Archive for September, 2012

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Looper (Rian Johnson, 2012)

September 28, 2012

Of its numerous strengths, one of Looper’s greatest is that, despite featuring narration by its lead character, it heavily relies on visual storytelling to successfully convey both information and emotion. The narration delivers as little exposition as necessary to begin understanding both of its dystopian worlds, and its characters, respecting the viewer’s intelligence and leaving further comprehension down to them. In no way does this make Looper’s fictional world, one of time-travel that blends sci-fi and crime film conventions, feel at all under-realised. The world is, in fact, fully rendered and often beautifully so: see a montage depiction of one key player’s past, or rather future, that spans years but is completely without dialogue, motivations becoming clear for the viewer long before this character needs to spell it out for his younger self much later in the film. Additionally of note is a horrific but gloriously executed sequence of torture, also dialogue-free, that conveys the narrative’s logic regarding time travel and the effects actions in the film’s present can still have on one’s future self…

Full review at Sound on Sight

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Fred Won’t Move Out (Richard Ledes, 2012)

September 28, 2012

The title character of Richard Ledes’ new film, played by Elliott Gould, is an elderly man living with his wife Susan (Judith Roberts), a sufferer of Alzheimer’s. Often at odds with Susan’s endlessly patient live-in nurse, Fred demonstrates frustration at his wife’s condition; not dismissive with contempt, but upset at Susan’s increasing failure to be “present”. Fred himself is also beginning to lose his own functionality in various ways, and the film’s little narrative focus concerns his two children, Bob (Fred Melamed) and Carol (Stephanie Roth Haberie), trying to arrange for both their parents to move to a full-time home. Having lived in the country house for over fifty years, Fred is resilient to change and eager to hang on to what is left of his relationship with his wife and residence…

Full review at Sound on Sight

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Anna Karenina (Joe Wright, 2012)

September 23, 2012

For most of its running time, Joe Wright’s version of Anna Karenina takes place within interior confines, with nearly every scene occurring on a set of noticeable stages. There are no attempts to disguise the artificiality of the film’s appearance: clear models and miniatures are heavily used, and there are even moments where the viewer can see the extras in a long, unbroken take re-arranging the contents of one set so as to transform it into another. Joe Wright has so far been one of the more interesting directors to heavily dabble in period drama, and Anna Karenina sees a sharpening of his increasingly trademark long takes that previously felt overly showy at times, alongside a carrying over of the visual and aural creativity of his brilliant action effort Hanna.

Wright’s film doesn’t just take notes from theatre, with influences from dance and painting also on display. A studio-bound period drama with so many artistic reference points and vibrant editing can’t help but initiate memories of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, especially so when Matthew Macfadyen almost seems to be channelling Jim Broadbent’s performance in that film, and when there are similarly so many lines heavy with utterance of that abstract idea “love”. While both films have this very polarising, slightly similar style, Wright’s film is certainly far less abrasive and more easily accessible even when heightening its artifice. If one manages to be tuned in with its approach, the results of the aesthetic are often quite extraordinary…

Full review at Sound on Sight
Repost of review for North American release (November 2012)

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Top 5 Wong Kar-wai films

September 23, 2012

With a lengthy production and repeated delays to any public exhibition of his newest film The Grandmasters, the cinematic landscape has been sorely missing the presence of Wong Kar-wai. His last completed film – the admittedly middling English-language effort My Blueberry Nights – premiered over five years ago now at the 2007 instalment of Cannes. Arguably the most impactful Chinese director of the 1990s, Wong’s films thrive on strong primary emotions, introspective characters trying to escape their trappings, and exhilarating, kinetic forms of editing, tonal and visual mismatches, and sumptuous colours and wide-angle cinematography. They are also anchored by a frequently recurring assortment of great Asian stars. With The Grandmasters hopefully reaching cinemas sometime next year, here’s a retrospective look at a personal top five of his past works.

5. 2046 (2004)
In the way that Fallen Angels can be seen as a darker companion to Chungking Express, 2046 exists as a companion piece to (primarily) In The Mood For Love, arguably Wong Kar-wai’s most widely acclaimed film and one that only just missed the cut here. There are also musical, verbal and character name call-backs to Days Of Being Wild in 2046.

Partially operating in a science fiction framework, the film’s various continuations, revisions and re-imaginings of past works and concerns in his filmography render this as Wong’s most self-reflective work, and arguably his most personal in its examination of unfulfilled love. While a very ill-advised choice for a Wong newcomer to start with, this beautiful, unique effort is a hugely rewarding triumph…

Remainder of article at SubtitledOnline

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Dredd (Pete Travis, 2012)

September 20, 2012

Excluding a much-maligned 1995 adaptation, one of the more notable influences 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd comic book series has had on the film world is informing Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop. Both have corrupt future city settings, helmeted law enforcer protagonists, and often absurd levels of violence. The comparison in Pete Travis’ Dredd is especially inescapable when, in one scene, Karl Urban’s Judge Dredd informs a felon that they only have a certain number of seconds to comply. The most important comparison, however, between RoboCop, or even Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi fare in general, and the Judge Dredd comics, is the heavily satirical content amidst the gore and gunplay. Though not a glaring detriment, it is somewhat disappointing that Travis’ film only has small flourishes of the satire, especially as one brief example in the film’s opening sequence is something one suspects Verhoeven would relish: following a crime bust in a public venue, a street-cleaning vehicle wipes up the blood of murdered bystanders while the bodies in question are still on the ground, as a nearby display assures customers and staff that they will be able to re-enter the building in just a few minutes.

With both films sharing a law force trapped in a tower block-based siege, the Judge Dredd reboot bears some superficial comparisons to The Raid. While Gareth Evans’ film had some John Carpenter DNA mixed with the better traits of prime John Woo, the Carpenter influence is even more pronounced in Travis’ effort. Dredd is a concise genre exercise with sharply-defined, engaging characters, a compelling narrative, and moments of inspired flair in its bursts of action. Some of the less oppressive portions of Paul Leonard-Morgan’s effective industrial score even bring to mind Carpenter’s self-composed synth soundtracks. Like that director in his prime, Travis and writer Alex Garland are just concerned with a singular showcase of thrills, the film never overstaying its welcome, length or narrative-wise, and displaying little to no concern with franchise aspirations. In a comic adaptation market flooded with intertwining films, bloated allegorical contortions and constant set-up for sequels, Dredd is positively refreshing….

Full review at Sound on Sight

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Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012)

September 18, 2012

Review written for Subtitled Online

One of the more acclaimed films to premiere at the 2012 Berlinale, and an audience favourite at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, Tabu is primarily concerned with how fiction, specifically films, inspires our memories. This is Portugese director Miguel Gomes’ follow-up to his praised 2008 feature Our Beloved Month Of August, a film that transitioned between a factual documentary aesthetic and fictional drama. Tabu has a similarly unique execution, switching halfway from contemporary dry comedy to an exotic, dream-like extended flashback. Heavily influenced by silent films and early adventure cinema, Tabu provides an interesting contrast to The Artist in its resurrection of older filmmaking grammar, used here for arguably more creative means than just parody humour. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Woman in a Dressing Gown (J. Lee Thompson, 1957)

September 15, 2012

A hugely affecting and claustrophobic film, the underseen and recently restored Woman in a Dressing Gown is, on a base level, a notable precursor to “kitchen-sink” dramas. Beyond that, however, the probing female insight and melodramatic flourishes in its exploration of relationship deterioration, and the social suppression of women, can be seen to have roots in the works of both Douglas Sirk and Yasujirô Ozu, while also being in line with styles directors like Terence Davies and Rainer Werner Fassbinder would delve into years later.

Anthony Quayle and Yvonne Mitchell play Jim and Amy, a middle-aged married couple. The weary Jim is pursuing a passionate though apparently unconsummated affair with his much younger secretary, Georgie, played by Sylvia Sims. Amy, spending all her homebound time in a well-worn dressing gown, is scatterbrained, untidy and forever cheerful despite the frustrating effects her bouts of dimwittedness have on both Jim and their son Brian (Andrew Ray). Jim’s attempt to walk out on his family comes halfway through the film, and Amy finds herself with an all-too brief window of opportunity to try to convince him their relationship still has something left that’s worth sticking with. Read the rest of this entry ?