I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

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This powerful documentary, directed by Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck, is based on James Baldwin’s unfinished book ‘Remember this House’. Unapologetically titled I Am Not Your Negro, it explores the story of racial hatred suffered by blacks in America for hundreds of years. The story is told through Baldwin’s words and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson.

Baldwin (pictured), a writer and activist, reminisces civil right’s leaders Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and the emotional turmoil their assassinations brought him. The archival footage of James Baldwin’s interviews remind us how articulate, intelligent and tenacious he was. In one particular interview, he is asked rather forcefully why he insists on focusing on colour and dividing men into whites and blacks. The frustration is obvious on Baldwin’s face as he explains why he felt Paris was safer than the streets of Harlem on which he grew up. Of course, being blinded by white privilege, this man fails to see the devastating effects that institutional racism has on black people in America. He refuses to see that white supremacy seeps into every corner of society and is what forms the very fabric of American society. Why must young black men be constantly in fear of being at the receiving end of police brutality? This insistence on the colour blindness of America’s society is what perpetuates racism. It is a cruel and patronising dismissal of the real problems faced by black people. It is a struggle which is downplayed by the fabrication of their reality seen on TV, which Baldwin says ‘weaken our ability to see the world as it is’.

One of the many things that makes this documentary so hard-hitting is Peck’s use of juxtaposing images. The most disturbing one of which is that of Doris Day’s longing face suddenly cut by shocking images of lynchings. It illustrates the innate contradiction between the ‘American Dream’ and the genocide of blacks and Native Americans. This documentary is a unique and unadulterated approach to the history of racism in America – an unforgivable history which continues to plague its society today.

Rating: 5/5

Tape (2001)

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My favourite director-actor collaboration has got to be Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke. These two have worked together on a total of eight films, the most notable ones being Boyhood (2014) and the Before trilogy. Tape is a film adaptation of a play by Stephen Belber which is set in a motel room and involves only three characters. It appears to be filmed through a camcorder all the way through and Linklater has not tried to completely deviate the filming from the set up of a play. In fact it almost seems like we are watching a play which has been filmed from different viewpoints by members of the audience. The shots are shaky and the camera angles awkward, which combine to create the intimate atmosphere of the film.

Ethan Hawke plays Vince, a typical drug-dealing bad boy with ‘violent tendencies’ who is alone in the motel room, stripped down to his boxers. Soon into the first few minutes we meet Jon (Robert Sean Leonard), his high school friend from 10 years ago.

As the story unfolds we start to discern the relationship between Vince and Jon. Jon is a filmmaker who has managed to achieve small success after high school. Vince makes a living selling drugs to chief firemen which, according to him, qualifies him as a ‘fireman’. Jon talks down to Vince from his moral high ground in a condescending manner. At first this seems justified; after all Jon is the law-abiding, politically correct of the two, while Vince is overtly rude and obnoxious and finds a way to justify his criminal tendencies.

They are two friends who are reuniting for the premiere of Jon’s new film at a festival in Michigan. As the dialogue continues we start to realise that this is not at all the reason why Vince has come all this way to meet Jon. Vince seamlessly manages to change the topic of conversation to his ex-girlfriend Amy (Uma Thurman) whom he broke up with in high-school. It becomes clear that shortly after the break-up she became romantically involved with Jon. Later on, Jon admits to an awful act he committed in high school and is foolishly oblivious to the fact that his confession is being taped- hence the title of the film. Once Vince reveals this, he tells John that he has also invited Amy to join them, leaving him in utter panic. However, the scene of John’s retribution we anticipate upon Amy’s arrival might come to us as quite of a shock.

Rating: 3/5

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

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Now I assure you this isn’t a Wes Anderson appreciation blog, I just happen to have watched this one recently. As far as I’m concerned, any film starring the charismatic Bill Murray is set to be an interesting one. Here, he teams up with director Wes Anderson to bring us the extravagant The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. This film oozes with Anderson’s distinctive directorial style and covert comedy. Once again he collaborates with his favourite actors: Willem Defoe, Owen Wilson and Jeff Goldblum. Also starring are Cate Blanchett and Michael Gambon.

Murray stars as Steve Zissou, an oceanographer who creates documentaries about his expeditions with his crew. Desperate to save his failing career, Team Zissou embark on another expedition in order to hunt down and kill the ‘Jaguar Shark’, which had allegedly eaten his best friend Esteban du Plantier. As Zissou was the only one to witness the incident, some question whether the creature is in fact just a figment of his imagination. Joining him are seemingly uptight and pregnant journalist Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett) and Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), a pilot who claims to be Zissou’s son.

Murray’s stern demeanor gradually weakens throughout the film as he gets to know his long-lost son Ned and realises how similar they are. The chemistry between Murray and Wilson is palpable and I am left wondering why they have never played father and son since. Anderson manages to make this film comedic and poignant at the same time and it remains one of the underrated films of his directing career. Oh, and did I mention that Brazilian musician Seu Jorge plays a portuguese version of Bowie’s ‘Queen Bitch’ at the end? Pure brilliance.

Rating: 4/5

Revolutionary Road (2008)

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If you’re a hopeless romantic and hardcore fan of Titanic then I’m sure you’d be eager to see the great chemistry between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet once more on screen. However if you think Revolutionary Road is anything like Titanic, you’re horribly mistaken. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Although both films are incredibly heartbreaking, you’re probably not likely to want to watch Revolutionary Road again.

Revolutionary Road stars both Oscar-winning actors as suburban couple April (Winslet) and Frank Wheeler (DiCaprio) living a standard life in mid-1950s Connecticut. From the get-go we see disputes between the couple as April’s acting career goes down the drain. She becomes a housewife, looking after their two children while Frank works as a salesman for a company. Although once an ambitious and free couple, they have fallen victim to the boredom and “hopeless emptiness” of suburban life and make a spontaneous decision to uproot and move to Paris. Soon we start to see the desperation and urgency of April’s desire to leave. However Frank is not in so much a hurry as April, having just received a promotion at his company, and does not see any reason to abandon their life in the States and head to Europe. Tensions build as the couple drifts apart and the arguments between them are unbearable to watch. They become physically violent and April’s behaviour increasingly erratic. Even though both are main characters of the film, I believe that it intentionally portrays Frank to be the wronged one and April the irrational one. I start to empathise more with Frank; he appears to love his family enough to be able to work at a job he loathes every single day. He is the more level-headed of the two and thinks the decision to go to Paris is just too unrealistic.

It’s obvious to see why Winslet and DiCaprio are two of the world’s leading actors. Dedication to their craft just seeps through their performances. Perhaps they are so incredible in this film because of the long friendship between the two. To be able to play one of the most iconic couples in Titanic to one in which they cannot stand each other truly showcases their talent. Revolutionary Road is not a happy nor up-lifting film and I admit it’s one of the most depressing I have seen to date. Having said all that, it certainly does leave me feeling emotions, albeit sour ones, as strongly as Titanic did.

Rating: 2/5

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

 

The royal tenennbaums
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Wes Anderson’s films are known for their quirky humour and star-studded casts. The Royal Tenenbaums in paricular boasts an impressive cast including Gene Hackman and Danny Glover. Anderson’s usual recurring ensemble of Luke and Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Anjelica Huston also star.

Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) is the father of child prodigies Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), Chas (Ben Stiller) and Richie (Luke Wilson), who were raised by their mother Etheline (Anjelica Huston) after his abandonment. Not having invested much interest in his children when they were young, estranged Tenenbaum is now terminally ill and decides to reconnect with his children after decades of no contact. Throughout her life Etheline is asked for her hand by many suitors until finally falling for her accountant Henry Sherman (Danny Glover). Despite his ulterior motives, Royal realises that he truly wants to win the affection of his children despite their resentment towards him.

Once again Anderson creates a rich array of characters in this film that all appear overshadowed by the charismatic, albeit exceedingly conniving, Tenenbaum. His characters do have a tendency to sound soulless and dull (particularly Margot and Richie), but this just adds to their eccentricity. Stiller adds tenacity to Chas as he vehemently forbids his father to spend time with his grandchildren. Clearly Anderson takes care to emphasise the individuality of each member of the family at the cost of failing to create any dynamic between them. A near incestuous love develops between Margot and Richie (as she’s adopted),  although it’s portrayed rather lifelessly by the two. It hardly seems justified that the deep love Richie feels for Margot is worth losing his life over.

Having said that this film is quintessentially Anderson as it’s full of his symmetrically composed, pastel-coloured shots. It exudes comedy and proves to be yet another great instalment to Anderson’s distinctive and carefully crafted films which have earned him much critical acclaim.

Rating: 3/5

Wild Tales (2014)

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Originally titled Relatos Salvajes, this BAFTA award-winning film by Argentinian director Damián Szifrón explores six short stories, all underpinned by a theme of revenge. Starring the likes of Ricardo Darín and Erica Rivas, these outrageous tales involve characters whose patience is tested in the most absurd of ways, resulting in disaster. Szifrón does not hesitate to shock viewers from the start with the far-fetched revenge plots.

What truly makes this film incredible is the  acting in each story. The performances are captivating yet hilarious. Darín’s character in the fourth story makes me feel sympathetic towards him and despite his criminal actions I am still left rooting for him at the end. The final and perhaps more entertaining segment of the film is the story a newly-wed couple whose infidelity  comes to light at the wedding reception. After initially being shocked and upset, Romina’s (Erica Rivas) wedding takes a turn for the worse as her behaviour turns destructive.

Overall, Wild Tales is an extremely entertaining and funny film that will undoubtedly keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s a refreshingly original piece of cinema hailing from Latin America and a must-see for those who are tired of the endlessly predictable films that Hollywood always churns out.

Rating: 5/5