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Movie Review: “The 9th Life of Louis Drax”

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The 9th Life of Louis Drax

Synopsis: A psychologist who begins working with a young boy who has suffered a near-fatal fall finds himself drawn into a mystery that tests the boundaries of fantasy and reality.
Director: Alexandre Aja
Screenplay written by: Max Minghella
Based on the the novel of the same name by: Liz Jensen
Stars: Jamie Dornan, Aiden Longworth, Sarah Gadon
Release date: September 2, 2016

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Mystery. Thriller. Tragedy. The Supernatural.

This story of the troubled, accident prone child Louis Drax weaves these genres masterfully. Director Alexandre Aja (Horns, Maniac) creates a film that plunges the viewer in to an alternate realm where we are led to investigate the motivations of a powerful force – the subconscious mind. The film is adapted by actor, filmmaker and screenwriter Max Minghella (Agora, The Two Faces of January) from the novel by best-selling author Liz Jensen and produced by Minghella and his partners, including Aja. The creative team executes this adaptation of Jensen’s thriller novel very well, amplifying the scary inherent in the story.

Little Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth) appears fragile and ethereal, apt for a boy who has survived eight near death experiences. He clings to his beautiful mother, Natalie Drax (Sarah Gadon), a pale porcelain doll whose wistful blue eyes contain secrets. Troubled stepfather Peter Drax (Aaron Paul) provides tension and suspense throughout the film, always simmering and ready to boil over. An odd love triangle is created by the introduction of Dr. Pascal (Jamie Dornan) a brilliant pediatric neurologist with his own tension: a dissolving marriage. The intricacies of human emotional life, the interplay of desires and the enthralling leap in to psychosis ultimately hooks the viewer as we plunge in to the murky abyss of Louis Drax’s mind.

What power the brain holds, and how much cerebral ability still remains undiscovered and unexplained by modern science; these mysteries lay a strong foundation for the willing suspension of disbelief. The 9th Life of Louis Drax gains this suspension, granting the viewer a way to journey in to the layers of irrational, nonsensical human behavior; of actions wrapped in enigma, characters’ banter tied up with riddles… answers ultimately revealed through the inherently dumb cruelty of the antagonist, doing what leads so many criminals to get caught: leaving clues.

Rapport is established immediately with young Louis, who has survived so much just to reach his ninth birthday, and truly we want him to be okay. That Murphy’s Law seems to be in full effect in Louis daily life creates the logical conclusion that all is not well with the adults around him, that a powerful psychosis is at work in the Drax household. This intensifies the tension of what would otherwise be mundane and normal interaction between his parents. Natalie is a vision of loveliness, however her Stepford wife exterior conflicts with her personality. She oscillates between having the absent gaze of the “deer in headlights” and the intense emotional ferocity of a vixen intent on eroding her husband’s sanity until he is compliant. Aaron Paul is brilliantly cast as Peter Drax, we assume malice from his character even without evidence just by merit of his sharp eyed visage.

As Louis is lost in a coma and Peter is estranged, the main plot turns to Natalie’s subtle manipulations of neurologist Dr. Pascal. Dornan’s sexually frustrated doctor character throws off his mantle of medical discipline and professionalism in the vicinity of the femme fatale Natalie. That he is so cavalier does not go unnoticed, and adds to both the status he holds in the coma ward as well as amongst his peers. Dr. Pascal is ultimately the most creatively developed of all the characters, alongside Louis. Both the boy and the doctor have delved in to one the most difficult aspects of human experience – loss of voluntary motion, loss of bodily control and function. Louis is in a coma. Dr. Pascal’s history with sleepwalking is well promoted as a basis for his TED Talk, a subject he has included in books he has authored; this history reasserts itself and twists into the story. Reality breaks apart as the stresses of dealing with Louis Drax’s situation multiply for the adults around him.

The supernatural realm, which Louis inhabits and interacts with in his comatose state, bears mention… no spoilers here though. Metaphorically charged visuals boost the recurring theme of drowning, again touching on primal fears that grip human consciousness. The opening title sequence and the use of clever sound design elements help solidify this theme. The use of the supernatural and the subconscious both provide fertile ground for a story that brings the viewer in to deep dark emotional waters. Watching this story left a powerful take away: when the rational mind cannot find a way through fear, when neither harmony nor logic is present in a situation, the primal resources of instinct and superior intuition will be all that is left to come to our aid – so listen to the small voice within, as Louis Drax does.

Will you be seeing The 9th Life of Louis Drax? Let us know in the comments!

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Documentary Review: ‘Lo And Behold, Reveries Of The Connected World’

Lo And Behold

Lo And Behold, Reveries Of The Connected World

Release date: August 19, 2016 (USA)
Director: Werner Herzog
Distributed by: Magnolia Pictures
Music composed by: Mark Degli Antoni
Cinematography: Peter Zeitlinger
Producers: Werner Herzog, Rupert Maconick

Synopsis: Filmmaker Werner Herzog examines the past, present and future of the Internet and how it affects human interaction and modern society.

Review:

When scientists who wanted to share data amongst themselves created the Internet their network was limited to trusted colleagues. Security was implied, you are in once you are authorized; having their identities compromised was not a factor. Accountability was assumed amongst the peer group. Fast forward to the world wide web of today and we have an Internet riddled with all the defects you could shake a modem at: cyber warfare, trojan attachments, stolen identities, hackers, deep web black market, gaming addictions, isolationism, artificial intelligence and a potential community of autonomous robots who control humanity in a Jetsons-style future.

Artificial intelligence. Self-driving cars. Soccer playing robots who plot their own action in a game against opponents. The glee felt from the engineers who give their considerable skills and energy to creating these inventions is contagious. The advances and scope of what can be accomplished with networked machines is impressive. So, eventually my car will drive itself while I use the computer which I see holographically from my eyeglass looking mainframes and access with hand gestures? I can even voice command the car to take me to a drive through, order my lunch, then resume scheduled trip? Amazing.

Werner Herzog addresses this panorama of topics in his particularly deep philosophical manner with concern for the impact of humanity on Earth. This feature length documentary poses the question, “Does the internet dream of itself?” How appropriate for a documentary filmmaker who has delved in to so many facets of life that he is credited with having made a film on every continent. Where hadn’t he yet made a film then? In cyberspace!

The philosophical twists that Herzog applies to the range of social, business and political activity internet users engage in deepens the dramatics. His insistence that subterfuge and fraud are ubiquitous is a premise upheld by the living examples and testimonials of the film’s subjects. The theme stands heavily in the dark side of the world wide web’s characteristics; death and scandal, evil incarnating, potential solar flare annihilation. There are a few criminal aspects of the Internet that Herzog has left out, no doubt in the interest of being economical with the run time of the film. However, more noticeably absent in this narrative is any mention of romance online. Is it wrong of me to want Werner to narrate his views of modern dating culture?

The bleaker aspects of our connected world are patiently and authoritatively explained as a way to ward the viewer off of seeking personal experience. In much the same tone as he had on Grizzly Man, where Herzog warned that the tape of the bear mauling could only be heard by the viewers and never seen, here in Lo and Behold we are given a directive that some “unspeakably horrifying” subjects will not and should not be viewed or delved in to further. Achtung! Gruesomely perpetuated sharing of terror and tragedy is given a heart-wrenching example with the Catsouras family; the patriarch received emailed photos of his daughter’s decapitated head from the car accident site she was discovered at. Who would send a father such pictures? The deceased’s mother had a simple answer: Evil. The Anti-Christ at work online.

Apparently the Internet may potentially be eradicated in one massive solar flare. There is high drama in the World Wide Web. The vulnerability and fragility of this connected world to alteration from disruptions, blackouts, hackers or other human weak links is staggering. “Civilization is four square meals away from utter ruin,” we are warned by Internet law Professor Jonathan Zittrain; he is interviewed along with other academics that postulate the end of the web.

Accountability and security concerns are left up to each one of us as we plug in online; basically people are the weak link mucking up an otherwise astonishing platform of interconnectivity. That message is clear. What is notably missing from Lo And Behold were the aspects of the cyber world that have elevated humanity. The ability to be in touch near instantaneously with loved ones in far away places, the communication tools used correctly have revolutionized our relationships. Modern dating and the perpetual search for love are not topics that gain much traction in this film, depriving us of the potential entertainment value of Werner Herzog’s take on Tinder and the subsequent Wernerisms and Twertzogs that would follow.

Werner Herzog is known for his sweeping landscapes and outsized characters, his ability to zoom in to the particulars of large lives and allow us a view in to the microcosm of an otherwise macro subject. He does just this with the geography of the cyber world, until we are caught in the net ourselves. Will the Internet beget other networks, with underlying behavior and patterns of the original web? Will it have it’s own AI consciousness? Will it in fact “dream of itself”? Are we all destined to evolve away from human companionship and in to our own ego fed narcissistic dream worlds? Or will this all crash in one grand solar event? If nothing else, the transitory nature of existence and continued promise of rapid change are emphasized in the conclusion of this remarkable documentary.

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Movie Review: ‘Our Kind of Traitor’

Synopsis & Info:

A money launderer (Stellan Skarsgård) for Russian gangsters asks a couple vacationing in Marrakech, Morocco, to deliver incriminating evidence to an MI6 agent (Damian Lewis).
Release date: July 1, 2016 (USA)
Director: Susanna White
Screenplay: Hossein Amini
Story by: John le Carré
Producers: Stephen Cornwell, Simon Cornwell
Our Kind Of Traitor
Our Kind Of Traitor

Review:

Our Kind of Traitor revolves around the idea of things not being what they should, carrying the viewer through a fast paced tale of intrigue that centers around one man’s inability to deviate from his principles. The attractive British couple seem the marriage of opposites. Perry (Ewan McGregor) is a professor of poetics, what we would call a romantic, married to a successful barrister wife, Gail (Naomie Harris), who is the yang to his yin. On a holiday in Marrakech to rekindle romance, the relationship politics make it tough for Perry to fan the flames. What sparks off instead is a chance invite Perry receives from flamboyant Russian Dima, whose apparent wealth and excessive lifestyle dazzles Perry. In short order, Perry is drawn in to Dima’s personal circle and shone a kind of attention and affection otherwise missing from his life. Dima’s circle becomes a noose that slowly tightens around Perry’s neck.

While Gail is juggling her professional responsibilities during the couple’s holiday in Marrakech, Perry is now fully absorbed by charismatic Dima’s invitations. From the first night Perry meets Dima he is drawn in to a Russian party, a bacchanal in which Perry naively attempts to defend a woman from a heavily tattooed man. Dima laughs as Perry’s gentlemanly chivalry supersedes his common sense, the tattooed man a criminal with jailhouse mementos covering his skin would not be a smart opponent for a scrawny British professor. Dima takes Perry in to his confidence quickly, with typical bravado.

As Perry believes that all is as it appears to be, he is not terribly reluctant to help Dima, whose plea is to save not only himself but his family which includes two orphaned girls and Dima’s three children. Perry doesn’t think it a terrible risk to travel a USB memory stick back to the UK and deliver it to M16 at Heathrow as Dima implores him to. Perry accepts all of Dima’s invites without consulting his wife Gail, whose legal mind most likely would have shut down any such activity immediately. The further strain to the couple’s marriage shows, but now the events are set in motion and Gail is propelled in to Dima’s schemes through no fault of her own.

The Prince personifies the somber and aggressive culture of the Vory, or Russian mafia. The new Prince is consolidating his inner circle and weeding out the old guard, his father’s people, a list that includes Dima. The mortal danger that Dima has placed Perry and Gail in by drawing them in to his world bubbles beneath the surface as the British couple continues to follow Dima’s plot. However, now that M16 is involved the intrigue widens considerably. London is a key player in the schemes that the Prince has for his new version of the Vory.

The slow motion opening shot of the film is a visual poetry of ballet that is superimposed against the snow dusted Russian countryside. Our Kind of Traitor travels through cold Russia to steamy Morocco, to the gray asphalt and grandiose architecture of London and Paris to the sweeping green beauty of the Alps. A journey of contradictions in both the characters and the settings occurs, where there is so much beauty there is also so much danger and corruption.

Perry carries the honor and burden of particularly British scruples, he is decidedly moral even while descending further in to the underworld of Dima’s reality. The decision Perry makes to help Dima is born not just from his belief system but also from the desire to leap out of the rut that his life and marriage have got stuck in. That leap of faith that Perry makes leads ultimately to the salvation of the characters involved in this story, who we would generically label as “the good guys”.

Our Kind of Traitor is based on the hit John le Carré novel, adapted for the screen by the writer of Drive Hossein Amini and directed superbly by the well experienced and acclaimed Sussana White. The cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantle and the music score by Marcelo Zarvos lend the story the visual and acoustic dynamics necessary to fully immerse the audience in the world of Perry, Gail, Dima, the Vory and the M16. Once past the gripping opening scene, the film has a hook in and doesn’t let go. As effective as Dima is in recruiting Perry for his needs, so the story captures the viewer to go along for the journey.

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Documentary Film Review: ‘Misconception’

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Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jessica Yu’s Misconception offers another take on the question of over population, a fresh look at forces that really drive both familial and environmental destruction, and allows the viewer the opportunity to delve in to one of the most poignant questions for modern humanity: What is the value of one human life? Who decides that? Why?

If the temperature of Russian culture were taken, it would run hot with the need to breed. If you give birth on Russia Day, you may win a luxury SUV. Conversely, the way to win a car in a part of Rajasthan is to be voluntarily sterilized – a program that targets women. The population pressure versus the statistics of a male to female ratio skewed by China’s “One-Child Policy” leads to the first act of this film, aptly titled “Lonely Emperor Seeks Wife”. The 25-year-old Chinese policy led to a severe gender imbalance and was ended this year. The consequences are staggering.

Using elegant visual poetry alongside the investigative documentary format and some reality style videography, Misconception takes us inside three far-flung cultures to review the main topics from very diverse angles. We are invited into the world of a 29-year-old bachelor in Beijing who is searching for love, a Canadian pro-life activist setting off to speak at the United Nations, and a Ugandan journalist with a missing children column in the local news who searches the streets for those who have been abandoned by their largely underage and uneducated mothers.

This intimate look at the myriad of issues surround the larger topic of reproductive health and family planning widens the scope and reveals the heights and depths of the global impact on a vulnerable group: women. This film reinforces the universal truth that what unites humanity is stronger than what divides it. Namely, we are all united in our beginnings as infants who need care, who need stable mothers, parents and community.

The premise suggests that the threat of overpopulation is a myth to be debunked. Statistician/ professor/ academic/ TED talker Hans Rosling of Sweden uses plain talk to explain that humanity has already decelerated global birth rates. Women with access to family planning and reproductive health options have chosen career pathways ahead of pregnancy, while still being sexually active. Now fairly 80% of the planet settles on a two child per couple household; only the poorest 20% are left with the five child statistics of the past. Global birthrates are affected by international policy from the United Nations, government programs, non-governmental organizations (NGO) and not-for-profits (NPO). When the financing of special interest groups drives the latter two, the use of one culture’s agenda is propagated on to a foreign culture. There is a remarkably huge disconnect between religious morals or societal ideals and what people need to survive.

The “Misconception” is that global population may continue to skyrocket. Evidence clearly presented by Hans Rosling guides a conclusion that the global population is rebalancing. For this we can thank women. The assertion is that women’s civil rights movements, the access to contraceptives which curtails unwanted pregnancy, and the ability to gain higher education and access to career choices have all helped contribute to a slowdown of population growth. The high birthrates of the past only occur where education and development for women has not. The film ends by reinforcing that the imbalance of resource usage is the main threat to this planet, that the wealthiest countries are restricting access of resources to the poorest.

The true interconnectivity of all life is what is asserted finally, that we need to switch our focus away from fear and “Misconception” and on to a greater compassion for humanity. The answer to the question of “What is the value of one human life?” should be: priceless.

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