Are you ready for your next 7 essential movies of 2015 so far? Of course you are, with wild tales of youth, vampires, drugs, seduction, secret agents, and princesses, you can’t go far wrong. Well played to those who contributed once again, it is both refreshing and rewarding to see movie love shine through in varying styles of writing. And a merry, jolly, prosperous July 4th to you all. Part One of First Half Essential Movies can be found here in case you missed it, and the final part will rear it’s charming head later this evening (here). Off you go for now with the second installment:
Arriving at Cannes last year, and almost nabbing Ida’s Foreign Language Film Oscar, Wild Tales is an adrenaline ride through six separate, vibrant, and contrasting narrative strands with a heavy tone of revenge. And not one of those segments runs out of juice for a second. On board a plane, passengers become intrigued, then alarmed, when they realize they know the same man – and this plane is going down. In a deserted highway restaurant the young waitress’ next customer turns out to be the man that destroyed part of her early life – and the cook wants to poison him. Road rage is on the menu next as two middle-of-nowhere, irate drivers battle it out in a car feud that escalates out of all control. A demolition worker loses his rag as he puts work ahead of his already perturbed family. A rich family attempt to lie / buy their way out of a tragic car accident that left a mother and child dead. The final chapter takes place at a wedding reception were the bride flips out when she soon discovers her new husband’s infidelity. Wild Tales is a furiously outlandish black comedy, written and directed by the clearly talented Damián Szifron, who may well have executed the best cinematic madness in years.
Robin Write @WriteoutofLA
From the mind of Kenneth Branagh, Disney presents to you the live-action adaptation of the classic we all knew and loved as children, Cinderella. In a recent trend, it seems Disney will be making the live-action versions of their classic films and bringing them once again to the big screen. The problem with this concept is bringing the characters to life as they were so masterfully done prior. A few missteps along in my mind on Disney’s behalf were Alice in Wonderland (2010) and this past year’s Maleficent. That being said, Cinderella is an absolute stunning piece of film-making. The wardrobe of the cast alone will draw you into this film. The plot remains true to the original while also seemingly weaving in new perspectives of the idea of saving this poor girl from the clutches of her oppressors. Lily James handles the role of Cinderella with humble beginnings and later molding herself into the Princess who holds herself with grace and elegance. But the show-stealer is Cate Blanchett, tackling the role of the wicked stepmother. Her command of any scene she is in is powerful and with be the reason you remember the movie hours after seeing it. A fantastic adaptation of its predecessor, and gives me faith in Disney’s ability to bring more classics to the big screen.
Mike Austin @MuzakWeeWoo
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Kingsman grossed $401.8 million worldwide, so listen up if you’re not included in that number. One of Matthew Vaughn’s many talents is the ability to take a genre movie and turn it on its head. This spoof Bond homage amps up the traditional action with wisecracking caricatured central figures and a dash of Avengers (Steed not Stark). The film tells the story of a very secret privateer special unit – more secret than the secret service (origin lies in popular UK comic books). The chief protagonists are the super posh, super spy (Colin Firth) and his East End, uncultured guttersnipe protégé (Taron Egerton). The interplay between the posh and the earthy serves to highlight the clash between either side of the quintessentially British class barrier, while moving the plot along apace with snappy dialogue. Yes, there has to be a super villain antagonist, in this case the global threat comes from a crazy tech genius (Samuel L. Jackson, distinctly American, dressed like Eminem on crack, ad-lisping an annoying speech impediment). Every super villain needs a henchman, here she is beautiful but deadly. With artificial legs like the ‘Flex-Foot Cheetah’ worn by Paralympians – only these are blades and are in some of the most gravity defying action sequences. Part of Vaughn’s craft is to shock with ultra-violence, getting away with it by staying tongue-in-cheek. The church scene is a perfect example (tiny spoiler), where stereotypical bible-bashers encounter a splatterfest. The film is an unapologetic thrill ride, but does question social divides, allowing us to cheer for the young upstart as he embarks on his upward journey (like Eliza Doolittle). He gets his prize for saving the world, Bond style, but does make one wonder about the proclivities of Swedish Princesses.
Henny McClymont @GingerHenny
What We Do in the Shadows
Leave it to Jermaine Clement, the star and creator of HBO’s Flight of the Conchords, (along with Taika Waititi) to co-write and co-direct the funniest horror comedy since Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead. Four vampires – Viago, Vladislav, Deacon and Petyr – are living together in a flat in Wellington, and are having their lives documented to show the real lives these creatures of the night lead. What happens next is a comic whirlwind of werewolves that don’t curse, a monster bash, and a guy named Stu in the middle. Trust me, you’ll have to check out this hilarious mockumentary for yourself.
Jonathan Holmes @MisterBrown_23
Debuting only a few weeks back in limited release Stateside, to see is to know, but to feel is to understand in Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s masterful exploration of forms of communication, The Tribe. Its candour, spilling over into vicious brutality, utterly dissolves the potential bewilderment, and Slaboshpytskiy demonstrates an extraordinary comprehension of the visual language of film, more than compensating for what his film lacks in verbal dialogue. Articulating a primal essence in his fixation on the physical, the language he discovers, devises and enhances bears formidable power. The long tracking shots he employs create new spaces and perspectives within larger environments, acting as an invitation to interpret Slaboshpytskiy’s images both as they appear within the action and outside of it – our role is as outsider and observer, an objective participant as the film’s male lead gradually regresses from this role. Slaboshpytskiy de-sensationalises the dramatic events that ensue by filming them in their entirety, his camera unflinching, their reality accented – he thereby strengthens them, affords them greater effect. As The Tribe’s narrative specificity narrows, like the long canals of space prevalent throughout the film, its allegorical power expands.
Paddy Mulholland @screenonscreen
The Duke of Burgundy
Peter Strickland’s third feature film, The Duke of Burgundy, is a tight tense psycho-sexual erotic work, taking all the most promising elements from his previous two, interesting but ultimately unsuccessful, films and develops them fully. Many people have raised eyebrows at the idea of erotic film in the modern day, but Basic Instinct this is not, Strickland uses a subdom BDSM relationship to explore these characters in a deeply nuanced way, it is not full of male gaze. This is a fascinating world of both homo-normativity but more importantly one where BDSM is the social expectation for sex, Strickland shows the danger of impersonal sexual conformity by flipping the norm to something that is looked down on in the modern day. That said, the first 45 minutes especially are hot-around-the-collar erotic, there is so much sexual tension at every moment, it feels like the film is going to burst at the seems – and burst at the seems it does. This is probably the only time an art-house film could be described as everything Fifty Shades of Grey wished it could be, emotional, erotic, scary, beautiful, melancholy. One of this years great films so far.
Bailey Holden @BaileyHoldenM
Dope, written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa, follows Malcolm and his two best friends, Jib and Diggy, nerds who live in a tough neighborhood in Inglewood, California. They are heavily influenced by the early 1990s hip-hop culture, they listen to Public Enemy, and dress like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. One day their lives change when they attend a birthday party for a local drug dealer named Dom a.k.a. “A$ap Rocky”, things turn violent quickly and they run away. The next day at school, Malcolm discovers a hand gun and bags of powdered dope in his backpack. His world starts crashing down on him, and he’s forced to start making decisions that bring him into a world he’d been trying to avoid. Coming off the heels of 12 Years a Slave and Selma, Dope tackles the subject of “Black Lives Matter” with humor instead of sober realism. The movie definitely has the message that no matter where you come from or what color your skin is, you should be judged by who you are and not what you are. To me, the movie is more than enjoyable enough for this message to ever feel forced.
Al Robinson @Al_Rob_1982