Decalogue IV (11/10/12)

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The Decalogue is a series of ten films loosely based on the ten commandments.

At a glance, it would be easy to write off Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue as religious propaganda or something similar, but that does not seem to be the intention. This is not a heavy handed approach to religion, or even morality. Though there are ten films in the series, each film does not explicitly follow a single commandment. In fact, the series focuses more on people than religion. The films are simple but powerful and though originally shot for Polish television, they are shot beautifully. The quality of the picture is not amazing and the translation seems a bit loose at times, but once you find yourself wrapped up in the story, you likely won’t even notice these things.

Decalogue IV

Anka (Adrianna Biedrzynska) a young woman living with her father, Michal (Janusz Gajos), whom she shares a very close relationship with, almost like friends rather than parent/child. On one of Michal’s business trips, Anka decides to open a letter she finds with the writing “open after my death” on it and finds a letter from her deceased mother in it. After Michal returns from his trip, Anka reveals that she read the letter and that it explained that Michal may not be her real father and the two discover that they may have deeper feelings for each other.

While I understand the description of Decalogue IV sounds very perverse and weird, there is much more to it so please don’t be put off by something incestuous. That said, Decalogue IV is surprising in its frankness about such a relationship but that is also the mastery behind Kieslowski’s filmmaking. Never does Decalogue IV feel sleazy or reaching for a reaction, it presents a very personal relationship up close and unflinchingly but does not exploit the point. The ending will also likely surprise you. Although it is not my favorite of the series so far, Decalogue IV is a film I don’t think I will soon forget.

I give it 5 out of 5.

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Decalogue III (10/19/12)

Decalogue DekalogMovie Two Hundred Thirty Six

The Decalogue is a series of ten films loosely based on the ten commandments.

At a glance, it would be easy to write off Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue as religious propaganda or something similar, but that does not seem to be the intention. This is not a heavy handed approach to religion, or even morality. Though there are ten films in the series, each film does not explicitly follow a single commandment. In fact, the series focuses more on people than religion. The films are simple but powerful and though originally shot for Polish television, they are shot beautifully. The quality of the picture is not amazing and the translation seems a bit loose at times, but once you find yourself wrapped up in the story, you likely won’t even notice these things.

Decalogue III

On Christmas Eve, a taxi driver named Janusz (Daniel Olbrychski) attending mass with his family runs into a woman, Ewa (Maria Pakulnis), he had an affair with several years prior. Later that evening, Ewa comes looking for Janusz to help find her husband, who is apparently missing. Janusz lies and tells his wife that his tax was stolen and he and Ewa go out driving around. Janusz is eager to get home to his family but Ewa persists. Eventually Janusz sees through Ewa’s plan, but does not say anything right away, but after spending the entire night driving around together, Ewa comes clean.

Decalogue III is possibly the smallest film in scope so far of the series. The film is largely just Janusz and Ewa driving around and there is fairly minimal dialogue as well. We learn a lot of Janusz and Ewa at a personal level and we can infer much about their personalities. Janusz cares greatly for his family but he also seems to have feelings for Ewa, though maybe not necessarily on a sexual level. Janusz does nearly succumb to weakness, but when he doesn’t he seems relieved more than anything. The main issue I had with Decalogue III is probably the pacing. There are long stretches with little to no dialogue and my interest started waning a few times. Still, the humanistic relationships built in an hour are better than most movies with twice the length.

I give it 4 out of 5.

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Decalogue II (10/16/12)

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The Decalogue is a series of ten films loosely based on the ten commandments.

At a glance, it would be easy to write off Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue as religious propaganda or something similar, but that does not seem to be the intention. This is not a heavy handed approach to religion, or even morality. Though there are ten films in the series, each film does not explicitly follow a single commandment. In fact, the series focuses more on people than religion. The films are simple but powerful and though originally shot for Polish television, they are shot beautifully. The quality of the picture is not amazing and the translation seems a bit loose at times, but once you find yourself wrapped up in the story, you likely won’t even notice these things.

Decalogue II

An elderly doctor and a younger woman both live in the same building. The two run into each other in the elevator and we can sense there is a tension between the two. Later, the woman runs into the doctor again and asks if he remembers her. He does – she ran over his dog several years back. The woman wants the doctor to assess her husband’s medical condition but he is reluctant to do so because of their history. The woman persists and informs the doctor that she is pregnant with the child of a man other than her husband. If her husband lives, she will abort the baby, but if he is to die she will carry the baby to term.

Another hugely impactful film, Decalogue II I found a bit harder to follow and had a harder time caring for the woman, Dorota. The moral decisions surrounding the events are all heavy topics and are treated with absolute care, though. Even with the graveness of the situations at hand, we understand the fate of the characters is set by their own actions. Decalogue II is a bit more gloomy overall, but the events in it kept me thinking long after it was over.

I give it 4 out of 5.

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Decalogue I (10/14/12)

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The Decalogue is a series of ten films loosely based on the ten commandments.

At a glance, it would be easy to write off Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue as religious propaganda or something similar, but that does not seem to be the intention. This is not a heavy handed approach to religion, or even morality. Though there are ten films in the series, each film does not explicitly follow a single commandment. In fact, the series focuses more on people than religion. The films are simple but powerful and though originally shot for Polish television, they are shot beautifully. The quality of the picture is not amazing and the translation seems a bit loose at times, but once you find yourself wrapped up in the story, you likely won’t even notice these things.

Decalogue I

A young boy named Pawel lives with his father,Krzysztof, a professor, and together, the two have a very analytical way of thinking. They have computer programs to do calculations for physics problems,  including the thickness of the ice in a nearby pond and how much weight it should be able to hold. After finding a dead dog, Pawel decides he wants to go to religious lessons as a way to cope with his father’s views on there not being an afterlife.

Decalogue I really starts the series off with a bang, and it hooked me almost instantly. The beauty is that the characters are realistic and believable. When tragedy strikes, it is a punch to the gut and even though we were only just introduced to these characters in less than an hour’s time, we feel connected to them. This humanism is the magic of Kieslowski’s filmmaking and these “short” films are testaments to his genius. Decalogue I is one of the best films I’ve seen, and easily ranks among my favorites from Kieslowski

I give it 5 out of 5.

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Headhunters (10/7/12)

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In Headhunters, an art thief takes the chance on the score of a lifetime only to find out he’s in deeper than he imagined.

Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is an accomplished art thief that works as a corporate headhunter. He is fairly short and has a stunning, tall wife named Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund), whom Roger believes requires a posh lifestyle to stay with him. Diana owns an art gallery and during an exhibition, Diana introduces Roger to Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a very successful CEO for a rival company of a job that Roger is recruiting for. Roger approaches Clas for the job and later finds out that Clas may have one an incredibly rare piece of art in his possession. As Roger plans to steal the artwork, things begin to unravel and Roger has to go on the run.

Headhunters is one of increasingly many tightly woven crime dramas coming from Scandinavia and it’s quite a wild ride. The pacing is so quick that even if you are trying to figure out every loose end, you’ll likely not even remember the small details shown earlier that have an impact in the finale. Headhunters is a film that pretty much grabs you by the throat in terms of tension, but does everything so smartly that you don’t mind. That’s not to say it’s perfect, but what Headhunters does, it does quite well.

I don’t want to speak too much about the plot of Headhunters because it has got so many layers that once you begin describing it in too much detail, it’s hard to pull back and not retell the whole movie. There are times during the film that you wonder what is going to happen, and then still be surprised by what actually happens and that type of writing is harder to find these days. The downside to such a rich plot is that if you think about somethings too hard, you may start to notice the cracks in the veneer. In fact, and I won’t spoil anything, I found a huge hole in the plot that still doesn’t make sense to me, but it doesn’t matter so much in the grand scheme of things. When you have that many moving parts, it’s easy to get tripped up in the fine details.

Films from Scandinavia, Norway in particular for Headhunters, seem to have a unique style to them. Headhunters is incredibly smooth-looking and even though the film was made for the USD equivalent of under $6million (if my math and conversion rates are correct), there are no films made in Hollywood that could come close to matching the quality here. The film has basically everything you could want out of an action movie and still have enough time to be intelligent and funny. All the actors, Hennie in particular, give terrific performances here too. Hennie’s range from funny to badass has a very natural feel to it and it works in the context of the film.

Headhunters is the type of film Hollywood wishes it could make. Instead, the action films we are used to have more explosions and violence than you can shake a stick at and a budget to match – all while sacrificing plot, character development, and actors that seem to care. Jo Nesbø, who wrote the novel that Headhunters is based on, has a project in the pipeline with Martin Scorsese, if the rumormill is to believed and that has me greatly excited. We need more thrillers like Headhunters.

I give it 4 this is the work of art that causes all the trouble out of 5.

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Shotgun Stories (10/5/12)

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In Shotgun Stories, a feud erupts between two groups of half-brothers after the death of their father.

Son Hayes (Michael Shannon) is getting dressed and we see the pockmarked scars of a shotgun blast on his back. He goes to meet his younger brothers, Boy and Kid (Douglas Ligon and Barlow Jacobs), who are living outside in a van and a tent, respectively. Son invites them to move inside since Son’s wife, Annie (Glenda Pannell), has left him due to his gambling. One night, the boys’ mother stops by informing them that their estranged father has passed away. The boys visit the funeral, where we see that their father had another family, a family that seems to hold him in high esteem. When Son speaks at the funeral and belittles his late father, the other Hayes boys take offense and a lifelong feud between the two sets of siblings boils over.

Shotgun Stories is the debut film by Jeff Nichols, whose sophomore release, Take Shelter, was one of the best movies of 2011, in my opinion. Shotgun Stories has a similar feeling to it, and also has Michael Shannon, one of my favorite actors. Where Take Shelter had a throbbing sense of despair and tension to it, Shotgun Stories is more of a dull ache. Take Shelter has the events unfolding at a rapid pace, much like Curtis’ break from reality, whereas Shotgun Stories introduces things slowly and with care, since much of the pain of the characters is long gone and scarred over, both physically and metaphorically. There is still a distinct level of tension to Shotgun Stories, it’s just a much slower, more deliberate build.

That slow build is something that I could see putting some folks off of Shotgun Stories so I have a difficult time recommending it to anyone. Jeff Nichols creates a great slice of Arkansas culture here, but the movie seems to crawl along in places if you aren’t looking at character development. The three main Hayes boys the film follows, Son, Boy, and Kid, all have their own things going on throughout the movie, most of which we only get cursory glances at instead of having them fleshed out. I know this sort of narrative doesn’t jibe well with everyone, but fans of indie cinema should know about what to expect out of Shotgun Stories and should appreciate the intricacies built below the surface.

If there’s one positive takeaway for Shotgun Stories (there are many, but if I could just pick one), it is Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon make a fantastic pair. While I love watching Shannon on-screen, his performances in Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter are some of my favorites of his. The actor/director team also have a new film coming out soon entitled Mud that I’m greatly looking forward to. As for Shotgun Stories, it may not be a film I revisit again anytime soon but it has certainly stayed with me long after the credits have rolled and I consider that a hallmark of a good movie.

I give it 4 I didn’t mention there is a character named ‘Shampoo’ out of 5.

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Bill Cunningham New York (9/25/12)

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Bill Cunningham New York is a documentary about an iconic New York Times fashion photographer.

Bill Cunningham has worked for the New York Times for decades and is most well known for his “On the Street” and “Evening Hours” fashion photography columns. We follow Bill as he rides his bicycle around New York city taking photographs of fashion trends that he finds interesting. Most of the fashion Bill photographs is strange, colorful, and unique but he says himself that he takes pictures of things he likes. Living a modest life outside his work, Bill is the man to please for many of New York’s high society and yet he is merely doing what he enjoys.

Bill Cunningham New York is one of those documentaries that is about very little but manages to entertain for the entire length of the film. Bill is a unique man that has literally been doing the same things since the 1960s. He doesn’t claim to be a force in fashion and yet the people that are fashionistas clamor to be featured in his columns.

While I couldn’t care less about fashion or fashion trends, it really takes a backseat to Bill himself in Bill Cunningham New York. We follow Bill as he will be evicted from his tiny, filing cabinet filled apartment in Carnegie Hall. We see him riding his bicycle around town. We learn that he was once a hat maker and we even see clips of him from the 60s or 70s doing exactly what he is doing now. In fact, Bill even uses a 35mm film camera in this digital age. Above all though, is Bill’s extreme dedication to his work. One could say that his job has consumed him, but that doesn’t seem to be a fair assessment since it seems to be one thing that he enjoys more than anything else in the world.

Documentaries about quirky individuals ride a very fine line between showcasing their subject and poking fun at them and Bill Cunningham New York treats Bill with a great amount of respect while not omitting his quirks or flaws. As a man set in his ways, you will likely be charmed by Bill as the fashion setters of New York City have been. BIll Cunningham New York will likely endear you to Bill by the end.

I give it 4 Bill Cunninghams (doesn’t he look a bit like Clint Eastwood?) out of 5.

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