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Films I Neglected To Review: Engang I Amerika!
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "The Salvation," "Waves" and "Wild Tales"

Even though the western is arguably the most overtly American of film types, other countries have made significant contributions to the genre over the years, such as Italy and Spain. That said, my guess is that few people would ever go so far as to associate Denmark with that type of filmmaking but the new Danish import "The Salvation" is not only a western through and through, it is an uncommonly good one to boot. Mads Mikkelsen stars as an ordinary European settler trying to make a life in America when his newly arrived wife and child are murdered by a couple of depraved thugs. He manages to track them down and kill them both but when one of them turns out to be the brother of the most feared bad guy in the area (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a bloody battle of wills erupts between the two that threatens to destroy each other as well as the entire town where they live. Director Kristian Levring does an excellent job of deftly moving between celebrating and subverting the traditions of the genre and there are nice performances across the board, including a striking one from the always-compelling Eva Green as the woman in the middle that is all the more impressive since she doesn't speak a word of dialogue for the entire film. Although "The Salvation" may not be as great as the films that it is clearly trying to emulate, it is a very good one indeed and fans of the genre are advised to seek it out.

"Waves" is a highly enigmatic first feature from Filipino filmmaker Don Frasco about a couple of former lovers who reunite and find themselves contemplating the nature of romance--both what might have been and what could be. While traveling home from a job in South Korea to her home and boyfriend in New York, model Sofia (Ilona Struzik) is in the midst of a layover in the Philippines when she contacts Ross (Baron Geisler), an old boyfriend who has just been laid off from his gig as an architect and who now drinks a little too much for his own good. What starts as simply a brief reunion between two friends quickly develops into a brief fling as they decide to spend the next couple of days fooling around at a nearby island resort--the only caveat being the her boyfriend in not to be mentioned. It is as idyllic as all get out at first but trouble arises when it becomes apparent that the two, despite their obvious mutual attraction, are looking for entirely different things for themselves and from each other.

Like most first-time filmmakers, Frasco wears his cinematic influences on his sleeve and in the case of "Waves," it is clear that he owes a huge artistic debt to the work of Terrence Malick, with "To the Wonder" being a specific point of reference in its depiction of a crumbling relationship through visual rather than verbal means. This might sound incredibly pretentious on the surface but Frasco manages to pull it off--the film is lovely from a visual standpoint and the scenes of the two lovers sitting in contemplation are strangely fascinating, thanks in no small part to the obvious chemistry between Struzik and Geisler. The problem with the film is that when the characters do begin to talk, the dialogue supplied to them by debuting screenwriter Scott Curtis Graham is oftentimes clunky and borderline embarrassing in parts. Luckily, the conversations are kept to a minimum and don't completely break the hypnotic spell that the film otherwise creates. "Waves" may not be an earth-shattering debut by any means but it is an intriguing low-budget indie efforts and it suggests that Frasco may be a filmmaker to watch in the future.

The Argentinian import "Wild Tales," which was one of this year's nominees for the Oscar for Foreign-Language Film, is one of those bold and brash attention-grabbers that either thrills viewers with their energy, verve and style or irritates them for many of the same reasons. The film is composed of six separate vignettes loosely revolving around the notion of put-upon people trying to get back against their oppressors. In one, it seems as though the entire passenger list for a flight has a common link and dislike for a certain person--the last person you want to be at odds with during a flight. In another, a waitress in a lonely diner realizes that her only customer that night is the man that destroyed her family years before and is goaded by her co-worker into getting revenge. The next tale features an escalating case of road rage between a slick yuppie type and a borderline redneck. Then comes the tale of a man who, after an astonishingly bad day, finally explodes in an impressive manner. In the most serious of the stories, a rich man tries to convince his groundskeeper to take the rap for the hits-and-run death of a pregnant woman actually committed by his spoiled son. Finally, the film wraps up in grand comic style with the tale of a wedding reception that devolves into chaos when the bride discovers that her new husband has been less than faithful to her.

Like most films of this type, some segments are better than others and different people will have their own preferences as to which ones work and which don't. Personally, I think that they all manage to maintain a relatively high level of quality. If I had to eliminate one, it would probably be the road rage tale and that is only because the basic premise is overly familiar, though writer-director Damian Szifron does present it in an undeniably stylish and entertaining manner. My personal favorites are the stories set on the airplane and at the wedding reception because they take perfectly plausible concepts and then stretch them to hilariously absurd extremes without going overboard into total cartoonishness. What is interesting is that while Szifron presents viewers with a series of largely entertaining revenge fantasies, he depicts them in such a way that nevertheless manages to question the wisdom of vengeance without seeming hypocritical. That said, "Wild Tales" is a lot of fun and definitely worth a look for adventurous moviegoers looking to take a trip on the wild side.[br]

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originally posted: 02/27/15 07:11:33
last updated: 02/27/15 09:31:19
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