Saturday, 23 November 2013

Mud Review

Engaging an audience in a truly captivating sense of wonder is a lost art form in the realm of cinema, or at least it has become so rare that we begin to forget how magical the silver screen experience can be.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols' latest atmospheric drama Mud continues his notable prestige for dramatic film making by creating a pure slice of Americana; an evocative and poignant coming of age tale that borrows the lyricism of Tennessee Williams works and mixes them with the harmonious sensitivity of a Sam Shepard play, who is ironically enough in a supporting role in the film, creating a witty and insightful modern day Mark Twain influenced adventure. 

The story narrows in on Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), two fourteen year old boys hungering for adventure, girls, and excitement in their lives. Ellis lives with his miserable father and his unsatisfied mother, while Neckbone resides with his womanizing uncle. They discover on an island located distally from their home that there is a large boat stuck in a tree, housing food and pornographic magazines showing signs that someone lives there. That man, they find, is Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a fugitive housing a checkered past and now making due with little in the middle of nowhere, attempting to reconnect with his love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). 

The setting for this film is the Mississippi River. It dominates this film as it dominates the lives of the main characters in this film. This is not a film about small-town America. There is a small town, in which everyone knows everyone, but most of the action takes place out of town, out on the river, and out in the uninhabited areas of the river's ecosystem. The two fourteen year old boys and their families, are river people, making a precarious living from the river. Life is hard but the people are hard-working, honest and resourceful. If Mark Twain was writing now, these are the people he would be writing about.

This film could have easily strayed into The Selfish Giant's territory of making us pity the boys because of their lives as 'river kids', but it doesn't do that and that's important. We support these kids and we want them to succeed, but we're never made to pity them, thankfully. 

One questions the motive of the boys to continue to help Mud, even after discovering what horror he committed. Because Ellis's parents are enduring hellish circumstances and losing love in one another, his commitment to helping Mud find Juniper seems stronger than Neckbone's because he doesn't want to see a couple who should be together remain distant. This is one of the many lenses you can see Mud through. The film is such a visceral, multi-layered experience that each person has the ability to find something different or subtly unique that lies within the story's seemingly direct roots. I felt like I was going through the emotions with the two boys, as if I was there. It was an incredible feeling. I've never felt as close to a film as I have with Mud. 

However, Mud can also be seen as a rural coming-of-age story, not far off from the likes of Rob Reiner's impeccable Stand By Me, which, too, centered on young kids become more unified because of a dangerous adventure. But it also borrows liberally elements of neo-noir, Southern Gothic and melodrama while being filmed as if it was based on some great novel that was never written. There's nothing wrong with looking at Mud simplistically, as a drama centered around early-teenagers, because even when you do that, you still get a wonderful, more-than-complete package with performances that are enriching and an adventure that's unbelievable. Matthew McConaughey, again, gives an astonishingly capable performance after coming off of the likes of the beautifully quirky Bernie, the unfairly-ostracized Magic Mike, and the haunting, yet enigmatic Killer Joe. It's safe to say that McConaughey has made enough money so that he can shy away from the pathetic romantic-comedy or dull action hero in favor of riskier, more reclusive projects that test him as an actor. Teaming up with Jeff Nichols was certainly the right bet, as this is closest to the most perfect movie experiences I've had all year. It makes for a ripping good yarn that should please a wide audience thirsty for drama with a bit of heart and some sentimentality (without ever being sappy).

It was refreshing to watch and I was truly engrossed, and considering I watched this on a laptop screen I think that's pretty impressive. 


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Gravity Review

The 'surprise' hit of the season (for everyone but us Brits' who have had to wait what feels like an age for it) is Alfonso Cuaron's sci-fi spectacular Gravity.

But it's not Alfonso Cuaron who deserves the most credit. In fact it's his right hand man, Emmanuel Lubezki, who steals the show, the film and pretty much everything else. The man is a genius. We've all seen what he's accomplished in his Oscar-nominated works in Children of Men, in which he was teamed up with Cuarón, and Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, both of which resulted in unimaginable losses. Here, however, he brings something even better. A 13-minute opening shot shows his abilities to capture the essence of the now, the feelings that life offers. Real life doesn't cut, Cuarón and Lubezki understand this. The liberties where he chooses to take us, even when we step inside from the cold, lonely edge of space, manages to turn this very simple tale into a full-fledged meditation session with the sooth sounds of composer Steven Price.

And it is a very simple tale. I find it fascinating that this film was picked up by Warner Bros because essentially, at it's core, it's a B-movie. Gravity may look like a Hollywood blockbuster but it's far from it. The themes, characters and script are anything but mainstream. It's ninety minute running time is something to be desired too. It just goes to show that they've had a simple idea and they've just gone with it, which is why I love this film. The script is beyond simple, but it's tight and there's not an ounce that I'd change of it. There's not a single shred that's wasted. The script may be simple, but it's themes aren't. (Unlike Avatar).

Visual effects have never been put to better use than what you will witness in GravityOne of the few films I urge everyone to see on the biggest screen possible. The 3D is absolutely outstanding. I don't often like 3D, but this has to be seen in 3D. It adds to the story and the drama. An IMAX 3D screen - the largest you can find - with a sound system able to make your eardrums bleed. Those are the basic requirements. Do it for yourself as a film fan. It's a must. 

I haven't been in this much awe of a film's quality and optics since I saw Terminator 2: Judgment Day when I was six years old. Avatar and Life of Pi are great spectacles, but this will be revisited in years to come as the bench mark for modern day science fiction. It's this generation's 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It's more Kubrick than Cameron, thankfully. It explores themes that are heartbreaking and it's characters are complex. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are incredible. The latter is especially stunning in a role that channels Alien's Ripley as if re-imagined by Tarkovsky. Natural, poised, and fully engulfed, Bullock is absolutely magnificent and in many ways, my favorite performance of the year so far. She rallies an emotional connection from the audience and demands things of herself that she hasn't done before. An Oscar-worthy work that should land her as a Best Actress nominee...and perhaps a winner.

Gravity was utterly spectacular. Beautiful, serene and peaceful moments juxtaposed by uncomfortable tense action. I just spent 90 minutes in space courtesy of Alfonso Cuaron and co. 

Simplistic but so refreshingly new. Visually, it will be studied for years to come, and thematically, will be revisited by the genre's most ardent enthusiasts. This is what was imagined by the Lumière brothers, it's truly breathtaking. 

The best film I've seen this year.


Friday, 1 November 2013

The Bling Ring Review

Award-winning, insightful director, Sofia Coppola, has once again made a film that is highly successful in portraying fame and celebrity ... only this time she has turned the cameras onto those who obsess over and covet the fame and celebrity others have.  Her latest film, The Bling Ring, gives us a vibrant portrait of a society - that culture is so lost it's hard to decide who you hate more; wannabes or celebrities.

The Bling Ring is a character study/meditation of a group of people -- based on real life individuals in SoCal -- with NO character whatsoever. They are all beautiful bling on the outside with no inner core of morality. They are shells of a mass emptiness who worship others for merely having stuff they want ... or being on their TVs. 

As Coppola herself said it's as if "your experiences don't count unless you have an audience watching them" and you can really feel that in this film. None of the characters really have any "moments" despite their attempts at proving it.

Coppola's story is based on real-life events of a group of five vacuous and insipid teenagers (one boy and four girls) who used the internet to track the whereabouts of their "celebrity" idols -- some were merely "reality stars" -- so that when the stars were out of town the five could play. The five would break into celeb houses and play with beautiful things that belonged to Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, Orlando Bloom, Audrina Patridge or ... their ultimate idol, Lindsay Lohan. 

They had fun and bragged about their shenanigans at parties and on social media all the while believing that they had done nothing wrong. One even believes this happened in order for her to become more charitable -- her comment on "karma" must be heard to be believed. Coppola wisely lifted this line word-for-word as it is tragic comic gold. The script is expertly put together, everything is there for a reason - you've just got to work out why. 

Coppola's storytelling is absolutely fantastic, she shows her clear disgust of these girls through her cinematography. Coppola totally gets this generation and what's wrong with it and it's shown to perfection in this film. She understands the world of fame and she has proved she also understand the world of those who dream of it. This isn't a movie in which characters learn life lessons and change ... this is a depiction of people who believe they do no wrong (like never ever). It is eye-opening because these people walk among us. 

The films leaves you with a feeling of emptiness and while some may critic that, I actually believe it's quite clever, I think that's the point Coppola is making - you've just met the Bling Ring. They epitomise emptiness and nothingness.