Monthly Archives: January 2016

Yosemite: A Review

Gabrielle Demeestere’s Yosemite is a very odd duck of a film. A film that tries to tell three distinct stories, intertwining between three 5th Grade friends, Chris, Joe and Ted, as they go about their lives in the suburbs of Palo Alto, in 1985. Meanwhile, a larger subplot, involving the threat of a mountain lion, looms in the background. Yosemite doesn’t necessarily succeed at its intentions, but there are bits and pieces of the film that I really found interesting.
The direction is good. I especially liked the night shots at the beginning of the film, the opening intro, and the way the characters are introduced in the story using 18-bit video graphics to display their names. The music score is very dreamy, and I especially liked the use of a fictional 60’s style comic book featuring a character named Night Crimson, whom one of the children, Joe, acts out amusingly with another friend of his named Henry (played by Henry Hopper).
Yosemite’s biggest problem, though, is its time shifts. When the film opened up, we were introduced to a father named Phil (played by James Franco), and his two children. It seemed like we were in modern times, however, twenty minutes later, and the film cuts to 1985 and three boys, who are completely unrelated to Phil and his children. This time shift seemed very jarring and unfocused. Also some of the characters are very strange.
The acting is pretty good. Franco is very restrained, and despite his presence and name on the cover, he is not the main character of the film. The actors who play the boys, three unknowns (played by Everett Meckler, Alec Mansky, and Calum John), do well in their respected roles. It is Henry Hopper’s character, also named Henry, the neighbor that Joe acts out the comic book character, Night Crimson, with, whom is actually in some of the better scenes of the movie.
Yosemite is another one of Franco’s 12 to 13 film or TV projects that he does a year, which often feature him in very small roles. In this case, Franco disappears after the first act, and at first I was actually left me pondering if we were in fact in his character’s childhood. Given that the names of the children are different from Phil’s, it that doesn’t appear to be the case, at all.
Overall, I didn’t find Yosemite to be a particularly eventful film, due to the time shifts and a feeling of unmemorable slowness. If you are fond of stories about childhood discovery and reflections, however, (plus two second references to The Dark Crystal and Indiana Jones) you just might enjoy it.

Truth: A Review: Who Can You Trust?

Who can you trust? Why are some politicians seemingly so corrupt? These are questions you might be asking yourself after watching James Vanderbilt’s film, Truth (2015). A movie that seeks to explore the newsroom drama during the 2004 presidential election. Known as The Killian Documents controversy, CBS’s 60 Minutes’ producer, Mary Mapes (played by Cate Blanchett) and her team, uncovered how former President George W. Bush managed to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War because of his father’s political connections. Mapes works with Dan Rather (played by Robert Redford), and the two air a 60 Minutes special, uncovering and exposing the story. The fallout from the story, is much worse than anyone expected, and ultimately cost both of them their jobs and reputation.
Truth opens with archival footage of people talking about the 2004 election, and then proceeds to cut to the CBS office, where are we introduced to our main characters. The acting in the film is overall quite exceptional. Even most of the supporting characters are well-played. In a year, where Cate Blanchett had a much showier, over the top, Oscar-bait role in Carol, it’s nice to know that she had a role where she was more subdued. As 60 Minutes’ producer Mary Mapes, Blanchett is the main focus and star of the film, and brings her usual trademark emotional energy her role. She gets one big showy moment when she learns that her father doesn’t like what she’s doing. “What about my father?”, she delivers quite well with high-pitched energy. This film tries to paint Mapes as being in the right, but not completely perfect, and it is her flaws and mistakes that eventually led to her downfall.
Robert Redford plays Dan Rather with a very calm and collective presence. As the controversial journalist, he uses a very notable Southern drawl, which, thankfully, doesn’t detract from the film. Anytime Rather questions things, Redford’s performance is very powerful without being over the top. He isn’t in the film all the time, but when he is, he makes his presence known.
The rest of the supporting characters are also good in the movie. These include Topher Grace as Mikey, also known as Mike Smith, a journalist, who does get his own moment to shine. “You wanna question this?” he says energetically to his bosses. Dennis Quaid plays a former colonel, who gets involved in uncovering the conspiracy. Additional characters include Elisabeth Moss as Lucy Scott, Bruce Greenwood as one of the higher-ups of the studio, Stacy Keach as the former lieutenant who discloses the information about George Bush. Each of these actors bring something to the table, and it’s nice to see them on the big screen.
Screenwriter James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, The Amazing Spider-Man), makes his directing debut with this film, and he shows much promise as a future filmmaker. While the film is nothing special from a technical standpoint, there are various shots, zooms, and camera-pans that are notable throughout. If Vanderbilt never directs another film after Truth, then I think it would be a fine one-time effort.
The musical score by Brian Tyler of Marvel fame, is a bit generic, but there’s a pretty nice inspirational-like piece that plays over the credits. There’s also another piece of music that I liked that plays when the characters find out their careers are basically doomed, and it has a menacing feel to it.
If there’s anything I didn’t really particularly like, it was the pacing, as it was a bit too slow for my taste, and the film could have probably been trimmed down by at about 10 minutes. Otherwise, this film is solid. Truth is a very political film, so it might not be from everyone’s political slant, but if you can get past that, you might just find there’s a very decent film here. Definitely worth checking out, at the very least.

Flowers (Loreak): Review: A Melancholy Flavor of Despair

Life and death are such fragile things. People are with you, and then they are suddenly gone. Many movies have tried to explore the concept of death to varying degrees of quality. Directors Jon Garano and Jose Mari Goenaga’s Flowers (Loreak, 2014) isn’t really necessarily about death, as much as it is about how the consequences of death. Death can, as in this case, bring people, who don’t necessarily like each other, together.
The film, which is a Spanish movie, spoken in Basque, tells the story of a woman named Ane (played by Nagore Aranburu), a woman in her forties who does not feel fulfilled. Her life changes when she starts to anonymously receive a bouquet of flowers at her home. In addition, the lives of two other people, Lourdes (played by Itziar Ituño) and Tere (played by Itziar Aizpuru) are being affected after Lourdes loses her husband, Benet, in a car crash, and someone mysteriously keeps planting flowers next to his grave.
Flowers is a very low-key film. It opens with random shots, all of which eventually play into the story: a woman (not likely Lourdes) walks next to a flower; Lourdes is shown sitting; Lourdes is on the bus; shots of sheep; shots of construction workers working; and then, finally, a shot of Lourdes arriving at her house to meet Benet. All of these shots in some way relate back to the film. Lourdes works at the construction site, she’s shown going on the train all the time, and even sheep play a role into the film, as they’re being watched from to the construction site. It’s very adventurous and smart of the filmmakers to introduce so many of the major elements in the film within the first five minutes. This really sets you up for the film. So, when Lourdes’s husband dies, the movies gets suddenly quite serious.
Much of the film is building up the relationship between Lourdes and her mother-in-law, Tere, with whom she doesn’t get along with. Their relationship changes after Benet’s passing and they learn to respect each other. Despite the fact that the characters seem like they are at each other’s throats half of the time, their relationship really works. Both of the actresses do good jobs playing off each other, and it does portray the typical, dysfunctional, “in-laws” dynamics, common in marriages.
There are other characters in the film. Lourdes is a divorcee, who has a son named Michel, and she gets into a relationship with a man named Ander after Benet’s passing. Both of these characters the son and the boyfriend, seem to be afterthoughts, and among the film’s weaker elements. Heck, Ane, the woman who received anonymous flowers, doesn’t appear initially to be really important to the plot, despite having been shown in smaller scenes.
The directing of this film is probably it’s best aspect. Garano and Goenaga do a splendid job of making the movie feel special and unique. There’s an entire montage sequence where we see the flower evolve, change, as the different days go by. It is so well-edited, it had to have been made by filmmakers who are highly skilled at their craft. There are recurring shots of people climbing the cranes at work, and the sheep are brilliantly used in the film, as they are rarely shown, and usually to situations where the characters reveal something of themselves. The film itself, like a lot of Foreign Language movies, has several scenes without any dialogue, which creates an interesting atmosphere.
The musical score, while not often used, is very relaxing and tender. One scene that really shows this is when Ane is walking and puts flowers next to a tribute for Benet, that already has loads of them, as it is. The music in that particular scene, creates feeling and mood, for what could have otherwise been an ordinary moment in the film.
The flowers in Flowers, go back to the death aspect, as they seem to represent the pain and death of Benet, as well as being Lourdes and Ane’s own personal escape from the misery they’ve just been through. Death is a very touchy subject, and both women are trying to get through it, in the best possible way they can. It’s a very nice metaphor, and it really fits the depressing tone of the film.
Flowers isn’t a terrific film, but if you’re into Foreign Language Spanish films that take their time, and really build up some good character dynamics, as well as featuring some interesting and great directing, I’d definitely recommend checking it out.