Hermetically Sealed Youth – A Film Review of ‘Dogtooth’

In Dogtooth (2009), almost everything has a falsely constructed meaning. Little yellow flowers growing in the garden are called Zombies. Planes flying over a meticulously kept backyard can easily fall from the sky. Cats are ferocious animals to be feared at all times. The first impression Dogtooth leaves stacks nicely into what we would expect from a sci-fi film. But Dogtooth doesn’t take place on a forbidden planet. It’s setting is rural Greece, and it’s center is the home of both thespian and psychotic, Father (Christos Stergioglou) who has successfully kept his adult children hostage for years. It sounds horrific, but the world director Giorgos Lanthimos presents is far from gruesome. Bordering on serene perfection, the family bastille is luxurious and near resort like in its provisions and amenities. The manipulation hides behind closed doors.

Although pushing through their adult years, Older Daughter (Aggeliki Papoulia) , Younger Daughter (Mary Tsoni) and Son (Hristos Passalis) are treated as infants, and are subject to irking forms of mental abuse. Veiled under an icy world of control, the children are feed a heavy dose of disorientation, lies and bogus knowledge, all in effort to support the patriarchal reign. Slightly Wes Anderson in its quirk and style, Dogtooth remains unique in its portrayal of a twisted family drama, or dramedy if hilarity can be found in the outrageous lengths that are taken to keep the “children” from venturing into the outside world beyond their fortified home.

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Academy Awards and winner of Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes, Dogtooth brims with recognizable symbolic references and relies on customs of western society to feed its ingenious plot twists. The most important of which in this story is the meaning behind losing your teeth, a person’s undeniable need for sexual exploration and our intrinsic need for freedom.

Given that the foundation of the film is fixed in words, meaning and reference it should be noted that the translation of the film from Greek to English through subtitles is done with success and care, leaving nothing to the imagination. Except what happens in the end.

Dogtooth is available to rent on both iTunes and Netfilx.

Christina Stimpson

August 30, 2012 / By

Stay Young, Have Fun – A Film Review of ‘Bones Brigade: An Autobiography’

Bones Brigade: An Autobiogrpahy Poster

In 1982, the Del Mar Skate Park was home to a 14 year-old beanstalk teenager named Tony Hawk. Today, you don’t have to own a skateboard to know who Tony Hawk is. He is the most successful professional skateboarder on the planet. His beginnings and skate life destiny, as well as that of Rodney Mullen, Lance Mountain, Steve Caballero, Mike McGill and Tommy Guerrero are documented (celebrated) in Stacey Peralta’s latest film Bones Brigade: An Autobiography.

Using an indirect interview technique paired with thousands of hours of video footage and still photography from the era, Peralta who is the founder of Bones Brigade, engages the six to paste their story together one interview at a time. The film reaches back into the early architecture of skate life while simultaneously profiling the history of the Bones Brigade collective.

Most inspiring to learn was Peralta’s recruiting technique for the Brigade. Initially he opted for nobodies, passing over those who already had impeccable technique. Proven skill to Peralta was less important than passion and drive for the sport. In choosing to develop young skaters, came freedom, and once within the entrepreneurial hands of Peralta his Brigade took over. The members, some as young as 10 years old, were coached, cultivated and grew so confidently into their craft they invented manoeuvres that would end up defining their decade. The influence of their peers nudged each of them up a technical notch and built an atmosphere of ambitious energy in which they could all excel in their own discipline.

An interesting angle that Bones Brigade: An Autobiography takes is its simultaneous documentation of the skate culture shift that occurred in the late 70’s and early 80’s. As skate parks began to close their doors to contrived competitions, an American sub-culture was breeding underground. Half pipes began to emerge in people’s backyards and D.I.Y chaotic skate contests owned and operated by skateboarders were popping up across the country. Mixed with the burgeoning popularity of VHS, the timing of this phenomenon made way for a rebirth in which Peralta was more than ready for. The ground breaking ad campaigns and self produced videos surrounding Bones Brigade mythologised skate life and infused personality and image into a sport that had previously been flat. By making it about concept over product, personality over generic, and fun on all accounts, skating became accessible to everyone, and Peralta changed its face in history.

Bones Brigade: An Autobiography is playing nationwide at various film festivals and special screenings. The film is rumoured to be released in fall 2012.

Christina Stimpson

August 9, 2012 / By

Good Game! – A Preview of Olympics and Sports Films

Chariots of Fire

Without Limits

Sports films generally follow one cardinal rule. This rule has little to do with the technical aspects of film-making, story device, or even high octane performances. The one unforgivable component of a sports film is that it must – without a doubt- be inspiring.  When I learned of the theme week topic I was keen to begin researching Olympics or Sports related films, as this is not a genre that I would naturally gravitate towards. As my research progressed, I gradually began to form self-imposed restrictions to uncover what would stand up as a high calibre sports film. I didn’t want it to star Adam Sandler (although admittedly I am a semi-fan), I didn’t want it to be about Football (to easy), and in the spirit of London 2012, I wanted it to focus on summer Olympics (leaving out the common denominator favorite Cool Running’s). My restrictions may be questionable, but in the spirit of going for the gold, I think rules might apply here.

There are hundreds sports films that are watchable, but there are mainly two that are dimensional enough to be accessible to a wider audience of sports fans and non-fans alike. It’s a cliché choice but, Chariots of Fire is the first. Released in 1981, nominated for seven Academy Awards and three prizes at Cannes that year, the film remains a quintessential example of sportsmanship, and the intrinsic drive that leads Olympic athletes to compete in the world’s fiercest competition.  Set in 1924, the film follows two Cambridge scholars Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson) and Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) who are both accepted to compete in the Paris 1924 Olympics, but who are driven by two very different motivations. The film tends to be slow and it deals with heavy religious subject matter (Jewish Abrahams experiences Anti-Semitism at Cambridge and Catholic Liddell is asked to compete on the Sabbath). As our 2012 world grows more and more secular the characters motivations in Chariots of Fire may seem trivial, yet the positive spirit of witnessing someone achieve a goal remains vividly inspirational. Besides, every frame of Chariots of Fire looks like it belongs in the dead center of the epic September issue of Vogue. If you could care less about the religious undertones, watch it solely for the luxury in set design and costuming that it displays on screen of an era that has escaped through time.

Without Limits is an easy second choice. Directed by Robert Towne, the 1998 film is the bio-pic of American record holder and long distance runner Steve Prefontaine (Billy Crudup) or “Pre” as he was colloquially called. Without Limits and subsequently Prefontaine’s story, is a staunch example of remaining true to the cardinal rule of inspiration as it profiles Pre’s goal to compete at the Munich Olympics. Not only was Pre an outspoken rebel and tour-de-force athlete intent on over throwing athletic establishments, his stoic and wise coach was Bill Bowerman (Donald Sutherland) the founder of Nike. As much as it is all consuming to sit at the edge of your seat and watch Crudup out run a squad of other exceptional athletes, it is equally as entertaining to witness Bowerman’s empire collate from waffle-iron shoe soles to what we now know as his million dollar industry.

Also worth checking out is the basketball tear-jerker documentary Hoop Dreams available on Criterion, and ESPN’s documentary series 30 for 30. All these films are available on Netflix and itunes.

 

Christina Stimpson

July 26, 2012 / By

Two Nights Only – A Film Review of ‘Shut up and Play the Hits’

Shut up and Play the Hits

April 2nd, 2011 holds an alternative meaning for fans of the indie electronic band LCD Soundsystem. It was on that spring date over a year ago that the group, lead by the hailed James Murphy, played their last concert to a sold out Madison Square Garden in New York City. Having announced to a shocked fan base about their disbandment earlier that year, the MSG show was methodically chosen as the extravaganza to conclude band’s 10 year career. Luckily, two British filmmakers, Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, who previously won a Grammy for their documentary on the band Blur ‘No Distance Left to Run’, were already engaged to develop a film on LCD Soundsystem.

Originally meant to focus specifically on Murphy as the intriguing front man, the film encountered a twist of fate. Where the director’s creative intent and Murphy’s career decision coincided, Shut Up and Play the Hits was born into its hybrid structure of character profile, concert experience and documentary film. Premiering at Sundance 2011, SXSW, and HotDocs, both Southern and Lovelace, cultivated a distinct vision for the film. Seeking to avoid the monotonous ‘taped show’ aesthetic, the duo focused on exploring the band’s last days and the transient moment in time of their last show. A crew of 10 cinematographers, including Spike Jonze, were asked to show no restraint in shooting a personal diary of the band dynamics, the relationship with their audience and the visceral experience of participating in a live setting. The concert footage strategically captures the emotion of an 18,000 strong crowd who are there to witness the last moments of the bands life – their funeral as they refer to it.

In the same vein as the infamous April one night only concert, Shut Up and Play the Hits, will play one night only in theatres across U.S.A and Canada on July 18th. Mixed by James Murphy himself, the film promises to bring you to the same emotional high as being part of the MSG show – for those who missed it. The documentary also gives fans a rare glimpse into the post existence of the band and Murphy on April 3rd – the next day.

It’s a funeral – but a musical one, where dancing in the aisles and singing along is welcomed. It might just be the most fun you have have at a funeral. Ever.

Christina Stimpson

July 5, 2012 / By

Love Reinterpreted – A Film Review of ‘Laurence Anyways’

Laurence Anyways

Xavier Dolan is twenty-three. I usually don’t concern myself with the age of film directors, but Dolan is the exception. In 2009, at the age of twenty, his first feature film J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother) debuted at Cannes and won three prizes under the Director’s Fortnight. In 2010, at the age of twenty-one his second feature Les amours imaginaires (Heartbeats) premiered again at Cannes under Un Certain Regard. This year marks Dolan’s third tour at cinema’s most distinguished festival, with the debut of his epic film Laurence Anyways.

It’s safe to say that the creative voice within this young Montreal auteur is wise beyond his years. His themes of self-discovery, sexual identity and unrequited combustible passion focus on life’s difficult and awkward moments, yet Dolan’s touch prescribes them with ravishing beauty and surreal existence on screen.

Laurence Anyways is an operatic, transsexual love chronicle of a couple whose souls are bound to each other in such intensity that neither of them can deny it. Layers upon layers of relationship ups and downs construct the historical drama of Laurence (Melvil Poupaud) and Frederique (Suzanne Clément). The quintessential case of can’t live with, you can’t live without you, begins in September 1989, and reaches to 1999, the brink of Y2K and the dawning of a new millennium. Laurence is a high school teacher and Frederique works in the film industry, and together they have built a stable life that is rife with joie de vivre.

The test of their stability and endurance as a couple is put under a microscope when Laurence, decides he can no longer live as a man. He courageously releases his 30 year secret to Frederique in a heated argument where he equates the need to leave his male identity behind and transition into female, as a type of death.

This begins the couple’s complex equation of balancing security with insecurity, which tests Frederique’s loyalty and emotional rigour towards the man who she loves as he changes into the woman she is supposed to love. The overwhelming and intense nature of the subject is matched with Dolan’s boundless stylistic vision. This work of art may be the culmination of his artistic vision as it presents a film that is rich with emotion shown in opulence, but on a fundamental level is singularly about change. With the exception of the length of the film, which could have used some key editing to form a more succinct flow, Laurence Anyways is a sumptuous achievement – for a filmmaker of any age – but specifically for one that is twenty-three.

One can’t deny the masterful effort here, and its transsexual love story should not be relegated to niche. This film is universal, and can be understood on the level of anyone who has endured the heart-make and heart-break that love stories so often come with. In its soul, Laurence, Anyways communicates that there are still some things that last a long time, and whether it’s your believed sex or your infallible attachment to another human, some things are too powerful to deny.

Christina Stimpson

June 7, 2012 / By

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