Interstellar

November 21, 2014

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Any attempt to make a huge, awe-inspiring, intelligent science fiction epic is at its heart a great ambition, but the ambition doesn’t come from the difficult special-effects work and technical expertise to pull off the visual spectacle. Rather, it comes the difficulty of exploring Big Ideas on a budgetary scale that demands a standard narrative and emotional form – after all, who is going to pay that much money for something abstract and probably alienating? One of the peculiarities of cinematic history, at least for my uncomprehending, relatively young mind is the success and ongoing popularity of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film to which Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar owes a great debt. 2001 is, structurally, four separate films, the only real connective tissue through the whole thing being the black, alien monolith. It is quite accepted that the only character with any genuine emotion is the computer HAL 9000, and his “villainy” also gives the third section of the film the most recognizable cinematic “thrills” you’d expect from Hollywood, as well as its most moving tragedy. Read the rest of this entry »

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A deviation from the standard (though admittedly irregular) for this blog.  This is something I drafted when throwing around ideas with the director of Parque Central for an article he was invited to write.  This was my experience scouting the documentary, which you can still contribute to at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1808754869/parque-central

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The idea for what would become Parque Central came when the director and conceiver of the project, Ricardo, went to Antigua Guatemala on holiday. He had fallen in love with city and even went back in a relatively short period of time. During his visit he had his boots shined by a kid in the park, and the image stayed with him – an American tourist looking down at a brown-skinned adolescent huddled over his shoes, shining them with rapid precision. It’s an uncomfortable image to think about if you’re coming from a position of privilege, but one that also represents a reality of the kind of labour necessary to survive. The kid probably thought nothing of it, because he’s just trying to make a living. Read the rest of this entry »

Whiplash

October 21, 2014

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It should come as no surprise that the Grand Jury and Audience Prize winning film of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival should traffic in territory of a recently successful film. In this case, Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash has more than a hint of “Black Swan but with jazz drumming” as it centers on a young artist in a relatively niche cultural market desperate to reach perfection. Despite the easy reductive write-off that so often afflicts Sundance favourites, it does impressively manage to sidestep the attempted-crossover crowd pleasing stories that the festival loves to promote, and it features filmmaking beyond handheld “capture the raw moment of drama” that is so pervasive and yet so hard to pull off. Whiplash is nothing new, but it’s well made and propulsive enough that it hardly matters, and if its insights fall into a kind of clichéd hard-bitten romanticism, at least it is committed to reflecting it with what’s on screen. Read the rest of this entry »

Gone Girl

October 3, 2014

I don’t know how to write about this film without extensive spoilers, so watch the film before reading.

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Gone Girl runs from relationship autopsy to eerie mystery to chess match thriller to absurdist melodrama, all the while holding up a satirical flare and a cold, wily grin as it straddles it’s many tonal shifts. It’s one of the finest examples of craftsmanship of the year, and it’s also one of the most cynical motion pictures in quite some time. Read the rest of this entry »

Frank

August 27, 2014

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The tricky thing about any film about a fictional band is expressing talent without actually having the years of hard work and, well, talent that goes into a truly exceptional band. Harder still, in the case of Frank, is crafting something believable about an avant-garde pop group based on some of the most idiosyncratic and unique artists of our time. Drawing most obviously from the alternative comedian Frank Sidebottom, but also liberally from Captain Beefheart and Daniel Johnston to flesh out the story, journalist Jon Ronson (whom played in Sidebottom’s band briefly) and co-writer Peter Straughan use an approach that is at times cloyingly obvious until it becomes genuinely surprising. It is a traditional rock band film in a lot of ways, but as Soronprfbs (the fictional band) are in no way traditional, it becomes a freeing exploration of this kind of oddball band destined for cult status by contrasting the way this story would normally go with the way it actually does. It is, in a fashion, using the subversion of the genre to understand the art it depicts. Read the rest of this entry »

Guardians of the Galaxy

August 2, 2014

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The announcement that Marvel was truly cashing in its credibility chips – even moreso than they did with Thor, for despite that character being well known, introducing a whole intergalactic mythos is a far cry from following the origin of an earth bound superhero – with Guardians of the Galaxy, a little known (and unknown completely to me) property into the Cinematic Universe that has become the Hollywood juggernaut of the last 8 or so years, was a huge surprise to many. Giving a huge budget to little known character that were based in worlds entirely unknown and populating it with B list stars was a ballsy move, especially considering there’s little earth-based grounding to ease the transition. This significant departure from the normal formula is probably why this has been the most anticipated of the Marvel films in a while, if only because there was a huge question mark around how it would be received. Handing over co-writing and directing duties to James Gunn, who cut his teeth at micro-budget schlock studio Troma and whose directorial efforts have thus far been intriguing, if not always successful, idiosyncratic genre exercises. The fact that we get a pretty traditional space opera drenched in the kind of Whedonesque post-modern humour that’s been one of the keys to the success of the Marvel enterprise is almost disappointing in its obviousness. Not to say it isn’t enjoyable – it is actually very much so – but for those of us looking to see what this multi-film franchise could really do, it gives us a clearer idea of just what the limits are, even as it expands beyond what’s come before. Read the rest of this entry »

Lucy

July 30, 2014

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After a decade of becoming one of the top producers of mid-budget B-movie actioners and directing a couple of poorly received and even less seen “personal” films, Luc Besson has made Lucy, a film that combines his best quality (women learning to kick ass) and his worst (“ideas”). To say it’s his best film since The Fifth Element is damning with faint praise, but it is, and it’s just as dumb. What it lacks in smarts, however, it makes up for in briefness of running time. Read the rest of this entry »