Tag Archives: Review

MIFF 2013: Stoker

8 Aug

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Chan-Wook Park, 2013

By Julia Mann

My strategy for MIFF is to book a whole lot of films I know little about, then sit back and enjoy the unexpected. Keeping this in mind, I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that I anticipated some vampiric action in Chan-wook Park’s Stoker. It’s funny how the mind plays tricks, makes mental associations and perceives clues where perhaps none exist. Park does hint at the supernatural – the distant figure watching over the funeral (is it India’s father, back from the dead?), the multi-coloured, incandescent eyes shared by India and Charlie, and his tendency to appear without warning. I mean, the guy doesn’t eat, what’s more vampiric than that?

Ultimately, despite my misguided yearnings, this is not a film about undead bloodsuckers. It is instead a tense, twisting tale of family, of inheritance and of shoes. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) turns eighteen and loses her beloved father in a fiery car accident on the same day. In spite of her new adulthood, she behaves much like a child, using defiance and discordance as immature weapons. Widow and mother Evie (Nicole Kidman) futilely appeals to India, losing the battle with her own demons as well as the one bubbling within her child. The arrival of Uncle Charlie further fuels the fire between these two women as both are seduced by his powerful charisma. Matthew Goode is a revelation, impressing as the mysterious Charlie and in control of the fine line between sexy and psychotic.

While clearly set in the current world, Stoker rarely references modern times. The film takes on a timeless quality, combining costumes, cars and chattels from different eras. It’s a beautiful piece to watch and the pace is slow and seductive. Gorgeously constructed scenes are punctuated by violence, by slashes of crimson, but this is not the bloodbath you’d expect from Park. The film relies more on innuendo than gore and the questions it poses are even more disturbing. What lies behind Charlie and India’s matching, menacing eyes? What deep connection draws them closer? And finally, is your identity your own or nothing more than family inheritance?

Julia Mann likes all kinds of films, but mostly ones with Steven Seagal. She writes for US-based website Digital Hippos when the mood strikes.

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Review: To The Wonder (2013)

1 Jul

Written and Directed by Terrence Malick – Screening from July 4 – Exclusively at Cinema Nova, Carlton, VIC

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Review By Paul Anthony Nelson.

Terrence Malick is a genius.

 

But don’t just take my word for it: the guy’s a Rhodes Scholar, and a summa cum laude graduate in Philosophy from Harvard, no less. But it’s his compact, astonishing filmography which puts this point into further relief: three of his first five feature films, BADLANDS (1973), THE THIN RED LINE (1998) and THE TREE OF LIFE (2011), are bona fide masterpieces, with the hugely underrated THE NEW WORLD (2005) and physically breathtaking DAYS OF HEAVEN (1978) not far behind. Malick is an auteur of singularly intuitive style, and, thus, his elliptical narratives, searching cinematography and dreamlike voiceovers aren’t for everybody. But, to this reviewer’s mind, he is a master of image and mood; his films’ avoidance of conventional dialogue delivery, and dependence upon human faces and natural vistas, somehow navigate a more direct, mightier pathway to emotional truth.

What’s more, the auteur is famous for shooting endless reams of film, taking his sweet time to put these things together: one became accustomed to greeting a new Malick film as an event, as — look at those years of release again — they generally land but once a decade. So, when a new Malick picture arrives just two scant years after the last (particularly as he has three more films shot and in the pipeline, presumably to whizz their way to us over the next few years), is it cause for celebration… or suspicion?

After seeing TO THE WONDER, it pains me to suggest the latter.

TO THE WONDER plays very much in the TREE OF LIFE sandbox, throwing out questions of love, spirituality, a world in turmoil and humanity’s effect upon it. We begin with Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck), a couple clearly in love, travelling by train to Mont Saint-Michel, the picturesque monastery near Marina’s childhood home. They’ve been together in Paris for some time, with Neil even ingratiated to Marina’s young daughter from a previous marriage, Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline). Their life seems wonderful, when Neil gets an enticing job offer in Oklahoma, and Marina agrees to move her and Tatiana with him. However, upon arrival in the US of A, they’re greeted by the prison of white middle class American suburbia – depicted with quietly efficient scorn – and the couple’s relationship instantly begins to deteriorate.

For a while, Marina takes solace in the church of Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), but he’s grappling with his faith more than anybody. Soon, Marina and Tatiana must return to Paris, where she continues to be depressed by their situation, while in the US, Neil reunites with an old friend, Jane (Rachel MacAdams). This situation is further complicated some time later, when Marina resolves to return, and Walt Whitman’s maxim “you can never go home again” becomes brutally apparent.

While the story is loaded with potential, and touches on some compelling themes – how can true love and faith endure in this world when we’re surrounded by so much self-inflicted suffering – Malick, for the first time in his stellar 40 year career, seriously fumbles the ball.

The main issue is the story. While his past films carry the gravitas of elemental forces like war, love, violence, history, changing landscapes and spirituality, TO THE WONDER has all the emotional heft of a third-rate television melodrama. This particular treatment of these themes, as written and performed, just doesn’t justify the weighty Malick imprimatur and, more often than not, just comes off as silly.

It doesn’t help that his cast don’t seem particularly up to the task. Affleck’s limited range is exposed here, and Kurylenko, while obviously beautiful, is limited to a couple of vacant expressions – and not helped by the fact that her character, set up as a free spirit, dumbs down to the point of near-intellectual disability by film’s end. MacAdams, too, adds little but physical beauty to a nothing role. Of the performers, Bardem is the most accomplished, but is given little to do but mope about with a “why hath thou forsaken me??” look on his face. With each action, it becomes increasingly difficult to relate to anybody.

Absent are the beautifully observed, infinitesimal details of Brad Pitt and Hunter McCracken’s heartbreaking performances in TREE OF LIFE, or Jim Caviezel in THIN RED LINE, or the grace notes of BADLANDS’ Sissy Spacek or TREE’s Jessica Chastain. Everybody is given one note to play and drive into the Earth. What’s more, the film’s voiceover is in French (supplied by Marina), which is fine in isolation, but merely adds to the film’s unfortunate aura of Malickian parody when coupled with the “woe is me” melodrama, whooshing camera and random digressions. Malick’s juxtaposition of natural imagery and human emotion is strangely tone deaf here, even laughable at times, as if the relative speed of this production has thrown the compass of his peerless intuition off course.

Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is customarily gorgeous – this film has more beauty in its natural little fingernail than, say, the CG-splashed LIFE OF PI has in its whole body – but his method of constantly rushing his camera toward the actors here feels particularly annoying, like a creepy birthday clown running up to people to tickle them. Too much of the film feels like it was cobbled together from TREE OF LIFE outtakes – and indeed, as the end credits reveal, some of it was – and quickly assembled into a more abstract companion piece. While this is fine in theory, TREE OF LIFE was such a gigantic, powerful, definitive take on these similar themes that TO THE WONDER seems minor, sketchy, woefully underpowered and scarcely necessary.

Sadly, TO THE WONDER will be to Malick’s career what, say, THE TERMINAL is to Steven Spielberg’s –the exemplar of an auteur’s every perceived negative directorial trait in one film, providing unfortunate fuel to their detractors’ fire. Yet Malick is one of American cinema’s greatest artists and I, for one, remain confident he will bounce back with his next film… just, not too quickly, okay?

Heaven’s Gate Minute by Minute: 209 of 209

10 Jun

209 of 209

I’m yet to see the names of the million plus extras. I suppose there’s not enough material in the universe to make the film stock required to screen all those names.

What on Earth is ‘Atmosphere Casting’? Did this Tony Gaznick character cast smoke, haze, mist and shards of light? Or was he responsible for the nitrogen, oxygen and argon on set?

“Hey, Ms. Casting Agent Person,”
“Hi Tony, what can I do for you?”
“We’ve got a role for some air. It’ll be playing the town photographer, have you got a canister you can send over?”
“Tony, you know the air on my books won’t play 19th century photographers. They keep geting burned up in the magnesium flashes.”

Before CGI, actors were forced to play layers of gas in motion pictures. In addition to John Proctor, Daniel Day Lewis also played the exosphere in The Crucible. He’s so versatile.

Oh, the key grips were Richard Deats and Tony Cridlin. That’s good to know, I was thinking throughout the whole film that the movie is well gripped. I must send them a congratulatory e-card.

The credits move seamlessly into the thank yous. A courteous man, Michael Cimino has been generous in extending his gratitude. He thanks the USA, then the Governor of Montana, Glacier National Parks and several other forest/park departments who I presume are all part of the USA. If you lead by thanking the entire country, is there a need to get into specifics? You just say, “Thanks America,” and everyone is covered. Thank Earth just to be on the safe side if you’re frightened of missing someone, like Penny. Everyone always forgets poor ol’ Penny. If you’re asking yourself, “Who the hell is Penny?” Exactly. Case in point.

The music and the increasing sparcity of the names leads me to believe the film is at last ending. As the final credits role, it might be a good moment to reflect. Cue reflection music, something with a harp and a basset horn, but no keytars.

After four years and having finally seen all of it, what do I think of Heaven’s Gate; the tale of love amidst the Johnson County cattle wars of Wyoming during the late 1800s? My final analysis is the film is much like this review – long, pointless and centred on something completely obscure.

Written in Panavision.

Colour by the distribution of light power versus wavelength interacting with the eye.

The soundtrack for this review can be purchased through Sony Records, or stolen from John Hurt’s garage.

Thank you for reading, thank you Penny and thank you Earth.

The end.

© MMXIIVCDIIVIVQXVIVIIX

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Heaven’s Gate Minute by Minute: 208 of 209

8 Jun

208 of 209

The credits keep on a-rollin’. They’re moving at a good speed, I’d say. Not too fast, not too slow – they’re in something scientists like to call the ‘end credits Goldilocks zone’. Whether credits do or don’t fall into this category is adjudicated by Goldie Hawn. She takes the role very seriously, so don’t ever scroll text passed her too quickly. A waiter once waved a dinner menu speedily in front of her and she drowned him in a vat of minestrone. The thing is, the restaurant wasn’t even serving soup, she bought it in herself just in case.

There were three assistant camera men, apparently. Ken, Eric and Michael. I think that’s a good number and what a likely lot they would have been on set, hey? Kensy Ez & Mick! Oh, the hijinks and tomfoolery they would’ve gotten up too. On a serious note, practical jokes cause deaths in the workplace. Pull your juvenile heads in, Ken, Mick and Eric!

Heaven’s Gate was stunt coordinated by Buddy Van Horn. It’s nice to see some adult entertainer/anti-Western cross over.

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Heaven’s Gate Minute by Minute: 207 of 209

7 Jun

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Cut to an exterior shot of the boat, which is a metaphor for slightly smaller boats. Look at that boat chimney smoke, it’s like a big, fluffy, sooty, suffocating pillow. Smoke inhalation was never so comfortable.

Fade to black and… the credits roll. What?! Are you serious? I’ve got to review three minutes of credits? You mother… Alright fine.

Font is perfect and the exact same font I would have chosen. Predictably, we start with the acting credits. It’s quite handy to read actually, we finally get to know some character names.

Kris Kristofferson played Averill? I didn’t hear anyone call him that. He was referred to as James, or Jim, or Helena during the underwater dream dance sequence. Isn’t Averill a cheap brand of ibuprofen? Or is that Advil? Either way, I prefer fast acting pain relief. It’s possible James’ last name is product placement and the film was sponsored by big pharma. Ah yes, that confirms it – Christopher Walken as Xanax and Jeff Bridges as Lipitor.

‘Moustached Mercenary’. That’s an amazing character name. Any actor would grow a moustache and kill to have that on their CV.

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Heaven’s Gate Minute by Minute: 206 of 209

7 Jun

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Who is this mystery woman? A-hah! I remember. I think she’s the girlfriend we saw waltzing with James in the prologue at Harvard University. I was partially right to check my dance cards. I couldn’t check James’, he’s never allowed his dance cards to enter the public domain. I launched many FOI requests, but was unsuccessful.

Did James lose Ella, then take out his address book and look up an old girlfriend? Lame, man. Though, it was a lot harder to do in those days, he couldn’t just Facebook search her. Looking up an old girlfriend in the late 19th century involved public registries, censuses, pigeons, private investigators and letters passed on by a portly intermediary named Susan.

James look very solemn. As he gazes over his ol’ dance partner, you can see the remorse and regret. He is still haunted by the past; by Ella, by the Sovereign of the Stock Growers Association, by John Hurt and the wily cows, by vellum rain, by rollerskating cowboys, by antelope trains, by the number 86, by the family in the stationmaster’s pipe, by hover bikes, by keytars, by cockfights, by whiskey rivers, by the Bureau of Meteorology, by death lists, by George Negus, by fly racing, by patents pending, by giant bees, by burning hedges, by fluffy hats, by extras, by Kooyong, by tobacco, by $50 a day plus expenses, by Nate and his acting hat, by Iron Man, by cabin tanks, by spooky butlers and by bloody wagons!

His lip trembles. Yeah, I suppose that’s a lot of shit to get over.

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Heaven’s Gate Minute by Minute: 205 of 209

5 Jun

205 of 209

It should be mentioned at the end of the previous minute another spooky butler appeared and the mysterious woman asked for a cigarette. But no one is going to mention it, so no point lamenting it now.

It’s unfortunate the butler didn’t sing The Ol’ Butler Shuffle. If he had, it could have been released as a single to help recoup some of the film’s losses. Novelty songs have always used in this way. Shaddap You Face was sung in a deleted scene of The Godfather III. In the end, the producers felt it was distasteful.

Jim obliges the woman’s request and hands her a cigarette. He reaches for a lighter, opens it… goodness, they’re moving so slowly. Get on with it. It’s as though they’re both in slow motion. Did someone accidentally change the frame rate?

Come on, if you’re producing a three hour film, you can’t dwell on every single bloody moment as though the simple act of lighting a cigarette has significance that should be drawn out with slow deliberate reverence. Light the fucking thing! Light it!

Thank you. It’s lit. Nicotine can now be inhaled. I’ve never seen anyone who asks for a cigarette take their time getting it to their mouth. I’m like that with milk. If I ask for a glass, you can bet the moment you give it to me I’m going to freeze dry it, chop it up and snort it. Presuming you also lend me the liquid nitrogen.

The mystery woman, who I assume is Jim’s partner or wife, looks familiar. Perhaps we met at a social, or ball? I’d better check my old dance cards and see if any names ring a bell.

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Heaven’s Gate Minute by Minute: 204 of 209

4 Jun

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Below deck James enters his opulent bedroom. So much opulence! It’s dripping opulence. Jim is going to need an opulence rain coat, lest he be covered in wet opulence. Is anyone else turned on?

Jim is again silently pottering about. That would be my synopsis of Heaven’s Gate – Jim silently goes about his business, a bunch of stuff happens around him.

Oo-la-la, there is a strange woman in his boudoir. I hate it when that happens. So often I’ll come home to find a middle aged woman in my luxurious bedroom. “Away foul temptress!” I cry, only to realise it is not my house and I’m in fact yelling at an otterman with a snuggy draped over it.

The film is almost over. Who is this strange woman and what does she represent? The people of Kooyong? Is the local member for Kooyong asleep on Jim’s boat?!

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*Kooyong is an ancient underwater city and is owned by Russia

Heaven’s Gate Minute by Minute: 203 of 209

4 Jun

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It’s future time! Cue lasers, robots and Google Cufflinks (patent pending).  A boat drifts behind a caption – “Newport, Rhode Island 1903”. I like Newport, it’s so much better than Oldport and far superior to Getting-On-A-Bit-Port.

James strolls the deck looking rather weathered and aged. Nothing like owning a boat to help forget your past. It’s a terrific way to overcome trauma. In fact, the Federal Government is introducing boat gifting as a key element of its mental heath policy. With a referral from your GP, each citizen is entitled to ten Medicare subsidised sessions with a psychologist per calendar year, plus a boat.

It’s working wonders apparently, except for people who are trying to overcome the trauma of a boating accident. Anecdotally, they seem to react less positively to the treatment.

The boat is certainly a step up from that stupid wagon Jim owned. It’s quite the status symbol. Owning a wagon back then was like owning an Audi, owning a boat was like owning Kooyong.

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*For international readers, an Audi is a pretend car and Kooyong is an affluent suburb of Melbourne that once hosted the Australian Tennis Open. Nowadays, Kooyong is an independent nation and has a freeway.

Heaven’s Gate Minute by Minute: 202 of 209

3 Jun

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So sad. Jim weeps, cradling Ella in his arms. It was important for me to specify Ella is being cradled in arms because Jim carries a wooden cradle in his pocket. It’s a foldable one he bought from Wild West IKEA.

Wild West IKEA was great, but cowboys’ horses kept mysteriously disappearing from the horse parking lot during its heyday.

I feel sorry for Jeff Bridges. I also feel sorry for his character. No one is there to weep over his dead body. Surely Jim could sprinkle a few tear drops on Jeff? It might even bring him back to life, so long as the tears are mixed with unicorn semen.

James is quite upset and this is a very sad scene. It’s sadder than the time I went to Universal Studios and the Jaws shark wasn’t working. That was tough…

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