Much has been said regarding Whiplash in regards to its critical acclaim, but truth be told it all flew over my head and I don’t even recall watching a trailer or generating any sustainable anticipation to see it upon release. Apart from the music element, I knew exactly zero of what Whiplash was about. In truth, that’s probably benefited me in the long run as this is a worthy example of virtuoso filmmaking whereby the drive to succeed runs deep throughout.
My lack of prior enthusiasm made me worry initially as several of the film’s earlier moments didn’t hit home for me, but soon enough Whiplash’s identity becomes apparent. Most of it works because of the dynamic script whereby Chazelle depicts this battle to succeed with extensive focus on the aggression inside its two central focuses, constantly portraying them with an intensity more shattering than anything I saw last year.
Exemplary in how it explores the dynamic here, it’s important to recognise the excellent work of the young Miles Teller competing with his aggressive tutor played by a never better J.K. Simmons. Whiplash achieves a lot because of the power of its character development and how the script morphs obsession with their personality, but it’s only as stellar as it due to their work. The film’s precise, remarkable finale seals it perfectly. This is gonna sweep.
Rarely in the modern age of cinema do you get the chance to witness uniquely in a film that when you do the experience tends to be appreciated and never understated. This is the case for Birdman, the first release from Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu in four years. Not only does it innovation set the stage for what is an unrivalled experience, but it’s the enthusiasm Inarritu generates in Birdman that sets it apart from much of last year’s releases.
Birdman’s presentation here, more than anything in the whole movie, portrays this ambitious enthusiasm as Inarritu’s work is illustrated through the use of the one-take technique. That’s all it is really and there’s a lot of fun to be hard trying to work out when the cuts take place, but apart from that and the potential symbolism of there being no escape for the viewer from this world the structure holds no overwhelming purpose in forwarding the narrative.
The narrative itself has measurable purpose, though, and Inarritu’s dialogue is consistently productive in driving home themes such as the protagonist’s relevance in a world devoid of stability, and Michael Keaton in this role is astounding. He gives everything to the character, displaying the physical pain whilst also helping to establish a psychological negativity within that cements Birdman as the work it is. Edward Norton and Emma Stone also assist with great work to complete Inarritu’s film as one of the most absorbing, ingenious and frequently enchanting films in many years.
This is uncompromising, chilling, and downright stunning in the way it depicts a narrative structured on violence and what we perceive as a lack of identity to drive it. In truth, Skonieczny’s film is a mysterious art film portraying a man on a mission to search out two people, whom as he calls them mother and father, and kill them. It’s blunt initially in how the violence, if a little slight and knowing when you get a gist of what the picture is about, but there’s a fascination to the approach of Hardkor Disko. Nothing is truly given away here, simply Skonieczny is observing one man’s objective and we see it through the eyes of its deranged figure, portrayed by a penetrating Marcin Kowalczyk who exemplifies the unsettling atmosphere running through Hardkor Disko. It’s a little surprising that this enigma hasn’t generated any considerable buzz outside its Poland homeland as it’s truly one of the most effective releases I’ve seen this year. An unsettling, fascinating, precise work of cinema, Skonieczny is someone to keep a eye on in the future.
This might seem to some to just be hyperbole, but my viewing of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s spiritual horror Santa Sangre – if I can classify it that way – last year truly changed my cinematic life. It was a film of immense precision, not only in how the director structured events and guided a narrative, but through the use of overt symbolism and its unparalleled intelligence. Jodorowsky is known for the mind bending oddities of his cinematic adventures deservedly so, but many forget just how intelligent the man is with how tales are acted out and characters defined.
Santa Sangre is home to all those qualities and it’s for that reason, and many I can’t even begin to explain, that I proudly proclaim it to be the greatest film I’ve ever witnessed. It’s a masterpiece, an unstoppable force, unlike anything I’m ever likely to see. It’s also one of Jodorowsky’s final works until now oddly enough and it’s fascinating to see how enthusiastic the director remains despite a lengthy 23 years gap between films.
It was perhaps a little unwise to have unhealthy expectations of a work similar to the quality of Santa Sangre, but whilst The Dance of Reality isn’t drenched in the overt symbolism Jodrowsky has trademarked over the years – He is 85 years old after all – there exists in this film a charisma by way of how sequences are constructed and the narrative is told. Many have labelled it as Jodorowsky’s 8½ due to the way The Dance of Reality’s events are told with an autobiographical strategy, and truth be told the comparison to Fellini’s classic is one of the few ways I can even begin to describe the format of Jodorowsky’s latest, even if what the Chilean maestro is telling here is far beyond anything Fellini attempted.
On many occasions here, Jodorowsky overshadows the narrative quite literally as a sort of ‘’guardian angel’’ detailing his childhood and relationship with his controlling, yet rational father. It’s exhilarating, Jodorowsky detailing events with a less harrowing – it’s still dark and menacing – approach to that of the character’s evolution during Santa Sangre, before the tale drifts towards the demise of his father through a sequence of powerful, poetic times in his life.
To say much more about what Jodorowsky is doing here is not only difficult, but it would damage the experience of any potential viewer. All I will say is that with The Dance of Reality, a film I’ve been eagerly anticipated for what seems like an eternity, has cemented his place as my favourite filmmaker of all-time. A god of cinema.
Declaring Interstellar as Nolan’s most ambitious work to date seems a little preposterous to me when you take into account this is the same dude who rattled minds with Inception and orchestrated cinematic poetry with The Prestige. Sure, Interstellar has a scientific focus on space, gravity, wormholes, etc, but to me ambition can only be fulfilled if it runs parallel with intelligence and precision, which is something Interstellar isn’t exactly drowning in.
I can, in a way, understand the concept of someone finding Interstellar compelling, but I just found it far too convenient in how sequences flow and the rhythm too inconsistent for any sustained tension to overwhelm me. Nolan directs with such a baffling style here, rarely allowing for his film to breath as he seems far too romanticised with the idea of sentimentality, which frequently derails anything he’s trying to build. I can’t deny the scene of Cooper watching backing over those video messages didn’t hit me, but seriously some of the stuff in this film baffled me beyond belief.
Not baffling the way a complex space narrative should be, but rather because of its incompetence. Nolan is seemingly striving for too much. Occasionally he hits it and I can’t ignore how impressive the visuals are and the power of Zimmer’s score, but most of what is deemed as drama here fell flat for me and match that with a final act with more ridiculous connotations than I can remember and you’ve got one of the most frustrating, absurdly acclaimed Blockbusters in years.
I’ve heard it said before that war movies are easy to make once you’ve got the setting fixed and a narrative secured, but to me that’s a ridiculous statement considering the genre has less than a dozen entries I feel were worthy of my time. Many are masterpieces actually, some are thrill rides, others are complete generic nonsense.
Fortunately for Fury, it’s as close to the first category as anything I’ve seen this century thus far. Seriously, I expected to enjoy this, but probably in just an entertaining, explosive, potentially forgettable manner, but there’s such a distinction to Ayer’s film here my optimism couldn’t predict. The film opens with the cold cinematography so crucial to war cinema, immediately portraying the punishment of war on not only the dead, but those who battle through it. Ayer is challenging something extraordinary here, manifesting in his own way this element of war: it’s bad, it hurts, it’s not pretty. He’s not particularly subtle with it early on as we witness Pitt’s authority testing his sanity – he’s on the verge of tears initially – and a parted comrade who won’t be physically let go by his team, but perhaps what Ayer is explaining needs to be prominent; it can’t be held back or drawn in.
Not only does the pain of war effect these experienced men, he focuses a lot of Fury on analysing the growth of Logan Lerman’s young typist turned unexpected soldier. To me, one of the scariest things war can portray is the innocence of youth losing that conscience. Ayer knows this and battles with the theme all throughout, documenting the growth of a kid who can’t even stomach the presence of blood initially to a soldier who earns the nickname “machine” in its final stages. Lerman handles the difficulty of his character expertly, showing maturity beyond his years. It’s an immaculate performance, one which rivals Pitt’s precision work here.
He’s an actor growing better with age, turning in performance after performance of immense accuracy whereby I’m struggling to pick out a specific one as his crowning work. Fury might not topple The Assassination of Jesse James or Fight Club, but it’s yet another example of the vast acting talents of someone who is so much more than his celebrity status might have you perceive. He personifies such brutality in his performance, channeling the suffering of war and playing off the support from LaBeouf, Bernthal and Pena astutely.
The greatest horror is not what we see, but rather what we don’t. With The Babadook, first time director Jennifer Kent has took this approach and created something with such a distinguished atmosphere. Honestly, apart from last year’s The Conjuring I’m struggling to find another horror which utilises tension as well as Kent does here.
She manifests a ruthlessness in her approach, never surrounding to the cliches – loud bangs, crashing doors – of the genre and working The Babadook as something of a gothic fairytale, incorporating the significance of old-fashioned horror to her advantage to provide something with a unique, attitude that still manages to feel like something which wouldn’t look out of place with a release date many decades earlier. Kent’s psychological reliance here cannot be understated as it provides a dimension to the horror we witness, taking your simple monster tale all the way to the crippling insanity of the final act.
Essie Davis, as the main protagonist, is represented of this psychological approach. She delivers a performance with enough emotion and drama and develops it into something so brutal where much of her presence felt reminiscent of Mia Farrow’s pain in Rosemary’s Baby and Jack Nicholson’s insanity during The Shining. Those are two very bold statements – two of the finest horrors of all-time – but I really feel Davis’ work here is one of the most fleshed out performances you’ll find in contemporary horror cinema.
The patience which this film relies on may feel too strained for some, particularly in the early stages, but I found the terror of waiting for something horrific to happen to be more scary than when the Babadook’s physical presence shows itself to us. A special mention has to go out to not only the editing, but the sound design here which is crazy. The Babadook deserves its acclaim.