Monday, 21 November 2011

Film #68 Melancholia

I’m going to jump in feet first by saying that Melancholia is my film of the year so far. It is as profound an artistic rendering of depression as I’ve come across since William Styron’s Darkness Visible or even The Bell Jar. Certainly I’ve never experienced its equal in film; many movies have depicted depression, but few have ever expressed the experience of depression so truthfully and eloquently.

The story, as far as it matters, concerns two events. First: a wedding between depressive advertising executive Justine (Kirsten Dunst, never better) and cheery naïf Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), hosted by the bride’s sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her super-rich husband (a saturnine Keifer Sutherland) in their immense country home; an ostensibly cheerful event  riven with sub-surface tensions. The second event is the appearance of a rogue, extra-solar planet – called Melancholia, metaphor fans – which, it is feared, will career headlong into Earth, destroying it utterly (a sequence played out at the start of the film, alongside dreamlike still/slo-mo images and romantic score – Wagner’s prelude to Tristan und Isolde – reflecting a similar opening to Von Trier’s previous film, Antichrist, to which Melancholia is a companion-piece).

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Film #67 The Awakening

It’s difficult to review this very British chiller satisfactorily without spoiling the plot. I’ll just say that ultimately, the film does not have the courage of its convictions and, for me anyway, took some pretty easy and disappointing options towards the end.

There are certainly good things about it – Rebecca Hall shows that she can carry a film;  Dominic West is agreeably tortured; the suspense scenes are imaginatively shot with some proper old-school jumps; the ‘rationalist’ framing of the plot works well at the start – but they are undermined by reversion to ghost-story type and a remarkably unoriginal ‘twist’, as well as two peculiar performances by villainous humans, who are so pantomime in their naughtiness the audience counter-intuitively expects them to turn out as saviours. Not a satisfying film at all, but good for a few ghostly scares nonetheless.


Film #66 We Need to Talk about Kevin

A tough, tough movie this, as you might expect from an adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s epistolary novel about the mother of a child who commits a Columbine-esque school massacre. It is immaculately played, of course: we cinephiles all know about Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly, but the children playing the titular Kevin are revelatory in their devilish manipulation. The story itself is grim, though the peppering of black humour throughout helps us through and there is cleverly just enough wiggle-room left in the plot for the audience to be able to question the sequence of events as it has been presented to us.

As a director’s piece, Lynne Ramsay really has stamped her identity on the film and while it does indeed look great, it is also sonically interesting (beyond the excellent Jonny Greenwood score): scenes tend to be cued aurally and Ramsay has an unusually elevated sense of film as more than just a visual medium. Like Speilberg at his best, she realises that the audience responds better to horror unseen or implied – the horrific event around which the whole film turns is never seen, though the immediate aftermath is conveyed in small parts.

Sometimes, however, there’s a little too much of the filmmaker’s artifice present. The multiple flashbacks are confusing (in any given five minutes we jump between as many as five different settings). And this is not a film for everyone – don’t go expecting entertainment; this a profound and excellent film, but it is unsettling and disturbing in ways that, say, Eli Roth could not even conceive.

Ultimately this is a subtly crafted and thought-provoking film, making the best of its somewhat harrowing source material. Enjoyable is perhaps not the word to describe ...Kevin, but it is undoubtedly a film of much worth, played superbly and with a greater sense of film-as-art than 99% of other mainstream releases this year


Film #65 Midnight in Paris

OK, so I’m a not a huge Woody Allen fan at the best of times and his recent efforts have been rotten (particularly the excruciating Match Point). Also, the trailer for this looked pretty awful too – the latest leg of Woody’s Euro-trip, all hor-hee-hor accents and chaps on bikes with berets and baguettes – so surprising then that I actually found myself enjoying this. It’s smart and genuinely funny. Owen ‘the human labrador’ Wilson is perfect as the naive lead, Kathy Bates, Alison Pill, Michael Sheen, Adrien Brody and (ooh-la-la) Carla Bruni all have a great deal of fun and the big plot twist (which happens pretty early on, but I won’t spoil it here), is thoughtfully executed, if wilfully preposterous. Not an earth-shattering re-annunciation of Allen’s purported genius, but a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.


Film #64 Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

In which Tomas ‘Let The Right One In’ Alfredson directs his first English-language feature, an ambitious adaptation of John Le Carré’s cold-war espionage potboiler (having also been previously adapted as a British TV mini-series, with Alec Guinness in the lead role).

So, the good points – the film looks extraordinary, the period detail is compelling and fascinating in its own right and all is beautifully shot throughout. The acting, too, is superb, with Gary Oldman in particular giving a performance of genuine depth and subtlety. Toby Jones also deserves a mention, adding ‘jobsworthy Edinburgh lawyer’ to his formidable range of accents.

The downside – it’s just too damned complicated. Le Carré is famous for his labyrinthine plotting and it just can’t be satisfactorily squeezed into two (long) hours of brown walls, grey suits and a bewilderingly large cast of characters. I can’t help but feel that Alfredson has taken a very detailed and plot-driven story and tried to turn it into an atmospheric character piece – and he just hasn’t quite pulled it off. Contrast with, say, The Lives of Others, a film which shares similarities in tone and subject matter, but is far more successful in making you give a damn about the protagonists.


Film #63 - Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I was not looking forward to this – yet another ‘franchise reboot’ in a conspicuously uncreative era – but wait: it’s not that bad at all. Let’s get the negatives out of the way first: OK, so the basic storyline (caged laboratory apes given ‘clever’ drugs, become too intelligent, break and wreak revenge on cruel humans) is daft enough, and the clumsiness of the title spills over into the dialogue, complementing the Swiss cheese plot with cuts of the finest Wiltshire ham.

To be fair, it’s easy to take cheap shots at the film. In fact, it’s fundamentally decent blockbuster fare, it has fun with the Apes mythology and the special effects are extraordinary. In particular, the final epic battle sequence through San Francisco and across the Golden Gate Bridge is spectacular, with some of the finest jumping gorilla action you will have ever seen. Andy Serkis’s performance, if that’s an appropriate word for his mo-cap work as primo primate Caesar, is acceptably simian, James Franco plays a straight bat and the always-excellent John Lithgow gives a moving and understated exposition of Alzheimer’s. The main villain – representing all-that-is-wrong-with-humanity – is probably the immaculately tailored David Oyelowo, though the boos and hisses are hogged by Draco Malfoy as nasty zookeeper number one

In short: very silly and not half as profound as it thinks it is, but slick and entertaining nonetheless.


Friday, 11 November 2011

I'm Still Here...

OK, OK - I'm still not back up on this. A poor show indeed, but I hope to have some good news soon, job-wise. If all goes well, Multiplex Slut will be back in full effect for 2012

And I've gotten rid of all the bloody spam that's suddenly popped up all over my reviews. Scumbags!

Keeping the faith, for now.