Sunday, 30 September 2012

[Review] Killing them Soflty - Hit 'em hard.

Jackie Cogan is a professional enforcer who investigates a heist that went down during a mob-protected poker game. 

When I saw Andrew Dominik's 2007 film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford it immediately became one of my favourite films; beautiful and melancholic it was a perfect character study and unsettling look at mortality. So when I went back to examine the director's previous work Chopper (2000) I found myself rather disappointed. Where James' style alluded to illusions of grandeur and legend, Chopper by contrast seemed to do it as a means of making the film critics guffaw. Like the similar Bronson (2008) it felt like a film centred around a man just not as interesting as he (they) think they are.

In hindsight, watching Chopper was probably a good thing, why? Because it lowered my expectations for Killing them Softly, and as everyone knows, the bigger they are, the harder they fall...

Dominik's films have to this point been a study of power and betrayal coated in a what-must-be-done survivalism in a violent and uncertain world. With Chopper it's presented from the point of view of one subject. James' gives us a despairing look into the image of power, mortalised and wounded before shifting focus on to the tormented Judas figure Ford himself. With his latest feature, Dominik turns to the act of betrayal, of violence with an icy, detached professionalism in the form of Brad Pitt's Jackie Cogan (undoubtedly Pitt's best turn since his last collaboration with Dominik.) Problematically, the film is let down by an overbearing, even clunky scathing social commentary and ironic attack on the justice and political system.

Admittedly, I know very little of the American political and social situation, so many of the films overtones will be lost on me, but it's not hard to miss. Dominik's hand is too heavy, too often does the film linger on slogans 'Hope' and 'Change' looming above the decaying buildings of 2008 Post-Katrina New Orleans (a change from the novel which is based in Boston) or does the sound drown out for a snippet of electoral debate over the radio or T.V. There is the criminal hierarchy that is there to reflect our own society led by the enigmatic, virtually unseen Dillion. No doubt the message had a bearing on the time of release, just weeks before the 2012 elections. For a film about dealing with the consequences of your actions, Dominik must realise that his depiction of a country on it's knees is too ferocious that it borders on self-parody.

Pitt didn't take well to criticism.

The film looks gorgeous, as one would expect. One more than one occasion I found myself staring blankly at the screen trying to take it all in. Even something as simple as a conversation can be so visually and textually rich that you can lose track of what the characters are saying. However there is a flipside to Dominik's creativity, I can't quite find a reason for a lot of it, making it feel quite pretentious. For example one such sequence of Animal Kingdom's brilliant Ben Mendelsohn shifting in and out of a drugged induced conscious. Yes! We do get the point Dominik, but this comes across less social statement and more a reason to lengthen the scene. Although one thing he has nailed is the soundtrack, Pitt's introduction is accompanied by the brilliant Cash anthem 'The Man Comes Around' among others.

Although Pitt may be the main attraction here as the undeniably cool, leather jacket sporting Cogan, across the board the dialogue-heavy film is elevated by terrific performances. Scoot McNairy (Really?) proves to be a newcomer to watch for. The early bank-robbery sequence is as intense as they come, the two (Mendelsohn is Scoot's partner) have a nervous unease about them, they are unprepared for the situation as well as its consequences and it comes out beautifully in their body language and delivery. The real star of the show is the (much to brief) appearance of James Gandolfini's a sunken, broken Mickey, taking years of turmoil to hookers and alcohol. He isn't given the ending he deserves, taken out off-screen. But he is a warning for the things to come that should be heeded.

All things said,
Killing them Softly is an effective and brisk anti-thriller that borrows heavily from 70s classics but has a chauvinistic intensity of it's own creation. Nobody may develop or learn anything, but that's simply because nobody can. There is no room for development here, those times have come and gone, ' America, you're on your own' growls Pitt in the films closing monologue. It's commentary may be to forced, and it's visual flair may at times feel like it was for the critics more than anyone else, but the film's excellent performances, sleek style and moments of pure brilliance allow it to remain darkly enjoyable but don't expect it to change the world.


Saturday, 29 September 2012

[Review] Holy Motors - And now for something completely different...

From dawn to dusk, a few hours in the life of Monsieur Oscar, a shadowy character who journeys from one life to the next. He is, in turn, captain of industry, assassin, beggar, monster, family man... 

I'm completely aware of the cliché of what I'm about to say but I cannot urge you enough; if you haven't seen Holy Motors stop reading this, stop reading anything about it, don't even watch the trailer just go out and watch it. If not the best film released this year, it's without a doubt the most important. A spiralling trip into absolute insanity that manages to be cinematically chaotic, gloriously surreal, hilariously cheeky and something much, much more important; entirely new.

Perhaps strangest of all; Kylie Minogue is in a contender for film of the year...

I had never even heard the name Leos Carax before Cannes this year. Allegedly struggling to get finance for projects after 1999s Pola X, he took up walking around Paris, passing the same beggar every day, and eventually ending up with the idea that grew into what we have here. The film opens with Carax himself, climbing out of bed and into the cinema, gesturing the camera towards the screen as the audience sit silently and a toddler and a large black dog move through the aisle. Is it a dream? A confession? A warning? The only thing we know for sure is that it is only the beginning...

Holy Motors is pretty much indescribable, which doesn't make this review much easier. Denis Lavant gives the best performance of the year as Monsieur Oscar, first seen waving goodbye to his children before getting into a white stretch limo driven by Edith Scob (Eyes without a Face.) Inside the limo lies a folder detailing his first (of nine) 'appointment.' Next thing we know, the limo pulls up and out steps Oscar dressed as the aforementioned ancient beggar woman who shakes her empty tin and proclaims she hasn't seen anything but feet and stone for many years. Soon we're off to a motion capture studio for something that could easily be a behind the scenes extra from Avatar. What is portrayed as a completely sensual and ethereal love scene becomes a grotesque, and terrible alien sex scene with 1990s music video CGI. Next up; Monsieur Merde (who appeared in Cravax's 2008 Tokyo!) Merde is a ginger hobo fitted complete with milky eye and gnarled finger nails. In what manages to be both the most disturbing and most hilarious scene I've seen in a long time, Merde charges through a cemetery eating the flowers left on the graves, kicking a blind man before stumbling into a fashion shoot and kidnapping Eva Mendes all to the Godzilla theme tune. The scene ends with a haunting lullaby sung by Mendes and a twisted, surreal image of Beauty and Beast. I'll not detail any more, because it's just not fit to be described but we have cruel fathers, accordion players, chimpanzees and talking cars.

Yeah, this seems about right.

What do these appointments serve? Who are they for? Well of course the answer is; the audience. Mid way through the film an agent of the 'Holy Motors' appears in the back of the Limo and asks Oscar if he's tired. He replies with; 'I miss the cameras. They used to way a ton, then they were the size of our heads. Now we can't even see them.' Is this Carax's thoughts on the nature of modern independent film making? Cameras are in everything now and everybody with a PC and Adobe After Effects can make a viral success. Perhaps it's more, perhaps its on the nature of man and technology much like Cronenberg's Videodrome or our ever watched and observed CCTV lives. 

All the supporting players are great; Scob is elegant and brave as the Oscar's driver, Mendes' small role is pretty powerful and even Kylie Minogue provides a surprisingly good turn as another 'performer' who is also haunted by the fatigue. But this is Lavant's film. Part chameleon, part magician his performance is one of physical force and of composed restraint. It calls to mind the likes of Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets with the way he switches between roles. As his day continues, we begin to lose track of real personality and begin to wonder if such a thing even exists. Lavant sells it perfectly, Oscar is tired and on the verge but he keeps going, why? Perhaps it is the only thing he has left to identify with.

 I can see the word pretentious being thrown out by those unwilling to surrender themselves to Carax's odyssey. But as obtuse as it can seem, there is much to analyse and pick apart. Each appointment has something that grows and develops, existing individually (especially the Motion Capture scene) that also serve the overarching themes. This points to the film being a deconstruction of the role of an actor. Who adapt, push and even debase themselves to become and present a living being only to drop out and move on (schedule) to the next 'appointment.' Like his 'characters' Oscar exists only for the time he is on screen, he is effectively the shared creation of Carax and his audience. When the time has come to leave our seats he is has nothing left to go back to, no reason exist. Perhaps its broader, perhaps we are to see ourselves in Oscar, and the roles we adopt as we go about our day and life - The father, the musician, the dying old man. 

Holy Motors stands as a testament to insanity, to film making and to the audience. Like those it borrows from; Lynch, Goddard and even Kiarostami it manages to be familiar and yet completely unique. It is something that many have thought long dead; original. Take yourself to the cinema, switch off your phone and allow yourself to be absorbed, bemused and even a little threatened by Carax's film. A modern masterpiece. 


Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Absolute Cinema - The Turin Horse

Absolute Cinema is a continuing series of moments that I illustrate a moment of cinematic transcendence. These can be a single element or a variety of cinematic techniques that come together in such a way that elevates cinema. It might be an entire sequence or just a particular shot, edit, score it doesn't even have to be on purpose. It is a moment exclusive to cinema as an art form.

[Entry 3] Absolute Cinema: The Turin Horse

The Human Apocalypse

Bela Tarr's final film is a 165 minute apocalyptic epic around the mundanity and exhausted suffering of existence is the only film that I have seen from the Hungarian auteur, but that didn't stop it from becoming one of my favourite films in the last decade without a doubt. Whilst one could easily dismiss it as not for everyone (a true but shallow claim that I've come across in a number of reviews) there is certainly something for everyone here. After all who hasn't [at one point] thrown their hands up and proclaimed 'What's the point?!' at least once? 

For Tarr the film is the last step in his career and something of a realization; change isn't coming, the end is. This is expressed so clearly in the film's monumental centerpiece - a 5 minute long monologue on the state of humanity and the world's ruin that surely ranks up as one of the greatest in recent times. Here's the clip below:

For a film light on much dialogue at all, let alone any of much significance, this sequence briefly opens up Tarr's world to the viewer before shutting it down again (an ironic response from the man with 'Come off it! It's Rubbish.) The end is nigh - not through God, although he may have had a hand in it and not through a man made disaster. Instead it is through the slow erosion of humanity by all those centuries of our own nature that has led to this slow, whimpering holocaust. 

But it is the moment after that this becomes transcendent. As Bernhard leaves, the camera tracks behind the daughter as she watches him through the window (the film boasts only around 30 shots in total.) He stops, and drinks the palinka which he had traveled for, after all what has he to save it for? The oppressive and repetitive score is matched only by the howling wind. The image is split in two by the window pain, the two environments look virtually identical - one empty, one with Bernhard. Two worlds. One without humanity, one inhabited, but only just.  The time for prophets is over, that we are assured of, but is Bernhard a figure of something else? Is he the only figure of self awareness left in this formless world? Or is he just a representation of of Tarr himself, a premonition of a world with and without him?

Without a doubt there are more questions than answers in to be found in The Turin Horse, which some could easily find frustrating but even they can't deny how endlessly fascinating it all is. I don't know if I quite see the world as bleakly as Tarr, but if the end is coming I'd imagine that wont matter. After all, what are we but a light fading slowly out of existence into the overcoming darkness? 

Friday, 14 September 2012

A Short Abscence

I know my posts have not been particulary regular, all things considered I've tried my best to get a few posts up a week and once everything becomes a little more structured, I'll do my best to produce more writings. But more than just that, I am moving into my new house tonight, so this will be my last post until I have internet (which should be about next Thursday.) I'm hoping to get a lot of watching down in the next week provided I'm not too hungover/drunk. Till then I leave you with a picture of my new... HOUSE.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

[Review] Lawless - Far from flawless

Set in Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia, a bootlegging family of three brothers is threatened by a new deputy and other authorities who want a cut of their profits. 

With their previous collaborations being The Proposition and The Road, John Hillcoat and Nick Cave have proved themselves as one of the most exciting double acts working today. One doesn't need to look very far to see what drew the two towards Lawless, based on the book The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant, (which in turn is based off the actions of Bondurant's grandfather and two great uncles) like The Road and The Proposition before it, Lawless focuses on family in a world inhabited by violence, blurred morality and destruction.

Despite it's boiling with promise of Old Testament scale wrath and carnage, Lawless has only flurishes of inspiring brilliance, leaving it ultimately rather lifeless.

Rather than portraying the city warzones led by ruthless crimelords like the gangster films of old, the focus here is on a small town trio of brothers who bootleg as a means of survival. The youngest of which is Jack, played by an energetic and impressive Shia LaBeouf, looking to distance himself from the last half-decade of his career, he is currently shooting Von Trier's Nymphomaniac. Undervalued and sheltered by his older brothers, he is relegated to the role of driver on their bootlegging runs, but he is out to prove himself not just to his family but to the local ministers daughter. The oldest brother, Forest (played by Tom Hardy) is a stoic hulk of a man capable of great violence, but he also understands it's consequences. The middle brother, Howard (Jason Clarke) is the family's 'wild card' he drinks too much of his own moonshine and lets loose like a canon if provoked. The three (along with their crippled friend Cricket) seem to live with life and have become something of a local lenged due to suriving some events that ny rights should have killed them. That is until the arrival of Guy Pearce's Special Agent Charlie Rakes, a perfume-wearing, appearence obsessed psychopath determined to kick the Bondurant's into line through any means. As one might expect, this leads to an escalating clash between these figures of the old world and the new, with the most gruesome consequences.

No words were spoken, but Shia understood his bruises meant he was forgiven for the Indy 4.

There is a rumour circulating that Harvey Weinstein cut Lawless down to a 115 minute running time, removing much a lot of the artistic moments in favor of a more conventional fare. Whether or not there is truth to them, I'm not sure. But it certainly would account for the film's lifeless atmosphere and scaled back philosphoical meditation on violence, (im)mortality and morality that was so present in Hillcoat and Cave's previous outings. It is not without it's moments completely. There is a scene earlier on in which LaBeouf's Jack drinks a jar of moonshine before crashing the local Baptist service. Suddenly there is an overwhelming surge of rythmic chanting and clapping that proves to much to the tipsy Jack and he bolts. That something-from-nothing sequence is without the highlight of the film and really over far to quickly. It proves that Hillcoat and Cave hadn't lost what made their early collaborations so special. The film looks authentic, but it only captures the aesthetics instead of the esscence, leaving the question; for a time rich in culture, melting-pot religious tension and violent clashes, why does Lawless feel so disinterested in itself? 

Hillcoat's camera is functional but unremarkable, save for a few sequences and artfully framed exterior shots of the world these men belong to. The same can't be said for Nick Cave's soundtrack however, which includes blue grass groups and folk singers to sell an atmosphere that just isn't there.

Problems lie elsewhere in the films characters and various subplots, especially two shoe-horned love interests in the form of 
Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain for Jack and Forest respectively, both of which feel created as a means of artificially propelling the plot and they waste the talent of both. Perhaps more of a waste is the Gary Oldman's big city gangster who has an incredibly powerful appearence but goes nowhere afterward. The film lacks an emotional core as a result of failing to really define its characters. Forest for example, its never really clear what he wants. He seems to understand the consequences of violence, yet brings violence upon himself through his own ego. As for Guy Pearce's pantomime turn as the flamboyant, monstrous city enforcer. Well his rash, violent methods are seemingly rooted in a repressed homosexuality (Cave's songs have always married violence and sexual urges,) but he stands more as the emergence of a new world born out of the prohabition era. 

As for the plethora of violence, Lawless has more than a handful of gruesome and effective sequences as one might expect from the man who brought us this scene. There is one partifular sequence that involves a man having boiling tar poured onto his back before being dumped on the Bondurant's doorstep, feathered. But the violence has no weight to it, it's all teeth but no bite. Including a terribly flat final shoot out in which characters line up their cars and start shooting at each other in plain sight. Both The Proposition and The Road included a lot of violence, but approached it from a more meditative state and whilst Lawless isn't completely void of thought, it seems that the have been given the backbench. The film does work as a companion piece to The Proposition's world of chaos, and The Road's slate-cleaning destruction. Here there is a canibalistic sense of the 'skirmish before the battle.' The old world and it's ways are destroying themselves, even in nature as much of the forest trees have been reclaimed by vines. Rakes is the first figure of the new world, ultimately destroyed by the old at the end as lawless and lawmen turn on him, but he is just the first of many. Logically, perhaps Lawless should have came second, but doesn't deny it a placement in the canon. 

Ultimately Lawless is an awkward film to place; belonging neither to the summer action flicks nor the Autumn art house/award movies. I'm sounding rather negative on the whole thing, but it's just because of the pedigree behind it and the potential the project had. So despite moments of inspiration and solid performances, I suggest waiting to see a longer cut surfaces with the DVD release in the future, because in its current state, Lawless is a rather lifeless.

    Behold, the cardigan!


Sunday, 9 September 2012

Absolute Cinema - Brief Encounter

[Update on Schedule - First off I just want to offer up an explanation at the lack of posts, even after my update earlier in the week. I'm currently in the process of moving a lot of my stuff up to my new student house for the term, as well as being rather busy in work. So whatever free time I've had this week has been spent with my girlfriend or working on my entrants into the Belfast Zoo Photographic competition (I will include some in a later post if anyone is interested.) So until I'm settled in and have internet access my posts will be pretty scarce for the coming weeks.]

[Entry 2] Absoloute Cinema: Brief Encounter 

In my introduction to this blog I said that defining my love for cinema was something I couldn't do with text. So I have decided to put together a series of moments that showcase what I define as 'Absolute Cinema.' These can be a single element or a variety of cinematic techniques that come together in such a way that elevates cinema. It might be an entire sequence or just a particular shot, edit, score it doesn't even have to be on purpose. It is a moment exclusive to cinema as an art form.

A love more ordinary

When Laura Jesson, a married mother of two, get's a speck of dirt in her eye at the local train station she meets Dr Alec Harvey and an immediate connection between the two evolves into a deeper passion, bringing out an uncontrollable surge within her.

David Lean's Brief Encounter, based on the play Still Life by Noel Coward is one of the definitive cinematic romances and a perfect film. But more so, it is also one of the essential British class films. Laura is at the height of normality. She has two children and a weekly routine, her husband Frank is a seemingly kind but rather bland man who spends his evenings tackling the daily crossword puzzle. Any passion that might have existed in their marriage has long since diminished, reducing it to more of a polite arrangement. Ultimately, she leads the life she is expected to. That is, until she meets Alec Harvey, a Doctor in the town practice. It is immediately apparent to us why she is drawn to Alec; amusing and sensitive as well as more physically attractive. Enjoying each other's company, the two begin to meet regulary until it becomes clear that they both have deep seated emotions for each other. Laura becomes a woman torn, not just between her desire as a woman and her duty to her family, but also to the rules that society has deemed a woman in her position must adhere to. 

To Laura and Alec, this kind of love is a myth - something that belongs to the stars of the films they watch every Thursday afternoon. Lean himself makes this apparent with the film's soundtrack which is a variation of Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, and includes a sutble exotic movement. Laura's emotional surge leads her to defy other social standards; she smokes in public during a late night walk alone is one such example. Lean's direction is restrained but enticing. The recurring force of the train, a representation of virtually everything; her pre-determined life, a passionate surge with the ability to bring her to and from Alec. As the viewer we begin to slip into Laura's emotional state, very rarely does a film install such a sense of longing and distress in the moments during and proceeding their final, tragic meeting. 

This brings us to the point of this post:



At the bleakest, most painful moment of Laura's sadness, it is Frank who gives, not just Laura what she needs, but what we the viewers do to. Make no mistake, this is not a Hollywood ending, the passion in their marriage has not be magically rekindled. Instead, Frank offers us something more ordinary, more humane. Support. He reveals that he has not be oblivious to Laura's turmoil over the past few weeks, he knows the difficulty that is to come. But he doesn't pry, he doesn't want to. Instead he sets down his paper, lends her his shoulder and thanks her for doing the only thing she could - coming home. 

It is in this final moment of Brief Encounter that we feel safe to leave Laura in the hands of Frank. We know her pain is far from over, we know that she might never heal completely. But we know that she is safe, that her husband has offered her love in it's least complex and safest form. And while the fire flickers warmly, the train station returns to a settling, complete stillness. 

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

[Coming Attractions]

It's a party!

Well I've passed the 1000 view mark for this blog! In less than ten posts! That's pretty much blasted my expectations to pieces. So, discounting half of those views as my own (which they probably are) it means one of two things:

a) Badgering my friends has worked... or
b) Somebody out there actually cares what I have to say.

 So to celebrate my monumentally average success here's a list of the up and coming attractions at the Image Loft.

The Absolute Cinema series

After the fairly positive response I recieved from the first post, I have a second edition of the Absolute Cinema series underway. I just need to find the time to write it up properly. I hope to continue this series for a long time, perhaps make a list or an archive of them. I have about five or six clips planned out in advance and hopefully I'll be able to grab them all somewhere online. So keep an eye out in the next few days for updates.

Slouch: The best movies close at hand [Working title]

Reviews of whats available at home, whether on DVD, Blu Ray or Streaming. Currently I am only subscribed to LoveFilm UK so this may alienate some Netflix or Hulu readers. I am planning on signing up to Mubi later in the week though, for £3 a month that site is an absolute steal! Here's a link for anyone interested. 

[Video series] To the Movies!

This is will be a monthly series, hopefully, if I can find the resources and time. Once a month I hope to pick a theme or genre and create a montage in line with that idea. Currently I am softwareless but come later in September I will see what I can do. (The title here is taken from Orson Welle's amazing AFI Life Time Achievement award speech, here.)

The Intermission 

This will be a segment dedicated to something... anything else other than movies. Hopefully it wont all be video games. I swear I have some other interests too. I just... can't think of any right now.

Pratical efforts

Finally, I have just ordered (and hopefully will recieve tomorrow) a new Sony A57 SLR camera, something that I've wanted for a long time, so in the coming few weeks, you might see some of my own efforts in video and photography. 

Or will you...?

Saturday, 1 September 2012

[Review] Berberian Sound Studio - (The Sound of Insanity)

A sound engineer's work for an Italian horror studio becomes a terrifying case of life imitating art. 

This is going to be a difficult film to review, I think it's best you know as little as possible going to see it. But make no mistake, do go see it. Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio is probably the best film released this year. At once it is a send-up to the power of sound, an homage to the 'Gallio' works of Dario Argento and a deconstruction of horror cinema. It isn't for everyone, it is pretty perplexing, but let it wash over you and you'll experience one of the best horror films of the last ten years.

Gilderoy is a rather droopy looking English sound technician, who has been hired to work on a rather gruesome low-budget schlock Italian horror film. When he arrives he is absorbed into the Kafka-esque studio, where his definitive English-ness and stickling over receipts get on the nerves of his peers. Soon he is introduced to the seedy, flamboyant director and given keys to his studio. Here he discovers what sort of film he will be working on, to his surprise and supposed delight. This is a world he is not used to, were Vegtables double as devices to illustrate the most gruesome of murders.

Straddling the line between horror and art cinema, Strictland's film borrows on a rich herritage of surrealist and metaphysical films to create this absorbing psychological thriller. You could almost make a game out of naming influences. The film is influenced and even directly lifts from the Bergman's Persona. The film play's out like the opening 30 minutes of David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE and the ominous red 'Silencio' sign will surely strike a chord with Mulholland Drive fans. The idea of being obsessed and even becoming one with horror films owes a debt to Cronenberg's Videodrome. But we can go further than that! Surely the language barrier and borish producer are lifted from Goddard's Les Mepris? Or the claustraphobic paranoia and surgical approach to sound have been borrowed from The Conversation, Repulsion or Blow Out? There is even a hint at Psycho somewhere in there. This is not to undersell Berberian Sound Studio as a film with no ideas of it's own, it most certainly has them but it takes its cues from the masters. 

We see nothing from The Equestrian Vortex, except the opening credits (which may inspire someone to pull a Machete on us.) Instead we are given everything through Gilderoy's point of view as he creates the sound effects for these grizzly images. He initally sets about it in pragmatic style, approaching it with the same attitude one would approach doing taxes. But slowly, as the seedy exploitive narrative expands into the studio, it begins to take over Gilderoy who finds his life and his film intertwining. Is Strictland offering up a criticism of the role of a filmmaker? Or is it more ecompassing into the idea of identity and deception? Gilderoy initially takes the moral highground, distinguishing himself from those who reveal in 'Sex! Gore! and Satan!' but in the end his intruige and delight win out over his aprehensions. We are shown one piece of film though, a scene that he is most proud of; a Documentary on his home town, Dorking. Although, is this piece of work his? Or is it a lie?

There is no sense of time here in the Sound Studio. We do not know how long has passed inbetween scenes, there are no doors or outside locations to check the time of day and so we become lost in it outselves. Toby Jones gives the best performance of his career as Gilderoy, his casting is inspired as he looks the perfect part between stickly, child like and unsettlingly cold. Berberian Sound Studio is, perhaps surprisingly given it's name and subject, given a lot detail to its cinematography. Filled with cold, ugly buildings and cramped exteriors we create a sense of claustraphobic dread. There is a variety of techniques such as focus and colour to create this dreamlike atmosphere, as well as recurring shots of reels and mics. If the camera lenses is the eye, then the mic is the mouth piece. Finally there is the constant visual and audio motif between fruit and vegtables being used as items for murder. Suggesting the unhinged, unnaturalness of everything within the Studio.

Berberian Sound Studio hit's all the right notes in all the right places as a meta-film, a surreal trip and as a homage to an important sub-genre in horror cinema. I highly recommend checking this one out. Strictland is endanger of being snapped up by the system himself if this proves to be as successful financially as critically. This is one movie I can't wait to see and hear again.



[Review] Take this Waltz - (Better sit this one out)

A happily married woman falls for the artist who lives across the street. 

Ever since Blue Valentine there has been an increasing focus on indie anti-romance dramas with the likes of One Day, Like Crazy and now Sarah Polley's second feature Take this Waltz. An insufferable meditation on relationships, self-destruction and emptiness.

Gee, I wonder where Polley, 32 year old divorcee, drew inspiration for this screenplay...

Margot (played by Michelle William's at her most pixiest) is a woman afraid of 'being in between things.' But that's what she is; not quite ready to start a family but not as young as she used to be, she can't even settle in her wannabe writing career. We know this, not through Polley's visual storytelling but because she feels totally compelled to explain her deepest insecurities to a stranger she met just moments before. That stranger is Daniel, a creepy young artist and, eugh, rickshaw driver. The two cross paths on Holiday and just happen to be sitting beside eachother on the flight home. They immediately hit it off, bantering lightly, studying each other and playing flirtatiously. They get a cab together, Daniel assures her that there is no need to make two stops though, he can 'walk from her place.' Sure enough at the end of the cab ride they both have things to say; Margot begrudgingly reveals she's married, Daniel rather unbegrudgingly reveals that he lives just across the street. That is perhaps the most defining moment for both their characters; Margot is a woman who defines herself through her relationships, and the stability of her marriage leaves her empty and even old. Daniel on the other hand is enticed by her, and is hardly perturbed by the fact she is already committed. 

Her husband, Lou (played, valiantly, by Seth Rogen) is a kind man who clearly loves his wife very much. Their marriage is steady on the surface but problematic at it's core. Peel back their facade of cuteness and there is an uncommunicated issue outletted through their sex life, which is totally out of sync. 

Lou, completely unaware of his wife's inner turmoil is one of the most frustrating character's I've seen this year. There are so many times you want to shake him for being so blind to what's clearly infront of him. Margot is equally so, enticed by her desire for something new that she clearly does not understand that Daniel offers her nothing other than a few months of sexual self-exploration followed by the inevitable crash of normality. She's even told this multiple times by different characters as the movie goes on. As for Daniel, well he is probably the most unlikeable character I've seen in quite some time. Although not outwardly portrayed as a 'bad guy' he does absoloutely nothing to offset the damage he is going to cause. In fact... he basically stalks Margot. Waiting around corners and following her about. I almost laughed out loud when he showed up in one scene. It's also not hard to see through his facade of understanding and depth and by the time the film and Margot have reached that conclusion we've lost all patience and sympathy. 

The film is about as sutble as film using 'Video Killed the Radio Star' as a key motif can be. That is, not at all. Polley repeatedly bashes her theme's into the audience's face without letting them develop naturally within the films narrative. Lou's sister, played by Sarah Silverman is a struggling alcoholic (on the rocky road to recovery) also looking to fill a void in her own destructive (perhaps less so, in the long run, than Margo's) in a rather contrived subplot. There are some really strange sequences here too; such as the moment were Daniel and Margot go swimming. It looks ridiculous, like the most shameless of Sigur Rós music videos.  Polley's visual metaphors don't fare much better either, such as the way she frames nudity. During (another bizare) scene in the swimming pool shower, Silverman and William's discuss the idea of having somebody new. Their young, slim bodies are contrasted up against the older women in the shower. Not just their to showcase the balance of young and old, it is there to offer up an impression of the faded sex life between her a Lou.

The film itself is ugly as all hell, drenched in this vomit enducing sun-bleached yellow and enough screen glare and image filters to blind yah'. And the soundtrack, with a few notable exclusions (the Leonard Cohen title track and aforementioned 'Video Killed the Radio Star') is ripped from the hipster-soundtrack-neumatic.

If there is one redeeming quality here, it's Williams. She's already proved one of the most daring and qualified actress' of her generation with her roles in Blue Valentine, Meek's Cutoff and My Week with Marilyn. She's remarkable here, able to sell her character's dual nature with fragile charm. Rogen and Kirby just can't keep up with her, despite their best efforts. Although this is also due to Polley's script which never quite lacks the authenticity it needed. As well as some of her film making decisions; one point near the end she shoots Rogen's reactions with a series of jump cuts unfortunately highlighting the limitations of his performance.

I see people calling this film 'honest' simply because it manages to avoid the marritial dissatisfaction cliché. But just because a film doesn't resort to a dated template does not deem it worthy of such a praise. Yes, it deserves credit for not becoming a feminist power fantasy nor is Margot punished for making the choice she did, at least not beyond repair. During the last, unbroken shot of her on the fairground ride a smile forms on her face. She is slowly learning to deal with her decisions emotionally, suggest that she will be able to finally stop looking for what was missing in other people.

In the end though Take this Waltz's message is rather unelightening despite it's mature approach to the subject. The character's range from frustrating to flat out unlikeable and Polley really needs to lighten her heavy-handed approach before she can produce the film she really wants to. I say skip this dance or prepare to have your feet trodden.


Tackling the 250

Taking down Sight and Sound's greatest one at a time.

So it's been discussed to death, but if didn't already know, it's 2012 and that means it's been ten years since the last Sight and Sound 'Greatest Movies of All time' list. Around the world critics and directors are asked to select their own ten favourie films. Here are the two completel lists if anyone who hasn't already had the chance wants to check them out:

My count is rather dismal currently; 105 for the Critics, 57 for the Directors. So I've given myself a challenge of finishing off each list over the coming months, aiming to get a few titles a week. I will offer a quick review of each and give my (rather unqualified) opinion as to whether or not they are worthy of their rank. 

So for issue one, lets discuss two radically different Avant-garde pieces.

8 1/2
Director: Fedirico Felini
Year: 1963
Nationality: Italy
Ranking: 10# (Critic) 4# (Director)

Highly regarded as the ultimate film on the subject of movie making, Fellini's drama about a director struggling to create a profound feature that lives up to the audience and critic expectations whilst trying to juggle his relationships and attempting to look for happiness and meaning within it all is probably the most personal meta-film ever made. It's been a favourite with directors just as much as critics in all the polls conducted with Sight and Sound since it's release. 

I had seen about half (no pun intended) of 8 1/2 last year in film class, sleeping through the middle sections of the film. Since then I've seen just two others from Fellini's canon; La Dolce Vita and Amarcord. The former I found rather monumentally uninteresting while the latter still remains my favourite due it's romantic and ghostly nostalgia. Had I known that by falling asleep I'd pretty much given myself a 'best of' version of 8 1/2, I probably wouldn't have bothered rewatching the whole thing. 

Honestly, I can see why people love this film, and Fellini's work in general and I really wish I could feel the same as them. But there is just something holding me back...

Fellini's direction is a constant treat, his camera is just as restless as Guido, constantly moving towards something but never settling very long. He adopts this approach towards his 'performers.' The term carnivalesque feels most appropriate; a flowing school of people moving into and out of the spotlight only for another to take their place. Mastroianni's Guido, suffering from 'life' block (more than just director's block) to the point were even his fantasy's break down. Although most of the other cast annoy the hell out of me, especially his wife, surprisingly because the wife in La Dolce Vita was a much more sympathetic character. I love the surrealistic scenes, especially the day dreaming scenes with the women in his life and the scene with Saraghina.

My problem is something much more personal; I just don't really care about Fellini's own insecurities and difficulties. He's clearly not a director who's had a total crash in inspiration since this is basically the cinematic equivalent of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. I also don't like his writing style, it feels too constructed, everybody talks the same. By the end I couldn't wait to eject the disc and set the film back on my shelf.

I think I'll come back to Fellini when I'm older but at the moment I feel like I'm missing something that everyone else see's, like a joke that everyone else gets. I can see why filmmakers love it, I can see why critics revel in it's expressive cinematic language and I can see how it would strike a chord with those middle aged 'cafe social class' with added religious upbringing. It's not for me, but I cannot deny it's standing. 


Director: Michael Snow
Year: 1967
Nationality: Canada
Rank: =102# (Critics) Unranked (Directors)


Okay, okay, not quite. But you could forgive pretty much anyone for passing this off as impenetrable, underground bullshit. To say it's not for everyone is to put it mildly; Wavelength is Canadian director Michael Snow's meditation on the 'nervous system, religious inklings and aesthetic ideas.' A 43 minute long, single zoom through the mostly empty apartment we are left almost entirely on our own to mull over it's meaning. 

First off I want to just say it is a testement to Snow that this film is as intense as it is. The single zoom is punctuated by edits, colour changes, shifts in time all of which are unstructured, lacking in rhythm. A single static sound effect increases makes up what we percieve is the soundtrack increasing with intensity and force to the point where it becomes unbearable.There is very little human interaction only four points in total - a woman instructs two men on where to place a wardrobe, that same woman enters with a friend who drink in silence listening to The Beatles 'Strawberry Fields Forever.' Later the sound of glass breaking is heard, Hollis Frampton walks through the apartment only to collapse and die. Finally another women enters, she phones the police and tells them about the dead man, whom she does not know. It's surprisingly quite a distressing, gruelling film to witness.    

It's difficult to dechiper much of what 'happens' in Wavelength. Only each invidual viewer can take what they want from it. For me, it is a moment of near-breakdown. An isolated body shut off from the outside, the increasingly eratic colour scheme and intesifying frequency sound effect suggest the emotional bearings being burned out, on the verge of collapse. 

Seen as the first 'structural film' by P. Adams Sitney, it scales back the trend in avant-garde cinema towards the complex. It is a simple piece, that doesn't dwell on the human actions, instead it questions what cinema should be about. 

If you have 43 minutes to spare, I recommend Wavelength (The whole film is available here) as a challenging and unconventional watch. I'm surprised it's not on the director list personally, given its reputation amongst underground filmmakers. If not for it's entertainment value, it's certainly a valuable film for it's philosophical complexities.  


Thats it for my first entry into Tackling the top 250. Next time I'm going to have a look at Chris Marker's philosophical films La Jetée and Sans Soliel.