Thursday 28 January 2016

Review: Room

Year: 2015 (U.K Threatical Release: 2016)
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Screenplay: Emma Donoghue
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H Macy

Synopsis is here:

Despite the film’s slow build, and it’s sometimes misguided moments of tone, Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel; Room, is an involving drama led brilliantly from the film’s main cast. To say too much about the plot, is to ruin things. The film’s marketing has already perhaps let in too much air. Although it would be difficult to sell Room without hinting at least some of its dark premise.

The film's bleak introduction is tough going. For some, it will be the very idea of what’s happening within the enclosed space. Despite being a work of fiction, Donoghue’s story was inspired by a very disturbing true story. One which may switch off one or two in the audience, but would surprise fans of Abrahamson’s previous works. For myself, I found the films first act difficult to get my teeth stuck into. Its situation is troubling, the cast brings forth the right chemistry, yet the stodginess of the piece (while seemingly intentional) becomes slightly overbearing.

Room becomes a far more engaging film after a pivotal event, to which we are suddenly pushed forward into a new range of dynamics. All from the viewpoint of a small child. There’s a slight echo of Terry Gilliam’s Tideland (2005), but while Abrahamson never delves into the recesses of a disturbed child as vibrantly as Gilliam, he maintains a similar innocence while keeping in place a wonderful eye for detail. Room is a film of close ups and reactions, both captured expertly by (cinematographer) Danny Cohen, who manages to display the disorientating effects of an encapsulated youth with a disturbing accuracy.

It is the leads who pull off the films real power. Brie Larson’s darting eyes and troubled glances are matched with the brevity of newcomer Jacob Tremblay. Neither performance is easy to pull off. Both are layered with emotional and give the film's extraordinary situation its pull, even if the catharsis isn’t as powerful as expected.

As an introduction to Abrahamson’s work, Room is far more accessible than the deeply affecting What Richard Did (2012), or his macabrely quirky Adam and Paul (2004). It still brings about some difficult watching and while it doesn’t home as hard as previous efforts (does the film need to lean on its score as hard as it does?), it’s certainly a solid piece of work from an upfront and ambitious director. It’ll be easy to see audience members ignore my heart of stone and flood a screening room in tears.  

Review: Youth

Year: 2015 (UK Theatrical release: 2016)
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Screenplay: Paolo Sorrentino
Starring: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Jane Fonda.

Synopsis is here:

It's funny that amidst all the #Oscarsowhite nonsense, we have Michael Caine telling black actors and filmmakers to "be patient" when it comes to award nominations. Caine says this while promoting yet another film which once again highlights the first world problems of very wealthy white creatives. A film in which its director, Paulo Sorrentino, has already graced his presence with two years ago. Only this time we get more Paul Dano.

The rather gruff old man I sat next to in the screening picked up his stuff and left swiftly though the second act. A film about apathetic old men was just too much. Life's too short. At one point I too considered such an option. As a film, Youth isn’t a badly made piece. Its visual opulence is remarkable. The performances from all the cast hold sensitivity and humour. But I feel that I could have edited my review for Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty and would only have to change less than 100 words.

The second reason behind possibly leaving was that unlike its leads, I still, at this point, have my youth. I will wholeheartedly admit that what Sorrentino is aiming for, I may be too immature to fully appreciate. This doesn’t explain why The Great Beauty tickled the right spot. Maybe it’s because the texts are just so similar. There's little to be said here that wasn't said better in Sorrentino’s 2013 acclaimed feature. We go over the reminiscing, fear and lost loves of both Fred (Caine) and Micky (Harvey Keitel) as they grow old disgracefully during a holiday in the Swiss Alps. The feelings of desire and the wish for more time and energy witness are relatable to anyone who holds a close relationship with their parents/grandparents. Yes, we must embrace life, as to look back with regret is most disheartening. It’s not that what Sorrentino’s saying doesn’t hold a sense of truth. However, this was said with more bite two years ago. Toni Servillo wandering the ruins of Rome, looking back at his own feelings of unfulfilment within a city of such succulent culture gave an entertaining dynamic. Having Caine conduct music with cows wearing bells is cute, but doesn’t really do too much else.

Cute is what Youth often is. Having an aging Maradona reflect on when he had the world at his feet is a highlight. As is the film’s gorgeous compositions of the human body which range from the young and voluptuous to the aged and decaying. Sorrentino is quite skilled at conveying certain emotions and moods wordlessly.

It is difficult to believe a lot of Youth however. The narrative thread of Rachel Weisz’s character is weak on many accounts, not just for the bizarre meta reference of using Paloma Faith as a Homewrecker. Despite the amusing end gag at Miss Faith’s expense, the film often derails itself on such indulgent flights of fancy.

Should we have expected anything thing else from a film like Youth? Probably not. I do have to admit that the film is a bit of a let-down. While holding the same visual elegance of The Great Beauty, it lacks that film's sense of place. While lovely to look at, nothing really seems to stick. Although the screenplay tries incessantly to do so with its more obvious dialogue.

Amusingly, Fred states at one point that “Intellectuals have no taste.” Another cute moment in a film that could likely be highly acclaimed by intellectuals. My mind wandered back to the gruff man who exited early. I wonder if he left to watch a movie where robots fight aliens or something similar. That’s what I would have done.