Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Top 10 Films of 2013

Clue's in the title.

10) The Wall (Julian Pölsler, Austria/Germany) - "the Austrian tact for philosophy and psychology helps create The Wall as a smart and memorable film"

9) The Lone Ranger (Gore Verbinski/USA) "there comes a point in the film where the William Tell score/Lone Ranger theme erupts, the Lone Ranger and Tonto pounce into action and excitement pulsates through you"

8) Metro Manila (Sean Ellis, UK/Philippines) - "Nearly every element seems honed to perfection, with a superb ending to leave a definite impression."

7) Nebraska (Alexander Payne, USA) - "Looking crisp with some gorgeous photography and a fantastic score, this is an unapologetic heart-warmer from a director who hasn’t a jaded bone in his body"

6) Enough Said (Nicole Holofcener, USA) - Honest and hilarious. Featuring the talents of the late James Gandolfini and the ever-wonderful Julia Louis-Dreyfus (who needs to be in more films)

5) All Is Lost (J.C. Chandor, USA) - A unique film, built on the skillset of one great actor, Robert Redford. A muted yet monumental performance from the film's only actor - with direction so refined from Chandor.

4) Blue is The Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche France/Belgium/Spain) - Completely absorbing with two sublime performances. Highlights the highs and lows of love with more tact than nearly anything that's come before it.

3) The Kings of Summer (Jordan Vogt-Roberts, USA) - "It should become the new favourite for a generation – a few decades after the 80′s had Rob Reiner’s classic – brimming as it is with hilarity and heartfelt moments."

2) Muscle Shoals (Greg "Freddy" Camalier, USA) - "an awe-inspiring account with a host of well renowned interviewees thrilled to talk about that special place where the music “comes up through the mud”"

1) Mud (Jeff Nichols, USA) - "Tied to the warming aspect of the story is a sunlight that basks the film in a luminosity, making Mud a quintessential summer movie, and a lasting one at that."

Honourable mentions:
Django Unchained, Lore, Lincoln, Robert & Frank, Ernest & Celestine, Before Midnight, This is the End, Wolverine, Blackfish, About Time, Like Father Like Son, Drinking Buddies

Only God Forgives Re-Review

Director/Writer: Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Yayaying Rhatha Phongham, Vithaya Pansringarm, Bryon Gibson, Tom Burke

Synopsis: Julian (Gosling) and his brother (Burke) work in the criminal underground of Bangkok, with Julian dealing drugs to retain power. When his brother is killed he sets out to find the person responsible, pushed to such violent revenge mainly by his mother (Scott Thomas).

Author’s note: Back when Only God Forgives premiered at the Cannes Film Festival me and many others were sitting excited in the packed cinema. The film began, it looked beautiful and for 1 hour and 30 minutes, but it seemed like that was its only interesting facet. The Cannes press argued for the entirety of the festival over the flawless or flawed nature of the film (depending on their siding). I fell into the disagreeable category, disappointed beyond belief at Refn and Gosling’s follow-up to Drive. I spoke to a handful of people who were in two minds about it but one person seemed to indubitably “get it”. I didn’t want to lose face by going back on what I had wrote in my review but after hearing him wax lyrical about the symbolism, characterisation and construction of it I knew I had to give it a second-look. That time has now come with the home entertainment release. And the man who made me change my opinion of the film was Damon Wise who, incidentally, conducts the Q&A on the DVD/Blu-ray. He knows the film as good as its director, making the film a must-buy for film fans – not only to let people give the film another viewing, perhaps changing their opinion of it, but also to hear two men speak fascinatingly at length about the markings of this complex film.

Under plenty of consideration, there’s little to my first review that I now still stand by. Only God Forgives works on various levels, getting under your skin and burrowing into your subconscious.

Much like Fear X and Vahalla Rising, Only God Forgives plays off minimalism and style in order to portray narrative and tone. It may not be a conventional way to watch cinema, but it is an exciting one. At one point during the commentary (henceforth to be referenced to mark the DVD/Blu-ray’s worth) Damon Wise mentions music akin to Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo score. This comment extends to a conversation on atmosphere and how Refn first saw Vertigo, not completely understanding what was happening. The reference perfectly reflects the experience of watching OGF, a bizarre foray into the vengeance sub-genre. Still, much like Vertigo, there is a dedicated following and critical appeal to be gained from the off-key style.

Perhaps what will hold up most of all for OGF is the cinematography and music. Larry Smith has repeatedly been praised in both positive and negative reviews of the film. It is a truly beguiling series of images that make up the film, always full of depth. As Wise remarks, Smith’s cinematography has an “inky quality... [where] things come out of the shadows, out of the darkness”. It is observations such as these that make the special features on the disc so special. There’s interpretation and discussion to be heard and had from Wise and director Refn’s commentary. If you aren’t wholly caught under the film’s spell, perhaps you’ll grow to change your mind after hearing their thoughts. If, when listening to the supplementary audio track, you find it difficult hearing the dialogue there isn’t much to be missed. For one, the dialogue is sparse (or, subtitled and easily read) and two, you take more notice of Cliff Martinez’s score. With both diegetic sound occurring, and Refn and Wise chatting away, you take note of the score’s power – it radiates, piercing through the other sound, even. As Refn puts it, "Music was in the foreground".

Refn additionally mentions the command of Cliff’s score by noting how the film was “conceived as a silent film" – a nod to all those who complained of the film’s all-too-subtle script. Often classed as a visionary, watching OGF emphasises Refn’s control over visuals. It may not only be sound that penetrates you, but such vibrant colours. The director mentions how the film’s colour was inspired by old Disney movies, a better indicator than any on how important it is. If, by the end, the film has not satisfied you in terms of narrative, it should have via aesthetics.

As a story, it is a tough one to follow. You may be confused by the presence of Vithaya Pansringarm (dubbed “The Angel” by some) or put off by the muted appearance of Ryan Gosling. Gosling has his moments of impacting the odd scene, but he still appears worryingly wooden. Of course, it is part of the film’s set-up, but his performance still feels slightly too restrained. However, if Gosling takes a back seat, so to speak, co-star Kristen Scott Thomas ignites the screen with her fiery mother character. Swearing and swaggering through the Thai landscape, she is an assertive presence in the film. With this mix of actors their respective characters; there is an added anomalous feel to the whole thing – clearly off-putting for some as seen on its initial release.

Definitely a mixed bag for most film-fans yet it should eventually been seen as a sublime piece of art; it is, it seems, something that needs a second glance. It also benefits from the DVD/Blu-ray extras, including a sterling commentary from an absorbing filmmaker and a discerning Damon Wise. Extra pleasure for Gosling fans come in the form of the behind-the-scenes extra that includes one or two Gosling quips.

Film: **** Extras: ***

Also posted on LiveForFilms

Thursday, 24 October 2013

57th LFF Review: The Lunchbox

Director: Ritesh Batra

Writers: Ritesh Batra, Rutvik Oza

Starring: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Denzil Smith

Synopsis: Thanks to an error with the delivery, Saajan (Khan) winds up with the wrong lunch. Inside his mistaken lunchbox he finds a delicious curry that continues to get wrongly delivered every day. As Ila (Kaur) – the woman cooking all this for her husband – soon discovers the mistake she leaves a note to the man eating her husband’s food. One note leads to another and eventually Saajan and Ila begin a relationship through the lunchbox deliveries.

When Western audiences think of Indian cinema we regularly associate it with Bollywood. For the hundreds of Bollywood productions that do get released there are, however, many simplistic films absent of spontaneous dancing and elaborate plotlines. You can consider The Lunchbox a Western film – with a universal story – despite being set in a bustling Mumbai with a MacGuffin that is inherently Indian (a matter Hollywood producers will surely work around when they inevitably remake this). It’s a definite crowd-pleaser, worthy of global fame and recognition.

The lead is a figure already familiar with global fame (especially from last year’s Life of Pi) - Irrfan Khan. A respected actor across the world, Khan is commanding presence, instantly keeping you transfixed on him. He often plays quiet, self-possessed characters and here is arguably no different. However, he transforms into a romantic for The Lunchbox – the older, wiser type notable in niche rom-coms. His co-star Nimrat Kaur is a lot younger and highlights the abnormal screen coupling, yet in a film where it feels natural and warranted.

Ritesh Batra and Rutvik Oza’s story is oddly identifiable whilst being clearly Indian. The lunchbox that connects the two is not something that could work for a film set in the UK or the US (without some pretty bizarre reworking). It also isn’t anchored by token characters or customary plot designs – things happen to characters that feel more natural than most Western films purely because it acts upon its own culture.

Humour and soul are just two of The Lunchbox’s charming qualities. It isn’t visually stunning, epically scored or over-acted; it is, like Khan’s persona, quiet and virtuous in its appearance. With snippets of its runtime needing trimming, it is only a few degrees away from all-round accomplishment. It’s a real shame that India did not nominate it for next year’s Oscars as it’s now only word of mouth that will hopefully get the film the audience it deserves.

Also posted on LiveForFilms

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 Review

Directors: Cody Cameron, Kris Pearn

Writers: John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein, Erica Rivinoja

Starring: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Will Forte, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt, Neil Patrick Harris, Terry Crews

Synopsis: Flint Lockwood (Hader) successfully got everyone off Swallow Falls after the disaster in the previous film. Now a celebrity, he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves, including a job at the prestigious Live Corp Company. Live Corp’s clear-up of Swallow Falls goes awry, eventually forcing Flint and his friends and family to head to the island on their own...now full of “foodimals”!

When Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs came out 4 years ago it was one of the most refreshingly original animations to arrive on our screens in years. The dialogue, the characters, and the overall aesthetic were so pleasingly different that it has become a beloved contemporary classic. It was therefore expected that a sequel was on its way. Complain to your heart’s content about the “sequelisation” of most films, but Cloudy seemed like the perfect film for that. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 does satisfy many of the fans’ needs, though nowhere near as picture perfect as the first.

As The Avengers will continue with Joss Whedon’s script and directorial efforts, the notion that if you’ve created something special it works well to carry on with it. Cloudy’s first film, written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, was a creation seamlessly envisioned. The sequel’s Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn, following that act, have a lot on their plate (forgive the pun). They have expectations to meet and a style to stick by. In some regards they have been worthy successors to Lord and Miller, in keeping with the first two’s paradigms. Still, some of the dynamics have been pushed in the way of the “bigger, bolder, better” sequel scheme and often it feels too over the top. There’s more emphasis on the team – and unfortunately more from Andy Samberg’s annoying “Baby” Brent McHale – tiresome at points when you want to see more of the surrounding cast. There’s additionally a more formidable villain figure (Will Forte’s Chester V) who’s most interesting characteristic is the way he moves. They’ve tried to better the likes of Bruce Campbell’s Mayor Shelborne baddie, falling to the feet of Campbell’s scene-stealing abilities.

The most celebrated part of Cloudy 2 has been lauded over in every trailer and TV spot – the host of foodimals, all complete with glorious pun names. It might not be worth watching any promotional spots for film as too many jokes are lost the second time round after watching the trailer. Placing the majority of the laughs on these food-animal hybrids never seems to lose its zing, mind you. The quick-fire humour of the Cloudy series works well for the “oh look, it’s a [insert foodimal here]” barrage of skits. If the monkey Steve remains your favourite after the exploits of Berry – a giant strawberry – then the film really will be lost on you. Out of the many many new characters, Berry is deliciously delightful.

Slapstick aspects may not be something you can hold against Cloudy, but the sequel certainly feels more childish. Many of the jokes that could be enjoyed by older audiences in the first have been seemingly shelved in favour of action, colour and cuteness for number 2. Always able to crack a smile, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 won’t, however, have you in fits of laughter like the first; it has, sadly, started to cater (forgive another pun), only for the kids.


Also posted on LiveForFilms

Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa Review

Director: Jeff Tremaine

Writers: Spike Jonze, Johnny Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine

Starring: Johnny Knoxville, Jackson Nicoll, Spike Jonze, Georgina Cates

Synopsis: Irving Zisman (Knoxville) suddenly finds himself having to look after his 8 year-old grandson Billy (Nicoll) after his mother is taken to jail. Not wanting to face the responsibility, he decides it would be easier to travel across the country and drop him off with his dad. On the journey, however, he soon realises he’s actually quite fond of the kid.

In all three Jackass movies the least interesting skits have been with the old man/old lady played by Johnny Knoxville and Spike Jonze, respectively. The announcement of a spin-off centred purely on Knoxville’s old man, Irving Zisman, didn’t feel like the right direction for the team to take. After Ryan Dunn’s death (to whom this film dedicates itself to) the idea of a new Jackass movie seemed unlikely and imprudent – but for all those adoring fans, how else could we get to see the Dickhouse group dick around? Bad Grandpa is the answer to that question, additionally quashing the concerns from Zisman’s unenthusiastic audience.

Bad Grandpa, taken on by Paramount, becomes another entry in their catalogue alongside Airplane, Anchorman and the side-splitting Jackass trilogy. The result of director Jeff Tremaine, writer Spike Jonze and the all-singing, all-dancing Johnny Knoxville is a sketch film not as great as the ensemble stunt cinema, but funnier than practically anything out right now.

The jokes work on such a basic level – with the Jackass crew professionals at simple, inane comedy – whereby no cinemagoer should feel too disheartened if “bits” aren’t masterful examples of jesting. Saying that, some set-ups in Bad Grandpa have clearly been given some technical and time-consuming treatment, to a degree where the reality and staging become blurred. You cry with laughter at how intense some moments become.

The other laughs come from Knoxville’s performance and his wonderful way with words. So many catchphrases derive from Zisman’s dialogue, with an extra zing coming from Knoxville’s boyish charm (under that make-up). Focusing on an elderly character gives him virtually free-reign with saying and doing things; people just don’t want to correct or confront an old man. You can often see jokes and lines coming, but Knoxville always manages to bring spontaneity to the predictable.

It is mostly Jackson Nicoll as the grandson Billy that inspires shock. The boy seamlessly unites himself with the Jackass group to a point where you sometimes wonder if he knows about the joke and is not just playing along. The greatest sketch in the film – a young girl’s beauty pageant that Zisman and Billy crash – is Nicoll’s shining moment. No child actor has been this funny in years, and if a sequel is possible, it’ll be tremendous to see more from him.

Like all of Dickhouse’s work, there is so much more to be had on the DVD. The credits of Bad Grandpa are mainly made up of behind-the-scene footage – a supplementary 5 minutes of infectious laughter. Tremaine and his team can always tickle your funny bone, with Bad Grandpa being a pleasant surprise spinning-off from the likes of Steve-O, Wee Man, Bam, etc...


Also posted on LiveForFilms

57th LFF Review: Locke

Director/ Writer: Steven Knight

Starring: Tom Hardy, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Tom Holland, Olivia Colman, Ben Daniels

Synopsis: As Ivan Locke (Hardy) leaves work one night he begins travelling the M6, on his way to London where he makes a handful of calls fundamental to his rapidly-changing livelihood.

Despite how clichéd this may sound, it’s true – every now and again a film comes along that you know little about; it’s a small-budget, understated production, ten times greater than the sum of its parts. Locke is such a film, outstandingly orchestrated and acted – 85 minutes of perfection.

The less you know about the plot, the better. To put it basically, Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy) spends the whole film in his car ringing his family and co-workers, trying to piece together dilemmas that have freshly transpired. Locke is a tranquil man, meticulous and very involved with his family and job. We learn this slowly over the film, with Steven Knight’s script slowly establishing this very normal character.

The script is, without negating its worth, simple. With the cinematic form able to bring us vivid imagination and the unbelievable, often the realistic and plain stories are ignored in favour of something like Avatar. Locke is wonderfully refreshing, inherently European (certifiably British), and strikingly ordinary. Locke is no stereotypical hero, but he is a commendable figure in everything he does. By the end, he is more of a hero in your eyes than the likes of Batman or James Bond. The decisions he makes during the car journey are tough and critical to his well-being, but his selflessness takes charge over any egocentric intent.

There’s softness to the protagonist; humanity almost unaccountable by today’s standards. He seems unlike most people we know in life, though there’s a familiarity and authenticity to him. This idea extends to Knight’s film in its entirety. It is an idiosyncratic story, yet peppered with elements of the everyday. Locke is a building supervisor – one of best men with concrete, claims one of his contacts – a blue-collared bloke. Some may find the film dull and monotonous, an issue easy to comprehend with its fixed portrait of a man. However, there’s a dynamism to the duologue set-up (having Locke call half a dozen close-companions) drawn from understanding completely what is happening, yet constantly guessing at where things may lead.

Locke is a solid, compelling drama – quasi-thriller – that is written, directed, acted, edited and scored with finesse. Every aspect of it boasts care and craft. If Steven Knight and Tom Hardy can make a concrete pour seem nail-biting, you know you’ve found something special.


Also posted on LiveForFilms

57th LFF Review: Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

Director: Chemi Karasawa

Starring: Elaine Stritch, Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, James Gandolfini, Rob Bowman

Synopsis: A documentary on Elaine Stritch – Broadway star and regular 30 Rock guest. Mainly detailing her new show, “Elaine Stritch Singin’ Sondheim…One Song at a Time”.

Being part of “the scene” for so long, it’s easy to imagine an instinctual ability to see past most people’s bullshit. Elaine Stritch has been a figure on film, TV, the stage, and music for so long she’s blunt and unapologetic. She’s led an incredibly interesting life, meeting a host of famous faces (Kennedy once propositioned her before he was President), now ready to tell that story. Obviously comfortable around the company she keeps, Stritch is open and direct; Chemi Karasawa’s documentary thus becomes a very honest and revealing “celeb story”.

Paired with interviews from her closest colleagues and friends, there isn’t a lot you don’t learn about Stritch’s life. Often a walk-in-the-park, full of fun and fame, the drama of her life comes from alcoholism and loss. Her late husband was clearly a huge part of her life – and still is – and the description of her love is very touching.

As much as Elaine can make you howl with laughter, she can also bring you to tears. In her old age she still pines for the stage and for work. As is life, though, her body cannot always keep up with her whims and wishes, leading her to feel a great deal of pain when natural causes stop her. Diabetic and in her 80s, Stritch hasn’t the zest to do everything she desires, and with the camera watching those revelations appear before Elaine’s teary eyes it’s poignant.

Bittersweet and side-splitting, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me hasn’t got a wide commercial appeal but will be enjoyed by those who seek it out. Those unaware of Stritch gain a revelatory story of a pretty massive star, along with her adoring, caring collaborator Rob Bowman.
Also posted on LiveForFilms

57th LFF Review: Parkland

Director/ Writer: Peter Landesman

Starring: Paul Giamatti, James Badge Dale, Zac Efron, Ron Livingston, Marcia Gay Harden, David Harbour, Billy Bob Thorton, Jacki Weaver, Tom Welling, Mark Duplass, Gil Bellows, Colin Hanks

Synopsis: Following the immediate aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas and subsequent days after it. Focusing on the doctors of the Parkland hospital, Abraham Zapruder (Giamatti), who shot the infamous video footage; James Hosty (Livingston), an FBI agent; and Robert Oswald (Dale), Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother.

Behold the cast of Parkland! It’s really quite extraordinary to see so many huge names all in the same billing. Still, you can look at Movie 43 and say the same, and that didn’t turn out quite right. Parkland is by no means as awful as Movie 43 though it’s another example of “all that glitters ain’t gold.” The cast aren’t terrible, and if you are to pick holes in the film, acting is not something you can bash. The main culprit of the film’s second-rate nature is writer/director Peter Landesman who has made a mess of an already chaotic chain of events.

The first 40 minutes of Parkland is a gripping recap of November 22nd 1963 with attention on people you may not have known about. Paul Giamatti’s Abraham Zapruder is one such person who has his place in history, but perhaps unknown by name and profession. Zapruder was the man who captured that horrific assassination on film; at the right place at the wrong time, away from his desk at a clothing manufacturer to “see the President”. As the film makes a point of not showing the two shots that killed the 35th President of the United States, we see Zapruder watch in horror as a humble homevideo turns into homicide evidence right before his eyes. Giamatti is an exceptional, naturalistic actor, who plays the scene authentically. There’s no melodramatic screams or tears, just a look of unadulterated fear.

The film then takes us to the eponymous Parkland hospital where a young, yet practiced resident in general surgery, Dr. Charles “Jim” Carrico (Efron), looks on in disbelief at the body wheeled in for operating. Efron, despite seemingly pivotal to the film, has little to do. Jim’s vehement drive to keep Kennedy alive is both noble and ridiculous, affecting at points, comedic too. The operating scene is very intense, an idea that may have seemed powerful on paper, yet over the top on screen. The squishing sounds of blood silences most other sound, emphasising the blood-soaked hospital room to a nauseating, tasteless degree. Efron ends the scene pushing hard on the dead President’s chest, desperate to bring him back to life. Lasting what feels like several minutes, it starts as a heartbreaking parade of patriotism, quickly turning objectionable.

Out of the three main arcs, James Badge Dale’s portrayal of Robert Oswald, the composed brother of one of the most hated figures in American history, is the best. Dale moves from film to film with supporting roles, endlessly making a fine impression. His turn in Parkland is his most noteworthy yet, bringing such humanism to a person we would only believe to be crushed and confused by his relationship to Lee Harvey. He shares a lot of his screen time with Jacki Weaver, playing their mother. Dale brings a maturity to the film, above and beyond any of the other scenes, overshadowed at times by Weaver’s terribly written Marguerite. Whether or not these two people said and acted as they do in reality as they do in the script can be answered by your own research. It feels, however, that Landesman attempted to add humour to the film (to shake things up?) by having Marguerite as the most ignorant, dedicated mother in the United States. Her belief that Lee should be buried alongside the president is a laugh-out-loud idea, but handled awkwardly in the film – are we meant to think that’s funny, or tragically serious?

Strangely altering in tone in the latter half, Parkland is a haphazard, episodic retelling of that fateful day. There are stories in there that warrant a lot of attention (Robert Oswald should have been given his own film, arguably), and many that don’t (there’s not much to take from Zapruder racing around town to try and get his film developed, or seeing Kennedy’s coffin get clumsily transported onboard Air Force One). Landesman may have begun and ended his directing career with a whimper.


Also posted on LiveForFilms

57th LFF Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

Director/ Writer: Jim Jarmusch

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright

Synopsis: Two ageless vampires, Adam (Hiddleston) and Eve (Swinton) reunite after a cross-continental divide, still trying to survive on love and blood in the depressing 21st Century.

Jim Jarmusch proudly alludes to his muses in most of his films. At times it can be implicit (a theme relating to an author’s opus), conspicuous (Johnny Depp’s William Blake in Dead Man) or downright blatant (such as a tableau of artists, authors, musicians and film stars plastered on Adam’s wall in Only Lovers Left alive). Showing his education and appreciation of the arts is admirable at times or occasionally irksome when overtly stylised or referenced. Only Lovers Left Alive is nearly all unabashed meditations on the art that have made him who is today.

You could read Only Lovers Left Alive as a vibrant tale of vampires who have lived through the ages and have shaped the world they’ve lived in. You could also see it as Adam and Eve as Jarmusch – claiming to be seminal figures, influencing music, film and books. It’s not to say that Jarmusch hasn’t done these things, but the self-congratulatory element of this film does feel gaudy.

It is not an expensive film in other means, and the uneventful nature of most scenes is what is most refreshing. For a vampire film (especially against the tide of Twilight and others like it) it’s solemn and pensive – what a vampire film should be. Portraying this better than anyone else in the cast is Tom Hiddleston, a vampire who, had Christopher Marlow (John Hurt) known at the time, would have inspired Hamlet. Gloomy and tired, Hiddleston’s Adam is what we should expect from a 300-year-old man. The world has changed around him, with the worst of it enveloping him now. The “zombies” of today, he feels, have no romance in their lives, no passion, and no respect. It’s a spot-on message encompassing both torment and humour in its overall rumination.

Swinton’s is more liberal towards the new societies, though happier living in Tangier, albeit. Having lit up the screen in David Bowie’s The Stars (Are Out Tonight) video, fashioning bleach-blonde hair, Swinton has entered into a new vogue. Here she radiates a light against the darkness of the vampire-orientated world. It also makes her scenes in Tangier noticeably unusual – racially and stylistically different to the natives. If Hiddleston’s Adam is a suicidal romantic, Swinton’s Eve is an animated angel of death, emitting an alluring yet deadly glow.

There is magnetism in Marco Bittner Rosser’s production design and Anja Fromm and Anu Schwartz’s art direction. Sets and props have been meticulously thought over, with enough detail to let your eyes roam around the frame again and again. The only issue in wanting to revisit the film is its lengthy run-time. At 123 minutes it isn’t laborious to focus on, though too many parts are either too long or too short. Scenes in Detroit – a perfect setting for the musical accompaniment – are fleeting whereas expositional moments drag on just slightly too long.

Had Jarmusch explored more of Adam and Eve’s time on this earth – and how much they inspired culture – there would be a lot more pleasure to take from Only Lovers Left Alive. An assortment of exceptional sections appear now and again, but become forgotten in the domestic, commercial side of the film (Eve’s sister, Ava, as a token disruption to the nuclear home and some trashy vampirisms that if omitted could have saved time for more introspective dialogue from the two leads). Certainly a better class of vampire film, with an excellent final shot, just not a classic new Jarmusch film.

Also posted on LiveForFilms

57th LFF Review: Labour Day

Director/ Writer: Jason Reitman

Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith, Clark Gregg, James Van Der Beek, Alexie Gilmore

Synopsis: Adele (Winslet) is a divorced, depressed mother. Her son Henry (Griffith) sees to her every need and keeps her life as pleasant as it can be. On a normal day of shopping a man (Brolin) approaches them, asking to be looked after. His name is Frank and he’s an escaped convict; he needs a place to hide and Adele’s house seems the perfect fit. As he holds them up in their own home they slowly become to see him as a gentle, kind man whose convictions may not be as truthful as the courts have claimed.

Jason Reitman – director of Thank You for Smoking, Up in the Air, Juno and Young Adult – is an auteur of sardonic, caustic comedy dramas. He’s done well up till now establishing himself as a storyteller of a certain kind. Nevertheless, like most directors and/or writers, he doesn’t want to get fenced in by his own style. This brings us to his latest – Labour Day – a film about sadness, criminality and the absence of light.

The house in which we spend most of the film may be quite shaded, though the heat felt from the far-flung sun is palpable. Heat batters the actors – shimmering with sweat as if they were in a Tennessee Williams play. It’s atmospheric, with an ambience effortlessly detected.

Continuing on from the Williams comparison, Josh Brolin as the mysterious, muscular Frank honours the memory of Marlon Brando, Paul Newman and James Dean by recapturing their qualities on screen. Brolin is one of American’s finest actors working today, with Labor Day promoting his natural movie-star appeal.

Mentioning the film, you cannot forget Gattlin Griffith, the star of the film and our eyes to the story. Griffith plays the son of Adele, a kind boy who understands his mother’s upset, and aims to make her life better. The introduction to Frank disrupts this ideal initially but it soon becomes clear, introducing Frank to Adele further helps her in life (somewhat). Griffith has penetrating eyes, wise and expressive. We are influenced by his perspective; a perspective that is unprejudiced and innocent. When fear is felt, there is the notion of safety taken from Henry’s level-headedness. Reitman couldn’t have asked for a better child actor – unassailably adept at acting.

Winslet, as the shared support (lead billing should go to Gattlin Griffith) continues to impress, choosing this quiet role against something more substantial. It’s a choice that plays to her advantage, and her subtle style here highlights her range more than previous work has. Clenching through the first half, relaxing in the middle and shaking near the end, it’s a very physical performance, in tune with Reitman’s suggestive style.

The dialogue and story will, for some, be too ridiculous. Those able to accept the story of a kidnapped woman falling for her fugitive incarcerator will find an appeal in the way the story is handled. Reitman keeps the pace at a shuffling speed, trying not to hurry the growth of the relationships. It works like a modern day Nicolas Ray or Douglas Sirk picture, where messages and events are implied more than they are introduced. As much as you feel the sticky, warm air, you get the sense of lust and caution from carefully storyboarded shots. Humorous as some can be (a pie-making scene attempting to imply sex but rather explicit for a contemporary audiences’ understanding), Reitman is meticulous in his orchestration of lighting, editing and camera movement. He has made more enjoyable films (such as Thank You for Smoking and Up in the Air), but this is his best work as a director. If you cannot enjoy the movie on an entertainment level, you can peruse its framing with great admiration. Reitman hones his skills well for Labor Day, with only the missteps of a superfluous 15 minutes in his screenplay and some choppy structuring concerning flashbacks.

With a surrounding cast that expands on the impression of a small community, the close-knit environment stresses a strain. Even in the wooden, rigid setting of Adele and Henry’s house, the reminder of the outside world never feels like an escape. Once Frank enters the house, the external starts to feel intrusive, and we don’t want to leave the internal security of the house. Extending to the flashbacks that take us out and away from the time period (focusing on a young Frank, played by his youthful doppelganger, Tom Lipinski), the secure spot of the house is all we need. How Reitman enables this empathy with Frank, and the fabrication of the domestic he impinges on, is mesmerizing.

A film that will divide audiences and critics alike, Labour Day is an almost fairytale crime drama. It works on a number of levels, those of which may be detested by some. As a work of art (in filmic terms) it has a lot of depth and beauty. Flawed by some accounts, it’s still masterful as sensation cinema – to be felt and digested wistfully.


Also posted on LiveForFilms