Thursday, 31 December 2015

Anomalisa (2015)

Tom:
Anomalisa, 2015, USA
Directors: Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson
Stars: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh & Tom Noonan


"They're all one person and they love me. Everyone is one person but you and me. You're the only other person in the world."


The two most humane and moving films that I have seen in 2015 featured no actual human beings on screen. Both don hertzfeldt's  'World of Tomorrow' and Charlie Kaufman's 'Anomalisa' prove that genuine human emotions transcend physical capabilities.

For a little while, it seemed like Charlie Kaufman's directorial career would tragically go the way of Charles Laughton. He made a masterpiece back in 2008 with 'Synecdoche, New York', but the film was a bust at the box office, and the film itself was misunderstood, much like Laughton and his film 'Night of the Hunter'. Fortunately Kaufman, this time with co-director Duke Johnson, returns with this stop-motion animated film that has all the heart, all the absurdity and all the brilliance of Kaufman and his previous works.

Personally, Charlie Kaufman is my favorite screenwriter of all time. Whenever a film is released that features his involvement is an event for me, he never ever lets me down, providing incredibly thoughtful and unique screenplays one after another, and that is the case with 'Anomalisa'. The way in which Kaufman can so delicately craft such genuine characters is such a huge inspiration to me and absolute to witness. 'Anomalisa's script features Kaufman's usual brilliance and nuances, while also being a step in a simpler direction. While it has all the same heavy emotions, it isn't as high concept as his other screenplays. In this case, the film itself is high concept, in other cases, Kaufman's screenplay is.

Stop motion animation has always fascinated and amazed me. I can't even the imagine the patience that would go into such a project. 'Anomalisa' is an elite exercise in stop motion, providing absolutely stunning locations and objects as well as incredible articulation from the character models.

The central character of the film is Michael Stone, and he is one of the most wonderfully realized and fleshed out characters that I have encountered all year. Like Kaufman has done many times before, he proposes an intensive character study, on the level of Caden in 'Synechdoche' or Joel in 'Eternal Sunshine' and even "himself" in 'Adaptation'. What sets Michael apart from those characters is that he is literally a piece of clay, yet amazingly his story conveys all the brevity and weight of the aforementioned characters. Michael is a very flawed man who, while a brilliantly smart and relatively successful family man, is deeply depressed by the mundane and lifeless state of his existence. Everyone he encounters spouts similar small-talk and weightless conversations in the same tone (literally, every character that isn't the two leads is voiced by Tom Noonan), whether it be his son, wife, Ex-girlfriend or any random encounter, nobody sets off that spark for him of which he is in desperate search for, until he meets Lisa.
Lisa, voiced wonderfully by Jennifer Jason Leigh, is an equally enthralling and humane character. She too has her flaws, she is very deprecating and just has a generally low opinion of herself. Leigh is an immensely talented actress and her voice performance in this film brings so much to the character, even more so than Kaufman's screenplay has provided. Tom Noonan is so versatile that he makes his roles all but two characters in the film seem unique and different. It's also essential to have one actor voicing all these characters because it complements Michael's complacency of the sameness of the world.

This is much less a film critique than it is a gushing love letter to 'Anomalisa' and the work of Charlie Kaufman. There are just some filmmakers whose work just relates to you personally and who you can't do much but praise and proclaim your admiration for.

'Anomalisa' is a masterpiece, a big, bold, fresh, unique, messy, lovely, amazing and humane masterpiece. It can make you laugh, it can make you cry and it can make you look at life a little differently. 'Anomalisa' is most definitely an anomaly, it's one of a kind.

*****

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Revenant (2015)

Tom:
The Revenant, 2015, USA
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy & Domhnall Gleeson

http://spinoff.comicbookresources.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/revenant.jpg


"I ain't afraid to die anymore. I'd done it already."

Leonardo DiCaprio gives a raw, animalistic and courageous performance...that will soon be reduced to a "can I has oscar now" meme by internet culture.

The world depicted in 'The Revenant' is not one of heroes or villains, but one of survivors who have to resort extreme measures to guarantee them another day on earth. Alejandro González Iñárritu throws you into an environment of unflinching violence and viscerally assaults all your sentences with early action sequences that are bloody, grotesque, shocking and give the viewer a strong indication of what is to come.

'The Revenant' re-teams Iñárritu with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, after their Academy Award winning success with 'Birdman' and once again it results in astounding prosperity. Lubezki employees the "single take" style that he has just about perfected at this point, although it is not utilized to the extremity like in 'Birdman', and in doing so he puts us into the wilderness with these characters who are clawing for survival, and thus their plight resonates with us more because we are there with them, in the freezing cold, in the dirt and mud, in the harsh landscape that sees every breath as a victory. The battle scenes are extraordinarily filmed, physical confrontations are devoid of fanfare and polish and instead are bloody, gritty brawls. With his work on this film, Lubezki yet again proves himself as a visionary of his field and might just be on his way to picking up a third consecutive Academy Award.

Then there is a bear attack scene. The scene is as awe-inspiring as it has been made out to be, a truly terrifying and intense sequence that genuinely had me pondering whether or not DiCaprio was sharing the screen with a real life bear, that's how good it is. Possibly the best cinematic moment of 2015.

Iñárritu can be a divisive filmmaker. He wears his heart on his sleeve  and approaches his themes in an unapologetic manner, and that's where he can allienate some of his viewers. If you had a hard time getting invested in his previous films, then you will most likely struggle with 'The Revenant' because it's Iñárritu turned up to 11. Despite featuring one of Hollywood's most bankable stars and potentially being a big box office draw, Iñárritu does alter his style to accommodate cinema-goers, which is great because it keeps his integrity as an artist in tact, but I could also see leading to some disappointment and backlash from some viewers. 

One of my biggest gripes in films is when i feel like themes such as faith and spirituality are disingenuously being inserted into films, and unfortunately I felt this way with this film. Preferably, I would have rather 'The Revenant' keep it a little more simple with it's approach and simply be the tale of a man who will push the limits of his body to gain retribution from those who wronged him, but the film adds a layer of faith and religion that fell flat for me, personally. It's kind of a testament to the filmmaking and craftsmanship that I was so tantalised by, which allowed me to like the film as much as I did, regardless of these issues, which would have been more of a detriment for any less of a film.

In his Golden Globes acceptance speech last year, Michael Keaton said to Alejandro González Iñárritu that "there's not an actor in this room that won't show up for your next gig" and that may be so as his next project attracted the talents of Leonardo DiCaprio. Leo is one of the finest actors of his generation, turning in performance after performance of powerhouse and versatile showings that have seen him become one of cinemas most reliable talents. With 'The Revenant', DiCaprio gives a performance unlike any that he has given before, it's raw, animalistic, gutsy, brave, tenacious and courageous, full of desperation, vitriol, heart and aggression, that will most likely see him win first Academy Award and put that woefully unfunny and redundant meme to bed for good.

Equally as impressive as DiCaprio is Tom Hardy. It's always wonderful to me when an actor I genuinely like plays a character that I detest, their likability usually shines through and you don't hate the character as much as you should because of your sentiments toward the actor playing it, that's not the case with Hardy in this film, I hated this character and I love Hardy for making me do so. Hardy continues his rise as one of the most prominent and rising stars today with another compelling showing. That man is completely unhinged and I mean that in the best way.

'The Revenant' is a triumphant experience of unadulterated cinema. It's a bloody and raw piece of work that is expertly shot, finely crafted and excellently performed.

****

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015)

Tom:
Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, 2015, USA
Director J.J Abrams
Stars: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega & Harrison Ford
http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/articles/arts/low_concept/2015/04/150416_LOW_OldSolo.jpg.CROP.original-original.jpg
"Luke Skywalker? I though he was a myth."

There has indeed been an awakening, and it isn’t just the titular force, it’s the ‘Star Wars’ series as a whole.  ‘The Force Awakens’ is an exhilarating blend of well executed nostalgia and a fresh perspective that has reinvigorated the series and established a new set of stories and characters that will endear themselves to a brand new generation of fans.

Not having George Lucas in the writer or director role was the best thing for this film, not only because the prequels were critical bombs, but because it allows someone else to take this vast and storied universe and tailor it to his own vision, and that someone is J.J Abrams. I personally don’t have much of a history with Abrams, I never watched ‘Lost’ or his ‘Star Trek’ films, the only thing I’ve actually seen from him is ‘Super 8’, but his work on this film impressed me immensely. Abrams’ style is grounded in realism, a little more so than we are used to seeing in the ‘Star Wars’ films. The action sequences feel grittier, more tenacious, and as a result are more suited to modern audiences. Teamed with some impressive camera work, gives the film a vice-like grip during the action.

In many ways, ‘The Force Awakens’ resembles ‘A New Hope’ in the same way that ‘Creed’ resembled ‘Rocky’, it’s almost like a loose-remake of its original predecessor. ‘The Force Awakens’ hits many of the same notes as Lucas’ classic and even sees the new cast members take on the role similar to those of the characters from original, like Finn being like Luke Skywalker, Ray being like Leia, and Kylo Ren obviously resembling Darth Vader. And just like with ‘Creed’, this film manages to feel fresh regardless of its similarities.

‘The Force Awakens’ genuinely feels like a true successor to the original trilogy, even more so than Lucas’ prequel trilogy did. Abrams is clearly a lifelong fan of the films and does his best to appease fans like him with plenty of odes and references to the classic trilogy and, if you’re anything like me, will make you smile every time you notice them. The returning characters are handled with grace and respect and very much the same characters we fell in love with the first time around. Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is still the charismatic, brash smuggler that made him one of cinemas most entertaining characters. Carrie Fisher is still the brave, strong-minded Leia, and Chewbacca is still as loveable as ever.

I was very pleased with the new cast members, all of them do an excellent job and provide a cast full of watchable and endearing characters, which was a trait of the original trilogy and absent in the prequels. Daisy Rildey is a wonderful heroine, John Boyega is a really awesome hero (and has great comedic timing), Oscar Isaac continues to become one of the best actors out there, Domnhall Gleeson shows a darkside that we had previously yet to see, Max Von Sydow adds gravitas and class to anything that he is apart of, and Adam Driver is an interesting villain, who is very threatening and intimidating but is equally tortured and flawed, I’m really looking forward to seeing Kylo Ren’s character progression in the following films.

This is a wonderful first chapter to a new story that had me eagerly anticipating the next installment as soon as the credits began to roll.

This is the Star Wars films that the prequels wished they were. Believe the hype, ‘Star Wars’ is back!

"The Force, it's calling to you. Just let it in."

****

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Crimson Peak (2015)


Tom:
Crimson Peak, 2015, USA
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston & Jessica Chastain

http://icdn2.digitaltrends.com/image/crimson-peak-mia-wasikowska-2-1500x1000.jpg

"Ghosts are real, that much I know. I've seen them all my life..."

Ghosts have fascinated me all of my life, and while I've never completely believed in them nor I have I ever seen one, the idea of them still intrigues me to no end. The idea of a person's spirit lingering around the living after their death can be both frightening or hopeful, yet always interesting. When it comes to films about ghosts, I have always preferred it when, as Edith states in this film, ghosts are used as a "metaphor for the past", rather than just used as a gimmick for a cheap scare. One of the reasons that 'The Shining' is so effective is that the apparitions convey the gruesome history of the Overlook Hotel, 'The Haunting' is so effective because it uses the ghosts to establish the events that made Hill House the way it is. With 'Crimson Peak', Director Guillermo del Toro attempts to utilise this use of poltergeists in this sense to illustrate the past of Allderdale Hill, and this is where 'Crimson Peak' thrives the most, when it becomes apparent to us that it is "not a ghost story, it's a story with ghosts."

Whether you're a fan of Del Toro's work or not, it's hard to deny that he is currently one of cinema's most unique minds. Between his elaborate set pieces, compelling visuals & unorthodox modern day fables, Del Toro has established a cult following for himself that has seen his loyal fans follow him from film to film. If you are one of those Del Toro fans or just loved 'Pan's Labyrinth', I believe 'Crimson Peak' will appeal to you. It has a similar sense of visual flair, intense thrills and bloody violence. For those unfamiliar with Del Toro or 'Pan's Labyrinth', I still believe 'Crimson Peak' is worth a watch if you're looking for a fun horror/thriller.

The main criticisms I have with the film is, ironically, the opposite of the criticisms which Edith's (Mia Wasikowska) manuscripts receives from her publisher, who informs her that her story about ghosts is in need of a (tacked on) romance. I believe the opposite in the case of 'Crimson Peak'. I never really appreciated the romantic aspect to the film and it's not at the fault of the actors, Wasikowska & Tom Hiddleston, they have decent enough chemistry, and I know this is a gothic romance and their partnership was the driving force of the story, but it still felt a little tacked on. It almost felt like Del Toro was in Edith's position and the studio made him write a love story into his horror film.

For the positives though, 'Crimson Peak' builds tensions pretty excellently, from a really gripping opening scene to an equally gripping final scene. While the pacing slows down at points, it never really hinders the overall film. The film is visually stunning and the set design is exceptional. Allderdale Hall is a beautifully haunting set, the walls dripping with the red, blood-like clay, a dilapidated roof which sees leaves fall through the house in the spring and snow in the winter. The visual effects are pretty solid, with the ghostly apparitions appearing bloody and ghastly.

Del Toro is very evidently a student of the game, so to speak, and his inspirations are evident all throughout the film. Del Toro pays homage to the German expressionism films of the 1920's, such as 'Nosferatu' & 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari', with its use of gothic set pieces, shadows and the iris out to transition between scenes. As well as the horror films of Mario Bava, with the use of spellbinding colours, and a few little visual nods to Kubrick's 'The Shining' spread throughout.

Mia Wasikowska is an actress who seems to keep getting better and better with each passing film. It took me a while to get completely sold on her but I think she's excellent now. She's got all the capabilities to carry a major film and this is a fine example. Weather she's evil, good, creepy, cute or crazy, she has really set herself up for a wide range of roles. In this film, she is the intelligent, good-hearted, yet naive rich girl who has to mature in front of our in eyes in order to survive the events of the film. It's another good performance in what is becoming a really solid filmography.

Tom Hiddleston exudes a brooding charm and does very well in his role. The performance which is likely to get the most love though, and rightfully so, is Jessica Chastain, who even out-creepy's the ghosts. She is so easily able to convey a threatening, menacing vibe and when she goes full-crazy, it's a thing of terrifying beauty.

Horror is the film genre closest to my heart, while it is currently a heavily saturated genre that is polluted with hundreds upon thousands of forgettable or poor films on a yearly basis, there is usually very few horror films that see a wide release (at least where I live), usually the best horror films, like 'The Babadook' & 'It Follows' are reserved for small independent cinemas, while the 'Saw's & 'Paranormal Activity hit the major theatres. So when a film like 'Crimson Peak' arrives with a wide realease and hype to boot, it's a very exciting occasion. While I wouldn't put this film on the top-tier of the best horror films in recent years, I do think it's a good enough film to regenerate some buzz in the genre, especially during this time of year. Del Toro is very clearly a huge fan of this genre and his passion pours through in every frame.

'Crimson Peak' is a wildly entertaining cinematic experience. An excellent cast, eerie atmosphere and quality scares highlight is rare in that it's a satisfying big budget horror film.

***1/2

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Sicario (2015)

Tom:
Sicario, 2015, USA
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin & Benicio Del Toro
http://content.internetvideoarchive.com/content/photos/9062/359465_062.jpg
"You ask how the watch is made. Keep your eye on the time."

A quiet street sits idle and in the distance a woman is seen walking a dog. It's a moment of serenity and stillness, which is notable because it's one of the very few that the next two hours will have. Suddenly that serenity is gone, as fully armed FBI swat team members move in from the left of frame and our perspective of what seemed like an innocent street has changed as we now suspect something malevolent is at play. And thus begins a prevalent and reoccurring theme of 'Sicario', that of malevolence lurking under innocence, and things not being always as they seem.

We are then introduced to Kate Macer, played by Emily Blunt, an FBI agent with good intentions but a lack of understanding of how the system works. She is brought into a team that is out to rid of drug cartel on the U.S & Mexican borders by eliminating an anonymous drug lord. What makes Kate a compelling character is that she isn't a badass who is going to single handedly take out all the villains. No, she's  vulnerable and anxious yet brave and determined, she will pull the trigger and take out an enemy when need be but prefers a less a fatal form of justice. The film is telling a gritty and realistic so it's great to have a central character that feels genuine and human and not a action-heroine who can fix the drug problem with a solitary bullet.

From the get-go, 'Sicario' grabs a hold of you and refuses to let go. It's so relentless that even the down points and dialogue heavy scenes have an uneasy aura that keeps you on your guard.

The film is flawlessly shot, which should come as no surprise seeing as it's filmed by the best DOP alive, and probably the best ever, Roger Deakins. I'm one of those people who could just swoon over the man's abilities and body of work, and complain about his lack of Academy Awards, for hours on end, and 'Sicario' is yet another example of why the man is so well respected. Absolutely stunning photography that complements the tension is building in absolutely perfect fashion. Those mesmerising copter shots give the desert a life of it's own. Jóhann Jóhannsson's score is fantastic too, every time it kicked in, the tension rose and you were kept on your toes.

I'm very fond of Emily Blunt, I think she's an excellent actor with very broad range. Her performance in this film may be my favorites of hers thus far. As I alluded too above, her performance is multi layered, which allows her to portray vulnerability, fear and bravery. She's fantastic. I always love to see Josh Brolin and he's in his absolute element in this film, providing some much needed comedic relief at times and always being witty and entertaining.

As good as the cast is all across the board, the film really belongs to one man, and that is Benicio Del Toro. I've been a huge fan of Del Toro's for many years now, I think he's a phenomenally talented performer, but I've noticed that he's taking roles in more commercial or ensemble films in recent years, while he's always good, he never really gets the chance to shine like he did earlier in his career, that isn't the case with 'Sicario'. From the moment Del Toro's character, Alejandro, enters the frame, he completely commands the screen and makes the film his own. Alejandro is a hazy character, in that for most of the film, we are certain where his allegiances truly lie or what his motives are, and that just makes him even more commanding when he's on screen. He has moments where he is a helpful and compassionate and other times he is absolutely ruthless and terrifying. There is no way he doesn't get an Oscar nom for best supporting actor.

Once again Denis Villeneuve has delivered an impeccably crafted, tenaciously paced, gritty thriller that continues his sublime form. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers and 'Sicaro' rivals 'Enemy' as my favorite of his filmography. I absolutely loved this film, it was a truly unique and exhilarating cinematic experience that had me on the edge of my seat for practically the entire duration. 'Sicario' will surely go down as one of my favorite films of 2015.

****1/2

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Playtime (1967)

Tom:
Playtime, 1967, France
Director: Jacques Tati
Stars: Jacques Tati, Barbara Dennek & Rita Maiden
http://movieboozer.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/playtime-main-review.jpg

"I love Paris at this time of morning."

Francois Truffaut said of 'Playtime' that it is "a film that comes from another planet, where they make things differently", only after you've experienced Tati's one of a kind vision, can you fully comprehend Truffaut's statement. 'Playtime' was, at the time, the most expensive French film ever made. In a risk that is reserved for the most vivid of dreamers, Tati had an entire glass city constructed on the outskirts of Paris, coined "Tativille", for the production of this film which lasted nine years. Unfortunately, like a number of the great films, 'Playtime' was a misunderstood financial failure that left Tati in debt. But, also as the great films do, its power couldn't be suppressed and the film has finally gotten the recognition it should have received in 1967.

The film opens with a shot of a cloudy sky, as the opening credits go by the clouds begin to make way for the blue Paris sky, when suddenly a shot of a large building appears on the screen, thus setting the tone for Tati's extraordinary exploration of modernism.

'Playtime' is essentially a film of four general parts and little moments in between. The first of which begins with a couple sitting in a modernistic but sterile and grey building. The enviroment suggests that this is indeed a hospital, we see nuns, nurses and what appears to be a wheelchair bound patient, the woman's dialouge also suggests this as she tells her worried partner things such as "It's a long wait", "you'll take care of yourself" and "You've got an appointment". It's not until photographers, guards, school kids and tourists enter the frame, and we see that the "wheelchair bound patient" was actually a couple of suitcases with a blanket over the top, that we are in fact in an airport. This is an example of Tati playing on our assumptions and expectations and showing us what a playful and enigmatic filmmaker he is.

Speaking of Tati playing with our assumptions and expectations, this is also evident in the way he introduces Mr. Hulot into the film. For those who are unfamiliar, Hulot is to Tati what The Tramp was to Charles Chaplin, an iconic character that becomes synonymous with the legendary filmmaker. 'Playtime' was the penultimate appearance of Hulot on film and his third overall. After 'Mr. Hulot's Holiday' & 'Mon Oncle', and the way in which he was driving force for the loose narratives that Tati provided in those films, you would expect him to Hulot a notable entrance with a fair amount of fanfare, but that's not the case in 'Playtime'. The film is so layered and every shot is filled with detail that you blink and easily miss Hulot's entrance, which is mid shot in between groups of people, you can see his trademark coat, short pants, colorful socks, umbrella & brimmed hat folded at the back. You can also easily miss his second appearance, which is also in between groups of people, this time he drops his umbrella which makes a loud crack that draws the viewer's eye to Hulot, but by the time you spot him, he is already walking out of the shot. Eventually, when Tati takes out of the airport, we clearly see the Hulot strolls across the pathway, a woman yells "Mr. Hulot", who turns around and reveals he is, in fact, not Mr. Hulot! "I'm not Hulot. My name is Smith. I think you've made some sort of mistake".

Eventually we see the real Hulot, exiting a bus and, ironically, getting his umbrella caught on Mr. Smith's one. The fact that Smith is donning the famous attire Hulot is famous for and Hulot himself wearing a different jacket, it's Tati's way of telling his audiences early that this really isn't another Hulot film, he's there, sure, but the main star of the film is people themselves.

The first sequence of the film begins when Hulot visits a lavish building for a meeting. Upon his arrival there he meets an elderly security guard, who has to work a large machine in order to inform the higher ups that Hulot is arrived. As we see the man struggle to work the machine, Tati makes us aware that some people can get left behind when it comes to such technology, as the man proclaims "Who understands all this electronic stuff? All these buttons". Comedic hijinks of the highest order ensue as Hulot and the man he is there for a meeting with get there wires crossed, so to speak, which sees Hulot running over the building, which resembles a maze, trying to find the man, in a wonderfully orchestrated sequence.

The misunderstanding leads to Hulot accidentally stumbling into a Trade Exhibition. This allows Tati to continue making commentaries about the ever evolving modern world, like the woman who is selling trash cans in the shape of the ancient Greek pillars, titled "Thro.out Greek Style" (which can also be seen in the restaurant later in the film), this is a striking message that we are pushing aside these iconic feats of humanity for modern architecture. There are also some striking pieces of imagery throughout the film in which the famous Paris landmarks can only be seen in the reflection of revolving doors, i.e The Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe & Sacrè-Coeur.

Next, Hulot meets an old Army buddy who invites him into his brand new Ultra modern apartment building. This is another comment of modernism and how he can take away our uniqueness and personality. The scene, which is shots solely from street view, and shows identical apartments, with no real sense of privacy or personality, lined up against one another. Watching the exact same TV program.

Finally, we come to one of the best sequences in the history, The Royal Garden scene. This takes place in a restaurant that is having its grand opening while it is still in construction, cutting corners in order in order to get the place in time, even after the customers have arrived. These leads to plenty of hilarious moments with the environment, quite literally, crumbling around them and the employees trying to do their best to cover it. It's also a fun twist that the customers seems to become more and more comfortable as things start to go haywire, as opposed to when it was a stuck-up pompous environment.

'Playtime' is a film that you should see once in order to prepare yourself for it. I watched it twice this week and while I absolutely loved it on my first viewing, it was a completely different experience the second time around, and I mean that in the best possible way. The film is so layered, you could watch it 10 times while looking at a different part of the screen and get 10 different cinematic experiences. Jacques Tati is one of the greatest and most inventive minds in the history of Cinema and just Art in general, and 'Playtime' is truly his magnum opus, his masterpiece. Tati truly makes things differently.


*****

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Tom:
Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015, Australia/USA
Director: George Miller
Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron & Nicholas Hoult
https://i.ytimg.com/vi/hEJnMQG9ev8/maxresdefault.jpg

"You try to fix what's broke, you'll go insane"

It was nearly two decades in the making, but 'Mad Max: Fury Road' seems to have arrived when we needed it the most. In a world where we are so accustomed to theaters usually housing one or more action blockbusters at any given time, the multimillion dollar films that are filled to the brim computer generated imagery, where most of the visuals you are witnessing are done in post production, it's such a giant jolt to the senses to see a film which utilizes such a vast amount of practical effects, and more importantly, to see a film that personifies that genuine movie magic feeling,  'Fury Road' is that film.

This film is a template of how to create a successful reboot/re-imagining without alienating fans of the original. Capturing the essence and spirit which resonated with folks the first time around, but molding it into an all new vision that can stand separately from its predecessor. George Miller has an advantage when it comes to this, due to the fact that he is re imagining the world and character he originally created, but its still astounding how far his vision has traveled, initially beginning in the late 70's with a young Mel Gibson roaming around Anakie Road, to 2015 with the ginormous, extravagant war on wheels in 2015. It's also admirable that Miller's creativity isn't blocked by what he's done in the past. He could have easily made a film that acts as a companion to his originals and carry on that story arc, but instead he has crafted an entirely different take on Max Rockatansky, and 'Fury Road' is all the better for it.

'Fury Road' is one of the most alive action films I've seen in a long while. It feels like a living, breathing beast that has manifested itself on the big screen. The film is so ferociously energetic and, like Max himself, is always on the move. The action sequences are truly awe inspiring and will leave you breathless. Without exaggeration, I genuinely had to take a giant breath after a huge sequence, it was that exhilarating.  Miller has always had an amazing understanding of how to create thrills on fast moving transportation, both when he as no budget and when he has a huge one. The stunts in this film are just unbelievable and make you wonder how the hell they were able to pull them off.

In many ways, 'Fury Road' is like this generation's version of 'The Road Warrior'. The drifter, Max, joins forces with another group and attempts to help them achieve their goal, all the while facing giant adversity from a larger group headed by an intimidating foe. But, as I alluded to above, it never feels like Miller is giving us the same film with a nice new bow, he's created something that will appeal to those who grew up with 'The Road Warrior' and those younger movie goers who probably wouldn't appreciate watching the 1981 film today, it's an excellent balance.

Tom Hardy was the ideal choice to play a modern day Mad Max. Not only is he an immensely talented performer but his gruff and softly spoken persona fit the legendary character to a tee. He does a very good job in this film, he's a badass yet vulnerable to his past shortcomings, and constantly tortured by visions of those he has failed to save. I hope we get another chance to see him play the role in the future. Charlize Theron is absolutely amazing as Furiosa, an enigmatic yet humane performance that is more than worthy of awards consideration. Theron is a goddamn national treasure and one of the most valuable actresses we have today. The rest of the cast is who's who of Australian performers, both past and present, and there really isn't a weak link, everyone does a good job.

I revisited 'Mad Max' & 'The Road Warrior' last week (but not 'Thunderdome') and after having seen 'Fury Road' today, I think I can comfortably say that this is definitive vision of the Mad Max universe. It's depiction of the dystopian futuristic wasteland, ravaged by the apocalypse,  leaving behind a world of savages and survivalists to exist by any means necessary, is the unmatched portrayal of Max and the world he lives in. 'Fury Road' is an endlessly riveting experience, with some of the most unbelievably awe-inspiring action sequences I have seen in years. A fun and ferocious ride that will take a hold of you instantly and won't let go until the credits roll.

What a lovely day, indeed!

****

Friday, 8 May 2015

It Follows (2015)

Tom:
It Follows, 2015, USA
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Stars: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist & Daniel Zovatto
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"It could look like someone you know or it could be a stranger in a crowd. Whatever helps it get close to you"

'It Follows' is to 2015, what 'The Babadook' was to 2014, 'You're Next' was to 2013, and 'The Cabin in the Woods' to 2012. A horror film that arrives with tons of hype and the aura of being ground breaking, game changing and terrifying. While the weight of this hype can ultimately leave you feeling indifferent to the film upon seeing it, others fulfill their full potential and live up to that hype. Fortunately, 'It Follows' lived up to the lofty expectations I had set for it and has easily become one of my favorite horror films in recent memory. 

'It Follows' is a wonderfully executed throwback to the horror films of a different era. Not to make this a commentary about about weather or not the genre's techniques have become less effective over time, but in my opinion, I'm more favorable to the atmospheric horror films of the 70's and 80's, where tension is built both simply and effectively, and it's what we don't see that scares us. David Robert Mitchell seems to share these sentiments and takes inspiration and pays homage to them. It's the kind of film John Carpenter could have made between 'Halloween' and 'The Thing'. In many ways, the film reminds me of Adam Wingard's 'The Guest' (and not just because it also stars Maika Monroe) in the sense that manages to be a quality film in addition to being a satisfying throwback, and not just relying on past tropes in order to get a passing grade from audiences.

What the titular "It" is can be up to interpretation. My take is probably the most obvious standpoint and that it is an allegory for a sexually transmitted disease, and the embodiment of sexual anxieties, helplessness and the inevitability of death. Mitchell manages to take this heavy themes and mold them into both, a fun horror film, and a pretty devastating and scathing social commentary on promiscuous teenage behavior.

Stylistically, the film is exceptionally well done. The camera work echoes the brooding stroll of the film's haunting antagonists, creeping into focus slowly, sneaking up on the unaware characters. The dreary unnamed American town perfectly suits the events taking place, it's kind of like a modern day Haddonfield. The visual effects were incredibly polished for a film with only a $2 million budget, some of them looked absolutley spectactacular, especially the pool visual towards the end. I also loved the the techno score and thought it fit perfectly the tone and vibe of the film.

Another aspect I really admired about the film was the vagueness with which the events unfolded. I loved not being clued in from the beginning and being able to watch the strange happenings unfold while trying to piece together what's going on. 

The characters in the film were exactly what I want characters to be in a teen orientated horror film, humans. So often do young adult characters in these type of films come off as inhuman, unrelatable, unlikable twats who act like no other human being ever would. In this film, the characters generally feel organic and act as if these were real people reacting to the situation, the friends do all they can to help Jay, and Jay battles with the ethical decision of passing on the curse to another. Maika Monroe gives a star making performance that echoes the scream queens of the past.

I had insanely high expectations and months of anticipation heading into 'It Follows' and it was able to completely satisfy me on every level. A tense and bone chilling take on STD's and promiscuity, a wonderful throwback to horror films of the past, and just an all around entertaining a scary ride that I can't wait to revisit.


****


Sunday, 3 May 2015

World of Tomorrow (2015)

Tom:
World of Tomorrow, 2015, USA
Director: Don Hertzfeldt
Stars: Winona Mae & Julia Pott
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"i am extremely nostalgic.... almost cripplingly nostalgic. not really even about my own past. that line in "world of tomorrow" i gave to emily, "you will feel a deep longing for something you cannot quite remember," i sort of feel that constantly." - Don Hertzfeldt, from a reddit AMA where he was asked to "tell us something about yourself that we may find surprising"

Like Hertzfeldt, I too have that crippling sense of nostalgia and yearning for a past I can't possibly get back, or perhaps a past I was not even a part of. Hertzfeldt so vividly captures those exact sentiments in 'World of Tomorrow', so much so that, as Emily Prime begins describing what was in store for young Emily, it hit my like a brick and emotionally resonated with me like few other films have. As I sat staring blankly at the end credits of the film that I just watched for the third time (two of those viewings were today), 'World of Tomorrow' forced me to ask questions to myself about my life, future, and existence in general. A series of questions that I can't possibly answer now, nor anytime soon, but ones I look forward to answering in the future.

"I'm very proud of my sadness, because it means I am more alive."

'World of Tomorrow has a runtime of just under 15 minutes, sans end credits, and there is not a single wasted second in any of those minutes as Hertzfeldt crafts a world that is simultaneously different and familiar. A world of futuristic contraptions yet the same sentiments that are present in our modern times. The film resembles some of the great science-fiction landmarks of cinema, in that it reaches for the impossibly complex questions and has its own unique and thoughtful answers to them.

"One day, when you are old enough, you will be impregnated with a perfect clone of yourself, you will later upload all of your memories into this healthy new body. One day, long after that, you will repeat this process all over again. Through this cloning process, Emily, you will hope to live forever."

The relationship between Emily & Emily Prime is awe-inspiring. The concept of a small child meeting a copy of herself from the future who is explaining the universe to her in ways the child can't possibly comprehend, poses plenty of opportunity for beautiful and complex revelations, and Hertzfeldt makes the absolute most of them. The relationship is a touching portrait of innocence and innocence lost, and the glaring differences between how children and adults view the world. Young Emily sees the world how most children do, with wonder and excitement, proudly showing Emily her toy cars and gasping at colors, circles and stars. Emily Prime, on the other hand, has been broken down by the world, too many lost lovers, and the yearning to relive her happy memories. The "conversations" had by the Emily's garner so many emotions, the interactions are very humorous and quirky, but at the same time it's heartbreaking to see the way in which Emily Prime talks to her young counterpart, with both regret and sadness.

"Did you miss me?"
"Yes"

In my estimation, there are few filmmakers who truly understand humanity quite like Hertzfeldt, which is ironic seeing that he has never made a live action film. From 'Rejected' to 'The Meaning of Life' to his 'Bill' trilogy, Hertzfeldt has always had his own unique perspective on life and 'World of Tomorrow' may be his most unique yet. It's truly incredible the way in which he takes these simply drawn characters and makes them feel as real as any human character. Even Dave, an art exhibit of a human without a brain who lives his life in a museum and has profound effects on the people who visit him and is seen only briefly through flashbacks, feels so real and so human. Emily Prime is another fine example of that as you can genuinely feel the underlining sadness and emotion in her voice, despite being a character with very minimal facial expressions. This is both a testement to Hertzfeldt's writing and direction, as well as Julia Pott's voice acting.

"Do not lose time on daily trivialities. Do not dwell on petty detail, for all these things melt away and drift apart within the obscure traffic of time."

The above quote really hits home for me every time I hear it. I spend so much of my time and energy worrying about the little things in life. The petty details that seem so monumental but are just so miniscule in the grand scheme of things. This film makes me want to change that and do things differently, only the really special film can make you want to alter your life in some way.

"Live well and live broadly, you are alive and living now, now is the envy of all of the dead."

Admittedly, this review is a bit of a mess but 'World of Tomorrow' is such a personal experience that every viewer will digest in their own way. This film means a lot to me and it is quite difficult to really put it into words, and I'm sure it's the same way for other people who love the film too. What I can say is that 'World of Tomorrow' is so absolutely wonderful, both heartbreaking and hopeful, and simply brilliant beyond belief. Don Hertzfeldt is a master storyteller who has formed a career on the fact that storytelling isn't about extravagances or large budgets, he has always conveyed the universal truth that a good story is a good story, no matter the package they come in. In just 17 minutes, Hertzfeldt's film made me think about humanity, life and existence as much as anything ever has.
Hertzfeldt is an artist in the realest sense.

"That is the thing about the present, Emily Prime. You only appreciate it when it is the past."

'World of Tomorrow' is available to rent on Vimeo for $4.99 and renting it is a great way to kick back to Hertzfeldt and give him the opportunity to make more masterpieces in the future. I've rented it last two months and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

*****

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Tom:
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004, USA
Director: Michel Gondry
Stars: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet & Mark Ruffalo
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"Blessed are the forgetful, for they get the better even of their blunders."

For the last two or so months i've been coming to terms with the deterioration of my first real relationship with my first real love and it really is such a weird state of mind to be in. I've seen thousands upon thousands of films thus far in my lifetime, many of which deal with love and how people fall in and out of it, and while I have always been able to appreciate and marvel at them as works of cinema as well as connect with them on an emotional level, I guess I could never truly connect to the ones that dealt with the pain and fallout of love because I had never really had that experience. I guess what I'm trying to say is that cinema didn't truly prepare me for the downfalls of life as much as I thought it did. That isn't a knock on cinema in any way, I wouldn't do such a thing to a medium that I hold so dearly, nor is it a knock on life. it's really just an observation. While i'm not so sure cinema can prepare you for pain of life, I do believe with all my heart that it can take the pain away, and it can change the way you see the world for the better. This has been the case so many times throughout my life, including today when, for the first time in 5 years, I decided to watch 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'. I have always thought of it as a wonderful film but today I was able connect on a different and much more personal level.

So many times throughout the last few months my mind has gone over and over similar thoughts such as what if I could erase this persons impact on my life? what if she never randomly came back into my life like she did? If I could forget her and everything she meant to me, would I? 'Eternal Sunshine' is a cinematic experience based on this fantasy. It proposes a world where you can erase the pain and heartache of relationships and past ties but at the same time it also erasing the happiness those those people gave you, and displays the messiness, the desperation and the ethical dilemma that a world like such would entail.

Only from the unorthodox and genius mind of Charlie Kaufman can a tale like this materialise, one of such complexities and intricacies, yet at the same time one of such humanity. It's one of those love stories that bucks the trend and creates its own meaning for what a love story should be, in the way that 'Annie Hall', 'Harold & Maude' & 'Before Sunrise' did before it. In my opinion, these are the kinds of love tales that appeal to me and the ones which I think should be cherished. There are countless examples of films use the same old romantic tropes and follow the same blueprint of what came before it, but only a certain amount of films can boast being able to turn the genre on its head and give a truly different and unique take on love and all its complexities, 'Eternal Sunshine' is most definitely one of them.

The collaboration of the visionary writer, Kaufman and the uniquely talented director, Michel Gondry, is one that boast striking results. Gondry's ability to tell a story through visual elements wonderfully coincides with Kaufman's ability to write a story that strays from the norm. 'Eternal Sunshine' would not be the masterful piece of work it is without either man.

Joel and Clementine are the film's central duo. Early and often did I notice similarities between myself and Joel and similarities between Clementine and my former significant other and in doing so is what made this viewing such a personal experience. I don't think this was a matter of me projecting my own experiences into the characters either, Joel's standoffish, quiet demeanour is a reflection of my own, and Clementine's free spirited and outgoing nature is a reflection of my former partner. It speaks volumes for Charlie Kaufman's writing abilities that he is able to write such humane and relatable characters even when writing such a world that differs from our own.

I've always liked Jim Carrey. Unlike my feelings towards of comedic performers that he is lumped into categories with (Sandler, Ferrell) I've always thought of him as an incredibly talented performer, in both comedy and drama. Some of his best performances, like in 'The Truman Show' & 'Man on the Moon', are the ones where he shows his knack for comedy as well as getting in touch with his dramatic side. While his performance in this film does feature comedic quirks, it's a more dramatic performance than he has ever given and it stands out to me as his very best. He is a movie star that is so in touch with his humanity and here he almost completely sheds the elements he is known for, giving an immensely relatable showing that stands out as one of the best dramatic performances in recent times. It's a performance that is filled with an immense of heart and meaning. His counterpart Kate Winslet, playing the complex and endearing Clementine, is obviously as brilliant as you would expect seeing that she is one of the finest actresses in the world today.

While reflecting on the film and writing this review, I have continued to ponder the question of whether or not I would be willing to erase my past relationship from my mind, letting go of the memories that were so special and meaningful when they happened but are so painful and full of heartache in retrospect. It's such a loaded question and concept that I doubt I will be able to answer it any time soon, but I guess that doubt is a sign that I wouldn't be able to go through with it, I'm not sure. What I am sure of though is that 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' is one of the most pivotal and brilliant love stories in recent memory and perhaps of all times. An endlessly brilliant, ingenious and meaningful piece of work from some truly incredible and talented human beings.

*****

Sunday, 11 January 2015

My Top 10 Films of 2014

2014 was another excellent year for cinema, in my opinion. It saw the release of several landmark films and array of great ones. Without further adie, here are my top 10 films of 2014...

Honourable mentions: The Guest, The Babadook, Fury, Life Itself, Night Moves, An Honest Liar, Maps to the Stars, Still Alice, Interstellar, Cold in July, Joe, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Only Lovers Left Alive

10. Enemy
Country: Canada/Spain
Director: Dennis Villenevue
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Melanie Laurent & Sarah Gadon
Plot: A school teacher's mundane life is turned upside down when he spots his exact double while watching a film.
My Rating: ****1/2
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 "Chaos is order yet undeciphered" 

As a psychological thriller, 'Enemy' has so many elements that appealed to me; the moody tone, the creepy atmosphere, the haunting score and a complex central performance. Gyllenhaal gives two of the best performances of the year.


9. What We Do in the Shadows
Country: New Zealand
Director(s): Jermaine Clement & Taika Waititi
Stars: Jermaine Clement, Taika Waititi & Jonathan Brugh
Plot: A documentary follows the lives of a group of vampires and how they cope with being blood suckers, hilarity ensues.
My Rating: ****1/2

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 "One year I went to the Unholy Masquerade dressed as Whoopi Goldberg from Sister Act 1 and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. It didn't go down so well because she was a nun, vampire's don't like nuns"

'What We Do in the Shadows' is a hysterically funny mockumentary that takes the tired vampire genre and makes it fun again, with incredible wit, charm and incredible comedic talent. Everyone in the cast brings their A game which is some wonderful and endlessly endearing characters. This is arguably the funniest film of 2014 and one of the finest comedies in years.


8. Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Country: United States
Director: Alejandro Gonzàlez Iñárritu
Stars: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton & Emma Stone
Plot: A fading actor looks to orchestrate a successful play in one last attempt to reclaim past glory
My Rating: ****1/2
Full Review
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 "You're doing this because you're scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don't matter. And you know what? You're right. You don't. It's not important. You're not important. Get used to it."

Blurring the line between fact and fiction. Dozens of film do it yearly, but few blur that line more, or do so in such spellbinding fashion, than Alejandro González Iñárritu does with 'Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)'. As incredible as the film is in so many areas, it would ultimately fall short of greatness if the lead performance was anything less than stellar, fortunately Keaton goes above and beyond the call of duty, turning one of the most mesmerizing and layered performances in recent memory. Keaton is able to convey a character so haunted by regret, desperation and yearning for one more chance to prove that he matters.


7. Foxcatcher
Country: United States
Director: Bennett Miller
Stars: Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum & Mark Ruffalo
Plot: Based on the true story of wrestling coach John du Pont and the Schultz brothers, and the unlikely circumstances that followed.
My Rating: ****1/2

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"Coach is the father. Coach is a mentor. Coach has great power on athlete's life."

Another gripping biopic from director Bennett Miller that features incredible lead performances from actors who completely lose themselves in their roles. Steve Carrell is almost unrecognizable as du Pont, giving an enigmatic and haunting portrayal of a strange man. Channing Tatum is equally brilliant and sheds his Hollywood heart throb/goofy comedy persona. Ruffalo is excellent as usual, giving a performance that is full of class. 'Foxcatcher' is an expertly crafted drama that's excels in all areas.


6. Inherent Vice 
Country: United States
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin & Katherine Waterston
Plot: In 1970's Los Angeles Private Investigator, Larry "Doc" Sportello investigates a convoluted mystery which sees the disappearance of his ex girlfriend.
My Rating: ****1/2
Full Review
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" Doc may not be a "Do-Gooder" but he's done good."

'Inherent Vice' plays the way it should, like it is slowly being pieced together in the mind of a drug fuelled bystander. The way in which the narrative unfolds is crude, confusing and filled with loose ends, this is where the genius of it lies. 'Inherent Vice' is a viciously unique experience, brimming with a pulsating and infectious energy. Whether it's as a comedy, a crime-drama, a neo-noir or a mystery-thriller, 'Inherent Vice' is compelling on all levels. Another masterfully crafted film from arguably the bravest and boldest filmmaker on the planet.


5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Country: United States
Director: Wes Anderson
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham & Tony Revolori
Plot: A famous concierge and his trusted lobby boy become entangled in a murder plot.
My Rating: ****1/2

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 "There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity... He was one of them. What more is there to say?"

The first time I saw 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' in cinemas, I was disappointed, not because I didn't like the film because I did, I was disappointed because I didn't love it. I feared by admiration of Wes Anderson's work was wearing thin. The second time I saw 'The Grand Budapest Hotel', I didn't take in those high expectations and sense of anticipation and I enjoyed so much more. The third time I saw 'The Grand Budapest Hotel', this time at home, I think I can say I finally love this film and I now recognise it as one of Anderson's absolute best. TGBH is a wonderfully humorous, whimsical and ultimately emotional experience, that brings Anderson's trademark vibrancy and precise articulation. Beautifully written by Anderson and Hugo Guinness, and visually impeccable. Amazing cast too, Ralph Fiennes is PHENOMENAL! One of the best performances of the year. 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' is a film that just gets more and more wonderful with each viewing. I look forward to plenty more revisits.


4. Gone Girl
Country: United States
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike & Neil Patrick Harris
Plot: After the mysterious disappearance of his wife, Nick Dunne must withstand a media circus that believes he may be the culprit.
My Rating: ****1/2
Full Review
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 "What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do"

'Gone Girl' does for marriages what 'Jaws' did for sharks. The film works as a tale of domestic unrest and the secrets that lie beneath the seemingly perfect marriage. It seems like a tall task for any filmmaker to orchestrate all these elements into a perfect blend but Fincher is no ordinary filmmaker and 'Gone Girl' is no ordinary film. 


3. Nightcrawler
Country: United States
Director: Dan Gilroy
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo & Riz Ahmed
Plot: A opportunistic man becomes a crime journalist but he blurs the line between being an observer and a criminal.
My Rating: *****
Full Review
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 "Do you know what fear stands for? False Evidence Appearing Real."

Jake Gyllenhaal gives a truly a mesmerizing performance as Lou Bloom, A character and performance that effortlessly blends charisma and charm with aggression and savageness. Gyllenhaal completely disappears into this character, in appearance, mannerisms and everything else, Gyllenhaal IS Lou Bloom. 'Nightcrawler' is a truly riveting and thrilling character study of one of the most rich and complex characters in many years. An endlessly wonderful film that is easily one of my favorites of 2014.


2. Boyhood
Country: United States
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette & Ethan Hawke
Plot: The life of a young American boy from the age of 6 to 18
My Rating: *****
Full Review

"You don't want bumpers, life doesn't give you bumpers"

This is not just the film that was 12 years in the making, it's 100 years in the making! Ever since the employees left the Lumiere Factory, ever since the train arrived at La Ciotat, and ever since George Melies' Trip to the Moon, Cinema has been building towards Richard Linklater's ground breaking masterpiece 'Boyhood'. A truly groundbreaking and courageous piece of cinema that will undoubtedly deserve to go down as one of the most important films ever made.


1. Under the Skin
Country: United Kingdom/United States/Switzerland
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Stars: Scarlett Johansson
Plot: An alien seductress prays on lustful men in Scotland
My Rating: *****
Full Review


"You don't want to wake up, do you?"

While it was very heavily rivaled by my #2 pick for film of the year, Jonathan Glazer's surreal, haunting, disturbing and ultimately touching 'Under the Skin' reigns supreme as my favorite film of 2014. It's a film that is so dense in symbolism and filled with different meanings, and like an extra terrestrial it can shift to become so many different things, whether it be an art house film, a drama, a horror, a thriller, a science fiction or a commentary on the human condition, 'Under the Skin' can be seen as any one of those things, and a masterful one at that. Scarlett Johnasson is absolutely incredible, not only giving the best performance of the year, but one of the best of the 21st century. In my initial review of the film, I predicted that this would become one of my all time favorite films, and after 4 viewings throughout the year, I was on the money. 'Under the Skin' is a modern masterpiece.

Inherent Vice (2014)

Tom:
Inherent Vice, 2014, USA
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin & Katherine Waterston
http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.2041082!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_970/film-review-inherent-vice.jpg
" Doc may not be a "Do-Gooder" but he's done good."

As has been the case with all of Paul Thomas Anderson's features films, I loved 'Inherent Vice', but unlike the rest of his films, I'm not sure yet why I loved 'Inherent Vice'. With the likes of 'The Master', 'There Will Be Blood', 'Boogie Nights' and the rest of them, I can instantly spool of a list of a dozen reasons why i loved that film and why I think it was great. With this film though, I know the reasons are there but I can't yet spool them off, when thinking back over the film my mind instantly gets tangled in Doc's bizarre odyssey and all of it's wonderfully unhinged madness, and maybe that's just as good.

'Inherent Vice' plays the way it should, like it is slowly being pieced together in the mind of a drug fuelled bystander. The way in which the narrative unfolds is crude, confusing and filled with loose ends, this is where the genius of it lies. PTA, adapting the novel by Thomas Pynchon, produces another dynamic and cracking screenplay. I'm not familiar at all with Pynchon's novel so I can't comment on that, but Anderson's writing and direction places the viewer in the Doc's shoes, thus making for a much more entertaining, immersive and exhilarating experience. It reminded me a lot of what the Coen brothers did with 'The Big Lebowski'.

If someone were to ask me how to describe in a couple of sentences, I would probably blabber incoherently for a little while before stating "It has the kinetic energy of 'Boogie Nights' and 'Punch Drunk Love' and the sophistication of 'There Will Be Blood' and 'The Master' ", if that makes any sense? PTA finds a perfect midpoint between the two extremes of his styles and the results are wonderful. I loved the tone of the film, it fluctuates between hilarious upbeat comedy to dark gritty crime thriller and mysterious neo-noir, and does it all with class and a huge entertainment factor.

Our lead character spends most of his time either sleuthing around or smoking pot from the privacy of his own home. He has shaggy hair and messy muttenchops and is usually kitted out in his fedora, shades, jacket, faded jeans and sandals. Walking with a relaxed stride that sees the lower half of his body arrive at his destination before the top half, this man is private investigator Larry "Doc" Sportello and he is the heart and soul of 'Inherent Vice'. Doc is an endlessly loveable and entertaining character that is played effortlessly by one of, if not the, finest actor on the planet, Joaquin Phoenix. He is such an excellent performer, the little nuances in his performance are just phenomenal and he does everything with such class and makes even the most well written characters on page ever better in practice. The duo of Phoenix and PTA has proved remarkable results thus far, I really hope it continues.

'Inherent Vice' is a viciously unique experience, brimming with a pulsating and infectious energy. Whether it's as a comedy, a crime-drama, a neo-noir or a mystery-thriller, 'Inherent Vice' is compelling on all levels. Another masterfully crafted film from arguably the bravest and boldest filmmaker on the planet. 

****1/2

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Birdman: or (The Unexpeceted Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

Tom:
Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), 2014, USA
Director: Alejandro Gonzàlez Iñàrritu
Stars: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone & Edward Norton



"You're doing this because you're scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don't matter. And you know what? You're right. You don't. It's not important. You're not important. Get used to it."

Blurring the line between fact and fiction

Dozens of film do it yearly, but few blur that line more, or do so in such spellbinding fashion, than Alejandro González Iñárritu does with 'Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)'.

While it would be more than unfair discredit Michael Keaton's work post 1992, he is most widely recognized as playing the caped crusader in both of Tim Burton's 'Batman' films. In this film, Keaton plays a character named Riggan Thompson, an actor most widely recognized for playing a superhero named 'Birdman', now he is adapting a stage play in a desperate attempt at one more shot at acceptance. The casting of Keaton is just so ideal and gives the film a sense of surrealism right out of the gate.

As incredible as the film is in so many areas, it would ultimately fall short of greatness if the lead performance was anything less than stellar, fortunately Keaton goes above and beyond the call of duty, turning one of the most mesmerizing and layered performances in recent memory. Keaton is able to convey a character so haunted by regret, desperation and yearning for one more chance to prove that he matters.

The supporting cast is outstanding too, with everyone doing the part to add to the overall experience as well as compliment Keaton's character and performance. Edward Norton is absolutely outstanding as the disillusioned and insensitive yet endearing and hilarious, Mike Shiner. Emma Stone is also fantastic and give, in my opinion, her finest performance yet as Rig's daughter, Sam.

It would be impossible to fully sing the film's praises without mentioning Emmanuel Lubezki's Cinematography. It is some of the most pulsating and riveting camera work in recent memory, as Lubezki manages to make the film feel as if it is taking place all within a single take, to compliment the play that was taking place in the film. It's truly an incredible feat from one of the absolute finest cinematographers working today.

Iñárritu has crafted a truly unique, spell binding and profoundly effecting piece of work that is deserving of all the praise it is receiving.

"A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing"

****1/2