Running for most of three hours, Xavier Dolan's third film as director is a moribund, monotonous drag (no pun intended), a chronicle of an unconventional relationship related in a conventional, uninvolving style. In fact, it's less a chronicle of a relationship than an examination of its two participants - even when they appear to be in harmony with each other, Dolan's focus is centred on them as individuals. Melvil Poupaud and Suzanne Clement display quite a lot of chemistry, and dig in deep to their roles, acting with the right amount of intensity. They don't once go over the top, although Dolan doesn't let them - his film is restrained to a fault, as he stretches it out in a futile attempt to convey the magnitude of this relationship in all its extraordinary complexity. But what magnitude? Close, honest relationships are intrinsically intimate, yet Dolan's depiction of this one is bloated and dreary. There's a framing device involving a journalist that suggests an epic biopic - this is not a radical decision, it is a misguided one. There are few genres in art as wretched as the epic biopic. He might as well have made Laurence Anyways a Western, or a Grand Guignol horror; it would have been more inappropriate, and perhaps a lot more fun because of that. The film does awake from its slumber on brief, sparsely-distributed occasions to exhibit a little life: the Roses are fun characters, and Dolan's soundtrack choices are super. He is on top form when dealing with people like these, the substance of his filmmaking seems to reflect the substance of his script, and herein lies the issue. Unhappy, bored, frustrated people living unhappy, boring, frustrating lives result, in Dolan's hands, in an unhappy, boring, frustrating film.
I don't demand of any film that it leaves me with no doubts, no questions as I walk out of the theatre. If I am unable to determine quite what sort of a film it was supposed to be, perhaps the problem is with me, and not the film. But I don't think David O. Russell knew quite what sort of a film he was trying to make in Silver Linings Playbook. It's a schizophrenic film, and an uncomfortable experience. The intentionally sloppy editing and use of music and humour contribute towards a manic style that is expected in Russell's films, and welcome too, until it obscures those details at the heart of Silver Linings Playbook, like the people, and their conflicts. Conflict surfaces regularly here, and it is frequently dampened by an irreverence on Russell's behalf and an unwillingness to probe deeper, thus stranding the conflict so that it can be speedily disposed of when it no longer suits to have it lingering in the background any more. The tonal inconsistency is bewildering, but tolerable, but when this irreverence extends to the characters and their personal troubles and motivations, Silver Linings Playbook loses its raison d'etre and becomes just another shallow rom-com, crafted only to satisfy the average undiscerning audience member. Bradley Cooper doesn't appear to grasp the concept of mental illness - the restless script helps him none, but there's too much knowingness in his gaze, and he's too quick to the punchlines to convince. Jennifer Lawrence battles against Russell's persistent objectification of her character, and gives Robert De Niro one particularly venomous glance that knocked my socks off, before being forced to contradict herself and senselessly spout football stats - Lawrence kills it in one sense, and Russell kills the film in another sense, both at the same time. Chris Tucker's character (whose name, if memory serves, was Token) turns up occasionally to say "Damn!"; Jacki Weaver is the sole leading cast member who seems to understand the film she's in and her purpose within it - she's understated and lovely. The dance routine finale is a fantastic summation of everything a David O. Russell film ought to be, and cheered me up a little, but much of the damage had already been done. For one thing, I've yet to see a film about football that I actually enjoyed.
Never before have I been more glad to have been unaware of the direction a plot would take. It is often the case that, when one is informed that a film contains a 'big twist', the mind searches the potential possibilities, and may eventually touch upon something close to what this 'big twist' actually is. You may guess what happens next in The Imposter (it is a documentary, so you need only look it up), but I think it is unlikely that you will. The storytelling is of such strength, though, that you are more likely to be so engrossed in this fascinating true story, related in a most cinematic manner that unveils each new development with the suspense and brio of a great thriller. The twists come thick and fast, indeed, and the very heart of this tale could even be considered one - it would be best to watch The Imposter with utterly no inkling of what will happen...I thought I had an inkling, until layer after layer was revealed, and some suspicions I had vaguely harboured, peculiar and apparently unfounded, began to take proper shape. And, beneath all of this bluster, these extraordinary events, director Bart Layton has the sense and sensitivity to transform The Imposter, to make it less a document, more of a study: a study of its main character, the imposter of the title, a man you'll think you understand, until one remarkable detail after another comes to light, and reconfigures every opinion you've made of him; a study of society, of a neglected story of the lives of the American neglected. They almost indict themselves in their naivety, and it's hard to feel sympathy for them, either at first or in the end, the opinions you've made of them may be entirely different. The imposter, amazingly, did not need to indict himself. In our eyes, his frightening, egotistical behaviour does the job anyway. A thorough, perceptive docudrama (a genre which generally makes me retch, although the staged segments here are cleverly employed, contributing to the excitement generated by the documentary segments, and only occasionally obscuring one's sense of this story as fact, rather than fiction) that is far more entertaining than the vast majority of documentaries, both for the tale it tells, and how it tells it.
A tender sincerity and sympathy for its protagonist make Kauwboy a uniformly moving experience throughout, such that the film's predictability and the familiarity of many of its scenes and motifs are of less importance than the intent that drives them, and lingers into the next scene, and the next. Screenwriters Jolein Laarman and Boudewijn Koole, who also directs, exhibit a clear sensitivity for the pre-pubescent Jojo, whose relationships with a baby jackdaw and a girl he meets at water polo practice, respectively, are born out of requirement, due to the death of his mother and his father's inevitable mental instability, but allow him to begin to mature personally. Moments of conflict abound, and their depiction is devoid of much originality in content, or flourish of style, but if this clears a route for their emotional clout to directly access the hearts and minds of viewers, then this is certainly for the better. The ending is optimistic, nudging at the line at which it might become unreasonably so, but its detour from the preceding mood is only minor, and the focus remains on the psychological impact of the central relationships on each involved party, which is handled with subtlety, clarity and notable humanism. Young Rick Lens is delightfully astute as Jojo, and gives an unambiguous performance that succinctly dispels the notion that it is never the young actor who is responsible for the quality of their work, but their director, although Koole can be faulted for very little in this film, if anything. An enjoyable, affecting slip of a film, in the end - it treads no new ground, but treads old ground with grace and feeling.
Although not quite in possession of the philosophical depth it tries to project, Ulrich Seidl's first film in his Paradise trilogy makes extensive use of its modest set-up, filling each moment with a realism that has a compelling allure. Seidl has a sure grip on the tone and purpose of his film, and he pushes it, perhaps past its welcome, but this perverse tactic may be a part of the plan. At the least, he pushes Love into the territory of entertainment - this is abstract, arthouse, thoroughly uncommercial pitch-black comedy made vaguely accessible. It has the veneer of some leaden, minimalist dirge, and yet a vitality and a sharpness of tone that lifts it, and the cinematography is striking and beautiful. Much of this vitality is due to Margarete Tiesel as Teresa in a brazenly open performance that demands very much from her - she tackles it with an ease and simplicity that attenuates these demands, and a naturalism that is bafflingly exact; she is gifted with the ability to convey spontaneity, which is a rare attribute indeed. Perhaps she, and the other cast members, all also very good, is aided by the improvisational script, which is, thankfully, on the upper end of the scale for such endeavours in terms of quality. Seidl finds himself adrift midway, and the film drags terribly, bereft of its visual ingenuity and pounding out the same rhetoric scene after scene - a rhetoric that we deduced some time ago. Then, as Teresa desperately submits herself to increasingly draining emotional experiences, Seidl's interest is seemingly reignited; this film is at its best when it is offered something new with which to distract us, as Seidl's point is made early and repeatedly. But distract it does - if Seidl is no more than a provocateur, he is an immensely skilled one, and this is his most soulful provocation yet.
The Master gets back in, even though I've finally seen it, and it's completely not their sort of film. But lots of people do like it! Also in, Naomi! I've got a bad feeling Marion might not make it, though... But NAOMI!
Just as Part 1 of the adaptation of the fourth book in Stephenie Meyer's series felt like half a movie, here comes the other half, and it too feels incomplete. Lurching into a story already in motion, the film spends over an hour fumbling through a plot that consists of one sole strain, which itself takes as thin a form as an encroaching threat. Said threat, the Volturi, rely on what menace they ascertained in previous installments in the franchise, and Melissa Rosenberg's typically cumbersome screenplay shuffles so often between scenes of (supposed) humour and (supposed) sexuality amid the stifled dramatic bluster that this threat has no space in which to build. Then, an apparently aimless movie launches into a bizarre finale that begins and ends so abruptly that, in the context of this film, it almost seems like I imagined it... As a final act in this saga, it may satisfy fans in singular need of just that - a fifth and final act, which easily explains Breaking Dawn Part 2's peculiar structure. But, if we're to judge it in relation to its predecessors, it ought to be noted that they all bore much stronger structures, and more purposeful narratives too - this one consists of little more than waiting for the baddies to arrive, then watching them leave; on a side note, why do they take so long to arrive? What about that super-fast movement they sometimes do? Or those massive jumps they're capable of? And where did Bella and Edward's new house come from? And who bothered decorating it? And quite why does their child age as many years as months she's been alive? And if you saw a man transform into a werewolf before your eyes, just how calm do you think you'd be? I'd have myself committed, but not Bella's father! Alas, perhaps I might find answers for these questions in Meyer's morally obsolete books. This film was not made for me, I guess, it was made for those who have already read the books, and know them much too well for their own good. I believe that a good film should appeal to everybody - I cannot get my head around the Twilight saga, and so it does not appeal to me.
A film so obscure, even its obscurities are obscure. It's not easy to define quite how The Master is so cryptic a film to comprehend - its content is largely straightforward, and immediately clear, yet in context it develops a hazy veneer, all unfinished and rough around the edges. It's as if Paul Thomas Anderson set out to conduct an examination of the human mind, and dug so deep into two particularly extreme minds that he realised the unfathomable depth of his subject, and settled for what he could decipher. That alone is enough, though. If the pit truly is bottomless, we're at least lucky to be told that it is so. Anderson's work is characterised by his leads, two men whose respective countenances dictate the tone and the movement of the entire film. Early scenes are marked by a restlessness, as Freddie flounders manically through his existence, establishing a direct yet distanced style that keeps us constantly aware that we are observing, never participating. This is an almost-unrelentingly cerebral experience, and not especially stimulating - rather, it is a gently penetrating experience, as the film winds its way around its characters' minds, and one's own. Anderson plays tease, with allusions towards psychological discussions of sexuality (and homosexuality), spirituality, the nature of man and of animals, both in separation or as one, but only ever passingly, enough to fire up a synapse or two, never fully capitulating to such potential discussions. It's another exhibition of the vastness of the subject, but Anderson is a completionist (I am aware that this is a made-up word, but aren't all words?), and won't be content with exorcising such details for the sole purpose of de-cluttering. Indeed, this is one of the most complete films I've seen in a long time, not least in how its substance so exactly replicates the psychoses of its human figures (as thorough in their creation as you're ever likely to witness on screen). And what's certainly not obscure is Anderson's achievement here - The Master is a wholly new creation, whether in concept or in execution (perhaps in both). To watch it is to watch the medium of cinema evolve before one's eyes.
Michael Winterbottom has consistently more faith in his experiments than I do. He executes them without fault, but it is not in their execution that I find any fault, it is in their conception. I enjoy most films like Everyday - observing ordinary people living (generally) ordinary lives, and the idea of visiting the same family over the course of five years (and shooting in the same time span) harbours some potential interest. But Winterbottom gently lays the manifestation, most credible, of his idea on the screen. He imbues it with no character, and his passivity kills all that potential interest. Reality is what we have to be content with as people; on film, we seek fulfillment in whatever concept we are presented with. There are directorial methods of enhancing reality on screen without sacrificing any authenticity. Winterbottom foregoes these methods, intentionally, I believe, and his film suffers resultantly. The unrehearsed quality of the acting is enchanting, though - the four children are played by amateur siblings, each using their own name, and played quite exceptionally. There is nothing artificial in their acting, they are not self-consciously 'natural', even, as so many professional actors often are. Shirley Henderson is also very good as their mother, although John Simm is apparently incapable of suggesting any profound measure of character - he's Everyday's everyman, when he ought to be its most striking feature. Photography (by five DPs) is fine, and Michael Nyman accomplishes his usual feat of ingratiating his score into the film's pre-existing texture and, thus, redefining it.
A patchy drama that springs several compelling scenes on you amidst a few tepid ones which undo much of the instinctive work achieved elsewhere. After a traumatic sequence aboard a plummeting aircraft, Robert Zemeckis manages to sustain the dramatic impetus, an impressive accomplishment for the fact that he does so without instigating any forward movement in the plot for the first hour. Extended diversions with superfluous characters, a gradual development in our understanding of the life of Denzel Washington's Whip Whitaker, the heroic pilot with drug and alcohol addictions - none of this would suggest an especially entertaining film, but it provides ample sustenance for our attention. Once the plot pot is stirred, though, it must be attended to near-constantly, and much of what has kept Flight on its feet for the first hour becomes a nuisance in the second. Kelly Reilly has such a potency as an actor, but her scenes eventually become annoyances to the viewer, needlessly distracting, even if dramatically satisfying. Propulsion is regained in a scene set at a crucial hearing towards the end, and the lead actors are all convincing and give smart, varied performances, but the many mistakes drain Flight of its effectiveness - consider Whip's addictions, depicted as pure, simplistic, easy to understand and easy to combat; distilled down enough that they can function as just one element in his story, when they could have been the entire story themselves. And the final scene is sickly in its sanitised optimism. Such a shame that Zemeckis so often yields to commercialism and sentimentality - he establishes some subtly irregular moments within an audaciously unconventional structure, but largely shoots them in a bland, uncreative style that diminishes his own inventiveness and technical prowess.
Ambition can count for a lot, and it can count for very little. Anyone can have an ambitious thought, develop it into an ambitious concept, but only the brave see their ambitions through. And only the talented do so with success. Cloud Atlas is an ambitious film in that it tells six stories, separated in time and place (even worlds), yet connected in spiritual ways, and by important similarities in the content of their narratives. These are ambitious thoughts, spun into a web of a concept by author David Mitchell, adapted (ambitiously) by Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski in a largely workmanlike manner, despite the talent that might have turned it into a successful film, the talent that is evident from (some of) their previous works. They seem more interested in merely getting through the masses of plot necessary to communicate the story's central themes than in crafting a film of grace and style, as it so often screams out to be. The visuals are flat, the screenplay provides little nourishment for each actor in their individual roles (all the principal cast members take on several roles apiece), the fortunes of Cloud Atlas are balanced almost solely on Mitchell's contribution, and the directors' cinematic interpretation of its developments and its key meanings. This all works, thankfully, but I only occasionally felt as stirred as I would have liked to have been, and as I think I was expected to. All of the stories save one (An Orison of Sonmi-451) lack in momentum at one point or another, with a few even rather redundant on the whole, and, although the essential idea of spiritual connection between people over time and space is articulated very neatly, the casting gimmick is frequently used as more of a sly quirk for our fleeting delectation than as an expression of anything especially psychologically satisfying. Yet that ambition...it still counts for quite a lot: I was not bored once (for most of three hours!), and, even at its most underwhelming, Cloud Atlas is never actually bad. It's just not actually that good either.