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Locke (2014)

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There’s really nothing special about Ivan Locke, he’s actually quite common. He has a wife and two children. He departs for work every morning in a respectable vehicle and returns home to his family at day’s end. He dresses satisfactory, has a scruffy beard, and catches colds like the rest of us. At his place of employment, he answers to his superiors and manages those with an inferior title. He struggles mightily with his own mortality and cheers on his favourite football team. For reasons beyond his control, Ivan was deprived of a father figure growing up and sadly lives his life to achieve an unreachable status of fatherhood immaculacy, a goal his neglectful dad could never dream of fulfilling.

Ivan has lived his life as if it were a blueprint. He takes excruciating precautions not to misstep, as he understands the consequences of an error, no matter how small. Unfortunately however, Ivan has made but one mistake in his trivial existence and it will end up costing him everything. For you see, on any other day, Locke would be retuning home about now, but he should have realized that a single mistake sets off a chain reaction. And like a series of dominoes tumbling over one another, Ivan’s empire, slowly but surely, will collapse… Yes, I guess you could say Ivan Locke is nothing special.

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If I’m to be honest, there’s a multitude of reasons why Steven Knight’s “Locke” is such a triumph. It’s incredibly strong dialogue, endless chain of symbolic metaphors, and brilliant use of rhetoric and pathos sets a marvellous, nearly flawless foundation which allows director/writer Steven Knight, his crew, and ensemble to not only take risks and part ways with convention, but to thrive inside their own trial and error. They consistently violate and push their own discoveries to an extreme like no filmmakers have done before them. I mean, some of the things done in this film left me flabbergasted. Not to mention that the realism of “Locke’s” premise, dialogue, and circumstances gracefully and painfully transcend the screen. In fact, it’s so revolutionary that regardless of the fact if you enjoy the film or not, one can’t help but admire and revere what Knight and company have done here. With “Locke,” less is truly more.

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I do find it odd however, rather ironic actually, that a film centred around the notion that safety comes with structure and convention has such disdain towards method and canon. I mean, at countless moments we are gagged with the premise that to build something concrete, one needs feasibility, rules, design and stability. And yet, Steven Knight’s “Locke” is existing, contradictory proof. It’s quite the paradox when you think about it.

“Locke” is experimental, minimalist cinema at its finest. The film was shot entirely on three cameras mounted inside a BMW with only a handful of external shots sparsely spliced in. In addition to a minuscule budget, “Locke” was filmed in its entirety from start to finish each night twice during production, with Hardy inside the vehicle and the voice actors in a hotel room calling the number connected to the X5. There are so many little quirks and factual tidbits about the film that you just have to investigate and experience for your self. Like Tom Hardy having come down with a head cold immediately before production so the script was changed so his character could accommodate the sickness. Additionally, Hardy’s seemingly brilliant sporadic anger fits are just a bi-product of the X5’s incessant “low fuel warning” alarm interrupting his performance.

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Now, with a director like Terrence Malick, for example, the scope can never be too large. Knight’s latest on the other hand, takes it down to the microscopic scale. And although the amplitude may vary, I can assure you there are equal amounts of talent and dedication on either end. And while Knight isn’t exactly new to filmmaking, actually he’s quite the wily veteran, he is still getting ahold of directing as “Locke” is only his second full-length feature behind the camera. It’s rather comical actually seeing as one would think Knight had been directing his entire life judging by the caliber of “Locke.” His mastery of the film’s mood is nothing short of superb. His ability to create this dark, almost apocalyptic atmosphere that lingers so heavy on the screen translates to his characters and the film’s overall effectiveness. Of course, it does help that the film’s soundtrack is as hauntingly ambient and foreboding as they come.

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If you know me at all, it should be crystal clear that I can’t say enough good things about Tom Hardy. The guy’s a one man show, literally. I honestly thought I’d seen his best, but once again Hardy manages to dazzle in ways I never thought possible. I know I’ve been praising Knight’s technique, inventiveness, and ingenuity a lot in this review, but his efforts would have been for nothing had Hardy not carried the film in the manner he did. Shifting from a stoic, control hungry realist to an inconsolable and flawed man with seemingly little-to-no effort, Hardy appears to get better with each outing. His voice, eyes, and demeanour give Hardy unbelievable control of the screen, and the fact that the film takes place in such a confined space only enhances his abilities. I know it’s early, but Hardy’s performance in “Locke” is easily the best of 2014 thus far.

Ingenious, hard-hitting, and undoubtedly simple, “Locke” is an expressionistic piece that is, without question, one of a kind. Featuring a phenomenal performance from Tom Hardy and stern, resourceful direction from Steven Knight, “Locke” is one of 2014’s must-see.

Locke: 9 out of 10.

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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.

Top 10 Films That Give Me Goosebumps

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Now, before you jump to any conclusions about this week’s top 10, just bear with me for a minute. When I mention “goosebumps,” I mean these specific films listed provoke a profound reaction of euphoria, nostalgia, and wonderment in me, essentially any strong emotion. These feelings can be caused by breathtaking imagery, an ambient, sedating soundtrack, haunting dialogue, or simply a magnificent performance. I know this top 10 is rather personal and abstract, seeing as any film can evoke any reaction depending on the individual. I just think its time I put more of myself into these weekly posts. While the other editions of the top 10 segment are sorted and ranked by me and me alone, I do take other factors into account before concluding and publishing. You might think that this top 10 contains a lot of my all- time favourite films. Although it is a good indicator of what I look for and enjoy in a film, you’d be surprised at how many are actually considered to be some of my preferred films…but I digress…let’s just get into it!

For each film listed I’ll provide a brief clip for you all to check out. If you like what you see, I highly recommend all films listed, so give them a watch and be sure to let me know what you think!

Honourable Mention:

“The Trip” (2010) Michael Winterbottom.

 

10: “Melancholia” (2010) Lars Von Trier.

 

9: “Another Earth” (2011) Mike Cahill

 

8: “To the Wonder” (2012) Terrence Malick.

 

7: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004) Michael Gondry.

 

6: Into the Wild (2007) Sean Penn.

 

5: “The Tree of Life” (2012) Terrence Malick.

 

4: “127 Hours” (2011) Danny Boyle.

 

3: “Take Shelter” (2011) Jeff Nichols.

 

2: “Moon” (2009) Duncan Jones.

 

1: “Sunshine” (2007) Danny Boyle.

 

Okay all, that’ll do it for this week’s top 10, hope you all enjoyed it! If you have any comments or questions about the top 10 or any of the films listed, don’t hesitate to ask. Everyone have a great weekend!

Badlands (1973)

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Splicing the airy, almost weightlessness of picturesque terrain, brilliantly compacted dialogue, and unflinching violence into a vividly powerful love story. Badlands is Terrence Malick’s expressionistic piece that still remains his most ambitious release to date. Aside from his striking direction, Malick’s suave, eventful script is not to be overlooked. Although remaining somewhat sparse, Badlands contains his most frequent, inspired diction. However, it’s still no substitute for the atmospheric, elemental panoramas of the surrounding landscapes. A vicious, obsessive love condensed into a runtime that’s compressed when compared to other Malick pictures. Badlands leads Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek capture the youth and indifference of two wayward lovers bent on mayhem and adventure. Taking into account the immaturity and easily corruptible or persuaded minds of innocence, Malick completes his descent into the warped brains of impulsive souls.

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Kit (Sheen), a young garbage collector, stumbles upon Holly (Spacek) during one of his routine pickups. When the two strike up an unusual relationship, they need to keep it a secret from Holly’s overprotective father. After Kit struggles to find a new job upon being fired as a garbage man, the unwanted pressure from Holly’s dad begins to excessively bother Kit. When Holly’s father shoots her dog as punishment for sneaking around behind his back with Kit, the two decide to take matters into their own hands. Kit guns down Holly’s father with a pistol as she watches unfazed. The two then flee from the law doing whatever is necessary to keep themselves alive and running.

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The first full length feature directed by Terrence Malick. Badlands is based loosely upon a real-life couple who committed a series of murders in 1958. Badlands essentially might be a work of fiction, but it never sacrifices authenticity. Wanting Badlands to play out rather like a fairy tale, Malick takes his two leads from small beginnings to overwhelming heights. Everything from its delusional, flamboyant characters, desensitization towards violence, and enjoyable ending eerily resembles a morose, adult fable.

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With Badlands, Malick controls his two leads more so than his later efforts. Yet somehow still manages to let Sheen and Spacek evolve and define their own characters. Martin Sheen is deliciously rebellious and devilishly unfazed by his evil mannerisms and actions. Sheen emits the youthful good looks and sparks of angst to captivate the pure and polite Spacek, as well as the audience. Getting caught up in the imaginative whirlwind of an early teens thought process. Spacek quickly crumbles under her hearts desire and radiates the lack of decisiveness that accompanies adoration. From the get go, Spacek is the muse and relishes her role. Switching from a playful, fruitful existence to a questionably calm and emotionless teen, Spacek performs admirably. At times, living as if they’re free from the world. Sheen and Spacek sweetly endure one another until their time runs out.

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As for Malick, it is apparent he was a force from the start. If you’re looking, they’re tiny hints as to what we could expect from him for years to come throughout Badlands. Conversely, it’s a real treat to see Malick let loose. It’s supremely bewildering to watch him work, boundless. Without question, Badlands is Malick’s most unrestrained effort. Blending elements of what make Malick the illustrious, imaginative filmmaker we know today and some of his more unrefined, rough edges from early in his career. Badlands is an unhampered, limitless dive into the brilliant mind of Terrence Malick.

Featuring some of Malick’s most captivating camerawork and dialogue. Badlands is a wonderful first film that showcases the early beauty and intellect we’ve come to expect from the extremely talented Terrence Malick.

Badlands: 9 out of 10.

To the Wonder (2012)

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It just wouldn’t be a Terrence Malick premiere without a divided audience, one half cheering ecstatically while the other group claps a bit less enthused. At the Toronto International Film Festival this past year, To the Wonder was perceived by some of its viewers to be choppy and disengaging while others found it vibrant, full of artistry, and undeniably heartfelt. I was in attendance and was in the latter category. To the Wonder is a respectable follow up to The Tree of Life proving that Malick’s sudden splurge into rapid filmmaking hasn’t hampered his abilities. Starring Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Olga Kurylenko, and Javier Bardem, To the Wonder has plenty of talent to showcase both on and off screen. As with most Malick films, the sparse dialogue and his infatuation with letting the visuals do the talking might discourage even the most avid filmgoer.

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Upon visiting Mont Saint-Michel, Marina (Kurylenko) and Neil (Affleck) return to Oklahoma where Marina has trouble adapting to her new lifestyle. Marina confides in Father Quintana (Bardem) who is struggling with his religion and faith in humanity. While Neil and Marina continue to distance from one another, Jane (McAdams), a childhood friend of Neil’s enters the picture. As Neil and Jane become closer, Marina fades out of Neil’s life and he is left trying to recoup their relationship.

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A bit more structured than Malick’s past endeavours, the intertwining tales in To the Wonder much like The Tree of Life criss cross the limitations of faith, family, and fate. The themes and scenarios might be too diagnostic and preachy for some, but To the Wonder knows its message and subtly displays it in beauty and strength. After viewing To the Wonder at its TIFF premiere, I was taken back by Olga Kurylenko’s performance. She is weightless as she drifts in and out of her characters own importance as it clashes with her daughters, trying to live her life while still doing right by her child. Ben Affleck, Kurylenko’s other half is primal and compassionately segmented between love and reality. McAdams and Bardem, while scarcely used are scene stealers whenever they do hit the screen. Malick doesn’t miss a beat in directing To the Wonder even though it is the fastest consecutive film he has ever completed. To the Wonder is transcendent, illuminating, and bold, a must see for fans of Malick and cast.

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To the Wonder: 8.5 out of 10.

Days of Heaven (1978)

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Only the second full length feature directed by Terrence Malick. Days of Heaven takes place near the beginning of the century and is an insightful look into the repercussions of youth, love, and angst. Displaying Terrence Malick at the start of his career, Days of Heaven showcases his affection for setting and how the importance it carries is just as relevant to the story as the script or acting. Days of Heaven is a poetic follow up for Malick unlike his ambitious, unsettling debut, Badlands. Richard Gere is decidedly ruthless and unforgiving much like a reflection to the abundant, dry terrain the film is based upon. With the pitch and incoherence of the voice over accompanying the immense field like desert, Malick is able to effectively initiate a sense of insignificance in the belittling world. Days of Heaven may start off a bit sluggish but it ends exhilaratingly strong.

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Bill (Gere) and Abby (Brooke Adams), a young couple who pretend to be siblings to shake any unwanted attention, must flee Chicago to find work and escape poverty. After stealing a ride on a train headed south with a child named Linda, the couple ends up in Texas and find work on a farm during the harvest. When the harvest ends, the owner of the fields invites the three to live with him as he has fallen in love with Abby. When Bill and Abby overhear that the owner is seriously ill and doesn’t have long to live, they decide that Abby will marry him to gain some financial benefit. When the expected passing doesn’t come, jealousy and anger begin to set in.

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As with every Malick film, you will want to pay close attention to the location. Malick is persistent in his attempts at matching the depth of his cinematic prose with settings that are just as rewarding. His use of shadow, atmosphere, and vast spaces are incomparable and coexist harmoniously with this classic love story. The dissonance in the music accompanying the ominous thesis woven in Days of Heaven evokes a certain disgust, like the prick of a needle. It’s the fact that although the marriage is done with the best intentions, you cannot shake the feeling of prostitution and deceit. Days of Heaven is deliberately paced and complete storytelling at his finest.

Days of Heaven: 7.5 out of 10.