Tuesday 20 November 2012

Review: Sound of my Voice

Year: 2012
Director: Zal Batmanglij
Screenplay: Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling
Starring: Brit Marling, Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius

Synopsis is here:

There is a certain something that peaked and kept my interest about Sound of my Voice. I think much of it stemmed from Brit Marling's unnerving performance as a leader of a pseudo-scientific basement cult. Her role as Maggie is a charismatic one in a similar way to John Hawkes' role in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Their soft spoken voices are laced with a sensuality that makes it very easy to understand why young intelligent people, fall deeply under their charms. The waif like Marling isn't some drop dead stunning starlet, but there is a temping allure in her voice that attracts you to her. You want to tell her secrets. When one character exclaims that their partner gets an emotional orgasm when speaking to her, it doesn't sound as absurd as when written on paper. The reason why cults are so scary is that they seduce the mind. The body falls quickly afterwards.

Oh, if only all of the movie was as enthralling as this. Sound of my voice gets you going with a teasing prospect and then leaves you by the way side. Part of the problem is that compared to other recent movies about cults, it doesn't have the energy. Compare this to the aforementioned Martha Marcy May Marlene, and you realise that the performances of the protagonists just aren't up to scratch. Place it side by side next to The Master, and you see that no scene matches the same kind of intensity or foreboding. Some scenes ignite interest, some drag, but at least the film gets points for reaching. I didn't find myself as distanced as I did in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Maybe because it didn't feel as much as an exercise.

Unlike the Manson folk edge of Martha Marcy May Marlene, and the Scientology leanings of The Master,   Sound of my Voice seems to take a more direct sci-fi route, which may remind some the Heaven's Gate cult.   Our protagonists infiltrate the group in order to try and make a feature film exposing it. The leader; Maggie, claims that she is a sickly time traveller, who is preparing them for an upcoming "event" that will reshape the earth radically. The group meet up repeatedly and prepare with cleansing rituals, purging "intellectual bullshit" metaphorically through spewing up apples and other oddball exercises which remind me slightly of the episode of Peep Show where Mark joins the Rainbow Rhythms dance class to try and pull Sophie. There's a more than a small amount of silliness about one or two of the exercises, however, they do help show just how deep these people are involved and how willing. A scene in which our male lead, Peter, is subtlety broken down by Maggie is a pivotal and telling one. Maggie's ability to say just the right things to stimulate him is quietly troubling.

Unfortunately, it's not surprising, as the route in which our leads go, is telegraphed quite quickly. The scenes between them do little to elevate the story emotionally, mostly because while these characters are vulnerable, they're not particularly interesting. The film lacks the forcefulness that comes into play in other cult movies. Because of this, it imbalances the films climax, I didn't actually mind but yearned for more punch. If only everything was as compelling as Marling. A co-writer of the film, it feels a little like she wrote the best parts for herself.

Monday 19 November 2012

Cinematic Dramatic 4x16 - The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson returns after a long break to finally give cinema audiences The Master. Are The Dramatics brainwashed by it or has Transformers 4 burnt their souls....

via GeekPlanetOnline: Cinematic Dramatic http://www.geekplanetonline.com/hosting/originals/dramatic/?p=episode&name=2012-11-19_cinematic_dramatic_4x16__the_master.mp3 Unfortunately, you will have to copy and paste the link to listen or use the handy links on the side!

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Review: The Master

Year: 2012
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenplay: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Laura Dern

Synopsis is here:

To many, The Master is a difficult film to love or even like. The characters we meet are not ones we would want to be cornered by at a dinner party. We observe within the film, more than enough scenes of these people gatherings just to be sure. And yet, the film, even at its most obtuse and surreal, remains utterly compelling. If one thing is for sure, it shows again that Anderson is obsessed with trying to charm us with charlatans and fallen angels.

In The Master we are given Freddie Quell (A career best Phoenix), a man who would have been completely swallowed up by his surroundings, if not for his violent and drunken outbursts against them. The film's beginning, we find Freddie; simulate sex on a sand woman made on the beach. One could say he's literally fucking Mother Nature. Of course the question is why would you do that, if you weren't quite right?

Quell sticks out. Is he mentally ravaged by war? Has destroyed his faculties with those poisonous (made with paint thinner) brews of his? Did he spend too much time away from his sweetheart? We are never given solid grounding on his ailments and yet we are shown enough to show how damaged Quell has become since the war. A blanketed statement mentions early on that those returning from the war should be able to start small businesses and perform labour, in spite of what they may have seen. But what of those who have lost more than others? It's clear from Quell's posture alone that he is a misshapen man. The erratic episodes and outbursts we see only solidify our thoughts.

By chance, Quell meets the enigmatic Lancaster Todd, leader of "The Cause", a bizarre quasi religion based around a glut of peculiar principles and rituals that are never truly explained to us. Todd is a classic Anderson character; a father figure who promises atonement with words as sweet as syrup. No different from The Porn Mogul (Boogie Nights), or The Oil Man (There Will Be Blood), Todd is so wrapped up in his words, he believes he could sell brimstone to Satan. Todd decides to take Quell on board as a protégée, as clear testament, that the teachings and practices from his book can cure even the most distraught.

Hoffman plays Todd as smoke and mirrors personified. All darting eyes and false grins and much like Quell, he is quick to anger when tested. Although they meet by chance, there is a feeling of fatalism about the situation. We delve very little into his past and yet when he states that he's seen Freddie before, the empty spaces begin to fill in. It's interesting to observe how both Todd and his wife Peggy (an exemplary Amy Adams in full Lady Macbeth mode) look at alcohol. A small bathroom scene involving the Todds shows that despite the grand gestures, Lancaster is ruled by the same masters that rule many of us.

These are primal men ruled and controlled by their urges. While Todd tries to internalise and intellectualise his baser appetites, Quell spills his out on the floor like Freudian vomit. Together their fragments complete a damaged father-son relationship Anderson's films often feature. Quell seeks guidance, Todd wishes to be that superior leader that fathers may wishes to be, the raconteur at the family wedding, the all knowing and great auditor. And yet, the two of them being together, tugs at both of their frayed edges. Many scenes bind the stress in stifling close up. Mihai Malaimare's arresting cinematography and Jonny Greenwoods hypnotic score create a sense of unease that travels from scene to scene. Like a car crash, there's something so hauntingly beautiful about the ugliness of human behaviour is captured in the film, it's hard to turn away when the spinning tops clash.

Much has been said about the films references to Scientology, as well as how damning its statements are. While the film isn't a glistening expose of all things bad about the religion, I'm in no way shocked at the reaction of a certain practitioner of the faith. The Cause's processing appears very similar to auditing, while a tense sequence, involving Todd's son in law throwing Quell's personal problems (extracted from the process) back at him, illustrates the type of fears brought up by many when the mentioning of auditing arises. What makes these moments of the film so appealing to me is in how non-judgemental the film is towards the faith.  The film holds a mirror to the audiences’ thoughts of not only The Cause, but the self help/spiritual courses that The Cause picks from.

Does this all add up to a great film? To many, they will see nothing and the film is more basic that it leads on (certainly in its narrative form). The Master at times can appear as much of a muchness. Anderson's films of the past may have been more forceful in their eras and the film is so wrapped up with these people and their vulgarities, it feels sparse and at times distancing, while its main message doesn't feel as complex as suggested.

However in the opinion of this blogger, the film is a truly exciting work of craft. A character piece in which its mesmerizing visuals are punctuated by its blinding tension. The Master is a tale of damaged men searching for inner peace in all the wrong places. To wonder why it doesn't all "fit in" to a comfortable narrative space, almost mimics why the hunched and sick Quell does just "fit in" with all the rest of Middle America. The Master takes a while to state it's case, but Anderson's execution of material is absorbing throughout.

Monday 5 November 2012

Cinematic Dramatic 4x15 - Skyfall

The name's Dramatic, Cinematic Dramatic and hopefully that's the last Bond related pun you'll hear as The Dramatics watch Skyfall! Will they be shaken or stirred by the 23rd outing of the superspy?

via GeekPlanetOnline: Cinematic Dramatic http://www.geekplanetonline.com/hosting/originals/dramatic/?p=episode&name=2012-11-05_cinematic_dramatic_4x15__skyfall.mp3 Unfortunately, you will have to copy and paste the link to listen or use the handy links on the side!

Thursday 1 November 2012

Review: Damsels in Distress

Year: 2012
Director: Whit Stillman
Screenplay: Whit Stillman
Starring: Gretra Gerwig, Adam Brody

Synopsis is here

In the past year, I've found myself indulging in the pleasures of not only the lo-fi neurosis of the mumblecore movement, but also the stuffy, repressed, Allen-esque films of Whit Stillman. Both stables deal with the same conceit: middle class, privileged white 20 somethings whom have a hard time with dealing not only their career aspirations, but intimacy. Stillman's yuppie features (including the Oscar winning Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco) seem to be the precursor to the mumblecore movement. In fact it's hard to think of the likes of The OC, Dawsons Creek or mumblecore without looking back at Stillman.

So it is no surprise to me that Damsels in Distress not only features The OC's Adam Brody, but mumblecore startled Greta Gerwig. It is a shame however that Stillmans film doesn't supply them with a strong enough film. Damsels is a near story-less piece which feels more like a Stillman caricature than anything else. Before, I was happy to see such naive characters wrapped in the bubbles of 80's and 90's New York, or even the sunny sights of Barcelona. However here in this contemporary setting, everything feels flat.

Things start off well, with the idea that Gerwigs clan appearing to be what would happen if the plastics from Mean Girls grew up to be pretentious. Their empty headed babbling on fashion, scent and hippie self improvement are droll to say the least, with Gerwig riffing on Kate Beckingsales character from The
Last Days of Disco. This film is also wonderfully framed at times, bathing these girls in sunlight as they blather their own self importance. The irony is not missed as these girls talk naively about using dance to stop suicide subject, considering themselves angels at the same time. However this mixture of pompous air headedness is difficult to take as the film is trapped in its own bubble. No different from other Stillman film apart from one thing...it's setting.

While sparsely funny, much of Damsels comes off stilted and false, from the protracted way the characters speak, to the situation as a whole. The chemistry between the characters feels forced, as if Stillman was trying to shove all the elements from previous films into this contemporary setting. While the pomp conservatism that filled his previous films, matched the settings well, here they just don't ring true.

Damsels also lacks a decent plot to grab hold of. The vignette like structure, sways from mildly watchable to flat out dull. Yet it never steadies on something truly solid for investment. Some of these boys and girls need more to do, otherwise, why are we watching them and why do we care? Even the likes of Funny Ha Ha or Hannah takes the Stairs, give the female leads roles an earnestness to cling on to despite the vague plots that lie within their films. These Damsels lack such an aspect and it really shows.

Gerwig is fine in a role I feel that she could do in her sleep, while the supporting cast do their best with very little, however Damsels pales in front of the very shows and films that were seemingly inspired by Stillman's work. It feels that everyone has moved on while Whit is still trying to shoehorn certain ideals in. Ideals which still exist, but have mutated since the eighties

In my opinion, Damsels is the weakest Stillman yet and has little of flair and fun that littered previous films. Metropolis still stands out as his best work and it's easy to see why. The world as simply moved on.

Review: Seven Psychopaths

Year: 2012 (Viewed at the London Film Festival)
Director: Martin McDonagh
Screenplay: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, Christopher Walken.

Synopsis is here:

After taking my podcast co-host on a needless, round about trip of the London West End to find a bank, we took our seats for our final film of the London Film Festival: Seven Psychopaths, the second full length feature from Martin McDonagh.. The reason I had to find a bank was so I could pay for the tickets, the price of the tickets were...more than your usual cinema venture. But when it's the European Premiere and features a talk with the director, you have to consider you don't get such things with an illegal download.
This is not a statement of confession, more a painting of a scene. It's certainly worth paying more to sit with an excited audience and laugh, giggle and guffaw at McDonagh's latest feature. A violent and offbeat tale of writers block, dognapping and gangsters, Seven Psychopaths is Pulp Fiction by way of Adaptation and Barton Fink. McDonagh's himself stated that the only real influences were Peckinpah and Malick (?!) but it's hard not to think of Kaufman and the Coens (The movies is scored by Carter Burwell) as the film goes on.

Frantic and madcap in its telling, Seven Psychopaths slides from flashback to present day to imagination without a moment’s notice. A film about losing focus which is constantly trying to distract with its famous faces and near meta aspects of plot. It can't be too much of a coincidence that Farrell, known for his risqué past, is shown here, as a wannabe Hollywood writer lost amidst a haze of hard liqueur. A man who could do really turn out a good piece of work as long as he keeps focus. It feels like McDonagh isn't just picking him due to In Bruges.

Farrell's role of straight man is sometimes a little caught up in the craziness of it all, which could be part of the fun. However for all its anarchic glee; the tale does like to go off on tangents, feeling frayed at the end, and coming off like Adaptation's brattier cousin. Kuffman's sublime comedy about "the process" has a deft of touch and sympathy that Psychopaths doesn't. Not a deal breaker by any means, but it does make you notice that Psychopaths suffers from some slight overkill. The film is just a tad too into itself to have a boarder scope.

I shouldn't be knocking too hard on the film which gives us the best Christopher Walken performance in years. Once again, Walken shows why he is rewarding in scenes of both menace and mirth, and does so with an ease that allows one to forget that they actually saw him in The Stepford Wives (or Balls of Fury for that matter).  It's difficult who steals the most scenes between himself and Sam Rockwell, whose balls to the wall performance climaxes a sequence of utter madness. Not to spoil things, but heads have not exploded that well since Scanners. Woody Harrelson sweeps things up as the films loopy antagonist.

For a film that is as all over the place such as this one (we go from dognapping to taking class A's in the desert with a lot of murder inbetween.) The film is never disengaging, like In Bruge, the films dialogue laddish, often ponderous dialogue sparkles, and the film keeps a certain amount of earnestly, despite it's know it all vibe. Like many festival films the film doesn't linger in the mind much, however, it's clear from the offset this isn't a film made to be heavy or filling. Like a grubby lads stag weekend in Magaluf, there's fun to be had, but you might have to be in with the crowd from the start to be comfortable with the injokes.