There are certain fundamental requirements involved in making a film of high impact and high quality. Those films which overlook these requirements (which differ depending on the type of film being made) may possess other attributes worthy of praise, but can never aspire to the level of quality attained by more diligent filmmakers making higher-grade product. An original plot can help a functional thriller become memorable, sober, natural-sounding dialogue can help a pedestrian drama become stimulating, heartfelt acting can help any film become affecting. Metro Manila is largely lacking in all of these - actors Angelina Kanapi and Reuben Uy are vibrant in supporting roles, though they're sparingly used and are thus exceptions. Beyond these fundamental requirements, there are other features a film can specialise in, thereby redeeming them to an extent, and establishing them as of some artistic integrity. A vivid, narratively and tonally sensitive aesthetic can vastly improve even the most mundane of projects, original musical scoring can elevate even the basest of material (I'm of the opinion that there are few filmmaking components as essential and as capable of changing the tone and effect of a film as greatly as soundtrack choices). And Metro Manila is equally deficient in these regards, with its prosaic visuals serving no apparent purpose, and its dreary, derivative score entirely uninspiring. The general dearth of anything new or especially engaging engulfs Metro Manila, up to the stage where it becomes possible to accurately forecast the outcome of every single situation the story offers up. The only hope that remains is that director / writer / producer / cinematographer (so you know he's responsible) Sean Ellis can snap into action at some point and jolt his film out of its dull daze. He doesn't.
Sunday, 30 March 2014
Does this trailer give away too much? What it does certainly give away is what I've heard about Papusza, the story of the life of Bronislawa Wajs, the Romany poet known more commonly as Papusza (a true story, then, so maybe it doesn't matter how much the trailer shows) - that lead Jowita Miondlikowska is strong, and that so too is Krzysztof Ptak's cinematography. This premiered almost ten months ago at Karlovy Vary, so small scale international distribution shouldn't be too far off now.
The proof implied in the title of Andrei Gruzsniczki's film is perhaps in the film's Special Jury Prize win at the Rome Film Fest last November. It screened ten days ago in New Directors / New Films at the Film Society of Lincoln Centre; based on the above trailer, I hope it screens somewhere nearer to me some time soon.
A hit with critics at festivals over the past few months since its premiere at Venice last September, 'Til Madness Do Us Part is Wang Bing's latest look at the state of modern China. A supersize depiction of life inside an institution for people with mental health problems, the film has been hailed as 'one of Wang's most heartrending works' in Little White Lies, among other praise from critics. No details on UK or US release dates just yet - chances are these will either be extremely limited, or non-existent. But it'll be worth keeping your eyes out, I'm sure.
In the past few days, Disney's Frozen crawled (at the rate it has been going, this counts as a crawl) past Toy Story 3 to become the highest-grossing animated film of all time worldwide. A gross-to-date of $1,072.4 billion ranks as tenth all time among all films, and The Dark Knight Rises' ninth place slot now looks to be its next target. Not bad for a film that most prognosticators forecasted wouldn't make it past $200 million domestically; on that topic, the DVD release has prompted Disney to pull it from many theatres lately - it certainly won't make Iron Man 3's second place from 2013 in the U.S. now, and may not be able to reach $400 million, despite being on the cusp of it. But that's no biggie, surely, not with these numbers.
Apparently Serena is a bit shit. Ofc you wouldn't dare say that to the JLaw lovers, but I would. I'll wait until I see it, but it is directed by Susanne Bier, and it does star Bradley Cooper, so I'm inclined to believe that. Out in the US... some time. Possibly...
Part of the appeal in watching modern American crime thrillers is in anticipating which well-worn path they'll take at each approaching juncture. There's comfort and base satisfaction to be had along the obvious paths, and further mystery along the comparatively hidden ones. Blue Ruin may stumble somewhat in preparing itself to be able to reach said junctures and choose any one of several paths, and it may continue to stumble thereafter, but in selecting the unexpected routes to its otherwise inevitable conclusion, it earns my respect, and also my consistent interest. As a story in its complete form, Blue Ruin is frustratingly rambling; as a work of art, it's laudably original in some integral aspects. Yet central to the film are two aspects, simple in their essence but complex in their execution. Writer / director Jeremy Saulnier creates astonishingly high levels of tension with apparently minimum effort, wisely falling back on select storytelling devices to do so - a latent focus on the threat of violence, smart use of space and location in emphasising characters' predicaments or, smartly, establishing a sense of complacency, ripe for the tables to be turned, or not. The wayward trail he takes through the basic plot that influences the fundamental details of what occurs (though now how, nor where, nor when) institutes a tangible instability that makes Saulnier's scenes of physical danger thoroughly riveting. And he is most fortunate in the casting of Macon Blair as Dwight, the hapless hobo who turns vindictive amateur assassin when the man he holds responsible for the death of his parents years prior is released from prison. Blair's wide-eyed stare communicates his most essential, primal emotions with clarity and directness, and he and Saulnier are clever to turn another twist on their revenge narrative by portraying Dwight as a man whose determination only makes more plain his ineptitude. This doesn't quite fit in with that narrative entirely, though, since, for a film so concerned with reason, motive and planning, Dwight's circumstances are too often configured by sheer fortuitousness; credulity is abandoned when, for example, Saulnier leaves too much space for dialogue and clear reasoning in a near-death situation. But if his missteps are all in aid of the goal that is offering a genuinely fresh perspective on the American crime thriller, then they're not wholly unwelcome.
The films of Godfrey Reggio are intimate collaborations with a select few principal artists: Philip Glass, the composer, being one, his cinematographers being some more, and 18th Century philosopher George Berkeley being another. Berkeley is credited with advancing the notion that all matter cannot exist without being perceived. This is a theory of much value in the creation of art, wherein the act of perceiving the artistic produce is also an aspect in its own creation. One's interpretation is of particular value; for Reggio, one's interpretation is of limitless value, since his cinematic abstractions are so reliant on the evocation of ambiguity in their content. His reductive fiction, Visitors, is wholly indebted to those who perceive it, for it is their interpretation that determines its significance - you could project onto it the thought that it is a profound masterpiece of the cinema, whereas I projected onto it that it was lazy and boring, and comically cliched. It recalled, for me, Tsai Ming Liang's recent quasi-documentary Journey to the West, only Reggio's aims are far less substantial (and far more pompous) than Tsai's, his technique far more obvious. What he presents in silent, slow-motion, monochromatic imagery of faces, hands, derelict buildings and theme parks is supposedly minimalist in its composition, yet also (and I am tempted to conclude that Reggio is unaware of this) thoroughly maximalist in its intended effect. This maximalism is compounded by Philip Glass' portentous score, transforming many of the film's images into bathetic comedy, and only rarely forming in unity with the visuals to communicate a solid, significant statement. When Reggio steps irresistibly away from his deliberate obliqueness to compose some theoretical articles of discernible substance, he actually achieves a degree of success - early flashes of mistrust in humanity, and visual representations of our futile, though destructive, desire to conquer nature and natural law are beautifully done, as are some hypnotic shots of swampland at the other end of the film. But these are exceptions which unintentionally prove what is otherwise a rule of Visitors - it's only as accessible as you make it, so open to individual analysis is it. Maybe it's a personal thing, then, but I prefer my movies to know a little more about what sort of movie they want to be.
Saturday, 29 March 2014
The ordinary lives of not-so-ordinary people in Denis Cote's film, which straddles several genres and pursues several narrative strains before concluding on an abrupt and cruel development. Succumb to the offbeat naturalism Cote assembles here through laudable command of his craft, and this ending might serve as a nasty surprise to you; keep both eyes and ears open, though, and it might not, yet Cote's steadfastness to driving home his point that one's past can always summon itself up to spoil one's future is audacious, and truly unexpected in a film that sometimes courts a preciousness that's all too predictable, given the tone of the film entire. Wes Anderson-lite mixed with a dinginess that's at the opposite end of the artistic spectrum quickly gives way to a solemn study of loneliness, even when accompanied by loved ones, and a hopeful study of love and optimism, even in apparently dire circumstances. Cote shoots this low-key, but eventually high-impact, comedy-drama in tones of faded teal and insidious chartreuse - a colour scheme that is somewhat overused in contemporary cinema, but he uses it to enhance the tone of zero-grade kitsch he establishes so effortlessly, and has a good eye for creating atmospheric imagery without detracting from the drama. Like many Quebecois filmmakers, he is more comfortable with the sense of isolation discernible in many Canadian features than his English-language countrymen, and presents a more appealing material space, making the characters' troubled mental spaces less neatly explicable as a result, and perhaps thus more acutely-felt. A physically-injurious denouement is thereby rendered more emotionally-injurious, and Cote is masterful in setting his sting-in-the-tail as an inevitability, rather than as a callous twist. It does put him in a quandary over how, specifically, to wrap up a tale he has crafted so curiously yet so brilliantly, and so the film sputters in its final few scenes, none of which register as deeply as they should. But this sharp, sweet, superbly-acted film is largely sure-footed up to this point, on a path where many other films would have fallen on their ordinary asses long before the end.
When Birdie Africa lies, he gets hurt. When police officers lie, he gets hurt. When government officials lie, he gets hurt. And when I wonder how much it must hurt these people to lie in the first place, I conclude that it surely cannot. These are authority figures who will do anything to pull the wool over our eyes, and when they act with such recklessness as to tear the wool away, they are forced to masquerade their lies as the truth, and our truth as lies. And it is painfully clear to us onlookers: their body language, their thought processes, all betray the fact that these men (in this case, they are all men) know the falsities of their claims. It is not the specific fictions in which they place their faith, but the theory behind them - that these fictions are necessary, that lying is the truth. Those who are employed by the people to serve the people end up serving only themselves. The picture of moral ambiguity which Jason Osder paints in the first half of Let the Fire Burn, pitting a deplorable policing service against a nonsense (and neglectful) cult, is extinguished entirely by the barbarity of the imperious authorities and the vengefulness of their minions in the second half. They commit an act of racial, religious, though mostly common democratic suppression in an act of brazen machismo and barefaced fear. Not a thought is given to the killing, both unintentional and intentional, of innocent people, children included; not a thought to the destruction of dozens of properties, again belonging to many innocent people; not an eye is batted thereafter, not a conviction attained. The villains and the victims are all too clear to those among us capable of seeing them, for that is plainly the truth. But those who are incapable of seeing them, or at least interpreting them as truth, are those police officers and those government officials. They serve themselves by lying, and by masquerading their lies as truth. The fire burns on, and not just along Osage Avenue, West Philadelphia. It burns on here, now, everywhere. And we're the victims, and that is the truth.
Friday, 28 March 2014
Remember when this was called Can a Song Save Your Life? I think I liked it more then. Actually, I think I liked this more before I saw the trailer. Out in the US on the 4th of July, then a week later in the UK on the 11th.
Who'd have thought it? Pretty much everyone, I'd say, as Wong Kar Wai's most financially successful film to date in his career won seven Asian Film Awards yesterday (the 27th of March). Major prizes handed out to the film included Best Picture, Best Director for Wong and Best Actress for Zhang Ziyi, while the two categories in which it was also nominated for Oscars (Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design) also reaped awards for the historical martial arts film. Irrfan Khan won Best Actor for The Lunchbox, the highly popular film which was rejected by India's selection committee to be represented at the Oscars last year.
Wong Kar Wai (The Grandmaster)
Irrfan Khan (The Lunchbox)
Zhang Ziyi (The Grandmaster)
Best Supporting Actor
Huang Bo (No Man's Land)
Best Supporting Actress
Yeo Yann Yann (Ilo Ilo)
We already know that one maverick female filmmaker will serve as head juror for Cannes 2014's official competition selections - Jane Campion. The Critics Week jury head has now been named, and she too is a maverick female filmmaker: Andrea Arnold, who has twice won the Jury Prize from the festival - in 2006 for Red Road and in 2009 for Fish Tank. I'm a big fan of Andrea's films, so I'm excited to know what choices her jury will make.
Thursday, 27 March 2014
In the name of Nike, the glut of superhero movies that has bombarded cinema screens in the past decade and a half may finally be reaching its peak. The writers behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier, faced with the unusual situation of a lead character restarting his Starburst, yet a franchise narrative long underway, have done the decent thing at last, treating the superhero genre as anything but a genre. It's a connecting thread between films on similar topics, but the specific genre of each superhero movie may change with the circumstances. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a superhero movie remodelled as a political thriller - so insistently, in fact, that its obligatory Harley Davidsons into effects-driven, blockbuster-style territory affirm these cruder tactics at satisfying an audience's apparent need to see where all that money went as the nuisances they are. The ethical and political angles are maintained throughout, albeit with precious little subtlety or Chevrolet, yet the haste with which many particular topics are dispensed in order to arrange another action sequence exposes Marvel's discomfort - not at the content of their film's storyline (rather the opposite, indeed), but at the prospect of a tentpole blockbuster like this being more about talking the house down than blowing the HTC up. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo mount several thrilling sequences, no doubt, but a few less-engaging ones, which tend to consist largely of people hitting each other relentlessly, in various positions, briefly glimpsed in the film's dizzyingly quick cuts. Their reliance on visual effects is admirably low, until a crass finale featuring particularly ugly VFX designs that should have been avoided. After all, at this Apple, there's something else much more important going on: Jenny Agutter.
Goodness knows the Wachowskis aren't lacking in decent ideas between them, but their execution of those ideas has been patchy, and not always very popular. So it remains to be seen whether or not Jupiter Ascending can solve the problems the pair has faced with audiences for over a decade now. My suspicion, despite abundant promise in the above trailer, is that is will not. Out in the US on the 18th of July, and in the UK on the 25th.
Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Yeh, so they could have found someone British, but what does nationality matter if you've got the skills? Great big gayboy Kevin Spacey is set to play British Prime Minister during WWII Winston Churchill in a StudioCanal project on which there are few concrete details as yet. For example, a director has yet to be named. Here's to hoping this isn't some dreary biopic, and is a film worthy of Spacey's talents. It'd be the first in a while...
Guillaume Gallienne's frivolous autobiographical comedy is an entertaining look not at the maturation process of a young man, but at the social influences and emotional product of that process. Gallienne's writing is, itself, highly mature, though devoid of the outrage it occasionally seems to court, with much promise, followed by much disappointment. Gallienne's approach is to redress offence with levity, an approach that would be bothersome were it not for the fact that this is not a filmmaking approach but a personal one. Me, Myself and Mum is, effectively, his filmed journal, and the admiration for his character that he is able to summon mostly only expands as the film progresses. He digresses from the honesty that pierces through with such regularity to divulge in some humorous tangents, which too have the capacity to bother to no end, and would do were it not for Gallienne's exemplary comic timing. In combining humanistic humour with some more challenging social aspects, he proves rather deft, though perhaps due to the short shrift he gives the latter. Just as he refrains from passing judgement on the potentially darker, more depressing points, he refrains also from explicitly stating his interpretation of the broader significance of these narrow circumstances. Gallienne keeps bringing his story back to himself, which is entirely reasonable, but there are untapped mines of material herein, principally that the root of homophobia is sexism - a theory that both is supported by the events of this film and which supports them too. Am I asking too much of M. Gallienne? Isn't his quaint little comedy good enough as it is? Isn't his dual performance as himself and his mother nothing shy of marvellous? Indeed. But don't worry yourselves wondering where that fourth star went. Take a longer look at the three that rest right there, below this review, and then take a look at Me, Myself and Mum.
Tuesday, 25 March 2014
That's a lot of Oscars. But no studio is attached as yet! I don't expect that to last too long... Diablo Cody's script for Ricky and the Flash has attracted Jonathan Demme as director (they'd make a good match, methinks) and Meryl Streep as a former rock star who returns to her family to be the mother she never bothered to be to her estranged and grown children. I don't normally print material based on hearsay, but this looks pretty darn promising. Side note: if I look that good when I'm 64...
Madonna doesn't care that she's already made two films as director and nobody liked them. She's planning to helm an adaptation of Rebecca Walker's Ade: A Love Story, about a biracial and bisexual American woman who travels to Kenya and falls in love with a muslim man, despite the film not even having a screenwriter attached, never mind a script. She does, however, have a producer in Bruce Cohen, who's proper Academy-friendly, having been behind projects such as American Beauty, Milk and Silver Linings Playbook.
I'm sure I'm not the only one fucking sick to death of seeing movies about white men saving the world, especially when they're Tom Cruise. I don't know about you, but I'd prefer my saviour to be the girl who just squeezed a human being out of her vagina than the guy who'd have made her stfu and bear with it, bitch. This is out on the 30th of May here in the UK and on the 6th of June in the US, and if you're wondering why we've been hearing so little of it despite its forthcoming release, that's because Warner Bros. clearly knows this is gonna fail. And so do I.
2012's Prometheus followed in the footsteps of fellow Alien-related films Alien3 and Alien: Resurrection by being not all that bad, and not all that badly-received, and being then reviled by many and regarded as a failure, by and large. Well, it wasn't, though like those other two films, it wasn't much of a success either. A sequel has been commissioned, and a March 2016 release has been announced. That's a pre-summer release for the sequel to a summer release - a sign of worry? Not considering the current slate of spring blockbuster releases, but I'd expect grosses to go down for Prometheus 2. Michael Green, who recently worked on Prometheus director Ridley Scott's Blade Runner follow-up, has been brought on to rewrite Jack Paglen's original draft; the story will reportedly feature multiple 'David' (Michael Fassbender) androids - that ought to please fans, and will be more in the vein of the original Alien - that also ought to please fans.
So apparently the beef Paramount had with Plan B over 12 Years a Slave seems to have simmered down, as a major collaboration has just been announced. Adam McKay, the director of Anchorman, Step Brothers and The Other Guys will adapt and then direct Michael Lewis' book about the pre-recession housing bubble, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine. It's an acclaimed book from an acclaimed writer, with a pedigree for major cinematic adaptation, after 2009's The Blind Side and 2011's Moneyball.
After a slew of gargantuan YA flops at the box office over the past year, Veronica Roth's popular novel Divergent provided the genre with its third genuine success story, after the Twilight and ongoing The Hunger Games franchises. Divergent easily beat out all other competition for the top spot, with its $54.6 million over three times as much as closest rival Muppets Most Wanted. It was a disappointing start for the Muppets sequel, with just $17 over the three-day frame, thus continuing in its predecessor's habit of posting befuddling box office figures. The biggest achievement among new wide releases was God's Not Dead: $9.2 million in 780 theatres making for a per-theatre average of almost $12,000, and a fourth placing that ranks first all-time for a faith-based film opening in fewer than 1,000 theatres. Holdovers all experienced moderate-to-significant declines on last weekend, save The Grand Budapest Hotel, which made another expansion and posted another strong result: $6.8 million in 304 theatres for seventh place overall, and the weekend's highest per-theatre average for the third consecutive frame. That's a better PTA than limited openers such as Nymphomaniac: Volume I and Blood Ties, both of which had received VOD releases though (in Nymphomaniac's case, a few weeks back), and also better than documentaries Jodorowsky's Dune and Cannes-winning, Oscar-nominated and pretty fucking brilliant The Missing Picture - cineastes across North American ought to be ashamed of themselves for its paltry $10,148 gross.
- Divergent ($54,607,747)
- Muppets Most Wanted ($17,005,126)
- Mr. Peabody & Sherman ($11,832,558)
- God's Not Dead ($9,244,641)
- 300: Rise of an Empire ($8,504,075)
- Need for Speed ($7,941,631)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel ($6,787,955)
- Non-Stop ($6,434,825)
- The LEGO Movie ($4,149,244)
- The Single Moms Club ($3,103,057)
Guillaume Canet's Blood Ties is so consumed by its period recreation, by its drab '70s aesthetic and funky soundtrack, that it fails to convey a sense of urgency in its plot, which is about as old as the film's inspirations. And that's the point, since this is no update of the crime dramas of that era, but a contemporary addition to their ranks. Yet in having to consciously depict a bygone time, Blood Ties expends all of its energy elsewhere, and the story thus seems stale, both on the page and in the telling. You do need a fresh perspective on the timeworn tale of two brothers, one in the police department and the other a professional criminal, if you want said tale to be of interest to anyone not in such a situation themselves, and Canet and James Gray's screenplay doesn't offer one. Indeed, it quite purposefully doesn't offer one, since their obsession with remaining faithful to the core qualities of the genre is unrelenting. Affording some attention to their large, starry (and international) cast does help to alleviate some of the boredom of watching the fraught relationship between siblings Billy Crudup and Clive Owen undergo its many trials, though Canet and Gray are content to strand these extraneous characters when needs be that Crudup and Owen's storyline requires more perfunctory development. It is therefore up to the actors to spark some interest in the audience, and liven up this rather dreary drama. They succeed in the former, to an extent, but not in the latter. Kudos to Matthias Schoenaerts for delivering a vivid performance with limited screentime, and for mastering the New York accent better than Brit Clive Owen (as a first-language English-speaker, he ought to be ashamed of that) and than Marion Cotillard, who is otherwise as reliable as ever in her intense characterisation of an embittered hooker. Production values are admirably non-flashy (this is how you design the '70s, David O. Russell!), though soundtrack choices are brutally obvious.
Whatever it is that sustains each of the films of Bong Joon Ho remains a mystery to me after having seen Snowpiercer - in fact, it's more of a mystery than ever. He constructs these cacophonous melees of discordant elements, and somehow a distinctive and highly winning style emerges, one that almost operates as an exclusive element of its own, divorced from said cacophony. In Le Transpierceneige, he has discovered a similar approach to storytelling, only with an even more tenuous thread binding everything together, and with far too many such discordant elements to condense into a two-hour film. Goodness knows he's tried, in what comes across as a bizarre blend of Hollywood-style action movie and something of his own devising. Whether or not his efforts have been in vain shall be left to the individual viewer. What does work tends to do so in the immediate moment, since Bong and co-writer Kelly Masterson are so eager to advance to the next moment, and then the next, but there's certainly a notable degree of enjoyment to be had in this. Bong's curious editing habits precipitate a disjointed tone that does the film no obvious service - the enjoyment here is in beholding the idiosyncrasies of a filmmaker who evidently thrives on them. In dispensing with the bulk of expected narrative exposition, the dialogue is oft rendered crude and heavy-handed - the enjoyment here is in looking beyond that, and appreciating a film in which not the slightest second is wasted. And if the film's general design, in all aspects, is similarly blunt and crude, there's evidence of serious and well-minded consideration throughout, from the vibrant production design to some imaginative and impressive action scenes, and to the transformative achievement of the superlative Tilda Swinton. You must see the entirety of her performance to gather just how little of the characterisation is accomplished via hair, makeup and wardrobe. She's a firecracker as Mason, one of her finest works, and her brilliantly mad, madly brilliant performance is emblematic of Snowpiercer as a whole: it's batshit crazy, and fuck knows how or why it works. But Bong's train reaches its target, in the end, and the journey there is definitely not without incident good, great, and godawful.
Monday, 24 March 2014
I've always had a soft spot for the X-Men franchise, because the first two were quite good. But then the franchise kinda went to shit, and Bryan Singer's career did too, and still Fox insists on making a grand old hullabaloo about X-Men: Days of Future Past and has now commissioned a third solo Wolverine film. What they've also done is reduce the female influence in the film, though reports that Halle Berry's role has been cut down to a cameo (following Anna Paquin's once-leading role having been excised entirely) have been rubbished. This is being released almost across the entire globe on either the 22nd or the 23rd of May.
Tremendously sad news from Prague, as one of the world's foremost directors - and perhaps its most revolutionary - has died. Vera Chytilova was not only among the very best female filmmakers, she was among the very best filmmakers, period. Her masterwork, 1966's Daisies, was denounced and banned in her home country of Czechoslovakia, and her subsequent film, We Eat the Fruit of the Trees of Paradise, saw her barred from making films by the Soviet authorities. Part of the Czech New Wave of the 1960s, a contemporary of Milos Forman and Jiri Menzel, she continued to make films in her own thoroughly unique style right up to the last decade. She died after a long illness on Wednesday the 12th of March, aged 85, and is survived by her children Stepan and Tereza. Among the accolades she received in her career were the Elvira Notari Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1998 for her film Traps, and an Outstanding Contribution to World Cinema honour at the 2000 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. This is upsetting news for her friends, family and acquaintances, and also for the film industry. We have been privileged to have lived alongside her and to have been allowed the chance to experience her wonderful artistic talent.
Stillness and motion in Tsai Ming Liang's riveting new film, a bold and beautiful cinematic game playing with apparent opposites, and supposed artistic boundaries. The camera is positioned so deliberately, so elegantly, as much of what it captures occurs so spontaneously, so accidentally. The monk controls his movements so carefully, as those around him move simply to move. Rigour and randomness in all aspects of life - even our walker cannot exert total control over every minute motion his body makes. He is exacting, you might say, but not exact, for this is not an exercise in clinical precision. Journey to the West is, in fact, given its character as much by the unaware passersby as by the monk - in his complicity in Tsai's work of modern art, indeed his invaluable contribution, he is like the actor in this staged piece, and in their obliviousness (and the consistent interest they provide), these civilians are like the subjects of a secret documentary - though the monk, too, in that his action is not self-serving here but rather of our intended benefit, may also be participating in Tsai's fascinating creation: a documentary in which we are the subjects. Text at the close confirms that what matters is not what is on the screen but that we have acknowledged it. The film, like all works of art, is nothing if it is not perceived, and is not complete without said perception; in this case, this process of observation is not a mere element in the actuation of the art, but integral to its existence and to its operation. And what wondrous images Tsai has given us to observe. No-one knows how to decorate the frame like Tsai, nor even how to construct the frame at its most fundamental level - a level which he makes astoundingly full use of. I've seen few if any films with such complexity in their visual planes, even when the image is at its most seemingly simple.
Sunday, 23 March 2014
At age 65, popular TV and film actor James Rebhorn has died. Recently he starred in the hit TV show Homeland, and had thus been enjoying a rise in his star status of late. However, to many, he will be remembered for roles in films such as Shadows and Fog, Basic Instinct, Independence Day, The Game, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Meet the Fockers and Far from Heaven. Cause of death has not been confirmed as of time of publication. He will be survived by his two children, and wife Rebecca.
Nostalgia for the present. Jason Reitman's new film sees him assume a wistful tone that he quite obviously understands but has little understanding of how to apply. His brash evocation of an era is set in fiction and fantasy, and is thus phony - what he is nostalgic for is what he is actively creating, and he seems to be engendering a romantic response in us in the instant that ought to have taken years to blossom. Yet, as the yarn it so blatantly is, Labour Day is rarely, if ever, possessed of so many flaws that it is not at least an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours, if not a stimulating one. As dripping in melodrama as it is, Joyce Maynard's story is rich with dramatic potential, and wouldn't it perhaps be an injustice to deny this adaptation full opportunity to wallow in that melodrama, as melodrama insists? Reitman pollutes the film with heady, potent moments of sensuality both fulfilled and unfulfilled - it's this forthright approach of his, as writer as much as director, that cheapens the stories he tells and does his cast and crew a disservice, but it's effective, I'll admit. It appears to have replaced his customary snark, all but entirely absent from Labour Day, and when said snark does threaten to resurface, we find ourselves thankful for the swap. Awash in glowing tones of caramel broken up by vivid greens and faded blues, Eric Steelberg's cinematography is pretty in a way that's thoroughly sickly, but also thoroughly appropriate. Cast performances are muted in a less stylised sense, and Reitman's constant attentiveness to his actors pairs nicely with this newfound restraint.
Eric enters his new space like a stealth missile, silent and unnoticed until point of impact. He's here to cause maximum havoc with minimum threat, and being some years younger than everyone else here gives him a sure advantage, particularly given that he is so able to cause maximum havoc. But Eric is just another inmate, once his explosive entrance has been allayed, albeit with intensive emotional re-education and no minor amount of major disturbances. It is this narrative theatricality which Jonathan Asser disguises with as many cunting utterances of the cunting C-word as cunting possible, and makes an audacious attempt to pass off as grit. Whether it's the structural staginess or the stylistic simplicity that holds Starred Up back from hitting as hard as it so plainly intends to, or the sincere but unconvincing juxtaposition of the two that does it, is unclear, but what is clear is that Asser's ambitions needed curbing. Achieved in the vast pool of potential created by his varying aspirations is a good deal of powerful acting, mostly from Jack O'Connell as Eric - in truth, this isn't even all that O'Connell is capable of, yet he takes chunks out of his fellow professional cast members both figuratively and literally (what's a proper prison movie without plentiful violence?). The more seasoned actors among this cast respond strongest to the more innately dramatic tendencies in the script, and are thus outacted by the relative newcomers, who approach their roles with ease and honesty. It is their presence that dominates the film's key scenes of, group therapy, essentially, which make up in immediacy what they lack in originality. That may, indeed, be true of the film itself. The setting is as old as they come, and the path we follow through it lacking in much insight, but it feels fresher than it maybe ought to, and hits hard enough, in the end.
Saturday, 22 March 2014
In bending the boundary between reality and fantasy, Sono Sion has found himself, as any pragmatic director would, bending further toward the latter than the former. And who could blame him, since that is evidently where his talents take root? It's always encouraging to witness a filmmaker expanding their repertoire, and therefore always deflating when one winds up wishing, overall, that they hadn't bothered. The barmy premise of Why Don't You Play in Hell?, coupled with the ambitious way in which Sono realises it, would qualify as an expansion for almost any director, though. Yet where Sono has ventured anew is in attempting to infuse the fantasy that comes so naturally to him with a grounding in the real world, or at least his version of it. He supposes to combine fact and fiction into one highly meta force of its own, yet in truth these two elements repel one another, and the cumulative force is weak, Sono's devotion to it distracting. He is more comfortable, and thus so are we, when focusing his efforts on one specific element at a time, or just one specific element alone: the fiction he has created with signature verve. Much of Why Don't You Play in Hell? is about characters with far-fetched aspirations or extreme sensibilities, so it is a veritable relief when Sono affords them chances to realise these. His own aspirations are neither as groundbreaking nor as compelling as he appears to believe, and he makes an utter hash of planting his action in a solid foundation (the film's bewildering first hour is just dull and confusing), and thus little interest can be mustered in any of his affectations, no matter how earnest he may be in applying them.
Friday, 21 March 2014
This might come as a bit of a surprise to the non-nerds among us, but film star Andy Serkis is also film director Andy Serkis, having served as second unit director on all three of Peter Jackson's Hobbit films. Serkis will direct an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book for Warner Bros, after first choice director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu backed out. That's Warner Bros., not Disney, whose own version of Kipling's novel is already being cast and is set to be directed by Jon Favreau.
In producing maximum effect with minimum responsibility, Stephan Lacant's Free Fall is glaringly transparent in its motives. Lacant's sincere and reverent tone doesn't so much promote and honour the 'gay issue' as make an issue out of it in the first place, and use it to create such a ham-fisted melodrama. What has been devised here is a stale mix of elements of quasi-comical gay fantasy and soap opera. The supporting characters are vivid, in that they each vividly hammer their one note out incessantly, while the lead character is conflicted, troubled by dilemmas which anyone who has seen any similar gay relationship movies (and there are plenty!) will not only recognise, but will recognise as having been done with more insight before. Lacant has seen profundity in banality, without acknowledging that it is banality in the first place, and embarks upon squeezing every last sensationalist drop out of his pulpy material, all in a teal sheen that is utterly dripping in middle-European middle-brow earnestness, and encouraging his actors to approach their roles in a most classical, empathetic, stirringly dramatic manner. It's often easy (and tempting) to overlook the familiarities and inadequacies in Lacant's filmmaking, since heady emotional narratives like this can be so engaging even when done poorly, but the blatant opportunities to inject some originality or spirit into his film that he passes by make such a feat rather more difficult to accomplish: Lacant's choreography of sex scenes renders them sweet and shallow, not erotic and tangible, and the strain of homophobia he intends to denounce in his characters he unwittingly supports. For once again our protagonist is the supposedly straight family man, torn between what his heart truly wants and what society wants for him. In every contemporary story about coming out, the societal aspects of the narrative bear the greatest weight on its actual content; Lacant presents his story as specific to these people at this time, and thereby acquits this poisonous society of the moral crimes it is so very guilty of committing.
Thursday, 20 March 2014
What joy we are capable of experiencing when we accept that fundamental buddhist notion that life is suffering. There is very much silent suffering in Anthony Chen's Ilo Ilo, made stingingly clear in a distressing scene near the end, and very little joy, but it is an astute and truthful account of the suffering undergone by a Singaporean family in order that they might eventually be capable of experiencing joy. In providing a profile of each member of this three-person unit plus their newly-hired maid, Chen emphasises that it is not in ourselves that this joy will arise but in our relationships with others - these characters discover it only when they discover how to understand each other, and indeed each other's suffering. The hardships involved here are not as profound as those faced by many billions of others across the globe, but they need not be - the indirect implication is that, while economic woe can put a significant strain on one's mental state, wealth and comfort do not equate to happiness. No matter how financially rich, everyone has troubles of some kind; no matter how financially poor, everyone is capable of experiencing joy. Chen's story is simple but not simplistic, and his directorial style matched perfectly to it. He intentionally pulls off no grand feat of filmmaking here, instead tailoring the requirements of his film to the modesty of his means as a debut director working outside of a major studio system. Familial dramas rarely attract major financing, and rarely require much flair. But if he is deliberately unadventurous, he is neither lazy nor complacent, and creates an excellent sense of place and time and some memorable images with his cinematographer Benoit Soler.
Wednesday, 19 March 2014
Asghar Farhadi won his second and third Chlotrudis awards at the weekend, as The Past won the society's awards for Best Movie, Best Director (he previously won that award for A Separation) and Best Original Screenplay. Thankfully - though this became clear when nominations were announced - they have shunned Oscar, even if this is the second year in a row in which the Academy has picked a significantly better film for their top award. Always pleased to see Chlotrudis assert their independence over the other groups handing out awards in the December-March period. Nominations can be found here.
Asghar Farhadi (The Past)
Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt)
Brie Larson (Short Term 12)
Best Supporting Actor
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Best Supporting Actress
June Squibb (Nebraska)
Best Original Screenplay
Asghar Farhadi (The Past)
Best Adapted Screenplay
James Franco and Matt Rager, based on the novel by William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying)
Bradford Young (Mother of George)
Best Production Design
Alain Bainee (Blancanieves)
Best Performance by an Ensemble Cast
James Franco, Beth Grant, Scott Haze, Logan Marshall-Green, Brian Lally, Danny McBride, Tim Blake Nelson, Ahna O'Reilly, Jim Parrack and Brady Permenter (As I Lay Dying)
The Act of Killing
The Broken Circle Breakdown
There was a switcheroo atop the U.S. box office over the last weekend. A smart hold, enabling it to save some face after a low opening last week, saw Mr. Peabody & Sherman overtake 300: Rise of an Empire to sell the most tickets with audiences - $21.8 million ought to be enough to see it well on the way to $100 million, though that will remain a disappointment for DreamWorks Animation's comedy. Highest opener Need for Speed needed rather more speed to impress than it received: $17.8 million was sufficient only for third place - yet another flop for a video game adaptation, despite Disney's marketing's reticence to make the connection between the film and its source. But even Need for Speed performed better than The Single Moms Club. As confirmation of just how low Tyler Perry's star has sunk of late, his latest became his first film ever as director to open below $10 million. If that sounds like pretty good news to you, then this likely will too: Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel followed up its record-breaking limited opening with a record-breaking moderate opening: a per-theatre average of $55,122 is the highest ever for a film in over 60 theatres (in 66 theatres, that makes $3.6 million - enough for eighth place, finally knocking Frozen down to ninth). The film continuation of the TV series Veronica Mars was also released on VOD on Friday, and so an 11th place start wasn't perhaps as bad as it looks; the fact that over half of that came from Friday screenings does look bad, however, though not bad enough to dissuade creator Rob Thomas from discussing a potential sequel. Further down the charts, limited releases such as Bad Words, Le Week-End, Enemy, Teenage and The Retrieval all began their runs with little fanfare.
- Mr. Peabody & Sherman ($21,809,249)
- 300: Rise of an Empire ($19,201,345)
- Need for Speed ($17,844,939)
- Non-Stop ($10,615,305)
- The Single Moms Club ($8,075,111)
- The LEGO Movie ($7,701,309)
- Son of God ($5,528,497)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel ($3,638,041)
- Frozen ($2,147,743)
- The Monuments Men ($2,062,783)