Dogtooth Movie Review

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See it. 7/10

“Soon your mother will give birth to two children and a dog”

Yorgos Lanthimos’ breakout movie is a hallmark of minimalist filmmaking coupled with a darkly funny concept. Dogtooth is a clear indication of the director’s strength to tackle dystopian settings fused with black comedy elements to make a truly unique film. It’s no wonder he went on to make The Lobster and The Killing of A Sacred Deer, as Dogtooth truly feels like the start of exploring highly original and sinister stories.

Dogtooth’s premise centers around children whose parents control the information that’s provided to them from birth. A film about those who grow up without the knowledge of what lies in the outside world and have only the “facts” that are installed onto them by others. It’s a minimalistic plot but one that makes for a disturbing film, despite the moments of humour.

There are scenes that switch from being disturbingly dark and then to being unusually funny which for me was a weirdly wonderful combination. It’s a strange form of black comedy, where the comedy is at the expense of the characters but ultimately creates a story that’s engrossing to watch unfold. I loved watching the lies that the parents developed to answer basic questions of existence such as explaining why the children often saw planes in the sky. There’s also a fantastic scene where they meet a certain animal for the first time (without spoiling what it is) and the children’s reactions are hilarious but also inherently disturbing to think about why they are behaving in that way.

Yorgos Lanthimos feeds off audience’s uncertainty about whether they should be laughing or not, and also makes the audience question why they’re laughing at the interactions that come from the psychological abuse the characters are experiencing. Those inner dialogues of wondering why the scene feels funny is a feature that started in Dogtooth and has been exemplified with the rest of Yorgos Lanthimos’ filmography. I’ve had the same feeling with his other films The Lobster and The Killing of A Sacred Deer which show that this a quality this writer/director excels at. I love how he can create an original premise but also reinforce an unusual feeling throughout his films that can provide for some creepy bursts of humor.

Yorgos Lanthimos will try to accentuate this aspect with the visual look of the film. The blocking of the characters will be awkwardly framed, or the camera is positioned in a strange place that works again to emphasize the unusualness of the story. Even at times when characters are talking, Yorgos Lanthimos will only show the bottom half of their body and won’t have a shot showing their mouths moving. There are often scenes where the camera is put behind the characters and we don’t always get a front view until later. Clearly, there’s been an effort made to insert shots that aren’t exactly conventional but work only in the context of presenting an unusual feel to the film. Yorgos Lanthimos knows where the limit with these kind of shots is because I didn’t feel confused at any point and could still follow the plot as it developed over time. This is a testament to Yorgos Lanthimos’ knowing how to balance unconventional visuals without it becoming detrimental to the story.

Overall Dogtooth might appear small in scope, but its story is filled with wonderfully written scenes that make it a must watch. I was never bored by the minimalist approach because there was always an interesting interaction between the family and I was constantly in a state of strange awe. Dogtooth can be viewed as both a great character study but also a psychological study of the consequences of hive mentality. I can also see questions of ethics coming into play by examining reasons why the parents chose to manipulate their children which was left up to the imagination of the viewer to answer.

This might feel like a dystopian drama by how strange the interactions are, but in all honesty, I took this film as a plausible piece of reality even if it is entirely fictional. Dogtooth will always remain in my mind and whenever I revisit it I’m pleasantly surprised by different nuances and idiosyncrasies that I didn’t notice on the first viewing. I can’t recommend this film enough for those wanting to view something completely different and unlike anything out there in terms of a psychological character drama. I’d also wholeheartedly suggest you check out Yorgos Lanthimos’ other films as well because he’s a director to watch in the future. See it.

Black Dynamite Movie Review

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See it. 9/10

By far, the best comedy to have come out in the past decade. Black Dynamite shines as a film that mocks classic 70’s black exploitation (blaxploitation) movies, but it does so in a way that doesn’t make mean-spirited jests at such a genre. Rather, Black Dynamite simply uses the blaxploitation medium as a mask to bring forth a hilarious story that works in such a setting.

Only in a film released in 2009 can you get a seriously funny plot about the life of a man known as Black Dynamite who is a crime-fighting, off the rails ex-police detective. The story sees him searching for justice when his younger brother is killed, but instead leads into an entirely different journey that you wouldn’t have seen coming. Without giving anything else away, it is so much better if you go into seeing this film without knowing anything because you’ll love all the laughs that come with the surprises of the story. But if you do want to know what kind of movie you’re walking into, the film’s trailer alone is hilarious and still doesn’t reveal much of the laughter that you’ll find after you watch the film.

What makes Black Dynamite so great, is its self-awareness in what it is trying to mimic and parody. By disguising itself as a blaxploitation film, it plays on the characteristics that made those films so cheesy and poorly made, instead of capitalizing on it and turning them into laughs. An aspect of this is the use of intentional filmmaking mistakes. For example, a boom mic that pops into the frame that seems like it was there by accident and is a fault of the film but it’s actually something that was done on purpose by the directors, to both subtly lampoon the B-grade blaxploitation genre and garner up laughs. This extends to moments where the fourth wall is broken, people break characters or even appear to be bad acting.

All of this is done with a sense of self-awareness, knowing full well that they are meant to look bad and be perceived in a hilarious light. This is what gives the potential for a comedy that is self-aware, to be so great if done well, and is something which Black Dynamite has utilized. This is a movie that is not intended to be taken seriously and is willing to poke fun at themselves to add another dynamic to the comedy.

But apart from the meta-like humor, the film is enough to stand alone as a hilarious comedy in its own right. There are plenty of laughs throughout the story and the jokes per minute are at a staggeringly high rate. You could re-watch this film over and over again and pick up on new little nuances that you mightn’t have seen the first time. It’s the quality of the writing that truly adds depth to the quantity of these jokes and is the reason for why you’d want to come back to watch it another time or show it to your friends.

Black Dynamite has a script so good that it outweighs its direction, but it doesn’t matter because both serve each other as much as they need to. Perhaps for some, the silly like nature or the jokes relating to African-American stereotypes aren’t in their ballpark. But this script is so well made, that’s it very difficult not to find yourself quickly swept up in its fun and nonsensical world. There are far too many notable lines of dialogue and memorable catchphrases, that are just worthy enough by themselves to standout as comedy gold in a film and was something I was completely up for.

I got every bit of my hopeful and high expectations from watching the trailer (which almost never happens in other films) and then some. Black Dynamite is almost the perfect comedy to have been made in the last ten years, because of so many different little things the filmmakers have managed to get right. It’s smart, funny and above all just simply entertaining. I can’t wait to see what these guys make next. They currently have a crowdfunding page to acquire funds for their next movie The Outlaw Johnny Black and by the looks of things, I’m already excited about that. So, go see this film and then go help fund their next one because man if these guys aren’t the comic geniuses of modern day cinema, I don’t know who else could come close.

Fantastic Mr. Fox Movie Review

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See it. 8/10

Given Wes Anderson is about to release another stop-motion animation picture, Isle Of Dogs, let’s dive into reviewing his very first animation, Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book of the same name, the plot follows the life of a thieving but good-hearted fox, who is simply trying to provide for his family. Unfortunately, he is thieving from three of the meanest and wealthiest farmers in the area, who become tired of Mr. Fox’s criminal activities and decide to think up a scheme to get rid of him once and for all. You might already gather that the story does feel very much like it was intended for children, and I mean duh, it was based on a children’s novel, but unlike most children book to film adaptations, this is a film that can be pleasantly enjoyed by adult’s as well.

This is thanks largely to its marvelous director, whose filmography is one of the best in the business. In his first venture to stop-motion animation, Anderson’s eye for detail is matched with an amazing production design. From the set pieces to the tiniest amount of character traits that have been precisely manufactured, everything in this world that Anderson oversees is amazing to look at. Since everything has to be animated, later on, it just staggers me how much effort would have to be put in to make it all happen. It might also have helped that Anderson directed a crew that also worked on Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, another stop-motion animated film, so I’m not surprised by how great everything looked.

Another great aspect, which should be no surprise, is the obvious skill of Anderson’s shot selection. Apart from being a director who loves to have symmetry in his films, he’s also one of the best users of the lateral tracking shot. Often these scenes, which employ this type of shot, will follow sideways with the characters for extended lengths of time, taking with it all the beautiful visual design in the background. It’s even crazier to think that whilst there was a large amount of effort put into building these set pieces, the shots whizz by so quickly and the set piece is never seen again. These extremely small one-percenters, that have an incredible amount of work behind them but only are used for a few seconds of the runtime, is why I love this film and this director.

There’s not much else to say when it comes down to it because, at the end of the day, when you hear the name of Wes Anderson, you know exactly what you’re getting into a great film. He’s one of the best working in the business and he’s been growing strength to strength with every movie that he’s made. I’m happy to see him return back to the stop-motion animation platform with his latest about to be released, and the fact that’s it set in Japan and has dogs in it is putting almost all of my favorite things in this world together. So, before you go and enjoy that film, make sure you revisit Fantastic Mr. Fox, especially since it’s on Netflix and easily watchable.