Monday 26 October 2015

The Falling

Year: 2015
Director: Carol Morley
Screenplay: Carol Morley
Starring: Maxine Peake, Maisie Williams, Florence Pugh

Synopsis is here:

Shades of Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) linger within Carol Morley’s wispy mystery The Falling. Nevertheless, this is a compelling piece which finds its own way. It does so with a similar dreamy abstruseness as Peter Weir’s seminal feature, all the while holding a comparable sense of rebellion that made Lindsay Anderson’s If(1968). Although it is not as forcible.

The Falling’s allure stems from its main conceit. In which an epidemic of falling fits occurs throughout a rural Catholic school. Is it a group exploration into grief? A sudden, unified event of mass hysteria? Whatever it may be, the source seems to stem from the troubled Lydia (Maisie Williams), whose admiration and envy of her former best friend; Abbie (Florence Pugh) causes an inner turmoil that becomes difficult to repress.

The Falling is an often gorgeous accumulation of anxiety and sensuality. It doesn’t pull the emotional chords as well as Morley’s heart-breaking 2011 documentary Dreams of a Life. However, Morley’s eye for evocative visuals and dreamy transitions, along with her ability to coax much from the seemingly minor details of trembling hands and teasing looks, creates a palpable and lingering tension out of a strange and beguiling mystery.

Review: Sicario

Year: 2015
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro

Synopsis is here:

Higgins:No. Absolutely not. We have games. That's all. We play games. What if? How many men? What would it take? Is there a cheaper way to destabilize a regime? That's what we're paid to do.”
-          Three Days of Condor (1975)

Ice Cube: “You get AK’s from Russia and Cocaine from Columbia.”
Eazy E: “And ain’t none of us got a passport! So you might wanna check the source…”
-          Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Sicario plays a behind the scenes of the source Eazy E mentions, by the rules similar to what Higgins implies. Beginning with a tense and explosive siege, the grim revelation that’s found becomes an ominous analogy. Although less Skeleton’s in the closest, more corpses in the plaster wall.

Underground Rapper Immortal Technique could have conceived an album based on the narrative curveballs that Denis Villeneuve’s crime drama spins towards its viewer. It’s a film which not only firmly cements Villeneuve’s recurring theme of personal, insular prisons, but once again highlights that such prisons tickle down from the larger containment. In Villeneuve’s twisted doppelganger humdinger; Enemy (2013), this involved the sticky webbed influence of Spiders. Here in Sicario, we’re asked to pry apart the tenacious strands of the drug trade, which have been weaved between North and South America. 

This tightly wound production falls into a similar camp as A Most Violent Year (2014). The moral structures that our lead character; Kate (A passive, but seething Emily Blunt) begin to deteriorate and crumble to show how much of a fallacy the lines of the law really are.  No one is to be trusted and the long arm of the law is cracked and fractured in several places. We keenly observe this in the opening shots, were swat teams operate a high risk manoeuvres while neighbours take dogs on their afternoon walks. In the lead up to one of Sicario’s more tense sequences, mutilated bodies hang freely under intersection freeways, while locals nonchalantly play squash in the next street. Good? Bad? In the world of Sicario, it just is.

Much is owed to Roger Deakins cinematography. His control of light and shadow is effortless, as is his ability to clarify the imagery to augment the message. Sicario holds wide shots which isolate Blunt’s Kate both outside and inside government structures which she suddenly feels alien to. The Star Spangled Banner gloatingly hovers over or behind her while she argues her case. So much for what she considers as the American way. By the time we get to the third act, which involves locating border tunnels, we’re viewing images in inferred camera Inverting colour into blurred monochrome shades of gray. We are literally in the dark with little awareness of who the villains are, even though the team have gone in as friends.

It’s easy to argue that Sicario comes at a time where the competition doesn’t feel as stiff as previous eras. It’s not a typical period piece or biopic that fares so well during the Oscars. But that doesn’t matter in the slightest. Sicario not only throbs and pulses like it’s near elemental soundtrack. Its brutally precise execution of its themes, sit in the pit of the stomach like a block of ice. Denis Villeneuve confronts the subject with the same dynamic fortitude that makes Sicario stand tall with similar features of its ilk. For this blogger, this is one of the year’s best. 

Sunday 25 October 2015

Review: Results

Year: 2015
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Screenplay: Andrew Bujalski
Starring: Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan

Synopsis is here:

The romcom hasn’t died. It’s just gone indie. It’s also reworked itself somewhat. Results has popped up the on streaming feed and illustrates just why the likes of Netflix have become so valuable for film fans. At its best, Results sometimes brings the type of chuckles that wouldn’t be too out of place of a more typical romantic comedy. Although the film rolls at such a peculiar pace and rhythm that it could never be sold as a Nora Ephron.

Streaming is the best place for a film like this. Its story drapes baggily over the films jagged characters. There’s no Hanks/Ryan relationships here. There is, however, a delightfully screwed up love triangle involving an all too trusting Guy Pierce, a bitterly acerbic Colby Smulders and an unkempt and schlubby Kevin Corrigan.

There’s good chemistry here, along with some nicely awkward gags. All played out in Andrew Bujalski’s strangely untroubled style. His laid back direction hasn’t changed much since his debut feature; Funny Ha, Ha (2002). Here with a larger budget, however, he shows his comfort with his craft. He’s perhaps a tad too at ease with everything. Results’ languid style can make you wonder why a film like this is as long as it is.

Not to complain too much though. Results, like Bujalski’s Computer Chess is fascinated by broken communication and the importance of repair. Before it was personal computers, this time its the physical body. Yet in the foreground, it’s always relationships that slip in between the hobbies that keep Bujalski’s characters up at night.  

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Review: Macbeth

Year: 2015
Director: Justin Kurzel
Screenplay: Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, Jack Reynor, Elizabeth Debicki, David Thewlis

Synopsis is here:

Note: Spoilers are featured, but I’d be slightly worried if you don’t know the story.

Despite his status as the world’s greatest playwright, for many, the name William Shakespeare only provides recollections of dog eared worn school books. Possibly with drab, seemingly never ending lessons. Will is the most important English writer, but how he’s taught can often be a dour experience.

Enter Snowtown director Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth, which could possibly revive those half-forgotten memories of lost afternoons buried in reference books. This adaptation isn’t by no way horrible to look at. Its lavish cinematography is light years ahead of the Shakespeare animated tales that this blogger had to watch. Despite this, through the gloomy mist and ground muddied by split blood and sweat, Kurzel’s Macbeth is a peculiarly subdued adaptation.

The beauty of cinematic adaptation, fanboys be damned, is what another pair of hands can do to mold the clay. Here Kurzel works with what he’s known for: getting down with the dirt. Much like Snowtown, you can feel the grit under the nails of everyone involved. The secondary actors, who speak with genuine Scottish accents are distracting at times, but only due to the nature of how often Shakespeare is displayed to us. Such naturalistic tones along with the simple set design and Barry Lyndon style low lighting, keeps the atmosphere of the piece as rough as it can be.

In terms of aesthetic This is a rugged and raw Macbeth, which can clearly be seen from the cast that’s been picked. The likes of Paddy Considine and Sean Harris are actors that can convey the kind coarseness that Kurzel is clearly aiming for. The main players of Michael Fassbender and the wide eyed Marion Cotillard are also game. Capturing the desperation and guilt of the Macbeth couple as they grasp for power and disintegrate because of it. Fassbender seemed to have been made for such a role. After the execution of his gutless deed, we witness a dogged Macbeth lie next to the murdered King in a moment of anxiety and foreboding. It’s a slight moment, but one that exposes the inverted vulnerability that Fassbender could do in his sleep.

Through the sweat and dirt, however, there’s a lack of urgency through most of the piece. There’s much to try and take from Macbeth. From its operatic opening sequences to slow motion battle sections. The film’s score is one that howls and squeals like the Highland winds. Add to this the dramatic performances and it’s seems to be a relatively solid adaptation.

Despite this, there doesn’t seem to be anything to full grip on to. This Macbeth is a subdued and slippery beast. It almost feels as it is covered in the same claret that coats Macbeth’s treacherous hands. It gives us little else than a simple telling of the tale.

This is where the beauty of adaptation comes in. You can give us something else. This Macbeth is released at a time where many feel our leaders feel more disingenuous than ever before. Meanwhile, our media douse us with a type of paranoia that previous dictators would happily pay for. Yet, Kurzel and the three screenwriters only really muddy the aesthetic. This is an adaptation that may not wish to be tainted with anything that may date it within the era it was made. However, apart from hushed renditions of some of the bard’s most recognised soliloquys and Macbeth’s madness being observed as a type of PTSD, we’re given little complexity or definition.

The beauty of Shakespeare isn't just in the words (although Fassbender and Cotillard have an eloquent command of the dialogue) but in what else you can bring to the adaptation. The source is strong and always will be, but in the end Macbeth feels as airy and tenuous as the three witches who haunt Macbeth’s dreams and battlefields.

Review: The Martian

Year: 2015
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Drew Goddard
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Synopsis is here:

There is a solid argument which considers that The Martian is a safe film. A film that answers that leaves no frayed ends. Any questions asked, are quickly answered. It’s a film with no typical conflict. Yet when Ridley Scott leaves things open ended (Prometheus) or delivers a dangerous, uncompromising feature (The Counsellor) the filmmaker is quickly disregarded. The Martian almost plays out less like a resigned “I give up” and more like a brash “fuck you” to naysayers. If it’s a safe movie you want (and the expansion of all franchises ever claim you do), then Mr Scott is going to provide the most polished “safe” movie he can provide.

For a film which holds a running time that’s safely over two hours, Scott’s ode to progressive humanity briskly moves with an unexpected swiftness. Quickly landing us within the films predicament, The Martian shows what an entertaining craftsman Scott can be. The Martian finds itself in similar territory to Unstoppable (2010), directed by Ridley’s late brother Tony. The world and set up are quickly established so the film can get on to what it really wants to talk about: Human co-operation.

Much like Unstoppable, The Martian doesn’t really have much in the way of conflict. Unlike Alien (1979), this isn’t about petty hostility paving the way for larger animosity. The Martian actually invests its time in showing human capabilities. It mines enjoyment from intelligent people doing smart and considered things.Matt Damon’s everyman likability help provide a solid foundation to the proceedings. Damon’s Mark Watney, the unfortunate interplanetary castaway, never feels like an empty audience vessel, nor does his ability to his way through particular circumstances feel like a cheat. Much of this is down to Drew Goodard spry script, along with Ridley’s direction. The heavier moments (budget talk, the science, and the media circus) never feel heavy. The film plays with the right sense of broadness in mind.

As The Martian expands, so too does the involvement of the film’s ample cast. Scott, who went under fire for his casting choices and comments on Exodus: Gods and Kings, now delivers a diverse and multi-cultural cast which spans from America through to China. Of course, there’s still complaints of the film whitewashing certain characters based on assumptions. This is also in spite of the author not being explicit with the character representation. Due to the film doing much to invest in a diverse cast, such criticisms should really fall to the wayside. It should be said, however, that a few of the films female characters seem to lack a sense of agency and felt more like a collection of reaction shots than fully fleshed out characters. Yet it’s still important to see everyone with a particular role to play, and The Martian endeavours to highlight this in the film's politics.

Such an argument is clearly observed with the role of Rich Purnell played by Donald Glover. One can debate that Glover’s role is small and collection of clichés. But we must also contend with the fact that Purnell’s role within the plot is not only pivotal but could possibly hold one of the most inspirational representation of Afro-Americans in 2015. The role of Purnell is a microcosm of the Watney’s situation as well as the film’s theme: No matter how small, you hold an importance. We hold an importance.

The Martian seems influenced from not only lesser known sci-fi such as Silent Running (1972) and Moon (2009) but also more populist features such as Interstellar (2014) as well as Scott’s own Alien (1979) and Prometheus (2013). Damon has also mentioned that the likes of Touching the Void (2003) is an inspiration.  It’s a testament to Scott’s craft on just how well he melds these elements into such a crowd pleasing compound. The Martian’s ability to make its humour, science and stakes so palatable and balanced is amongst its best features. But add to that the film’s gorgeous visuals, dynamic set pieces and dependable performances and the result is one of the most enjoyable mainstream productions of the year. Safe? Perhaps, but The Martian is a blockbuster that is willing to highlight bravery and smarts over superpowers and preordained destiny as heroic. In the current environment, it actually feels quite daring.