Movie Project #13: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [2007]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [2007]

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [2007] 
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Writers: Cristian Mungiu, Razvan Radulescu (script consultant)
Country: Romania, Belgium
Genre: Drama
Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Vlad Ivanov, Laura Vasiliu
Running Time: 113 minutes

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a film about abortion, but it is one that looks at it from a rare unbiased perspective. Set in late 1980s Romania during the waning years of Nicolae Ceausescu’s brutal communist regime, Cristian Mungiu’s film is unflinching, to-the-point and downright unnerving.

Gabita (Laura Vasiliu) is a young college student who desires to have an abortion (illegal under Ceausescu’s rule). She enlists the aid of her dorm roommate, Otilia (the flawless Anamaria Marinca), to contact a black market abortionist and prepare a hotel room to arrange the operation.

There are numerous flaws with this plan from the get-go. The abortionist, a domineering middle-aged man named Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), provided a clear set of guidelines to follow before their meeting, nearly all of which Gabita failed to do. She did not place a reservation at his specified hotel, she sends Otilia to meet him first, and she even lies about the length of her pregnancy. This series of mistakes leads to an increasingly tense situation when all three of them are in the hotel room, raising the stakes to desperate levels.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [2007]

There is a sense of pervading dread during this meeting, and this feeling is only exacerbated as the film goes on. Nearly every scene uses just one shot, during many of which the camera sits stationary. These extended takes add a sense of realism to the proceedings, and they are incredibly effective at portraying the thoughts and emotions of those on screen.

There is one scene in particular that I will never forget. At one point in the film, Otilia takes a brief excursion to go to a dinner party hosted by her boyfriend’s family. Despite Otilia’s insistence that she has urgent plans of her own, the boyfriend, Adi (Alexandru Potocean), refuses to take no for an answer. When she arrives at the party, everyone there is lively, talking loudly, drinking and having a great time. As this happens, we watch Otilia sitting at the table, quiet and alone in her thoughts despite being surrounded by others. The static camera sits at the opposite end of the table, and for what feels like hours we sit there right along with her. To an outsider, this scene could appear tedious and boring. For the rest of us, it is an exercise in exhaustion. We know exactly what is going through Otilia’s mind. She is thinking about her friend alone in the hotel room, wondering if she is okay. She is remembering the abortion from just hours ago while also considering what she had to do to help her friend. These are difficult enough thoughts as is, and it doesn’t help that this is her first time meeting her boyfriend’s parents and family. This scene lasts for several minutes, and as it went on I began growing more and more restless. There is the sense that Otilia might snap at any moment, and it’s just a matter of waiting to see if it will happen or not.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [2007]

The entire film is set up like this, making for one of the most uncomfortable viewings I have had in some time. There is no score either, which adds even more to that on-edge feeling.

Although Gabita is the one getting the abortion, much of the film focuses on Otilia, and we see things primarily from her perspective. As such, Anamaria Marinca carries the brunt of the film on her shoulders, and she delivers a performance for the ages. There is never a moment where we don’t know what her character is thinking, even when she is there in silence.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days won the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2007 over many acclaimed films, including future Best Picture winner, No Country for Old Men. Bafflingly, it did not pick up an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. No matter; this is an extraordinary film that shines a light on a dark time in Romanian history, and it’s easily one of the strongest entries so far in this year’s project.

9/10

Movie Project #12: Incendies [2010]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Incendies [2010]

Incendies [1989]
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Denis Villeneuve, Wajdi Mouawad, Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne
Country: Canada, France
Genre: Drama/Mystery/War
Starring: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, Rémy Girard
Running Time: 139 minutes

The very first shot of Incendies, the Oscar-nominated French-Canadian drama from director Denis Velleneuve (Prisoners, Enemy), shows a serene Middle Eastern landscape. As we watch the leaves of a palm tree sway in the wind, Radiohead’s mesmeric “You and Whose Army?” begins to play. The camera slowly pans indoors, taking us into a grimy room full of young boys waiting in line to get their heads shaved. The children stand there, mostly emotionless, as a group of young men, likely teenagers, stand guard with assault rifles. Eventually, the camera settles on the young boy who is currently having his head shaved. As the song reaches its crescendo, the shot zooms in on the young boy’s bone-chilling expression with eyes that will pierce your soul. It’s an unforgettable and flawless introduction to a film that has the potential to shake you down to your bones.

Incendies then moves to present day in Montreal, as twin siblings Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Guadette) are brought together to hear the will of their recently deceased mother, Nawal (Lubna Azabal). They learn that their mother had two final requests for them, both of which would require a trip to the Middle East. Jeanne is to deliver a letter to their father, who they never knew and weren’t even aware was still alive. Simon is to bring a letter to a brother that they had no idea existed. This sounds like the setup for what could be a solid mystery film, but Incendies sets itself apart by opting for a unique dual narrative structure.

Incendies [2010]

As we watch Jeanne and Simon explore the unnamed Middle Eastern country of which their mother was from, we are given glimpses of the rough and tumultuous life Nawal lived before they were born. Back then, their mother’s home country was in the midst of a civil war driven by religious extremists. She was immediately caught in the crossfire simply because she was a Christian who was dating a Muslim. A series of tragedies surrounds young Nawal, sending her on a cross-country journey of self-discovery, one in which violence and brutality appears to be around every corner.

Remnants of the past remain everywhere in this country in its present day, and Jeanne even discovers that there are those who will immediately shun her for simply mentioning her mother’s name. Clearly, Nawal left a lasting impression in her homeland. This is all a bit of a shock to Jeanne and Simon, as their mother had purposefully hid this part of her life from her children. In the midst of war and turmoil, anyone is capable of unthinkable actions, their mother included.

Incendies [2010]

At the core of Incendies is a deep, gut-wrenching secret, one that is not immediately apparent even when it is alluded to on screen. At first, I found this revelation to be off-putting. It relied on a few too many convenient coincidences for my liking. Yet as I sat and thought about the film, I fell more and more in love with it. This isn’t a shock ending for the sake of it; it’s a reflection on humanity, war and the type of love that can only be provided and shared by a family.

Incendies is an extraordinary film that immediately leaves an impact, one that will linger for weeks, months or even years. It’s deeply personal and sometimes hard to watch, but, astonishingly, it somehow brings a glimmer of hope in the midst of rape, murder and other atrocities.

9/10

Movie Project #10: Out of Sight [1998]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Out of Sight [1998]

Out of Sight [1998]
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: Elmore Leonard (novel), Scott Frank (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Romance
Starring: George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle
Running Time: 123 minutes

Out of Sight has a little bit of something for everyone: comedy, romance, crime, random outbursts of violence… The film is based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, and it is backed by an absolute star-studded cast. It also happens to be one of my early favorites in this year’s movie project.

George Clooney stars as the charismatic bank robber, Jack Foley. After escaping from prison, Foley immediately (and unexpectedly) stumbles upon U.S. Marshal, Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), waiting outside for an unrelated reason. This mix-up leads to both Foley and Sisco getting thrown into the trunk of a getaway car driven by Buddy Bragg (Ving Rhames). Right away, despite being on different sides of the law, there’s an instant spark between them. They know it, we know it, everyone knows it. You could cut the sexual tension with a knife.

Their trunk encounter is brief, but it sets the stage for a pleasurable game of cat-and-mouse for both sides. Sisco is able to escape when she persuades an accomplice of Foley and Bragg, a perpetual stoner named Glenn Michaels (Steve Zahn), to leave them stranded. Foley then goes on the run, with Sisco always remaining not too far behind.

Out of Sight [1998]

Foley’s end goal is to score one last big heist and then retire to a tropical island somewhere (where have I heard that before?). His target is a financial criminal (Albert Brooks) who, while in prison, had foolishly mentioned how he had millions of dollars in uncut diamonds back at his home in Detroit. Foley and Bragg make the long trek up to snowy Michigan to scope out the situation and see if they can pull this off once and for all.

Of course, everything doesn’t go as planned. Glenn’s big mouth leads to even more people wanting to get in on the action, including an explosively violent ex-boxer named Maurice Miller (Don Cheadle). Soon this seemingly simple burglary turns into a far more complex operation than initially anticipated.

Out of Sight [1998]

The plot is labyrinth-like with its nonlinear narrative, and director Steven Soderbergh expertly weaves his way through the many layers that are always in motion. There is never a dull moment, especially when Clooney is given time to show off his trademark charisma. According to Clooney, this is the kind of role he had always dreamed of: a bad guy who you couldn’t help but root for in the end. He makes his mark in the very first scene, as he pulls off the most nonchalant bank robbery I have ever seen. It can be argued that this performance is what made Clooney a bona fide movie star. Much of the film relies on his chemistry with Jennifer Lopez, and it really is something to behold. This is one of Lopez’s finest performances, as she is effortlessly equal parts sexy and badass.

Although the focus is on the two leads, every character has their chance to shine. I was most impressed with Don Cheadle, whose character grows to become more and more frightening as the film progresses. His two partners in crime, played by Isaiah Washington and Keith Loneker, are memorable themselves. The latter is involved in one of the most unexpected and absurd on-screen deaths I have ever seen.

Out of Sight had me cracking up often, and that was something I did not expect. The humor is very dark (case in point: the aforementioned unforeseen death), but the cat-and-mouse game between the two leads provides a bit of a balance by being fairly light. In the end, this is still a love story more than anything else, but its unconventional format and impeccable performances make the film stand out from the rest.

9/10

Video Game Review: SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig
System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS4, 3DS, PC, Mac, Linux
Genre: Platformer, Adventure
Developer: Image & Form
Publisher: Image & Form
Price: $9.99 [cross buy for PS Vita/PS4]
Release Date: March 18, 2014 [PS Vita/PS4 release]

SteamWorld Dig is a game that feels so familiar yet so unique at the same time. Dubbed a “hardcore platform mining adventure” by its developers, it plays out like a combination of Spelunky, Terraria and the Metroidvania genre. It also just happens to be a perfect fit for the Playstation Vita.

The game places you in the role of Rusty, a steambot who visits the long-abandoned mining town of Tumbleton (current population: 3) at the request of his uncle. Upon arrival, Rusty becomes determined to dig and dig some more in hopes of finding valuable ore that can breathe some life into this barren town.

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

Originally armed with just a regular pickaxe, Rusty is eventually able to upgrade his arsenal by finding and selling gems and minerals to the few people in town. By continuing to explore deeper underground, hidden mines and powerups can also be found. These provide new abilities to make traversing the increasingly tricky subterranean areas a bit more manageable. Over time, Rusty can learn how to run faster and jump higher, both of which become quite crucial as the game goes on.

Of course, there is more to the underground than just minerals. There are all sorts of creatures roaming around, as well as some that can be found hibernating within individual blocks. If you manage to wake a creature without destroying it in the process, you can quickly find yourself in a world of hurt. That’s not even mentioning the automated lasers and barrels of dynamite that become more and more common the deeper you go.

If you happen to die, you will lose a large portion of money and whatever ore you happen to be carrying with you at the time. You can still go down and retrieve what you left behind, but you will have to do so with less health. There are certain items that can be purchased to help with the constant up-and-down platforming, including teleporters (which are appropriately expensive, given their worth).

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

The overall exploration can grow to be downright addictive. As Rusty acquires new equipment, more areas can be traversed, and he can dispatch of enemies more quickly. The constant upgrading of drills and other gadgets brings to light the wonderful Metroidvania aspects of the gameplay. By getting new toys to play with, you can go back to other parts of the mine and get to places that were unreachable earlier. I found myself constantly saying “oh, I’m just going to dig until I get to the next marker”, only to end up playing much longer than I planned.

The game’s design really is terrific, as it leads you into new abilities and gadgets at a perfect pace. The first 10-15 minutes are a bit slow since Rusty can only use a pickaxe, but the game opens up quickly after that. On top of that, every playthrough contains a randomly generated underworld, meaning that every experience will be different.

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig is relatively short — I completed my first playthrough in just over four hours — but it still manages to have a good amount of replay value. I barely scratched the surface of things to do in my first campaign, and I immediately started a second one to see what I missed before. If you’re a trophy hunter, there are quite a few that will provide you with new goals to hit during each session. Best of all, there’s no filler at all — you pretty much just jump in and play right away.

The game nails nearly everything it sets out to do, but I couldn’t help wanting more. I know that this is a small downloadable title, but the gameplay is so enriching that I would love to find even more areas to explore. There is so much potential here for an even better, bigger game, and I really hope that this isn’t the last we have seen of this world. Still, as it stands, this is one of the biggest early surprises in gaming this year.

9/10

(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig
System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS4, 3DS, PC, Mac, Linux
Genre: Platformer, Adventure
Developer: Image & Form
Publisher: Image & Form
Price: $9.99 [cross buy for PS Vita/PS4]
Release Date: March 18, 2014 [PS Vita/PS4 release]

SteamWorld Dig is a game that feels so familiar yet so unique at the same time. Dubbed a “hardcore platform mining adventure” by its developers, it plays out like a combination of Spelunky, Terraria and the Metroidvania genre. It also just happens to be a perfect fit for the Playstation Vita.

The game places you in the role of Rusty, a steambot who visits the long-abandoned mining town of Tumbleton (current population: 3) at the request of his uncle. Upon arrival, Rusty becomes determined to dig and dig some more in hopes of finding valuable ore that can breathe some life into this barren town.

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

Originally armed with just a regular pickaxe, Rusty is eventually able to upgrade his arsenal by finding and selling gems and minerals to the few people in town. By continuing to explore deeper underground, hidden mines and powerups can also be found. These provide new abilities to make traversing the increasingly tricky subterranean areas a bit more manageable. Over time, Rusty can learn how to run faster and jump higher, both of which become quite crucial as the game goes on.

Of course, there is more to the underground than just minerals. There are all sorts of creatures roaming around, as well as some that can be found hibernating within individual blocks. If you manage to wake a creature without destroying it in the process, you can quickly find yourself in a world of hurt. That’s not even mentioning the automated lasers and barrels of dynamite that become more and more common the deeper you go.

If you happen to die, you will lose a large portion of money and whatever ore you happen to be carrying with you at the time. You can still go down and retrieve what you left behind, but you will have to do so with less health. There are certain items that can be purchased to help with the constant up-and-down platforming, including teleporters (which are appropriately expensive, given their worth).

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

The overall exploration can grow to be downright addictive. As Rusty acquires new equipment, more areas can be traversed, and he can dispatch of enemies more quickly. The constant upgrading of drills and other gadgets brings to light the wonderful Metroidvania aspects of the gameplay. By getting new toys to play with, you can go back to other parts of the mine and get to places that were unreachable earlier. I found myself constantly saying “oh, I’m just going to dig until I get to the next marker”, only to end up playing much longer than I planned.

The game’s design really is terrific, as it leads you into new abilities and gadgets at a perfect pace. The first 10-15 minutes are a bit slow since Rusty can only use a pickaxe, but the game opens up quickly after that. On top of that, every playthrough contains a randomly generated underworld, meaning that every experience will be different.

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig is relatively short — I completed my first playthrough in just over four hours — but it still manages to have a good amount of replay value. I barely scratched the surface of things to do in my first campaign, and I immediately started a second one to see what I missed before. If you’re a trophy hunter, there are quite a few that will provide you with new goals to hit during each session. Best of all, there’s no filler at all — you pretty much just jump in and play right away.

The game nails nearly everything it sets out to do, but I couldn’t help wanting more. I know that this is a small downloadable title, but the gameplay is so enriching that I would love to find even more areas to explore. There is so much potential here for an even better, bigger game, and I really hope that this isn’t the last we have seen of this world. Still, as it stands, this is one of the biggest early surprises in gaming this year.

9/10

(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Movie Project #5: The King of Comedy [1982]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The King of Comedy [1982]

The King of Comedy [1982]
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Paul D. Zimmerman
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard
Running Time: 109 minutes

(This post contains possible spoilers.)

“Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.”

So says Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) in his fame-making monologue near the end of The King of Comedy. In many ways, Pupkin is right. Many people would likely trade a life of unimportance for one night of fame and possible fortune. Rupert’s problem, however, is that he goes about his night as a “king” in about the most ridiculous way imaginable.

The 34-year-old Pupkin is a fame-seeking, wannabe comedian who worships the late night talk shows. His dream is to be the next Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), the successful host of one such show. Rupert is determined to get his “big break” into showbiz, but he is completely devoid of a portfolio or any sort of real experience. He stays at home, seemingly in his mother’s basement, studies the talk shows and acts as if he is already a famous comedian.

The King of Comedy [1982]

Rather than start off doing small gigs while working his way up like a normal comedian, Pupkin decides he’s going to talk to Langford directly. While waiting outside of the TV studio, he manages to finagle his way into Jerry’s car and even get a ride from him. It’s an incredibly awkward encounter — Rupert just doesn’t know how to end a conversation — but Jerry is surprisingly tolerant. Their encounter ends with the talk show host vaguely suggesting he would check out Pupkin’s tape at a later point.

That’s all the incentive Rupert needs to keep bugging Jerry. He shows up at the TV studio, refusing to leave the waiting room until he gets to talk to Jerry. He shows up over and over again, as annoying as a mosquito that just won’t buzz off. Eventually, when Jerry’s secretary turns him down after finally listening to his recording, Rupert gets the hint. He’s not wanted there, so he’s going to have to take matters into his own hands. Together with the help of his friend, the equally deranged Masha (Sandra Bernhard, playing another celebrity-obsessed fan), the two of them kidnap Jerry and hold him hostage until Rupert gets to be on the talk show.

The King of Comedy [1982]

As Pupkin continues to grow more and more desperate to get his big break, the film often verges into uncomfortable territory. Pupkin is just such a gauche individual (perfectly played by De Niro, by the way), and some of his interactions are just unbearable. There were times where I wished I could just reach in and pull him away before he could embarrass himself even more. The problem there, however, is that he simply has no shame. He is determined to the point of exasperation. Perhaps most amazing is that Rupert’s obnoxious behavior makes it easy to empathize with Jerry Langford, even though the host is pretty much a smug asshole.

It’s clear that Rupert is delusional and suffers from some type of mental illness (in addition to his extravagant narcissism). He is constantly drifting in and out of daydreams; some are obvious fantasies, whereas others could go either way. If taken in its literal form, The King of Comedy appears to be well ahead of its time. The film shows the depths that someone will go to get famous, and it offers an equally important glimpse at how our society is apt to reward criminal behavior. In the end, Pupkin got the fame he wanted, much like Jordan Belfort in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. And we, as a society, are eagerly there to soak it all up.

9/10