The 2015 Foreign Film Project: Part 1

I have always loved foreign films– besides horror and comedy which are my two favorite genres, foreign films have been the next biggest interest of mine within cinema. Even before I started college, I found myself drawn to these films, fascinated and refreshed by how different they were from the Hollywood fare I’d been used to. I remember watching the bleak but gripping Romanian drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) on Netflix streaming before Netflix streaming was as big as it is now (and before I really knew how to watch such a film– I’m surprised it’s stuck with me as an ultimately meaningful experience even if what I was viewing was anything but pleasant; I even defended it to my joke of a film class when I studied abroad, and being the only film major in said class, my claims that it was a disturbing but unbelievably well-constructed period piece were dismissed as pretentiousness). Anyway, it wasn’t until my contemporary world cinema class that I got to see another Romanian film– the equally bleak dark comedy/drama The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005).

Now, as I head into 2015 wishing I not only blogged more but also watched more movies on my own, as a form of much-needed me time that is also productive somehow, I’ve decided that I miss watching foreign films and that I should really utilize my Netflix account more than I do. So, I’ve started a little passion project to watch more foreign films this year and write a little bit about them so that come 2016, I can see how I did!

The first two I watched were: Child’s Pose (from Romania) and Big Bad Wolves (from Israel).

Child’s Pose, which won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale the year I was in Berlin for my semester abroad, actually, was as bleak as the other Romanian films I mentioned, but rather than exposing the horribleness of communism when you need all you need is an abortion (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) or the horribleness of the modern healthcare system when all you need is a doctor and a hospital (Mr. Lazarescu) this film makes the bourgeoisie out to be the bleak, corrupt and callous facet of Romanian society– its grit is in its glamour, and in a way, that made it more disturbing to me. The film focuses intently on the class difference between Cornelia (played by Luminița Gheorghiu who also costarred in those two other Romanian films– not ironic since she’s like the Romanian Meryl Streep) and the grieving parents– whose 14 year old son was killed in a car accident, with Cornelia’s own beloved son Barbu behind the wheel.

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Though he is at least partially to blame of course, Cornelia coldly calculates what needs to be done to clear her son’s name, even when her interference is clearly unwelcome; the relationship, or lack thereof between Barbu and his mother is what makes her attempts seem all the more skewed, her denial of his wrongdoing comes second to her denying her own son’s disdain for her. The climactic scene toward the very end of the film finds Cornelia in tears, spewing his accolades and achievements as a way of defending her son, begging for his life to be spared even though the recipients of these pleas are those grieving parents whose own son was not spared, whose own son was not given such an opportunity– and with seemingly no real guilt from Cornelia. It’s a class allegory about power and pride and, though it’s never really an easy film to watch, it’s powerful if you can master it.

The next film also had to do with dead children, but other than that disturbing commonality, these films were totally different: Big Bad Wolves, which opened early in 2014 in limited release, is an Israeli thriller/dark comedy that many horror fans buzzed about (so I knew I had to move this one to the top of my list). This film was AMAZING in every way possible. From the stylish opening credits sequence to, well, a lot of other very visually striking moments, the film had a slick sense of panache. It was also sickly funny, as a dark comedy should be when done right– I found myself laughing while cringing (a sort of “should I really be laughing at that?” type reaction). I loved this film and would have given it a perfect score, easily.

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The story is that of a pedophile/child murderer who is interrogated by the father of one of the victims, with a little help too from a sarcastic vigilante cop who’d been officially taken off the case. Taking matters into their own surprisingly sadistic hands, the film takes a turn for the disturbing and suspenseful, but still with that sick humor making itself known throughout (I mean, the choice of music when the father is baking a cake with sedatives in it is priceless and will make your skin prickle). I loved the deliberate way the camera moved, the way certain moments played out in a kind of stylized slow motion; I loved the music and the script, the way humor and horror were so intertwined as if to seem naturally synonymous; I loved the way we’re meant to question everything– who is telling the truth and whose motives are justified– that is, until the twist at the end that will leave you shocked, shaken and cheering (more for its build up and execution than its content)… or maybe that was just me getting way too excited about this amazing movie culminating in the most satisfying– and yet frustrating– way possible. I don’t usually praise things this much even when I give them super positive reviews but this film honestly made me this giddy so censoring myself is not an option.

Anyway, thanks all for reading and for following me on this little foreign film journey! Coming up in this feature if all goes according to plan, I’ll be checking out two more of Leos Carax’s films, the Russian noir Elena, modern Spanish classic Y Tu Mama Tambien and recent Spanish camp-fest Witching & Bitching, Norwegian psychological drama Oslo August 31st and much much more!

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A Merry, Mega Redhead Pop Culture Recap Post!

Happy holidays and happy new year to all and apologies as usual for my lack of blogging activity up until my two Christmas Day reviews. It seems I’m always apologizing in such a fashion at the beginning of a post here, and up until those aforementioned reviews, this had been my longest hiatus yet, I think. I took an unofficial, unintended and unannounced month-long break from blogging– on my own site and for everyone else’s, too– and I’ve been really trying to reassess my time management and how much time I truly have for blogging right now, and when I’d best be able to fit it in. I don’t want to give it up, at least not now, not yet– I’ve come too far and feel like writing about films and television has become an integral part of my identity, even if it is just a hobby, a therapeutic side gig that gives my life an extra ounce of meaning and purpose. Now that I have a full time job and a nearly 4 hour round-trip commute every day though, it’s been hard, and I’m not using that as an excuse, or even if I am, that’s the truth and it’s my right to be unreasonably exhausted, unmotivated, and drained of all creativity by the time the evening or even the weekend rolls around.

So, again, bear with me– or don’t– as I figure out this weird stage of my life, as it is lasting longer than I thought it should but apparently, this is all totally normal– from college to one’s early twenties, I’ve been told that it’s okay for things to be tumultuous, tiring and confusing. It’s starting to dawn on me that maybe there won’t ever be a convenient time to blog frequently– I kept saying this other thing comes first or that other thing takes priority, and maybe there will always be those things, and maybe I won’t ever be the kind of blogger who devotes one’s self so fully to this but I do care and I do want to push myself even just a little bit further, and to take advantage of whatever spare time I do have, even if it isn’t much. This blog– and the guest spots I’ve had and still have– mean so much to me, and have given me so much. I’m willing to let it come second to whatever else is going on in my life but I don’t think I’m ready or willing to say goodbye to it entirely.

With that in mind, I thought I’d write a MASSIVE hodgepodge of a post, to encapsulate all that’s been going on in my life on the pop culture front! Feel free to skim as your interests dictate.

First of all, I never did write that last The Walking Recap post. Maybe I was too shocked (but was I really?) or heartbroken. To recap briefly now, Beth stabs Dawn with a pair of medical scissors and one of the other cops shoots Beth in the head upon instinct. Daryl carries her body out as we’ve seen him do before–  carrying Beth when she hurts her ankle last season, or the dead body wrapped in a sheet that he’s about to burn on Carol’s behalf this season, all as if the show’s been foreshadowing this event– and Maggie collapses in grief. I grew to really love Beth… but the petitioning that occurred next is what I want to focus on here even more than the episode itself… apparently, there’s a chance they’ll bring Beth back? This seems wrong to me, if this rumor comes true, because it takes the dramatic, emotional impact away from the episode, takes the power out of it, I mean. It feels like a too-easy way out from a show that should continue to pride itself on packing those kinds of punches. Otherwise, why should we care about anyone on it– if they die, they’ll come back, right?

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Continuing on the television front now: I binged all three episodes of Ascension a couple weekends ago and loved it, until the ambiguous ending, that is. Syfy’s 3 part miniseries which took place on a spaceship in the middle of its 100 year journey, seemed at first to be science-fiction at its most essential and satisfying: a twisty and terrifying foray into social commentary. But, I think it could have had a little more focus than it did. Still enjoyable and worthwhile for the most part though! I think the ending just really threw me off. No spoilers but if something is going to be allegorical, pack the final punch with that in mind instead of smacking us over the head with something very new– and very random.

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I’ve also started binge watching ABC’s Revenge, and 3 years/4 seasons late to the game, I’m loving it. I’ve heard it takes a dip in season 2, a sophomore slump I guess, but I’m going to stick with it (right now I’m almost at the end of season 1 and still completely addicted). Yes, I am totally, unabashedly obsessed with the trashy, campy soap-opera-esque turmoil of the rich and powerful Grayson family, whose lavish and corrupt lives are being threatened by the way-too-cool Emily Thorne (played by Emily VanCamp), who is back under a false identity in order to seek revenge for her father’s false imprisonment. It’s definitely the most fun I’ve had with a TV show in a while– it induces the kind of viewing stress that only makes you want more. And, if I may, I think the characters are a little more complex (even if just a little) than your typical archetypes but they’re still cookie-cutter enough, somehow, to be the kinds of recognizable characters you can easily love and love to hate. The glamour, the intrigue, the backstabbing and plotting! It’s euphoric, quite frankly.

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Last thing I’ll mention about TV: the Doctor Who Christmas Special was one of the best ones I can remember. I mean, who doesn’t love creepy dream crabs (and the ensuing Alien references!) and a Santa played by Nick Frost? Plus, Jenna Coleman is staying on as Clara! This news would have upset me if she were still the same boring, one-dimensional companion as she was in the Matt Smith era but with Capaldi, she’s been written as a genuinely interesting, complicated girl and their chemistry is awesome now, so I’m really glad she changed her mind about leaving the show.

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Now, back to film before I finally stop this rambling! I would have posted a whole thing about The Interview when the controversy was happening. And then the status kept changing and I simply couldn’t keep up, so I didn’t even tweet about it as I should have– it’s North Korea’s fault one minute then it’s back to being an inside job; first the film won’t be shown and next thing I know, I’m streaming it from YouTube. Free speech ultimately won here, but there are those who still felt the film was too racist and too stupid to deserve it– dangerously stupid, in fact. My opinion still stands that a stupid comedy can still be satire though and so whether or not it’s unanimously viewed as a quality film or not, whether it is truly an irresponsible film or not, that’s almost not the point anymore. The issues are still so complicated, though, the debate so heated. But I’m still standing behind it and supporting it, and it’s apparently doing very well on VOD for Sony– this has been a pop culture event, a terrorism ploy, a conspiracy theory hub, an industry game-changer, and a global political moment all in one.

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And finally, as I wrap up 2014 in my own mind and as the movie blogger that I still am, I’ve decided that I will write a post soon about my favorite films of the year, and perhaps my least favorite– since I rented a few that I ended up not blogging about before, which may factor into that post (Maleficent = Meh-leficent and Noah = NO-ugh). I won’t put an exact date on it (when this post will be up by, I mean), but it’s always nice to reflect so I’ve definitely started to turn that all over in my head. Maybe I’ll write it a bit differently than I did last year’s. And, as a goal/resolution I’ve made for myself heading into 2015, I’m going to be posting just a little bit (meaning not full reviews or essays but just short posts of some sort) now and then about foreign films I see (most of which will be streamed from Netflix). I just miss watching foreign films and they’re often good to watch on my own, so it’ll also allow me a little me-time and will be a good personal passion project to embark upon heading into the new year. I started today by watching Child’s Pose (from Romania) and Big Bad Wolves (from Israel) so expect a post about those soon as well!

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Thank you all for reading and for sticking with me! 2014 has been a crazy year and without you, my dear readers, I’d have even more self-motivating to do than I do already! I’m very grateful and looking forward to being a better blogger in 2015.