November 15, 2015

Spectre (Sam Mendes, 2015)

After the tragic death of M and to honor her memory, James Bond uncovers a conspiracy of influential individuals called Spectre, a secret society responsible for strategic terrorist attacks around the world. As Bond strives to thwart their plans, fundamental changes are affecting the secret services back home, leaving Bond to fend for himself.  

First, let me say that Spectre is not a bad film. It is certainly entertaining in very key moments, the opening sequence notwithstanding. It is also visually and technically flawless, as the film is shot in some stunning locations, and its principal photography is breathtaking. However, the plot is rather disappointing, as we're often left scratching our heads about the characters (lack of) motivation rather than taking a legitimate interest in their journey. The Bondisms are all here but feel forced somehow, as if we're told: 'at least we gave you the tropes and nods to the franchise, right?'

The villain was wholly underused; a talent like Christoph Waltz could have brought the lore of the Blofeld character to more interesting places, or at the very least to themes more relevant to the new generation. Daniel Craig still makes a good Bond though, with a lot of machismo and suave. But, the producers have certainly toned down on the grit that Casino Royale had introduced us to and had carried over the next two films.

Overall, Spectre is a good film, but I personally left the theatre disappointed in the experience, since expectations were high after the superb execution of Skyfall.

INFO: Spectre

Olivier Day is an avid photographer, blogger, fearless leader of the influential cult of Awesomeness and guest contributor to the Kinoreal film blog. He's also a self-proclaimed motivation enthusiast and a die-hard movie fan. Olivier Day will also admit to also being a conflicted geek. Photography is his great passion.

Follow him at @olivierday or visit his site at

May 5, 2015

Seven Pounds (Gabriele Muccino, 2008)

WHAT IT IS: An engineer, haunted by the memory of an unforgivable past act, tries to earn his redemption by helping people in need.

HOW IT IS: After 2006's The Pursuit of Happyness, Smith and Muccino team up for another high-concept drama, this time structured as a mystery. Although sporting an interesting premise, Seven Pounds fails to deliver in part due to Muccino's weak direction. At times, when the love story develops, it almost feels like Seven Pounds wants to be a different, more compelling movie, before it reverts back to its previous state. Its mystery is unnecessary, leaving the audience to identify only at the end's reveal and by then it's far too late. Smith's acting is almost uniform, limited to smiles and pouts to express his character's myriad of emotions like loss and regret. The supporting cast is well chosen, with Dawson, Harrelson and Pepper being high points of the distribution.

Seven Pounds is a great concept but executed with poor vision.

IF YOU LIKED: The Pursuit of Happyness, 21 grams.

INFO: Seven Pounds

January 30, 2015

Honeymoon (Leigh Janiak, 2014)

Paul and Bea, a newlywed couple, vacation at the bride's family cabin for their honeymoon. But, even though the chosen setting is perfectly remote and bucolic, strange happenings cast a shadow on the freshly-minted couple. 

What is most impressive (and refreshing) with Honeymoon is the director's perspective. Without any spoilers, the big reveal has a lot to do with the filmmaker's world view and gender, the corruption of the body, losing control of it, losing control of reproduction, and sins of the past haunting the future. There are so many film horror influences that can be discovered throughout the film: Lynch, Cronenberg, cabin horror like the Friday the 13th series, and low-budget indie films, especially for the aesthetics. There were parts of the film where I felt genuine dread, stuck as I was in Bea's frame of mind, feeling pulled in between the fight against the outside influence, and the desire to let go and embrace it. That was, I think, a pretty difficult thing to balance, considering the budget, the genre, the subject matter. 

At times, watching Honeymoon, it's as if we're at the edge of a blade which could turn out quite dull or sharp as hell. Riding that edge is what makes the film so appealing.

INFO: Honeymoon

Live (Noboru Iguchi, 2014)

In Live, a young Japanese man is forced to participate in a murderous race to save his mother, fighting against similar victims hoping to save their loved ones, a novel relating the same premise as his only guide. Even stranger, the novel's principal character has his name.

Now I haven't had the change to see Dead Sushi (Noboru Iguchi, 2012) yet, but if it's anything like Live, I have to get my hands on a copy. What is most impressive with the film is its infectious energy. As a genre film, it's not very original, nor does it try to be. It doesn't try to scare or even be realistic. Iguchi's art is elsewhere than in the plot; it's in the public, how they will react, how they will cheer, how they will squirm and cringe collectively. I get the feeling that every death is in anticipation of that, every plot point is sacrificed to the experience. I mean, you can barely believe some of the things that happen in this movie. And yet, enthralled in the experience, it never matters.

Live is not a movie to watch alone if you're not a big fan of genre films. It's also not for everyone. It's gruesome, inane, and kitsch but oh, what fun!

INFO: Live

April 2, 2014

12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)

A big point of contention with historical films on slavery (or The Black Experience, as it's sometimes naively called) is the way Hollywood films miss the mark on communicating that experience to a mainstream global audience. These movies usually revolve around African or African Diaspora characters and their history between the start of the slave trade in the 16th century to the present day. In bringing these stories to film, Hollywood mostly employs white filmmakers that struggle to find the voice of the black characters in their film. These characters are usually passive, waiting for a determined foreign savior (e.g. Amistad) to change their situation, or are clichéd evildoers (e.g. Captain Phillips) whose motivations are barely put into proper context or are downright immoral.

In light of all this, 12 Years a Slave accomplishes several feats, striving to portray, in earnest, the society in which its protagonist lives, making us experience this historical setting from his perspective. 12 Years a Slave recalls the true story of Solomon Northup, based on his book, a free slave of the state of New York who was sold down the river and lived as a Louisiana slave for 12 years before being liberated. The first innovation of the film is instantly noticeable: both the director (Steve McQueen) and its writer (John Ridley) are of African descent, the former emanating from England, the latter from the US.

John Ridley is a well-known writer in Hollywood. His novel Stray Dogs was turned into the dark film U-Turn (1997), directed by Oliver Stone and starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez and Nick Nolte. He wrote the story for David O. Russell's moral war comedy Three Kings (1999) with George Clooney. He's also a playwright and has published seven novels. Ridley's screenplay for 12 Years a Slave is arguably one of the best screenplays of the year. Its dialogues, rich and tempered, feel more inspired by the theater than films and this only adds to the film's enjoyment.

The film's director, Steve McQueen, has burst unto the international scene with the critically-acclaimed film Hunger (2008), which also lead to the discovery of Michael Fassbinder. McQueen's style, subdued and visually masterful, was honed through years of short film productions and art installations. Admittedly, for the director, his brand of filmmaking is dark, but it helps in moodily depicting the world of 12 Years a Slave.

With such a talented creative team behind it, 12 Years a Slave has the makings of an instant classic film. However, looking historically at how Hollywood portrays non-whites, I had a lot of apprehension that the film would still follow Hollywood formulas and portray disparagingly Caucasians in lieu of the Black characters. The film itself is a mixed bag. Although Ridley's screenplay is an extraordinary achievement, and that the film's elevated by the presence of artful actors like Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Sarah Paulson, it suffers from some of the same afflictions as other Hollywood films in the same category.

One of the negative aspects of the film is its Black hero. It's pathological the way Hollywood films portray black heroes as passive, often begging for help from White characters to defend them. For example, in Amistad and A Time to Kill, Matthew MacConaughey is the last bastion for hope and justice, defending blacks against the system which has wronged them. Djimon Hounsou also takes part in an abhorrent film on the Black condition, Blood Diamond, where the Black character wants to flee Africa at all costs for the perfect lands of Europe, while the White character is the one that loves Africa, his native continent, and sacrifices himself for that love. In contrast, Sweet Sweeback's Badassss Song uncompromisingly opposes its principal Black character to the established power structure oppressing men like him. Its ending is a middle finger to the broader power structure and Hollywood in particular. Even in Black films outside of the mainstream, for example, Ousmane Sembene's Guelwaar, the characters reject the imperative that their lives revolve around the Western world as well as most ideas on Africa and its forced expats: Hollywood reinforces the domination of the West with its constructed myths; personal films from black filmmakers seek to retrieve identity and culture through the mainstream's smokescreen. In that regard, 12 Years a Slave does't try to bite the hands who feed it, narratively choosing to set Northup as a character with neutral impact, keeping his head down until his big breakout, while a constellation of interesting White characters revolve around him, whether carrying positive or negative impact.

And yet, the beauty of 12 Years a Slave, the aspect which is the most interesting, is Steve McQueen's direction. The arresting scenes of the film are the moments of sheer beauty: the candle-lit scenes; the languishing shots on cotton; the Black slaves subliming their pain and despair through song and community. It's in those scenes, away from the trappings of history that we feel the art and the artist, the man that creates a transcendent piece, beyond the cruelty, beyond the preconceptions, beyond the politics.

INFO: 12 Years a Slave