Tag Archives: drama

THE REVENANT (2015): “Hardy > DiCaprio”

Fuck Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu. The most annoying, pretentious director in Hollywood, aside from Captain Theatre Fetish Tarantino. Birdman, one of the most intriguing concepts in ages, was an overwritten and poorly directed holier than thou o marvel audience pile of crap, got him his stripes back. He rightfully lost them for Babel.

And yet… The Revenant happens. This is the best video game film I’ve ever seen. It’s camera swirls majestically throughout gorgeously recreated Frontier America, saving a frankly flat performance from Leonardo DiCaprio by sheer measure of brutal, unrelenting scenery porn. Does it really tell the story? No – it immerses you in the world being built, allowing the film to create a very intense, extraordinarily dense atmosphere around it. It’s very, very interesting stuff.

And then there’s Tom Hardy. What a man. What a legend. He gives a fantastic performance as the stir crazy Fitzpatrick, carrying a dogged malevolence and more acting talent in his gaze than DiCaprio has in his entire career, and provides an excellent antagonist for Hugh Glass to seek revenge against. I can’t understand a word of what he’s saying, but every other aspect of the performance negates that. I wish he had more screentime, honestly.

Ah yeah, that reminds me. Biggest fault going is bloat. This is a very simple revenge story, told in two and a half hours. It has pointlessly symbolic dream sequences which kill the flow and take you away from the fantastic, oppressive brutality of the frontier Jack Fisk has so intricately recreated, and it could much more easily be a slimmer film in general.

Good film, great even. Innaritu’s earned a little bit of faith from me. And I goddamn despised Birdman.

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SUNRISE: A SONG OF TWO HUMANS (1927): “before sunset”

Well, honestly, for a film student I haven’t exactly seen many films recently. I’ve come to find that the ones I actively want to watch disappear from cinemas near me before I even get the chance. That means you, The Witch. But, I do occasionally attend my lectures, and that brings me to FW Murnau’s Sunrise.

Post Nosferatu but pre… well, lets not delve into that. Released in 1927, Sunrise is a simplistic, corny and melodramatic love story with a shade of “that’s not okay.” But you know what, it excels perfectly in humanism and emotional honesty, something which appears to be increasingly lacking in more recent love stories. Maybe it’s the expressionism talking, but the relationship between The Man and The Wife (yes those are their actual credits, played expertly and expressively by George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor) is perhaps one of the most endearing ones I’ve seen. Every moment they are together as The Man desperately tries to patch up their relationship is pitch perfect, and often extremely tender.

After a misguided attempt to murder her, The Man chases her and takes her on the whirlwind romance so often dreamed of in film, but scarcely ever represented so beautifully. Yes, it is initially creepy. But, honesty who cares! The way the two interact is heart-warming and truly believable, with the chemistry between the two leads being constantly magnetising. Without saying a word, the pair go through something special and truly hook you in, making you believe in this relationship and utterly rooting for it to work. I was definitely swept up in the moment as the narrative took it’s final dark turns, and I was there with the man as he frantically searched for his lost love in the darkness of the sea.

The title too, is brilliant. Sunrise follows a temporal flair so rarely employed in today’s cinema, allowing the time of day to reflect the mood, with a beautiful sunrise accompanying the tender moments and a suffocating darkness punctuated with a sinister full moon, the worst. This is even shown in the basic narrative – they have a grand night on the town to rekindle the lost love, with the city perfectly contrasted in it’s lustrous glow as the night is in full swing. It’s just wonderful, truly.

I’d say the film is a shining example of German expressionism, using the environments and some incredible filmic techniques to demonstrate the emotion of the narrative, far beyond other films in this style. It really reflects the strength of the movement’s artistic capabilities as it draws you in and refuses to let you go. Definitely a song of two humans.

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (2008): “heroically honest”

JOHN MULCAHEY

As I’m sat here I’m listening to Little Person, from the soundtrack to Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut Synecdoche, New York. The song, like the film, resonates a great deal and resonates with me as a viewer on a deeply personal level, but I shan’t go in to detail on that. Instead, I’d like to examine this film on a level which is perhaps more philosophical than I’d normally talk about, and maybe this will get a bit personal. Not sure, but please bear with me.

I have not seen the film in a fair few months, but it grows more in stature to me as time goes on. As a bit of a newbie Kaufman fan (I’m beginning to see him as the finest writer modern film currently has) I’m incredible impressed by the way it constantly works its way into my mind, allowing me to find a retrospective reason to pick over the film varying on my situation. As a fresher in university, the song Little Person written by Jon Brion for the film describes that stereotypical search for new people to enjoy this chapter in my life, but the compelling argument versus being a solipsistic, self-centred person shown by Caden Cotard’s arc in the film is clearer. It is a film that says we are all unimportant, really. But, we are representative of a collective humanity, each person being a synecdoche of us as the human race. That, to me, is spot on: the film has unconsciously opened my eyes to the individuals in my life… we are all the main characters in our own narratives, and that is brilliant.

It has also shown me that cinema can deeply reflect the viewer’s thoughts. I remarked to a friend that due to a certain scene, wherein Caden inspects his stool and finds blood, I was unlikely to watch it again. I am a serious hypochondriac. That scene will stick with me for many years, as it showed me that what I was going through was not unique to me, and that many people share these fears and neuroses. The film, in that sense, improved me as a person. I took resolve to not be that person who was always finding the worst possible outcome. Funny how one of the most profoundly saddening films I have ever seen gave me a more positive outlook on life, isn’t it?

So that’s a short few words on Synecdoche, New York, perhaps the greatest film I have ever seen… It is a true rarity in its grandiose scale, yet still manages to create these personal connections.

TOM SCUDAMORE

Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York is a five-star hard sell. Its subjects are loneliness and failure. It’s a funny comedy surrounded by death. I was confused, affected, haunted and still wanting to see it again. That’s the power of this postmodern masterpiece (though, to debate postmodernism now would be a feat that takes this whole blog to truly answer, so… I’ll leave that be).

Kaufman’s work will always explore the human condition through dancing the wit and portraying everything with abandon. Synecdoche is more subtle, in my view, but it’s still hella off the wall! Here exists an improvisational theatre in a Manhattan warehouse with a twist: it intends to recreate everything lived, and that’s as exhausting as you’d imagine.

This is Kaufman’s intentionally making a joke at his own expense, no? What if a wizard of drama could possibly conjure theatre so implausible and damning to its spectators that it’s ultimately unwatchable? Furthermore, what if Caden’s life was a wreck, not of the destroyed kind but just a lump in the throat you cannot shake? The resulting examination is unflinchingly honest and representative of the hell people live through, and it never misses a beat.

I’ll praise Hoffman here. He gives his all to making us as broken and old-feeling as his character is by the denouement.

Kaufman’s film soars sky-high with such a performance turn, organically expressed and testy to its other cast members (Samantha Morton, Emily Watson and Dianne Wiest, all superb).

It dazzles but not in the wonderland-like-way that my five-star films often do. The tools for gritty grimness are all there waiting to be picked up in Synecdoche New York. I’d say Kaufman saw them, took them and used them in the most subversive way possible.

And it left me reeling.

NASHVILLE (1975): “it don’t worry me”

TOM SCUDAMORE

Reviewers can indulge in this one, because it’s rhapsodic and a rave all at once. 24 characters. Country music. Nashville is the rare achievement, the American epic much like Pulp Fiction or Magnolia. 40 years of filmography this piece captures. It’s a candle in the wind, a pillar of light in the cinematic universe of cinema itself.

Spacious, eccentrically detailed and conceived with compassion, Nashville takes time to analyse the urban landscape of the States, all choices courtesy of Robert Altman.

I’m intentionally avoiding talk of the cast to discuss the visual character that is so crucial to the story’s success. The land is distinct, authentic and convincing. The planes feel strange just as the music isolates and alienates. What am I watching? Conservatism, or subversion at its cleanest?

To think about Altman for any period of time is to down a long drink at your local, to want to watch everything again. You want Nashville projected in front of a hungry crowd, I’d say, though they must know that there are no equivalents to this once you show them it. There’s certainly nothing that lives up now.

JOHN MULCAHEY

Robert Altman, you fantastic son of a bitch. Before I watched Nashville, I didn’t “get” character based films. I didn’t get Lost In Translation, I didn’t get Linklater’s films. I still don’t. But Nashville? I get that. Nashville is one of the few films which physically affected me – upon the film’s final moments, I was gripping my laptop’s screen, shaking and crying. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cared deeply for these characters, and that I wanted nothing but the best for them, even if most of them are shitty people.

I mean, I want to talk about this film in more depth, to reflect on its satire of America, to point out its clairvoyance in its final moments, to wax lyrical about the performances, about the dialogue, about how human it all is. But, I’m very self-conscious that I will just deliver another Princess Kaguya for you fine folks, and no one wants to read that again. So I’m just going to give you an apology. I’m sorry I can’t offer anything on this film for you to read and think over.

All I can offer you, the reader, is this: Nashville is, to me, the perfect film. The key thing for me, is the dialogue. Classic Altman. It’s totally improvised, and every single actor was mic’d up for the film. Multiple scenes unravel within shots, many different stories ebbing and flowing and colliding in the same shot. That is genius. You will get something new form this film every time you watch it. Isn’t that the ultimate? A legitimate reason to watch and rewatch a film, to see almost a new storyline every time you watch it, purely because there is so much to pick over and focus on, based purely on what you want to hear in that scene.

WHIPLASH (2014): “dazzling”

You’ll be dazzled and exhilarated. And I’ll leave the film’s philosophy on realising potential to speak for itself.

Whiplash is outrageously watchable, excellently performed, kinda preposterous, and nowhere near as pretentious as it thinks it is. I watched this like a listen to jazz and drumming: on the edge of my seat and completely committed. I marvelled at so much in Damien Chazelle’s latest motion picture, from the thrilling classroom brutality through to the operatic spectacle in the final scene although, I’d argue, Whiplash somewhat drums itself into the corner and runs outta steam just before that finale.

Miles Teller goes full method in playing his student drummer boy, pushed and urged on by JK Simmons’ hell-raiser of a band leader. Seasoned character actor Simmons throws himself into the role with gusto, using every part of his body to convey the passion and irrefutability that is so true to the most committed directors in life amongst our society. He conducts with his fist, snatching the music out of the air and verbally devouring the culprit of a wrongly executed note in front of classmates.

To explain the relevance of Charlie Parker and the story’s narrative structure and content would dismiss the integral work of two performers at the top of their game. All I’ll say is that it’s in the finale that the film starts to be jazz, not just play its tune.

You’ll see blood, you’ll see sweat.

You may hate it like my parents did.

I’m calling it genius, though, the kind which flourishes only after everything has been played and the instruments are put away.

You’ll know what I mean when I say the word ‘impact’.

CITY OF GOD (2002): “breathtaking, furious, tender”

JOHN MULCAHEY

Impressive, really. The editing, the storytelling, the way the film maintains that merciless beat of samba throughout without being irritating or coming across as hyperactive. How it maintains that sheer energy without being tiring. Following the tale of Rocket, a wannabe photographer through the City of God, and all the lives he intersects with and the stories to tell, it is a minor miracle that it is constantly able to hold the attention, and ultimately the memory.

It’s never dull, even when it takes the inevitable pauses for breath, and always has something interesting to say. Knockout Ned’s tale is a personal stand out, especially how it weaves a bit character into a man we really get to know and respect, in a shorter space of time compared to Lil Ze, Benny, Rocket and others.

It even successfully pulls off one hell of a gear shift, going from bright and upbeat, if tinged with a sombre nostalgia, to a depressive, violent storm without feeling jarring or alien. Seeing the favela tear itself apart after a highly divisive event is fantastic cinema, executed with a certain humanity and significant aplomb here.

Overall, I feel like City of God is one of those films which is very difficult to dislike. It just tells its story in such an entertaining, thought provoking, beautifully paced manner its hard to tear yourself away from the screen.

TOM SCUDAMORE

I love coming-of-age films, and this electrifying picture is particularly tender towards its capturing of the Brazilian slum, or favela. That it’s told from the viewpoint of kids who just deal with it makes it charming, while City of God also banks on overwhelming you with the chaos of this land to assault your senses and thrill you into feeling gripped for half the running time.

The City of God is a dysfunctional family of young-looking criminals. It treads between an orphanage and an abattoir. The favela is the film’s chief character, its unglamorous virtuosity as unfamiliar as the familiar beach of Rio that is often dreamed of when you’re transported into your own thoughts. The beach exists, but its feature is sparse and irrelevant. The sun sets, and the purpose of this story hammers home.

Director Fernando Meirelles’s storytelling sweeps and swerves, amplifying the voices on show and all the braver for taking time to explain and deconstruct the spaces that are important here, such as the family home or drug-dealer’s den. It’s dizzy and disorientating. This is less an ode to Brazil than a direct engagement with ghetto culture.

To some extent, it’s oral history being recorded. I’ll take that compelling craft any day.

THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA (2013): “in which the writer fails to criticise”

Someone recently asked me why I don’t, or we don’t, review films we dislike. For me, there are two answers to this: firstly, because I don’t tend to seek out films I dislike so am less likely to watch them (in theory). Secondly, I find it a greater challenge to articulate why I like a particular film, because it comes naturally to pick apart something and say how it is detrimental to the overall product, but I find it difficult to do the reverse without using sweeping statements. It gives me an opportunity to try and write properly, rather than descend into vitriol and spite.

So, how does this relate to Isao Takahata’s final film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya? Truth be told, I don’t have a brilliant record with Studio Ghibli; many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films have bored me, and many others I’ve found sub par beyond beautiful visuals. Mr Takahata is the one who breaks this mould – every film of his I have seen (Pom Poko, Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbours The Yamadas) I have liked or appreciated beyond the animation. Kaguya, however, is perhaps the finest film I have ever watched. There is simply nothing I can pick a fault with, so instead of a genuine review you get two paragraphs about me so you can read something concrete before I smash my face against my keyboard.

I’m going to attempt to distil it down to three components: storytelling (in which I will include characters), visuals and direction. The storytelling in this film is mature. Not in the sense of it would be given a high age rating, but in a brutal honesty that comes from a writer clearly familiar with all the themes it tackles. It is astonishing how a film with such a slant towards the cosmic can be so grounded and feel human, real and truthful. It captures the relationship between a father and daughter extremely well: the dad just wants the best for his princess, but gets caught up in vanity without truly considering her needs. This creates a wonderful dichotomy, told in a subtle manner with the grace of a master at work. The story is told through music, visuals and the expressions of the characters over expository dialogue, and so creates this beautiful and ultimately profound tale with a densely layered emotional core. I’m finding it difficult to delve deeper into why it is so brilliant because it really got to me, and I don’t particularly know why. Something just clicked with me, and wouldn’t let go.

This is perhaps one of the last great hand drawn animations we will ever see in a cinema, and it is a thing of pure beauty. The use of colour is astonishing, perfectly capturing the time period, the characters and enveloping the film in a deeply natural look which sumptuously reflects traditional Japanese paintings. The animation is simply perfect, no other way to describe it. Everything flows gorgeously, and looks genuine. The facial expressions are a clear stand out. The Princess’ eyes convey joy and sorrow with humanity and subtlety, something more akin to a classic Disney tale. The emotions the characters convey feel real.

Direction… I cannot fault it. I really do apologise to you that I can’t give a solid review, and instead am looking for different ways to express how perfect the film is. It is beautifully realised, with a story told deftly and carefully. Everything is precision crafted to reflect the tone and messages wanting to be told. Isao Takahata’s final film certainly establishes him and his team as master craftsmen, if they weren’t before.

So… it’s perfect. The film is packed with soaring, joyful beauty and also captures the darkest moments of sadness and melancholy without feeling forced, ham-fisted or insulting. I am genuinely struggling to think of a film as beautifully crafted as The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and I just can’t. Please, see this film.