Sunday, 29 September 2013

150W: Prisoners

Short reviews for clear and concise verdicts on a broad range of films...

Prisoners (Dir. Denis Villeneuve/2013)

With high profile, well-received casting that includes Hugh Jackman, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal and Terence Howard, Prisoners has the ingredients of becoming a favourite during the awards season. Unfortunately, strained pacing and unresolved threads will leave this thriller amongst the many forgotten moody movies that could’ve been something so much stronger. The Devon’s (Bello and Jackman) and The Birches (Howard and Davies) lose their two girls one rainy night – and it is clear that the driver of an RV, Alex Jones (Dano), is the prime suspect. While Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) tries to find the truth, the families take it into their own hands and confront Alex directly. Deep and dark cinematography turn a suburban town into a fearsome environment, whereby the shadows of houses and white-picket fences become a prison unto itself – but Prisoners drags through weak dialogue and dubious morals leaving you unsatisfied. Overall, Prisoners is mediocre at best.

Rating: 3/10

150W: Rush

Short reviews for clear and concise verdicts on a broad range of films...

Rush (Dir. Ron Howard/2013)

Roaring into theatres with Ron Howard’s almost-trademark true-story sales-pitch comes Rush. Documenting the rivalry between Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth), this could be a feature-film response to Senna. But the adrenaline-fuelled races with a personal theme pitting natural talent against brutal hard work manage to draw you in and speed you past the finish line. Brühl steals the show with an intense portrayal of Lauda who, though privileged (like Hunt), seems much more aware of the necessary knowledge to understand the dangerous vehicle he controls – opposed to Hunt, whose love of driving, women and alcohol seem to be his primary motivation. The 1976 racing season provides the main body of the film, and it slows down following Lauda’s shocking run at the German Grand Prix – but it remains a tight, focused effort only floundering a little when tackling their marriages. Overall, Rush comes out on top.

Rating: 8/10

150W: Blue Jasmine

Short reviews for clear and concise verdicts on a broad range of films...

Blue Jasmine (Dir. Woody Allen/2013)

Almost as a dream, a plane begins Woody Allen’s latest. From East to West, Jasmine (Blanchett) travels to San Francisco from New York after a troubled break-up. After Allen’s European jaunt, his return to America places Blue Jasmine amongst his very best. Living a life of luxury and upper-class elitism, Jasmine was married to Hal (Baldwin) – a dubious success within finance. Through flashbacks, we gain an insight into her previous lifestyle as Jasmine pill-pops her Xanax and relentlessly chastises her grocery-store sister Ginger (Hawkins) who she is staying with. The blissful ignorance of those in the upper echelons defends them from accountability – and by gently humanising Jasmine’s actions you don’t despise her and only pity her. Cate Blanchett is a wreck and Allen makes no attempt at sheltering us from her cheated, corrupted and warped outlook on the world. Thought-provoking and intriguing, the final revelation only serves to fascinate further.

Rating: 10/10

This review is part of Woody Allen Wednesdays on Flickering Myth...

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

150W: Melinda and Melinda

Short reviews for clear and concise verdicts on a broad range of films...

Melinda and Melinda (Dir Woody Allen/2004)

Great concept - confused execution. Four filmmakers discuss how tragedies and comedies are not mutually exclusive before proceeding to tell two stories about Melinda (Radha Mitchell). They are the same story initially, but are told as tragedy and comedy. Melinda interrupts a meal, but as the story progresses, the chosen genre dictates a different direction. Unfortunately, the comedy isn’t funny enough (despite a quirky scene, harking back to Woody Allen’s early comedies, as Will Ferrell struggles with a dressing-gown caught in a door), while the tragedy doesn’t have the heart to challenge your emotions. The experimental starting point of Melinda & Melinda demands your attention – but rather than compare, it simply becomes two stories with a similar central character. Attempted-suicide (in the comedy) and murder (in the tragedy) can be comedic or tragic depending on the tone, but in Melinda & Melinda, it isn’t clear what tone to settle upon.

Rating: 4/10

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Tate Britain: Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life

Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life
Tate Britain (26th June 2013 - 20th October 2013)

We know Lowry. The small people, busy on the canvas. The factories and tall funnel-chimneys filling the air with smoke on the white sky surrounds the ant-like people. The industrial age is his primary inspiration, but only in this recent exhibition at the Tate Britain, do we see the true starting point and witness how he progressed – in a manner that never truly deviated from his original working-class depictions from the 1920’s through to the 1960’s.

Set within six rooms, Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life begins as we see who influenced his fascination with the working-class. Taught at the Manchester School of Art, TJ Clarke and Anne M Wagner curate the exhibition by connecting him to the Impressionists and the ‘modern life’ paintings of Manet. Seeing the initial images with Impressionist thoughts floating in your mind you realise that, akin to the busy brush strokes of Monet and van Gogh, Lowry doesn’t use busy brush strokes unless depicting a busy group of people. His brush strokes, in many instances, are the people themselves, busying the canvas. Expressive and catching the movement of the factory entrance or football stadium, the movement Impressionists sought to portray is caught by Lowry in the people who move; something often missed when it is contrasted with the firm, static buildings dominating the majority of the image. Unlike the Impressionists, Lowry shows this contrast rather than turn the entire image into a wash of vivid colours and marks.

That’s not to say the influence is any less clear in the remaining rooms of the exhibition. The second room arranges French realist images – including a van Gogh – alongside Lowry’s to show the comparative use of colour and composition.

The remaining rooms are arranged chronologically, noting his particular connection to destroyed landscapes. Landscapes destroyed by war or industrialism and the communities they left behind. We see The Cripples and The Removal (a title that should be ‘The Eviction’) highlighting the working-class communities themselves and the issues that remained following World War II. Many social-issues were improving – the National Health Service was introduced – but Lowry remains fixated on working-class poverty. The Fever Van that collects children – with parents well-aware that once child step inside, it is most likely they will not return.

The final room displays Industrial landscapes that Lowry adapted as he painted. “Lowry understood that British Industry was grinding to halt” writes Clarke and Wagner, remaining “sceptical about the ‘end of the old working class’”. Owen Jones, in Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, repeats the New Labour idea that “we’re all middle-class now” – and how the working class have been destroyed following Thatcher’s dismantling of the unions and closure of the mines. Jones refers to ideals and political attitudes at the end of the millennium and into the 2000’s – Lowry paints these final images in the 1960’s. Maybe the era is different; maybe rickets and TB is long-gone – but poverty still exists in the UK – considerably more in the Northern communities Lowry painted. Hauntingly poignant, Lowry’s paintings become ghost-like images of a time that is no more – one can only imagine what a modern-day Lowry would paint – call centres? Westfield? Even the High Street is no more.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Tate Modern - Ibrahim El-Salahi: A Visionary Modernist

Ibrahim El-Salahi: A Visionary Modernist
Tate Modern (3rd July 2013 - 22nd September 2013)

African Art, to many, is considered limited to artefacts and cultural motifs such as masks and jewellery. Though this has its own appeal showing the long history of a fascinating civilisation, African modernists, such as Ibrahim El-Salahi, show a side to Africa that is very much up to date – and challenging ideas and attitudes in the West.

Born in 1930, El-Salahi has been involved in the Arts since the 1940’s employing techniques and methods as diverse as calligraphy, painting, drawing and writing. The retrospective at Tate Modern shows how varied his work is – and yet, how incredible adept he is when altering his skills to suit a different outcome. Though ‘A Visionary Modernist’ primarily focuses on his more abstract work, within Room 2, you gain a chance to see the paintings produced during his government scholarship at the Slade School of Fine Art. These portraits are observational and textured and could easily be amongst the portraits currently on display at The National Portrait Gallery’s BP Portrait Award. Considering El-Salahi turned away from representational study, the foundations of such traditional ideas surely enhances the later works that he is celebrated for.

His breakdown of calligraphic lettering, and his rearrangement within paintings, became core to the image of the Khartoum School and this retrospective shows the building blocks that led to El-Salahi’s language. Reborn Sounds of Childhood Dreams I from 1961-65, is akin to a city-scape whereby the colours resemble bones and skeletons rising up from the ground; mighty like skyscrapers; organic in their shapes.

His later works become more conceptual as he produces multiple, smaller pieces, named The Tree. They all grow in an organic fashion as he built up the lines steadily, like the growth of plant. Many pieces remain connected through straight, defined lines – anything but natural - and remain clearly organised and structured. The ideas are conflicted – as you look at a conceptual, flat, straight-lined image named The Tree.
Such a diverse range of techniques show a deep respect for Art History – but also for his own cultural roots. A video interviewing El-Salahi describes who he produces art for – himself and his “ego”; his own culture and, finally, everyone else. His art aims to reach all and as someone far removed from the Sudanese and Islamic background El-Salahi is from, it is a testament to his skill that I am so inspired by his work.

His Art can effortlessly imitate cross-hatching techniques of Renaissance figure-drawing, distort bodies and stretch them out like Giacometti (Funeral and the Crescent, 1963) and then show a clear connection with African masks (Self-Portrait of Suffering, 1961) – and yet something remains the same; his love, passion and appreciation of what Art is. There is no arrogance or ignorance; no pretence and assumed intelligence; just a desire for understanding. This is what speaks loud and clear, and what draws you in – a man on a quest to create beauty and in ‘A Visionary Modernist’, Ibrahim El-Salahi has achieved that.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

150W: Cassandra's Dream

Short reviews for clear and concise verdicts on a broad range of films...

Cassandra's Dream (Dir. Woody Allen/2007)

Social-status is rarely explicit in Allen’s films. Upper-class New Yorkers philosophising about life is more down his street, and placing characters in the top rungs of society mean relationships and death are the only things worth thinking about. Set within the cloudy and rain-sodden streets of London, Cassandra’s Dream bucks the trend as brothers Ian (McGregor) - a restaurant-owner - and Terry (Farrell) - a content car-mechanic - turn to their mysterious Uncle Howard (Wilkinson) for money. Ian and Terry just need to kill someone for Uncle Howard and the money is theirs.  Allen’s trademark cynicism and insight gives food for thought but it doesn’t make up for the lack of urgency in such a steady-paced film. The family dynamics toys with relationships between fathers and sons – and envy and expectation. Underrated, Cassandra’s Dream may not be his best – but it introduces a class attitude we have rarely seen before.

Rating: 6/10

Thursday, 5 September 2013

150W: Kick-Ass 2

Short reviews for clear and concise verdicts on a broad range of films...

Kick-Ass 2 (Dir. Jeff Wadlow/2013)

Awkward and lacking the charm of its predecessor, Kick-Ass 2 joins the weak-sequel club. The thrill of watching Kick-Ass was not exclusively in Hit-Girl’s hyper-violent and explicit language (though they did add to a sense of brutality rarely seen in “comic-book” movies) but in the pseudo-realist set-up: What if someone really became a superhero? The sequel pits Dave Lizweski’s “Kick-Ass”(Aaron Taylor-Johnson) against Red-Mist-rebooted “Mother fu**er” (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace-Moretz) spends a large part of her time in school as a regular student failing to fit-in, while Kick-Ass joins his own set of ‘Avengers’ alongside “Colonel Stars and Stripes” – a tragically small-role for Jim Carrey that clearly holds so much potential. A relentless use of varied-guns and slicing-knives accentuates a film that has lost its grip on thought-through action sequences – stooping so low that an ill-timed rape joke is cheap and unnecessary. Kick-Ass was intelligent; Kick-Ass 2 is incredibly dull.

Rating: 3/10

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

150W: Mighty Aphrodite

Short reviews for clear and concise verdicts on a broad range of films...

Mighty Aphrodite (Dir. Woody Allen/1995)

There is a point in the Woody Allen filmography whereby his front-and-centre roles seem at odds with the story. 1995’s Mighty Aphrodite may be the moment he crosses the line. Interspersed with a Greek chorus, Mighty Aphrodite begins as sportswriter Lenny (Allen) becomes obsessed with finding the Mother of his genius, adopted child. Co-starring Helena Bonham-Carter as Lenny’s career-driven wife and Mira Sorvino (winning an Oscar for her role) as prostitute Linda, the aforementioned Mother, this should be amongst Woody’s best but it becomes a quiet horn compared to his orchestra of films. The symmetrical outcome of relationships does somehow ring a classical tune creating an inversed Greek tragedy of sorts. But Woody does seem out of place; jarring against the backdrop of younger actors that dominate the screen. His relationship with considerably-younger Linda combined with an adopted-child story seems strangely, unsettlingly poignant – but isn’t that why we love Woody?

Rating: 6/10
Large Association of Movie Blogs

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

150W: Elysium

Short reviews for clear and concise verdicts on a broad range of films...

Elysium (Dir. Niell Blomkamp/2013)

Rich people of the world live on ‘Elysium’; a paradise whereby there is no sickness and what appears to be immortality. The “rest” live on Earth. Niell Blomkamp (of District 9) returns to his allegorical sci-fi roots with Matt Damon leading this gritty action romp. Unfortunately, insights into social and class mobility are limited as the hyper-technological and divided world is merely a backdrop to a simplistic story of a psychopathic henchman (Sharlto Copley) - shock horror - not following orders. Damon’s “Max” fights for the survival of his childhood sweetheart, Frey (Alice Braga), and her daughter - so those on Elysium are not the primary concern. Jodie Foster, protecting Elysium from the inevitable Earth-dwellers trying to access tip-top health-care, has so much potential – but it is secondary. Brutal injustices seem rooted in truth - so it’s heart-breaking that Blomkamp fails to ensure that the story carries the same weight.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 2 September 2013

Bonjour Tristesse (Otto Preminger, 1958)

Breathless and From Here to Eternity couldn’t be further apart. While one is an iconic feature of the trendy French New Wave, the other is an Oscar-winning “American” classic, steeped in US tradition starring – amongst others – Frank Sinatra. Bonjour Tristesse, starring Jean Seberg and Deborah Kerr (from each film respectively), almost pits these two conflicting attitudes against each other. The two characters are connected by playboy Raymond (David Niven) – he and his daughter, trendy Cécile (Seberg), lived a carefree life whereby both could “breathe in” the air each morning and romance who they please. This was until strict fashion-designer Anna (Kerr) arrives and Raymond deeply falls for her changing the lifestyle Cécile enjoyed so much. Told in flashback, we know that Cécile and Raymond are not as close in the future and Anna is nowhere to be seen – but crucially, Cécile is cold-hearted and loses her romantic and playful energy, but we don’t find out why until the final moments connects the dots.

Directed by Otto Preminger, Bonjour Tristesse is based on a novel by Françoise Sagan, and manages to constantly frame and reinforce the differing relationships between the characters. The structure of the film automatically demands comparison between the natural and relaxed atmosphere of St. Tropez, filmed in glorious colour (something the re-mastered version only enhances), while the bookends of the story are cool, black and white, in Paris. Busy Parisian parties and restaurants combined with large cars and stylish dresses – opposed to the French Riviera whereby loose shirts and swimming in the sea is the order of the day. Characters seem to contrast as Cécile and Anna represent the tradition and change; old and new – Cécile, with the cropped hair that would only lead to countless imitators in the sixties; Anna, expecting Cécile to study and proud of the” safety” of marriage. Raymond and Cécile don’t see a value in education – while Anna does. Cécile and Philippe (Geoffrey Horne) find each other secretly and marriage – to Cécile – is a ridiculous prospect (though not to Philippe). These dynamics continue throughout, assembling ideas about class and gender; relationships and attitudes. Considering Anna and Raymond’s relationship hinge on their engagement – the dismissive and pessimistic attitude towards marriage from Raymond’s ex-girlfriend Elsa (Mylène Demongeot) balances out these traditional ideas of love with more liberal notions.

It is truly tragic that Bonjour Tristesse, translated as “Hello, Sadness”, gained only mediocre attention at the time of its release in 1958 – two years before Godard’s À bout de soufflé turned Jean Seberg into an icon of the 1960’s. Indeed, though Preminger was a demanding director – often reducing Seberg to tears – the characterisation of Cécile is fascinating. She is conniving and plots to ruin her Father’s relationship – but her voice-over is so clear, it sounds as if she doesn’t realise how heartless she is becoming. Playing a 17-year old, the bottom-line is her maturity – and the innate lack of awareness of a teenager simply overpowers what is right and wrong. Then again, her “plot” could be considered a test for Raymond to prove his love to Anna; a test he (very easily) fails. In any case, again, we are wrapped into the fascinating characters of the film again and the differing philosophies of each character. Quentin Tarantino once explained how Jackie Brown was all about characters – and characters you simply wanted to spend time with. Bonjour Tristesse manages to capture this effortlessly, as spending time on the Riviera with Jean Seberg, David Niven and Deborah Kerr is my idea of a good time – and something I will revisit again.