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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Best Films of 2013

It was an excellent year for cinema demonstrated by how many worthy films had to be left out of this list and many others that I failed to see because they never got released in my city such as A Touch of Sin, Stray Dogs, Ship of Theseus and Norte, the End of History. The distribution problem for foreign films seems to get worse every year but since these films only make a fraction of the box-office revenue, no one seems to care. As a result, the importance of film festivals and an increasing amount of VOD options cannot be overstated.

One aspect that stood out from some of the best films of 2013 was their mature approach to relationships, especially between parents and children. Like Father, Like Son, Before Midnight and The Past come from three different countries but they all managed to smartly depict the two way impact parents and kids have on each other. The visuals and sound design of many films left a mark, including some that were left out of this list. For example, the sound of Lootera is impressive as is the background score in 12 Years a Slave which gives a cue when the nightmare is over. 12 Years a Slave could have had no dialogue and the score would have still been ample in navigating the emotional state of the characters. In the case of Gravity, the technical aspects are far superior than the story and acting. Gravity was the first film I saw in the IMAX 3D format and that proved to be a very immersive physical experience. It was also the most memorable cinematic experience of the year but Gravity does not feature in this list, emphasizing the strength of this year’s output.

Top Ten Films of 2013 

1. Like Father, Like Son (Japan, Hirokazu Kore-eda) 

A mature film about the two-way relationship parents and kids have on each other. At times devastating but an enriching experience. Hirokazu Kore-eda is certainly a worthy heir to the cinema of Yasujirô Ozu.

2. Neighboring Sounds (2012, Brazil, Kleber Mendonça Filho) 

Rarely do I utter masterpiece after finishing a film but this was the only word that came to mind as the credits rolled. The sound design is remarkable as is the constant sense of dread that lingers over every frame.

3. The Great Beauty (Italy/France, Paolo Sorrentino) 

Just when I think Italian cinema can't match its former glory comes this wonder of cinema. How on earth did Sorrentino make such a film? Is it really him that directed it? It feels like the ghost of Fellini, Antonioni and former Italian masters came on the set, possessed Sorrentino and made him make this film. There are also tiny hints of Terrence Malick and Matteo Garrone as well.

4. Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (Canada, Denis Côté) 

Denis Côté toys with the audience by making a specific genre film under the cover of another genre. I am not going to reveal what the specific genre is because it is worth seeing this film cold without any prior knowledge. Côté clearly alerts the audience what to expect but his alarms are mistaken for humor which is why when the film does eventually reveal its true nature, it jolts the senses.

5. Bastards (France, Claire Denis) 

Shares some elements with L’Intrus but this heads towards neo-noir territory with devastating results. Like the real world, some of the biggest villains don’t appear to be evil on first glance but only show their true color in dark enclosed spaces.

6. Before Midnight (USA, Richard Linklater) 

Before Midnight depicts a perfect way to make a trilogy as the characters grow off-screen and each film allows the audience to catch-up with events in their lives, just like old friends do when meeting after a long gap.

7. Leviathan (2012, USA/France/UK, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel) 

The fluid style jolts the senses forcing one to experience the world in a new light. The sound and visuals also make this feel like a horror film.

8. The Act of Killing (2012, Denmark/Norway/UK, Joshua Oppenheimer) 

Even though the documentary is rooted in Indonesia, it is universal in depicting how men kill with the aid of media and politicians. The depiction of torture/killing could easily be set in Latin/South America/Africa while the media manipulation applies to most nations. But no individuals will ever admit their crime with such brutal honesty as those in The Act of Killing, making it a living digital document.

9. The Fifth Season (2012, Belgium/Holland/France, Peter Brosens/Jessica Woodworth)  

The two directors earlier work Khadak was infused with color but all color is mostly drained out of The Fifth Season in order to depict a bleak winter like feeling. Such a depiction works because this transmits the desperation and misery that hangs over the village. At times, the film hinges on dark comedy mostly associated with the cinema of Roy Andersson while some of the bar/tavern scenes and apocalyptic dread evokes Béla Tarr.

10. Drinking Buddies (USA, Joe Swanberg)

Relationships are common fodder in American Independent cinema but Joe Swanberg has managed to cut through all the mumblecore and get to the heart of how two people connect with each other. In few short scenes, we can easily assess whether two characters are right for reach other because their body language depicts their true feelings. And like a Hong Sang-soo film, alcohol is always on hand allowing the characters to relax and open up.

15 Honorable Mentions, roughly in order of preference

The Last Shepherd (2012, Italy, Marco Bonfanti) 

A few years ago, the documentary Sweetgrass showed beauty in following a herd of sheep through the mountains. That film was wordless but The Last Shepherd fills in those missing words and elevates that concept by introducing us to the wonderful person that is Renato Zucchelli. Renato decides to change the perspective of young kids who have never seen or touched a sheep. The film follows his journey from the countryside to the city as he brings 700 sheep to Milan’s centre thereby creating a tiny miraculous sight.

The Past (France/Italy, Asghar Farhadi) 

Examines the complicated and messy aftermath of a separation. As the film shows, a separation does not guarantee a better future but instead can lead one down a never-ending hole of misery.

Thou Gild’st the Even (Turkey, Onur Ünlü) 

This gorgeous black and white surrealist love story is unlike any film released in the last few years. It is packed with surrealist images that are seamlessly integrated within the ordinary fabric of town life. As a result, the film's blend of humor and shock results in a darker blend of comedy that most palates have not yet encountered.

Borgman (Holland, Alex van Warmerdam) 

The initial premise appears to be taking a page out of Haneke’s Funny Games but that is a red herring as Borgman builds on Alex van Warmerdam’s previous films, especially The Last Days of Emma Blank. The dark humor style cut across Dutch society can be found in Warmerdam’s previous films but Borgman takes everything to the breaking point.

Drug War (2012, China/Hong Kong, Johnnie To) 

The documentary style throws one off from the usual Johnnie To stylish films. But make no mistake, this is vintage Johnnie To as he dives deep into the world of police and criminals in a way that only he can. The two films that came most to mind while watching Drug War were To’s PTU and Infernal Affairs with regards to the police procedures and surveillance activities.

A Hijacking (2012, Denmark, Tobias Lindholm) 

Just like his previous film R, Tobias Lindholm uses a double perspective to paint a complete picture of events. And he does so without using any violence or even having a hero in the film. The entire film instead focuses on tense hostage negotiations which end up becoming bargaining sessions stretched over weeks and months. 

Aurangzeb (India, Atul Sabharwal) 

Atul Sabharwal’s film smartly fuses the family-political battles from Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug (1981) with the double character element found in Kagemusha and numerous 1970-80’s Indian films. The end result is a film that feels familiar yet is still unique given the contemporary setting in Gurgaon where real estate deals are ruthless.

Frances Ha (2012, USA, Noah Baumbach) 

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig have created a memorable character whose honesty puts her in many foot-in-mouth moments but those awkward moments only add to the film's bittersweet style.

Watermark (Canada, Jennifer Baichwal/Edward Burtynsky) 

Once again, Burtynsky captures beauty in the most unlikely places forcing us to contemplate the consequences of our actions on this planet. The film is an extension of his retrospective that toured Canadian museums a few years ago. Essential viewing!

Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns (India, Tigmanshu Dhulia) 

Tigmanshu Dhulia heightens the sexual and political elements from the first Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (2011) film thereby creating a riveting follow-up chapter to the story of a man holding onto his crumbling kingdom. Jimmy Shergill continues to thrive in what may be his finest on-screen role to date.

Passion (2012, Germany/France, Brian De Palma) 

For most of its running time, the film is an enhanced version of Love Crime but the dizzying Hitchcockian ending is truly mesmerizing. The ending left me out of breath and feeling similar to what others have felt when watching Vertigo for the first time.

Inside Llewyn Davis (USA, Coen Brothers) 

The best Coen Brothers film since O Brother, Where Art Thou? features characters who are perfectly in tone, with the exception of Jean (Carey Mulligan). At first, the anger of Jean feels overplayed in comparison to the material but as events later in the film indicate, her behavior is an act meant to suppress her guilt. That realization takes place shortly before a literal kick to the stomach is delivered making it an appropriate fade to black.

In Another Country (2012, South Korea, Hong Sang-soo) 

Hong Sang-soo's easy flowing style incorporates Isabelle Huppert's whimsical character perfectly resulting in plenty of humor.

Computer Chess (USA, Andrew Bujalski) 

A playful look at various computer programmer personalties, ranging from the very shy to those whose supreme confidence borders on arrogance. The black and white visuals coupled with the video footage give the film a 1980’s look and feel, at a time when computers were bulky machines that required some effort to transport from room to room. The humor is derived from the collection of eccentric personalities and as a result, the scenarios feel natural and not forced. As a bonus, the film also literally depicts HAL's birth. 

Blue Jasmine (USA, Woody Allen) 

This feels like a Mike Leigh film filtered through conventional Woody Allen characters. As a result, there is some anger in the material that is displayed on a few occasions. Some of the best moments appear when the characters stop talking and we get a sense of their true feelings.

Update: Jan 2, 2014

For my 2013 year end list, I only included films that I saw from Jan 1 - Dec 31 2013. This means Nebraska which I saw on Jan 1, 2014, can't be included. However, it is a truly wonderful film that is far funnier than American Hustle or The Wolf of Wall Street. Nebraska would have surely found a spot in my 2013 Top 10.

Also, restricting the list to 25 films meant Gravity, Lootera, 12 Years a Slave, The Missing Picture, Fruitvale Station and OXV: The Manual just missed out.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Best Bollywood films: 2013

I cannot do a Best Indian films of 2013 list because not many Indian films got released in my city. The majority of titles that made it to cinemas were some of the bigger Bollywood and Punjabi films. One of the biggest disappointments of 2013 is that Ship of Theseus never got a Canadian release. The much praised film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012 but never touched Canadian shores after that. The fate of Ship of Theseus puts things in perspective. If a film praised at TIFF cannot find proper distribution, then one fears for the fate of other Indian titles who fail to travel the film festival circuit. Thankfully, there were some worthy Bollywood Films made in 2013. Here are the top 3 Bollywood films seen in 2013:

1. Aurangzeb (Atul Sabharwal)

 

Atul Sabharwal’s film smartly fuses the family-political battles from Shyam Benegal’s Kalyug (1981) with the double character element found in Kagemusha and numerous 1970-80’s Indian films. The end result is a film that feels familiar yet is still unique given the contemporary setting in Gurgaon where real estate deals are ruthless.

2. Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns (Tigmanshu Dhulia)



Tigmanshu Dhulia heightens the sexual and political elements aspects from the first Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (2011) film thereby creating a riveting follow-up chapter to the story of a man holding onto his crumbling kingdom. In comparison to the first film, Mahie Gill’s Biwi (wife) character is far more bolder and gives an assured, seductive performance while the Gangster character has more substance because of Irrfan Khan’s addition. Jimmy Shergill continues to thrive in what may be his finest on-screen role to date.

3. Lootera (Vikramaditya Motwane)

 

At first, Lootera looks like another Bollywood love story but thankfully, the love story is a facade which gives way allowing a Bengali inspired technically rich film to emerge. The sound design in Lootera is mesmerizing and allows everyday sounds to filter through the frame when needed. As a bonus, this is a rare Bollywood film that does not show snow as romantic. The first half of the film is infused with color but when the second half shifts to a colder landscape, the color is drained from the frame creating a cold sensation anticipating death.

Other Mentions

Bombay Talkies has many memorable moments in all the four shorts but overall Dibakar Banerjee’s segment steals the show.

Pankaj Kapur is at his intoxicating best in Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola.

Rishi Kapoor's stand-out performances in Aurangzeb and D-Day highlights that his impressive evil character role in Agneepath was not a one time acting decision. He is still doing romantic roles but it is impressive to see how he has reinvented himself.

The wicked ending of Raj Kumar Gupta's Ghanchakkar stays long in the memory, especially since nothing in the film prepares one to expect such a dark turn of events. The ending takes a path that 99.9% of Indian films would never take. For that reason alone, the film deserves a nod.

Bejoy Nambiar's David has a calm beauty to it although that beauty does not fully get transmitted until the final moments of the film.

Remo’s ABCD (Any Body Can Dance) features some of the best choreographed dances seen in an Indian movie. A lot of the moves are inspired from shows such as American’s Best Dance Crew and So You Think You Can Dance but the film manages to incorporate Indian dances beautifully in the mix. The casting of Lauren Gottlieb from So You Think You Can Dance highlights the worthy decision to cast trained dancers in the film.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

2014 Movie World Cup

All 32 nations have qualified for the 2014 World Cup. Therefore, it is time to officially start the 2014 Movie World Cup, a soccer related film spotlight that has become a regular feature on this blog since 2006. Although, there will be some differences this time around.

In the past, only unseen films were selected for the spotlight. This resulted in some films getting hammered at the tournament meaning that nation left no impression in the spotlight. Also, hunting for films from some nations took a few months due to lack of accessible films from certain parts of the world. And when a film was eventually found, it was not a decent enough entry to compete in the spotlight. This time around, previously seen films will be pulled in to allow each nation a decent chance to put up points. Also, previously only a single film was selected from all the 32 nations. This time around, each nation can have up to 3 films which means the spotlight can have as many as 96 films, making it the most ambitious spotlight.

The rules for finding three films will be:

1. Previously seen film from 2005 - 2013

The goal is to pick a strong film from the last 8 years that is capable of giving their nation a chance to win the Movie World Cup. Therefore, previous best of the year films or top 10 films will be chosen.

2. Unseen film from 2005 - 2013

This is similar to the past where the goal is to find new films from different nations. The difference is the restriction of the year to find newer films.

3. Films from 1960 - 2004

1960 is selected as a starting point because not all the 32 nations had a viable film industry prior to 1960. Therefore, these nations would not have many selections to select before 1960 or even if they did, those films are hard to find. The flip side is this criteria puts some nations such as England, USA, France, Germany and Italy at a disadvantage because it eliminates many worthy films these countries produced prior to 1960. Ideally, this criteria should try to select some classic films between 1960 - 1970. But that will not always be possible. Also, this criteria can select a previously seen film.

There should be at least 1 unseen film out of 3 but the goal is to have 2 unseen films out of the three. Currently, some films are already selected. Below is a listing of all the nations and the films selected so far.

South America (6 nations)

Brazil: Neighboring Sounds (2012, Kleber Mendonça Filho)
Argentina: Gone Fishing (2012, Carlos Sorin)
Chile: Tony Manero (2008, Pablo Larraín)
Colombia: Crab Trap (2009, Oscar Ruiz Navia)
Ecuador:
Uruguay: A Useful Life (2010, Federico Veiroj)

Europe (13 nations)

Belgium: Kill the Referee (2009, Yves Hinant, Eric Cardot, Delphine Lehericey)
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Croatia: Buick Riviera (2009, Goran Rusinovic)
England: too many choices..
France: Holy Motors (2012, Leos Carax)
Germany:  Everyone Else (2009, Maren Ade)
Greece: Unfair World (2011, Filippos Tsitos)
Holland: Borgman (2013, Alex van Warmerdam)
Italy: Le Quattro Volte (2010, Michelangelo Frammartino)
Portugal: The Strange Case of Angelica (2010, Manoel de Oliveira)
Russia: Alexandra (2007, Aleksandr Sokurov)
Spain: In the City of Sylvia (2007, José Luis Guerín)
Switzerland: Das Fräulein (2006, Andrea Staka)

Asia / Oceania (4 nations)

4 very strong films from Asia will ensure these nations will give a real test to the remaining nations.

Australia: Snowtown (2011, Justin Kurzel)
Iran: This is Not a Film (2011, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Jafar Panahi)
Japan: Like Father, Like Son (2013, Hirokazu Koreeda)
South Korea: The Day He Arrives (2011, Hong Sang-soo) 

Africa (5 nations): Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria.

Unfortunately, no films have been selected so far. Although, with the exception of Ivory Coast, the remaining nations have multiple film options.

North American / Caribbean (4 nations)

A strong selection of films will ensure these nations will be able to put up enough points to stand a good chance of advancing out of their groups.

Costa Rica:  Cold Water of the sea (2010, Paz Fabrega)
Honduras:  El Porvenir (2008, Oscar Estrada)
Mexico:  El Violin (2005, Francisco Vargas), Post Tenebras Lux (2012, Carlos Reygadas)
USA: too many choices...


Official film viewing will start on Dec 1, 2013 and end by June 1, 2014.

Like in the past, the films in this spotlight will follow the official World Cup draw of being split in 8 groups of 4 nations each. The top 2 films from each of the 8 groups will advance to the second round.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Film Log: 2013

2013 has been a truly rewarding and fun film viewing year mostly due to the 90+ films seen as part of the Wonders in the Dark Western Countdown. Another major highlight of the year has been finally seeing a Lav Diaz film, legally and free. This was made possible thanks to Mubi.com's Dialogue of Cultures International Film Festival (DCIFF).

Once again, the total number of films seen has exceeded my expectations. I never expected to see these many films but somehow I ended up going over 300 films yet again and reaching close to 400.

Total number of features (fiction and docs) seen: 390

The above total includes 54 features that won't be released until 2014. Those 54 titles are removed from the list below.

Film (Year, Country, Director): [optional rating out of 10]

Swapner Din (2004, India, Buddhadev Dasgupta): 8
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007, co-production, Russell Mulcahy): 5
Lockout (2012, France, James Mather/Stephen St. Leger): 4
Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010, co-production, Paul W.S. Anderson): 4.5
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, USA, Rupert Wyatt): 8.5
This Means War (2012, USA, McG): 0
Good Hair (2009, USA, Jeff Stilson): 7.5
Carnage (2010, USA, Roman Polanski): 9
Zero Dark Thirty (2012, USA, Kathryn Bigelow): 8
Get the Gringo (2012, USA, Adrian Grunberg): 6
Robocop (1987, USA, Paul Verhoven): 7.5
Robocop2 (1990, USA, Irvin Kershner): 7
Bullit (1968, USA, Peter Yates): 9
Resident Evil (2002, USA, Paul W.S Anderson): 6
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004, co-production, Alexander Witt): 5
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012, USA, Marc Webb): 7
Robocop 3 (1993, USA, Fred Dekker): 4
EasyA (2010, USA, Will Gluck): 6
The Woman in the Fifth (2011, France/Poland/UK, Pawel Pawlikowski): 8
In Another Country (2012, South Korea, Hong Sang-soo): 9
Liberal Arts (2012, USA, Josh Radnor): 7.5
Wanderers in the Desert (1986, Tunisia, Nacir Khemer)
The Expendables 2 (2010, USA, Sylvester Stallone): 5
The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008, South Korea, Kim Jee-Woon): 6
The Age of Ignorance/Days of Darkness (2007, Canada, Denys Arcand): 7
Greetings to the Devil (2011, Colombia/Mexico/USA, Juan Felipe Orozco): 6
The Bourne Legacy (2012, USA, Tony Gilroy): 2
Bab’Aziz (2005, Tunisia co-production, Nacer Khemir)
Atlas Shrugged: part I (2011, USA, Paul Johansson): 4

Payback (2012, Canada, Jennifer Baichawl): 8
Baraka (1992, USA, Ron Fricke): 10
Universal Soldier (1992, USA, Roland Emmerich): 5.5
Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009, USA, John Hyams): 8
Terror’s Advocate (2007, France, Barbet Schroeder)
Cries and Whispers (1972, Sweden, Ingmar Bergman)
Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana (2012, India, Sameer Sharma): 5
Au Hasard Balthazar (1966, France, Robert Bresson): 10
Mouchette (1967, France, Robert Bresson): 10
The Imposter (2012, UK, Bart Layton): 7.5
Universal Solder: Day of Reckoning (2012, USA, John Hyams): 7.5
A Man Escaped (1956, France, Robert Bresson): 10
Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola (2012, India, Vishal Bhardwaj): 6.5
End of Watch (2012, USA, David Ayer): 8
Samsara (2011, USA, Ron Fricke): 9.5
The Grey (2011, USA, Joe Carnahan): 7
The Exterminating Angel (1962, Mexico, Luis Buñuel): 9
The Driver (1978, USA, Walter Hill): 8
Escape from Planet Earth (2012, USA, Cal Brunker): 8
Fantasma (2006, Argentina, Lisandro Alonso): 9
The Conquerors (1932, USA, William A. Wellman): 9.5
La Libertad (2001, Argentina, Lisandro Alonso): 9
Diary of a Country Priest (1951, France, Robert Bresson): 9.5
Pickpocket (1959, France, Robert Bresson): 10
Southern Comfort (1981, USA, Walter Hill): 4
Goodbye First Love (2011, France/Germany, Mia Hansen-Løve): 7
Chakravyuh (2012, India, Prakash Jha): 5
Gamer (2009, USA, Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor): 6
Side by Side (2012, USA, Christopher Kenneally): 7.5
Ted (2012, USA, Seth MacFarlane): 5
Atlas Shrugged Part II (2012, USA, John Putch): 2
The Wild Bunch (1969, USA, Sam Peckinpah): 9
White Lightnin’ (2009, UK, Dominic Murphy)
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011, USA, David Gelb): 8.5
The Warriors (1979, USA, Walter Hill): 7
Searching for Sugar Man (2012, Sweden/UK, Malik Bendjelloul): 9
The Shining (1980, USA, Stanley Kubrick): 10
Room 237 (2012, USA, Rodney Ascher): 8
Resident Evil: Retribution (2012, USA/UAE, Paul W.S Anderson): 5
The Man with the Iron Fists (2012, USA/Hong Kong, RZA): 4
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011, USA/UAE, Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor): 5

Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry (2012, USA, Alison Klayman): 8.5
A Late Quartet (2011, USA, Yaron Zilberman): 6.5
Bolt (2008, USA, Byron Howard/Chris Williams)
We Have a Pope (2011, Italy/France, Nanni Moretti): 7
Spring Breakers (2012, USA, Harmony Korine): 8.5
The Place Beyond the Pines (2012, USA, Derek Cianfrance): 8.5
Detropia (2012, USA, Heidi Ewing/Rachel Grady): 9
Berberian Sound Studio (2012, UK, Peter Strickland): 9
Upstream Color (2013, USA, Shane Carruth)
Pieta (2012, South Korea, Kim-ki Duk): 3
The Searchers (1956, USA, John Ford)
The Act of Killing (2012, Denmark/Norway/UK, Joshua Oppenheimer): 10
Computer Chess (2013, USA, Andrew Bujalski): 9
Neighboring Sounds (2012, Brazil, Kleber Mendonça Filho): 10
Down Terrace (2006, USA, Ben Wheatley)
Bronson (2008, UK, Nicolas Winding Refn): 7
Ministry of Fear (1944, USA, Fritz Lang)
The Last Man on Earth (1964, USA/Italy, Ubaldo Ragona/Sidney Salkow)
Robot & Frank (2012, USA, Jake Schreier)
5 Broken Cameras (2011, Palestine/Israel/France/Holland, Emad Burnat/Guy Davidi)
How to Survive a Plague (2012, USA, David France)

Unforgiven (1992, USA, Clint Eastwood): 10
Wreck-It Ralph (2012, USA, Rich Moore)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968, Italy/USA, Sergio Leone): 10
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969, USA, George Roy Hill)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971, USA, Robert Altman)
The Man from Laramie (1955, USA, Anthony Mann): 8
The Shooting (1966, USA, Monte Hellman): 8.5
Hour of the Gun (1967, USA, John Sturges): 5
Vera Cruz (1954, USA, Robert Aldrich): 7
How the West was Won (1962, USA, multiple): 6
The Train Robbers (1973, USA, Burt Kennedy): 7.5
Jeremiah Johnson (1972, USA, Sydney Pollack): 9
High Noon (1952, USA, Fred Zinnemann): 9
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, USA, John Huston): 8
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, USA, John Sturges): 10
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962, USA, John Ford): 10
Johnny Guitar (1954, USA, Nicholas Ray): 9.5
Rancho Notorious (1952, USA, Fritz Lang)
Garden of Evil (1954, USA, Henry Hathaway): 6
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973, USA, Sam Peckinpah): 7.5
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976, USA, Clint Eastwood): 8.5
Death Race (2008, USA/Germany/UK, Paul W.S. Anderson)
Brave (2012, USA, Mark Andrews/Brenda Chapman/Steve Purcell): 8
Flight (2012, USA, Robert Zemeckis): 7.5
Sholay (1975, India, Ramesh Sippy): 10
Stagecoach (1939, USA, John Ford)
Rango (2011, USA, Gore Verbinski)
Tumbleweeds (1925, USA, King Baggot/William S. Hart)
Rio Bravo (1959, USA, Howard Hawks): 10
The Tall T (1957, USA, Budd Boetticher): 8
Escape from Fort Bravo (1953, USA, John Sturges): 6
Silverado (1985, USA, Lawrence Kasdan)
Strange Frame (2012, USA, G.B. Hajim): 5
The Gunfighter (1950, USA, Henry King): 10
Rawhide (1951, USA, Henry Hathaway): 5
The Magnificent Seven (1960, USA, John Sturges): 8
Ride Lonesome (1959, USA, Budd Boetticher): 10
Decision at Sundown (1957, USA, Budd Boetticher): 10
Comanche Station (1960, USA, Budd Boetticher): 8.5
My Darling Clementine (1946, USA, John Ford): 10
El Topo (1970, Mexico, Alejandro Jodorowsky)
Heaven’s Gate (1980, USA, Michael Cimino)
Warlock (1959, USA, Edward Dmytryk)
3 Bad Men (1926, USA, John Ford)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939, USA, John Ford)
Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns (2013, India, Tigamanshu Dhulia): 9
Red River (1948, USA, Howard Hawks/Arthur Rosson): 10
Special 26 (2013, India, Neeraj Pandey): 6.5
Paint Your Wagon (1969, USA, Joshua Logan)
Hombre (1967, USA, Martin Ritt)
Destry Rides Again (1939, USA, George Marshall)
Cat Ballou (1965, USA, Elliot Silverstein)
Wyatt Earp (1994, USA, Lawrence Kasdan)
Ride the High Country (1962, USA, Sam Peckinpah)
The Long Riders (1980, USA, Walter Hill)
True Grit (1969, USA, Henry Hathaway)
Rio Grande (1950, USA, John Ford)
Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976, USA, Robert Altman)
Shane (1953, USA, George Stevens)
Westworld (1973, USA, Michael Crichton)
Seven Men from Now (1956, USA, Budd Boetticher)
The Professionals (1966, USA, Richard Brooks): 9
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957, USA, John Sturges): 5.5
Joe Kidd (1972, USA, John Sturges)
The Wind (1928, USA, Victor Sjöström)
Little Big Man (1970, USA, Arthur Penn)
Hang ‘em High (1968, USA, Ted Post)
High Plains Drifter (USA, Clint Eastwood)
Forty Guns (1957, USA, Samuel Fuller)
3:10 to Yuma (1957, USA, Delmer Daves): 10
The Shootist (1976, USA, Don Siegel)
Winchester ’73 (1950, USA, Anthony Mann)

Bombay Talkies (2013, India, K. Johar/D. Banerjee/Z. Akhtar/A. Kashyap): 8
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002, USA, Kelly Asbury/Lorna Cook)
Man of the West (1958, USA, Anthony Mann)
Pale Rider (1985, USA, Clint Eastwood)
Dances with Wolves (1990, USA, Kevin Costner)
Duel in the Sun (1946, USA, King Vidor)
The War Wagon (1967, USA, Burt Kennedy)
Dead Man (1995, USA/Germany/Japan, Jim Jarmusch)
Track of the Cat (1954, USA, William A. Wellman)
Yellow Sky (1948, USA, William A. Wellman)
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949, USA, John Ford)
The Big Trail (1930, USA, Raoul Walsh/Louis R. Loeffler)
The Ox-bow Incident (1943, USA, William A. Wellman)
Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia (1974, USA/Mexico, Sam Peckinpah)
Wagon Master (1950, USA, John Ford)
The Westerner (1940, USA, William Wyler): 10
Before Midnight (2013, USA, Richard Linklater): 9.5
Fast & Furious 6 (2013, USA, Justin Lin): 7.5
The Rambler (2013, USA, Calvin Reeder): 7.5
Despicable Me 2 (2013, USA, Pierre Coffin/Chris Renaud): 7.5
Lootera (2013, India, Vikramaditya Motwane): 9
Dredd (2012, UK/USA/India/South Africa, Pete Travis) : 7.5
Compliance (2012, USA, Craig Zobel): 4
Stand Up Guys (2012, USA, Fisher Stevens): 2
The Last Stand (2013, USA, Kim Jee-Woon): 5.5
Jack Reacher (2012, USA, Christopher McQuarrie): 5
The Perks of being a Wallflower (2012, USA, Stephen Chbosky): 7.5
Pacific Rim (2013, USA, Guillermo del Toro): 6
Chicken with Plums (2011, France/Germany/Belgium, Vincent Paronnaud/Marjane Satrapi)
Little White Lies (2010, France, Guillaume Canet): 8
A Hijacking (2012, Denmark, Tobias Lindholm ): 9.5
Hard Times (1975, USA, Walter Hill)
Side Effects (2013, USA, Steven Soderbergh): 8
Rangeelay (2013, India, Navaniat Singh): 1
Infernal Affairs II (2003, Hong Kong/China/Singapore, Wai-keung Lau/Alan Mak)
Internal Affairs III (2003, Hong Kong/China, Wai-keung Lau/Alan Mak)
Raanjhanaa (2013, India, Aanand Rai): 5
Leviathan (2012, USA/France/UK, Lucien Castaing-Taylor/Verena Paravel): 10
Go Goa Gone (2013, India, Krishna D.K., Raj Nidimoru)
Hard-Boiled (1992, Hong Kong, John Woo)
Infernal Affairs (2002, Hong Kong, Wai-keung Lau/Alan Mak)
The Canyons (2013, USA, Paul Schrader): 6.5
Bottle Shock (2008, USA, Randall Miller)
Elysium (2013, USA, Neill Blomkamp): 7.5
Fruitvale Station (2013, USA, Ryan Coogler): 9
Frances Ha (2012, USA, Noah Baumbach): 9.5
Spirited Killer (1994, Thailand, Towatchai Ladloy/Panna Rittikrai)
Buenas noches, España (2011, Spain/Philippines, Raya Martin)
A Royal Affair (2012, Denmark/Sweden/Czech Republic, Nikolaj Arcel)
Blue Jasmine (2013, USA, Woody Allen): 9
Satyagraha (2013, India, Prakash Jha): 3
D-Day (2013, India, Nikhil Advani): 7.5

Like Someone in Love (2012, France/Japan, Abbas Kiarostami)
On the Road (2012, co-production, Walter Salles)
The Company You Keep (2012, USA, Robert Redford)
Laurence Anyways (2012, Canada/France, Xavier Dolan)
Charade (1963, USA, Stanley Donen)
The Grandmaster (2013, Hong Kong/China, Wong Kar-wai)
Ghanchakkar (2013, India,Raj Kumar Gupta)
Passion (2012, Germany/France, Brian De Palma)
The Grand Seduction (2013, Canada, Don McKellar): 8.5 

The Missing Picture (2013, Cambodia/France, Rithy Panh): 9
The Past (2013, France/Italy, Asghar Farhadi): 9.5
Like Father, Like Son (2013, Japan, Hirokazu Kore-eda): 10
The Tears (2013, Mexico, Pablo Delgado Sanchez)
Blackbird (2012, Canada, Jason Buxton): 8.5
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013, USA, J.J. Abrams): 4
Up the Yangtze (2007, Canada, Yung Chang)
Sarah Prefers to Run (2013, Canada, Chloé Robichaud)
Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (2013, Canada, (2013, Canada, Denis Côté): 10
In the Name of (2013, Poland, Malgorzata Szumowska)
OXV: The Manual (2013, UK/Australia, Darren Paul Fisher)
Golitzus and the Pelican Company (2012, UK/Holland/France/Croatia, Peter Greenaway)
The Rocket (2013, Australia, Kim Mordaunt)
The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012, Belgium/Holland, Felix Van Groeningen)
Mother, I Love You (2013, Latvia, Janis Nords)

The Fifth Season (2012, Belgium/Holland/France, Peter Brosens/Jessica Woodworth): 10
Thou Gild’st the Even (2013, Turkey, Onur Ünlü): 9
Borgman (2013, Holland, Alex van Warmerdam): 9
Antarctica: A Year on Ice (2013, New Zealand, Anthony Powell): 10
Pandi (2012, Canada/India, Maria Saroja Ponnambalam): 8.5
After Tiller (2013, USA, Martha Shane/Lana Wilson): 9
Lily (2013, USA, Matt Creed): 8.5
Gravity (2013, USA, Alfonso Cuarón): 9.5
The Suicide Club (2012, France/Canada/Belgium, Patrice Leconte)
Epic (2013, USA, Chris Wedge)
Pain & Gain (2013, USA, Michael Bay)
The Bling Ring (2013, co-production, Sofia Coppola): 4.5
The East (2013, USA/UK, Zal Batmanglij): 5
The Killing (1956, USA, Stanley Kubrick): 10
Killer’s Kiss (1955, USA, Stanley Kubrick)
The Croods (2013, USA, Kirk De Micco/Chris Sanders)
For a Few Dollars More (1964, Italy, Sergio Leone): 9
The Lunchbox (2013, India co-production, Ritesh Batra)
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013, India, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra): 3

Mud (2012, USA, Jeff Nichols): 6.5
Nuit #1 (2011, Canada, Anne Émond)
Death Rides a Horse (1967, Italy, Giulio Petroni)
La Pointe Courte (1955, France, Agnès Varda)
Drug War (2012, Hong Kong/China, Johnnie To): 9
A Simple Life (2011, Hong Kong, Ann Hui)
Bonsái (2012, co-production, Cristián Jiménez)
The Great Gatsby (2013, Australia/USA, Baz Luhrmann): 6.5
Iron Man 3 (2013, USA/China, Shane Black): 7
Watermark (2013, Canada, Jennifer Baichwal/Edward Burtynsky): 9
Post Tenebras Lux (2012, Mexico co-production, Carlos Reygadas)
The Fastest Gun Alive (1956, USA, Russell Rouse)
Paradise: Love (2012, Austria/Germany/France, Ulrich Seidl)
Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010, China/Hong Kong, Tsui Hark)
The Left Handed Gun (1958, USA, Arthur Penn)
Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011, China, Tsui Hark)
Beyond the Hills (2012, Romania/France/Belgium, Cristian Mungiu)
The Blue Kite (1993, China/Hong Kong, Zhuangzhuang Tian)
Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Dobaara (2013, India, Milan Luthria): 2
The Woman Next Door (1981, France, François Truffaut)
Now You See Me (2013, France/USA, Louis Leterrier): 5.5
Paradise: Faith (2012, Austria/Germany/France, Ulrich Seidl)
Paradise: Hope (2013, Austria/France/Germany, Ulrich Seidl)
All Is Lost (2013, USA, J.C. Chandor): 8.5


Century of Birthing (2011, Philippines, Lav Diaz): 9


It’s the Earth Not the Moon (2011, Portugal, Gonçalo Tocha)
After the Battle (2012, France/Egypt, Yousry Nasrallah)
Old is the New (2013, Switzerland, Dario and Mirko Bischofberger)
The Internship (2013, USA, Shawn Levy): 6.5
The Day He Arrives (2011, South Korea, Hong Sang-soo): 9.5
Warm Bodies (2013, USA, Jonathan Levine): 4
Gimme the Loot (2013, USA, Adam Leon): 8
Mapa (2012, Spain, León Siminiani)
She, a Chinese (2009, UK, Xiaolu Guo)
A World Not Ours (2012, UK/Lebanon/Denmark, Mahdi Fleifel)
Turbo (2013, USA, David Soren): 3
The Way Way Back (2013, USA, Nat Faxon/Jim Rash): 9
Captain Phillips (2013, USA, Paul Greengrass): 8
GMO OMG (2013, USA/Haiti/Norway, Jeremy Seifert)
12 Years a Slave (2013, USA/UK, Steve McQueen): 9
The Hunter (2010, Iran/Germany, Rafi Pitts)
Mr. Nobody (2009, co-production, Jaco Van Dormael)
Chasing Ice (2012, USA, Jeff Orlowski)
To the Wonder (2012, USA, Terrence Malick)
Stories We Tell (2012, Canada, Sarah Polley)
The Iceman (2012, USA, Ariel Vromen)
Parkland (2013, USA, Peter Landesman): 5
Man of Steel (2013, USA/Canada/UK, Zack Snyder): 6.5
Aurangzeb (2013, India, Atul Sabharwal): 9
ABCD (2013, India, Remo): 7.5
Bad Day to go Fishing (2009, Uruguay/Spain, Álvaro Brechner)
In the Fog (2012, Russia co-production, Sergei Loznitsa)
United Red Army (2007, Japan, Kôji Wakamatsu)
Blancanieves (2012, Spain/France/Belgium, Pablo Berger)
Blue is the Warmest Color (2013, France/Belgium/Spain, Abdellatif Kechiche)
Yumurta (Egg) (2007, Turkey, Semih Kaplanoglu)
Süt (Milk) (2008, Turkey/France/Germany, Semih Kaplanoglu)
Everyone Else (2009, Germany, Maren Ade)
Once Upon a Time Veronica (2012, Brazil, Marcelo Gomes)
Foreign Parts (2010, USA/France, Verena Paravel/J.P. Sniadecki)
The Great Beauty (2013, Italy/Japan, Paolo Sorrentino): 10
Chennai Express (2013, India, Rohit Shetty): 2
Monsters University (2013, USA, Dan Scanlon): 3
The Last Days of Emma Blank (2009, Holland, Alex van Warmerdam): 8
The New World (2013, South Korea, Hoon-jung Park): 5
Sightseers (2012, UK, Ben Wheatley): 4
Dabangg 2 (2012, India, Arbaaz Khan): 5
World War Z (2013, USA/Malta, Marc Forster): 3
John Day (2013, India, Aishor Solomon): 4
Bastards (2013, France, Claire Denis): 9.5
The World’s End (2013, UK, Edgar Wright): 7
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013, USA, Ethan Coen/Joel Coen): 9
American Hustle (2013, USA, David O. Russell): 6
Drinking Buddies (2013, USA, Jow Swanberg): 9.5
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013, USA, Martin Scorsese): 7.5
Blackfish (2013, USA, Gabriela Cowperthwaite): 7.5
Kai Po Che (2013, India, Abhishek Kapoor): 7.5
28 Hotel Rooms (2012, USA, Matt Ross)




Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bad Day at Black Rock

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, John Sturges) 

A train stops at Black Rock, startling the town residents. John Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) gets off the train and is quickly approached by Hastings (Russell Collins), the telegraph agent, who is upset why he was not told the train was going to be stopping. Macreedy replies that it must not be important. But Hastings replies the train has not stopped in town for four years. Macreedy mentions he has to go to a place named Adobe Flat and inquires about a car but Hastings says there are no cars. Macreedy then goes towards the hotel. The town residents are fixated on Macreedy as makes his way from the train station to the hotel. He asks for a room but is told there is no vacancy. He ignores the words and pulls the register towards him and writes his name and goes up to a room. Hector (Lee Marvin), who has been keeping a close eye on Macreedy ever since he got off the train, goes upstairs to intimidate Macreedy.

At this point, the movie looks to be a western setup where a fight will break out between the stranger to the town and Hector with his band of tough men aching to take Macreedy out. But no such fight breaks out because Bad Day at Black Rock is not a traditional Western. In fact, no horses are seen anywhere as the town has embraced automobiles, a vehicle which boosts the power of several hundred horses. However, the dozen buildings in Black Rock show signs of a traditional Western town consisting of a hotel, jail, bar and a grocery store. Such buildings are similar to what one would find in a traditional Western film town but Bad Day at Black Rock is set a few months after 1945, after the end of the war. Therefore, the time period in the film is well past the end of the traditional Western film era. However, the town of Black Rock is holding onto the last fragments of the Old West before modernity washes over. With the exception of the car, many old mentalities of the Old West remain, including distrust of the stranger. In trying to justify why the town is wary about Macreedy, the unofficial town leader Smith (Robert Ryan) mentions that it must be an old remanent of the Old West. To which Macreedy relies that he thought the Old West was about hospitality. The Old West was indeed about hospitality but not towards strangers, as illustrated by countless Western films where the stranger was distrusted and looked upon suspiciously. Later on, Smith even likens the presence of Macreedy to a virus:

 “This guy's like a carrier of small pox. Since he's arrived, this town has a fever, an infection, and it's spreading.” 

This statement ignores the fact that everyone in town is on feverish edge because they are guilty of a crime. Their guilt quickly becomes apparent when the residents freeze up or never give a straight answer anytime Macreedy asks about Adobe Flats or Komoko. He wants to go Adobe Flats to look for a man named Komoko but it is clear the town is hiding a secret regarding Komoko.

Bad Day at Black Rock plays out like a thriller with the unraveling of the mystery around Komoko keeping the tension on a knife’s edge. The soundtrack also brilliantly heightens the tension. If there was a femme fatale in the film, the movie would have inched towards noir territory. But there is only female character who is a quiet bystander. However, the film has an essential role in cinema because it builds a bridge between the Western and crime genre. Bad Day at Black Rock is a rare film that depicts how the Western genre landscape slowly transformed to the noir film genre which became common place starting the 1940s. Even though both western and noir genres are united by their love of guns and intense rivalry between opposing camps, very few films have depicted how a straight line can be drawn between the two genres. This is where the essential quality of Bad Day at Black Rock shines through as it is a perfect transitional film that connects two of cinema’s loved genres.

Note: This film was ranked #20 in my Western Countdown ballot.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

CIFF 2013

Every year I look forward to the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) in order to catch-up with some of the best Canadian & foreign films from around the world. However, this year due to unforeseen events I missed almost half the festival. Thankfully, the damage was not that bad as most films had multiple screenings which allowed me to catch an excellent crop of films.

Here are my top 10:

1. Like Father, Like Son (2013, Japan, Hirokazu Kore-eda)

A beautiful and quietly devastating film that shows the two-way impact parents and children have in evolving each other’s personalities. It is well known that children absorb what they observe from their parents but very few films show how parents are often forced to change, for the better, because of their children. Hirokazu Kore-eda has continued the cinematic tradition of Yasujirô Ozu but has also managed to carve out his own style. One of the year’s best films!

2. Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (2013, Canada, Denis Côté)

Denis Côté toys with the audience by making a specific genre film under the cover of another genre. I am not going to reveal what the specific genre is because it is worth seeing this film cold without any prior knowledge. Côté clearly alerts the audience what to expect but his alarms are mistaken for humor which is why when the film does eventually reveal its true nature, it jolts the senses.

3. The Fifth Season (2012, Belgium/Holland/France, Peter Brosens/Jessica Woodworth) 

The two directors earlier work Khadak was infused with color but all color is mostly drained out of The Fifth Season in order to depict a bleak winter like feeling. Such a depiction works because this transmits the desperation and misery that hangs over the village. At times, the film hinges on dark comedy mostly associated with the cinema of Roy Andersson while some of the bar/tavern scenes and apocalyptic dread evokes Béla Tarr.

4. The Past (2013, France/Italy, Asghar Farhadi)

Examines the complicated and messy aftermath of a separation. As the film shows, a separation does not guarantee a better future but instead can lead one down a never-ending hole of misery.

5. Thou Gild’st the Even (2013, Turkey, Onur Ünlü)

This gorgeous black and white surrealist love story is unlike any film released in the last few years. It is packed with surrealist images that are seamlessly integrated within the ordinary fabric of town life. As a result, the film's blend of humor and shock results in a darker blend of comedy that most palates have not yet encountered.

6. Borgman (2013, Holland, Alex van Warmerdam)

The initial premise appears to be taking a page out of Haneke’s Funny Games but that is a red herring as Borgman takes multiple unexpected turns resulting in a remarkably unpredictable film.

7. Antarctica: A Year on Ice (2013, New Zealand, Anthony Powell)

A stunning and gorgeous film that covers a year long working assignment in Antarctica, capturing the tasks that are required for the workers, including their living quarters and various experiences. The end result is a perfect travelogue for a region which most people will never get a chance to visit. Essential viewing!

The film won both Best Documentary and Discovery Documentary Awards at CIFF 2013, with the two categories voted by the audience.

8. OXV: The Manual (2013, UK/Australia, Darren Paul Fisher)

A mathematical metaphysical coming of age film that incorporates romantic and apocalyptic notes. The underlying layer of science means this films forms a worthy companion piece to Upstream Color. OXV also shows that with some creativity, it is possible to create an engaging sci-fi world without any special effects or a large budget.

9. The Missing Picture (2013, Cambodia/France, Rithy Panh)

Rithy Panh has used a very creative method of mixing archival footage with clay figures to recount a painful and devastating moment in history, not only of his family, but of Cambodia. Such is the smart usage of Panh’s direction that after a while, the clay figures seem to be alive, inviting us to into their lives. Along with The Act of Killing, The Missing Picture shows the power of cinema to preserve history for generations to come.

10. The Tears (2013, Mexico, Pablo Delgado Sanchez)

Pablo Delgado Sanchez’s graduate film shows all the signs of a director whose work belongs to Contemporary Contemplative Cinema (CCC). The initial setting inside a Mexican apartment recalls Nicolás Pereda's Juntos but once the two brothers leave for camping to the countryside, the film recalls the earlier works of Lisandro Alonso. While Alonso’s film are about a solitary figure, the presence of two brothers creates a different dynamic in The Tears.

Strong & worthy viewings

Even though I missed a handful of films, 2013 proved to be an excellent balanced program for CIFF. All the 26 films I saw were worthy of inclusion and enriched the overall festival.

Here are some brief notes on a few of those other films, in no particular order:

The Grand Seduction (2013, Canada, Don McKellar)

A perfect opening gala film which uses a beautiful Canadian setting with an excellent cast to generate plenty of humor. The incorporation of Cricket & Lamb Dhansak enhances the film greatly.

In the Name of (2013, Poland, Malgorzata Szumowska)

At first, the film feels like an examination of a priest's challenge to balance his faith and inner desires. But there are two sequences which transform the film from a singular perspective to a larger examination of the religious establishment. The film starts off by showing that a rotten apple can spoil the barrel while the ending indicates that perhaps the whole barrel is now rotten.

Goltzius and the Pelican Company (2012, UK/Holland/France/Croatia, Peter Greenaway) 

Peter Greenaway's visual tour de force manages to creatively fuse theatre, literature & art thereby creating a feast for the senses.

Pandi (2012, Canada/India, Maria Saroja Ponnambalam)

The film takes us on an emotional ride with the director and her family as they put together the pieces surrounding her uncle Pandi’s death. Even though this is a personal tale, there are some universal themes the film explores, such as the desire to make movies. However, a significant aspect this film depicts is regarding mental health which is not openly discussed in some ethnic communities. The treatment of such a sensitive manner is handled in a dignified manner by the director.

After Tiller (2013, USA, Martha Shane/Lana Wilson)

A gut-wrenching film about people who seek abortion at a late stage (third-trimester) in their pregnancy and the doctors that help carry out such a procedure. The reasons some people go down this path are shown and their opinion is placed against those who call such an act murder. It is not an easy film to watch given the material. However, it is a well made documentary that tries to give multiple points of view, including the moral and ethical issues involved.

The Rocket (2013, Australia, Kim Mordaunt)

Set entirely in the beautiful locales of Laos, The Rocket is a heartwarming film that bursts with life. For people who rarely see foreign films, The Rocket is a perfect way to win them over and show the vibrant cinema that exists in other parts of the world.

The film won the audience narrative award at CIFF 2013 and should be a strong candidate to win the foreign film Academy Award in 2014.

Lily (2013, USA, Matt Creed) 

Takes a page out of the French New Wave as the mostly singular focus on Lily as she wanders the streets of New York evokes Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7. Matt Creed has done a very good job of drawing audience into Lily’s world and the film always maintains a positive hopeful tone throughout.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Best TV Shows

This is an update to an earlier post on the Best TV Shows because two seasons of Game of Thrones & the conclusion of Breaking Bad resulted in a rankings change.


The updated shows are in red with the following 9 eligible for judging.

24, Season 1 and 8
Boardwalk Empire, Season 1
Breaking Bad, Seasons 1-5 
Game of Thrones, S1-2
Homeland, S1
House of Cards (USA), S1
Justified, S1-S3
Mad Men, S1-S6
The Walking Dead, S1-S2, S3 Episodes 1-3

Previously, Game of Thrones was not eligible as an entire season was not watched. But it can now compete after completion of Seasons 1-2.

Judging Criteria for best show 

As established in the previous post, two categories will be used to rate the shows:
Excellence Per Minute (+EPM) & Soap Opera Moment (-SOM).

1. EPM measures the dramatic high points of the show.

Every minute of a show is not excellent, no matter what some TV critics say, but one can often pick out those great jaw dropping moments which involve a great piece of acting, repeatable dialogue or a memorable event. A rough tally of all these EPMs is used to determine which show has the best content per minute.

2. SOM is a negative indicator which will to be used to subtract from a show’s EPM.

Best show: Season 1 comparison 

Top shows in order of EPM/SOM:

1. Mad Men
2. Justified
3. House of Cards
4. Game of Thrones
5. Homeland
6. Breaking Bad
7. The Walking Dead
8. 24
9. Boardwalk Empire  

Game of Thrones manages to edge out Homeland for the 4th spot.

The opening minutes of Game of Thrones S1 are visually stunning, evoke a sense of dread and certainly capture one’s attention, something which appears to be a driving force in the first few episodes of S1 where characters are killed frequently and sex/nudity are on ample display. The sex adds nothing to the overall story but appears to be a method to grow viewers. However, once the sex is tuned down around Episode 5, the fascinating political aspects of the show start to shine through and mesh nicely with the fantasy elements. The show eventually does catch fire and ends on a high when the character of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has to undergo a trial by fire (“Agni Pariksha”) similar to what Sita does in the Ramayana to prove her virtue.

Best Show: Seasons 1-2

1. Mad Men
2. Justified
3. Breaking Bad
4. House of Cards
5. Game of Thrones

Breaking Bad starts its climb upwards while Season 2 of Game of Thrones is firing on all cylinders and does not have many throw away aspects found in S1. Games of Thrones S2 ends on an impressive chilling note and makes for a jaw-dropping cliff hanger.

Best Show: All Seasons

1. Breaking Bad, Seasons 1-5

2. Justified, Seasons 1-3

3. Mad Men, Seasons 1-6

The excellence of Breaking Bad’s S5 part II ensures that the show rightfully takes over the #1 spot as the overall best tv show. Episode 9 of S5 does start off disappointedly but the final 10 minutes set the stage for a showdown which will lead to the show’s incredible finale. Episodes 10-12 take their time to set up events and allow one to catch their breath before the relentless pace and tension of Episodes 13-16 leaves one breathless and in awe of the best show in TV.

Friday, October 04, 2013

High Plains Drifter

The incredible Western Countdown at Wonders In The Dark started on Sept 30, 2013. Essays for the top 50 films will be posted on the website from Monday - Friday. So far, the first week has been completed with five essays posted on the site, with my essay at #47.

50. Destry Rides Again.

49. True Grit (2010).

48. Track of the Cat.

47. High Plains Drifter.



46. No Country for Old Men.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Best Films of 2013

The first half of any year is normally catching up with the previous year’s films which slowly make their way across art house cinemas or DVD/VOD. This was certainly the case earlier in the year when 2012 titles dominated the best of 2013 year list but in the last few weeks, a few worthy 2013 titles have started to fill the darkness in cinemas. Plus, the fall film season is just around the corner and with it comes The Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) & some of the best new global cinema. So this list will change in the next few months but for now, here are the films that have left quite an impression.

1. Neighbouring Sounds (2012, Brazil, Kleber Mendonça Filho) 

A rich sound design layered with stunning visuals results in an immersive experience.

2. Leviathan (2012, USA/France/UK, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel) 

The fluid style jolts the senses forcing one to experience the world in a new light.

3. Before Midnight (2013, USA, Richard Linklater) 

Before Midnight depicts a perfect way to make a trilogy as the characters grow off-screen and each film allows the audience to catch-up with events in their lives, just like old friends do when meeting after a long gap.

4. The Act of Killing (2012, Denmark/Norway/UK, Joshua Oppenheimer)

Even though the documentary is rooted in Indonesia, it is universal in depicting how men kill with the aid of media and politicians. The depiction of torture/killing could easily be set in Latin/South America/Africa while the media manipulation applies to most nations. But no individuals will ever admit their crime with such brutal honesty as those in The Act of Killing, making it a living digital document. The killers walk about the city freely, sometimes boasting about their murders. Such honesty ensures the film hits like a ton of bricks but it is one of the most essential and relevant docs ever made.

5. A Hijacking (2012, Denmark, Tobias Lindholm) 

Just like his previous film R, Tobias Lindholm uses a double perspective to paint a complete picture of events. And he does so without using any violence or even having a hero in the film. The entire film instead focuses on tense hostage negotiations which end up becoming bargaining sessions stretched over weeks and months.

6. Frances Ha (2012, USA, Noah Baumbach) 

Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig have created a memorable character whose honesty puts her in many foot-in-mouth moments but those awkward moments only add to the film's bittersweet style.

7. Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns (2013, India, Tigmanshu Dhulia) 

Tigmanshu Dhulia has managed to take the strongest aspects of the first Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (2011) and elevated it with seductive sexual and political elements. Jimmy Shergill continues to thrive in what may be his finest on-screen role to date.

8. In Another Country (2012, South Korea, Hong Sang-soo) 

Hong Sang-soo's easy flowing style incorporates Isabelle Huppert's whimsical character perfectly resulting in plenty of humor.

9. Fruitvale Station (2013, USA, Ryan Coogler) 

Devastating cinema! Even though one knows the end, the verite style allows one to be drawn into Oscar's life (Michael B. Jordan, perfect) resulting in a gut-wrenching feeling when the final credits roll.

10. Computer Chess (2013, USA, Andrew Bujalski) 

A playful look at various computer programmer personalties, ranging from the very shy to those whose supreme confidence borders on arrogance. The black and white visuals coupled with the video footage give the film a 1980’s look and feel, at a time when computers were bulky machines that required some effort to transport from room to room. The humor is derived from the collection of eccentric personalities and as a result, the scenarios feel natural and not forced. As a bonus, the film also literally depicts HAL's birth.

Honorable mention

Lootera (2013, India, Vikramaditya Motwane) 

At first, Lootera looks like another Bollywood love story but thankfully, the love story is a facade which gives way allowing a Bengali inspired technically rich film to emerge. The sound design in Lootera is mesmerizing & allows everyday sounds to filter through the frame when needed.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Infernal Affairs Trilogy & Hard Boiled

A quick four film spotlight on Hong Kong Crime films which focus on informers and undercover operatives.

Hard Boiled (1992, John Woo)
Infernal Affairs (2002, Wai-keung Lau, Alan Mak)
Infernal Affairs 2 (2003, Wai-keung Lau, Alan Mak)
Infernal Affairs 3 (2003, Wai-keung Lau, Alan Mak)

This spotlight is meant to expand on an almost five year old post "The Art of the Informer" which looked at key characteristics of informers while reviewing Mukhbiir (2008, Mani Shankar) and included other examples such as Drohkaal (Govind Nihalani), Donnie Brasco (Mike Newell), Infernal Affairs & its remake The Departed. From the opening paragraph of that post:

informer 

1. a person who informs against another, esp. for money or other reward. 
 2. a person who informs or communicates information or news; informant. 

spy 

1. a person employed by a government to obtain secret information or intelligence about another, usually hostile, country, esp. with reference to military or naval affairs. 
2. a person who keeps close and secret watch on the actions and words of another or others.
3. a person who seeks to obtain confidential information about the activities, plans, methods, etc., of an organization or person, esp. one who is employed for this purpose by a competitor: an industrial spy. 

Informers and Spies are old as human civilization. For whenever a great power (be it a nation or an empire) existed, there were people who utilized informers or spies to find ways to bring down that power. While the terms spy and informer are used interchangeably quite often, there is a subtle difference between a spy and an informer. A spy might employ multiple informers at any given time but an informer is always alone on the lowest rung of the intelligence ladder. One can call an informer the tiny particle that quietly resides in the nucleus of an organization, quietly observing the dance of the electrons and those other highly charged particles. An informer gathers whatever valuable piece of information they can and then has to find a way to relay that information to others on the outside. Now this is not to say that a spy cannot become an informer. From time to time, a spy would have to go undercover on their own and embed themselves within an organization and act as an informer. In fact, some spies might even have graduated from the level of an informer. Another difference between the two would be related to the transmission of information. The informer provides concrete information, something that they have heard or seen. Whereas, spies also engage in the game of misinformation whereby they circulate some lies from time to time to either cause a reaction or to even fish out the truth. The spread of misinformation also has the danger of a "blowback" when the misinformation results in reactions that have dangerous consequences. For example, Steve Coll's book Ghost Wars hints at how misinformation might have contributed to some of the mess that resulted in the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, a mess that is still to be sorted out. 

Through the years, films have been packed with plenty of worthy examples of informers. Titles such as Govind Nihalani's Drohkaal, Mike Newell's Donnie Brasco, Wai-keung Lau & Alan Mak's Infernal Affairs remade by Martin Scorsese as The Departed come to mind. In Drohkaal and Donnie Brasco, police get an informer to break through a terrorist cell and a mafia gang respectively as those are the common settings found in most informer films. But the genius of Infernal affairs was that it simultaneously showed informers existing both in the police world and the mafia gang, thus resulting in a brilliant calculated game of chess. In a way, Infernal Affairs took the complicated world of international espionage and adapted it to the street level of informers.

Hard Boiled is remembered for its gun action sequences but it nicely lays a path for Infernal Affairs with regards to an informer's isolation. Tony (played by Tony Leung) is so deeply embedded within the gangsters that he starts to lose his identity. He is isolated like all the other cinematic informers before him and is grateful when he can finally reach out to inspector Tequila (Chow Yun-Fat). Unfortunately, Tony Leung’s Yan has no such luck in Infernal Affairs. After spending almost 10 years in isolation, Yan is relieved that he can finally get his old identity back and be a cop again. But instead, he finds multiple informers on the police side. It is this opposing set of informers that ensures Infernal Affairs leaves a lasting impression as the story puts an informer on both police-gangster sides creating a challenging minefield of trust and decision making. Of course, such two ways games are the basis of international spy games but in those cases, the information is often manufactured on the basis of lies and misinformation. But in the case of Infernal Affairs, the moves are made in real time on concrete information which gives each opposing side just split seconds to make a counter move. Morse code is the method by which Yan can get his info to police chief SP Wong (Anthony Wong) as this old communication is still a reliable way to avoid detection in an era of electronic eavesdropping, phone tapping and data packet sniffing. This means the opposing informer Inspector Lau (Andy Lau) has to be alert at all times for the smallest clue he can find.

Anthony Wong’s character is the father like figure to Yan and the only trust worthy person that Yan has in the police force. In a flip role reversal, Anthony Wong plays the mafia boss in Hard Boiled and is the spitting image of Sam (Eric Tsang) from Infernal Affairs. Even though John Woo’s film is a longer action oriented film focusing more on bullets, birds and body counts, it is deeply tied to Infernal Affairs especially with regards to the key roles played by Tony Leung and Anthony Wong’s characters.

In terms of the Infernal Affairs trilogy, Infernal Affairs 2 is chronically the first film in the series followed by Infernal Affairs & Infernal Affairs 3. Although, Infernal Affairs 3 also contains scenes which take place just before Infernal Affairs thereby making the film a prequel to Infernal Affairs and also a sequel to both Infernal Affairs 2 and Infernal Affairs. So this is a more realistic order of events:

Infernal Affairs 2 
Infernal Affairs 3 
Infernal Affairs 
Infernal Affairs 3 

Infernal Affairs 2 does a very good of tying events with the original Infernal Affairs making it a perfectly crafted prequel. This is down to the same directorial and writing combination (Alan Mak, Felix Chong) who at the start of Infernal Affairs give a quick flashback on how the two informers are recruited and grow into their roles. The young actors shown in this flashback (Edison Chen, Shawn Yue) get the main roles in Infernal Affairs 2 and as a result, the prequel flows with the original and nicely compliments the story. Unfortunately, Infernal Affairs 3 stands out from the pack as an unnecessary addition as it does not provide any relevant material expect providing a final resolution for Inspector Lau's (Andy Lau) character. The third film also uses the same actors and has the same directorial/writing team but the sub-plots diverge from the original story and struggle to provide tense moments like the first two films.

Related Reading

David Bordwell’s excellent essay "No coincidence, no story" is vital reading as it expands on a key scene in Infernal Affairs.

Also, his discussion of The Departed is worthy reading as well.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Leviathan

Leviathan (2012, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel)


Every now and then comes a film that changes the way we think of cinema or even the world. Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel’s Leviathan is such a film because it forces the viewer to experience the world in a new light. The fluid immersive style that Leviathan employs jolts one’s senses thereby allowing one to have a heightened awareness of nature’s beauty and even horror. The reason the senses of the audience are awakened is largely due to the multiple cameras the directors use which gives a different perspective of the surroundings. Then the various perspectives transition in such a smooth manner that it is hard to tell where the edits are. Instead, it appears that a single camera is omnipresent and taking the viewers on a dizzying ride.

Leviathan is also a film where the description does not even come close to describing the finished product. The following is the imdb summary: 

A documentary shot in the North Atlantic and focused on the commercial fishing industry.

But this is no ordinary documentary where a camera passively watches events unfold. Instead, the directors use multiple cameras which are attached to the fishermen, to the ship and even on the nets. Therefore, when a net is flung into the deep dark water, the camera gives us a perspective from underneath the water, looking at the birds flying in the sky above. When the net is hauled back, we see the fish face to face lying on the deck, looking into their eyes. With a quick shift, we see the fishermen at work, slicing the fish, before the camera goes zipping off again. The cameras are never at rest, moving constantly as there is work to be done on the fishing vessel. As a result, a viewer is knocked off their balance constantly and have to readjust to get a bearing on the surroundings. For example, near the start of the film, we see the birds up in the air from the water but near the end, the camera is looking down on the birds and the ocean looks like the sky instead.

The camera finally lets the audience catch their breath just after the hour mark as the fishermen are tired after a long day and relax in front of the tv, trying to fight sleep. In these few minutes, the camera is static and the film finally looks like a traditional documentary. But that restful moment does not last long and the camera plunges into darkness again.

Darkness is constantly present as the film starts and ends with it. But light filters in small dosages, creating a mesmerizing effect, as the viewer is forced to decipher what they are seeing before their eyes. For example, the following image looks like a figure surfing on the giant wave. Instead, it is the ship seen from a distance.


The presence of darkness plus images of the blood and slicing sounds also make Leviathan feel like a horror film. The constantly shifting perspective adds uncertainty and contributes to the feeling of the unknown as well, raising some fear and tension. Leviathan also manages to realize M.C Escher’s Sky and Water paintings in a remarkable manner. The light and dark shades from the painting are depicted at different points in the film with similar shots of the birds in both day and night time. We also see the birds flying down into the water to eat the left over portions of the fishes, thereby fusing Escher’s images.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives (2013, Nicolas Winding Refn)


Nicolas Winding Refn's newest film takes a narrow view of Bangkok from a John Burdett novel, adds a Lynchian layer and filters it through Drive's style. As a result, the film looks and feels like a hellish nightmare where the camera pauses long enough to allow the neon lit surroundings to seep completely into one's psyche. However, using a John Burdett framework means the films travels within a confined Karmic cycle where a red light district, prostitutes, a graphic murder, an inspector looking for killers and clash of Eastern vs Western values are expected signposts. These identifiers are still enough material to create a worthy story but the problem is this material appears to be the only template Western filmmakers use when filming Bangkok. Whenever Western filmmakers visit India, they go through a checklist of items/aspects they need to depict. Bangkok also gets a similar checklist treatment as highlighted by Kong Rithdee in the latest Cinema Scope issue:

Elephant: Yes. Eastern mysticism: Yes. Muay Thai: Yes. Monks or monk-like figures: Yes. Nocturnal Bangkok in the claws of neon light, in a lesser-Lynch lurid trance: Yes. Flummoxed foreigners lost in a labyrinth: Certainly yes. Prostitution: Naturally yes. Tawdry bars (in this case twinkling little karaoke bars): Yes. We can probably count a few more. Never mind that these “exciting” qualities (I’m avoiding the word “exotic”) are not very exciting to anyone who lives in this sticky Third World Lost Angel-is—it’s always instructive to watch ourselves being watched by visiting filmmakers, parachuting in to soak up the dripping sweat and unleash the demons in their characters.


Nicolas Winding Refn is not subtle either as the film is awash in neon and reddish colors which makes the whole city look like hell. Even a dialoge early on mentions meeting the devil. The David Lynch inspirations are sprinkled throughout not only in terms of the music but also sequences which look like a dream. And the Drive style can be found in the extended long takes plus Ryan Gosling's quiet Julian character. However, Drive is based on a solid neo-noir novel and does an excellent job in adapting the material to the screen. But Drive's style is not suited for Only God Forgives because the characters in both films hold different positions of power and come from varying financial backgrounds. The driver in Drive is trying to survive because he is at the lowest rung of power. He does not speak much and his life is defined by violent actions which taught him how to survive. Also, his choice in food and beer highlight his weak financial position. But Julian and his family are drug pushers in Only God Forgives and are in control, both financially and power, until Julian's brother gets them in trouble. Julian is not a violent person and even though his mother forces him to take that role, he always resists and is instead looking for a way to break the cycle of violence. But the internal conflict that his character goes through requires depiction of emotion and some visible signs yet Refn portrays Julian like the silent emotionless Driver.

Only God Forgives would have been a richer work had it been an extension of the Pusher films and used a similar style thereby giving a different perspective on the drug trade by featuring a cop vs pusher scenario missing from the trilogy. However, it is clear that Nicolas Winding Refn is not interested in such a scenario but is instead using Drive and Only God Forgives to depict savagery making the violence in these films an extension of Valhalla Rising in exploring how men tear other men apart. In this regard, Only God Forgives fits in with Nicolas Winding Refn's body of work but it feels like a major step down from Drive even though there is plenty to admire about the visual style and sound design.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Walter Hill

Back in February, I had planned a spotlight on Walter Hill to coincide with the release of his new film Bullet to the Head. But unfortunately, the film didn’t last too long in the theatres so I postponed the spotlight until the film’s July DVD release. In the few months in between Feb-July, a discussion on Vulgar Auteurism (link to Girish’s excellent post) popped up and Walter Hill’s name was included in the mix. But a lot of the heated discussions & subsequent articles focused on other directors and I didn’t come across any substantial material on Hill. Instead, the best article that I have read about the director and his films has come courtesy of Filipe Furtado prior to the VA discussion.

Filipe’s article is not in English but if the following link is put through an English translator, one is still able to get Filipe’s informed points about Walter Hill’s films, especially the following stellar opening paragraph.
http://revistacinetica.com.br/home/sobrevivendo-em-terreno-hostil-o-cinema-de-walter-hill/ 

The best films of Walter Hill express moral conflict in a universe that drowns in the wilderness, survival in a world about to get out of control. It's a feeling attraction for a filmmaker who, over four decades, has been seeking ways to remain viable in an industry in constant motion. Roy Del Ruth John Flynn, going by names such as Andre de Toth and Phil Karlson, being an author-oriented action without apparent pretensions does not get you very far in American cinema. At most, the occasional retrospective and the nickname master after the fact. It is tragic to note the number of promising careers interrupted or lost lushness after half a dozen long. The universe of action film medium is one of the most expendable of the American film industry, because it is after all to make a product to occupy rooms between major releases without large returns of reputation, whether commercial or critical. It is a path with few outlets, but perfectly suits the temperament of some artists like Walter Hill.

The idea for the spotlight was to view Walter Hill’s first 5 features and then finish out with his newest.

Hard Times (1975)
The Driver (1978)
The Warriors (1979)
The Long Riders (1980)
Southern Comfort (1981)
Bullet to the Head (2013)

This was more as a catch-up with his initial works as I had previously seen his late 1980’s and 1990’s films. And it turned out to be a worthy spotlight as Walter Hill’s initial films are probably the best films he has made.

Hard Times

It is incredible to believe this is Walter Hill’s first directed feature as it is far more worthy than most contemporary works. The premise is simple, a stranger (played by Charles Bronson) arrives to town and hooks up with a fixer to fight one-on-one matches. The attention is focused on the fights and the film is as trim as Bronson’s body with no extra ounce of fat present. A little bit of romance is hinted but the film does not waste any emotions on it.

The Driver

The driver character in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive owes a lot to Walter Hill’s The Driver as the two characters share a quiet yet strong personality, able to speed in the blink of an eye and slow down immediately when required. A surprizing discovery from watching this film was learning that the following car park sequence inspired a similar scene in Tinnu Anand’s Kaalia (1981) starring Amitabh Bachchan.

 

The Warriors

The opening speech by Cyrus (Roger Hill) in The Warriors is one of the most impressive seen in cinema as Cyrus tries to unite all the gangs by mentioning if all 20,000 members worked together, they can rule the city.

 

But Cyrus is shortly killed after this speech and his murder is blamed on the Warriors, who are forced on the run lest they get killed themselves. In a time before cellphones and the internet, the location of the Warriors is broadcast by a radio station host.

The Warriors is the first example of "Video Game Cinema" as the characters battle rival gangs while traveling through the streets of New York. The plot is kept simple as the end goal of the Warriors is to make it to Coney Island without getting killed. Like in video game levels, each rival gang increases in threat as the film moves along. Also, the music notifies of an approaching gang’s arrival and threat.

Note: If the members of the gang simply removed their jacket, then they can walk away free as no one would be able to recognize them. But no character one ever mentions removal of their jackets as all the gangs in the film are one with their jacket/clothing which is their identity.

Southern Comfort

Once again, a Walter Hill film provides inspiration for a Nicolas Winding Refn work Valhalla Rising. In Southern Comfort, a National Guard unit goes for a training exercise in the swampy lands of Louisiana. But as it turns out, they are in Cajun land and the men’s senseless acts cause them to get hunted by an invisible enemy. Such an invisible enemy is also depicted in Refn’s Valhalla Rising when the characters are killed by arrows fired from an unseen enemy. The fact that the enemy is kept off-screen in both films allows tension to build.

The Long Riders

The Jesse James story is depicted with a unique cinematic experiment by using real life brothers to play the various characters. There are 4 sets of brother used as David, Robert & Keith Carradine, Dennis & Randy Quaid, James & Stacy Keach, Christopher & Nicolas Guest play the main roles.

This film was also seen as part of the Western spotlight and watching this at the tail end of 82 Westerns didn't help as many other Westerns covered similar material. As a result, this film didn't leave much of an impression.

Bullet to the Head

The biggest surprize of the film is the politically incorrect dry humor used by Stallone’s character James who has no problem in speaking his thoughts, even if they are racist or offensive. Sung Kang’s Taylor Kwon is at the end of some of James’ words and the presence of his character results in the film feeling like a mismatched buddy comedy often seen in cinema. Yet, as predictable as events are, Stallone makes this film watchable as he plays a character similar to his age, someone who has seen it all and has scars of past battles.

Overall

Walter Hill has worked in a diverse range of film genres from Action, Thriller, Sci-fi, Comedy to Western. As a result, one cannot detect an easily identifiable directorial signature when looking at an individual film. However, patterns can be detected by stepping back and looking at his whole collection of films which results in links between few of the films. For example, both The Warriors & Southern Comfort feature characters navigating their way through a hostile territory, with an urban jungle in the former and an actual forested terrain in the latter. Survival can also be used to explain The Driver as the main character is on the run while both Hard Times & Bullet to the Head show tough physically fit characters willing to do whatever in order to get by.