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TADFF 2014: Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter (2015)

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It might not be horror by the book, but “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter” definitely evokes a sense of dread and unease with its stunningly ambitious, morbidly transfixing cinematography, atmospheric, nerve-shredding score and potent hilarity rooted in heart-wrenching tragedy. Loosely based upon a snippet of Takako Konishi’s life-story, a run-of-the-mill office worker who journeyed to the United States, more specifically the city of Fargo, and ended in a field near the Detroit Lakes with her much debated suicide. “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter” is a breath of brisk, unfiltered, decidedly hefty air and was well-deserving of a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at this past year’s Sundance Film Festival.

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Previous to the definitive discovery of Konishi’s depression and documented intent on taking her own life, miscommunication between Konishi and a Bismarck police officer, with whom she had been conversing, led to the spawning of an urban legend regarding the motivation of Konishi’s trip to America. The fable states that Konishi had travelled to Minneapolis in search of the fictitious fortune of Carl Showalter, Steve Buscemi’s character in the Coen brothers masterpiece “Fargo.” The film depicts Showalter burying a case filled with money in a field somewhere in the aforementioned city, similar to the one Konishi was found. The media fanned the flames and it wasn’t long before Konishi and the mysterious circumstances leading up to her death reached unprecedented cult-status.

With depression, loneliness, and a lack of identity driving her further from the clutches of any redemptive lifeline, Konishi’s story is one of deep sadness and struggle. A battle all too many can relate to nowadays. Yet, with such morose, Ill-fated source material, one cannot commend director and co-writer David Zellner enough for the divisive and debatably up-lifting end result, by and large. Zellner has truly created one of the most immersive experiences, both visually and viscerally, in recent memory. Mixing brief moments of such euphoria and promise with long, melancholic sequences of silence set against a wintery prairie or a thick, heavily-dusted forest. Zellner whole-heartedly comprehends the complexity of his muse and executes with the utmost respect,  deriving the disheartening beauty and helplessness originating from Konishi’s turbulent final days.

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That said, a strong case can be made that Zellner’s greatest accomplishment with “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter” is despite the film’s rather macabre content, it eloquently and ultimately depicts the unyielding, boundless power of cinema in a positive light. Zellner’s subtlety and maliciously sweet approach to such a bizarre and definitively dark tale that is, to some degree about the negative, specifically one of the more rare downsides of cinema, despite it not having any control in the matter, excellently and truthfully portrays cinema’s ability to overcome any mishap or catastrophe and speaks volumes to the sheer strength and hallow nature of film as an art form.

Zellner and crew aren’t the only ones operating at the top of their game with “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter.” In the title role, Rinko Kikuchi is at her very best. Whether she’s uttering no more than a few words in broken English, starring off into a vicious whiteout, or bearing the insufferable hospitality of her newly-found, unwanted acquaintances, Kikuchi has full command of the screen and the audience’s heartstrings. I cannot praise Kikuchi’s performance enough, it’s difficult to describe what her fully-invested honesty and child-like innocence translates to on the screen. It’s magic, pure and simple. Easily the best performance she’s given in her career to date.

Oh and David Zellner, who pulls triple duty also grabbing a supporting role, is equal to the task and much, much more. The film wouldn’t be the same without his kind-hearted, empathetically-driven moral compass.

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Mystical, incredibly transcendent, and unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter” is, without question, 2015s best film thus far and will be near-impossible to knock from that pedestal in the near future. Long live Bunzo!

Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter: 9 out of 10.

 

 

My Top 10 Films of 2013:

I wasn’t really planning on posting a personal favourites list for 2013, but upon seeing the results of “Vote: Best of 2013” and how greatly they differed from my own, I felt it necessary to share with you all my favourite films from the past year. As for the results themselves, in which you all kindly contributed, they will be posted this Thursday, so keep an eye out for that. I’ll do my very best to keep this list short and sweet. You can find my full review for each film by clicking on the corresponding title, enjoy!

Honourable Mention:

The Place Beyond the Pines:

Earlier on, when this film was released, it was very much at the top of my list. However, as the year progressed and more highly-sought pictures caught my attention, Derek Cianfrance’s lovely epic just couldn’t hold on to a spot. That being said, I truly believe it has a significant amount of staying power and if any of the films listed ahead of it falter with time, “The Place Beyond the Pines” will surely make a jump into the top 10.

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10: 12 Years a Slave:

Directed by skyrocketing genius Steve McQueen, creator of “Hunger” and “Shame.” “12 Years a Slave” depicts the unbelievable story of Solomon Northup, a free black man abducted and sold into slavery, where he stayed for twelve long years. Featuring a plethora of staggering performances, a tremendous musical score, and stunning, yet disturbing visuals. This flick is sure to be apart of cinema’s canon for a good, long while

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9: The Hunt:

The only foreign film to make my top 10 is Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt.” About a man struggling against the simplistic destruction of a rumour, this film is, without question, one of the most disturbing on the list. Starring the magnificent Mads Mikkelsen, “The Hunt” is a lock for best foreign feature this award season, for me at least.

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8: All is Lost (review coming soon):

Having only become aware of this film in the recent months, its power and sheer brilliance knocked me off my feet. Following a man at sea who becomes shipwrecked and discombobulated, “All is Lost” is a magnificent triumph. Starring Robert Redford, and only him. What this film is able to achieve with limited cast, settings, and dialogue is miraculous.

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7: American Hustle:

My placing of this film may surprise a few as “American Hustle” will undoubtedly be in many cinephiles top 5 films of the year. There isn’t much fault in this flick, the performances are superlative, the direction unparalleled, and its soundtrack timeless. That being said, the film’s shaky story led to its positioning here at number seven.

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6: Gravity:

Up until about November, “Gravity” was very much in play to be in my top 5 films of the year. Unfortunately for Cuaron’s masterpiece however, a slew of infallible films came along and knocked it out of the top tier. Don’t be fooled though, this film is an unrivalled achievement and will be so for many years to come. The imagery, performances, and story are entrancing, not to mention the soothing musical score.

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5: Drinking Buddies:

Okay, here is my shocker, went off the board with this one. All kidding aside however, the truth is “Drinking Buddies” is a masterful character study and one of the most honest, authentic, heartbreaking films you will ever witness. Featuring fantastic performances from the entire cast, Joe Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies” managed to surprise everyone, me included, and force its way into my top 5.

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4: Inside Llewyn Davis:

Being a former musician, I can really sympathize with the lead in the Coen brothers masterpiece, “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Tossing that aside, this film is still a towering experience and undoubtedly finds itself amongst the Coen brothers best. Featuring outstanding performances and the best soundtrack of the year, “Inside Llewyn Davis” makes the list without question.

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3: Her

For a little while there, I thought “Her” was going to be number 1 on my list. Carrying the most original story, a breathtaking script, and spectacular performances, Spike Jonze really outdid himself with this one. People will be talking about “Her” long after the film has ended, perhaps even after humankind has ended…

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2: Mud:

Jeff Nichols “Mud” is a modern-day fable. Conveying a harsh lesson about growing up and love, this impeccable tale starring Matthew McConaughey and Tye Sheridan is my runner-up.

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1: The Wolf of Wall Street:

Scorsese and DiCaprio, enough said…no, not enough? How about Jonah Hill and stunner Margot Robbie? This flick is absolutely crazy in every sense. I didn’t hesitate for one-second putting “The Wolf of Wall Street” at the top of this list.

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Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

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Is it the media industry that’s in the shitter? Or is it the content itself that’s stuck to the back of the toilet? Who knows, maybe we’re to blame for digesting this garbage. Because quite frankly, I don’t think public relations, commercialism, and technology has ever been so abundant, profitable, advanced…essentially, easy. The ones who’s jobs it is to shove this over-saturated, bland, overcompensating drivel down our throats until we choke are succeeding, they’re doing their job. And sure, the ones who create the pollution are at fault to an extent, but the crap they conjure up is kind of intentional isn’t it? I mean, if we keep gobbling it up and spewing currency into their wallets like a volcano, who can blame them, right? So doesn’t that mean the reason for quality’s collapse stems from us, the consumers? Who do you think is to blame, the creators, the sellers, or the swallowers?

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Sorry about that rant, I’m just out of “Inside Llewyn Davis” and it’s making me wish things were better nowadays. And I’m not just talking about music either. I had to travel quite aways to catch this flick because it wasn’t playing in my area. And this is happening all to often recently. The only place showing the film is a small art-house downtown that’s a bit of a hassle to get to for me. I have no problem travelling to see a movie, especially one of this caliber. It’s just that, I have quite a few cinemas in my surroundings…big, new, expensive theatres and you’re telling me not one of them bothered to pick this up ? I know the reasons are obvious, for example, compared to the big-budget flicks staring A-listers screening, “Inside Llewyn Davis” would earn mere peanuts. Which is where the problem begins I guess. It’s not like the Coen brothers are unheard of to cinephiles. I mean, would people rather watch mindless trash or sappy romance flicks than this towering achievement? Maybe it’s just me, I’m probably just preaching or being stupid. Anyway…

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As I previously stated, the film we’re discussing here is the Coen brothers latest masterpiece, “Inside Llewyn Davis.” It opens on a lonely microphone surrounded by  a disheartening silence. Llewyn soon breaks this soundless void with a haunting, melancholic folk ballad that sets the tone for the rest of the film. If you’re searching for a flick with hope, laughter, and happiness, this is not the experience for you. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is about as depressing, honest, and real as it gets. Soon after, we set off accompanying Mr. Davis, a young folk musician, as he struggles to sell himself and find work. Llewyn then begins to implode under the weight of his own principals and broken relationships. Down and out, Llewyn makes one last push to rise above it all and hitches a ride to Chicago in hopes of jump-starting his career. Making new friends, losing old ones, and accidentally alienating those who love him. Llewyn suffers under our greatest fear, loneliness, as he tries to stay true to himself.

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Granted it’s not the Coen’s most complex, exhilarating story. It’s but a brief moment in a young, talented, ambitious man’s life that they depict, every high and low with staggering accuracy and sparkling authenticity. There’s no doubt you’ll experience, sympathize, and feel more with “Inside Llewyn Davis” than any other film this year. Spotted with gloomy skies, dirty sunsets, harsh weather, and the unforgiving, breathtaking countryside. The Coen’s continue to utilize poignant, terrifying visuals to create unfathomable depth and atmosphere. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more masterful use of what the Earth offers naturally. The dialogue isn’t as memorable as some of the Coen’s more comedic, violent films, but offers up some genuine humour and heartbreaking quips. Alongside this, a series of original and classic folk songs by Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake, Bob Dylan, and others lay an assault upon your body. “Inside Llewyn Davis” has the best soundtrack of the year, hands down, enough said.

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Finding a cast that is as talented on the screen as they are musically inclined is a hell of a feat. A task that the Coen brothers seemed to relish undertaking and one they achieved beyond words. Starring Oscar Isaac in the title role, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garret Hedlund, and Justin Timberlake. “Inside Llewyn Davis” offers up one of the best ensembles 2013 has to offer. Without question, Isaac leads the way here. He gives a phenomenal portrayal of an invested, skilled, worn musician fighting with his artistic mindset and conforming to survive. There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be picking up quite a few accolades come award season. Mulligan is as striking as ever and quite easily leaves the viewer smitten. It’s a real shame she doesn’t get the recognition she deserves. Hedlund and Goodman, although sparsely used, form a charismatic, obnoxious duo that’ll leave you grabbing your sides and clenching your heart. Hedlund closely matches Isaac stride for stride and hopefully will break through with this role. Timberlake brings his talent to the film and not much else, which isn’t any fault of his own. His character is short and not given a chance to develop.

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Right now, the Coen brothers “Inside Llewyn Davis” is battling Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” for my favourite film of the year…that should speak to how good this film truly is. I mean, I’m not a fan of musicals or dance flicks, and I’m not claiming that this film is either of those, but it does have similar elements. I’m merely saying that this expressionistic, impressionistic piece is so bloody brilliant, down right transcendent that it envelopes the screen and radiates life. It may or may not be the Coen’s greatest achievement, but it’s pretty damn close.

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Inside Llewyn Davis: 9.5 out of 10.

The Guest List: The Cinematic Frontier

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Okay all, this week I am very privileged to have Louis from The Cinematic Frontier contributing his top 10 to The Guest List! If you haven’t already followed/subscribed to his website, do so now! Just click the link on the site name to be redirected.

If you’re interested in submitting your very own top 10 to The Guest List, here’s how! C’mon help me out, I’d love to have every single one of you contribute!

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 Louis now, enjoy!

Top 10 Bruce Campbell Movie Roles: by Louis

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A special thanks to Joseph for allowing me to contribute my top ten list. I present my top ten Bruce Campbell movie roles for movies that actually played in movie theaters (TV movies and direct-to-video films don’t count here; sorry Sam Axe and Alien Apocalypse fans). Go ahead and take a look at this list that celebrates the king of B-movie actors, the immortal Bruce Campbell:

10: Final Shemp: Darkman

Campbell was actually director Sam Raimi’s original choice to play the title character, but Universal vetoed this choice. Raimi was still able to get Campbell in the film with this memorable cameo.

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9: Winkie Gatekeeper: Oz: The Great and Powerful

A pivotal cameo in Raimi’s Oz film, Campbell gets to shine briefly and get tortured by possibly Raimi himself off-camera.

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8: Charles Travis: Congo

Campbell originally auditioned for the role of Dr. Peter Elliott, but was given this smaller role instead.  Nevertheless, he shines in this extended cameo that is central to the plot of the film.

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7: Ring Announcer: Spider Man

The first of three important and hilarious Spider-Man cameos.  In this one, he’s the guy who actually gives Spider-Man his name.

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6: Snooty Usher: Spider Man 2

In this Spider-Man film, Campbell is the guy who doesn’t let Peter Parker into the theater to see Mary Jane’s play.  Campbell rules this scene with his subtle humor.

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5: Maitre d’: Spider Man 3

In this Spider-Man film, Campbell is the guy who tries to help Peter Parker set up his proposal to Mary Jane at a French restaurant. The situation becomes hilariously disastrous.

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4: Mayor Shelbourne: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Campbell brings a villainous streak to this small mayor who becomes a gluttonous control freak.

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3: Smitty: The Hudsucker Proxy

The biggest role he’s had in a Coen brothers movie features Campbell as a 1950s reporter for the Manhattan Argus newspaper.

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2: Elvis Presley: Bubba Ho-Tep

Bruce Campbell as Elvis Presley?  Fighting an Egyptian mummy as well?  And assisted by a black JFK?  Count me in.

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1: Ash: Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness

His most famous role, a selfish everyman who’s also a competent Deadite-killing machine with killer one-liners and an eventual chainsaw for a hand.  Hail to the king!

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Alright, that’ll do it for this week’s edition of The Guest List. I want to send a big thank you to Louis and The Cinematic Frontier for contributing. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Have a great weekend!

Top 10 Films of 2013 Predicted

To make the directive of this list clear. The films contained are what myself and cinema2033 believe to be the best hopes for cinema in 2013. Again, these are our preferential films, not that of the general viewing public. We are simply predicting what we think will be our favourite or preferred films of the year. We will be creating a separate list with what we believe to be the most anticipated films of 2013. That list will be our perceived notions from discussing and judging the amount of publicity, budget, and overall excitement of the general public. Without further delay, Enjoy another chapter of our top 10 series.

Let’s begin this list with the honourable mentions. Stoker, A Single Shot, The Look of Love, American Hustle, Don Jon, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, The Fifth Estate, Out of the Furnace, Kill Your Darlings, and Before Midnight. We would also like to insert Terrence Malick’s 2013 film, even though its cast, story, and release date are kind of up in the air at the moment.

10: Inside Llewyn Davis. Directed and written by the Coen brothers and starring Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund, and John Goodman. Inside Llewyn Davis is sure to be another Coen brother smash.

9: Mud. Written and Directed by Jeff Nichols, the mind behind Shotgun Stories and the hauntingly epic Take Shelter. Mud stars Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, and Michael Shannon.

8: Trance. The new film from the brilliant Danny Boyle. Trance is a mind-bending thrill ride featuring outstanding performances from James McAvoy and Vincent Cassel.

7: The Counselor. Based on Cormac McCarthy’s incredible novel and helmed by none other than Ridley Scott. With its outstanding cast that features Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, and Javier Bardem. The Counselor is ripe with genius and ready for viewing.

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6: The Place Beyond the Pines. Directed by Derek Cianfrance and starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Rose Byrne, and Ben Mendelsohn. The Place Beyond the Pines is an intricate gem.

5: The Way, Way Back. What seems to be an endearing coming of age romantic comedy. The Way, Way Back looks to have another outstanding performance from Sam Rockwell and an unusual role for Steve Carrell.

4: Nymphomaniac. Directed by the creative and controversial Lars von Trier. Nymphomaniac appears to be a fresh take on sexual addiction with Shia LaBeouf, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Stellan Skarsgard leading the way.

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3: The Wolf of Wall Street. Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, need I say more?

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2: Only God Forgives. The Duo of Gosling and Refn appear to be stealing the spotlight from Scorsese and DiCaprio, and rightfully so. This follow up to their 2011 hit Drive is one of the most anticipated releases of 2013.

1: Twelve Years a Slave. Steve McQueen, director of Hunger and Shame, teams up once again with Michael Fassbender for this mid-1800 slavery epic. Also starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, and Scoot McNairy. Twelve Years a Slave has all the key facets to take top spot as our best film of 2013 predicted.

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If you think we overlooked a film or made a grave error on our list, please comment below. Also, if you have recommendations for future top 10’s, don’t hesitate to let us know.