Tuesday, 21 April 2015

REVIEW - 99 HOMES (RAMIN BAHRANI)


Besides openly berating us, the greatest insult a filmmaker can deliver an audience is condescension, treating us as fools unaware of their schemes, too blinded by their filmmaking mastery to take stock of their manipulative techniques. It's not an accusation, it's an assumption, and it's one that Ramin Bahrani can't help but make. To give him credit, there's a large portion of the American populace that does need told, just not like this - 99 Homes' rabid redress of the crushing impact of ruthless corporate culture and individualism on working class American homeowners is too brutish, too contrived and too one-sided to even begin to take cohesive effect. Bahrani is so incredibly unsubtle, so grandiose in his statements and so dismissive of the need for a remotely believable narrative that not only will he fail to convert those whom 99 Homes is targeted toward, he'll likely inspire ridicule and a dismissal of his own from those who don't need told to begin with. If Bahrani's villains are truly villainous, he makes a gross mistake in engendering our sympathy for them - entirely unintentionally, I expect - and in presenting his supposedly 'sympathetic' figures as laughing stocks. Even the notes of character ambiguity he attempts to introduce are basic, each insisting on a flat response from the audience. The film is enormously didactic, and the debate it engages in wholly self-contained, closed to interpretation. This level of browbeating is near interminable; that Bahrani hopes to hide it behind layers of earnestness and a genuinely impressive verite style of directing only enhances the insult. And none of it blinds us, an audience too keen to concede to condescension, no matter how valiantly the actors try. At the very least, Bahrani's consistent suppression of independent female voices in his films is so shameful as to render 99 Homes the latest dud from this would-be auteur.

Monday, 20 April 2015

CANNES 2015 CRITICS WEEK LINEUP IS REVEALED


Following Thursday's announcement of the two slates for the most high-profile strands at the Cannes Film Festival, the main competition and Un Certain Regard, fest organisers have now confirmed the lineup for the Critics' Week strand. A list of ten titles has been whittled down from over 1,000, and Israeli actor / director Ronit Elkabetz will be the worthy chair of the jury determining which of these films will receive official festival awards. The lineup is heavy on local talent, with two French films showing in competition and all three special screenings hailing from the festival's native land. All films selected are either first or second films, including the directorial debut of popular French actor Louis Garrel, and the sophomore offering from Elie Wajeman - The Anarchists, which follows his debut Aliyah, which played in Cannes' other parallel programme, Directors' Fortnight, three years ago.

Critics' Week Competition
  • Degrade (Arab Abunasser and Tarzan Abunasser)
  • Krisha (Trey Edward Shults)
  • Mediterranea (Jonas Carpignano)
  • Ni la Ciel, Ni la Terre (Clement Cogitore)
  • Paulina (Santiago Mitre)
  • Sleeping Giant (Andrew Cidivino)
  • La Tierra y la Sombra (Cesar Acevedo)

Critics' Week Special Screenings
  • The Anarchists (Elie Wajeman) - opening film
  • Les Deux Amis (Louis Garrel)
  • La Vie en Grand (Mathieu Vadepied)

REVIEW - A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE (ROY ANDERSSON)


Roy Andersson does not need to make it as painfully obvious as he does in A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, though it's refreshing to see a filmmaker deploy such frank self-awareness. If the accessible artsiness he generously infuses his films with is at least tempered by the sensation that even Andersson himself is not taking any of this seriously, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch might mark breaking point for that sensation - imbued with so pointed an allegorical meaning, the film is less enjoyable, more didactic than he has devised before. And the joke's wearing thin - it gets by on the sheer heft of its humour, mitigating the transparency of Andersson's conceit, but by now it's old hat, and one may crave something new from this most specific, stylised of filmmakers. That style is employed here in full force, and it's almost as beguiling as ever, with the pallid palette of faded lime greens and chartreuse, the stark lighting, the angularity of all these straight lines and flat surfaces. It's an immensely expressive mise-en-scene, even if Andersson is a touch too enamoured with it himself. What will forever mark the most effective tools he has for manoeuvring within such strict compositions are the tilts into unexpected territory, and you'll be surprised by what memorable results are engendered through use of simple images and sounds that seem wholly organic to this film's style, yet are revealed to represent quaint, poignant little aberrations. In truth, it's the occasional surrender to convention, that which this film purports to reject, that cuts deepest; Andersson continues to find comfort in discomfort, and vice versa, and so do we - he needs to abandon his comfort zone and explore further possibilities. For such a master artist, this ought to be a fruitful exploration indeed. I have my fingers crossed for the next film.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

REVIEW - CHILD 44 (DANIEL ESPINOSA)


The signs are all there, that the intention was not to posit Child 44 as just another dark, gloomy Hollywood thriller (as it has been marketed), but instead as a perceptive, pertinent historical drama, commanding in its breadth and disarming in its depth. So why can't we see it? Why does one come to this realisation, to the truth of the matter, only after the film has finished? Dear, naive director Daniel Espinosa must be held accountable, ditto writer Richard Price, who has done better work for better films. Throw in cinematographer Oliver Wood on charge of banality and you've got a compelling body of evidence. They're only under the notion that what they're creating is a grand, epic work - their techniques suggest a collective ignorance in how actually to create such a film. Principally, their insistence on Tom Rob Smith's narrative blueprint as a classically cinematic one is wholly misplaced - Smith's narrative is highly involving, but too ambitiously structured to feel sufficiently coherent if its psychological and political complexities are not probed. Yet Espinosa leaves it all on the screen, neither trimming down the content that demands a more sophisticated approach nor indulging it with the intelligence it deserves. His means don't fit his end, in that treating a story this expansive, this deliciously convoluted as a run-of-the-mill thriller (as he appears able only to do) won't afford it the gravity he's aiming for. Amid this mess, poor Tom Hardy is stranded in a film that has little idea what to do with his talent. What a fearsome performance Hardy supplies, yet again, and what a lacklustre film he supplies it to. He's there for those signs that Child 44 ought to have been a more momentous affair, in the meandering storyline and the relaxed plotting. Would that anybody else was. Acquittals for editors Pietro Scalia and Dylan Tichenor, production designer Jan Roelfs and also for Noomi Rapace, but only just.

FIRST FULL TRAILER FOR DOPE


Earlier this week, the teaser trailer for Dope dropped online. Here's the follow-up, a fuller look at what the award-winning comedy / drama has to offer. Out in the US on the 19th of June.

LEARNING TO DRIVE - TRAILER


Frivolous fluff it may appear, but look closer and you'll see that Learning to Drive is directed by Isabel Coixet and, obviously, starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley. Sounds more promising than it looks, granted, but I'm not convinced that this accessible trailer gives away the full picture. Reactions last year at TIFF, where the film premiered, were mixed, with critics somewhat cold on the film, but audiences much more receptive to its commercial charm. Release date in the US is currently set for the 21st of August.

TRAILER FOR GARRONE'S TALE OF TALES


Matteo Garrone's ambition doesn't stop there, as he embarks on a star-studded fantasy drama, The Tale of Tales. Cannes has, unsurprisingly, accepted the film into its competition lineup for the Palme d'Or - Garrone's a regular at Cannes, and if this is anything as good as it appears to be on the back of this impressive trailer, it could mark his best shot yet at the festival's top prize.

REVIEW - A LITTLE CHAOS (ALAN RICKMAN)


All this flimsy, frothy sweetness may be too much, or, more accurately, too little, for the tastes of many; served correctly, though, it can make for a fine meal. Alan Rickman takes a delicate touch to a precious treatment, and his film is a joyous little treasure. Though marred by a few odd stylistic missteps, its the purpose of the imagery and their surrounding story, not the execution, that lingers longest. Ellen Kuras shoots in flat, shimmering tones, situating the human figures as enveloped by, an integral part of their environment, just as their environment is an integral part of the story. Rickman hasn't the strongest grasp on sensory storytelling - he lacks no conviction, only original thought and restraint in this regard - but one quite vividly senses the emotional thrust, not least due to Kate Winslet. The versatile actor seems to willingly blend into the texture of A Little Chaos, rather than force her feelings to the fore - it's an astute performance, and it makes her romantic scenes with Matthias Schoenaerts fairly powerful. If A Little Chaos is missing any broader, firmer context, it's because Rickman cares little to probe matters beyond the immediate purview of his narrative; the film is focused and affecting as a result, though too easily dismissed as a mere diverting trifle. It certainly is flimsy and frothy, but the design of A Little Chaos is dedicated to these qualities, and the film as a whole is a delectable, delightful trifle, then.

Friday, 17 April 2015

REVIEW - THE WATER DIVINER (RUSSELL CROWE)


A senseless strain for profundity overshadows and undermines The Water Diviner, a film produced apparently entirely on the back of its director's misplaced ambition. Grand vistas, exotic locales and old-school stories of romance and war do not amount to classic, compelling filmmaking, no matter how earnest their delivery may be. It's that earnestness that shows Russell Crowe up, revealing quite clearly his inadequacies behind the camera, though it does frame him as a humble figure, something which he's not shy on exploiting in front of the camera. What that amounts to is a small degree of sympathy - certainly not sufficient to excuse the amateur direction that infuses 95% of The Water Diviner, but sufficient to engender some simple, touching moments, characterised by an unfussy quality that Crowe is obviously striving for. You come to slightly pity him for his tendency to skew gauche in his sensibilities, and that pity may soften your heart a little. My heart, alas, remained far too hard to excuse much - not the hasty cutting, not the awkward ADR, not the syrupy score, not the confused mise-en-scene with its ugly lighting and its resolute ignorance toward camera placement... there's far too much to excuse, and not enough excuses. Merely aping the classic dramas of 70-odd years ago doesn't cut it, not when you've little new to contribute yourself, and little skill to replicate them. The Water Diviner wants very badly to be a grand, monumental feature; its finest traits are its cutest, its quietest, and its most accidental - indeed, the traits it barely even knows exist.

NEW STAR WARS: EPISODE VII - THE FORCE AWAKENS TRAILER


Frankly, all J. J. Abrams needs to do is to ride on the nostalgic coattails of the original trilogy. Who cares if the films are any good? Out on the 18th of December in both the UK and the US.