Venus in Fur

dimthehouselights:

by Juan Barquin

image

We enter the theater in the same manner that Emmanuelle Seigner’s character Vanda does: down the sidewalk, between the trees, across the street, and through the doors, all while getting soaked in the pouring rain. The inside of the theater and Mathieu Amalric’s frustrated director Thomas don’t look to provide any respite from the poor weather, but appearances can be misleading. And when it comes to Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur, one should be aware that first impressions can be dead wrong. This isn’t just a story of an actress trying to coax a man into casting her for her play; this is a strange little film full of blurred lines and delightful discussion entirely geared around a sadomasochistic relationship. 

Read More

Lilting

dimthehouselights:

by Juan Barquin

image

[Note: I saw this film at the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, but never got around to posting my review because of sheer inconvenience. Here it is in full.]

Many queer films of recent times have chosen to focus on tragedy, specifically the loss of a partner and the impact it could have on the protagonist. One of the films I find does it best is Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man, capturing every ounce of pain that Colin Firth’s lead character experiences over the span of a day he spends contemplating suicide. Even some arguably more mainstream films such as Brokeback Mountain explore the theme to a much smaller level, with the film’s last act. 

Much like A Single Man, writer-director Hong Khaou’s feature debut Lilting also takes place after the passing on Kai (Andrew Leung), a young queer man who was loved immensely by those closest to him. The film focuses on two of those individuals grieving their loss in fairly different ways, each trying to find some semblance of solace. One is his partner Richard (Ben Whishaw), and the other is Junn, the mother he kept unaware of his sexuality (Cheng Pei-pei). 

Read More

Company: Original Cast Album

dimthehouselights:

by Juan Barquin

image

There’s a broadway musical that goes by the name Company that has always been a personal favorite of mine. The musical is composed of incredibly personal scenes between Robert, a bachelor celebrating his 35th birthday, the married couples that are his best friends, and the three women he is currently dating. It’s a tale that’s weirdly close to my heart, with songs that are often amusing and sometimes heartbreaking. To say I’ve seen and heard Company over a hundred times — be it the original Broadway cast, Sam Mendes’ production in ‘95, the brilliant revival starring Raúl Esparza in ‘06, and even the Neil Patrick Harris starring edition in ‘11 — wouldn’t be at all a stretch. And yet, it was recently brought to my attention that I’d never experienced the documentary Company: Original Cast Album. That wrong has now been righted.

Read More

The Fault in Our Stars

dimthehouselights:

by Juan Barquin

image

With the mountain of films coming out nowadays geared towards young adult audiences, the selection can get a little stiff. While I may have written a sort-of defense of them some time ago — specifically that of Vampire Academy and the way critics react negatively towards YA works — I must admit, many are starting to riff off each other in rather boring ways. Every dystopia looks the same, every character is a pseudo-intellectual, every tale surrounded by tragedy, and every romance a manic pixie dream character that dozens of youths and adults alike will fall in love with. These aren’t necessarily things that automatically signal a bad film, but they certainly aren’t improving the genre for the youths that watch the films either. Thankfully, The Fault in Our Stars actually manages to be a step above some of the other works adapted from young adult fiction, channeling plenty of genuine emotion even though it too fulfills many requirements of the frustrating genre it’s a part of.

Read More

Life Itself

dimthehouselights:

by: Juan Barquin

image

It’s always a little weird, thinking about my entire life and the way it’s been affected by someone as massively important as Roger Ebert. I almost want to talk as though I’ve known the guy my entire life, because even though I haven’t, he’s always been a major presence. As far back as I could use the Internet well enough and had access to a backlog of his reviews (and whatever new one was coming out that week), I found myself reading them. It wasn’t always because I agreed with him because I can’t always agree with the kind of man who hates Blue Velvet, Dead Man, and even something like Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, which is the only time I’ve ever been actively disappointed in the way he wrote something. It was because almost every time I read one of his reviews, I felt like I was listening to someone who respected the medium, respected the filmmaker, and most importantly, respected me. 

When I was just starting off in criticism and trying to figure out how to write, there wasn’t really anyone I was accustomed to reading besides Ebert. Sure, I’d always read about the films in the local newspaper before jumping to the comics section, but it wasn’t until later in my still pretty short life that I started reading all sorts of film historians, critics from the past, and random folks whose writing I liked. It was all about Ebert really, and I’m thankful for his popularity and constant presence throughout circles that weren’t necessarily full of cinephiles. For all I know, if it wasn’t for his influence, I wouldn’t be here writing about films today. Now that I’ve gotten my personal feelings out of the way, which are as abundant as usual, it’s time to discuss Steve James’ documentary on the critic, Life Itself. 

Read More

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

dimthehouselights:

by Juan Barquin

image

To kick off this review, I’ll start by talking about something I’ve noticed in, and mentioned about, practically every blockbuster this year: the differences between humans and non-humans. So many films this year (Godzilla, X-Men, and even Transformers) have attempted to sort of tackle the distinction between humans and their on-screen counterparts (be they giant monsters, giant robots, or crazy mutants). While all of them have succeeded in some regard, none has really nailed just how important or useless humanity really is within the confines of their script. Smack in the middle of the summer, we’ve got another film to add to this list, and arguably one that does it better than the rest. It’s the latest addition to a series that has always found interest in depicting the wicked ways of whatever the superior species is, and its title is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Read More

They Came Together

dimthehouselights:

by: Juan Barquin

image

"Well, it’s kind of a corny, romantic comedy kind of story. Joel is kind of a typical romantic comedy leading man. He’s handsome, but in a non-threatening way. Vaguely, but not overtly Jewish. And Molly is the kind of cute, klutzy girl that sometimes will drive you a little bit crazy, but you can’t help but fall in love with her. There’s another character that was just as important as the two of us: New York City."

And there you have it. That’s exactly what They Came Together is all about. It opens with aerial shots of the Manhattan skyline and incredibly happy music that introduces us to our two protagonists, Joel and Molly (Paul Rudd & Amy Poehler), in exactly the way that every romantic comedy does. She owns a candy shop, he’s part of a huge candy conglomerate; it’s You’ve Got Mail all over again. It’s light, it’s fluffy, it’s everything a romantic comedy should be; except, well, it’s a David Wain movie. 

Read More

Transformers: Age of Extinction

dimthehouselights:

by: Juan Barquin

image

How do you judge what a good, or at least halfway-decent, Transformers movie looks like? Certainly not by its script, considering Ehren Kruger’s last two contributions to the series were disasters of a grand proportion. This time around, it’s not nearly as poorly put together as Revenge and Dark was. The film essentially revolves around a father-daughter duo (Mark Wahlberg and Nicola Peltz) and said daughter’s boyfriend (Jack Reynor). Nobody will be surprised to know that they end up getting dragged into the world of the autobots after finding a trashed one, who unsurprisingly is Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen). Not only do they have the government chasing them down, but once they team up with a gaggle of other misfit autobots, they’ll have to face down an alien prison ship. They’ll also deal with Stanley Tucci’s snarky Steve Jobs type, who steals the film from the moment he’s introduced as a man trying to utilize “transformium” (the best name for any new element ever) to create new, super-awesome autobots. You won’t hear any trash talk against Tucci here.

Read More

transformium

Afflicted

dimthehouselights:

by: Juan Barquin

image

My aversion to found-footage features started long ago; bored to death and frustrated by the camera logistics of most, only to find entertainment in a rare few like [REC]. With all the positive press that Derek Lee’s and Clif Prowse’s feature debut Afflicted received, I figured it was worth giving it a shot (even if the critics long ago betrayed me with Chronicle). As it turns out, there’s room for improvement, but I’ve got to admit: it ain’t half bad.

Read More

Vacation!

dimthehouselights:

by: Juan Barquin

image

Watching Zach Clark’s White Reindeer in late 2013 was definitely a highlight of my year, and it made me curious to explore some of his other work. First on my list was the one that came just before it: Vacation! With a tagline like “Everything starts up so good and ends up so fucked,” I was bound to have a good time. And boy, does Clark deliver. The minute the film starts, it already gives off an unsettling vibe; the black and white photography, the switches between the calm and frantic, and even the simple but menacing score in the background working perfectly. The fact that it immediately cuts to a title card that says “3 GIRLS COVER UP FRIEND’S DEATH ON BEACH TRIP” with Glass Candy’s “Animal Imagination” playing only makes it more effective.

Read More