Koolhoven is keen to accentuate the cutesy, precious nature of Michiel’s involvement in the resistance by piling mawkish sensibility onto his relationship with Jack, and promoting the film as some kind of historical heavy-hitter told through the eyes of innocence. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas used a technique of dumbing down politics through infantile exchanges to force through its emotional payoff (to a much more offensive degree) but “Winter in Wartime” is certainly just as wary of alienating its audience by being too inherently bleak. Michiel’s adolescence emerges in the ever-reliable first-time shaving experience scene; Jack’s blossoming relationship with the boy’s sister Erica allows the two to become makeshift brothers-in-law, and some gamely, mistranslated banter to occur. In spirit, tone, and execution these scenes feel much too juxtaposed as featherweight filler to the intermittently cheap realisation of war as a cruel, unforgiving entity – which is hardly a novel concept.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Friday, March 11, 2011
In the heart of Newcastle lies a cinema I definitely do not mention enough. The Tyneside Cinema, built in 1937, is nearing three-quarters of a century in existence, and remains the biggest haven for showcasing independent film that I've had the pleasure of visiting. The availability of this brand of cinema remains relatively sparse in the North of England, and so it's great to be blessed with such a burgeoning institution almost on your doorstep.
Mike Hodges' "Get Carter" is a film I have sketchy memories on, but for a rather heavy-going scene involving a film projector, and the subsequent, famous finale. British revenge thrillers (and Michael Caine) have since gone downhill (has there ever been a sillier attempt to peddle right-wing politics than "Harry Brown"?), but the upcoming 40-year anniversary of "Carter" -- a week tomorrow if you're pernickety -- has brought about an opportunity to revisit the film, and the work of Hodges in general. Enter the Tyneside, who have set up a season of screenings to indulge the appetite.
Saturday 12th March: 1.30pm
Saturday 12th March: 4.00pm
Saturday 12th March: 6.00pm
Sunday 13th March: 10.00am, 12.30pm, 3.30pm
"The Terminal Man"
Sunday 13th March: 1.30pm
Monday 14th March: 6.00pm
Tuesday 15th March: 6.00pm
Thursday 17th March: 6.00pm
If you're in the region, or planning to visit it soon, then head down there and check out one of the greatest places to watch film.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Emily Watson in “Hilary and Jackie”
Lost the 1998 Best Actress Oscar to Gwyneth Paltrow in “Shakespeare in Love”
Anand Tucker’s “Hilary and Jackie” is a bit of a whirlwind, flitting between story strands, climates, and emotive outlets like there’s no tomorrow. The result is probably harsh on a film that has a lot of inter-sibling psyche to offer, but little real sense of the best way to present it. While it has clearly modelled its depiction of musical genius on the success of 1996’s “Shine,” the film managed only a pair of Oscar nominations – for its two leading actresses Emily Watson and Rachel Griffiths.
Watson – who two years previous to this nomination found herself bound by Lars Von Trier’s psychosexual commentary – is again required to exercise perceived sexual deviances as real-life Cellist and all-around hooligan Jacqueline du Pré. As her older sister Hilary announces she is getting married, Jackie launches into an advocacy of a new form of contraceptive, and announces her desire for the pair of them to live together as two ‘free and easy’ single women. They’re on altogether different pages, and while Watson displays Jackie’s calculation a little too menacingly, you at least understand how this woman has become accustomed to getting her own way. The dynamic of the two sisters is skewed towards the confident younger, but just how confident is she? Watson’s overt passion mainly stems from the physicality of her movement and presence, and you eventually feel as if she and the film are challenging the character’s supposed power assertion: how much of Jackie is a childish façade?
And yet, as a fleeting breeze of a performance, Watson showcases the kind of self-satisfied flouncing that occasionally shows up to detract from even Keira Knightley’s best performances, much too gleeful a destroyer of Hilary’s serene setup than one feels she should be. Since the film is an adaptation of Hilary du Pré’s own novel this is certainly a biased account, but there is enough material for Watson to colour the motivations of Jackie a little more. The later aspects of the film, in which she’s required to chart the woman’s violent frustration at her deterioration of health, serve as a surprisingly impacting way of telegraphing Jackie’s inherent restlessness, and perhaps typify how Watson’s robustness an as Actress often atones for the sketchy metaphysical ideas implored into her character.
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
La Signora Senza Camilie (The Lady Without Camelias)
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Starring: Lucia Bosé, Andrea Checchi, Gino Cervi, Ivan Desny, Alain Cuny
Written for Subtitled Online:
Having already released two of Michelangelo Antonioni’s films onto DVD, “Il Grido” (1957) and “La Notte” (1961), the “Masters of Cinema” series has now endeavoured to showcase his earlier work: 1955’s “The Girlfriends,” and 1953’s “The Lady Without Camelias.” Long before the days of Oscar nominations and Jack Nicholson, Antonioni was busy building a career by making films about women thrust into social circles that they aren’t familiar with. This is particularly true of “Camelias,” which follows the career of a shopgirl-turned-actress propelled into the enticing new world of Rome’s Cinecitta film studios.
Shop Assistant Clara Manni (Bosé) has been handpicked by movie executive Gianni (Checchi) for his new film, “Woman without Destiny.” When test screenings reveal that the public are enamoured with Clara, but less enthusiastic about Destiny itself, producer Ercole sees an opportunity to take advantage of his Actress’ shapely presence and spice the film up a bit, with less attention to detail and more overt displays of passion.
Clara becomes compromised when she marries Gianni, who subsequently gets jealous at how provocative the marketing for her film is, and categorically states that he doesn’t want her involved with it anymore. She reluctantly agrees, and after requesting a more serious avenue of filmmaking they set about on a new version of the daunting trial of Joan of Arc, with Gianni in the Director’s chair. Suffice to say, the film fares terribly when premiered at the Venice Film Festival, and with both their reputations in tatters, Clara is forced to evaluate their marriage and the career that she has embarked upon.
“The Lady Without Camelias” actually begins as a more brisk, satirical jibe at the movie business in its opening act, as the producer commands his bewildered director to change the feel of the film with very little regard to authenticity. A year after Hollywood’s own insular critique, “The Bad and the Beautiful,” “Camelias” is as scathing a depiction of art versus commerce – if much more comic and resigned about the whole enterprise. Filmmaking is promoted as a fun but altogether shallow experience, defined by money, jealousy, and other trivial external factors that have nothing to do with artistry. If nothing else, Antonioni feels contemptuous of this brand of cinema – a suggestion to film on location is lambasted despite neo-realist cinema being presented as an example of how it can work – and “Camelias” represents a commentary on the regressive and opportunistic nature of the film world.
The opening shot of the film stalks Clara as she tentatively waits outside a test screening of the film for a general reaction, unsure of herself, questioning whether this is the right path for her. We feel her pressure and her uncertainty even at this early stage, weighing up the situation as if to say: can things really be this easy? It’s remarkable how Antonioni evokes an era in order to expose the emotional solitude of his characters; whether that takes the form of the espionage revival of the Seventies, the voyeuristic sexuality of the Sixties, or the cosmopolitan distraction of the Fifties. He’s so in touch with how these worlds can engulf and impress upon people, create a faux sense of belonging, cajole them into giving too much of themselves.
Nicknamed La Manni, Carla’s newfound fame turns the heads of many men, but particularly Nardo, who comforts her after Joan of Arc is trashed by Venice critics. Although key in Carla’s grand journey of discovery, her romance with Nardo represents the dullest portion of the film – largely because there’s very little chemistry between them, and partly because it feels so far removed from the rest. This section of “Camelias” is more attuned to the feel of later Antonioni films, but doesn’t really sit well amidst the more biographical elements. This is not a compact narrative by any means. But while it lulls somewhat, there’s always a lingering curiosity towards Carla; why she’s acting so recklessly different to her earlier, studious outlook on romance. Bosé charts Carla’s self-awareness deceptively astutely through the film’s second half, to the extent where the more sudden, bleaker realisations of the character feel like a natural culmination of where this woman has been heading.
The resounding success of “The Lady Without Camelias” is in the impact of its heroine’s Ophulsian arc, and Antonioni, in his ability to show how the movie business uses people, colours their sense of self-worth, exploits their aesthetic qualities to pigeon-hole them into archetypal signifiers, has made a film that’s largely understated yet remarkably effective. Joan of Arc may be used as an example of a legacy leagues ahead of the fickle talent in this filmmaking world, but the final shot of “Camelias” is one that almost references the “Maid of New Orleans” in its harrowing indictment of male regulation of the female form. It’s hard out there for an Actress.
"The Girlfriends" and "The Lady Without Camelias" are both available on DVD and Blu-ray from March 21st.
Monday, March 07, 2011
Directed by Andrew Lancaster
Starring: Harrison Gilbertson, Geena Davis, Harry Cook, Joel Tobeck
Grade: C -
In 2002’s The Hours troubled authoress Virginia Woolf states that she is killing off the heroine of her most famous book because “someone has to die, in order that the rest of us should value life more.” Don’t be fooled by the breezy title; Andrew Lancaster, helming his first feature-length project, “Accidents Happen,” has made a film that re-iterates a similar theory, placing tragedy at the epicentre of familial strife, and the catalyst for emotional blockading and forced self-evaluation.
“Accidents Happen” introduces us to the seemingly happy Conway family, consisting of mother, father, and four young children, whose routine is abruptly halted when their car collides with another. We aren’t shown the immediate aftermath of the event, and instead the film jumps forward eight years to a point in time where the surviving members of the C0nway clan are being forced to address the impact of the accident on their lives, and search for some form of closure.
The implications of the crash are that Linda, the Conway daughter, has died, and that one of the sons, Gene, is in a vegetative state in hospital. Gloria (Davis) and husband Ray (Tobeck) have also since divorced, provoking bitterness towards Ray’s new fiancée Becky. By default, youngest son Billy Conway (Gilbertson) is the principal figure in the film, as everyone else in his family are either voiceless or unapproachably volatile. His unflinchingly direct mother, plagued by a medical condition as a result of the accident, hates everything around her; his alcoholic older brother is a destructive force within the family. Billy, much less vocal about his feelings, becomes caught in the crossfire of all these frayed relationships, but also must deal with the blame of his own wrongdoings.
If this all sounds unbearably overwrought, then that’s a fair assessment; there are plenty of ways to instigate familial issues without resorting to such brazen attempts at melodrama. Writer Brian Carbee has approached a heavy subject matter by giving the characters irredeemable flaws and grating oversensitivity, to the point where it’s relatively impossible to see this family dynamic as genuine, or even credible. “Accidents Happen” has a difficult time finding fresh ways to articulate the perceived tropes of guilt-laden grief, content to follow the black-comedy style of accentuating the stony-faced, bitter persona that tragedy can invoke. There’s a tendency towards chronicling grief through bitingly-honest quips – particularly courtesy of Davis’s Gloria. One feels that the film is striving to be The Upside of Anger, in terms of viewing standoffish, comic hostility as a substitute for grief, but the one-liners and general limitations of Gloria as a person (she’s more of a badass sister to her kids than a mother) just make the entire setup feel infantile. Davis herself opts for the Julia Roberts method of rabid, quickfire delivery, but has neither the charisma nor the material to pull it off.
As a framing device, the crash itself doesn’t prove effectual enough in binding the family together, so it’s very difficult to gauge what might have gone on in the eight years that have passed. “Accidents Happen” does everything it can to feign bravery (and even novelty) by making none of its main characters particularly sympathetic amidst their seriously unenviable state of collapse, but then expects us to rally for them in its final act. Examples of clinical Solondzian humour litter the film, almost as if it’s satirising guilt itself; maintaining a coolly distant but assuredly fervent perspective on dysfunctionality. When the script lurches towards staging misfortune to introduce its ruminative philosophies on loss and blame, is where it gets particularly schematic, embellishing poignancy in an unmistakably conventional style.
Lancaster does manage to build a community around these characters which harks back to the 1970s, in the way that Linklater’s Dazed and Confused did. Youths engage in boredom-fuelled acts of minor, concentrated criminality, while struggling for affection or a sense of purpose. And while it’s true that this makes “Accidents Happen” slightly more interesting as a generational conversation piece, it would be generous to suggest that it takes advantage of the era, much more adept at providing a soundtrack than connecting this pocket of time to Billy’s legitimate concerns. A redundant, pompous voice-over occasionally chimes in to heighten importance; shots of floating fragments of shattered glass act as emblems of transition – but the question remains: what has this film, with its fleeting, commonplace title, really told us about blame or acceptance?
“Accidents Happen” appears perfectly committed towards alienating its audience at first, but falls back on itself, reverting to encourage emotional identification through climactic, wrenching clichés. Lancaster’s film is murky, certainly, but fatefully not involving enough – a pallid version of Running with Scissors that never really clicks, and can’t fulfil the cutting personality intoned in the frosty dialogue and effacing actions of its disconnected troupe. It may bear enough of the hallmarks of a self-destructive family dramedy, but scratch beneath the surface and this is an ill-conceived genre film effort.
Friday, March 04, 2011
2010 Addict Awards
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Juliette Binoche, "Certified Copy"
Binoche gives Elle startling complexity, flirting with the active courage of a teenager, and cunningly baying James to play along in her playground fantasy. She colours her impassioned silent hope with bitter self-realised existential crisis, painfully unable to quash the mentality that keeps her family in a tentatively ephemeral state.
A re-watch proved even more beneficial in terms of assessing the performance, since there is a shift in dynamic midway through the film. Particularly in the scenes where she's driving, Binoche shows an increasing lack of tolerance (probably born out of the fact that she is essentially in control of where they're going for once) and her inflections match the tension of the exchange, while remaining inherently joyous about the promise of the day ahead. It's a beautifully-acted segment.
* Jeong-hie Yun, “Poetry” *
The very idea of somebody's desire to write poetry co-inciding with a devolved act by a member of their family feels a bit contrived, but Lee Chang-dong's film manages to say an awful lot through this technique that it becomes a bit of a moot point. Yun, the Twiggy of the older generation (in agelessness if not stature), festers gladly upon the many compliments to her cutesy appearance with unmistakable pride — she knows her own strengths and limitations. When she finds out what has been going on under her nose she grows ever more bemused with her role; unsure of herself, angry with life and literature, and as she charts the inner struggle between her moral and familial responsibilities Yun displays a revelatory burden of composed, introspective grief.
Nicole Kidman, "Rabbit Hole"
Nicole Kidman, and to an extent, "Rabbit Hole" itself, is much more cynical about grief than one would expect. This helps to make her character Becca more accessible, in the sense that she has a faux-objective impression of her plight, casting judgements on couples at her counselling group for using religion as a coping mechanism. There's an element of elitism in the inhibited self-importance Kidman brings to Becca; the 'victim' that nobody can ever relate to. While Kidman telegraphs the aloof, partitioned rigidity of Becca, she also carves a personality for this woman, impulsively open to avenues that feel instinctive to her; following them with the pepetually aimless nature of a woman with little decision left.
Yahima Torres, "Black Venus"
Yahima Torres gives a display that is so introspectively devastating that it defies belief. Often an escalating vessel for the film’s thematic presentation, rather than an active proponent within the narrative study, her moves to suggest Saartije’s ideological shifts (both past and present) add valuable substance to the character. As she gives a personal account to a packed courtroom she states, “I am an Actress,” with such an inflected sense of motioned duty, realising just as she utters the words that they are ridiculous. Torres reveals Saartije’s sense of performance, ensconced in a culture that shuns any real esteem, her bemusement with science reflecting that, on some level, she has accepted what she has become.
Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine"
While Ryan Gosling's character most radically alters through the course of the film, Michelle Williams' Cindy has an altogether more curious arc. One of Williams' best assets as an Actress is in her absence of belonging; how she manages to cast bursts of fierce emotion unnervingly off-the cuff, and yet also make them seem like a deceptively natural progression. Her style of acting is very understated (some suggest too so) but she remains able to register with the intricacies of Cindy's initial cautious approach to her relationship with Dean, and the later realisation that she took the easy option (if not necessarily the wrong one) in accepting his advances in the first place.
Exceptional Runners Up: Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"; Isabelle Carre, "The Refuge"; Emma Stone, "Easy A"; Catherine Deneuve, "Potiche"; Sally Hawkins, "Made in Dagenham"; Greta Gerwig, "Greenberg"; Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"
Worthy of Note: Lesley Manville, "Another Year"; Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"; Irene de Angelis, "Dark Love"; Tilda Swinton, "I Am Love"; Rinko Kikuchi, "Norwegian Wood"; Julianne Moore, "The Kids Are All Right"; Rebecca Hall, "Please Give"
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
|Jennifer Hudson bids farewell to 2010.|
Last night was one of the strangest Oscar ceremonies in recent memory, and I'm not solely talking about the outlandish behaviour of a certain James Franco. With the possible exception of 2005, every year since I've been watching (2001-Present) has seen a decent tally of wins for the Best Picture victor, especially when they were particularly nailed-on for victory (Lord of the Rings, Slumdog Millionaire.) Moreover, the amount of times I've seen technical prizes tokenly handed out to Picture frontrunners in tick-the-box fashion, is downright obscene. Despite feeling reviled by the awardage of the big prize to "The King's Speech" I'm actually encouraged that the Academy appeared to consider the merits of each category more closely this year, awarding cinematography to "Inception" (a close second to "Black Swan" by my reckoning) and Best Original Score to the intricate score of "The Social Network," both of which remained cool outsiders in the betting.
The good parts of the ceremony largely entailed of a more sensible broadcast, short on montages and mini-introductions (we know what the nominated films are!), and back to substantial acting clips and song performances (which I believe in, despite their tendency to nominate terrible songs.) The bad emerged in the form of Celine Dion's excruciatingly sentimental accompaniment to the In Memoriam segment, and the tacky sketch-style methods of the hosts, who just didn't seem to have the knack for this brand of comedy. I also felt that it was rather hurriedly ploughed through, managing to omit some of the staple unnecessary elements of the broadcast, but content to once again burden the winners with rashly-utilised exit music.
The Full List of Oscar Winners:
Best Picture: "The King’s Speech"
Best Director: Tom Hooper, "The King’s Speech"
Best Actor: Colin Firth, "The King’s Speech"
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, "The Fighter"
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, "The Social Network"
Best Original Screenplay: David Seidler, "The King’s Speech"
Best Animated Feature: "Toy Story 3"
Best Editing: Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter, "The Social Network"
Best Cinematography: Wally Pfister, "Inception"
Best Original Score: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, "The Social Network"
Best Art Direction: "Alice in Wonderland"
Best Costume Design: "Alice in Wonderland"
Best Visual Effects: "Inception"
Best Make-Up: "The Wolfman"
Best Sound Mixing: "Inception"
Best Sound Editing: "Inception"
Best Song: We Belong Together, "Toy Story 3"
Best Documentary: "Inside Job"
Best Documentary Short: "Strangers No More"
Best Live Action Short: "God of Love"
Best Animated Short: "The Lost Thing"
Best Foreign Language Film: "In a Better World," Denmark
Best Speech: Charles Ferguson, director of "Inside Job," whose only fault at the podium was not being Banksy. Keep knocking those bankers down.
Worst Speech: Tom Hooper, who does little for the white-British stereotype that we're all well-to-do and listen to our mothers.
Most Satisfying Victory: Aaron Sorkin's screenplay victory must rank as one of the finest in the category for a long, long time.
Least Satisfying Victory: I'm trying not to sound too bitter, but again, it has to be Tom Hooper. It's no wonder he looked like the cat that got the cream, when he beat such visionary opponents with a film that feels so visually drab and lifeless.
|Thankfully for Colin, this rant is over.|
Some Words about 2010 in General: From an Indie perspective, there was an awful lot to be encouraged about this year. I don't approve of a ten-wide Best Picture field, but it's heartening that smaller productions can gather a lot of traction from critical adoration and early popularity (see: "Winter's Bone" and "The Kids Are All Right") and gain multiple acting nominations in the process. I sincerely hope that this isn't a one-off, and I suspect it won't be, if American mainstream cinema continues to generally struggle.
The other key observation is that there simply is no accounting for taste. Connotative, schematic displays of "prestige" still rule the roost, but only when enough people rally behind them. One hopes that this royal triumph does not aid in slackening the tolerance towards gaudy shows of period elegance, but as ever, we'll have to wait until next year to find out.