Dark Days (2000)

Who knew that under the streets of New York, in abandoned subway tunnels, there were communities of vagabonds, drug addicts, and other transients slowly piecing together homes.  This intense and fascinating documentary shows what life is like for these people living in the most unusual manner and their struggle to make something of themselves. Marc Singer created an intimate experience that is enhanced by the fact it is in black and white.

By living in the community himself, for months, Singer was able to capture a ‘day in the life’ of this underground community that has fallen into complete complacency.  Each individual has their own story and path that brought them there.  However, the “safety” and consistency of the tunnels allows them to put their guard down.  The illusion of safety keeps them in the tunnel and exposed to disease, drugs, danger of getting hit by trains, and anything else the tunnel offers.  If this film shows us anything, it shows us how resilient the human race can be.  The scrappy hustlers living under New York city will be the ones to follow if there is ever an apocalypse.  This may have been dark days for this community, but the film brings an inspirational  and relentless message.

DJ Shadow’s soundtrack compliments the tone and vibe of the imagery perfectly.  DJ Shadow is able to amplify the energy throughout the film whether it be darkness or inspiration.  A soundtrack is such an important aspect of a great film and Dark Days is no exception.

L’Armee des ombres(Army of Shadows) (1969)

I saw the 2006 re-release of L’Armee des ombres and it was my introduction into Melville and French film.  The movie starts off slow and progressively picks up steam, always keeping the viewer on their toes and never knowing who to trust.  Melville’s L’Armee des ombres is a dreary and lonely look at resistance and revolution.  Also, Lino bears a distracting resemblance to Kevin Spacey, or is it just me?  This should be a must see if you are attracted to dark French films or are interested in finding out.

Cloverfield (2008)

The concept behind this movie is one that sounds good on paper, but to fully capture that idea leads to unforeseen problems.  The decision to take the “handy-cam” approach to fully immerse the viewer into the moment can be compelling and also disorienting to the point of exhaustion.  If you exclude the scenes where the camera is shaking so vigorously for such an extended period of time that I feel a seizure coming on and the cornball love story dialogue, then you are left with a suspenseful and engaging film.  Perhaps some find the handy-cam style appropriate, but I just cannot do it.   The positives to the handy-cam style are that we get to feel that we are there with the characters more intimately and the viewer can possibly buy that they are watching “found footage”, to add to the realism.  It is just at the risk of distracting the viewer from the actual substance of a film, or lack there of.

Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The (2007)

This film is not just a biographical drama, but a psychological roller coaster. Each role is well written and complex, allowing the actors to really dive in and take the viewer along for the ride.  We learn to love characters we should hate and learn to hate characters we should love.  From the title alone the audience knows where the film is going.  As we get to know the difference between Jesse James the man and Jesse James the myth it becomes challenging to root for his survival or demise.  At the same time, Casey Affleck’s performance is tremendous and conjures up ambivalence that teeters back and forth until the credits.  It is rare that the protagonist in a film is also the antagonist.  In addition to that, the cinematography was stunning and vibrant. Although this film seemed to fly under the radar when it was released, perhaps it was just overshadowed by its contemporaries: There Will be Blood and No Country for Old Men.  I highly recommend this movie.

Secretary (2002)

ScreenThis movie touches on some, more than, risqué subject matter that just dives deeper and deeper as the movie progresses.  The cyclical format of the film persists from the start until just before the end.  This seems to play on the use of both classical and operant conditioning found in the film.  The ever present and in your face masochistic theme is not a new concept behind a film, but this one is also a comedy.  At the end of the day, if you like Maggie Gyllenhaal in kinky situations than this is your movie.