Archive for March, 2012

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In Darkness (Agnieszka Holland, 2011)

March 30, 2012

Originally written for Reel Time, now at Sound on Sight

Better known in the last few years for directing episodes of such shows as The Wire, Treme, and the American version of The Killing, Agnieszka Holland returns to her native Poland for another film of hers concerning the plight of people during the Second World War. In Darkness bears many broad strokes from numerous Holocaust and wartime related dramas that have come before it: danger, atrocity, courage, family ties, and the conflict between self-preservation and benevolence are all present. While it does admittedly stray towards formulaic elements, it generally executes the formula quite effectively. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012)

March 27, 2012

In the dystopian, totalitarian nation of Panem, a wealthy capital city rules over an impoverished nation of districts. As penance for a previous rebellion, every year sees each district forced to enter two adolescents to participate in The Hunger Games competition; the winner receives an extensive cash sum and a chance to live amongst the wealthy, but the event is a death match where only one can survive. Elements of the film’s narrative and allegorical concerns result in an amalgamation of the likes of The Most Dangerous Game, Lord of the Flies, The Running Man, The Truman Show, Series 7: The Contenders, and Battle Royale, but The Hunger Games successfully stands on its own as a gripping entity with an interesting world courtesy of Suzanne Collins’ source material, the first in a hugely popular series of novels.

Regarding that last work to which it may bear numerous superficial similarities, Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale has one arguable strength over Gary Ross’ film in that it bears some more memorable, effective staging of its combatants’ fighting. That film, however, leans more towards dark comedy, and is otherwise an undernourished, un-engaging effort when it attempts dramatic potency that frequently falls flat. Hosting an unpleasant melodramatic tone, far too many one-dimensional characters that barely register prior to their demise, and clumsy, overt delivery of its social commentary, Battle Royale is unsatisfying in numerous ways, especially so in comparison to strengths of The Hunger Games that serve to counter that film’s flaws and limited execution. Firstly, Ross’ screenplay, co-written with Collins and Billy Ray, makes the wise choice to not try building the film around every contestant, preventing potential wallowing in inanity that Fukasaku’s effort is so frequently prone to. Present in nearly every sequence, Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss is the main focus here, in addition to fellow District 12 competitor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). The character development of its select protagonists, which also include Woody Harrelson’s former Hunger Games victor Haymitch, and the emotional gratification related to their journey is one of the film’s notable highlights; Lawrence is especially great in her role, providing a little vulnerability but also an engaging, sombre determination…

Full review at Sound on Sight

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A Man’s Story (Vanon Bonicos, 2010)

March 26, 2012

British fashion designer Ozwald Boateng’s career is chronicled in A Man’s Story, a documentary derived from director Varon Bonicos’ camera crew having spent twelve years tailing and accruing footage of the man at both work and play. The film’s lone strength is that there’s always a sense, thanks to the extensive footage accumulated, that the viewer is right in the middle of the action, as randomly arranged as it all seems. Unfortunately, the worth of detailing this action is never really clear…

Full review at Sound on Sight

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Trishna (Michael Winterbottom, 2011)

March 24, 2012

Originally written for Reel Time, now at Sound on Sight

Among contemporary cinema’s more versatile and prolific directors, one of the few sources of inspiration Michael Winterbottom has repeatedly returned to is the work of Thomas Hardy. Jude, his 1996 adaptation of Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, was effectively his breakthrough film; 2000’s The Claim, meanwhile, was loosely based on The Mayor of Casterbridge, applying content from that novel’s Victorian England setting to an American western. Winterbottom’s latest Hardy adaptation, Trishna, has more in common with that latter film in that it transfers the source material of Tess of the d’Urbervilles to a different setting and culture. Set in India, Trishna differs from both of the director’s previous Hardy adaptations in that it tries to apply the source’s themes and narrative to the contemporary version of its setting. The result is not very successful. Read the rest of this entry ?

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In Time (Andrew Niccol, 2011)

March 6, 2012

Among the works of writer-director Andrew Niccol in the last fifteen years, his science fiction efforts, if not always great films, have at least been consistently interesting to some degree; his debut Gattaca and the Peter Weir directed The Truman Show stand as particularly strong efforts. In his latest dystopian film, advances in genetic technology mean that no one ages past twenty five, and people are given only one year after reaching that age to live. The premise bares some similarity to the 1976 film Logan’s Run, though In Time has death as something that can be deferred, additional time in one’s life being a currency that can be earned or taken from someone else. Read the rest of this entry ?

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GFF 2012: The Raid (Gareth Evans, 2011)

March 2, 2012

The Raid is an action thriller with unmistakable, specific influences, but one that combines them with its own unique qualities to provide a particularly potent collection of thrills. Made in Indonesia but directed by a Welshman, the simple but effective plot of Gareth Evans’ film is almost like a mix of two of its clear influences, Die Hard and Assault on Precinct 13. A derelict apartment building in the heart of Jakarta’s slums acts as a seemingly impenetrable safe house for a ruthless gangster and an array of killers and thugs. Tasked with raiding the fortress and capturing the vicious drug lord who runs it, an elite police team enters the building while under the cover of pre-dawn darkness and silence, only for an unexpected witness to reveal their presence to the criminals in charge. The members of the unit, protagonist Rama among them, suddenly find themselves stranded and easy targets on the sixth floor. With the lights cut off, all exits blocked and a hive of the city’s most deadly criminals looking to exterminate them, the team must fight their way out to survive…

Full review at Sound on Sight

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My Month in Films: February 2012

March 2, 2012

24 films, 19 first time viewings

Best first time viewings
1. A Night to Remember (Roy Ward Baker, 1958, UK)
2. When Harry Met Sally… (Rob Reiner, 1989, USA)
3. This Is Not a Film (Mojtaba Mirtahmasb/Jafar Panahi, 2011, Iran)
4. The Raid (Gareth Evans, 2011, Indonesia/USA)
5. Tales of the Night (Michel Ocelot, 2011, France)
6. The Muppets (James Bobin, 2011, USA)
7. This Must Be the Place (Paolo Sorrentino, 2011, Italy/France/Ireland)
8. Your Sister’s Sister (Lynn Shelton, 2011, USA)
9. Carnage (Roman Polanski, 2011, France/Germany/Poland/Spain)
10. Play (Ruben Östlund, 2011, Sweden)

Best rewatches
Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen/Gene Kelly, 1952, USA)
It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934, USA)
Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki, 1997, Japan)
Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1970, UK/West Germany)

Worst
The Iron Lady (Phyllida Lloyd, 2011, UK/France)