Friday, March 15

Climax Review

Dir: Gaspar Noé
Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude-Emmanuelle Gajan-Maull, Giselle Palmer, Taylor Kastle, Thea Carla Schott, Sharleen Temple

International auteur Gaspar Noé makes films that are challenging, creative, chaotic, uncompromising, distressing, and flawed. It’s the unbridled ambition and meticulous detail that the filmmaker delivers towards the technique and craft of filmmaking that makes his cinematic work compelling and frustrating in all the best and worst ways possible. And still, even with the polarizing outcomes, Gaspar Noé is a filmmaker that commands attention of films fans. 

“Climax” is the provocateur’s newest and most accessible film of his entire diverse catalog. For those new to the director’s work, this will be a great introduction, and warning, before deciding to move forward with films like “Enter the Void” and the still completely affecting “Irreversible”.

A French dance ensemble gathers on a wintry night in an old and empty school building to rehearse. The diverse group of dancers, each of whom seem to possess their own unique style of physical rhythm, twist, sway, stomp, and gyrate in a communion of sweaty style and synchronization. After a successful session, the group settles in, being to play music, share gossip about one another, and drink strong sangria. What the group is unaware of is that their drinks have been laced with LSD. Madness ensues. 

In the beginning moments of “Climax” a bloodied woman crawls across a snowy landscape, the perspective is focused overhead, looking down on her body. Very soon after this scene the film’s end credits role, displaying all the people who, hypothetically, crawled across the ground bloodied and bruised in an effort to craft this film. Call it commentary on the state of the artistic process or how viewers of art treat the material or something deeper into the history of French art, however you identify this, it is without a doubt the director trying to say something to the audience. 

The social commentary, which is often communicated through the violence and mayhem that exists in Noé’s work, is focused very clearly throughout “Climax”, which is part of the reason why this film is so accessible. And for a film that revels in showcasing the disgusting and destructive nature of humanity, with someone being burned alive while laughter ensues from the responsible party, to a pregnant woman being beaten by another woman, it’s not hard to guess what Gaspar Noé’s other films may have in tow for viewers. 

Early in the film an old tube television is positioned within frame, personal interviews with the dance troupe answering questions about the dance process, ambition, and fears roll one right after the other. Surrounding the television are VHS films like Pasolini’s “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom”, Argento’s “Suspiria”, and Żuławski’s “Possession”and books like Luis Buñuel’s autobiography “Mon Dernier Soupir”,these are the inspirations Noé was using for specific scenes or themes. Heavy inspirational ground for a heavily thematic film that features two over 15-minute-long single shot takes and a breathtaking dance number that never seems to end and yet never gets boring. 

It’s this meticulous and calculated process that marks “Climax” as something special, even with its obvious errors which are easy to identify. Still, in the current cinematic world that is riddled with films trying to establish franchises and fit into the landscape of what everything else looks like, it’s nice to see a filmmaker introduce and indulge in complete stylistic chaos for 97 minutes.

Monte’s Rating
4.00 out of 5.00

Wednesday, March 13

Triple Frontier Review

By Emery Snyder @leeroy711
Director: J.C. Chandor
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Pedro Pascal & Garret Hedlund
Netflix Original – March 13, 2019

A group five of disaffected and financially stressed special ops adrenaline junkies all suffering from varying levels of PTSD get together to pull the ever-fated “one last job.” The plan is to break into the fortress of a ruthless Colombian cartel kingpin and steal his $75 million, then smuggle it out of the country and retire. All goes exactly according to plan, the bad guys all perish, and the soldiers spend the rest of their days sipping rum drinks on some beach without an extradition treaty…. That would be a pretty lousy movie.

The film was co-produced by Kathryne Bigelow and Mark Boal and it was co-written by Boal and Chandor. As expected from a Boal screenplay, the military procedural aspect is the film’s highlight. The stakes are heightened by situation only while characters remain largely stoic and wooden. We are meant to extrapolate the men’s emotions strictly from their backstories, never from their faces. I’m not degrading the film because of this. This type of indifference has its place. And Boal spent time as an embedded reporter in the earlier years after the invasion of Iraq, so I trust that his writing draws from the soldiers he witnessed in combat. Suppression of emotion is seen as a necessary survival tactic here.

So much of how successful a movie like this is to me will always depend on how well the scenes are shot. This film boasts several very well composed shootouts. The spaces are beautifully scoped in 2:11:1 ratio, giving the audience a clear perspective of the action presented. This is something that I always tend to mention because it is something that is so often done poorly. But here, I was glad to be able to easily follow along with each set piece, always having a good sense of where the threat was coming from and where our protagonists were moving towards. Cinematographer Roman Vasyanov has already made a name for himself in action cinema with films like END OF WATCH (’12) and THE WALL (’17) and I see his work continuing to improve.

I was also pleased to find that this, unlike many similar films, seemed to have an acute awareness of the moral ambiguity of what these men were up to. Although the characters were easily able to overcome their individual crises of conscience, the film itself keeps its thumb down on them as they struggle to keep themselves and each other convinced that what they are doing is righteous or even justified. It doesn’t take much to draw the parallels between their actions and the duplicitous nature of our own government’s involvement in Latin America over the past century. This is a moral tale more than anything. The fruits of ill-gotten gains are heavy, and fraught with peril. The money they steal becomes the reason they have such a hard time escaping the region. It weighs on them, both physically and metaphorically.

Unfortunately, this film suffers from some strange pacing issues. I think this is what separates it from better works. The scene from the trailer, that you would expect to be the climax, happens about thirty minutes in. Nothing afterwards manages to live up to the promise of the first act. It actually feels like the stakes dwindle the longer you watch, as does your overall interest. And this is a problem when your running time is over two hours.

In summary, TRIPLE FRONTIER is a well-made and better than average action flick that refreshingly acknowledges the faults of its own heroes. But fall well short of greatness in its overall delivery.

Emery’s Rating
3.25 out of 5 Stars
Follow us on Twitter @CodaReviews

Friday, March 8

Captain Marvel Review

Captain Marvel

Dir: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Clark Gregg, Jude Law, Lashana Lynch, and Annette Bening

The newest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is “Captain Marvel”. It’s significant to recognize because for Marvel Studios and their 10-year venture into comic book film territory/dominance, the company has yet to feature a full-length film focused on a female superhero. For relative newcomers to the comic book film landscape, the DC Extended Universe was first to showcase a female lead film with “Wonder Woman” which was met with an overwhelmingly positive reception.

Captain Marvel” is aiming for the same goal as “Wonder Woman”, weaving a story that has all the narrative elements involving female discrimination, bias, and stereotyping that are still so relative in the current social climate today. It also works to display aspects of empowerment and the freedom that comes from embracing personal strengths, though some of that potential is squandered in an attempt to keep the Marvel machine moving forward. 

There is an intergalactic war raging between a group of people called the Kree and a group of shapeshifters who call themselves the Skrull. Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) is part of a team of Kree warriors who are sent on missions designated by a someone known as the Supreme Intelligence. Carol doesn’t remember much about her past but has a clear understanding of her role as a warrior, but there is something unique about Carol. During a mission ambush, Carol narrowly escapes and finds herself on Planet C-53 (Earth) along with memories of a distant past from this planet that begin to come back to her slowly.

An early moment in “Captain Marvel”, which takes place in 1995, involves our protagonist crash landing into the ruins of a 90’s cultural mainstay, a Blockbuster Video. The 90’s nostalgia doesn’t stop there. Aside from the lined shelves of VHS tapes making cinephiles remember the beauty of the “New Release” wall on a Friday night, there are a plethora of memorable songs peeking in to make you remember how much you loved Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” and En Vogue & Salt-N-Pepa’s “Whatta Man”. It’s this emphasis on nostalgia that gives “Captain Marvel” its charming appeal; from a car chase scene that is scored with the rhythm from a buddy-cop film from the 90’s, to small touches in design that will make you remember how to use the secret codes on your pager. It’s all amusing even though it doesn’t really feel like it serves the story in a significant way, it’s just there to spark a memory or open a feeling from the past. 

It becomes distracting and disappointing, however, that the most intriguing moments of “Captain Marvel” happen in quick flashbacks without much time given to really build Carol Danvers with an intriguing foundation and well-established emotional drive. The flashbacks paint a portrait of a woman constantly pushed down and restrained by men, yet one who is determined to get up and push back and push further. There is even a hint that Marvel had the opportunity to do their version of “Top Gun” but with two women piloting flights deemed too dangerous for their counterparts…sign me up for that movie immediately.  

It’s a shame that a majority of “Captain Marvel” disregards the powerful and personal elements that compose the primary hero in favor of tying up some of the loose ends that still exist within the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Without giving too much away, “Captain Marvel” finds ways to incorporate some aspects of early Marvel films and, of course, building the bridge towards the continuation of “The Avengers” saga that is awaiting its conclusion. 

Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson are great together, they should have their own buddy-cop movie, and a cameo from Annette Bening is a nice, small touch. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck try their best to make “Captain Marvel” their own, in small places you can feel their influence. Unfortunately, “Captain Marvel” never completely finds its footing, but instead connects the necessary dots to move the Marvel franchise machine forward and provides enough easy laughs and so-so scenes of spectacle to keep it from becoming too tedious. Still, the potential is visible throughout the film, which makes this effort disappointingly average. 

Monte’s Rating

2.50 out of 5.00