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Monthly Archives: August 2013

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A few months ago I introduced myself to the world of Studio Ghibli. With My Neighbour Totoro, the essential release from this dynamic creative unit, the experience was almost ethereal. It was a film unlike no other, transcending the immense power of childhood imagination and naivety. To say as little as possible about it; it changed my outlook on animated features entirely. Prior to that viewing I had never truly understood nor appreciated the possibilities of the medium, but after witnessing the magical beauty of Hayao Miyazaki’s cautionary tale I realised all my earlier communications with animation were misconceived and without recent. It’s stunning to sit through a film that is so luxuriously effective and challenging – it analyses and replicates strong themes that most shy away from – and I appreciate all its magnificence quality.

Ponyo, like My Neighbour Totoro, challenges itself to explore the boundaries of not only animation but cinema. It’s a testament to the immense quality of My Neighbour Totoro that Ponyo deservedly impacted me just as greatly. With the gushing realism a long distance memory here, Ponyo instead centres its time on the relationship between 5 year old Sosuke and the titular goldfish that is transformed into a human child after Sosuke’s cut is removed. Imagination filters throughout the film’s earlier moments as it explores the imagination and vision of its lovable objects. These two, despite their polar object situations, bond to an extensive manner. Largely, the relationship works as a thematic representation of connection and the possibilities of life as a whole.

It’s not only the startling and adorable nature they both posses that allows it freedom, but rather it’s the creative industry of Miyazaki’s mind and the limitless animation from Ghibli that provides the film with its flowing presence. We witness the immeasurable love between our characters and as the story unfolds the emotional bounds of animation are explored. One particular sequence in which Sosuke begins crying after struggling to his mother is effective for the line that Ponyo delivers: “There’s water coming from your eyes”. It’s simplistic upon reading, but it represents naivety and imagination in unparallel manner – much as the film depends on it.

Ponyo is a sweet, charming piece of cinematic beauty. It has all the emotional qualities that make it memorable, but it’s also hilarious in all its tranquil subtly. Miyazaki has my full attention.

80/100

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Like most, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive captivated me. It was a film that I immediately felt a vast love for, and that intense adoration has only grown on further viewing – for its style, poetry like nature and the intimidating feeling I felt from it. I had previously, without knowledge of Refn, seen Bronson – another film that impressed me because of its power – but the subsequent second viewing of it alongside introducing myself to the Pusher trilogy, Fear XBleeder and Valhalla Rising, made me into the Refn fan that I am today. All of films work on their setting and violent thematic content to encapsulate their tales in provocative manner, all of which remain true to themselves in their vision. I didn’t feel the encouragement that some found with Valhalla Rising, but I respected Refn’s decisive decision making to fulfil his ambition.

Only God Forgives, the new film from Refn, has many of the same qualities thatValhalla Rising failed to excite me with. This film, from the opening sequences, makes it graphically clear to the viewer what they are about to watch – a lucid, beautiful nightmare of slow-burning power. Saying that may be conflicting, but its easy identifiable to me how Refn is attempting to portray his visionary madness. In the cinematography and framing used throughout the film, the influence of the destructively brilliant David Lynch is visually clear – Only God Forgives works off a bloodthirsty red colour palette to show the insanity of the film with complete disregard for visual subtly. Is that a criticism? Absolutely not. Whilst I often appreciate the cinematography of a film to not overshadow the portrayal of its tale,Only God Forgives utilises this lack of photographic subtly to its full advantage.

It’s undoubtedly clear to me why people will loathe this film and as it unfolds the patience required can be excruciatingly frustrating, but one you’re past the line of adapting to the poisonous tone of this psychedelic nightmare, you’ll be dragged in hopefully by its power. I felt this visionary madness from the darkening first moments and my addiction just grew and grew. It’s a massacre of violent proportions, all heightened by the harnessing poignancy of the work from Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas and the dark witted force of its silence. I beg of its detracters to revisit immediately.

85/100

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Having finally watched Only God Forgives tonight, I felt like I should finally revisit Refn’s prior engagment with the discomforting, ominous silence that he surrounded himself in with his newest. It, to me, on a first viewing marginally caught my attention with all its prominent violence and harrowing cinematography, but I never really felt clawed into this hellish vision as much as I wished. At the time of viewing I was only familiar with the neon-lights of Drive the sadistic loudness of Brosnan, not yet affiliated to Refn’s style of filmmaking as it required for such a film.

This viewing, fortunately, proves my previous inexperience correct. Valhalla Risinghad shown me the mythical challenge of its warrior as he stumbles through territory after territory, but it all seemed vague and aimless. I now see it for its poignant, brutal qualities in the way that it emancipates itself with a period of time and decapitates it, literally. It strives for that ominous power and the dark surrounding so eerily portrayed by Morton Soborg’s cinematography, but it’s the frightening work from its lead Mads Mikkelsen that really unleashes it. Without uttering a single word throughout this silent warrior of injustice and ravage punishing, so aptly portrayed by Europe’s finest export. It’s the disturbing, gut wrenching power of his performance that I will remember this film most fondly for.

There are films that allow their own atmosphere to swallow their film whole –Valhalla Rising is not one of those films. It’s suggestive in its usage of visual elements throughout, all of which are as gorgeous as horrific, but it never allows this unsettling dosage of fear to wreak havoc on the film. People will loathe it in the same way that they detest Only God Forgives for all its unhurried progression, but if you’re prepared for it you may just see something as poetic and unsettling as I’ve experienced.

83/100

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An Education focuses on the relationship that grows between the young schoolgirl Jenny and the older David as they encounter one another and slowly but surely fall in love. As with all tales of loves, the film revolves around the meet cute and An Education certainly excels itself. Jenny, portrayed by the gushing talent of Carey Mulligan, is given a ride home by Peter Saarsgard’s David and they connect immediately. There’s nothing exceptional about the way the two are introduced, but the effectiveness of the sequence works as marvellously as it does because of the chemistry the two leads have between them.

It’s fascinating to think that this was Carey Mulligan’s first lead role because of the maturity she shows beyond her years, and indeed of her character’s. Jenny is this young, charming array of beauty and Mulligan handles her in such a way that I immediately fell in love with her irresistible demeanour – she’s friendly and intelligent, but she also has this strength that only grows as the film takes her on several trips, both ending in positive ways and eventually negative. But whilst An Education can be simply labelled as a love story, it’s more of a tale of life (as the title suggests) as we see our protagonist evolve into this prominent figure of independence.

As far as love stories go, An Education doesn’t strive for inventiveness or uniqueness, but instead it works off the aforementioned chemistry between its stars and the underlying message of life for it to work. It’s an assured piece of cinematic beauty that doesn’t try to hide the ugly side of life – it balances the shining beauty of life equally – and transcends itself above most tales because of it. Mulligan and Saarsgard are exceptional throughout, but for me Alfred Molina deserves a magnificent amount of attention. His is a performance of knowledge and worry and he shows it through his scenes with Mulligan’s character – always showing the forceful worry that any father has for their evolving daughter.

An Education is a powerful, meaningful tale of life and one of the more unforgettable films I’ve seen in some time. As devastatingly pure as it is funny, Lone Scherfig’s film deserves all the acclaim it has received.

90/100

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As far back as I can remember I’ve always felt a strong fascination toward American Psycho, but until this rewatch I was never fully absorbed and captivated by each element, each scene, each piece of dialogue as I am now. It’s shock cinematic brilliance for all its bravado and intelligent angst portrayed throughout, but it’s nothing without the soaring performance from Christian Bale.

It’s easy to understand why people close to Bale at the time of the film’s production advised him to not participate in fear of it sabotaging his future career, but I truly cannot see another person in his place. It was a brave move for the upcoming actor, who at the time was only recognisable for his work in Empire of the Sun, and he’s absolutely extraordinary. It’s exceptional to analyse each line delivery he perforates throughout the stilted exterior of his obsessed freak Wall Street VP. He’s seen frantically teasing and shouting at female guests he eventually murders or brutally attacks, but never are these blood red sequences included just for entertainment. There’s a facet of power behind each momentary loss of control of Bale’s character Patrick Batman and it’s absurdly fascinating throughout.

Many deem it as a disturbing tale of a surrounded, yet isolated figure (and it is), but it also works somewhat as a statement of intent to dismantle the stereotypical lifestyle of someone as sophisticated as Bateman is shown here to be. He loves Huey Lewis & The News and he’s frequently heard detailing his opinion on their work, most notably during the infamous sequence in which he massacres Jared Leto’s character to the tune of “Hip To Be Square”. It’s brutally lethal in its portrayal of his destruction, but as I suggested earlier there’s nothing here that isn’t utilised for appropriate purpose – all of these moments focusing on the deranged soul of Bateman.

For a film as destructive and stomach-churning as American Psycho is in its authoritative visual evidence, it’s a film that caters to the subtle side of film-making as much. It allows the viewer to feel as intrigued as they are terrified of this dismantled persona, all leading up to a finale that still gives me shivers and leaves me with questions this amount of viewings on. It could be said that Christian Bale will be remembered for his work in The Machinist – and I agree it is a terrific performance – but here it’s more visually disheartening to me that an actor as previously unchallenged as Bale was in 2000 was able to deliver a performance as intense as seen here.

90/100

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Set during the war in a hot acclimatised Africa, The African Queen follows its two protagonists, who aboard the titular boat, seek to escape from the war confined surroundings of East Africa. As they travel and come across different obstacles on their path, The African Queen establishes that relationships can grow strong in the cramp atmosphere of a 30 foot boat.

Captained by Charlie Allnut, portrayed by Humphrey Bogart, and assisted by the imposing presence of Katharine Hepburn’s Rose Sawyer, The African Queen allows these two polar opposite human beings the chance to interact and, as expected, fall in love. It’s a simple, orchestrated story and one that doesn’t attempt too much in terms of romantic themes, but it’s a very subtle and compelling film. We are witness to moments of angst and disassociate feelings early on in the film, but Hepburn and Bogart is an irresistible pair. They channel and bounce off each other so effortlessly, and I’d have no qualms about proclaiming it to be one of the finest duos I’ve ever witnessed in any film before or after.

Huston directs the film in extraordinary fashion. Working off the quite astonishing cinematography from Jack Cardiff (the Blu ray transfer is majestic) and the gushing power of the dialogue, he frames the film and paces it in such a way that I could hardly tear my eyes from the screen. There’s a quiet amazement to the way the film tackles its subject matter in regards to the inescapable fear of war, but it’s catered so well. We never feel overwhelmed or stuffed with the terror of war, and that’s whyThe African Queen works so effortlessly well.

This is a film that personifies the power of cinema. It’s an enjoyable, powerful piece of cinema that I doubt I’ll be forgetting any time soon. Bogart’s performance will go down in history as unfortunately it was his only Academy Award victory and he deserved it. It’s a soaring, gripping performance. The African Queen is one of the most accomplished releases of the 1950’s.

90/100

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I can’t recall ever being as heavily influenced by a film’s promotion as I was for Man of Steel. It’s uncommon for me to be this excited for a superhero film (I’m not big on Marvel films) outside of The Dark Knight trilogy which completed just last year, yet I found myself as enthusiastic as anything to see this re-incarnation of one of the most colourful and iconic superhero films brought to the big screen once again.

Even if I knew it wouldn’t top Richard Donner’s original, I had high hopes for this Snyder helmed picture. I’ve had my problems with previous Snyder efforts before as was the case with 300 and Watchmen – two films that are rushed into oblivion, despite their exhausting duration. And his frantic pacing has found its way into Man of Steel. As the trailers illustrated I was led to believe that this would be more of a character driven piece, much like every other origin story, centering on telling the story of how our titular hero rose to prominence. It’s really frustrating how it’s handled, though.

After a lengthy introduction set on Krypton in which Kal-El, or Clark Kent as he’ll soon be known, is sent to earth, we become somewhat familiar with this character. He’s grown and currently sits at aged 33.It’s intriguing to me how the character is shown for the first time aboard a boat, but we are constantly pulled pack by Snyder’s non-linear storytelling. It’s a challenge to detail the events before Superman became Superman and I understand that, but using flashbacks feels far too fragmented and dramatic for a film like Man of Steel that requires a tone that works. It’s far too distorted.

It grows marginally once it figures out the tone, but there’s no denying the fragmented vision of Snyder is the main flaw with Man of Steel. Irritatingly enough, as I was frequently warned by people whose opinions I trust, Snyder’s shooting style is questionable to say the least. As our hero soars through the sky, as battle sequences unfold and as sequences change, we are constantly confronted by crash-zooms and the much feared shaky cam. For a film like this that required stability (both technically and tonally), it’s disturbing the amount of time shaky cam can be noticed.

As far as performances goes, it’s hard to discuss the reactions and emotions of Michael Shannon, Amy Adams or even the little known Henry Cavill as they battle with the frustrating screenplay. Written by David S. Goyer who is known for his work on Batman Begins (the finest superhero movie), characters find immediate traffic in the way that they are shown to us. The dialogue, most notably on Shannon’s part, is without vision, intelligence or uniqueness. We’ve heard the regularity of it all long before, and it all grows quite tiresome after awhile.

I’m sitting here, only three hours past my viewing, and I like it less and less. It’s a film that has a dynamic to it, but it’s lost in Snyder’s irritating techniques. I have a headache after the chaos that is the final act.

65/100