Tag Archives: Cannes Film Festival

American Honey (2016)

6 Nov

Director Andrea Arnold‘s latest film, the aptly titled American Honeyis a thoughtful coming-of-age drama told through the lens of an impoverished teenager named Star (Sasha Lane).

Star is an unemployed 18-year-old who spends her time wandering the streets of rural Oklahoma and looking for food with her two young children. It becomes immediately apparent from the film’s opening (which features her passing a whole chicken from the bottom of a dumpster into the hands of a toddler) that Star is a societal outcast; a misfit who has become so accustomed to life on the streets that any chance of gaining employment or schooling is non-existent.

She soon crosses paths with Jake (Shia LaBeouf), an impulsive bohemian salesman who makes his living by finding recruits to help him go door-to-door selling magazine subscriptions. Jake, who becomes infatuated by Star, presents to her an opportunity to leave the street life behind in favor of joining a vagabond group of young adults who are traveling throughout the southern states. “It’s a business opportunity…” he confidently says, “We explore America, we go door-to-door, we party.”

What starts out as a story of Star shedding her childhood and coming to terms with her adult independance gradually becomes a cinematic display of millennial counterculture. Andrea Arnold’s restrained direction yields a “fly on the wall” approach to the story, meticulously capturing every realistic detail of the lifestyle these young adults lead in their search of the American dream.  We get a diverse cross-section of rural American life through American Honey; in one scene we see Jake and Star make a door pitch in an affluent white evangelical neighborhood – in another we are witnesses to the hyper-masculinized working class culture of Dakota oil fields. Each moment feels so geuinely nuanced and rich; Arnold presents the narrative to us casually through the earnest eyes of Star that most of the film feels less like a movie and more like a documentary of sorts. One doesn’t get a sense that these are actors on a stage (even with a mega-movie franchise star like LaBeouf who fits his role like a glove) so much as these are real people living their lives out on screen.

The end result is a film that gradually immerses you in its details and becomes more hypnotic with its imagery as it progresses. However, at a running time of over 160 minutes, the film’s aesthetic wears a bit thin, (there are only so many shots of the group listening to hip-hop and smoking pot in the back of a 15-passenger van that you can get away with) and some scenes tend to drag more than others. Still, the effects of watching American Honey linger on after the credits roll, and Arnold does a great job of avoiding unnecessary melodrama and creating an authentically vivid filmic experience.

Bottom Line: Though it desperately needs a shorter edit, American Honey is an immersive and detailed look at the effects of contemporary American poverty and one that feels both refreshingly ordinary and beautifully cinematic.

Rating: 7/10

Film recipe: White Girl + Gummo + Spring Breakers

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It Follows (Sundance 2015)

28 Mar

Playing in the Sundance Film Festival‘s Midnight selection after it premiered in the Cannes Film Festival’s Critic’s Week, It Follows provides audiences with effective thrills in the form of a morality fable. Indie newcomer Maika Monroe stars in this sex-themed horrorshow as Jay, a high school graduate preparing for college in the fall. After a recent sexual encounter with a new date Hugh (Jake Weary), Jay begins to suspect that some sort of paranormal entity is following her, and she soon learns about the one STI not found in your standard health textbook. Like some sort of supernatural STI, a mysterious curse begins following you (quite literally following you) around after you have sex with another infected host, and will only subside after passing the curse along to another victim.

Despite it’s silly premise, It Follows is a very skillfully crafted and creepy teen horror. Taking influences from teen slashers like Halloween to suburbian melodramas like Donnie Darkothe film has a unique atmosphere that is perfectly reflected in its outstanding cinematography (the film’s opening shot of a 360 panorama is sure to infect paranoia from the onslaught), and a killer soundtrack from electronic outfit Disasterpeace. Not nearly as scary (or sexy) as it would seem, the horror derives from the talented crew of mostly-unknown actors who convince us there is a real unknown presence to be afraid of. This is a concept thriller that rides heavily on one’s suspension of disbelief to make impact. Though there is a lot of skill on display here (especially with the direction and cinematography again) the story itself wears a little thin, and relies too much on the film’s tone to carry the suspense.

Bottom Line: Though it might play a little too juvenile for some, It Follows is a fun ride into horror territory and should sit extremely well with genre fans and the teenage crowd.

Rating: 6/10 

Film Recipe: an M83 Music Video + You’re Next! (2011) + In Fear (2013) + Nightmare on Elm Street

 

White God (2015 Sundance)

10 Feb

It’s a dog-eat-dog world.

Set in inner-city Budapest, White God tells the story of Lili (Zsofia Psotta) trying to reunite with her lovable dog Hagen after he is cruelly abandoned and left for the local pound. It’s a familiar set up that has been done a zillion times before, but never quite like this.  You get bits of a coming-of-age story, family drama, black comedy, and even apocalyptic horror mixed in. On paper, this film would spell disaster, but somehow it all works and adds up to an emotionally draining but immensely satisfying experience.

The film opens with a surreal sequence featuring Lili pedaling downtown being chased by hundreds of stray dogs. Avoiding any hint of CGI and instead relying on real animals, director Kornel Mundruczo shot on set with literally hundreds dogs and the result is absolutely incredible. I can only imagine what sort of logistical nightmare the film set must have been, and it’s a cinematic miracle that any usable footage was collected at all. By expertly blending various tonal shifts, Mundruczo commands the action in every continuing scene. Though the film swaps perspectives after the first act, we get an incredible sense of Lili’s and Hagen’s emotional states through the clever camerawork and production design. Weather alongside Lili at a club or following Hagen into an abandoned construction site, the audience is completely captivated.

Later on, the film gets a bit lengthy and White God would be better served with a quick edit. Patience pays off however during the film’s last act, where Hagen returns to the action as a blood-thirsty killer seeking vengeance. It’s here where the film really picks things up, and the audience is treated with a greatly entertaining and horrific finish.

Bottom Line: While it’s certainly not for everyone (kids and animal lovers might be best suited elsewhere) White God is an incredibly engaging viewing experience with the best canine cast to ever be featured in cinema.

Rating 7/10 

Similar to: The Birds (1963), Let The Right One In (2008), The Kid With A Bike (2011)