‘The Source Family’ Review

7G45VzeThe Source Family is masterwork in documentation. It is really a miracle this film could be made in the way it was. The story of the Source family is told through a beautifully edited telling of Jim Baker’s cult group know as the Source Family. The directors of the documentary keep their opinions out of the picture. They take a great approach by interviewing members of the family and having them tell their versions of the story.

This is all grouped together with a plethora of 16mm footage and photography. This is the highlight of the film for me that a small time in history could be so well archived as it was. The use of actual footage gives the story that much more reality. It is hard to believe that some of these things happened had we not seen actually footage of the events that took place. I don’t know what was more remarkable, the stillborn birth or Father Yod’s paragliding flight that would eventually lead to his death.

Another mentionable aspect of this film is its soundtrack. The songs are taken directly from The Source Family’s music albums that were released over their time as a group. The music is rather good, sometimes strange, but there is definitely quality in the music.

This documentary is far from forgettable, a remarkable work of documentation and editing.


‘Gone Girl’ Review

enhanced-buzz-wide-384-1406873867-8On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) came home to find furniture turned over, glass tables shattered, and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing. It’s not long before Nick found himself blamed for the disappearance and possible murder of his wife. These accusations led to national media frenzy, making him question both his character and innocence.

At its core, “Gone Girl” is a mystery. Initially, the classic question “whodunnit?” is proposed. This is why we come to see the film – to sit through two hours of obscurity and eventually get a good pay off. But writer Gillian Flynn and director David Fincher – director of films including “Fight Club” (1999) and “The Social Network” (2010) – have other ideas up their sleeves.

The opening shot of the film illustrates a picture of marital perfection. As Amy lies in Nick’s lap, she stares lovingly into his eyes – the eyes of the audience. But this picture is quickly distorted by Nick’s foundational narrative quote:

“When I think of my wife, I picture cracking her lovely skull, unspooling her brains. Trying to get answers. What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What have we done to each other?”

The rest of the film reflects this moment.

Initially, Nick and Amy – by all appearances – seem flawless. Underneath their façade, however, is something raw, naked and ugly. It takes our preliminary expectation of love and textbook relationships and flips them on their head.

Much of the film goes back and forth between the past and present. Amy narrates her side of the story through a number of diary entries, which become important to the overall narrative. With every entry, we understand more about the nuances of Nick and Amy’s relationship and the effect it has on the present, ongoing story.

The film cleverly touches on a number of themes by blurring the line between feminism and misogyny. The biggest of these themes revolves around gender relations. One moment, Nick appears narcissistic and aggressive. In the next, we find Amy appalling and sadistic. Although it helps that the story’s narration is shared between both sexes, it’s nearly impossible to determine the antagonist or pinpoint how we feel about either character throughout the film.

Fincher has always been known for his dark tone and visual exactitude. This remains true with “Gone Girl.” Not only does the story deal with challenging themes, the photographic aesthetic is consistently dark and mysterious. We never struggle to understand the motivation behind the camera. It’s apparent that Fincher worked closely with cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth to get the most out of this visual medium.

Fincher’s reach for visual perfection, however, doesn’t end with the camera. It continues with the editing. Although the story evolves from a basic premise into a complex narrative, we never lose track of any of the character’s development. Likewise, the editing never takes away from what has been framed in the camera. Rather, it adds to the overall pacing and optical grace of the picture.

I must also comment on the beguiling score composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The track “Appearances,” for example, skillfully reflects the outward beauty of the two main characters and the underlying fakery of their relationship. The soundtrack regularly interchanges between unnervingly eerie to pulsating, tension-building beats. It has earned its equitable spot as one of my favorite soundtracks of the year.

There is plenty to be said about “Gone Girl.” Similarly, the film has a lot to say. The world Fincher and Flynn crafted is ingeniously melodramatic. As a mystery-thriller, I have no criticisms. Every objection I had was illegitimate as it was vindicated by the end of the film. It is both a classic – reminding me of “Vertigo,” my favorite Hitchcock film – and modern in relevancy.

“Gone Girl” is one of the best mysteries in years.


‘The Boxtrolls’ (Review)

My first review to be featured in my school’s newspaper site. http://www.huntingtonian.com/?p=24327boxtrolls_xlg

One night in the towering town of Cheeseville, the young son of Mr. Trubshaw is kidnapped by monsters. The vile Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), a pest exterminator, makes a deal with Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) — a cheese-consuming, pompous fool — to rid the town of every one of these brutes in exchange for membership to the White Hats, a group of noble men who serve as the town council. Contrary to Snatcher’s misguided opinion, although mischievous, these creatures are actually a peaceful group of subterranean dwellers known as Boxtrolls.

“The Boxtrolls” was produced by the stop-motion animation studio Laika. This is Laika’s third animated feature, the first two being “Coraline” (2009) — which I consider a near masterpiece — and “Paranorman” (2012). Sadly, “The Boxtrolls” is most definitely the weakest of the three films.

The Boxtrolls themselves can best be described as cute but unorthodox. Every night, this silly group of trolls wander around town in search of items to use for their inventions, all the while wearing their signature cardboard boxes. Among these trolls lives a boy named Eggs (Isaac Wright), watched over by a Boxtroll named Fish (Dee Baker).

As he grows up, Eggs faces the the threat of Archibald and his men Mr. Gristle (Tracy Morgan), Mr. Trout (Nick Frost), and Mr. Pickles (Richard Ayoade) — a group of fumbling idiots who are ironically deeply philosophical, constantly debating the difference between good and evil. Through the years, Egg watches as more and more Boxtrolls are captured by this group. On the 10th anniversary of the Trubshaw baby kidnapping, Egg decides to surface and find out the mystery revolving around these kidnappings.

From here, “The Boxtrolls” becomes rather formulaic. At the end of the first act, I was able to predict the pace of the story nearly beat by beat. Much of the story is pushed along by our villain, Archibald Snatcher, who much like the Boxtrolls themselves, fights for his own sense of place in this world of upper class aristocracy. Eggs as our protagonist stumbles around a lot, befriends Lord Portley-Rind’s daughter Winnie (Elle Fanning), and shows us his lack of human etiquette. Even with its cliché plot line, there is still a chance it could appeal to certain audiences with its humor and visuals.

The only thing I really loved about this film was its visuals. The world is fully realized, and each character model is either strikingly grotesque or cute — in an ugly sort of way. I have always been impressed with Laika’s display of animation, and with “The Boxtrolls,” I was won over once again.

The humor of “The Boxtrolls” won’t be for everyone. The gross-out humor was dished out far too often. I definitely found myself chuckling at dialogue from time to time, but there was only one moment during the film that I heard the whole theater laughing together. Personally, I found the funniest, most genuine moments came by use of satire.

At it’s core, “The Boxtrolls” is a movie about identity and finding one’s place in the world. Few scenes really shine in this film, and as a whole, the movie doesn’t always work. However, it still gets by with its great use of stop-motion and tremendous cast of voice actors.

Is the movie worth the price of a ticket? Maybe, if you get a student discounted matinee.


‘This Is Spinal Tap’ (Review)

spinaltapThis is Spinal Tap is the first mockumentary I have ever seen and I really need to take time to search out some other ones. This film grows increasingly absurd while at the same time growing more and more truthful. The reason This is Spinal Tap truly succeeds is because it of how realistic it truly is. Even though the details may seem farcical, the over arching theme and story plays with that of many true to life bands.

Almost every band movie I can think of hits the same story beats as this hilarious mockumentary. We get the ridiculous locations for performing, the big stadium, the replacement musicians, the break up, and the final re-uniting of the band. It is so perfectly formulaic that it works tremendously well.

Story aside This is Spinal Tap has a terrific cast. Not only did these actors play convincingly comic characters, but also wrote and performed admirably. These songs and performances or so good in fact that the fictional band This is Spinal Tap has made a number of concert tours. How great is that? The songs are catchy and as long as you listen to the lyrics you will be in for a good laugh.

I will definitely be revisiting This is Spinal Tap in the future as I am sure I missed a number of jokes and physical gags. This film should and will be relevant for as long as the music industry exists. Would love to see a sequel, maybe about an anniversary concert tour.


‘Amazing Grace With Bill Moyers (Review)

Amazing Grace had sat with me as little more than a poplar hymn from my baptist going days. After watching Amazing Grace I found it to be a song with much more meaning than I ever imagined. It is a song that has inspired generation, lead many people to salvation, and brought families together for years.

Amazing Grace covers both the history and result of the classic hymn Amazing Grace. The story of Amazing Grace writer, John Newton is told to us. A former slaver and boater, Newton found God and published the song in 1779. His story is narrated by the distinctive vocal talents of Jeremy Irons, using Newton’s own words from his diary and logs. Newton’s history is kept at a minimal and so the real heart of the film is about all the people Amazing Grace has touched.

The song Amazing Grace is sung over and over throughout the film. It is a wonder I never got tired of hearing it. Each time, it is sung with such passion and feeling that I could never dismiss such heartfelt praise. We are given a number of welcoming renditions and stories about Amazing Grace from legends such as Judy Collins and Johnny Cash. Judy Collins talks to us about how Amazing Grace gave her strength through her time battling as an alcoholic. This is where Amazing Grace really hits home, when it get’s personal. But the most fascinating part about the film is not about how it has effected celebrities, but rather how Amazing Grace has defined normal lives and cultures.

We are shown many fascinating life styles. Some of the most interesting come from the deep south, where churches use a special music writing script called shaped notes. This was one of the most intriguing moments for me as I had never heard of such a music writing style. From there we meet a family who every year is reunited, led by their folk singing relative Jean Ritchie. The words of Amazing Grace are uplifting and sorrowful as the celebrate family and those who have passed. Another beautiful story of Grace is told by the inmates of Huntsville Texas and later sing a beautiful all men’s a capela arrangement. One of the final stories is told about the Boys Choir of Harlem, their voices are angelic and their story humbling.

Amazing Grace is a beautiful documentary about truth, love, and the power of God’s grace. I know many will get sick of hearing the song, and may be bored of the content of the film, but I found if you just soak in each verse and chorus as if you were hearing someone’s individual story, you will be able to truly appreciate the power of this film. Each singer in this documentary deserves to have his or her story listened too. What is your story of Amazing Grace?


‘And Everything Is Going Fine’ Review

and_everything_is_going_fine_xlgAnd Everything is Going Fine is simply at it’s core a autobiographical look at Spalding Gray. I say it is autobiographical because it a compilation of Spalding speaking on himself, telling his life story through a series of interviews and spoken story telling style stage shows.

Spalding Gray was little more than a name to me before I saw this documentary. He is an actor, a performer, a father, a lover, a victim of mental illness, and at his very a core a story teller.

As the director Soderbergh is tasked with gathering hours of material and producing a self told documentary that is perfectly paced, hitting on what I thought were the most interesting and important moments in his life.

Gray goes from hilarious to personal and heart breaking without skipping a beat. He opens up to us in ways that some of our best friends never would. Why does he do this? To justify himself? To unleash his burdens on someone else? I think he does it to stay true to himself, to never lose composure. So we never see around the character, the human being that is Spalding Gray.


‘The Innkeepers’ Review

ExclInnkeepersBigThe Innkeepers scared me more than most horror films. I have never been so tense during a horror film before. I usually find it very easy for me to sit relaxed and poised while my girlfriend hides her face. But I think I may have been even more scared than her this time around.

The movie has this wonderful charm that is carried out by its lead played by Sara Paxton. There is a constant sense of humor that lasted through the whole film. The funniest moment being when Luke scares Claire by saying “I don’t want to scare you, but I’m standing right behind you.”

I would say there are no more than 10 scares in this film, but the lead up to each one absolutely terrified me. Ti West sometimes even makes us sit in agony up to 10 minutes at a time, while we wait for the next scare.

The Innkeepers was simple in every way. The plot was very straight forward. It never gets swept up in a convoluted story line that so many modern horror film fall prey to. The characters are not overly complex and we understand every characters motivation in terms of plot and development. Ti West never get’s carried away with special effects making me feel like even I could have made that film.




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