Monday 2 September 2013

Review: Magic magic

Year: 2013
Director: Sebastián Silva
Screenplay: Sebastián Silva
Starring: Juno Temple, Emily Browning, Micheal Cera

Synopsis is here

A film that is destined to polarise the audience with its abstractness, Magic Magic is a film that will take people to the brink of irritation or sympathy but if it gets one thing right, it’s the fact that it doesn’t wait around for you to get your head around it.    

Set in Chile, Magic Magic is a thriller plays with cultural arrogance in the same vain as Repulsion or Frantic, yet seems influenced by the fractured psychology of Polanski’s most famous features also. Here we have a woman who is culturally and emotional isolated amongst a group of people too juvenile and ignorant fully understand what may be at play. The film can feel distant as there’s no sign posts telling you where to go, but even when the film treads on the line of obtuseness, the basic aspects of the narrative is simple enough to follow.  As a whole the film doesn’t pound its note as hard as Aronofsky (Black Swan) or hold the pomp of Von Trier (Melancholia), but it understand simple dreads and fragile emotions with an assured deftness of touch.

The island, in which the film is set, becomes the largest signifying aspect, morphing into a physical and emotional quarantine for the pale faced Alicia (a brilliant Juno Temple). One scene has Alicia out with her new found friends as they go cliff jumping. All except Alicia are able to jump in. She is quite literally unable to take her feet of the island, a place which has brought forth a huge amount of disconnection to her. Like Polanski at his best, the island slowly shapes itself into a prison.  Cinematographer Christopher Doyle takes centre stage here, capturing the off kilter mood with near perfect composition, and shooting the landscape in such a way that even nearby animals take on ominous presence with their gaze.

The films main strength is in how it maintains its tone throughout. The ambiguous nature of the film is kept in balance due to Temple’s fragile performance. It becomes apparent that the film subtly changes from a more conventional thriller with horror tropes into a subtle cry for help. We are once again seeing yet another “delicate woman in trouble” and Magic Magic doesn’t reach the same heights as the likes of Amer, Black Swan or Carrie But Temple keeps us engaged throughout. Having such strong casting in place, makes the “woman in peril” such a sticking point in cinema.

Cast-wise; it will very likely infuriate more casual viewers that the film cares little about the fact you may know these actors from Harry Potter, Superbad or otherwise. That said I'm not shocked to see Emily Browning in this considering her work in The Uninvited/Sucker Punch. Michael Cera does well with a one note performance.  

The pacing is a little wayward and the film doesn’t really push anything in the way of originality. However Magic Magic is a nightmare film which unsettles well as it toys with the lead’s fractured state. Magic Magic will only really turn on those with a particular taste for these things. The films conclusion can possibly leave you aggravated, but only if you don’t fall for Doyle’s beautiful camera work and Temple‘s display.

Review: The Canyons

Year: 2013
Director: Paul Schrader
Screenplay: Bret Easton Ellis
Starring: Lindsey Lohan, James Deen, Gus Van Sant (for some reason)

Synopsis is here:

Dull is not a word that I would use to describe, Paul Schrader, Bret Easton Ellis or Lindsey Lohan and yet The Canyons is a subpar piece that can only be summed up by that word. Ellis’ twitter spats; Lohan’s drug hell or Schrader’s upbringing would bring more interesting tales to our attention. What we have here is an over egged piece of softcore trash gussied up to try and be more interesting that it actually is. Don’t look at me as if I dislike trash. I remember recording Wild Things onto VHS tape. I was around when Sky Movies seemingly had all there shoddy thrillers before Channel 5 moved in. I’d be happy if The Canyons had a shred of the schlocky fun that some of those films had. Unfortunately it’s a turgid mess.

We open to a montage of disused cinemas, possibly alluding to the decline of cinema, perhaps it’s aiming at an ideal even loftier. It doesn’t matter as the film never really brings the point home. If The Caynons was able to transplant its love for architecture on to its characters, we’d have something tangible to grab on to. But what can we say about the people that we follow in this feature? Is there anything that they say or do that is worth our time? Ellis has often written about vapid, cynical people, but they've never been bland.

It’s easy to attack The Canyons for the sake of it, like so many people who do with popular celebrities that they claim to hate. But the film is truly a poorly constructed one, in a year where similarly sordid tales have been release with greater focus. I was not the biggest fan of Harmony Korine’s florescent nightmare; Spring Breakers, yet that film was at least well crafted in its execution of hedonistic emptiness. The Caynons makes even a basic shot reverse shot exchange feel like a chore.

The problem is; one can pick up on the films issues from the get go. With its limit budget, amateur actors and troubled lead actress, you get the feeling that pickups and reshoots would never be the order of the day. Far too often it feels like every shot taken is the first and only one. It certainly feels like the case with James Deen whose Bateman-lite character comes across as completely unthreatening. Deen’s enthusiasm does not match his talent and his graceless display seems to stem from a lack of direction more than anything else.  Compare Deen’s Christian to the disaffected gaze of Sacha Grey in The Girlfriend Experience and there’s a clear gulf in the quality.

But then again we’re dealing with a film in which Schrader, unlike Soderbergh, does little to play to the strengths of everyone involved. The juxtaposition of outrageousness and emptiness that looms over the work of Ellis is never utilised, while the voyeurism that litters Ellis’ works is also badly executed. But The Caynons is not really about that complexity. Its simplistic script is weak when compared to Ellis’ more popular long reads. Frustratingly, there’s nothing in the film that elevates it above its limitations.

You might have noticed I’ve said little about the films main draw, Lindsey Lohan. Mostly because there’s not that much to say. The actress has garnered praise elsewhere, but I found nothing of true interest in the role. Her face; now altered by surgery and caked with make-up captures the burnt out impression which her character needs for the role, but her actual performance gives very little. Much like the rest of the film, Schrader’s lack of control and Ellis’ poor script leave Lohan up the creek without a paddle.