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Noah Theatrical Poster

Noah Theatrical Poster

Title: Noah
Genre(s)Action, Adventure, Drama
Director(s)Darren Aronofsky
Release Year2014

I dismissed Darren Aronofsky’s Noah for several reasons. One of which was that it seemed to be doing what every movie that has interpreted the Bible has done: treat the tale as either true or false. Noah does not do that, though. It fills in the blanks of a text that has never had the blanks filled in. What does a world in its death throes do when it is not going to survive? What lengths will one man go to in order to complete a task? That Noah deals with these questions is not surprising. What is surprising is how earnestly it portrays the answers, never shying away from one moment of darkness. It utilizes rationality to tell the tale of a man tasked with rebuilding the world; a world which mankind itself has ruined.

Aronofsky’s hand can be felt in the distinct visual style of Noah, with a little help from influence by the late Ray Harryhausen. Stone giants assist Noah (Russell Crowe) in the creation of his Ark, complete with stop-motion animation seamlessly mixed in with CG models. Noah is at all times beautiful beyond its animation. The constant bleak imagery that persists contributes to the sense of a destructive mankind, and a world that is doomed to be wiped clean of human life. Images of greenery and sunny vistas simply drive home the notion of both good and evil residing in everyone, regardless of how sinful they are. It is no surprise that Aronofsky uses visual cues to convey the themes of Noah, seeing as how he has always been a very visual director. View full article »

Deliver Us From Evil Poster

Deliver Us From Evil Poster

TitleDeliver Us From Evil
Genre(s)Crime, Horror, Thriller
Director(s)Scott Derrickson
Release Year2014

The interesting thing with a lot of good horror films, are that they recognize what a generic horror film is. In fact, many still bathe in a bad horror film’s tropes. Buried underneath the goat’s blood, holy water, exorcisms, crucifixes, and constant stupidity, is a kernel of something clever, though. Sometimes the film lets that unique twist flourish into something whole, or they just have it there as a means of providing one moment to fawn over. Deliver Us from Evil is interesting because inside its classic possession/ritualistic tale are a slew of kernels of a different movie. They wind up as tonal inconsistencies more than moments you enjoy, but there’s something admirable about Scott Derrickson’s attempt to subvert the horror genre in so many unique ways.

The beginning of a horror film is predictable, yet always acts as a form of comfort. That initial killing or freaky circumstance sets the tone for the film and reminds the viewer that they will get their screams. When a horror film opens with a bunch of soldiers running through the deserts of Iraq as explosions detonate all over the screen, something unique is attempting to unfurl. Deliver Us from Evil tries so hard to unfurl from a standard horror film into this weird crime noir/action/horror hybrid that it can’t figure out how to meld each genre together. As the atmosphere tries to be set, action scenes ruin the creepiness, and those action scenes are ruined by weird comedic moments that do not jive with the noir elements of the film’s main character.

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A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness Poster

A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness Poster

TitleA Spell to Ward Off The Darkness
Director(s)Ben Rivers, Ben Russell
Release Year2013

If you were to ask me what my favourite genre of music was, I would probably just say ‘metal’. And then go into detail of each sub-genre that I listen to frequently. So when I saw that there was a documentary which featured Robert A.A. Lowe of Lichens-fame as the protagonist, playing at VIFF this year, I was sold. For a long time, black metal has been associated with anarchy and satanism, due to artists like Burzum and Mayhem going around burning churches and killing people. However, lately, the scene has changed and with bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Om, there has been a shift to trying to entwine spirituality within the music. A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness is the first film I have seen to display this new wave of black metal so vividly. It is not a perfect film, but for what it is trying to do, it serves its purpose with ease.

The film is comprised of three parts, with the final part representing the culmination of the first two acts. The problems that the film encounters primarily stem from the initial act, where we sit in on a 15-person collective in Estonia, as they live their lives among each other. The sense of community presented in this section is something which the film does to great effect, but in relation to the rest of the film, it creates the most problems. There is no main character provided before the switch to the second act. This is because the film tries to show as many characters as possible, and the one person who ends up being our protagonist, is the one who talks the least and who we barely understand except that he plays guitar. Other characters have more depth by the end of the first act than him, but we still wind up watching his journey. Of course, the man in question is Robert Lowe, who spends the next section of the film wandering through the woods, finding himself. This section isn’t necessarily exciting, but it is interesting in the context of A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness.

It will probably turn many off by having a black metal concert being the final act of the film, for many reasons, but for me, I was engaged by simply the melodies and the sense of community that the atmosphere gave off. Plus, it was a conclusion to the journey of Robert Lowe, even if the audience had no idea we were on the journey in the beginning. A Spell to Ward Off The Darkness fully captures the essence of a lot of United States black metal acts and demonstrates how spirituality and community can come together to form such a dissonant and ferocious sound. For fans of black metal and bands like Wolves in the Throne Room and Altar of Plagues, there is plenty to appreciate here, and for others, while the music may not be pleasing to the ears for everyone, there is still an appreciation of the music that can be formed by watching Lowe’s journey.

Screening courtesy of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Stray Dogs Poster

Stray Dogs Poster

TitleStray Dogs
Director(s)Tsai Ming-Liang
Release Year2013

There is something to appreciate out of Stray Dogs, the 2013 film from Tsai Ming-Liang. It is a film comprised of beauty and personal connections which I was more than ready to take in. Perhaps it was my unfamiliarity with Ming-Liang’s previous works, but everything that felt like it was methodically planned out, wound up pushing me away from the film. Long stretches of silence and immobile characters assist in emitting each character’s emotions and feelings at the time, but do nothing to help propel the already bare bones plot forward. The film demands attention to the minute changes in a characters expression, but at the same time, fails to compel the viewer to be attentive. Acclimatizing to this kind of slow-moving film would surely benefit anyone going into Stray Dogs, and perhaps they would walk out with a new outlook on life; my reaction was a combination of appreciation and boredom.

The mind cannot help but wander (like a stray dog) when watching a 10+ minute shot of our two adult characters (Lee Kang-Sheng as the father of a young boy and girl, and Chen Chyi as the supermarket manager who begins to take notice of the family) merely standing still and moving only slightly and periodically. In a way that is beneficial to the film as it lets the audience think about everything, or the mind will not wander and instead the audience watches patiently, catching the slightest of cues from characters to receive a deeper understanding of their actions. Nothing is ever spoken outright in Stray Dogs, and that is kind of the allure of it. Had the actors been less able to emote without saying anything than the film would have failed entirely. Instead, the movie lives and dies within its characters, which are all perfectly embodied by their actors. Any dialogue spoken can be deemed as crucial, but the most important scenes are the ones that have very little action. Very few directors could ever pull off a movie like Stray Dogs, and that should be enough incentive for film buffs to go see this film, especially if they have seen Ming-Liang’s work before.

However, for me, the movie only works on an appreciative level. There were moments when I was entranced by what was happening, but it was more frequent for me to disconnect from the film. My problem is that, though the scenes may illicit emotions if paid attention to for long enough, there were not enough reasons compelling me to stick through the scenes. Instead, I would zone out, checking back in periodically to see if anything had happened, and then try to get into the next scene when it finally happens. Make no mistake, I realize that Stray Dogs is a piece of powerful and methodically planned out cinema, done by a director who clearly knows what he wants. The reason the film doesn’t click with me is because it lacks a strong narrative. Laying the groundwork of a story is something that would have made the long scenes easier to endure, and perhaps even enticing. Regardless, I do recommend Stray Dogs for anyone who has not seen Ming-Liang’s works, because it is definitely an interesting experience, and I will be checking out more of his works later on as well.

Screening courtesy of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Soul Visually Embraces Its Metaphysical Concept [VIFF 2013]


Soul Poster

Director(s)Chung Mong-hong
Release Year2013

Soul had a premise that really did something for me. A man is possessed by a spirit and begins having violent outbursts. He is then locked up by his father until he finds out what exactly is going on with his son, and how he can get his son’s soul back. The problem with the premise is that it is never fully realized. There is a lot of meandering and senseless decisions by characters, that equate to a film which really wants to seem sinister, but just cannot do it for longer than a couple scenes. For the most part, the performances are okay, with the highlight being the father (Jimmy Wong) as the man who has to deal with his son, A-Chuan (Joseph Chang), and his illness. Often visually striking, and able to convey a sense of suspense when it wants to, Soul misses the mark in being an excellent film because of its slow-moving plot and jarring attempts at dark comedy.

Chung Mong-Hong’s third feature-length film is one that definitely shows an expertise in many regards. Most enriching of all is the way the film demonstrates its metaphysical concept in just its visuals alone. Shots of insects, flowers, and various other forms of nature are sprinkled throughout Soul, creating an ethereal portrait of something more grand occurring beyond the scope of humanity. The problem with this is that loose ends never quite get tied up, despite having clear endpoints in mind. The entire epilogue of the movie feels like a waste of time because its atmosphere is very much disconnected from the mood set throughout the majority of the film.

Read the Rest of the Review After the Jump.


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