Archive for January, 2012

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Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)

January 30, 2012

Like his 2008 debut feature Hunger, Steve McQueen’s Shame is a film that is alternately intimate and distant; revealing but also reliant on what is hidden. Much of the acting choices made by stars Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, combined with the elusive screenplay of McQueen and Abi Morgan, allude to various possibilities regarding factors in the past of the characters that have perhaps influenced their damaged states in the present, but the film avoids outright confirmation so as to not make things concrete. Moments of potential sexual abuse or incest in the protagonists’ pasts are certainly possibilities made open for valid interpretation in the film, but to clearly state that single acts like abuse are the defining factor in the development of Fassbender’s Brandon’s sexually rooted compulsions and addictions – and Mulligan’s flaky, self-sabotaging Sissy – is to do a disservice to the complexities of human development.

In the case of Brandon, his damaging compulsions do not inhibit him from successfully progressing in the world. Practically the contemporary embodiment of a ‘yuppie’, his success in adjustment and control over his material life actually allows for his addictions to manifest in more elaborate ways, displaying what is arguably a more unique depiction in the canon of addiction-based films. His life is rooted in routine and regime, his bodily urges receiving habitual explorations in a way that keep them at a relatively safe distance from the more public aspects of his life. His emotions completely internalised, and a desire for meaningful connections virtually null, a convergence of events shattering to his world suddenly cause an interruption to his state of routine that allow his impulses to begin seeping into his life in a more prominent fashion: the confiscation of his porn filled work computer due to detection of a virus, and the unwelcome, surprising arrival of sister Sissy as houseguest for an unforeseeable amount of time. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Adventureland (Greg Mottola, 2009)

January 26, 2012

Adventureland

Adventureland is an especially good entry into the period coming-of-age film canon, its sharp eye for era detail, in the vein of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, never leading to over romanticising of its 1980s setting. Initially seeming to be full of stock characters and scenarios for this sub-genre, the film impresses in its leisurely, assured exploration of its characters, both major and minor, affording depth that elevates any stereotypical elements they may possess. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier, 2011)

January 20, 2012

Originally written for Reel Time, now at Sound on Sight

Oslo, August 31st is the second feature length effort from director Joachim Trier, after 2006’s Reprise, and the second cinematic adaptation of the novel Le feu follet by author Pierre Drieu La Rochelle. Known in most English language territories as The Fire Within, Louis Malle’s 1963 version is set in Paris, and follows a recovering alcoholic journeying from a rehabilitation clinic to the city one last time in order to visit friends and hopefully find a reason to keep on living. Trier’s Norwegian film transplants the action to that country’s capital, but also replaces the alcoholism angle with one concerned with drug addiction. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher, 2011)

January 14, 2012

David Fincher’s return to the murder mystery genre proves especially notable in the context of his cinematic output to date, providing a blend of various aesthetic and thematic concerns of some of his previous films. The detailed, analytical investigative aspects of Zodiac encounter the outsider character study elements of The Social Network, as well as that film’s rapid-fire depiction of digital technology and what pursuits involved with it can expose about people; there’s also a reprisal of the explicit serial killer and abuse content of his breakthrough film Se7en. Much of this is made quite overt in the film’s opening credits sequence, which bring to mind the dark but mischievous opening of his 1995 film. Set to a blistering cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, with vocals from Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O, among its oily blackened images is the sight of tentacle-like USB cables ensnaring figures both male and female, penetrating and destroying them. The murder investigated in the film’s narrative occurs around the time of those unsolved killings in Zodiac, but the contemporary tools of the digital era of the film’s main setting in the 2000s mean that issues of the past can still be dug up and resolved, allowing actions to finally have devastating consequences. If The Social Network had some commentary about digital technology’s means of destroying people’s connections, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s opening titles and thematic exploration go further to suggest that the digital can destroy people as a whole. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Public Enemies (Michael Mann, 2009)

January 13, 2012

Originally written for a long abandoned former blog back in July 2009
(I must admit that I do have a relatively strong inclination to revisit this film to see if I would now like it, considering changes in my taste over the last few years.)

Michael Mann’s intention with his use of the same digital approach incorporated in his previous outing, Miami Vice, for this film was, from my understanding, to make it feel like the audience is in the 1930s, rather than simply observing it; to potentially involve them with the characters on a more “close-up” level. There are definitely some notable highs with the film’s technical elements, including a tremendous sounding and thrilling shootout between John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham), their gang and a FBI squad led by Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale). The low points are some unfortunately grainy indoor shots and quite a few instances of dropping sound levels, mostly in the first half. Overall though, Mann’s particular digital approach is a fairly unique and interesting approach. The film’s main problem is that the supposed intention for the digital approach, as previously cited, is never achieved. This is actually not the fault of the technology, but of much of what the rest the film has to offer. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Last Night (Don McKellar, 1998)

January 13, 2012

Originally written for a long abandoned former blog back in July 2008

Many a film has dealt with the concept of the end of the world. On the whole,these generally concern mankind banding together in the face of such destruction, or at least a group of individuals attempting to prevent Armageddon, as seen in such films as Sunshine, Deep Impact, and, of course, Michael Bay’s aptly titled Armageddon. The premise of Last Night, in my mind, is so brilliant because of how it subverts the expectations of an apocalyptic film. There is none of the mawkish sentimentality often present in such works and, though there are some grim events and character decisions, we are not presented with the traditional chaotic apocalypse. Taking place in the last six hours before the end of the world, the group of characters we follow, who are fully aware of what is coming and have been so for quite a while, go about making plans and trying to fulfill certain wishes and exit existence in the way they most desire. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Best of Youth (Marco Tullio Giordana, 2003)

January 12, 2012

Raiding my writing archives once more. This review was originally written in July 2009 for a long abandoned former blog of mine.

With its six hour running time and focus on nearly 40 years in the lives of its protagonists, the Italian saga of family, friendship, love, and life in general that is The Best of Youth has something of a reputation as a contemporary cinematic behemoth, alongside Béla Tarr’s even longer Sátántangó; films where the epic running time tends to take precedence in the mind of a potential viewer over the content, making them perhaps seem like little more than challenges for the supposed “hardcore” film watcher, and possible chores to sit through. I cannot speak for Tarr’s film, having not seen it, but such a description is thankfully an inappropriate one for Giordana’s film.

The feel and unhurried scope of the film brings to mind a great novel, rather than a typical cinematic outing. Instead of rushing through the events of the nearly 40 year period, the film’s proceedings are paced impeccably, allowing room for extensive, brilliantly realised characterisation alongside the factual and fictional occurrences that shape the lives of the Carati brothers, Matteo (Alessio Boni) and Nicola (Luigi Lo Cascio), as well as those closest to them. All the performances have a distinct air of authenticity about them, which, in addition to the screenplay, helps to prevent any sort of overly melodramatic tone from making an appearance in the depiction of the numerous feuds, romances and personal revelations that occur. The important social and political points in the story are also not hammered home in a blunt fashion by the writing, and their role in the shaping of the characters is successfully put across. What we are provided with is a completely natural weaving through the course of two lives. Read the rest of this entry ?