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Monthly Archives: March 2013

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Park Chan-wook is a director of immense talent and originality, but not one I find consistent or accurate enough to be a personal favourite. Oldboy, his most recognisable film is a violent massacre of action, but on repeated viewings, I have found its impact to be less effective and the flaws show throughout. Likewise with Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Thirst; two of his more brutal films, in which the pin-point care is easily noticeable, but they are films flooded with flaws and an uneven nature. His short in the small Asian horror anthology Three Extremes (“Cut”), however is a beast of power and originality.

Stoker, Chan-wook’s newest release is unlike anything he’s ever done before. His reputation throughout cinema has been built on vengeance and redemption, two traits of his films apparent throughout the vast majority of his catalogue (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Oldboy especially), and despite his technical power in his films, Stoker is the first truly great one. Working on so many more levels than just a Gothic tale of a dysfunctional family, Stoker analyses its characters in a never-ending maze of fantasy and fear.

At the centre of Stoker is our protagonist India Stoker. India is a fascinating figure of a mysterious nature and the performance from Mia Wasikowska as this fragile, shy young woman is one of the finer performances I’ve seen from an actress in recent years. Wasikowska portrays her character in such a way that the demoralization and decay of her soul meets the required believability and alongside her talent is an underlying presence. Wasikowska may not be the tallest woman in the world, but she utilises her traits to full advantage and delivers a performance that is out of the world, and despite this being my first film seen from 2013, I’d be ecstatic to see her sweep the acclaim come awards season.

On the other end of the barrel is Matthew Goode as the sinister Uncle Charlie Stoker. I remember seeing Goode give what I thought at the time to be a career-defining performance in A Single Man, but in Stoker he is mesmeric. There’s a real avalanche of fear that he brings to his character and on more than one occasion, I felt as if I was watching Anthony Perkins in Psycho yet again.

Perhaps the biggest name in Stoker, and the counterweight is Nicole Kidman. Throughout her career she has made a name as a remarkably gifted actress with all the talent to be remembered for years to come along the greats. Whether it’s her work in Eyes Wide Shut, The Others or something more emotionally charged such as Rabbit Hole, she’s always managed to deliver a performance of the highest level and her acclaim is fully deserved. Stoker, I feel, is her most devastating work yet. She may not have the screen time I had anticipated, but there’s something truly magnificent about her performance.

Ignoring the performances, though, Stoker is a masterpiece, and I say that without caution and I know that isn’t because it’s fresh in my memory, I say that because it’s true. With Stoker, Park Chan-wook has created one of the most brutal, fearless and ruthless films I have ever seen. From the opening moments, Stoker is a technical master class with each shot providing a daring look into electrifying souls of its characters and every line is delivered with utmost precision.

I have seen Terrence Malick’s visionary masterpiece The Tree of Life in cinemas, but I cannot honestly say I have seen a more effective and powerful film on the big screen than Stoker. I cannot wait to re-watch it again, and I am immediately anticipating Chan-wook’s next step. Bravo, sir. Bravo.

95/100

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In my time as a film fan, I’ve seen countless tales of drugs and poverty. Whether it may be the masterpiece that is Lukas Moodysson’s Lilja-4-ever from 2002 or Jerry Schatzberg’s powerhouse film The Panic in Needle Park, I’ve always found the sub-genre to be one of the most fascinating and powerful in all of cinema. They depict life in the most explosive ways, with graphic imagery and some truly relentless storytelling and tend to be films that are sure calls for a lump to be found in a throat before the credits appear.

Christiane F is a film like no other. Adapted from the non-fiction autobiographical novel from Christiane F herself, the novel details her struggle with drugs in a degraded 1970’s West Berlin as she encounters endless people and flirts with drug abuse so early on in her life. The premise of Christiane F is not an explosive one in this day and age (drugs play a huge part in cinema), but for its time you can imagine the sheer intensity of viewing such a film in 1981. Even more so, thinking about the film as reality instead of fiction really increases its effect, separating it from others which simply tell the stories of fictional characters, despite all their power.

Of course with a film such as Christiane F, the performances are essential and it gets just what it deserves. In the titular role is Natja Brunckworst in one of the finest, most damaging portrayals of a character torn apart by a world that has no place for, is a force of reason and insatiable emotion. As told throughout the film, her downward spiral from a happy young girl into this drug abusive woman and Brunckworst, only fifteen (!) at the time of its release, is downright remarkable. Acting is a difficult talent and even more of a challenge at such a young age, but she handles her character so magnificently that it feels like the film is more than just that. Her performance makes the film into something truly kinetic and sore, leaving the viewer with an unstoppable amount of emotion for this young woman and all her troubles.

Directed by Uli Edel, who would eight years later adapt another difficult novel in Last Exit to Brooklyn, shows all the skills required to make a film effective. This is not just a graphic representation of childhood; it is a damning, relentless portrayal of the world and all its problems. Christiane F stutters in the early stages, but it soon turns into a magnificent film, laced with a David Bowie soundtrack and an appearance from the man himself. See this film.

85/100

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Tim Krabbé’s The Golden Egg, from which The Vanishing is adapted from, is one of the finest novella’s I’ve ever read. Even in its confined 114 pages, the writing is astonishing. Krabbé builds up his characters, layers them with reason, and as the story progresses allows his reader to become obsessed with how the story unfolds.

George Sluizer’s adaptation is as far from my expectations as imaginable, but I couldn’t mean that in anymore of a positive way. I went in, despite my knowledge of the story prior, expecting a tense, challenging thriller. Sluizer’s film is presented more as a character study than anything else. Three years after his girlfriend’s disappearance, Rex is still struggling to accept the worst and his personal investigations go on throughout the film. Rex, presented early in the film as somewhat of a calm, collected figure, is now nothing but. He’s chaotic and obsessed with finding the culprit and it even tears apart his new relationship he’s built since, presenting a man’s unstoppable love in the grandest of ways.

On the other side is Raymond Lemorne; the culprit. Sluizer’s film analyses him, his family and what makes him perform such a terrifying act. Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu is a revelation in the role. As we uncover his secrets and become entangled with the life of a sociopath, the performance grows even stronger. The novella, in my opinion, makes Lemorne seem somewhat of a secondary character. Sluizer’s film puts him at the forefront, and without a shadow of a doubt, the way Lemorne is handled by Sluizer is incredible. The commanding force of Donnadieu’s performance and Sluizer’s tidy, inventive characterisation make for one of the most impressive thrillers of the 1980’s.

The Vanishing pulls no punches and Sluizer’s study of a killer is one of the most uncompromising and intelligent films of its time. I would recommend people read Krabbé’s novel prior for a more effective experience, but even as a standalone film, it is brilliant.

83/100

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17 years prior, Jonathan Demme made his name in the film industry. The Silence of the Lambs was that film; one of the most terrifying and claustrophobic depictions of the human decay in all of cinema. The film which challenges the senses, and the stomach of its audience, is without a doubt one of the finest movies of all-time; a depressing, systematic masterpiece. Demme, the man behind it all, worked wonders with it. Jodie Foster, portraying Clarice Starling; the protagonist, was a woman of inner strength and knowledge and the work from Foster, for me, is one of the defining cinematic performances in all of horror.

I may be clutching at straws here, but the work from Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married doesn’t feel too dissimilar to Foster’s. In Hathaway’s aggression, her character becomes a representation of the human decay and the fear that we all come across at some point in our lives. Hathaway, portraying Kim, is magnificent. Kim, out of rehab for the umpteenth time is a woman that even without the rehab attributes, we can all relate to and sympathise with to some degree. Rachel, Kim’s’ sister, is the polar opposites of Hathaway’s character. Rachel is a successful young woman. She is getting married, on her way to a PhD and quite simply: she is happy. Kim is distraught and without saying it in so many words: her family are disappointed in her. As the story progresses and arguments occur, it becomes apparent there is more to her families’ ordinary love towards her. I won’t spoil it, but the way it is eventually uncovered is almost too moving for words.

Rachel Getting Married is not your usual family re-union film. It is a film that despite comedic elements is not without its dramatic embodiment of a dysfunctional family. The family get together for a very positive reason: a wedding, but that’s where the positivity ends. Jonathan Demme’s film is a challenging film, but the way it handles its tough premise is remarkable. I was hesitant early on with the decision to utilise a handheld camera style, but by the end of the film it feels essential to its overall impact. It allows the viewer to be invasive, and gives that great documentary feel. Not that the handheld style is required for a realistic view, though.

Rachel Getting Married is filled with realistic, believable characters. They are all going through trauma and happiness at the very same time; Rachel Getting Married is the analysis and depiction of a family in love, but a family out of love equally. This is an emotionally disturbing film that pulls no punches, and one of the decades finest representations’ of family.

82/100

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Of Hubert Selby’s five novels, I have read two; The Demon and Last Exit to Brooklyn. The Demon is a force of nature, a true literature masterpiece and one of my favourite novels. Last Exit To Brooklyn; Selby’s most revered and respected of all his novels is also quite simply fantastic. At the time of its release, it was praised as much as it was criticised for its much too apparent and violent portrayals of life. The novel, which over the years has gained somewhat of a reputation, is not without its faults. For me, despite its ultimate reward, is a challenging read. Atypical of its time, the life which it mirrored was too realistic for some, but for those with a strong stomach, the novel provides one of the most fascinating depictions of life in a novel I’ve ever read.

After several attempts by animator Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic) to adapt the down-in-the-dumps novel failed in the 70’s, Uli Edel took the job. Known for Christiane.F, a film that I am desperate to see, the decision to take on the task of adapting one of the most valued writings of all time was a risk. The novel is full of ground-breaking material and a mass of colourful characters, to put it lightly and the violent prose of Selby’s work is disturbing throughout with sex and crime prominent elements.

Uli Edel’s adaptation, despite its limited flaws, is a film that succeeds admirably. The violence present in the novel is the aspect that Edel, of all the elements, needed to transfer most prominently for the film to work. It does and despite some prolonged interactions, the violence is as memorable and striking as I read in the novel. Edel’s film also finds a great atmosphere to work within, and what with the story taking place for the majority during the night, the sound design is mesmeric. Every footstep is loud and powerful, every match lit bright and every punch landed with courage.

Jennifer Jason Leigh steals the show. Her performance as Tralala is without a doubt the most distinctive element of the entire film. She commands every frame she finds herself in, in a performance that feels as hypnotic and imperative to anything I’ve seen. As the film builds to its finale, the sheer strengths and talents of Jennifer Jason Leigh are put to the ultimate test and she comes out on top. Her performance is so great that despite the low commercial success of the film, I believe she should have received more praise that she ultimately did.

Last Exit To Brooklyn is not the perfect adaptation of the novel and despite my early worries when I saw Stephen Baldwin’s name appear, the film ultimately performs its job very well indeed. The film, like the novel, shows that life isn’t all rainbows and sunsets. It mirrors the lives of down on their luck people like no other novel has ever done.

81/100