still recommend “Little Favour,” if only for Cumberbatch’s performance. It is quite good, and I don’t know, I’d watch it again…

Little Favour: 8 out of 10.

 

TADFF 2013: Big Bad Wolves (2013)

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When a slew of young girls are discovered murdered, amongst other unspeakable acts, a rogue detective, a grieving parent seeking revenge, and the top suspect are sent careening toward one another. When their paths meet, the events their intersection sets in motion are unbelievably intense, smart, violent, and most surprising of all, hilarious. This is “Big Bad Wolves.” The film that revolves around a chair in a room. But don’t let the simplicity of the setting mislead you. One minute you’re watching the unfolding of a severe plunge into the human psyche, the next you’re realizing that it’s you who has been tortured and dissected for the past two hours. By no means is this a negative thing, never will you experience a thrill-ride as immersive and thorough as this. Delving into our social evolution and its parameters, the strengths and weaknesses of our morals, and the terrifying, infinite probabilities one will enact and undergo for a loved one. “Big Bad Wolves,” all in all, is a prime example of a film that tests you both mentally and physically.

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Now, you might be thinking that there is nothing funny about innocent little girls being sexually assaulted, tortured, and murdered. Next, you might be pondering what kind of sick psychopath would find comedy in this, let alone interesting enough to make an entire film on the subject. The answer to that last question is Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, but that’s besides the point. This might lead you to combine both thoughts leaving you, more than likely, prompted to say “well…I never!” While I can’t blame you for this reaction, because I would have responded in the same manner had I just been provided with this information, I can take responsibility for it. I might have mislead you earlier. See, “Big Bad Wolves” doesn’t so much poke fun at pedophillia, it just simply uses it as a common base for the characters to cohere around. It’s merely meant to draw the characters together and motivate them. The hilarity stems from it, you know, it’s employed around it, it’s not the subject of the laughs. So by no means rant and rave about this film or its creators negatively. What you should be doing is praising Aharon and Navot for their impressive talent to use comedy in such a deplorable situation tastefully.

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If I’m to be honest with you, I’m finding it really difficult to review this film. Not because it was awful or it’s themes despicable. I mean, when Quentin Tarantino says that it’s the best film of the year, what else can one say? How can I argue the truth? What weight does my word have against that of the great, illustrious Quentin Tarantino? None, that’s how much! Of course, as it is with every flick ever released, “Big Bad Wolves” will undoubtedly not be to everyone’s preference. It’s a very provocative, controversial film dealing with delicate, deplorable topics. That being said, if you’re a cinephile, I implore you not to pass up the chance to see this flick. Everything about its execution and structure is beyond phenomenal. The acting is quite possibly the strongest I’ve seen so far this year by an ensemble, the story is captivating and horrifying, yet you can’t look away, and the visuals strike as subtly atmospheric, but at times disgusting and disturbing, so it’s quite the contrast to experience.

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If you’re familiar with Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, you’re probably familiar with their debut feature “Rabies.” If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you check it out. They’ve come a long way, all the way from Israel as a matter of fact, to bring you one of the most inventive, thought-provoking films of the year. So put away any displeasure you might have of viewing a film that’s subtitled and brace yourselves for the onslaught. Keshales and Papushado’s camerawork is absolutely sublime and if there was ever any question regarding their storytelling abilities, they’ve definitely put those criticisms underground. “Rabies” hit some viewers as slightly jumbled and incoherent. So what does this diabolical duo do to silence their critics? They revive one of the oldest forms of storytelling, the fairy tale, with a dark, sociopathic, ingenious twist. “Big Bad Wolves” doesn’t pull any punches or flinch away from the ugly bits, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your tolerance level.

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I apologize, I just couldn’t leave without giving you the details on “Big Bad Wolves” outstanding ensemble. The film stars Lior Ashkenazi (who you might recognize from “Rabies”) as rogue detective Miki, Tzahi Grad as Gidi, the vengeful father of the latest victim, and Rotem Keinan as Dror, the unfortunate recipient of Gidi and Miki’s uncontrollable rage. Usually I’d tell you which actor outperformed the others and so on, but not this time. As I said previously, this is without question one of the best collective efforts I’ve seen so far this year. The earnestness, confusion, and helplessness each character exudes at the hands of this depressing motivation oozes with authenticity. The believability in each glance, each movement is astounding, as if each portrayer has transcended their role to become entangled in this saddening circumstance. They don’t know why their humanity has fleeted them so quickly, but their soldier on nonetheless. Truly superlative work from the entire cast.

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Funny, violent, and honest, “Big Bad Wolves” is as original, entrancing, and creative as they come.

Big Bad Wolves: 9 out of 10.

The Guest List: Committed to Celluloid

Wow, It’s been a while since I’ve posted an entry into The Guest List. Nonetheless, I can think of no one better to bring it back with than Fernando of Committed to Celluloid! If you haven’t already subscribed/followed his site, I highly suggest you do so. He’s got terrific content over there and an insightful, intelligent mind that tackles the films he watches with a unique perspective. A BIG thanks to him for always supporting my site and contributing his top 10 to the segment.

If you want to submit your own list to the segment, here’s how!

All you need to do is shoot me an e mail (thecinemamonster@gmail.com) with your name, website info (if you have one), and the topic you have chosen for your top 10. If I like what I see, I’ll give you the all clear and you can begin composing your entry. Make sure to include a descriptive, yet brief introduction and a picture or clip for every entry in your top 10. Use my own top 10s and other Guest List entries as references. Then, send it back to me and we will discuss a date of publish.

I’m going to turn things over to Fernando now. Enjoy!

Top 10 Underrated Actors Working Today: by Fernando

This is not, in any way, a definitive top 10. Heck, I might have another 10 actors deserving of the spot, but these are the first that sprung to mind when I think about thespians that should be better appreciated and racking up all the awards. So, without further ado, here’s my Top 10 underrated actors working today.

10: Frances McDormand

She’s a one time Oscar winner and multiple nominee, but most of the mainstream movie-going public has no idea who she is. Why the hell is that? Frances McDormand is a terrific actress, equally adept at drama and comedy, who should be at the level of fame of Meryl Streep. And she’s married to one half of the Coen brothers. Why is she not a star?

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9: Andrew Garfield

The fact that he was snubbed by the Oscars, where he should have won ‘Best Supporting Actor’ for his riveting turn as Eduardo Saverin in “The Social Network” (and wasn’t even nominated), still hurts. He also revitalized the character of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, which had become a joke, in the unnecessary but still pretty solid “The Amazing Spider-Man.”

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8: Sam Rockwell

He gives great performance after great performance and, amazingly, has 0.00% Oscar nominations and is not a household name. Nobody saw his best performance (in Conviction). There’s hope that he can become more famous and appreciated if he manages to get nods for his work in The Way, Way Back (fingers crossed).

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7: Tom Hiddleston

He was pretty much the only good thing in “Thor” and “The Avengers” and “War Horse,” and I’m pretty sure he’ll kick ass again in “Thor: The Dark World.” Oh, and he was great in “Midnight in Paris.” He’s garnered a cult following but hasn’t achieved the level of stardom he deserves. Give us a solo Loki movie now! (https://www.change.org/petitions/petition-to-marvel-studios-to-produce-a-film-based-on-the-character-loki-portrayed-by-tom-hiddleston)

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6: Anna Kendrick

She’s got excellent comedic timing, she’s very cute and can sing well; Kendrick is a highlight of “Up in the Air” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.” And I bet her widest seen role is the one she has in the “Twilight” franchise. That needs to change.

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5: Carey Mulligan

Classic beauty, glowing smile and a very understated style of acting that’s been displayed in movies like “Drive” and “Shame,” Carey is probably the most underrated actress working in the most talked-about movies.

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4: Sharlto Copley

An incredible breakthrough in 2009’s “District 9,” a fun performance in “The A-Team” and a scene-stealing turn in “Elysium” haven’t made him a household name. Let’s hope “Oldboy” or “Chappie” will.

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3: Logan Lerman

He first impressed me at the tender age of 15 years in “3:10 to Yuma.” He’s a decent action/fantasy leading man in “Percy Jackson” but his performance in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is not only one of the best of 2012, but one of the best I’ve ever seen. Pure, raw talent.

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2: Casey Affleck

While everybody is busy with his brother Ben, Casey is off giving great performances in movies like “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” Stop crying over the Batman casting and see his baby brother in action. Maybe “Out of The Furnace” or “Interstellar” will give him the exposure he deserves.

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1: Ben Foster

Maybe it’s his weird voice, but I don’t know why Foster is not more of a household name. He absolutely shone in “The Messenger” but his best performance is the one he gave in “3:10 to Yuma” (there’s that movie again). Not only is he unknown to the masses, he hasn’t ever been nominated for an Oscar. Just sad.

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Okay, that’ll do it for this week’s edition of The Guest list. Another big thank you to Fernando (go and follow his site) for contributing! Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

The Counselor (2013)

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If there’s something remarkably unique to be said about “The Counselor,” it’s that the creation of said film brought to fruition an immensely sought-after joint-venture (a ballsy one at that) between director Ridley Scott and writer Cormac McCarthy. Now, you might be thinking that this statement can be applied to any film written and directed by separate individuals, especially when considering how many filmmaking tandems exist already, regardless if it be in reality or cinephiles fantasies, and you’d be somewhat right. That being said however, it feels as if this time around the minds behind this collaboration are much greater than any previously attempted high-profile partnership in cinema. Don’t believe me? See McCarthy and Scott’s illustrious track-records, they speak for themselves. Very rarely are we treated to a collusion of such magnitude. Two of the great artistic minds working today in cahoots to spawn the visual manifestation and absorption of a compacted novel to unleash upon us…what could be better, right?

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Nonetheless, as much as we, the cinephiles, research, obsess, predict, and conclude, we can never pinpoint the exact product that will be presented before us on release day…that just happens to be the beauty of inspiration, imagination, and creation. Sadly though, judging by the harsh negativity and criticism, it seems as if “The Counselor” wasn’t what most critics and film lovers were expecting, even in the most general sense. Did the genius of Scott and McCarthy unfortunately allow for fanatics to set the bar unreachably high? Was McCarthy’s transition into screenwriting premature? Has Scott lost his touch behind the camera? Since I’ve seen it, I’ve debated endlessly about what exactly the root of this onslaught against “The Counselor” is. Why has it let so many viewers down? Well, I’d love to tell you, unfortunately however, I’m not apart of the former camp. I rather enjoyed “The Counselor.” It might not be everything I anticipated, but it’s damn close. I see no fault to the extreme degree to warrant the way in which critics and film lovers everywhere are destroying “The Counselor.”

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Let’s begin with McCarthy’s responsibilities in the film, story and dialogue. The most prominent and seemingly universal complaint about “The Counselor” is the thick, complicated interactions that some go as far as to deem wordy to a point of illogicality and misunderstanding. Now, what’s most disconcerting about this accusation is that I perfectly understood the narrative and back-and-forths. So either the general public is insane, or I am. Not to be pretentious, but the reason for this might be my education in english, literature, and writing. Nevertheless, McCarthy’s talent certainly didn’t falter in the transition from literature to screenwriting. He’s kept the lyrical way about him and transfered the typical beauty he infuses into gloom and destruction. Granted, the dialogue is dense, almost unbearable heavy. Yet, it’s also hypnotically descriptive, serene in its own way.

The author of a few novels adapted to the big screen such as “The Road” and “No Country for Old Men.” McCarthy certainly knows his way around captivation and how to construct a meaningful story…”The Counselor” is no different. Keeping his wits about him, McCarthy continues to utilize traits he’s mastered and best suited for his style. I mean, the story’s complex, sexy, violent, and intelligent, what else could you ask for? What’s that? Not good enough? Want even more? Fine McCarthy says and adds a pitch-black layer of comedy to this already stellar tale. Honestly, Cameron Diaz literally has sex with a car, I can’t make this much clearer. Even if all these cool facets aren’t right up your alley, the love and passion infused into each character is astonishing. It creates such a stunning contrast of humanity, vulnerability, and ruthlessness. I think its safe to say that McCarthy held up his end of the responsibilities.

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As for Ridley Scott, director of classic masterpieces such as “Alien” and “Blade Runner” and more recently academy award winner “Gladiator” and the tragically underrated “Matchstick Men,” once again triumphs. Scott is one of the most revered and talented filmmakers in cinema history, so any outing he is attached to, no matter how discredited, has some form of merit. “The Counselor,” as it is for McCarthy, is no hamper on his storied career. Watching Scott’s work behind the camera here is nothing short of astounding, yet it baffles me. Every angle, every movement, every shot is impeccable. What’s even further proof of his prowess is his ability to digest and regurgitate the complex, dramatic, diabolical, even obscure moments of “The Counselor.” If ever there was a question regarding Scott’s abilities, “The Counselor” put those worries to rest.

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So, Scott and McCarthy weren’t enough to draw you into the theatre to see “The Counselor?” How about an A-list cast that features Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, and Javier Bardem? That get your attention? Mmhmm…I thought it might.

First off, let me clarify for the fangirls, Pitt is a supporting player in this flick, not the star. So don’t go getting your panties in a bunch when Fassbender handles the spotlight. Don’t get me wrong, Pitt is fascinating here and if you’re a fan of his work as much as I am, “The Counselor” is a must see. As for the aforementioned Fassbender, I feel as if any praise I give will just be me repeating myself. His performance here might not compare to what is soon to be his Oscar winning performance in “12 Years a Slave,” but is superlative nonetheless. In my honest opinion, Bardem’s the one who steals the show. Everything from his questionable attire, erratic hairstyle, and emotional vulnerability is bewildering. He’s funny, honest, and devilishly persuasive. Overall, it’s an intoxicatingly memorable performance. To my surprise, Diaz garners the most screen time outside of Fassbender and utilizes every second. I’m not usually a fan of her work, so when I give her any credit, you know its deserved. Finally Cruz, who rarely makes an appearance in the film, is without question the most seductive and earnest. Still, would have been nice to see her in a larger role.

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Look…the film isn’t perfect, rarely is a film ever. “The Counselor” suffers from time to time because its clever, intricate plot is muffled by subtlety and McCarthy’s dialect camouflage. It’s occasionally over-the-top (Diaz dry-humping a car) and a tad cliched. Yet, these minor imperfections and tiny, superficial errors are mere peanuts compared to the film’s successes. It’s extremely difficult to attract, debrief, and attach so many talented minds, and even harder to enact on a singular wavelength.

The Counselor: 8.5 out of 10.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013)

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An old-fashioned tale of life, love, and loss set to the sunny and shadowy panoramic vistas of lovely Texas. This Terrence Malick flick…what’s that? It’s not a Terrence Malick film? But, I swear the imagery and structure are just like…okay, okay…but what about…okay! Never mind I believe you…why?…I just checked IMDB. Now, regardless of who directed it, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” although overly traditional, even conventional to a fault is a remarkable reinvigoration of a classic, timeless story with universal motivations and rewards. It might be a little too lackadaisical for some and paced like a leisurely stroll. Yet, whatever it lacks in pure thrills, it more than makes up for with stunning visuals, attractive characters, and mesmerizing dialogue. It’s acted with a ton of heart and has plenty of staying-power to offer. While it wasn’t directed by the master of art-house Terrence Malick, it has all his signature trademarks and signals a promising career for director David Lowery.

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How far would you be willing to go for a loved one? How much would you sacrifice for them? If any of these inquires and their periphery topics caught your attention, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” just might be for you. And if you know me, which you probably don’t, you’d know that the romance genre just happens to be my guilty pleasure. What can I say? I’m a hopeless romantic. Plus, you know, I am an aspiring writer, which pretty much means loving love is a necessary trait…but I digress. Now, if you’re thinking that these questions of love and devotion have been asked and explored so many times over that they’ve practically lost all meaning and don’t apply to you, this flick will definitely change your perspective. One might be able to resist the intoxication of romance on other, lesser, weakly enthusiastic occasions. But when the performances are this convincing and the setting so beautiful, it makes even the heartless get weak in the knees.

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Director David Lowry’s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” really is quite something. An original, heartfelt take on the outlaw romance. Baring some similarities with a few of the best in this sub-genre’s canon like “Bonnie and Clyde” and Terrence Malick’s “Badlands,” which just happens to be one of my all time favourite films. Lowry’s unflinching, authentic look at a couple’s long, arduous road to reuniting is nothing short of hypnotizing and easy on the eyes, do in large part to his youthful, inventive style and endless talent. But make no mistake, it isn’t always a breeze to watch.

While not overly violent, minus a few exchanges of gunfire. The premise, the film’s characters and their collaborative progression through it to the finale is infuriating and disheartening, making “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” difficult to stomach at times. In all honesty though, the complex emotions brought on by “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” is astounding and very intriguing. And when it comes down to it, a small price to pay for such a thoroughly beautiful experience. Not to mention the original soundtrack, composed by Daniel Hart, which adds another transcendent layer to the delectable cinematic feast that is “Ain’t Them Bodies a Saints.”

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What’s even more captivating is the invested, towering performances of the film’s three stars, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, and Rooney Mara. If the staggering emotional depth and striking imagery doesn’t lure you in, this trio of underused and underrated talent is sure to do the trick. Mara and Affleck portray the couple who flee from the law until their introverted, romantic lifestyle is abruptly torn. Both do a phenomenal job exuding the love in their hearts and the pain it inevitably brings. Separately however, they are ruthless, strong independent sociopaths. As for Foster, who continues to stun in every role he chooses, gives another unprecedented portrayal. What’s quite perplexing and sort of ironic about the film is that Foster’s character is the most unprejudiced and passionate. Regardless though, the trio’s efforts here must be witnessed.

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The performances and imagery more than make up for any faults one can find with the story. Add in some strong direction and “Ain’t Them a Bodies Saints” is a modern day “Bonnie and Clyde.”

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints: 8 out of 10.

TADFF 2013: We Are What We Are (2013)

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To be completely honest, “We Are What We Are” raised some very intriguing arguments and I’d like to discuss that first.

In the recent past, here in the modern day, or our near future, It’s hard to imagine cannibalism providing anything but disgust and confusion to us. It may tweak our interest and pull at the strings of our curiosity from time to time, but nothing more has or will ever come of it. And you can bet that those, if any, who partake in the consumption of the human body came forth nowadays, they’d be met with the strongest punishment we, as a race with morals and compassion feel comfortable deploying, at the very least they’d be segregated.

The reason for this hatred has grown so quickly and vast, and with good reason. Apart from the fact that to accomplish this act, one must end another. The need for sustenance hasn’t been that significantly dire in the western world for as long as one can remember. So the need for such deplorable behaviour is really irrelevant nowadays and murdering someone for such unnecessary purposes is extremely frowned upon. This achievement, if you will, is directly correlated with our evolution as a species. Whether it be socially, politically, industrially, etc…

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All this distancing and disgust being said, the question of our basic, elemental, natural survivalist instinct will always remain prominent. And as confident as we are that no matter how pressing the need to digest some form of physical intake is, we’d never resort to cannibalism…we simply cannot conclude this effectively. The truth is, none of us have been in a situation that calls for such drastic action, so how can any of us say that we’d never digest common flesh. While the film weaves its way through this subject briefly, what’s even more interesting is the more immediate topic “We Are What We Are” deals with, which is… What if cannibalism is all you’ve ever known? How would you feel participating in an act that is as normal to you as breathing? Director Jim Mickle’s take on these seemingly insane notions is the starting point for this terrific slow-burner. While it certainly isn’t the first, nor will it be the last to concoct a story around such a vile, yet nourishing act. It definitely captures the immensity, humanity, and seriousness of the subject.

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A remake of Jorge Michel Grau’s film of the same title. This tense, impeccably acted  hybrid composed of horror, drama, and thriller is as heartfelt and astonishing as it is unsettling and menacing. It’d be very easy to lose one’s way in the gory, abhorrent, violent nature of cannibalism, especially when conjuring up a film that needs to satisfy those aspects. While “We Are What We Are” definitely meets these disturbing requirements, it’s quite remarkable how tasteful carnage and destruction can actually be. Yes, there are moments that’ll make you cringe and leave you a bit queasy. Nonetheless, when stacked up alongside the emotions, conflicts, and beautiful imagery, it’s nothing more than another cinematic tactic. This is due in large part to the experience and talent of the aforementioned Jim Mickle who directed this flick and screenplay scribe Nick Damichi. The duo do a sublime job separating their film from the filth and trivialness of other horror abortions.

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Perhaps the most stunning feature of the film is the dark, ambient, gloomy atmosphere hovering over this strange, tragic little town. In between each blunt object to the head and soupy human stew, one feels completely at ease which makes the hard-to-stomach surprises all the more effective. A lot of this needs to be credited to Damichi’s progressive, humanized script and Mickle’s impressive camerawork…but even more so to the film’s trio of composers. The soundtrack is smooth and entrancing, never leaving you clawing at your eardrums. An abundance of horror flicks these days go for the ascending screech or ominous semitones, but not here. This is music you could listen to while gazing towards a skyline or a breathtaking night sky, hell, even when you’re trying to doze off…and in no way is this a bad thing.

As impressive and hypnotic as all the technical and behind-the-scenes mumbo-jumbo is, it’d be nothing without the right cast. “We Are What We Are” has a strong, invested, talented ensemble across the board featuring Bill Sage, Julia Garner, Ambyr Childers, Michael Parks, and Kelly McGillis. Without question, Bill Sage steals the show here. He’s intimidating, ruthless, and his emotional spectrum ranges from stoic to uncontrollable grief. One of the best performances in a horror flick I’ve ever seen, he’s just an absolute beast. Ambyr Childers gives the performance of her young career, something to be truly proud of as a calling card. Apart from Sage, Childers is the striking scene stealer. Julia Garner does a superlative job in her supporting role. The young actress, who’s starred in a couple of indie-hits and looks to have some mainstream success in the near future, easily gives the most vulnerable, emotional compromised performance.

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Amazingly performed, atmospheric, and deliciously satisfying, “We Are What We Are” is a visual feast (no pun intended).

We Are What We Are: 8.5 out of 10.