Monday, February 25, 2013

JDIFF - 23rd and 24th February Round-up

Curtain Call

The final weekend of JDIFF Edition Eleven kicked off with White Elephant (dir. Pablo Trapero). It started well - a few heavily styilised opening sequences scored to a truly overwhelming, forceful Michael Nyman soundtrack promise good things. Alas, what follows is disappointing. There's an old priest (Ricardo Darín) who calls in a young priest (Jérémie Renier) to assist him in a violent slum in Buenos Aires. It's influenced by a true story, but alas the story is told in a wholly unremarkable, formulaic way. The performances are decent, there's an impressive tracking shot or two, the rare bursts of that deafening Nyman soundtrack are arresting, and it's moderately involving overall. This is a film that is merely alright - it does not waste your time or any grievous crime like that, but simply fails to do anything particularly special.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

JDIFF - 22nd February Round-up

Chan-wook emigrates! Malick disappoints! Colfer Annoys!

An early start was justified on this nippy Friday morn, with a preview of Stoker (dir. Chan-wook Park) before its JDIFF premiere that evening (the later screening clashed with Beyond the Hills, so I was grateful of the opportunity). What a wonderful visual feast it offered! It was some relief to see Chan-wook emigrate with gusto, especially as others have failed to transition effectively. But Stoker builds a compellingly idiosyncratic atmosphere early on and barely lets up. Eccentric framing (keep an eye on the excessive head space afforded to characters), brilliantly disorientating jump & match cuts and a gracefully weird soundtrack ensure this is an invigoratingly cinematic gem, and perhaps the most accomplished film visually of the festival. Also great to see the ever talented Mia Wasikowska enjoying a weighty, offbeat lead role. The only problem to speak of is a script (bizarrely penned by Prison Break actor Wentworth Miller) that in the last act struggles to sustain the creepily perverse tone of what came before. No matter - at ninety minutes it doesn't overstay its welcome, and the film is frequently straight-up brilliant.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

JDIFF - 19th February Round-up

Love is in the Air

Abbas Kiarostami's Tokyo-set Like Someone in Love is amongst the least condescending films I've ever seen, and accordingly one of the most singularly bewitching cinema experiences I've enjoyed recently. Riffing on some of the the same ideas and styles that he explored to equally fetching effect in Certified Copy, the director's latest crafts a remarkably assured pace and tone through a series of extended dialogues and quietly observed character moments. With the addition of some dreamy visuals - very often long-takes set entirely in small apartments or cars - the film invites rather than tells you to get on board with its utterly distinctive mood. It's an invitation worth accepting.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

JDIFF - 17th and 18th February Round-Up

Melodramatic Gosling, Medicinal Mischief, Musical Accompaniment and Miserable Korea

The only thing worse than an early morning screening on a Saturday morning is an early morning screening on a Sunday morning. Luckily The Place Beyond the Pines (dir. Derek Cianfrance) made the 8:45 alarm and subsequent hour-long commute just about bearable. Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes and Bradley Cooper star. The film marks a step-up for the director - its go-for-broke narrative is an ambitious step-up from the solid if overpraised Blue Valentine. ... Pines presents a compelling melodrama so serious, so sprawling, so proud that it's almost quaint yet also extremely admirable. Unfortunately I must speak in generalities to avoid spoilers, which in this case may well diminish your impact of the film: despite a few developments that border on the ridiculous, and an unusual structure that will catch audiences off guard for better and worse, the film bewitches more than it infuriates. Accusations of over-seriousness are not unwarranted, but if you allow the film to wash over you there are many pleasures to be found. In more than one way it was a surprisingly apt antidote to the sprawling mess that was Cloud Atlas the previous evening.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

JDIFF - 16th February Round-up

Silence is Golden

Silence became somewhat of a recurring theme over the three screenings I attended on my first day at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013 (it started on the 14th, but despite my freebie season pass I had to pass on the first two days of festivities). Unfortunately, technological shenanigans were responsible for the two most unwelcome periods of silence. With screening one - at the ungodly hour of 11 AM on a Saturday morning! - Blancanieves played for fifteen minutes before the film stopped after someone eventually realised there were no subtitles. It didn't matter all that much - the film is silent, and subtitles only served a handful of Spanish language title cards. But despite the early narrative being extremely clear even without translation, we had to sit through the opening act again once the film was restarted with subtitles restored. A hasty fast-forward wouldn't have gone amiss. Then at Mercy the projector cut out smack bang in the middle of the film's dramatic climax. Both, naturally, were digital faults - as happy as I am to accept digital projection, today did the technology no favours. It was a relief when the final film was presented in glorious old 35mm.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Naked Island

This article is part of a year-long feature - watching and blogging about twenty acclaimed, cult, challenging and rare films over the course of 2013. The full list of films can be found here. 三 (three): Kaneto Shindo's 1960 study of farmers in Hiroshima Prefecture - The Naked Island.

Sometimes it's mere minutes into a film that you know you're dealing with something completely unique. Having only been familiar with the extremely prolific Shindo's (who died only last year) duo of endearingly pulpy ghost stories - Onibaba and Kuroneko - I didn't quite know what The Naked Island was going to offer. A portrait of rural Japanese life, yes, but other than that I went in more-or-less blind. Didn't even read the spiel on the back of the box! From the opening widescreen aerial shots of sweeping Hiroshima landscapes, however, it's clear that visually the film triumphantly differentiates itself from of its peers. Japanese cinema is, at the risk of generalisation (there are plenty of exceptions), often heavily focused on interiors and, more specifically, claustrophobic and closed rooms. The Naked Island barely features any indoor sequences - its beautifully framed, wide-angled and deep-focused exteriors instantly jump off the screen. Primarily set on a small, barren island in the middle of a bay, Shindo makes stunning use out of the Hiroshima environments and geography. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Intouchables / Untouchable

Buddy Comedy

Oh, how I was looking forward to this one! Intouchables (or The Intouchables, or Untouchable - the film goes by various names in different territories) is the French sensation that has become the second highest grossing foreign language film of all time (just behind, somewhat depressingly, The Passion of the Christ). Critics were divided, and some weren't very welcoming at all: sober trade mag Variety particularly went to fucking town on the thing (sample quote: "Though never known for their subtlety, French co-helmers/scripters Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache have never delivered a film as offensive as "Untouchable," which flings about the kind of Uncle Tom racism one hopes has permanently exited American screens"). When a film attracts such wild positivity from audience and such a divisive reaction from critics, it's always delightful to discover what side you fall on.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Oslo, August 31st

A Day in the Life

Oslo may not be the most photogenic city on the planet, but director Joachim Trier's Oslo, August 31st makes beautiful use of its cinematically under-represented setting. Indeed the opening minutes recall nothing more than the majestic prologue of Woody Allen's Manhattan. The photography may not be in sumptuous black & white, and there's no Rhapsody in Blue accompaniment, but Oslo...  opens with a subdued montage of the Norwegian capital's streets and sights as off-screen acquaintances of an as-yet unseen individual provide affectionate remembrances of their time together. The film does not glorify or exaggerate Oslo, but instead makes it a secondary protagonist in the film. This is a place alive with drama, mundanity, happenstance and everything in between. Oslo has millions of people, and we follow one of those people.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bullet to the Head

And Now For Something Completely Different

[review begins]

Do you like 1980s action thrillers? If so, Bullet to the Head will savagely take advantage of your nostalgia and wallet, leaving you battered, broken and crying tears of blood, left with nothing but memories of better, more innocent times.