Friday, 27 February 2015

REVIEW - THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (JOHN MADDEN)


If as much time was spent in the making of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as any other film, as much money invested into its production, as many frames of film as any of its length, as many soundwaves as depart the cinema speakers and land upon our eardrums, why is it that there seems to be so much less to say about it? What is it that makes this kind of art so seemingly unartistic? The images upon those frames communicate only what they appear to communicate, the words that are spoken by its inhabiting figures the same, the musical score acts as an intensifier or a signifier but never a source of meaningful enrichment. It's inoffensive, and fairly loathsome for being so inoffensive. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel very nearly topples its predecessor from its lowly perch of ignominy as it appears to rest upon a running theme of wealthy white English people emigrating to India to rob locals of their livelihoods, and of celebrating this as an excellent way to find employment for the elderly. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel doesn't even acknowledge that it's communicating that. It's much too concerned with much too many plot pieces for its own good - John Madden is a director with a lively style about his work, but he's much too literal-minded to be able to mould this screenplay's unwittingly unconventional structure into anything shapely. It's a rather frenetic example of what not to do when developing a franchise - for everything you add, you must take away, even when there's so little to say about a film in the first place. Where this film finally elevates itself, defying expectations set up by Best Exotic #1, is in its sobering acceptance of the solemnity of old age. The casual asides about mortality eventually come to ring truer than they initially did, and the tone of the film's final act is one of modest yet immovable melancholy. There's still nothing particularly artful about that, but I'll admit to not caring - it's this film's sole display of creative credibility, and it's a significant one too.

THE LADY IN THE VAN TRAILER


I mean it when I claim that Gosford Park was both the best and the worst thing that's ever happened to Maggie Smith's career. She's spent the years since playing grouches, and while she's very good at it and has experienced a genuine professional renaissance in later life as a result, I'd rather like to see her show audiences what she's capable of. It looks to me that The Lady in the Van may provide her with an opportunity to expand at least a little on her current go-to part. Personally, I'll watch her in anything, I think she looks particularly good in this, and the trailer made me laugh several times. No matter what the critics make of it, I'll be there for Maggie. Veteran British character actor (aren't they all?) Alex Jennings pulls off a terrific Alan Bennett impression (wouldn't Alan Bennett, of all people, have an eccentric old lady living in a van in his driveway for 15 years?) too. Out in the UK on the 15th of November, and I'm at least smelling Golden Globe nominations from here.

NEW TRAILER FOR THE DEAD LANDS


So... basically... what you're saying is... this is Apocalypto 2? That's what the above trailer seems to say for Toa Fraser's The Dead Lands, which appears to be a comparison both simplistic in its appreciation of international historical cultures and also fairly appropriate in its appreciation of tone and content. Who am I to judge, though? Read up on what critics had to say about the film when it premiered last year at TIFF - they were pretty complementary, overall. Out in the US on the 17th of April and in the UK on the 29th of May.

BRIAN WILSON BIOPIC LOVE & MERCY - FIRST TRAILER


No-one expected Love & Mercy to be much good. Producer Bill Pohlad has a strong track record in that profession, but how many established producers ever turned out to be capable directors too? And not to hate on either Paul Dano or John Cusack, but neither rank among the most acclaimed or most bankable actors of their respective generations. And the world wasn't exactly calling out for a biopic of The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. Yet, the reviews out of Venice last year were very strong. The promising film makes its international theatrical debut in the US with a release on the 5th of June. You can now expect it to be good.

GOING CLEAR - TRAILER FOR SCIENTOLOGY DOC


Convinced, as one may be inclined to be these days, of the increase in potential visibility and appreciation for documentary filmmaking on TV as opposed to that in cinemas, Alex Gibney's new film is getting a TV premiere next month, on the 29th of March, in the US. The film was met by much acclaim, a little disappointment and an enormity of media attention when it showed earlier this year at Sundance. To all my non North American readers, I'm afraid you'll not be able to view this trailer for Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, as HBO has not made it available for our viewing, so you'll have to search for it on another platform. A US theatrical release is currently slated for the 16th of May.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

REVIEW - LA MAISON DE LA RADIO (NICOLAS PHILIBERT)


A precise, precious film. There's little grand societal or philosophical worth to an examination of the workings of Radio France over 24 hours, and Nicolas Philibert knows that. His film, La Maison de la Radio, is economical and unpretentious, at least as unpretentious as its subjects. Philibert, perhaps in an attempt to provide variety for his edit, drops his camera in on a few musical recordings and rehearsals, an adjunct to all the backstage discussions and on-air debates - the musical segments at times only illuminate the oddity of French cultural tastes. Elsewhere, La Maison de la Radio indeed illuminates, though its significance as a portrait piece is dwarfed by its sheer enjoyability. Philibert deploys naturally-occurring humour and levity to wonderful effect, and responds to it by structuring his edit with an appropriate cheek, as well as a deft feel for rhythm and overall pacing. He's at a loss when it comes to winding his little concerto down - he appreciates the power of silence as well as any filmmaker, but not how to accent it - nevertheless, this is a finely-tuned work of technical skill and perceptiveness. One suspects that this enterprise was immaculately planned, but not practised, as the general spontaneity and unassumingness of his human subjects suggests. Rather, La Maison de la Radio feels like the product of sensitivity and care, and a deal of circumstantial luck. Either way, it's immensely engaging, and pretty thorough for its runtime, which is shy of two hours total. It doesn't amount to much, but Philibert's acceptance of that fact enables him to make precisely the kind of precious little film this ought to be.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

REVIEW - ESCOBAR: PARADISE LOST (ANDREA DI STEFANO)


The white man travels south to discover that the dreams he sought are not so simply obtained as he thought in Andrea di Stefano's unwittingly offensive Escobar: Paradise Lost. It functions as a fairly rancid warning to Westerners not to venture outside our beloved homelands without considerable caution, whilst venerating our supposed right to colonise at will. Not as big of a stretch as that might seem, regarding this film's narrative blueprint, since it's that narrative's principal propulsion. Escobar: Paradise Lost flirts with the politics that should have taken up such a position, that of providing momentum for the film's plot alongside moral ambiguity; di Stefano gladly employs such mild political uncertainty to lure us in and to shake us up, forcing it to dictate the directions of our sympathy. It's not difficult to see how much more complex matters must have been in reality, nor how much more complex it would have been to write this screenplay taking that into proper account. As a crass, simplistic thriller, though, Escobar: Paradise Lost has some wholly effective sequences, including an exciting final act that justifies the film's length - up to this point, its formulaic nature has caused serious dragging issues. Virtually the only aspect that keeps the film afloat at all is Benicio del Toro as Pablo Escobar - watch how del Toro does ostensibly so little, yet so thoroughly convinces you of his character. His power is palpable in even the slightest, subtlest of gestures, a subtlety that this film is so below, so unworthy of. Its only subtext is its soft-peddled xenophobia.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

THE WORST FILMS OF 2014


1. sxtape (Bernard Rose)
2. The Judge (David Dobkin)
3. The Equaliser (Antoine Fuqua)
4. Exodus: Gods and Kings (Ridley Scott)
5. Horns (Alexandre Aja)
6. Human Capital (Paolo Virzi)
7. The Sacrament (Ti West)
8. Very Good Girls (Naomi Foner)
9. The Humbling (Barry Levinson)
10. The Zero Theorem (Terry Gilliam)

Monday, 23 February 2015

REVIEW - EVERLY (JOE LYNCH)


Low-key, contained action films like Everly don't have much to do to ensure their success; they also don't have much to live up to. Expectations are low but inspiration is scarce, and there's a sense throughout Everly that it's entirely content with surpassing the quality of film many might presume it to succumb to. What a shame that Joe Lynch hadn't strove for greater - he didn't have much more to do to ensure his film's success. A deficient screenplay from Lynch and Yale Hannon establishes a high concept with plenty of promise but little in the way of originality: a hooker fends off mercenaries in her apartment after her pimp puts a hit out on her life. Lots to play with there, and indeed Everly's chops as a bloody revenge thriller are solid, but there's as little invention in Lynch's interpretation of this scenario as there is in that scenario to begin with. Yielding to the peculiar notion that one's female characters become empowered either once they are granted dialogue or, preferably, weaponry, Everly chooses to grant all its women with one, the other or both, and demonises all of its men. It's a story of woman's struggle to escape and defeat her male captors and keepers, but secondary to its identity as a brutal action film, and only ever viewed from the perspective of the oppressed female - the film is actually founded on the premise that its women must be subservient. The same grotesque fear of sexuality that can be found in dozens of similar titles mingles with a significant streak of racism to turn Everly's middle act fairly revolting, as does its general lust for violence. Still, on many levels, this is a competent action thriller, and easily superior to many of those titles - beyond this purview, though, Everly is a bit of a stinker.

THE 2014 ACADEMY AWARDS!


No comment.

Best Picture
Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole)

Best Director
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
J. K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

Best Original Screenplay
Armando Bo, Alexander Dinelaris, Nicolas Giacobone and Alejando Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)

Best Adapted Screenplay
Graham Moore (The Imitation Game)

Best Cinematography
Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman)

Best Film Editing
Tom Cross (Whiplash)

Best Production Design
Anna Pinnock and Adam Stockhausen (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Best Costume Design
Milena Canonero (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Best Sound Mixing
Thomas Curley, Craig Mann and Ben Wilkins (Whiplash)

Best Sound Editing
Bub Asman and Alan Robert Murray (American Sniper)

Best Visual Effects
Scott Fisher, Paul Franklin, Ian Hunter and Andrew Lockley (Interstellar)

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Mark Coulier and Frances Hannon (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Best Original Score
Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

Best Original Song
Lonnie Lynn Jr. and John Stephens - 'Glory' (Selma)

Best Animated Feature
Big Hero 6 (Roy Conli, Don Hall and Chris Williams)

Best Documentary Feature
Citizenfour (Mathilde Bonnefoy, Laura Poitras and Dirk Wilutzky)

Best Foreign Language Film
Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski) - Poland

Best Live Action Short Film
The Phone Call (Mat Kirkby and James Lucas)

Best Animated Short Film
Feast (Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed)

Best Documentary Short Subject
Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 (Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry)