Monthly Archives: October 2013

Only Lovers Left Alive – 2013

"only lovers left alive"Jim Jarmusch’s new film was chosen as the Cult Gala for the London Film Festival and it certainly presses all the buttons to be a cult classic. Lukewarm one liners, a superfluous supernatural element and a star with an obsessively devoted fanbase.

Visually, the film is very impressive, the opening few shots are totally engaging and this stylish cinematography stays throughout the film. Unfortunately the plot is nowhere near as impressive. The conceit of the film, in that our protagonists are vampires, is utterly pointless. Every single aspect of this story could be told without any vampires. However, removing this conceit shows up the film for what it really is, a banal, middle of the road, sitcom. However, even with the vampires Only Lovers Left Alive is barely funny and seems to rely on being “quirky” and “awkward” in the place of supplying the audience with any substance. Of course the whole film is set at night which means that 90% of the time the screen is dominated by black, dark brown and dark green, not least provided by Tom Hiddleston’s hair. Given that Hiddleston’s hair already has its own tumblr page there’s no doubt that this “emo rocker” style will gather a few new viewers.

No doubt the teenage girls who adopt this film (being too old for twilight) will champion the discussion of “real issues”. The film touches superficially on the wastefulness of humans and seems to champion love regardless of age or distance. These are not new issues. These are not groundbreaking or interesting issues. However, they are hip, liberal, teenage issues. Soon enough you will find yourself on the internet watching a GIF of Hiddleston and Swinton with the caption #trueloveknowsnodistance #ageisjustanumber. Once more Jarmusch has demonstrated an infallible ability to corner a market and pin it in place as it consumes every aspect of his niche film.

The performances in this film are difficult to judge. Every actor carries the burden of being self-aware and nonchalant in every scene. It gets very tiring to watch everybody on screen be so painfully aware of how funny they are. This is despite the fact that most of the humour follows the “oh look those words imply something different to normal because vampires” or indeed just involves pointing a camera at either Hiddleston or Swinton looking out of place and hoping it’s funny. A light interlude from Mia Wasikowska is a welcome break from the self-importance of the first act but is cut short to make way for some more moody lighting and jokes where blood is referred to as if it were drugs. There are people who will love this film, however, I am not one of those people. Cinematography can only carry a film so far, there has to be something, anything to make it worth watching.

  • Entertainment: 2/5
  • Artistic:              3/5
  • Intellectual:       1/5

P.S. I wish I could say I had planned to release a review of a vampire film on Halloween. As it happens, enjoy the happy coincidence.

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Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 – 2013

Cloudy-with-a-Chance-of-Meatballs-2-Image-2Today, in honour of International Animation Day I review Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2. I saw the 2009 Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs quite a while ago and vaguely remembered enjoying it, I was surprised to find that they were making a sequel, worried that this may be the beginning of the road to another disaster along the lines of Shrek 4.

While Cloudy 2 doesn’t yet descend to the levels of the true Dreamworks sellout the plot is somewhat shoehorned into place by force. The film begins by recapping the first film but with the addition of Flint’s (Bill Hader) childhood hero, which the film asks us to accept as having always existed. This is really very jarring, the backstory which sets up the emotional thrust of the film is entirely forced in the first fifteen minutes. It’s clumsy, lazy and outright bad filmmaking.

However, once the film hits its stride and the exposition is out of the way it drastically improves. The cast is pared down to the truly comical characters with the genius addition of Steve Jobs Chester V as antagonist. The world that is built for this film includes living food animals and an island entirely taken over by food landscapes. It’s a bizarre technicolour dreamland that’s utterly engrossing.

From this point onwards the film is a rapid-fire string of jokes. Switching between wry, satirical criticisms of rich entrepreneurs and as many food related puns as can physically be said in 90 minutes. It’s not an awful lot of substance for a film to live off of, but it’s a short film and the jokes really don’t let up for a minute. So you can forgive the dull, contrived plot because above all else this film will make you laugh, pretty consistently, for about an hour. That’s worth my time.

  • Entertainment: 5/5
  • Artistic:              3/5
  • Intellectual:       1/5

The Double – 2013

doubleRichard Ayoade’s Sophomore film is nowhere near the same ballpark as the quintessentially British Indie flick Submarine that propelled him into the realms of up-and-coming director. The Double is adapted from the Dostoyevsky story of the same name and features Jesse Eisenberg in his second film involving video cloning techniques.

The visuals arequite challenging to watch, not a single shot features daylight and the interiors all seem to be painted in a gloomy forest green with orange lighting. The production design is completely consistent in this to the point of it becoming so oppressive to watch you’re almost glad when the film finishes. This consistency does give the film a slick and stylish aesthetic more comparable to music videos than any cinema I can think of. The artificial environment makes it easy for the audience to suspend their disbelief during the bizarre and mildly supernatural series of events the film chronicles. By making the surrounding world so grimy and depressing there is no possibility of trying to find reason for the downward spiral you are watching: it just seems like a by-product of this dystopia.

There are two main characters in this film, Simon James and James Simon. Both are Jesse Eisenberg. Eisenberg manages to be on screen in nearly every shot, often twice in one shot. Amazingly it is never possible to be mistaken as to which character he is portraying. Despite identical clothing and setting Eisenberg’s performances capture the body language, personalities and variation in tone of two different people. Of course it is true that these two characters are formulated to be polar opposites, but Eisenberg’s consistent believability as both is nothing to be scoffed at. The supporting cast is somewhat less interesting, Mia Wasikowska’s performance is decidedly average, but then her character is more of a plot device than a human being. In fact, none of the other characters are fully fleshed out, only Yasmin Paige seems to break through this to still give an engaging performance, everyone else is just consistently one-dimensional.

While I really want to love this film there is something that seems to be missing. You watch it without being able to look away, but it’s almost too cool, too slick and focused and it wraps itself up so neatly that there is nothing for you to take away from the film. It’s like a soundbyte, a wonderfully entertaining and hip as hell soundbyte, but still not enough to really affect you in any way.

  • Entertainment: 5/5
  • Artistic: 3/5
  • Intellectual: 3/5

The Zero Theorem – 2013

TheZeroTheorem_1ChristophWaltzexamroomI went into The Zero Theorem from the starting point of having watched nearly every Monty Python sketch ever written and having seen only The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus out of Gilliam’s independent work. I was aware that the back-catalogue of his work had been met with…. mixed reception, to say the least. However, I was optimistic.

The Zero Theorem  was not worth the benefit of the doubt. You can be forgiven for being enticed by stills of this film. It has a glittering cast, including cameos from Matt Damon and Tilda Swinton, and swish, futuristic sets. It is designed to look good on paper. It would have been great if the amount of time, energy and money had been spent on script or plot substance as was clearly spent on cast and set design. The first twenty or thirty minutes of this film are an exciting journey into a parallel, psychedelic dystopian future, complete with concepts stolen from Minority Report and basically every other dystopian future the world has ever known. Inevitably you eventually get bored of the basic exposition and high-budget sparkle, not to mention Christoph Waltz’s incredibly mannered performance as Qohen (because of course, in this future accepted rules of orthography and pronunciation are totally irrelevant). At this point you wait for the plot, or the narrative meaning to kick in and take over. It doesn’t. Gilliam leads us up dead end after dead end, a love interest (Mélanie Thierry) that Qohen spends 90% of the time not actually being romantically interested in, a new rendition of “arrogant over-priveleged boy genius” from Lucas Hedges, but nothing that really gives you a reason to continue being interested in the inherently irritating protagonist.

As the film progresses the film’s aesthetic even begins to seem tragically dated. Bad CGI, “futuristic” images of what are essentially iPads and a comical central computer which resembles something from a bad Star Trek episode. Only this time it’s not cardboard, it’s precious processing power and carbon emissions which were wasted rendering it. Even the ideas seem tragically out of touch, worries about internet privacy and the danger of virtual reality have long become our day to day lives, not the reserve of edgy independent films. It’s like someone showing up at a party and earnestly informing their friends about the dangerous rise of text messaging. Of course there’s a political message too, Qohen is at great pains to point out the fallacies of boxing off workers to do repetitive tasks that they do not understand the full purpose of, kind of like the problems faced by production line workers in the early 1900s. These ideas mesh and eventually devolve into some kind of condemnation of both religion and nihilism while providing no answers and no satisfying conclusion. Ultimately The Zero Theorem, despite it’s potential and delusions of grandeur, goes nowhere and says nothing.

  • Entertainment: 2/5
  • Artistic:              1/5
  • Intellectual:       1/5

We Are The Best – 2013

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Set in Sweden in 1982 We Are The Best tells the unlikely story of a pre-teen punk band. Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are keen to prove to the world that punk is not dead and create a revolution through a song insulting school sport. Their intentions and ambitions are so much bigger than themselves but, undeterred, they recruit the slightly older Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) to teach them guitar and join their punk vision. All three give lively and heart-warming performances and are so much fun to watch, although, by an odd quirk of make-up, Hedvig does appear to be at least four years older than her companions.

In fact, the whole film is purely fun. The script is genuinely funny and leaves you with a buoyant, joyous appreciation of life. No, they are not going to be world-famous musicians, nor are they going to find true love in the neighbouring male punk band but they have probably made lifelong friends. The problems and fights they have seem comically small and petty to an adult audience but you only have to cast your mind back to your own memories to find the ring of truth in this film.

Moodysson doesn’t shy away from the intensity of emotion which meets every twist and turn of the girls’ lives. Quite on the contrary he revels in it, turning it from juvenile melodrama into a true examination of delicate youthful emotions. This delicacy is reflected in the cinematography. The emotions play out in intimate close ups or isolating wide shots, both as equally well-framed and sensitively shot. Every molehill is a mountain at the age of 13 and it’s this high-strung drama which drives the film. You can’t help but engage with these characters when the stakes seem so high and they care so much.

It is a bold decision in the current film market to make an unashamedly happy piece of arthouse cinema but Moodysson pulls this off with such style and aplomb. It seems like an oasis in the mire of death, illness and heartbreak. We Are The Best fills that niche market for a feel-good film that is beautiful to watch.

  • Entertainment: 5/5
  • Artistic:              4/5
  • Intellectual:       4/5

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Kill Your Darlings – 2013

kill-your-darlingsStrangely I only saw one film in the First Feature competition at the London Film Festival. John Krokidas’ Kill Your Darlings was this film and it has stayed with me ever since.

Telling the story of the beat generation could potentially make this film dated before it begins, but Krokidas’ sly use of music brings it right up to date without the jarring anachronisms of Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. The film has a retro look to it with a tactical amount of added grain. The visuals are straight out of what everyone wishes their teenage Super 8 experiments looked like. This affectation is all the more endearing when paired with the exuberant characters.

While Daniel Radcliffe’s Allen Ginsberg is the protagonist of this film, the star is undoubtedly Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr. DeHaan’s performance begins as a kind of male version of the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ inspiring not only Ginsberg, but everybody he meets with his charming, sly and spontaneous way of life. However DeHaan is careful not to let this slip into a stereotype in any way. His performance shows us a fully three-dimensional character who is arrogant, frail, angry and, most of all, confused. This emotional depth is what draws every character, and ultimately the audience, into his world and vision. It is always uncertain whether his personality is an act to manipulate the world to his liking or whether he is essentially the good, albeit troubled, person everyone wants him to be. The relationship between Carr and Ginsberg is fraught with palpable tension which is portrayed with direct honesty thanks to the genuine on-screen chemistry between Radcliffe and DeHaan. Radcliffe is equally impressive as Ginsberg, flawlessly (and somewhat jarringly, for someone who grew up watching Harry Potter) replicating an American accent and entering into the role, complete with curly hair and woolly jumpers. Particular mention is necessary for one of the most convincing and realistic depictions of losing virginity I have seen, despite many many films broaching this subject.

Krokidas’s direction falls back onto a few clichés and devices, even at the narrative climax, but these fade into insignificance when compared to the stylish approach used throughout the rest of the film. The style is upfront and totally engaging, impossible to turn away from.  It is as beautiful when showing the delicate family background of Ginsberg as when presenting the hedonistic underbelly of sex, betrayal and intrigue. This pulls the audience in so far that even when the characters have long since crossed into being objectively in the wrong you still empathise and even support their actions.

The film captures the feelings of late adolescence, the unshakeable belief that you and your group of friends are all-powerful visionaries and revolutionaries. The character of Lucien Carr embodies this attitude. He has no definable talent of his own yet creates the Beat revolution. He even goes so far as to stop time for a while through sheer force of will. Ginsberg and Kerouac do indeed become revolutionaries, which is somewhat ironic considering that their inspiration is the one who didn’t make it. Carr was almost set up to fail. His whole group hero-worshipped him into a two-dimensional character when in fact he was desperately in need of help, love and understanding. You can’t help but feel that if there had been just one person, maybe even himself, who didn’t believe that Carr was a great and brilliant person, he may have actually become one.

  • Entertainment: 5/5
  • Artistic:              4/5
  • Intellectual:       4/5

Ida – 2013

Ida

Pawel Palikowski’s newest film has just been crowned winner of the London Film Festival, Warsaw Film Festival and won the critics award in Toronto. So what is so captivating about this film? The synopsis sounds pretty dreary “a young orphaned Polish nun goes on a journey with her aunt” isn’t exactly the kind of thing that gives the average reader thrills of excitement.

What Ida has, however is the simple lure of beautiful things. Shot in black and white in the largely obsolete 4×3 aspect ratio every shot is composed with this in mind. Unlike many other black and white films which hover in a washed out grey for two hours, Ida is short, snappy and fully in command of pure white and deep black. Every shot is composed with pinpoint precision to have just the right patterning of light and shade. The aspect ratio makes the film easier to take in, rather than your eyes darting from side to side of a widescreen. Ida’s visuals would be challenging in a widescreen format due to the amount of empty space and obscurity in the cinematography. This empty space is entirely necessary, and a key part of the story of Ida. The cinematography is every bit as bleak and lonely as Ida’s mental state, even going so far as reducing this empty space as Ida becomes more comfortable in her surroundings.

Agata Trzebuchowska’s performance as the almost entirely mute eponymous Ida is sensitive and accomplished. Her mastery of body language and expression means that the emotional journey is completely understood by the audience. While there are complex issues about morality and religion wrapped up in the plot, Trzebuchowska’s performance, combined with Pawlikowski’s sensitive lighting and framing, reduces this into the essentials human experience of confusion and the search for an identity. While the viewer may not agree with Ida’s decisions her motivations are perfectly understood despite her overwhelming silence. Agata Kulesa provides the foil to Ida’s composed, pious silence in her forthright pugnacity and borderline alcoholism. Kulesa’s performance is without a doubt fantastic in itself, but ultimately forgettable compared to the other merits of the film.

It takes a huge amount of directorial clout to pull off a film in an unfamiliar format, in black and white, with very little dialogue and only two characters. For Pawel Pawlikowski these elements add up into a left field gem that will stay with you for long after the screening finishes.

  • Entertainment: 4/5
  • Artistic:              5/5
  • Intellectual:       5/5