Bastards (La Salauds)

December 2, 2013

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Claire Denis is one of my favourite living filmmakers, and while I’ll readily admit she’s not for everyone, she’s developed a distinctive aesthetic and approach that, when in the right mood, can be absolutely enrapturing even when the subject material is queasy or downright repulsive.  In her latest film, Bastards, Denis makes the switch from film to digital with her trusted long-time cinematographer, which is appropriate given the film’s visual insistence on darkness.  It is also her angriest film, I feel, and it’s fascinating to watch her abstract humanistic approach take on something so utterly despicable and hopeless.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Gravity

October 9, 2013

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The seven year wait for Alfonso Cuaron to follow up what is, for my money, one of the greatest movies of the 21st Century, Children of Men, has been fraught with rumour and false starts and delays, but it has finally come to an end with Gravity, a science-fiction thriller that is short, fleet, and about the most stunning purely cinematic experience of the year.  Cuaron’s career has bounced from children’s films, both small-scale (A Little Princess) and as big as they get (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which I have never felt to be great but which certainly saved the franchise from shiny, cash-in ignominy), to adult character dramas (Y Tu Mama Tambien), and of course, dystopian sci-fi parables (Children of Men).  His visual chops have never really been in doubt, and though he’s become one of the most technically innovative directors working today, it’s not easy to tell quite what film you’re going to get from him.  In this case, we have a survival story that is extremely simple in story and concept, and incredibly complex in execution.  It is, in essence, the most basic form of Hollywood you can conceive, in the best way possible. Read the rest of this entry »

Prisoners

October 4, 2013

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Much has been made of the death of mid-budget adult dramas and thrillers in the movie marketplace, and not without a great deal of truth.  Box office and, consequently, studio budgets (or is it the other way around?) are sinking more and more money into tentpole affairs looking to do huge dollars, and the modestly sized films that might appeal to an older audience are shut out.  The reasons of this are many and certainly debatable, but either way, it should be quite refreshing for a well reviewed (and festival hit) independent feature to top the box office.  There are few, if any, special effects and so little bombast in Dennis Villenueve’s Prisoners that it’s so-far moderate success (in the admittedly barren September/October period) might seem laudable on its own.  Of course I’m ignoring the success of Lee Daniels’ The Butler, but there’s something slightly different about Serious And Significant Films About History/Race that is just plain different from a thriller.  The problem is that Prisoners is, while cinematic in duration and even somewhat in ambition, it isn’t terribly successful. Read the rest of this entry »

Contagion

September 15, 2011

The central problem with any epidemic-based disaster movie is that labwork just isn’t that exciting.  Disaster movies revel in the initial destruction.  It’s the queasy thrill of seeing our everyday lives, our civilizations and societies, turned upside down in a spectacular fashion that draws us to them.  The almost built-in problem is peaking too early:  you’ve got to find a way to make everything post-cataclysm consistently interesting.  In 2012 they end up with ridiculous arks.  In Independence Day we get jet/spacecraft dogfights.  In The Poseidon Adventure, we follow the ragtag survivors through the bowels of the ship.  Watching someone crawl through torn metal just isn’t as exciting as watching a rogue wave flip a cruise liner.  Still, there are goals there.  In the case of an epidemic, the goal is to find a cure, which unfortunately involves labwork – or at least it should.  Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak used the absurd-but-very-achievable goal of finding the original carrier – a little monkey – and that would solve all the problems.  Even then, if you remember, that wasn’t enough.  Injecting people wasn’t a sufficient climax, so there had to be a ridiculous helicopter standoff.  Steven Soderberg’s Contagion has no interest in any of that.  It is billed as a thriller, but really it just wants to posit a scenario.  Read the rest of this entry »