Archives for Will Webb
Starring Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould & Kathryn Hahn
Every good director makes bad movies. David Lynch made Dune, Francis Ford Coppola made Jack. Even Steven Spielberg made 1941. But M Night Shyamalan has made many bad movies. Although it’s hard to believe now, almost 20 years ago he was considered to be a leading light of cinema, an Oscar-nominated genre director who could do no wrong. Until The Village, The Happening, and- shudder – The Last Airbender. Eventually, he was considered to be such a joke that his new movie, The Visit, doesn’t even put his name on the trailers. This is a shame, because it’s a remarkable return to form for the former wunderkind.
The Visit starts off with a mother being contacted out of the blue by her estranged parents, who would like to see their grandchildren. Her husband left a few years before and she’s finally got a new boyfriend, so the kids – older Becca and younger Tyler – decide to go to give their mother some space. Tyler is frustrated he can’t text his ladies, and works on his rap skills – despite being a weedy little kid with a germ phobia. Becca decides to create a documentary about her grandparents with a view to helping them reconcile with her mother.
Starring Kristen Stewart, Juliet Binoche & Chloe Grace Moretz
“Kristen Stewart won the French Oscar.” That’s the sentence that will probably pull the most people to this film, and there’s nothing wrong with it- although it’s the Cesar, if you want to be precise. Stewart gets the first line, and in a sense, she gets the final say; everything else about the film is sort of up for grabs.
The film follows Juliette Binoche as Maria, an ageing actor who has built a huge career from a small but world-renowned play and film. She’s en route to an award ceremony to collect the award on behalf of the director, Wilhelm Melchior, when he dies. Later that evening, she’s invited to star in the same play that made her famous- but as the older character, not the young seductress. The bulk of the film then follows Maria and Valentine (Stewart) as they escape to the Alps to study the play, and focuses in on Maria’s journey through understanding how her own life and performance has changed since she started in the same play at 18.
Assayas storms through the first part of the film- it’s a whirlwind of press engagements and paparazzi. He’s aided in part by the physical setting of the first few scenes, a train en route to Zurich- as the vehicle moves inexorably forward, so does the plot, and right from the first shot (Valentine answering a phone call between carriages), the camera sways with the motion of the train, carrying its energy through scenes that could otherwise be maudlin.
Peter Strickland became the darling of the British film scene with the excellently received Berberian Sound Studio, his second feature. This film flirted with genre expectations, was constructed as an excellent pastiche of giallo film, and was led by a bold main performance from Toby Jones. So Toby Jones follow-up, The Duke of Burgundy, has a lot to live up to.
Cynthia (Knudsen) and Evelyn (d’Anna) are lovers whose interests include butterfly research and classification, and BDSM. As Evelyn’s taste for submission deepens and becomes more complex, Cynthia is unable to take the strain of the dominant role thrust upon her, and things turn nasty. As far as plot goes, that’s essentially it- Strickland’s film is all in the style. The women inhabit a world without men, where their absence isn’t noted or important. Everyone also attends these butterfly classification lectures, and BDSM gear also appears to be in high demand- a woman the couple contact to build a lockable compartment under their bed is so snowed under with requests that she can only offer them an 8-week turnaround and a ‘human toilet’ by way of apology.
The Duke of Burgundy, like Berberian Sound Studio, takes aim at another Euro horror genre- a psychosexual piece, like those turned out near the end of the New Wave. The film is all soothing tones, jaunty folk music, disruptive edits, and soft lens flares. This is more taxing on the viewer than the trashy shock of the giallo; with a plot already light on details, The Duke of Burgundy is at times torturously slow. Or, to put it more sensuously, languid, as the style Strickland’s adopted means scenes stretch, sequences repeat, and stares hold for a long time.
Another problem is that when pastiche and homage are too accurate or precise, they feel like parody. And Strickland is incredibly accurate in his riffing: the low-budget sensibilities of the genre area affected in him packing out a lecture scene with obvious mannequins, the film’s sensory nature so ingrained the credits feature a perfumer. This approach to pastiche becomes an echo chamber- always repeating ideas, never adding anything into the mix. A similar problem plagued Forzani & Cattet’s The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears; now The Duke of Burgundy does it for New Wave Euro-horror. It’s entirely possible for something to be so formal, so controlled, that it feels twee.
This is in part impacted by Strickland’s indecision with his own story. At times, it appears to be a real drama- certainly the honesty and craftsmanship in the performances (from two incredibly talented actors) shows real work on this approach, and as the women’s relationship breaks down, scenes become truly affecting. But mostly, Strickland seems content to allow his love for the genre he’s parodying to interrupt the story he could tell- an interminably long, heady montage dominates the later sequence of the film, swapping an interesting character dynamic and any possibility of meaningful commentary for stylistic flourishes. Endless symbolism and held stares are fun the first time, but are grating by the end of an hour and a half (which still leaves 15 minutes to go!).
Admittedly, it’s difficult to assess even whether this is the problem with the film. After all, we’re looking at a psychodrama, portrayed through one set of symbols, reinterpreted through a style cribbed from someone else. That any meaning at all can be gleaned from it is a testament to Strickland’s skill as a storyteller. Sometimes, though, you wish he’d just stand back for a moment, look at his story, and let the actors tell it. Perhaps the most revealing symbol in the film is the butterfly collecting: the main characters attend lengthy lectures on taxonomy, identifying individual species, and try to use mounts of rare varieties like currency. The same is true of Strickland, who is ultimately more interested in collecting and classifying styles, than trading them for artistic value, than contributing his own work.
Directed by Dan Gilroy
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo & Riz Ahmed
Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is a thief living hand-to-mouth just at the poverty line in modern LA. But after a chance encounter with a late night news-gathering service, he begins to film scenes of destruction and violence across the nighttime city. As his work gains acclaim from motivated exec Nina (Russo), he takes on a young ‘intern’, Rick (Ahmed) and begins to push footage further, embroiling himself in an unfolding crime spree.
On its surface, Nightcrawler sounds like a rote concept with an interesting lead, and nothing more. It’s the sort of plot you’ve seen unfurl many times before, and often in better depth- like in Breaking Bad, for instance. But from the moment Gyllenhaal steps on-screen, the difference is readily apparent. Nightcrawler is possibly a morality tale, but not one about the downfall of a good man- more about the rise of a bad one. Bloom is a bizarre construction from writer Dan Gilroy; his dialogue is crimped from self-help books and online motivational courses, recited as though it’s memorised by rote. His life is empty, and he doesn’t seem to know; he has no concept of context, offering someone stolen goods before asking for a job and talking about his work ethic.
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgaard
Kelly Reichardt has quietly made a name for herself in the American independent film scene with a series of carefully constructed, tense and slow-burning dramas, most famously the ‘anti-western’ Meek’s Cutoff. In Night Moves, Reichardt shifts her scope from the old West to contemporary political movements through three young radical activists and their mission to explode a hydroelectric dam.
Josh (Eisenberg) works in a co-operative farm, and meets with Dena (Fanning) in secret to plan their attack on the dam. They leave their town together and drive to the woods, where they meet Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard), who Josh has met on previous ‘missions’. They fill a boat with fertilizer and homemade explosives, they proceed with their plan- but when something goes wrong, the group begins to fall apart. (more…)
Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone & Edward Norton
It’s a brave move, you know. I don’t mean having almost the entire film take place in one shot (although that’s the brave move you’ll hear about), or having major Hollywood actors play nasty, self-critical versions of themselves (you might hear a little about that too). These are brave decisions as well, but not the ones I’m referring to- I mean having a subtitle. Subtitles haven’t been cool since Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Subtitles are so uncool JJ Abrams broke all the rules of grammar to include one without stigma for Star Trek Into Darkness (and good luck working out how to say that without sounding like an ass). So Birdman; Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, is a brave title, which is thankfully backed up by a very brave film. (more…)
Franchises have never had it so good. Next year, there are 12 major franchise installments coming out in the cinema- sequels from big hitters, like old giants Star Wars and young up-and-comers Hunger Games, reboots from Mad Max and Jurassic Park (ish), and another installment in an endless set from James Bond or Fast and Furious (now with increased brevity, as simply ‘Furious 7’). Plus, the endless Marvel machine judders on with Avengers 2.
Critical opinions are divided. Sure, some have been well-received, like the Marvel series as a whole. But others- perhaps rightly- reject what they see as a colonization of the multiplexes by loud, brash and boring blockbusters. Aside from the aesthetic problems presented by the films, another problem remains: how are you to keep track of what’s showing when?
Starring Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston & Anton Yelchin
It’s about- because of course it is- eccentric loners having pithy conversations about mostly meaningless, cool-sounding junk. It’s by Jim Jarmusch, what did you expect? The more pertinent question is whether there’s something beneath it. In this case, there is.
Adam (Hiddleston) lives in dilapidated Detroit, in a run-down home on the outskirts of town. Surrounded by rock-and-roll bric-a-brac, the closest thing he has to a friend is Ian (Yelchin) – a well-meaning fellow, but not exactly on Adam’s level. Meanwhile, in Tangier, Eve (Swinton) wakes in her book-filled flat and walks to her local café, to meet with Kitt, who provides her with her fresh blood. By the way, that’s the reason they have so much cool stuff, are so cultured, and only hang around at night- they’re vampires. After a brief call with Adam, Eve realizes he is depressed, and decides to join him in Detroit. Unfortunately, her sister joins them soon after, with dire consequences.
Starring Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin & Liv LeMoyne
Available on DVD now
Bobo (Barkhammar) is just 13, as is her friend Klara (Grosin), and they both love punk. To shut up the local bad rock band- ‘Iron Fist’- they book out their youth club’s rehearsal room. But this requires them to establish their own band, which is complicated by the fact that they have no songs and no instruments. We Are The Best! follows these two- and later their much more talented friend Hedvig (LeMoyne) – as they forge ahead in proving that punk’s not dead in 1982.
Lukas Moodysson, previously best known for Show Me Love, steps forward from darker art fare to offer this honest, heartfelt take on the punk scene in Sweden in 1982. But it steps beyond this specific background to show something ineffable about the cusp of teenhood. For example – Bobo has a crush on Linus (Charlie Falk) Klara’s brother, and tries to impress him by drinking at his party. She throws up on his records instead. Klara dismisses her brother, saying he deserted punk, that he only listens to Joy Division now; in this, and in the unfortunate records-vomit incident, I saw my own teens reflected. Granted, that might be more an indictment of me than I hope, but I think it’s fitting praise for a film that strives to bring out the best of punk and teens. Even when the characters are being nasty, they’re funny and true to life: the girls debate whether to let a Christian girl join their group, Bobo opining ‘I think it’s political to be hanging out with the less fortunate’. That kind of dialogue is prevalent in the innocent egocentrism of kids, and Moodysson captures it perfectly.