May 20, 2013

"The Great Gatsby"

F. Scott's Fitzgerald's most widely read novel is brought to the screen by Baz Luhrmann.

The story is told from the perspective of Nick Carraway: a young bondsman who has just landed a job on Wall Street.  Moving to Long Island, he is soon the recipient of undivided attention from his neighbour: the notorious (and notoriously wealthy), Gatsby.  A bizarre love story emerges as Carraway begins to play the intermediary between his new friend and his married cousin Daisy.

What is there to say about Baz Luhrmann?  Famed for his outrageous style and hyperactive editing, the director doesn't appear to realise that trends change, and that a style that was popular in 1996 may now be old news.  Most of the film is submerged in this wave of fast action, and glittering costumes, though there are moments of tenderness where you can actually focus and appreciate that the story has themes.

The acting is pretty basic.  Carey Mulligan plays her usual victim role, Tobey Maguire plays his usual geeky upstart, and fails a little at conveying his obsession with Gatsby.  DiCaprio (who I consider the greatest actor of my generation) does a reasonable job, but he's overshadowed by the sensationalist style of the movie.

To its credit: the film has a really interesting soundtrack: reinterpreting modern artists (such as Amy Winehouse and Beyonce) with a 1920's jazz and blues infused spirit.  The original score is beautiful.  And needless to say, the costumes and set design are beautiful.

So overall?  The film isn't a wash out, but most of it's potential is lost under the pervasiveness (and oldness) of it's style.   If you see it as all it's worth seeing on a big screen.  The 3D effects are cool: particularly the end credits.

I wasn't even being sarcastic there.


March 13, 2013


"Lore" is a rarity:  A World War Two film, from the German perspective.

The protagonist is Hannahlore, a teenage girl with four younger siblings, and an SS officer for a father.  As defeat trundles through Germany, both her parents are forced to take responsibility, and the children are left alone.  Armed with a pocket of golden jewellery, Hannahlore must lead her siblings across a newly occupied and divided Germany, to the safety of her grandmother's house.

I have a personal interest in World War Two, and was looking forward to "Lore" because it offers something different: a film about that period from the German perspective.  As the children travel through the country, they witness the grief Hitler's death has caused, and the confusion of the German people about the atrocities that were committed.  Germany is presented coldly, yet compassionately, which is a brave statement, and makes a unique change.

However, the story is weak.  There are a few shocking events thrown in for good measure, an attempt at a love story, and an unsatisfying resolution.  The film basically pivots on stunning, visceral shots of flowing fabrics, blades of grass, and the haunting expressions of beautiful .

Nonetheless, the sympathetic treatment of Germany is fresh and daring, and the director's willingness to offer another perspective on a exhausted genre is it's saving grace.

The fact it's a visual feast doesn't hurt either ;)  People who don't like art house films should probably keep away.

7 / 10.

March 11, 2013


"Broken" is a coming-of-age drama about an 11 year old diabetic girl called Skunk.  An unstable single father's violent attack on a disabled neighbour marks the first of a series of changes that impact her life and force her to deal with her fears.

It's difficult to comment on "Broken" without giving too much of the plot away.  The debut feature from British theatre director Rufus Norris weaves beautiful, documentary-style shots, starkly punctuated editing and non-linear storytelling together in a humourous and touching way. Or at least it does for the first two thirds of the film.  The final third (or "Act") suddenly descends into unmitigated madness.  It's shocking, and harrowing, but feels oddly out of place, and more like an attempt to shock and pull heart strings.  Let's just say it makes sense that Norris was formally a theatre director.

On the positives:  I'm a big fan of both Tim Roth and Cillian Murphy, and overall the acting was fantastic.  Also the theme song carved a place in my heart - it's a cover of a the Blur song "Colours", and it's ridiculously catchy :)

Sweet to watch to a point, after that I felt manipulated.  5 / 10.

November 2, 2012

"Snow White and the Hunstman"

Despite a promising trailer, full of action and sumptuous visual effects, there's not much to say about this fantasy film from British director  Rupert Sanders. 

Adapting the fairy tale to heighten the character development, the plot is overwhelmed by too many back stories, too much drama, and not enough genuine feeling. 

That being said, it's a great Christmas movie.  Its visual richness is completely OTT, and the film requires zero brainpower to navigate the story or character arcs.  The perfect distraction from bickering with the family and overeating Lindt reindeer.


November 1, 2011

"Sleeping Beauty"

Don't let the title deceive you - this film is not a modern interpretation of the classic fairy tale.  There is a beauty who sleeps in it, but that's as far as the parallels go.

Lucy (Emily Browning) is a university student with a plethora of part time jobs, including science-lab guinea pig and two-bit prostitute.  After replying to a mysterious ad in a newspaper, she enters a world where bizarre sexual fantasies bleed into her

"Sleeping Beauty" is beautiful to watch.  Browning is so breathtaking, and the composition and lighting are so sensual that the film could easily be a fashion shoot (where the model only has three sets of clothes).  It's one of those films that instantly intrigues you, and seduces you with the promise of what you will discover.  Unfortunately, once you get to the end, you realise you've been seduced by a vacuous boob.

Browning ambles through the film as a bleak creature whose motives are never clear, and who responds with passivity to most of the things that she encounters.  The people she meets are cold and unblinking, just like her.  There are no answers, and nothing is resolved.  I get the impression that first time director Julia Leigh wanted to create something subtle and haunting.  A statement about the dark places people will descend to when they are divorced from their emotions?  A commentary on male sexuality without love?  Probably, but the lack of clarity or warmth make it bloody boring to watch. 

All this said, I do think it's an accomplished directorial debut, and Browning, though she doesn't seem to do much except look enigmatically beautiful, gives a very strong performance.  It's one of those films that will divide opinion. Personally I'm into story, and strong characterisation, but if you're into highly-stylised films that are low on plot you might enjoy it.


July 28, 2011

"A Serbian Film"

A film made by a man who doesn't realise he's a pervert.

MiloŇ° is a aging Serbian porn star living with his beautiful wife and young son.  When he is offered an extremely large sum of money to star in a mysterious porno, he reluctantly agrees, hoping to finally make a clean break from the business and secure his family's future.  However, in spite of the director's passionate attestations that they are creating "art", MiloŇ° is troubled by the man's refusal to let him see the script.  As filming commences, it becomes apparent why.

"A Serbian Film" has already gone down in history as one of (if not the) most graphic, violent and disgusting films of all time.  (10 minutes before the end I had to turn it off and take a half an hour break).  What sets this film apart from being a gratuitous piece of trash, and a work of art, is director Srdjan Spasojevic's insistence.

According to him, the film is a political allegory about the plight of the Serbian people:

"When we say “your boss is fucking you,” we would draw your boss fucking you, but we all know he isn’t really fucking you. We’re just depicting how you feel. And that’s what we did with the film. It’s like we feel violated by authority; our authority in politics and art is so restricted and narrow minded that it makes everything impossible.... It’s kind of pornographic because you get fucked for feeding your family".

Okay, I can understand the violence, rape, and "fucking" metaphors, but a few of the others have lost me.  In metaphor speak, what does stabbing an erect penis through a man's oesophagus say about Serbia?  How about having sex with a dead person?  Maybe I just don't get it!

There's also a subtle "Alice in Wonderland" thing going on (spot the white rabbits) but deciphering this intricate symbolism is beyond me.

An allegory for Serbia?  It's more likely that the film is an allegory for Spasojevic himself.  He's written himself into the script as the insane director, insisting that the snuff movie he is making is "art".  And I think he really believes it.  "Pretentious" is one word I haven't heard associated with this movie yet, but I'm sorry - this has to be one of the most self-indulgent wank-fests I've ever seen.

In spite of all this, Spasojevic might not be totally deluded.  He professes that work like this is cathartic, and I can attest to that.  I started watching this film in a bad mood, but felt better when it ended.  I guess there's nothing like rape, mutilation, pedophilia, and multiple murders to make you appreciate your own life.  Now where's my Disney boxset? 

Post Scriptum:  In fairness, the acting is amazing. 

July 19, 2011

"Life in a Day"

YouTube's brain child: a 'Baraka' for this decade?

In 2010 Youtube celebrated its fifth birthday, and wanted to mark the occasion.  After recruiting Oscar winner Kevin MacDonald ("Touching the Void") as director, and Hollywood legend Ridley Scott ("Alien" etc.) as producer, people from all around the globe were invited to film their life on 24th of July 2010, and upload it onto YouTube.  These disparate days-in-the-life would be edited together, and a feature film would be created.

I went into this film with low expectations, but after 10 minutes found myself riding a wave of sound bites and dazzling imagery.  This doco reminded me of another film: the cinematographer's-wet-dream "Baraka".  There's no conventional plot, stunning shots depict life on earth and are accompanied by amazing music.  However, because it's shot by hundreds of normal people, "Life in a Day" becomes an unique twist on the genre that "Baraka" spawned.

On screen, people wake up, brush their teeth, and go about their daily life.  The resulting montage of birth, love, friendship, illness, death, fear, and quirky stories has the visual and anthropological richness of those non-verbal films, but brings humour and emotion into the equation.

For me it was an anthropological study on two levels.  As I viewer I was engrossed in the visual rhythms, but as a film maker I loved observing the different take each participant had on the project, and figuring out how it was all put together.  There seems to have been a detailed brief that had questions like "What do you fear?", "What do you love?", and the competitive creativity of each film maker oozed through their shots.  Some submissions were filmed on a mobile phone, some were on a computer camera, and some were obviously professional film makers probably hoping to be noticed by Mac Donald or Scott (that's what I would've been hoping ;) ).

My only criticism is that the ending was a bit weak, but it didn't take away from the rest of the film.   Having participated in a similar project a few years ago, I recognise how difficult a task Mac Donald was set, and I applaud him for creating something beautiful from lots of random rubbish ;)

The film is being released by National Geographic on the 24th of July 2011 - exactly one year after it was filmed.  Definitely one to watch on a big screen.

See "Baraka" here.

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