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Nymphomaniac: Volume 2 (2014)

Warning: This review contains content, images, and language that may upset and/or offend some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

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One thing that Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” films are adamant in conveying to and exerting from the viewer is the ability to look at everything from a different point of view, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable it may be at times. Something you wouldn’t expect from a film who’s content is so universally opinionated to one side like sex addiction, pedophillia, extreme BDSM, etc… Nevertheless, Trier’s latest outing topples this feat surprisingly easily, much to the bewildered amazement of cinephiles everywhere, including myself. Although, I’m sure there will be an avalanche of backlash regarding the film’s unrestrained visuals and themes, not to mention the stance it takes on the aforementioned matters from prudes, over-protective parents, and so on. That being said, “Nymphomaniac” as a whole is quite the eye-opener and should resonate with mature, intelligent beings.

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Look, I’m not condoning sex with children, and the film isn’t either. It’s simply providing varying vantage points, giving an intelligent, thought-out counterargument to topics that don’t receive much opposition. For example. We as a species, a compassionate, smart, understanding, evolving society have come to accept homosexuality as something that one is born with, a genetic tendency that the host has no control over. So, can’t the same be said for someone who is sexually attracted to prepubescent beings? Or for those who can’t help but be sexually stimulated by violence?

Clearly having relations with someone under the age of consent is wrong, and the same could be said for asphyxiation, unreciprocated desire for intercourse, simulated or not, and partaking in violent stimulation. So what are these people to do when they have no say in the matter? Obviously and irrefutably we cannot have pedophiles and murderers running lose, so do we continue down this path? Lock them up, end their existence and suffering, wait for natural selection to take its course? This is what “Nymphomaniac” is presenting. An alternative way of seeing through the dark.

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“Perhaps the only difference between me and other people is that I’ve always demanded more from the sunset. More spectacular colors when the sun hit the horizon. That’s perhaps my only sin.” – Jo.

Undoubtedly my favourite line from the film. This quote really drives home the notion that we should all look at our lives differently. We see our existence as this miracle, a gift that gives even at its most darkest. But, why should we not expect more out of life and living? As Jo says, “more spectacular colours.” Shouldn’t everything be infinitely fulfilling? I’m not talking about excess, I’m talking about every moment in one’s life being boundlessly splendid. We only get a finite amount of minutes living in a body with a character and personality unlike any other, so why not comprise them of something that satisfies you fully, whatever that may be. Part ways with the notion of work, government, and materialism, do whatever makes you ooze with joy…no matter how unique or unsavoury.

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With volume 1, Trier was very much focused on the minuscule, personal aspects of fulfillment and living. The idea that sharing one’s life with another gives us a disillusioned purpose…something more than simply being a brief second in our species reproductive cycle towards the goal…ultimate, infallible evolution. In volume 2, Trier broadens the scale and takes our insignificance to the universal level and really tries to hammer home the irrefutable truth: sex is the driving force of our race and loneliness is inevitable. And sadly, Trier’s view of existence and humanity, is the truth. This has been present throughout all his films and his latest rings strongest. It’s a harsh reality and I know a lot of you won’t want to hear it…believe it, but, it’s something that can’t be refuted or undone. It is what it is, we are what we are, there’s nothing to do but live a thoroughly and utterly enjoyable life while you can.

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In volume 1, Stacy Martin was the driving force while Charlotte Gainsbourg took the backseat, so to speak. The roles reverse in volume 2 and Gainsbourg puts to rest any criticism naysayers would have slung in her direction had she faltered under the immense demands and pressure of Trier’s latest. Whether she’s fully clothed having an intellectual conversation with a newly found friend or taking a vicious beating half-naked just to achieve an epic, heavenly, godly orgasm, Gainsbourg holds the screen and audiences attention as if she had a gun held to the head of the world. Another outstanding performance on her end further proves that her lack of use in other films is incomprehensible.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of “Nymphomaniac” is Stellan Skarsgard’s character Seligman. Without question, an intelligent, compassionate loner who can’t help but blend into the background. Yet, as time progresses, we can’t help but start to slowly shift focus from Gainsbourg’s characters story to his life, experiences and environment. I don’t want to give too much away, but do pay close attention to Skarsgard’s brilliance here. His character arguably becomes our antihero just as much as Gainsbourg’s character does. I don’t think I’ve seen a protagonist so intriguing. Our admiration, respect, and love for this character changes so quickly, if you blink, you might miss it.

The film also stars Jamie Bell, who having recently won even more praise from me for his role in “Snowpiercer” continues to shine blindingly with another unforgettable turn in “Nymphomaniac.” Willem Dafoe and Mia Goth round out the supporting cast, with those who were present in volume such as Shia LaBeouf and Stacy Martin making brief appearances as well.

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If I could leave you with one last tidbit of advice, watch the film as a whole, not in two separate volumes. I know it’s tough to sit through a four-hour film, but I promise it’s worth the effort. Trier’s visuals are as unflinching, striking and reprehensible as ever. The film is filled with philosophical theories and moral quandaries, not to mention the stellar performances from the entire ensemble. “Nymphomaniac” is another triumph for Trier and company, one that is sure to leave you pondering its construction and meaning well after the final credits role.

Nymphomaniac: Volume II: 9 out of 10.

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Snowpiercer (2014)

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Much like the train we inhabit for Bong Joon-Ho’s English language directorial debut, the direction in which “Snowpiercer” travels is determined, but at its core, the journey is one that has no control. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that the trip isn’t one hell of a ride. Brilliantly choreographed and unrelenting action highlights this resplendent visual feast that has the brains to match, for the most part. With brutal violence and an array of contrasting, stimulating colours, one can’t help but push the chaos and in-your-face obviousness of “Snowpiercer” to the back burner and just enjoy the trek.

Bong Joon-Ho has been and continues to be a filmmaker whom I admire and look to for inspiration. The director of numerous triumphs such as true-crime thriller “Memories of Murder,” modern monster masterpiece “The Host,” and psychological drama “Mother.” Bong Joon-Ho finally makes his much anticipated debut in English language cinema with “Snowpiercer,” much like his South Korean counterpart Chan Wook-Park did in 2013 with “Stoker.” This latest offering from Bong Joon-Ho features an all-star cast comprised of newcomers and veterans to Ho’s brand of film. Chris Evans, Kang-Ho Song, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, and John Hurt lead the way.

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In the not too distant future, humankind unleashes what is believed to be a chemical remedy to global warming into the atmosphere. When this experiment backfires and sends our planet into an unliveable state, the few who remain seek refuge on the ‘Snowpiercer.’ A train powered by a perpetual motion engine that circles the globe once every year. Designed by the prophetic Wilford, this train is the last livable place on Earth, running on the same, worldwide track for eternity.

On board the train, what remains of our population has descended in to madness and chaos. The rich, privileged first class passengers live in luxury and comfort at the front of the train, while the rest find home at the tail where food and space is sparse. In order to obtain better living conditions and equality, the tail section revolts in an attempt to take over the engine and overthrow the current status in which the train functions.

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Taking into account that “Snowpiercer” was an adaptation, the original format being a graphic novel. A lot of the film’s blatant depiction of its themes and cartoonish violence and characters is understandable. That being said, at its worst, “Snowpiercer” is a bewildering, over-stuffed allegory that really suffers from pacing problems. Which is kind of intriguing seeing as originally, Bong Joon-Ho was not given control over the final cut of the film. This changed rather quickly though with the outcry of infuriated fans, much like myself and Bong Joon-Ho once again took full control of his film. However, whether or not this is the truth or simply a gambit I find to be in question, seeing as the film itself feels as if there was a lot more character and story development left on the cutting room floor.

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On the flip side, for all of its faults, “Snowpiercer” is a visually entertaining and mentally challenging flick. And apart from a rather lacklustre climax, there isn’t a single moment in its just over two-hour run-time in which boredom will overtake you. While extremely violent, “Snowpiercer” is not excessively gory. It tries and at times succeeds in portraying compassion and brotherhood over war and never sells the evilness of humanity as our undoing.

In his transition, Bong Joon-Ho hasn’t lost any part of his infallible repertoire. If anything, “Snowpiercer” is his most ambitious, technically masterful film to date. As we progress through each car, we are treated to a completely different spectrum of colour ranging from achromatic to vibrant and picturesque. The battle sequences are captured with the utmost intensity and emotion and the characters never take a backseat to this visual spectacle. While undoubtedly not Bong Joon-Ho’s strongest outing, “Snowpiercer” will forever remain an achievement on his impressive resume.

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While I was, without question, rather anxiously excited awaiting Bong Joon-Ho’s next project, I didn’t become totally smitten until I heard that Kang-Ho Song would be co-starring. Having lead a few of my personal favourites: “Thirst,” “The Good, The Bad, The Weird,” “Memories of Murder,” and “The Host,” you can see why I was so ripe with anticipation. In “Snowpiercer,” Kang-Ho Song is as charismatic, intimidating, and darkly hilarious as ever. While the script didn’t really allow for his character to outstretch his wings, so to speak, there’s no denying that Song did everything he could to bring this mad, drug-addicted genius to life.

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Leading alongside Kang-Ho Song is Captain America himself, Chris Evans. Having previously been featured in such personal favourites as “The Iceman” and “Sunshine,” I was sure that alongside Song, Evans wouldn’t disappoint. Evans continues his ascent to stardom with another heartfelt, invested turn, this time as the leader of the tail section revolution with a dreary, ruthless past. One thing that has become very apparent as of late, and that “Snowpiercer” exemplifies, is that Evans has the ability to deal out heroic, blockbuster performances as well as dramatic stunners.

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In supporting roles, Swinton is nothing short of impeccable. Decisively devilish and so easy to hate, Swinton does a phenomenal job as an antagonist who’s death the viewer can easily enjoy. Jamie Bell continues to earn my respect and trust. After surprising performances in “Filth” and the recent “Nymphomaniac,” Bell’s performance in “Snowpiercer” is another I can sink my teeth into. Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, and Ed Harris are also worth noting here. While easily lost in the background, their brief moments on screen are strong enough to dazzle and provoke.

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While not the game-changer I was anticipating. “Snowpiercer” is still an impressive feat that all involved can be proud of. It’s as entertaining as any big-budgeted Hollywood action flick and much more rewarding. It’ll turn its fair share of casual filmgoers away with its bleak, disturbing, and violent content, but for those who can stand “Snowpiercer” at its most repugnant, this is one train ride they won’t soon forget.

Snowpiercer: 8 out of 10.

Filth (2013)

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For those familiar with my work (good god that sounds pretentious), you might recall last week when I posted a review of “Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa.” I clamoured on and on in this article about how I loathe and detest the genre that is comedy… Yet, I conversely raved about how “Brits seem to have a direct line to my funny bone,” which eventually led to me building up the aforementioned Steve Coogan flick as the funniest of the year. Soon after this, I sat down and watched another of my most anticipated flicks of the year, Jon S. Baird’s “Filth,” which just so happens to be another hilarious film from the UK, originating from Scotland. Now, I know that there’s no love lost between the segregates of British people, but in all fairness, the English, Scots, Irish, and so on, are all part of one great nation and can all be deemed “British.” Therefore, my theory regarding comedy, the British, and my own, bizarre, dark comedic taste remains as truthful as ever.

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Based on Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same title, which is one of my most cherished reads. “Filth” is every bit as vile as the dirty images and abhorrent actions the word conjures up in your brain. It’s repulsive, violent, vulgar, abusive, indulgent, sociopathic, misogynistic, sexually deplorable, and darkly hilarious. That being said, it doesn’t quite knock “Alpha Papa” from the throne of hilarity I’ve bestowed upon it, but “Filth” does exceed its brethren in nearly every other emotional and cinematic aspect. However, as you’ve probably assumed by now (I hope), this flick is really for those with a taste for the gritty and grotesque. So (I feel idiotic for even having to point this out), do not watch “Filth” if you are…delicate, you know, easily offended. Because if you happen to be the “morally stable” type, I can confidently guarantee that it won’t sit well with you and that you’ll be scrubbing “Filth” endlessly from your underbelly to no avail…

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Now, if you’re like me and have a rather…unique taste in film, there’s hardly anything shocking in the goings on of this flick that you haven’t been previously exposed to. Don’t get me wrong though, “Filth” is plenty filthy. I’m simply stating that one, like myself, shouldn’t go into the film expecting to be knocked off their feet from disgust, depravity, and peril. I’ve seen the very worst, disturbing, unhinged things that cinema has to offer and the dirt here doesn’t exactly rival those that rely on inhumanity as a crutch. What I’m saying is that the filth is hardly the driving point of “Filth,” merely a contrast, a theme, a device to assist in nailing our humanity home. To phrase it better, I’ve never seen such selfish, stoic, savage behaviour used so effectively and tastefully. The honest moments of vulnerability, fear, and love in this film is what makes “Filth” so utterly disconcerting, not the extent of ones indifference to the well being of others or themselves.

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Directed by the aforementioned Jon S. Baird, who also wrote the screenplay, “Filth” explores the depths and extremes of the human psyche. Constructed as a series of repugnant acts playing out through a man suffering from the destruction of his family while he fights for a promotion. Baird’s adaptation might not stay completely true to the source material, yet is able to conjure up a rather empathetic, aching, scummy story while keeping the darkness above all else. “Filth” really is an exploration of contrasts, take for example, it’s soundtrack. There’s a scene in which a group of people spontaneously jump into a merry, disheartening chorus staring into the camera dead on, sufficiently demolishing the fourth wall, just mere minutes before and after such foulness has graced the screen. I don’t know who’s responsible for such artistic structure, but they should be applauded. Baird really triumphs thoroughly with his latest outing.

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Now, before I get into praising James McAvoy, I’d like to give a shout-out to “Filth’s” outstanding supporting cast comprised of Jim Broadbent, Imogen Poots, and Jamie Bell, amongst others. Broadbent definitely takes his bizarre, hallucinogenic role to the next level with a charismatic, descriptively insane performance. Whether he’s ripping out the innards of our unstable lead, causing uproarious laughs with his sporadic mannerisms, or forcing disheartening realizations, Broadbent really pushes the film to the next level. Poots continues to display why she’s one of the most talented up-and-comers. She’s striking, unrelenting, sexy, and immensely astounding. As for Bell, who should really get more chances to strut his stuff, what can I say, he once again proves he’s got the chops to hang with the best. McAvoy, oh James McAvoy…simply put, McAvoy is bloody brilliant, his mannerisms, laugh, voice, beard, everything. The way he looks at the camera and breaks the fourth wall is enough to give you chills and his emotional output is heart-wrenching. His performance alone makes “Filth” worth the watch.

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Featuring one of the performances of the year from James McAvoy, evoking countless reactions and tugging at the viewers heart strings. “Filth” is a rare cinematic achievement in which humanities lowest points cause the film to soar to dizzying heights.

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Filth: 9 out of 10.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

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Establishing an exquisite symmetry between its smart, at times raunchy hilarity and disheartening insight into humanities innermost feelings. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a true romantic-comedy that is leaps and bounds beyond the genre’s usual trash. First time director Nicholas Stoller does a sublime job and manages to squeeze every last drop of comedic aptitude and emotional range from his tenacious cast. Using the tranquil and breathtaking Hawaii as its backdrop. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is always easy on the eyes whether it’s the scenery or cast, except for one, unexpected and exposed incident ;). Nonetheless, the authentic and unflinching look into the deterioration of relationships that writer Jason Segel has conjured up is something we’ve all experienced at one point or another. Which ultimately allows the audience to laugh uncontrollably at our own vulnerability and self-pity.

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Peter Bretter (Segel), a composer, is in a five year relationship with actress Sarah Marshall (Bell). Upon returning home from a shoot, Sarah ends the relationship with Peter. Unable to cope with the abrupt ending, Peter decides to go on a vacation to Hawaii. At the resort, Peter soon meets Rachel (Kunis), the hotel concierge. Upon finding out that Sarah and her new boyfriend Aldous Snow (Brand) are also staying at the resort, Peter begins to follow them around. Taking advice from his brother, Peter begins spending time with Rachel and the two develop feelings for one another. Soon, Sarah becomes jealous of Peter and Rachel and the two couples set out to destroy the other.

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What is most assuring about Forgetting Sarah Marshall is that even though it technically has Apatow written all over it. Aside from the producing credit, the film actually has little to no connection with him. I’m not discrediting Apatow, far from it. I’m very fond of his style and pictures. I am simply stating that the future of the genre looks a little brighter when he isn’t the only name in the game. Directed by Stoller and written by Segel. Forgetting Sarah Marshall has an abundance of fresh faces to bolster a sparse breed. It is excessively difficult to depict real-life scenarios and the ones who can are few and far between. Now, with a slew of up-and-comers that have this capability. Cinema doesn’t appear to be losing all meaning and depth. What Segel and Stoller have created is much bigger than they realize.

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Whether it is the witty, clever, or sheer idiotic humour. Jason Segel, best known for his role as Marshall in How I Met Your Mother, displays his ingenuity in spades. Although, it isn’t always his keen eye for laughs that makes the viewers insides ache. His ability to evoke an endless source of empathy, joy, sadness, spite, essentially all the relevance of existence is masterful. In coordination with the aforementioned Nicholas Stoller. Segel is able to form a cohesiveness around Forgetting Sarah Marshall that almost makes it free from error. As for Stoller, who’s direction as a first-timer is remarkable, makes up for any faltering. You’d wouldn’t figure it was his initiation into directing considering how accomplished his form behind the camera is. Together, the two create a formidable duo who’s next collaboration is much anticipated.

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I don’t really know the reason why I love this film. Essentially right from the get go I was smitten. Perhaps that I happened to be in a similar situation around the time of its release intoxicated me, but I digress. Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s sweet and funny cast really completes the film. Featuring Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, and Russell Brand. Without this complimenting foursome, Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s ageless story would not have the emotion, hilarity, or flare in its potency. The film also features hilarious cameos from Bill Hader and Jonah Hill.

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If I’m being completely honest, to say that my respect for Kunis and Bell was restricted would be putting it lightly. In my defence, this film was released in 2008 and Black Swan hadn’t been released yet. Since then, my admiration for the two has grown significantly, thanks in large part to Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Cards on the table, Bell really hasn’t impressed me since. Now that she’s proven she has the chops, I expect more from her and she continues to do these idiotic romantic comedies. Regardless, Bell is extravagant in the film and deserves better than what she’s getting. As for Kunis, well, she really steals the show. Conveying such emotional range and this flirty charm, one can’t help but fall for her, easily the best performance in the film.

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It’s hard to imagine a time when Russell Brand wasn’t everywhere, but in 2008, this was the case. Until Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Brand pretty much flew under-the-radar. This was easily the role that launched Brand into a respectable actor and after following it up with Stoller’s next film, Get Him to the Greek, Brand proves it was no fluke. Finally, Jason Segel, who pulls double duty as the lead and writer of the film. Really gets a chance to assert himself amongst comedy’s best and doesn’t waste the opportunity. Segel’s performance is second only to Kunis, who honestly has the better written role. Segel does a superb job exuding the melancholic stupidity that usual accompanies heartbreak. Not to mention a series of sequences that allows him to showcase his dramatic skills. Overall, Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s cast is nearly faultless in their portrayals.

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Outrageously funny and undeniably heartfelt. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a romantic comedy for the ages.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall: 8.5 out of 10.