Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Film Review: "Shame" (2011).

From the director of Hunger comes Shame. This British erotic drama film directed by Steve McQueen, and co-written by McQueen and Abi Morgan. The film centres on Brandon, a 30-something man living in New York who is unable to manage his sex life. After his wayward younger sister moves into his apartment, Brandon's world spirals out of control. Shame examines the nature of need, how we live our lives and the experiences that shape us.

After the release of Hunger (2008), McQueen began developing the film with producers Iain Canning and Emile Sherman, and screenwriter Morgan. Michael Fassbender, was McQueen's first and only choice to play the lead role. By January 2011, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, and Nicole Beharie were cast. Casting director Avy Kaufman had a unique assignment from McQueen, who wanted top-quality actors even for tiny parts – like Brandon's fly-by-night sexual partners. At the same time, with a budget of $6.5 million, principal photography commenced, and took place throughout New York for twenty-five days.

The film stars Fassbender, Mulligan, Badge Dale, and Beharie. Powerful performances were given by the cast, especially from Fassbender. One of the most powerful things Fassbender's performance did was to help us understand his character whose behaviour seems foreign and inexplicable.

Unflinching, uncompromising, vivid and vital, McQueen's challenging sophomore effort is not for the faint hearted, but it's still a richly rewarding retelling of troubled times. Shockingly immediate and philosophically reflective, the film is an indelibly moving examination of what makes us human. McQueen's way of showing the body itself as an arsenal, arguably the last weapon any of us have to fight back. The film shows that McQueen is a real film-maker and his background in art has meant a fierce concentration on image, an unflinching attention to what things looked like, moment by moment. The film, with all its visual, sonic and editing elements flowing together in harmony like a five-star, six-course meal, exemplifies the phrase art film. McQueen's film is a nuanced masterpiece that never flaunts its artistry, but uses it humbly to serve the all-important story. McQueen understands the first principle of cinema. On either side of its middle section, where the very wordiness stands ironic witness to the ultimate impossibility to explain, Hunger has the power and hieratic integrity of silent cinema. Intense, disturbing and powerful mix of vision and detail: a recreation of a terrible time combined with a vivid and distinctive artistic sensibility. Truly powerful filmmaking. Imagine how most filmmakers would tell this story and then see the film: the differences are bold and powerful and restore faith in cinema's ability to cover history free from the bounds of texts and personalities. It's not an easy watch – but it's an invigorating one. Long live McQueen. The film may be criticized for being willfully arty, or for reducing a complex political situation to a broadly allegorical vision of martyrdom, but it's never less than visually stunning. A superbly balanced piece of work and a compelling drama that's also a formalist triumph.

Simon says Shame receives:

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Film Review: "The Artist" (2011)

"I won't talk! I won't say a word!" Which is what The Artist presents to modern audiences. This French romantic comedy drama in the style of a black-and-white silent film directed by Michel Hazanavicius, The story takes place in Hollywood, between 1927 and 1932, and focuses on the relationship of an older silent film star and a rising young actress, as silent cinema falls out of fashion and is replaced by the talkies.

The film stars Jean Dujardin as George Valentin and Bérénice Bejo as Peppy Miller. Dujardin gave an astounding performance that is reminiscent of a real life silent film actor - Lon Chaney, Sr. Chaney was a famous silent film actor, he is regarded as one of the most versatile and powerful actors of early cinema, renowned for his characterizations of tortured, often grotesque and afflicted characters, and his groundbreaking artistry with makeup. Chaney is known for his starring roles in such silent horror films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera. His ability to transform himself using makeup techniques he developed earned him the nickname "The Man of a Thousand Faces." Sadly his career was also ended by the talkies, the silent cinema and his career died with him. Bejo also gave an astounding performance as the young, perky Peppy Miller, like Dujardin’s performance, her performance was reminiscent of a famous actresses - Greta Garbo. Garbo was a Swedish film actress. Garbo was an international star and icon during Hollywood's silent and classic periods. Many of Garbo's films were sensational hits, and all but three of her twenty-four Hollywood films were profitable. Garbo was nominated four times for an Academy Award and received an honorary one in 1954 for her "luminous and unforgettable screen performances". In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Garbo fifth on their list of greatest female stars of all time, after Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn, and Ingrid Bergman. Just like Miller, Garbo launched her career with a leading role in the 1924 Swedish silent film The Saga of Gosta Berling. Her performance caught the attention of Louis B. Mayer, chief executive of Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM), who brought her to Hollywood in 1925. She immediately stirred interest with her first silent film, Torrent, released in 1926; a year later, her performance in Flesh and the Devil, her third movie, made her an international superstar. With her first talking film, Anna Christie (1930), she received an Academy Award nomination. In 1941, she retired after appearing in twenty-seven films. Although she was offered many opportunities to return to the screen, she declined most of them. Instead, she lived a private life, shunning publicity.

The Artist is a real pleasure; propelled elegantly forward by delightful performances from Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo it is the most unlikely of feel-good movies. It subconsciously provides commentary on today’s cinema, about the fact that it is bombarded with horrible, ugly and bombastic sounds and we have forgotten how movies really used to sound. With this film, just sit back and enjoy the visuals.

Simon says The Artist receives:

Film Review: "Safe House" (2012).

"No One Is Safe" in Safe House. This South African-American action thriller film directed by Daniel Espinosa, and written by David Guggenheim. The film centres on a young CIA agent who is tasked with looking after a fugitive in a safe house. But when the safe house is attacked, he finds himself on the run with his charge.

Guggenheim's script was featured in the 2010 Blacklist; a list of the "most liked" unmade scripts of the year. Denzel Washington expressed interest and signed on to star. Thanks to a clause in the contract giving Washington director approval, Espinosa was hired to direct. Despite artistic differences between Espinosa and the producer Scott Stuber during filming, Espinosa couldn't be fired and was left to finish the film. Sam Worthington, Shia LaBeouf, Andrew Garfield, James McAvoy, Taylor Kitsch, Garrett Hedlund, Zac Efron, Channing Tatum, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tom Hardy, Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Pine were among those considered for the role of Matt Weston. Ultimately, Ryan Reynolds was cast. The film was originally set in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, but the production decided not to shoot there, due to security concerns. Filming instead took place in Capetown, South Africa; Paris, France; and Washington, District of Columbia. Washington was actually waterboarded during the filming of some of the torture scene, though only for a few seconds per take.

The film stars Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Rubén Blades, Robert Patrick, Liam Cunningham, and Joel Kinnaman. Reynolds is an action movie revelation as the in-over-his-head CIA agent; witnessing his comeuppance as his world collapses down around him. And, yes, that is Washington, the same and reliable star of Training Day (2001) and Déjà Vu (2006). Overall, the cast, like the film is an interesting one but somewhat sterile. There is little emotion from the characters and their upcoming deadly collision is inevitable.

A Hollywood-South African actioner in which a novice CIA agent and veteran operative goes on the run, only to learn - well, all the usual things (thieves fall out, cops crash the climactic action), but in a fizzy, and somewhat multicultural way. An adequate thriller that relies entirely on the characters' motivations to drive the plot instead of the opposite. Though, the story is overcooked and the gritty aesthetic (handheld cameras, desaturated colour) borders on cliche. The hand-held camerawork may be shaky, and the editing flit furiously - but Espinosa has them shaking and flitting on purpose. Espinosa crafts some wonderfully tense sequences from conventional tropes. Certainly, an accomplished screenplay and notable performances enhance the proceedings. With pounding synthesised music on the soundtrack, the film moves like a razor-edged Frisbee that could cut off a player's hand or sever his jugular if he doesn't see what's coming. Espinosa directs with nervous energy, combining blistering action with believable, sympathetic characters; this is assured, emotionally engaging stuff. There's plenty here to show why Espinosa caught Hollywood's eye, even if this action thriller holds very few surprises.

Simon says Safe House receives:

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Film Review: "Chronicle" (2012).

"Not all heroes are super." Which is what Chronicle brings to the genre. This found footage superhero science fiction thriller film directed by Josh Trank in his directorial debut, and written by Max Landis based on a story by both. It follows three Seattle high school seniors, bullied Andrew, his cousin Matt and more popular Steve, who form a bond after gaining telekinetic powers from an unknown object. They first use their abilities for mischief and personal gain until Andrew turns to darker purposes. The film is visually presented as found footage filmed from the perspective of various video recording devices. It primarily uses Andrew's hand-held camcorder to document the events of his life.

The film is written by Fear Itself writer Max Landis, from a story by him and Trank. Trank cited the films Akira (1988), Carrie (1976) and The Fury (1978) as influences on the film. The screenplay was featured in the 2010 Blacklist; a list of the "most liked" unmade scripts of the year. On a budget of $12 million, the film was shot primarily in Cape Town, South Africa with Film Afrika Worldwide, as well in Vancouver, Canada. Filming started in May 2011 and continued for eighteen weeks, ending in August 2011. Because the production took place mostly in South Africa, American vehicles had to be shipped in for the production for the film's climatic fight scene.  he film used the Arri Alexa video camera and and Angenieux Optimo and Cook s4 lenses to shoot the movie. Post Production techniques were used to give it a "found footage" look. To simulate Andrew's telekinetic camera angles, a cable cam rig was built to create the illusion of his camera levitating 120 feet into the air. The Arri Alexa camera was mounted on a skateboard to simulate Andrew's camera sliding across a floor. Stuntmen were suspended from crane wire rigs for flying scenes, with green screen special effects used for closeups of the actors.

The film stars Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan. The trio gave fine performances and each brought their unique flavours to the story. And each had their own emotional depth and bought realism to characters that would be normally one-dimensional of this genre. You also genuinely felt that these three are friends their chemistry was top-notch. Trank made DeHaan, Jordan, and Russell live in a house together for 15 days in order to create a genuine bond between the three.

A sort of Blair Witch Project crossed with superheroes, Chronicle is economically paced, stylistically clever, and filled with excitement. It is the most intense and original superhero feature I've seen in my moviegoing life, a pure-blood, grade A, exhilarating superhero movie. Trank's direction is whip-smart and stylistically invisible. This film presents the nearly subconscious evocation of our current paranoid, terror-phobic times. The key to the film's success is that telling the story through the lens of one character's camera and it works fantastically well. Surreptitiously subversive, a stylistically clever little gem. All in all, it is an effective film, deploying its special effects well and never breaking the illusion that it is all happening as we see it. It is an old-fashioned superhero movie dressed up in trendy new threads, with seamless special effects and a nihilistic attitude.

Simon says Chronicle receives:

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Film Review: "J. Edgar" (2011).

"The most powerful man in the world" is J. Edgar. This biographical drama film directed by Clint Eastwood, and written by Dustin Lance Black. The film centres on J. Edgar Hoover, who was the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for nearly 50 years. Hoover was feared, admired, reviled and revered, a man who could distort the truth as easily as he upheld it. His methods were at once ruthless and heroic, with the admiration of the world his most coveted prize. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life.

Born on January 1, 1895, John Edgar Hoover was an American law enforcement administrator turned the first Director of the FBI. In 1924, he was appointed as the director of the FBI's predecessor, the Bureau of Investigation, and was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director for another thirty-seven years until his death on May 2, 1972 at the age of seventy-seven. Hoover has been credited with building the FBI into a larger crime-fighting agency than it was at its inception and with instituting a number of modernizations to police technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories. In addition, Hoover became a controversial figure as evidence of his secretive abuses of power began to surface later in his life and after his death. He was found to have exceeded the jurisdiction of the FBI, and to have used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders, and to collect evidence using illegal methods. Hoover consequently amassed a great deal of power and was in a position to intimidate and threaten others, including sitting presidents of the United States.

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas, Judi Dench, Dermot Mulroney, and Ed Westwick. Strong performances were given by the cast, especially that of DiCaprio himself. DiCaprio nails the Washington drawl and makes a compelling portrait, elevating the film beyond ordinary. DiCaprio embodied the complex and controversial symbol of authority - the actor had transformed himself considerably and he definitely has charisma to spare and he carries the film with ease.

With J. Edgar, it is fitting, then, that such a quintessentially American director, who through his film personas has become something of a symbol of American authority and abuse of power, should be the one to so thoroughly deconstruct it on screen. There's nothing the least bit expressive or off-putting in Eastwood's lighting or framing. He understands classical film grammar and knows how to deploy it to maximum emotional effect. Black's attempts to dress up this schema in the gay trappings afforded by his subject do nothing to meaningfully pervert the form-or Hoover's complex and controversial psychology. This sturdy, yet simplistic film doesn't really probe the depths of the FBI Director who was known to not only abuse power by exceeding the FBI's jurisdiction, but also to harassed political dissenters and activists, amassed secret files on political leaders, and collected evidence using illegal methods.

Simon says J. Edgar receives: