Monday 17 March 2014

Review: We Are What We Are

Year: 2013 (U.K Release 2014)
Director:  Jim Mickle
Screenplay:  Jim Mickle, Nick Damici
Starring:  Bill Sage, Julia Garner, Amber Childers, Kelly McGillis

Synopsis is here

It is more than a little strange seeing the 2010 Mexican horror; We Are What We Are, as a U.S remake. Mostly because of just how odd the original actually is. For a film about a family of cannibals, it’s not particularly that interested in the eating. Essentially the film is more about the disintegration of a family unit in abject poverty.

If you came out of Jim Mickle’s vampire road movie Stake Land feeling a little spoilt, then one can see you finishing this a tad disappointed. A fellow writer friend of mine stated that Mickle’s reimagining has an agenda to and the film clearly admits this with its gender switching antics and more explicit touches on religion.  You can sense the film’s wryness with its cast, which harks back to Red State and Martha Marcy May Marlene. Yet the original was a leaner beast that wore its ragged edges proudly. While Mickle’s U.S version is a more polished creature, it’s a tad more conventional one with it.

The story remains largely the same; the authority of a poor, cannibalistic family passes away suddenly and the remaining members struggle to maintain a sense of order. Mickle switches the family loss from a patriarchal one to matriarch.  There’s also an alteration of the children so there’s now two brooding sisters and a younger brother, as opposed to the conflicting brothers and single sister from before. This change is a grander one than expected. No longer do we have the Cain and Abel dynamic that was infused within the original feature. Also by decreasing the age of the youngest child, we no longer have the tense conflicts that were placed up by the three siblings. Mickle and fellow Stake Land writer Nick Damici bring more focus to the world around the family along with the more typical clashes of female puberty and daddy daughter issues.

The changes bring mixed results. While the original film is a more abstract affair, we now have less complicated mechanics. Less is left up to suggestion with Mickle’s film interspersing more back story to bring clarity for viewers who like to dismiss the ambiguous. Mickle maintains the same methodical pace from before, while confidently building a new version of an old world with his regular cinematographer Ryan Samul. The films overcast portrait of Middle America makes a worthy companion piece to the ravaged world of Stake Land. While the adjustments to the source and more emphasis on outside characters trying to figure out the mystery give We Are What We Are a more customary feel, you certainly can’t fault the acting on show. Whether it’s the intense glare of Bill Sage or the haunted visages of both Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers, the film’s performances are quietly captivating.

We Are What We Are remains a largely effective piece that brings a considerable amount of dread to proceedings. Despite being a remake, Mickles film still stands out among the current found footage haunting and sometimes maddening post modern fare. While it lacks the same peculiarities which made the original film what it is, Mickle once creates again American myth with a decent measure of atmosphere.   

Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Year: 2014
Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay: Wes Anderson
Starring:  Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Léa Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Tony Revolori

Synopsis is here

It's probably been said before, but if you've seen Wes Anderson's Rushmore and got nothing out of it, then the later films of this particular auteur may be almost impenetrable.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is no different. It's a kaleidoscope of intricacies and references. If a viewer not well versed in Anderson's quirks then I can easily imagine them glaring blankly at the slightly indulgent nods to art, music and readings. You're certainly in trouble if you don't enjoy dead pan.

Lord knows how I became a fan of Wes. Then again, like Eli Cash, I always wanted to be a Tenenbaum. The Grand Budapest Hotel doesn't reach the emotional heights I found with that particular movie (Wes’ movies often feel like this, Google Eli Cash if you haven’t a clue about what I’m talking about) but for this blogger The Grand Budapest Hotel is a somewhat return to form since the underwhelming Moonrise Kingdom. Yet I say this knowing that, in typical Anderson form, both films will require more viewings to unpack.

This latest entry, much like what we've previously witnessed, is a film brimmed full of mechanics and poise that will drive detractors mad. Yet like its earlier predecessors, The Grand Budapest brings with it that earnest sense of melancholy that Anderson can often provide. While The Darjeeling Litmited  tried to turn an eye on a vastly different culture (and felt cumbersome), The Grand Budapest is a look to the past which is tinged with a light sadness rings true, despite being placed in such an immensely artificial world.
In a fine comic performance; Ralph Fiennes plays M. Gustave, an extraordinarily dapper gent from a bygone time. In one of his wittiest roles, Fiennes delivers an immensely charming portrayal. While he might bed old dears, this is a gentleman who has one foot in a past of traditions that many would love to regain. His lingering desire for meticulous customer service and near sickening politeness is one of the highlights of the film. It’s delightful to see a film in which the protagonist tries (and sometimes succeeds) using an element of refinement.

You expect something so mannered by Anderson. It’s a candid caper where raucous laughter is substituted with muffled polite chuckles. Warmly measured moments swing rapidly to outrageously cartoonish sequences, all to the beat of a metronome.

This is the sort of film where Tilda Swindon plays a 84 year old dear and Willem Defoe gets to remind us how well is his at unnerving viewers, with an ape like gaze which is far from voicing polar bear puppets for frozen food companies. Yet this is also a film that can break ones heart with a snap of its fingers. A boy can relive the horrors of war in one sharp monologue or a pained expression on a middle aged man tells a thousand stories. The film is book ended by sequences which seem odd, yet when a step is taken back, we released that's it's not just about Wes pulling a yarn but empathising that stories whatever they be should be told and kept close in an ever changing world that is falling in the hands of youth. We must share and tell our tales and be polite when we do so.