I am intrigued by the concept: Willem Dafoe as a solitary mercenary, hunting the potentially extinct Tasmanian Tiger in the wilderness of this singular island. I am concerned by an early development: he is hired by a company, Redleaf, to execute this task - the threat that this will build into a standard corporate thriller is disappointing. Thankfully, this threat never fully materialises, but the film is constructed using so many other stock devices that it barely matters; this is a film that lays its cards on the table early, everything has the feel of predestination, and these familiar elements are developed into precisely the film you expected it to be within the first fifteen minutes. I began to wish that it would, indeed, build into a conventional thriller, as perhaps that might be more entertaining, but director Daniel Nettheim apparently intends to make something more respectable (read: slower), and just when things start happening (as they do a number of times), he strands his plot in favour of a predictable non-romance / family drama. I expect Dafoe signed on less because he liked the script than because he wanted to see what he could make of it...unusually little, in fact - he is at his best here when playing silent and methodical, as the film itself is, and, when it must, such a rote screenplay sounds so crass coming from the mouth of such an esteemed performer. Scenes in the wild are sumptuously shot, and curiously watchable, as Dafoe goes through the processes of accomplishing his task, but they are continuously cut short, as if Nettheim was worried that his audience was growing bored - on the contrary. None of this is particularly groundbreaking, but there is a promising, conventional film nestled against a dull, conventional film here, and I wish Nettheim knew which of these was the stronger.
Tuesday, 24 July 2012
I enjoy all good films, even if I don't particularly have 'fun' watching them. Killer Joe is a film to be enjoyed. It is thorough and vivid in almost all aspects of its form, it establishes ideas and follows them through to completion (some may feel that it goes even further than that). I suppose this isn't especially difficult with material such as Tracy Letts' screenplay - from his stage play - which is as crude and shallow as an episode of South Park, only much more cruel, but it is most satisfying to behold. Letts and William Friedkin are indulging us in ways familiar to us, only not quite to this extent. Other films might toy with the notion of making us laugh and retch simultaneously; Killer Joe makes you laugh wholeheartedly, even while watching a corrupt police officer sexually humiliating a married couple in a caravan. Indeed, thus, it doesn't just make you laugh, it lets you laugh. This is an opportunity to revel in this bad taste and depravity (a sign that the producers endorse this is their refusal to cut the film for an R rating in the US - they've accepted their delightfully brutal NC-17), and if you're even slightly reluctant to take this opportunity up, you'll only feel sick watching this film. But you certainly won't feel bored. Cinematography is appropriately lurid; the heat and grime is palpable. Performances are quite brilliant and as unsubtle as everything else on screen. The only thing this film didn't satisfy for me was my hunger - boy do I want a KFC...
Saturday, 21 July 2012
An epic of soulless brutality. The Dark Knight Rises exaggerates the most visceral elements of Christopher Nolan's previous Batman films, but doesn't augment them, and leaves all else alone. Gone is the eerie atmosphere and the psychological depth - this is a physical film, in which plot is driven by what, where and whom, not why. Perhaps it is appropriate that, in a film that has begun to reduce its characters down to their most basic long before they experience true desperation, Nolan should adopt such a lean tone, but he finds his intentions at odds with themselves: he seemingly wants to make both polemic and superhero movie, convey both desolation and mania simultaneously, and he betrays both strands of thought. We're bombarded with sounds and images of unrelenting menace, but there's no emotional heft with which to contextualise these, and they are presented merely as what they are, for our awe. If one scene manages to chip through and engage our hearts, not just our eyes and ears, it's purely due to the work of Michael Caine; after 2.5 hours, though, the only emotion I felt was despondency at how Nolan had mistreated characters I had come to care about in The Dark Knight. This treatment is a brave move on his behalf, but, considering the grand work he accomplished in developing these people and their relationships in that film, it seems improper to relegate them to the status of facilitators, crudely manufacturing tension with their time-bombs and double-crossing. Even the new characters deserve better - Bane's impact diminishes as the film drags on, and he's inexplicably shafted in a plot twist which, although it makes technical sense, hinders the narrative, stunts its momentum. However, there are some good performances, some well-handled sequences, and brilliant sound design that truly enhances the film. But a series of contrived closures only further contribute to the tonal haziness and underscore the sense of disappointment that Nolan has squandered this opportunity to expand upon the achievements of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and to produce something genuinely daring and creative. Instead, he has made something long, loud, and rarely more than serviceable.
Tuesday, 17 July 2012
Watching a David Cronenberg film can be like looking down a long, dark tunnel - you see nothing but what's in the tunnel, be that a lot or very little. This 'tunnel vision' applies to Cosmopolis, although the experience is different - this time, there's nothing happening in the tunnel, just a lot happening at the far end. It's a distancing experience, which I suppose was the intention, but also a tedious one, and if that too was Cronenberg's intention, this may be his most immature film to date. The thick, elaborate dialogue, barely comprehensible, the portentous evocation of threat, and every last supporting character are all rendered insignificant eventually, not because of what occurs nor what has occurred, but because they were insignificant all along too. At least with previous Cronenberg films, if you felt you didn't understand the characters once you left the theatre, you had still learnt something about them along the way, or were able to glean that their remoteness was profound, or had purpose. The people in Cosmopolis exist to be there, their words exist to be heard and forgotten, not understood. Their remoteness is a construct, designed to tease and frustrate us; this film is so self-aware. Nothing happens that could possibly relate to more than two other moments in the film, it's all for our appreciation. It's as though Cronenberg knew precisely what he wanted us to think and feel, and his filmmaking is arrogant in its presumptuousness. Occasionally, he exerts his directorial style on the material (things spring into life at the opening 'snip-snip' of the barber scene, somehow this scene feels more alert and comfortable than the others), at other times, it feels like he's inventing wholly new styles (the intensely focused sound mix is mesmeric), but too often it feels like he's a slave to his source material and the product ends up lacking in energy. Robert Pattinson is equally accountable - he acts as though someone switches him off when he's finished a line, then on when he has another one, and not even every time. The other cast members are generally more capable, but I felt nothing but sorrow when Samantha Morton appeared, and I remembered that she was in this, and thought she deserved so much more.
Thursday, 12 July 2012
There is a line between art-house filmmaking and commercial filmmaking, and it is visible in all of Steven Soderbergh's mainstream films. It's possibly their only fault, and it's one which they all share. The best crossover films don't seem to pay heed to this line - the film doesn't notice it and neither do we. But those moments, so integral to the substance of his work, where Soderbergh unexpectedly places a jump-cut, or uses a characteristically disorientating camera angle only draw our attention to it. Employed with greater frequency, they might fulfill greater stylistic purpose, although perhaps that may be too predictable for this most irreverent of American directors. In their current usage, though, they're jarring (if welcome) reminders of his capabilities as an artist. Magic Mike does afford him some luxuries in its concept - the locale, the attractive cast, the darker corners in the narrative - which play right into his hands, but maybe not enough. It's maybe a little too deep for such a surface-dwelling filmmaker, and he entrusts these depths for his actors to navigate (this is nothing new, and his films consistently feature superb ensemble performances, so he must be doing something right in this regard). The only actor who isn't up to scratch, expectedly, is Alex Pettyfer, but his insipidness suits his role. Cody Horn, previously unknown to me, is charming and natural as Pettyfer's sister, and Channing Tatum, well, Channing Tatum...I've always refuted the assumptions that he's not a good actor, but if you want to know how good an actor he is, just watch how good a stripper he is. A shame that, as he enriches the character to its fullest, the screenplay shits out such a conventional happy ending; it's not what happens that I object to, but the manner in which it is done, as if all of the discomfort and bleakness in all of these people's lives has been cleansed by a few corny lines and a kiss. Good luck getting that $10,000 back, mate.
Thursday, 5 July 2012
Here is a film with a duty to function as comic book adaptation, franchise reboot and independent entity - it's a lot for Marc Webb, directing only his second feature film, to juggle, and at first, it's too much. At times, a foreknowledge of the events of Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man film might help us appreciate moments in this film; at other times, we're encouraged to forget it altogether. The death of Uncle Ben, for instance, is mishandled here, but only in comparison to that other film. But whereas Raimi sped straight into his superhero story, Webb takes his time. As a result, we come to understand what it means to this young man to have transformed into a being unlike any other in recorded history, an understanding which no other superhero film has ever possessed so strongly. Webb has a deft touch for sweetness and humour, if somewhat soddened by an overbearing musical score here, and if he directs with no clear tone or style, he at least dispenses with the grating gaudiness Raimi contributed ten years ago. But such gaudiness might better serve the shlockier aspects of this story - Webb's manner is much too cool and too earnest for such B-movie elements as a talking lizard. The lasting impact of this film, though, will be in its depiction of its central relationship, and Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have such a talent for moulding their characters to meet their own personae - theirs is a believable relationship and it feels honest. It's the most successful element in this unambitious, muddled summer movie, and it makes it much more enjoyable.