Thursday, 5 May 2016
An obnoxious infatuation with Hollywood cliche comes to a head with Demolition, Jean-Marc Vallee's third consecutive American feature and firmly the worst yet. This is a more talented director than almost anything in this film would allow you to appreciate: the way he rejigs classic dramatic constructs, infuses them with unforced naturalism, his empathy for characters, his rapport with actors - all either fully or partially concealed beneath the trite cluelessness of Demolition's scenario and script. It's such a shame because my appetite for fine filmmaking will surely never wane, whereas my appetite for movies about white, heterosexual manchilds finally discovering their true worth and making a meaningful connection with the wonderful world around them is an appetite that's actually never even existed. It's a perfect vehicle for Jake Gyllenhaal, though, and by now you likely know why; anyway, beyond serving as a blatant vanity project (Jake has a hot body, the ladies all love Jake, Jake is smart and successful, Jake has a hot body, Jake is respectful to women, Jake has a hot body, Jake is macho, Jake dances, Jake is accepting of gay people, Jake has a hot body), this is exactly the kind of undemanding, semi-comedic part at which he excels. Between himself and Naomi Watts - undervalued as ever - they both prove and provide what worth this inane film possesses. It's beneath them, and beneath Vallee, and it's probably beneath you too. But did I mention that Jake has a hot body...?
Sunday, 1 May 2016
Them Filipino filmmakers do know how to put the work in. Brillante Mendoza returns, naturally to Cannes, with Ma' Rosa. Little is yet known about the drama, which has no international theatrical releases confirmed, though it's surely bound to see its profile raise after its Cannes competition premiere later this month. The above trailer is the first look we've gotten of the film.
Saturday, 30 April 2016
Brace yourselves: Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures dives head first into the story of its subject's life, hard, fast and throbbing. You can feel the blood rush through Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato's minds as they embark on an exercise of illumination and education - a necessary project in enlightening a cloistered audience, and a noble purpose to serve, but what further purpose does this rudimentary documentary serve? We see a lot, we hear a lot, and we learn a lot, and there's no doubt as to the validity of such a direct, informative approach when dealing with topics that have so long been excluded from public consumption and conversation. Bailey and Barbato's knowledge and empathy give Mapplethorpe a lively, engaging tone as it races through its story, but their artistic ambitions are limited, marking an inexcusable oversight for a biopic of such a talented artist. The film hews too closely to biodoc convention, and with a level of haste that often precludes the kind of measured musing that's normally encouraged of the artistic audience. Robert Mapplethorpe's character is thoroughly examined, his work comprehensively presented, but too little time is allotted toward allowing the viewer to appreciate the most salient details; in place of such is too much time toward trivial recollections of his childhood, his lifestyle, his celebrity status. All of meaning, naturally, just perhaps not this much. The titular advice might be best: just look at the pictures.
Friday, 29 April 2016
In reverence and irreverence, through profundity and vulgarity, Gabriel Abrantes imagines a six-minute stand around a sculpture. He observes Constantin Brancusi's most misunderstood work, a bust of Marie Bonaparte, with an informed mind, however, though the thoughts and opinions with which he infuses this short film align nicely with his light, nonchalant style. As such, A Brief History of Princess X examines not only its sculptural subject, but also the process of conducting such an examination. Here we see the creation of art - its origins, its intended purposes - and the consumption of art - its presentation, its interpretations, its legacy. Abrantes' lighthearted tone turns flippant in his narration, which sets this short out on unstable, unpromising grounds; only in the final few moments does an acknowledgement of Brancusi's achievements, and - more pointedly - of their underappreciation in the public arena, excuse the film's jaunts into juvenility. Yet even these are understandable, as A Brief History of Princess X is equally about perception of 'Princess X' as it is about its true beauty, itself only fully fathomable when one is able to consider that perception, and to know the facts of its creation, all smartly delineated in Abrantes' film. Production values are solid, no more nor less opulent than is required for a film of this duration and of this style. Keep an eye out for a few familiar names in the credits, and you'll realise that this film's qualities are by no means accidental. A little context goes a long way.
Thursday, 28 April 2016
There and back again in an enlightening discovery of futility and despair. Jonas Carpignano's Mediterranea queries whether the better life that the refugees and migrants of the third world seek actually exists or not. Its dispassionate, indistinct advocation of assimilation arises from a feeling of cultural erosion, as American and European culture bleeds into the rest of the world, yet expects so much in return for the rest of the world bleeding back. Carpignano's empathy is palpable throughout - the vivid blues and yellows of hope, the rich, muddy browns of poverty, the intimate hand-held photography, the vibrant musical cues. It's a language of presence, yet the film tells a story of absence - great geographical and cultural distances, language barriers, and the void of purpose and fulfillment for these foreign bodies. The juxtaposition of language and content here is awkward, since in this case there's little to no assimilation; they remain separate, communicating mutually exclusive messages. This leaves Mediterranea with a void of purpose itself, resulting in a simple string of events, occurring as they do because they do, striving to achieve some humanitarian condolence from the viewer, rather than additional artistic admiration. It's a worthy story, handsomely presented, and holds some worth of its own in being one of so few stories on this topic. But would that Mediterranea knew its potential worth. As it is, the feeling that this film best communicates is that same futility felt by its characters. Strong and solid filmmaking, but little more.
Every scientifically-sound climate change film is a worthy one, but in the hands of Inside Job director Charles Ferguson, you can count on Time to Choose being a damn good one too. After screening at the Telluride Film Festival last September, the documentary's US release on the 3rd of June will be its first theatrical engagement. Looks to be an informed and engaging film with an urgent message, so make sure to watch the above trailer, and ofc to watch the film when it arrives in cinemas.
Anna Rose Holmer's directorial debut The Fits has been making the festival rounds since it first screened last September at the Venice Film Festival. Reviews for both the film and young lead Royalty Hightower's performance have been strong, and the film will hope to capitalise on its critical acclaim when it opens in the US on the 3rd of June. Check out the first trailer for the film above.
Wednesday, 27 April 2016
The only as-yet unseen film of 2016 that I can claim to being genuinely excited to see. Contrary to my initial expectations, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie looks to be every bit as good as the TV series, which, btw, is rly fucking good, in case you didn't already know. Released in the UK on the 1st of July and in the US on the 22nd.
If there's a single point to be made in Miguel Gomes' Arabian Nights project, it's made most succinctly in Volume 3 - The Enchanted One. The series itself at its most enchanting, and at its most mundane, this simple assemblage of stories on Portuguese identity draws out from these three films the true purpose of Gomes' methods of presenting them; we've already been acquainted with Arabian Nights' overarching nature, but it's only in The Enchanted One that Gomes' means excuse his ends. The first 40 minutes are sweet and pretty, and perhaps mildly allegorical, but they serve more to illuminate the genesis of Gomes' structural scheme than to reveal anything profound about his native Portugal. Nevertheless, as a quirky reworking of an old story, this segment is in fact more closely related to the first two volumes than it is to the remainder of The Enchanted One, which turns the film from poetic fantasy to sober documentary. It's a plaintive, perceptive portion, extended to a length great enough that it attains a magnitude of its own, even within this six-hour project. On-screen text ties it to the opening story, a determined narrative drive once again jutting in, this time not to a tale that needs room to breathe, but to a tale that actually provides it, only to have it denied. Yet this text, with its overt implication on this film's identity as a piece of storytelling, combined with the truest, purest examination of Portuguese identity in all three films, finally develops Gomes' essential idea: it is through stories of the past that we come to understand our present, and shape our future, and through skillful manipulation of their telling that we abate the destruction of our own identity. A pleasant, poignant point then, but did it really have to take six hours to make it?