A classical historical drama that serves not to remind us of our place in the history it documents, but to remind us of its place in the cinematic history it references. Christian Petzold finds an ideal conduit for his lean, measured, expressive style in the classics of old, and conjures up some of their movie magic with a modern classic of his own. The screen virtually simmers with tension and with emotion equally deep and deeply buried. Phoenix is, alas, one of those films where you wonder if your lasting impression is of the film as a whole or of just one scene - never mind, that impression is what it is either way, and if Petzold wishes to draw focus in on one particular moment over the others, then why shouldn't he? Otherwise, Phoenix is subdued, and quite appropriately so: Petzold thus turns our thoughts outward from the film, onto ourselves, the frequent stillness and contemplation, the rumination over a devastating past and a bewildering present. We are posed a variety of questions, each as impossible to answer succinctly as the last, and thus a long-lasting impression is definitively formed. Yet more questions reside within the film, which keeps you guessing with use of subtle, human red herrings, and a tentative, cloistered atmosphere that provides no certainty to even the smallest of occurrences. Petzold's simple mise-en-scene may not cover for occasional lack of intensity, but it's that intensity that Phoenix thrives off in its most unshakeable sequences. Nina Hoss is an equal creative collaborator with Petzold, undoubtedly, the restrained power of her immensely expressive performance ultimately proving shattering - no question, this is a feat of incredible skill from the great actor; opposite her, Ronald Zehrfeld at least makes you half realise why this desperate woman does what she does. And there's that one particular moment, the one I mentioned before. You'll know it when you see it.
Tuesday, 31 March 2015
Monday, 30 March 2015
You could hardly ask for more from your princess story. Actually, maybe you could, like last year's transcendent Grace of Monaco, but Disney's live-action Cinderella is a fine facsimile of the archetypal tale, and as gently heart-stirring and eye-wetting as you could ask for indeed. It's largely intended to induce swoons and sighs, and to make young girls and old gays wet themselves in wonder. Wouldn't you know that cinephiles of all ages might be inclined to join them - well, what better reaction to the sheer glory of Dante Ferretti's most opulent production design or to Sandy Powell's most decorative costumes? Kenneth Branagh directs with a customary exuberance that recent developments in his career have encouraged us to forget - it's actually more the exuberance of his mise-en-scene; his style is rigidly controlled, but you understand that he couldn't leave any of this to chance, lest it be spoilt by any errant waywardness. None such in Cate Blanchett, whose enviable wardrobe utterly bellows out money, honey, more money than you've ever seen! Cate's in high drag here, with millinery that could cause an eclipse, and might well be angling for a spin-off. But it's the delicate romance of the central story, with Lily James a touching, sympathetic lead, that wins over one's heart, and you'll surely cheer as she earns the love, respect and wedding dress that she deserves, thereby trouncing her wicked stepmother. You could hardly ask for anything more from your princess story, could you?
Saturday, 28 March 2015
Pause for a moment, as Melanie Laurent does not appear inclined to do, and observe where this filmmaker places her camera. It's simple innovation like this that makes Respire such a rewarding watch, even for all of its faults. The artistry in communicating so much, so subtly, purely by the choice of camera position - we thus become attuned to Charlie's world, observant of the influences present in her life. Would that we only knew how they influenced her, and this becomes one situation wherein we actually are appreciative of such a straightforward narrative. Alas, for all that Laurent brings to Respire, and she likely makes of Anne-Sophie Brasme's novel as strong a film as anyone could have, she never lingers long enough to provide real insight, nor even seems to attempt to. We remain attuned to the bigger picture, to physical surroundings and to emotional context, but at a detachment from what's driving these people to actually do what they do. Nevertheless, Laurent makes her thematic intentions both plain and clear to see and somewhat obscured, depending on the intention - its richness is apparent on immediate consumption, but may not be able to develop over time. The film is over sooner than you'd expect, though maintains a lively pace as a result of its brevity; what occurs is both wholly prosaic and, eventually, melodramatic in a genuinely shocking, almost preposterous manner over the final half hour. The performances, deftly done, will keep a firm hold on your sympathies, and the immense promise that Laurent shows in certain aspects of her mise-en-scene will keep a firm hold on your interest.
You better work that English spelling! I'd been expecting less from the teaser trailer for the new James Bond movie, Spectre, but it reveals just the right amount to pique my interest. Director Sam Mendes departs from DP Roger Deakins for only the second time since 2002's Road to Perdition, with the talented Hoyte van Hoytema stepping in on cinematography duties, with sumptuous results, as evidenced above. The editor is Lee Smith, best known for his work on Christopher Nolan films, which ought to be another good sign for Bond #24. Unusually, the UK and Ireland gets this exclusively before everyone else, on the 23rd of October. A US and Canada release then arrives on the 6th of November.
The confines of a small fishing boat translate into the confines of a filmmaker's imagination in Haemoo, a tense drama whose disappointment is so acutely felt because its promise exists alongside it, entirely evident in the film itself. That filmmaker is Shim Sung Bo, though co-writer Bong Joon Ho could, perhaps, share credit for Haemoo's unremarkable simplicity. One wonders what the intentions ever were, to construct a scenario so formally familiar and to treat it as an opportunity to showcase Shim's abilities as a capable hack? Twists on this theme do occur, albeit in short supply, but Shim and Bong only use them to pursue an equally pedestrian route as before toward mediocrity, just from a different perspective. Those twists, some of them effectively the sole moments in Haemoo where emotion is employed to drive the plot, are starkly, austerely presented for the better part, and the finest elements of the film. And it is tense, which human thrillers like this must, by necessity, be. Yet all the promise it shows and promptly wastes: principally, the fishing boat on which most of the film is situated, pokey and cramped, dirty and damp - Shim skimps on atmospherics, preferring bland compositions dominated by flat, saturated jewel tones, and fails to even acknowledge the characteristics of the space he's working with, as a multitude of characters seem to disappear for huge amounts of time on such a small vessel. It's that setting and that premise which are so appealing about Haemoo, and eventually what are also so disappointing. A confined film, in almost every sense of the word.
Friday, 27 March 2015
...because we all know it's Amy Schumer's Trainwreck, and not Judd Apatow's. Despite finding features to like in all of his other films, This Is 40 rly did Apatow in for me, and none of the others have lingered particularly well anyway. Even though this trailer feels almost as long as that last film, critics report that it's actually pretty decent, and represents exactly the comeback that Apatow was in such desperate need of. Out in the US on the 17th of July - a bullish summer spot from Universal - and in the UK on the 28th of August.
The better your intentions, the further they're likely to get you. Utterly average filmmaking often engenders below-average films, though, so mediocre filmmakers beware: buck up your intentions! X+Y has a nice, cute, well-intentioned premise, but its short-sightedness and its attraction toward cliche cut its potential power in half. The engendered result is, indeed, below-average. There's such empathy at the heart of this film that it's almost guaranteed to connect with even the most heartless of viewers, and the validity of this empathy is proven as X+Y tests all viewers' patience as real life does too. The difficulties of living with autism-spectrum disorders are delineated not only for the sufferers but for those in their company. That empathy is deeply well-intentioned, and the intentions are pure as far as they reach - what of the equally compelling struggles of those in the company of our withdrawn protagonist? Asa Butterfield is an ideal lead, and he gets the characterisation spot on, but it was the beaten-down sensitivity of Sally Hawkins' character, a loving mother who feels unloved in return, that most drew my empathy out (and I'm an AS sufferer myself). Either character's story might have been more compelling still had it not been for the aforementioned average filmmaking; flattering lighting, quotable scripting, pedestrian editing, unambitious framing, predictable plotting - all present and incorrect, ensuring that no amount of good intentions can get X+Y very far at all. Another one for the coffee table.
Thursday, 26 March 2015
Now, this is a curious one. One that makes you wonder what exactly those involved thought they were getting into. Hey, a job's a job! I'm not always one to require clarity from a film, but a sense of what that film intends to achieve can't hurt. Wild Card no doubt was once a rather different proposition than it ended up, with its conflicting artistic impulses and stuttering storyline; what remains is rarely less than satisfactory, but truly never more. And, while I may have responded favourably toward many aspects of this film, they lack cumulative impact. Simon West, directing, displays no clear idea of what binds Wild Card's multitudinous narrative and stylistic strands together - indeed, he displays no care to even develop such an idea, and he coaxes only a serviceable performance from Jason Statham, the one common feature throughout. As the eccentricities of this character fail to align with Statham's indifferent turn, we amble through a procession of subplots that are diverting in themselves, but whose power dissipates as soon as the scene changes, and attention is diverted elsewhere. Yet talent abounds in Wild Card, albeit in concentrated doses - an eclectic combination including Oscar-winning composer Dario Marianelli, Corey Yuen on choreography in sparingly-used action sequences, and actors who come close to making Wild Card as riveting as it ought to be, actors like Hope Davis and Stanley Tucci. And with West, Statham and writer William Goldman on board, that sounds like a curious mix, doesn't it?
Wednesday, 25 March 2015
This trailer for World Cinema Dramatic Jury Prize winner Slow West betrays either the inadequacy of the competition at Sundance this year or the laziness of the jury. Meh, John MacLean's western is out on the 15th of May in the US and on the 26th of June in the UK, and is destined to be fairly swiftly forgotten about by most of us genuine tastemakers thereafter. Oh, alright, it looks good... like, it looks good, what with Robbie Ryan's cinematography, and, um... this.
To be fair to Xavier Dolan's Mommy, it lets you know early on exactly what type of film it intends to be. Perhaps, then, don't allow yourself to be fooled by its bracing, brazen intensity, though do allow yourself to be seduced by it, by all means. This garish portrait of life in all its glorious gaucheries is a genuine piece of pop culture and as charmingly contemporary as any film you'll see - who'd have thought it from a filmmaker seemingly too concerned with his own position in the history of film to pause and observe that history as it occurs? For Dolan, whatever broader context this might imply is shunted out by a restrictive aspect ratio, one of many gimmicks that reveal themselves to be valid storytelling tools in such expressive, perceptive usage. Just about everything that Dolan throws at Mommy is bold and potentially crass, yet employed so ideally herein that one's critical eyes are softened, these tools obviously no less eligible manipulations of the cinematic form than any more 'prestigious' ones. Dolan makes you respond positively - he shows you what you thought couldn't be done, not what you always knew could be. When his artistic ambition extends to his plotting, though, you'll see what shouldn't have been done. Granted, you knew it was coming, but Dolan can't find any tools in his arsenal to make these narrative contrivances palatable; if, at least, they provide his actors with scope to pour their hearts out in impressive, varied fashion, they're hardly unique in even that, not in this film. The sour inevitability of Mommy's missteps and their growing frequency erodes the forgiveness developed earlier in the film, when minor stylistic indulgences appeared more like canny artistic reflection of the emotional instability of the characters. Beloved by some, reviled by others, Xavier Dolan still has much maturing to do as a filmmaker, but he's already done far more than I imagined he ever would.
Tuesday, 24 March 2015
Not gonna dwell on the Chlotrudis awards this year for too long, since I'm totally done with awards season and kinda enjoying a break from hearing about other people's invalid opinions. But take a look at the choices the Chlotrudis voters have made - they're pretty good, and pretty varied too. Far better than that other lot. And take a look at their nominations too: they're right here.
Koreeda Hirokazu (Like Father, Like Son)
Tom Hardy (Locke)
Anne Dorval (Mommy)
Best Supporting Actor
J. K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Best Supporting Actress
Agata Kulesza (Ida)
Best Original Screenplay
Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida)
Best Adapted Screenplay
Lukas Moodysson - based on the novel by Coco Moodysson (We Are the Best!)
Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal (Ida)
Sandra Adair (Boyhood)
Best Production Design
Marco Bittner Rosser (Only Lovers Left Alive)
Best Use of Music in a Film
Mica Levi (Under the Skin)
Best Performance by an Ensemble Cast
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Finding Vivian Maier
Rocks in My Pockets
Sunday, 22 March 2015
I'm not sure how much behind the scenes gay-bashing I can take in one trailer, but between Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Jeremy Renner and even Lauryn Hill on the soundtrack, this 60-second job ought to give me my fill. Director Christopher McQuarrie made his name with the overrated The Usual Suspects and has spent the twenty years since letting everybody down. The Tourist, people. Cack the Giant Slayer. He ain't no Brad Bird. This will come out in the UK and the US both on the 31st of July. Tom Cruise will not.
It's oddly easy to let The Gunman just wash over you - this anaemic action movie doesn't make much of an impact for better or worse, so one can sit back and appreciate the simple pleasures it provides. Though not a total waste of time, The Gunman washes off too quickly to be honestly recommended, and thus can be shrugged off with equal ease. This kind of artistically nondescript, functionally plotted thriller keeps getting resurrected every year at the movies, as frequently in international film industries as in Hollywood; there's precious little left to say or to prove in this niche of the market, and The Gunman's filmmakers actually seem keen to exploit the fact that there's no point in trying any more. Rather than attempt even a minute variation on this timeworn theme, they stroll through the motions in the contemptuous belief that anyone might care when they do not. The only person involved who does seem to care is Sean Penn, but he does his best to conceal his flailing desperation. This is a reinvented Sean Penn, a stoic, muscular, skilled action hero and effortless womaniser, but Penn's ego maintains much of his old cinematic persona: intelligent, honest, painfully self-righteous. Combine each of these callous, self-aggrandising characters and form a film around the wholly uncharismatic product of the two, and you have The Gunman, a silly, formulaic, manipulative and plainly boring piece of work, with a horrendously didactic screenplay (the opening credits dialogue is just the worst, no rly it's the worst). Lively supporting actors like Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone and Sir Lord King Emperor God Mark Rylance are the only reasons to let this trumped-up trash wash up anywhere near you.
Hello Good Kill trailer, not far off seven months after Andrew Niccol's new film premiered at TIFF 2014. The Ethan Hawke film is one of a number of promising thrillers from the recently Oscar-nominated actor; it received reviews as good as its kills on the festival scene last year, which is to say they could have been better, could have been worse. Out in the UK on the 10th of April, and a slightly delayed release in the US, on the 15th of May. The impressive cinematography is from overexposed and underrated DP Amir Mokri.
Saturday, 21 March 2015
Such a laughable scenario, the only appropriate response is to laugh. You might do so in bemusement at how fundamentally deficient direction renders basic ideas baffling; you might do so in amusement at the heinous dialogue. Who cares how you choose to laugh through the pain, so long as you just do. That's not what makes Insurgent more bearable than its franchise predecessor Divergent - that'd be the simple fact that it's shorter, though no such temporal relief can enliven the two whole hours that Insurgent wastes getting roughly nowhere. A most rudimentary of narrative principles is callously discarded, as the entire plot of this shallow series of cash-grab action movies relies on a committed emotional investment from its audience. Investment in what? Whether in its essential structural design or in the smallest details in the most negligible of set-pieces (given the length here devoted to adolescent politicking, the film's set-pieces are largely all negligible in one way or another), Insurgent depends upon a colossal suspension of disbelief. And the filmmakers are so certain of the innate urgency of all of their conceits, they opt not to spend valuable time making a satisfactory piece of work, since such time could be spent making easy money - now that's value! When a screenplay develops a post-political society and yet has no comprehension of politics itself, where CGI is so violently bad they can't even make a tiny flock of birds look believable, the only appropriate response is to laugh. But while Insurgent may be the most consistently funny film yet this year (or may not, in truth), it's also the most consistently dull.
Friday, 20 March 2015
Melodrama needs not lack subtlety - it may, at times, benefit stylistically from such a lack, but it's no necessity. It needs not sacrifice depth for breadth, either. Even as it is, shorn of what could have been a more expansive resolution or perhaps even many more chapters of the French experience during WWII, Suite Francaise boasts a terrific story. Irene Nemirovsky's skills may have been translated into this film's shortcomings, however - this is too respectful, too tasteful an adaptation. With indifferent bluster, Saul Dibb dutifully covers all his bases, delivering decent dramatics with a familiarly overblown overtone, insisting on the gravity of his material rather than actually trying to engender it. If the intention was to craft a film devoted to love and beauty, and their quiet resilience under immense duress, his own expression is too quiet and his focus shaken by his curiously casual interest in supporting storylines. I appreciate Dibb's ambitious vision, but I consistently felt like I ought to have cared more, and was never afforded any opportunity to invest anything significant in what are undeniably stirring stories. Thus, Suite Francaise is a paragon of handsomeness, as respectable as it is respectful, but no more. The acting is strong - Michelle Williams can always be relied upon to disappear completely into character, Ruth Wilson gives yet another spirited performance, Kristin Scott Thomas dispenses one particularly devastating tearful glare that'll knock your stockings off. All the women, yes: Suite Francaise's finest feature is that it is unapologetically, unremarkably (that's the key, you see) feminist.
And so we enter into a new phase of filmmaking, not as the result of a clean break but due to an escalating transition that seems now to have reached its target. Whereas I often support filmmakers who choose to disregard the unwritten rules of their craft and forge their own paths, the patchy manner in which this process is completed in Home suggests that its filmmakers have done so out of carelessness, not out of care. DreamWorks Animation doesn't even acknowledge the futility of hiring an A-list voice cast - a questionable strategy in the past, but even more curious with Home, since viewers under 10 are rarely swayed by the presence of Steve Martin in their movies. You see, Home is a movie made solely for viewers under 10. It favours colour and comedy over story and stability, setting its zany scenario in a newly-imagined world established without context, developed without breadth of vision. The film feels rushed and cloistered; its colours and comedy are respectively unattractive and unfunny too, for the most part. As it lumbers uneasily into its shabby third act, Home does acquire a moderate level of emotional gravitas, and the animators finally indulge in some genuine creativity, but it's too little too late, and director Tim Johnson still seems too eager to hurry things forward. At best, Home feels like a promising film truncated into something short, forgettable and easily digestible. But what has been truncated is, itself, inherently deficient; its chief virtues, in the end, are that it is short and forgettable, but its digestibility is in doubt.
Monday, 16 March 2015
Everyday life as both thriller and horror, and naturally so. Not Catch Me Daddy's tension nor its terror, nor even its startling emotions, exist as the result of some artistic machinations, though Daniel Wolfe displays a canny touch for intensification through stylistic manipulation. The sad and scary honesty of their conceit hits hardest, even if it's tinged by a slight complacency; Catch Me Daddy seems more concerned with relating the artistry it has sought out and discovered in a story that appears to repel all such pretensions than it is concerned with relating the truthfulness on which it is founded. Put simply, some of the power is lost in the pretense. But what skill there is in this film, particularly in the aforementioned ability of the filmmakers to extract stylish storytelling from a scenario that might seem immune to anything of the sort. Robbie Ryan's cinematography is highly expressive, depicting images either of hope and clarity seeping into bleak, foggy despair or of the opposite - smart summarisations of the film's preoccupation with the juxtaposition of personal happiness with the brutality, even lethality, of human existence. Daniel and co-writer Matthew Wolfe present their protagonist as a person of contradictions, a fragile figure of delicacy and modernity literally set against a variety of intolerant cultures, intent either on reverting her nature to theirs and destroying her identity or on simply destroying her life. Given the mix of apparent inevitability and persistent hope, Catch Me Daddy works best at its most elemental, as a tale of the struggle to evade and escape one's real-life demons. It's everyday life indeed, both horrible and horribly thrilling.
Saturday, 14 March 2015
A welcome tonic to the early Spring diet of Summer blockbuster trailers and early-year dreck. Radius-TWC have their hands on Ben and Joshua Safdie's Heaven Knows What, the indie drama based on Arielle Holmes' tale of drug life in New York that premiered last August in Venice to the tune of the festival's C.I.C.A.E. award. The intense trailer above gives an idea of why the film was met with such acclaim upon screening on the Lido.
One of the unsung stars of the American LGBT filmmaking scene has died. Richard Glatzer will be known to most as one half of the writing and directing team that comprised himself and his husband Wash Westmoreland; they collaborated on four films together, including cult hit The Fluffer, Sundance hit Quinceanera (it won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for US Dramatic films there) and The Last of Robin Hood, starring Kevin Kline, Dakota Fanning and Susan Sarandon. It was 2014's Still Alice, though, that ended his short film career (it began in 1993 with his solo directorial offering Grief) with the most acclaim, as Julianne Moore won many accolades, including an Academy Award, for her leading part in the Alzheimer's drama. Glatzer died due to complications from ALS - he was diagnosed with the disease in 2011, but chose to continue to make films and serve as a consultant on TV's America's Next Top Model (a personal favourite of mine) despite his increasingly disabled physical state. He was only 63 when he passed on Tuesday the 10th of March. His presence in the filmmaking community will be much missed by audiences who have appreciated his work for years now, and of course by his friends and family.
One oft-discussed feature of American action thrillers is their unawareness of thematic content. Filmmakers are generally so preoccupied with how they present material that they overlook what that material actually is, and what it may mean. Not so with Run All Night, an effective piece of work as an action thriller and an impressive one given its self-awareness. If only it weren't so formulaic, and thereby so inherently deficient as a film outright. Brad Ingelsby's screenplay colours all its characters as self-consciously 'complex' persons, but uses this screenwriting platitude for more profound means than a simplistic statement on the ugliness of humanity. He's challenging us to shift our sympathies in accordance with the action, not the characters involved, and also challenging us to assess what is signified by such shifts. Everyone in Run All Night has purpose to do what they do, so why is it that we align our support, even our compassion, with only a certain few? Is it because we see Liam Neeson in the leading role? We're beyond accustomed to seeing Neeson in parts like these, this moderate variation on a tired theme doesn't quite distinguish it from his other recent roles. Nor does the New York mob setting distinguish the film from its peers. Nor the perfunctory styling. Nor the film's antiquated perception of women and their place in society, though it does at least neatly reflect the perception that the men in Run All Night must have of them. With thrilling action and a welcome interest in the construction of at least some of its characters, Run All Night couldn't be classed as a bad film overall. It's just not quite a good one either.
Thursday, 12 March 2015
Following too many sequels and some less-inspired offerings, Pixar Animation Studio appears to be back on track with Inside Out, at least based on the scenario and the three trailers so far, of which this latest one is the third. Pete Docter and Ronaldo del Carmen's comedy drama arrives in US theatres on the 19th of June, and then, after a typically long wait for American animated films, in UK theatres on the 24th of July. But then we have free healthcare, so I'm cool.
A slight change in title and a sudden burst of marketing suggest to me that Disney is losing faith in Tomorrowland's prospects, and I'll admit that a bombastic trailer doesn't quite convince me. But I trust Brad Bird, and seemingly so does Disney. We're making baby steps here: white? Check. Young? Check. Blonde? Check. Attractive? Check. Male? No, and that' where my hopes take root in Tomorrowland. The insanely talented crew includes Life of Pi's Claudio Miranda on cinematography, Jeffrey Kurland on costumes, legendary editor and sound designer Walter Murch and Craig Wood on editing and Michael Giacchino on scoring. Release dates for much of the world span the 20th to the 22nd of May, with the US and UK alike receiving it on the 22nd.
Tuesday, 10 March 2015
A new form of expression, or at least one so underused as to feel new. David and Nathan Zellner know where to look, then, to find ways of making their artistic proposals seem fresh, necessary particularly when they're so boldly moulding their career after two other Midwestern filmmakers. What's most fascinating about Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is not the content of its themes but the manner of their presentation. The Zellners succeed in risking profundity in favour of comedy, and while Kumiko is certainly a funny film, it's also impressively eloquent through its humour. The tone is neither droll nor mocking, it's actually fairly austere, even tragic; the comedy is expressed in broad, clear devices, and these are also how David and Nathan express their thematic concerns. How they achieve both simultaneously is remarkable, not least for the relative originality of such a gambit. Their main character, Kumiko, remains terrified and taciturn for much of the film, but she is a richly drawn role: depicted as a destructive force, unwittingly so, and one whose confused rejection of both the constraints of tradition and the conveniences of modernity situate her in a place and time almost devoid of purpose or context. Savvy costume choices set her apart from the world around her, while Kikuchi Rinko offers insight into whatever world she inhabits, though not too deep an insight as to upset the integrity of the character. There is, in both her work and the Zellner brothers', an obstinate denial of the now commonplace language of American independent film, albeit only a subtle subversion, ostensibly. To our eyes, it feels new and fresh, and extremely effective.
Monday, 9 March 2015
Although not, overall, the very worst comedy released by a Hollywood studio in recent years, Unfinished Business probably represents the deepest trough they've sunk to, the measliest gains they've reaped. It's a bizarre state of affairs when a globe-trotting comedy is remarkable mostly for seeming small, cheap, unambitious and unusually sad. Many wannabe funny-films find humour in pushing boundaries or in inviting mild ridicule to easy targets - Unfinished Business takes two targets so easy that any potential offense is mitigated by the functionality of the jokes, and mines mostly sorrow from them. It's a vaguely harrowing experience watching Tom Wilkinson humiliate himself with material this vulgar, with a character so wan you wonder if he'd rather just top himself than bother another day. Dave Franco injects his role with a blithe innocence that renders him adorable when he's not just pitiful. It's alternately depressing and relieving to watch these two actors, less so their co-star Vince Vaughn, whose tired shtick doesn't even inspire him any more. But Vaughn's flaws as a performer are only a fraction of Unfinished Business' problems. Director Ken Scott and screenwriter Steve Conrad appear undecided where the humour lies in their joint creation, resulting in a relentless procession of odd moments where you're unsure if you ought to laugh or not. Alas, objectively, there's precious little humour in here at all, so you probably ought not to. Furthermore, this turd is polished with generous spoonfuls of casual sexism and homophobia, pathetic prudishness and a half-arsed message about self-empowerment. Enough, already.
Sunday, 8 March 2015
With each new scene in Neill Blomkamp's Chappie, my thoughts, both critical and sympathetic, took a new turn, trying to evaluate precisely where the film went so wrong. Indeed, not even merely with each new scene, but with each new shot, or with each new line of dialogue. So, I'd settle on an answer: it's Die Antwoord, the rap group whose frontman and woman take roles in Chappie so large they're basically leads. Neither member of the group possesses basic acting abilities, and to hear them drone through each new line in the script is a painful, distancing experience. But then no, that's not the answer, they're not at fault: it's that script, Blomkamp's latest in a consistent run of clunky screenplays. Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell don't know how to write dialogue that sounds natural or even seems to feel right coming out of an actor's mouth. Even Chappie's scenario is cumbersome, a simple concept undone by too many ideas and muddled philosophies. Actually, maybe that's the answer: there's just too much going on in Chappie for it to properly function as a satisfactory action movie. The film toys with different ethical notions regarding artificial intelligence, but truncates that theme into simplistic strains that it bundles into functional characters, then uses these ideas as a conduit for naff comedy sketches, violent action set-pieces or plot threads that veer off in every direction yet never seem to go anywhere, before abandoning them. Or maybe it's those action scenes: they're needlessly violent at times, and overly bombastic, difficult to follow at virtually all times. Or maybe it's Chappie himself, one of the most irritating CGI characters in memory. Or maybe it's Hugh Jackman's rugby ball (what, because he's Australian?). Or maybe it's the pointless framing device, framing only the first scene of the film. Or maybe it's the fact that anyone thought an Indian kid from Harrow would ever be named Deon. With each new wrong turn that Chappie takes, it undoes all of its potential, all of its good intentions. What a mess.
Saturday, 7 March 2015
That most acclaimed of documentarians, the inimitable Albert Maysles, has died. He passed at night on Thursday, the 5th of March 2015. Born in 1926 in Boston but raised in Brooklyn, Albert suffered from learning disabilities as a child, but learned to use the unique perspective on life that this afforded him upon his venture into filmmaking as an adult. Although his first feature was 1955's Psychiatry in Russia, his first with his brother David was 1957's Youth in Poland. Prior to David's death in 1987, the siblings collaborated on 19 titles including classics such as Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens. Since then, Albert has continued to make films, also serving as cinematographer on more projects than as director, with his most recent being last year's Iris; a new feature, In Transit, on which he served as one of five directors, is scheduled to receive its world premiere next month at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Among the accolades received during his life are a National Endowment of the Arts, presented to Maysles by President Barack Obama, two Primetime Emmy Awards, two awards from the Sundance Film Festival and three from the International Documentary Association, including a Career Achievement Award. This beloved filmmaker will be much missed by many, including his wife, Gillian, and their four children.
In any conflict between human beings, there are at least two legitimate sides to the story. Crucial to reaching agreement or understanding with any particular movement in such conflict is identifying the root cause of their fight, that fundamental thing that they're attempting to obtain or to defend. Boo Ji Young has no meagre task ahead of her in delineating the origin of the impassioned plight of a band of supermarket workers unjustly laid off due to budget cuts - this origin is the defence of their dignity, best communicated through earnest determination, the likes of which these employees demonstrated in their strike. Boo assembles an ensemble of sensitive character actors and displays a genuine affinity for the objectives of this new union of mistreated blue collar workers, and produces a powerful film that is as impassioned as the struggle it depicts. That's how you bring an audience around, immediately, to understanding what these women fought for: honest appreciation. And that's how you make this fight so indelible for said audience: committed performances and astute scripting. Only the obnoxious, saccharine musical score lets the side down, resorting to sensationalism to enhance the emotive content of an already emotional film; it doesn't enhance, it smothers. Boo is a highly perceptive filmmaker, however, with an eye for inventive compositions (that nasty final image aside) that don't overwhelm her focus, rather they illuminate subtextual and psychological features that more prosaic shots might have passed over. That focus, the essential focus of Cart, is the people at its core, unique in their individual selves but united in their dignity.
Thursday, 5 March 2015
Not entirely shocking that the makers of this UK trailer for The Face of an Angel want to try to beef up the apparent prestige of the film, which marks yet another small splash in the cinematic pond from Michael Winterbottom. But I've been a big fan of much of what Winterbottom has offered us cinephiles in the past, and boy has he offered a lot, so I'm intrigued by this real-life-inspired drama, which showed last year at TIFF and received good reviews. Out in the UK on the 27th of March.
Here's the first trailer for what may become one of awards season 2015's biggest hits. After a few moderate-hits / near-misses with awards voters, Bill Condon turned to the Twilight series to make a few safe bucks, and now returns to prestige pics with Mr. Holmes, a story of Sherlock Holmes' later years, based on Mitch Cullin's novel A Slight Trick of the Mind. Condon's Oscar-nominated Gods and Monsters lead Ian McKellen takes the titular role, with support from Laura Linney, who has worked with Condon on Kinsey, The Fifth Estate and TV's The Big C. No US release date just yet - perhaps they're waiting to see how it fares in the UK, where its release is currently set for the 19th of June.
A movie that's basically just one big mega-lol, save for when it's basically just one big bore, which is unfortunately often. Thankfully, a pervasive void of self-awareness allows The Boy Next Door to qualify as an ultimate camp classic of its time, an exercise in vanity-fuelled star-worship that delivers on so many more fronts than it can even comprehend. The supreme idiocy of Barbara Curry's script engenders characters and scenarios that only don't beggar belief in the context of the dozens of other suburban thrillers that have directly inspired this one. Curry has a knack for under-developing every notion that finds its way into her screenplay, relying on our weary anticipation of the expected to enliven her conceits. Our anticipation is primed, due to Rob Cohen's vapid assimilation of movie directing, but nothing can enliven this turgid mess of a film. Nothing, that is, except everything! Objectively, gosh no, The Boy Next Door is a risible film, but its ignominious drop to the bottom of the barrel ends with a fabulously fortuitous landing, as it fits very neatly into the famed 'so-bad-it's-good' sub-group of films. And there's a perverse artistry behind the qualities that render it thus: the dedication toward perfecting Jennifer Lopez's hairstyle no matter what the circumstances, the calibration of her character as the epitome of all that middle-class American mothers aspire to (her invisible spontaneous food dispenser is an imaginary highlight), one defining shot that is lit specifically to showcase Lopez's upper thigh... in fact, The Boy Next Door functions best as an ode to Lopez's arse. That gets boring after 90 minutes, no doubt, but it also qualifies this film as a bona fide camp classic. It's the worst film that I want to revisit, but at least I want to at all.
Tuesday, 3 March 2015
Tongue is situated firmly, immovably in cheek for Wild Tales, a delectable collection of short films that relies on no crutch, no arbitrary connecting tissue, no outrageous escalation of violence, no running gag to engage. It relies on good storytelling, on techniques that are simple to utilise and also to identify, but that are rare, and difficult to hone. Damian Szifron's film (or films) is funny and shocking in equal measure, often simultaneously, but never due to any ostensibly grand effort; viewer investment in the premises of his stories is required in order to respond to any of them. Szifron devises clear, solid scenarios, twisting the course of everyday situations just slightly, preying on our everyday fears and worries - much of Wild Tales' pleasure comes from imagining how one would react in place of the characters herein. The style of Szifron's mise-en-scene is deceptively plain, and for good purpose - you never notice how he directs not only his actors but his audience too, aligning our attention and our sympathy for maximum emotional impact; his stylistic indulgences are likewise economical both in character and in frequency, and only ever compliment the core concerns of the stories. Each short tale increases in length as the film progresses, which ensures that our attention spans are primed and prepared for the next story every time; perhaps accordingly, the quality of the tales also increases, by and large, though there's a delightfully resonant kick to the first, manic short in the selection.
Monday, 2 March 2015
Focus is a simple affair, and a fair indication of the current state of the film industry. Its weaknesses raise concerns within said industry that will be new to few; the ease with which it earns our interest and affection raises concerns within ourselves. Nevertheless, there's a place for simple affairs like this, with simplistic, slick styling that both placates and enervates those with genuine concerns about the state of the film industry. Focus feels like a conscious attempt at creating a 'contemporary update' on a classic theme, that of the glamorous criminal enterprise and the sexy, smart thieves who may be playing each other, and us, as much as their unwitting victims. That's always going to be an engaging premise - it deals in deception yet also in clear, detailed plotting, and there's little more innately compelling to an audience than a meticulously conceived plot. Where writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa go wrong, considering the natural strength of their scenario, is in their direction. That they ply scene after scene with invisible style, that is to say style that barely registers as style, is inevitable and acceptable; that they fail to show any sign of invention, or even aptitude at times, in the basic elements of their mise-en-scene is worrying. Somehow, they bungle a number of key sequences with leisurely cutting and tight, drab framing. Lead actors Margot Robbie (sadly saddled with a role that only becomes more deficient as the film progresses) and Will Smith mitigate their directors' shortcomings with their undeniable charisma, but neither do they provide anything so bold to this film as to raise it from its own main, nagging concern: mediocrity.