The summer movie season is in full swing. And based on the downtrend in my reviews (both in quantity and my general feelings about the films I’m seeing), I haven’t been all too impressed. Sure, Before Midnight swept me off my feet and stands as the best film of 2013 thus far. But middling disappointments from This Is the End to Man of Steel are compounded by atrocities like Now You See Me and The Hangover Part III. With major cinema chains plugging away with the usual dull summer fare, the offerings over on the independent circuit, along with selections from the extensive libraries found at Netflix and Redbox, are enough to satiate hungry viewers in need of a good contemporary fix. While not all hits, there are a substantial volume of new films worth a look.
(Andy Muschietti, 2013)
Vaginal openings and moths galore, Mama is in equal measures ludicrous and oddly transfixing. Drenched in Executive Producer Guillermo Del Toro’s specialty brand of child horror, the film emphasizes atmosphere over all else. It makes for a successfully creepy milieu, balancing a fairy tale aesthetic with a modernist flare. Featuring Jessica Chastain in one of her best performances to date, she functions as the crucial human element to the odd supernatural occurrences that populate the majority of the film. Narratively, Mama hodgepodges thin ideas that fail to weave into anything thematically resonate, but through sharp lensing and a palpable central performance, the whole effort overcomes some of its shortcomings. Whatever brash statements the filmmakers attempt to make in regards to maternal obligations are ultimately lost in favor of a good scare – which isn’t all too bad.
(Ignancio Ferreras, 2011)
The 2012 Animated Feature Oscar slate was, with the inclusion of Puss in Boots and Kung-Fu Panda 2, a disappointing one. It’s even more depressing to think that a film like Wrinkles – a film that made the shortlist of 18 at the time couldn’t muster a nomination that also included Rango, A Cat in Paris, and Chico & Rita. With no Oscar nomination to its name, subsequent distribution for Wrinkles has been nonexistent. I was lucky enough to catch the film as part of a Cinema Chicago’s International Screenings Program but where it goes from there is a mystery. While Wrinkles may not bolster the sort of high-end visual palette found in a Pixar film, its economical design merits high praise. More importantly, director Iganancio Ferreras utilizes the animated medium for narrative purposes – exposing a rhythmic desire to explore the decadence of a man’s mental state. The whole effort has a warm quality despite the heaviness of its material, where Ferreras shows careful restraint in never oversaturating Wrinkles with sentimentality. Animated films in general has shown a steady decline in the past few years; Wrinkles buckles the trend and shows you what an independent filmmaker can do with the medium.
of Watch (David Ayer, 2012)
End of Watch makes little visual sense. It moves from various vantage points without much discretion to the viewer or the characters inhabiting the terrain. At times dizzying, End of Watch ultimately succeeds and simply blows away expectations by the inherit primal nature of its storytelling. Few films released in the past few years have been able to move with such unrelenting gusto and narrative purpose as End of Watch. The closest similarity I can really come to is that it bares some striking similarities to Vincent Gilligan’s Breaking Bad series. The two have a similar propulsive energy that ignites my interest and basically encumbers analysis. What we have here is something that aims right for the jugular; perpetually humorous humane, and breathlessly entertaining. But even as I forgo the film’s technical flaws (and nuances), there’s a rich social context to be mined here. Whether it is the atypical buddy cop camaraderie between Michael Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal or the racial melting pot that is Los Angeles, End of Watch explores a grimy underworld with an aesthetic to match. Ayer effectively captures the chaos of filmmaking and the chaos of L.A. streets with such confidence that it results in one of the most high-octane and hyperkinetic films of 2012.