Thursday, 29 August 2013

Film Review: "Stoker" (2013)

" My ears hear what others cannot hear; small faraway things people cannot normally see are visible to me. These senses are the fruits of a lifetime of longing, longing to be rescued, to be completed. Just as the skirt needs the wind to billow, I'm not formed by things that are of myself alone. I wear my father's belt tied around my mother's blouse, and shoes which are from my uncle. This is me. Just as a flower does not choose its color, we are not responsible for what we have come to be. Only once you realize this do you become free, and to become adult is to become free.” Which sums what this rather unusual film from the director of Oldboy called Stoker. This British-American psychological thriller film directed by Park Chan-wook, his English-language debut, and written by Wentworth Miller, star of Prison Break. The story follows After India's father dies, her Uncle Charlie, who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother. She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him.

Wentworth Miller, mostly known as an actor on shows such as Prison Break, wrote the screenplay for Stoker, as well as a prequel, Uncle Charlie. He used the pseudonym Ted Foulke for submitting his work, later explaining "I just wanted the scripts to sink or swim on their own." Miller's script was voted to the 2010 "Black List" of the 10 best unproduced screenplays then making the rounds in Hollywood. Miller described it as a "horror film, a family drama and a psychological thriller." Although influenced by Bram Stoker's Dracula, Miller clarified that Stoker was "not about vampires. It was never meant to be about vampires but it is a horror story. A stoker is one who stokes, which also ties in nicely with the narrative." Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) also influenced the film. Miller said: "The jumping-off point is actually Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. So, that's where we begin, and then we take it in a very, very different direction." There are a number of Hitchcock's themes, plot devices and motifs used within it. Both Matthew Goode's character and Joseph Cotten's character in Shadow of a Doubt share the name "Uncle Charlie", as well as Hitchcock's use of the likeable criminal. The complexly intertwined relationship that develops between Uncle Charlie and India also references Hitchcock's use of the double with the young Charlie and Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt. Many of Uncle Charlie and India's key interactions occur on a staircase, which is a Hitchcock motif also used in Shadow of a Doubt. There is a pivotal scene in Stoker that takes place near a train track and the rumbling train makes an aural intrusion, which plays into Hitchcock's use of trains as a sexual euphemism.

The film marked director Park Chan-wook's English-language debut. In January 2011, it was reported that Mia Wasikowska was in negotiations to play India, and in February, Nicole Kidman also entered negotiations to join the cast. In June, it was reported that Matthew Goode was in talks to play Charlie, after Colin Firth, who was attached earlier, had to drop out. Jacki Weaver, Lucas Till, Alden Ehrenreich, and Dermot Mulroney joined the cast in July and August 2011. Filming took 40 days beginning in Nashville, Tennessee, in September 2011. The motel scenes were filmed in nearby Murfreesboro on September 22, and additional scenes were shot in Sewanee, home of the University of the South. Principal photography wrapped on October 23.

The film stared Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, and Nicole Kidman. Wasikowska gave a brilliant performance as the film's psychologically disturbed heroine India. Her performance combined Hitchcock's psychological characterization of female characters (whether heroine or victim or villain) and Burton's coming-of-age freak-out that she obtained through her previous work in Alice in Wonderland (2010). Kidman is at her finest as a disinterested mother. She shows fear and disdain in the most subtle ways, never overplaying a character that could turn into a campy arch villain with just the tiniest bit of scene-chewing. And Goode is the most menacing of all. The malevolent force that hides behind the facade not only of normalcy but of something attractive that you know is incredibly dangerous.

Hideously grim, and oddly beautiful, Stoker is a beguiling mix of the generic and the unfamiliar, and it ends on a shot that's nothing short of striking. Park prizes craftsmanship over bargain-bin schlock. It's an odd testament to his spiritedness that, despite the coldblooded killing and trail of the dead, the film feels warmly suffused with life. It is a worthy new start to an incredible career to a director who established himself as the new light in Asian cinema. There's a genuine sophistication, both technically and thematically, to what Park is doing in this film. Park forces us to consider a world where good intentions go awry, decent people do bad things, and fate deals cruel cards. But even at its darkest moments, the film finds surprising and heartbreaking shreds of humanity. Executed with style and it sets up a situation that provides some food for thought. Almost every scene contains something surprising, even startling -- we feel as if Park is searching for a new way of seeing. However, it's not a new idea, that violence and horror is in all of us. But it's one worth relearning. In addition, the film isn't for everyone, but it offers a breath of fresh air to anyone gasping on the fumes of too many traditional Hollywood thrillers. To conclude, it’s extremely well-written and keeps all its cards hidden until just the right point to play each one. Oh, you might not like where it goes, but if you can appreciate artistic merit in your varied cinematic entertainment, then grow into it. It's another triumph from one of the world's best new filmmakers, and it is not to be missed.

Simon says Stoker receives:

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Film Review: "RED 2" (2013).

"They're ex-CIA, but they're back in action" in RED 2. This action comedy film directed by Dean Parisot, written by Jon and Erich Hoeber, and based on the limited comic book series of the same name. It is the sequel to RED (2010). Frank Moses, a retired CIA agent, is approached by his colleague, Marvin Boggs, who wants him to track down a nuclear weapon that was smuggled into Russia.

In January 2011, after RED's success, Summit Entertainment hired Jon and Erich Hoeber to write a second installment. In October, Summit announced that the film was set for an August 2, 2013 release date and the film would "reunite the team of retired CIA operatives with some new friends as they use their 'old-school style' to take on new enemies in Europe." In February 2012, Parisot was hired to direct. In August 2012, it was announced that Red 2 would film in Montréal, Québec, Canada beginning in September. The city was selected because of a twenty-five percent tax credit offered by the province and because of its resemblance to European cities. By mid September, Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, and Helen Mirren returned to reprise their roles, with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lee Byung-hun, Anthony Hopkins, Brian Cox, David Thewlis, Neal McDonough, Steven Berkoff, and Titus Welliver as newcomers. Ernest Borgnine hoped he'd be around to reprise his role as Henry the records keeper in a sequel. In April 2012, in an interview, he mentioned there was talk about it over the years, and made one request to the producers; "I told them if they do it, I want to carry a gun this time." He kept in touch with screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber and would have had a major role in an early scene. However, when Borgnine passed away in July 2012, three months prior to the start of production, his scenes were re-written and featured an uncredited Titus Welliver. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and took place throughout London, England and Paris, France. In March 2013, Summit moved the film's release date to July 19, 2013.

The film stars Willis, Malkovich, Parker, and Mirren reprising their roles, with Zeta-Jones, Lee, Hopkins, Cox, Thewlis, McDonough, Berkoff, and Welliver. Well, while I'm sure the cast had fun phoning in their performances - I hope they've destroyed the records - I can't help wishing they were all doing something more interesting. They're old(er) and wise and well-preserved. They're kicking ass and taking names and blowing up the world along the way.

Enjoyable, but disappointingly tame compared to its ferocious predecessor. RED 2 is disposable. The movies that many of these guys made in the 1970s, '80s and '90s were bulletproof some of but this is a cynical exercise in settling for what is expected to be passable. Those hoping for a deeper, smarter, or more polished piece of action cinema: Sorry, but this franchise has pretty much established it isn't about that. However, the film is just entertaining enough to permit a third film. If only these steroids-packing seniors can coordinate schedules again.

Simon says RED 2 receives:

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Film Review: "Elysium" (2013).

"There's nothing left down here. They have it all on Elysium, food, water, medicine, and they'll do anything to keep us out. It's time to change everything." This is what Elysium brings this summer. This science fiction action thriller film written, co-produced and directed by Neill Blomkamp. Set in the year 2154, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Secretary Rhodes, a government official, will stop at nothing to enforce anti-immigration laws and preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium. However, unlucky Max agrees to take on a daunting mission that if successful will not only save his life, but could bring equality to these polarized worlds.

Although set in 2154, Elysium's director argues that it is a comment on the contemporary human condition. "Everybody wants to ask me lately about my predictions for the future," the director said, "No, no, no. This isn't science fiction. This is today. This is now." James Kirkpatrick from VDARE considers Elysium a parable about the devastating impact of Latin American mass immigration on Anglo-America. Matt Damon is the last Anglo in Los Angeles, an overcrowded Mexican slum city with no sense of identity or civic unity. The – mostly white – wealthy people have fled the earth to establish another home in space, but are finally overrun a second time by illegal Third World migrants after Damon dismantles their security system. For Steve Sailer dystopian Elysium is "another Malthusian tale about open borders" and its catastrophic effects on civilization, whereas the rich in their carefree, gated "Beverly Hills" space community profit from the collapse of the borders on earth. For the film's titular space-station Elysium, Neill Blomkamp and Ivery consulted with NASA scientists and engineers to see if the man-made space station in the movie was possible? It turns out that NASA has been experimenting with a spinning ring that would create its own gravity field.

The film stars Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura and William Fichtner. The performances in this film were extraordinarily complex and portrayed. Damon was never better as he returned to his action-orienated chair since his Bourne films (2002-7) and his Ocean's trilogy (2001-7). Foster, as always, gave a intelligently delivered performance as one of the film's main antagonists. Braga gave a great performance even though I felt her chemistry with Damon did not win my heart. Luna gave a great performance since I last saw him in The Terminal (2004). Mourna gave a brilliant performance in his first English speaking role. Lastly, Fichtner gave a great small performance in contrast to his rather disappointing performance in The Lone Ranger (2013).

After the heady sci-fi thrills of District 9 (2009), Elysium (2013) is a bit of a letdown for director Neill Blomkamp, but on its own terms, it delivers just barely enough to satisfy.

Simon says Elysium receives:

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

NZIFF Film Review: "To the Wonder" (2012).

From the director of The Tree of Life comes To the Wonder. This experimental romantic drama film written and directed by Terrence Malick. Neil reconnects with a childhood sweetheart after problems arise in his relationship with the Frenchwoman he brought home to Oklahoma with him.

As with The Tree of Life, the film's conception and plot stem from autobiographical elements: Malick met his second wife Michèle Morette in Paris in the early 1980s, and the couple lived in Oklahoma for a period prior to their separation. By March 2011, Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams, and Javier Bardem were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in May. Filming took place in Paris and Manche, France, as well as Bartlesville, Pawhuska, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Malick and his crew adopted an experimental approach. There was no script that was used during filming. Malick would give the actors pages of thoughts and independent lines every morning and he would ask them to play the emotions without speaking, just with their body. Kurylenko described the shooting process as more like a dance performance than traditional acting. Likewise, cinematographer on the film, Emmanuel Lubezki, was given instructions to be "in the eye of the hurricane" — in the middle of a scene, constantly interacting with the characters. Lubezki called the film "abstract", and described it as being less tied to theatrical conventions and more purely cinematic than any prior film directed by Malick. Malick handed out works of literature to his editing team for inspiration, such as Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Walker Percy's The Moviegoer. Also referenced to his editors was a phrase found in Margaret A. Doody’s introduction to Samuel Richardson’s 1740 novel Pamela. The phrase "radiant zigzag becoming", became an unofficial motto for the film's editing team during post-production. Also referenced during the editing of the film were the French New Wave films Jules and Jim by Truffaut and Godard's Breathless, Pierrot le Fou, and Vivre Sa Vie. They were chosen for their elliptical narrative and editing styles which Malick hoped his editing team would embrace.

The film stars Affleck, Kurylenko, McAdams, and Bardem. The cast and their performances are slightly disappointing. Their voiceovers only offers empty platitudes and their characters are human and endearing but ultimately quite boring.

As visually sumptuous as it is narratively spartan, Malick's To the Wonder echoes elements of the writer-director's recent work - for better and for worse. The film was rather incoherent, disconnected, self-interrupting, obsessed with pointless minutiae and crammed full of odd, limp stabs at profundity. You’ll find yourself searching in the margins of each shot for something or someone tangible to grasp onto. I don't believe that the Austin-based filmmaker has ever made a bad, but it is the first Malick film I’ve watched where the dots never came together to form a legible image. Compared to Malick's body of work, the film suffers from the lack of rhetorical connective tissue that would further connect to Malick's themes as well as better characterizations, due to the film's highly chaotic nature.

Simon says To the Wonder receives:

Also, see my reviews for The Tree of Life and The Cameraman.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Film Review: "Pain & Gain" (2013).

"Their American Dream Is Bigger Than Yours" This is the sad truth with Pain & Gain. This comedy crime film directed by Michael Bay. The film is loosely based on a story Pete Collins published in a 1999 series of Miami New Times articles and compiled in the book Pain & Gain: This is a True Story, which details the kidnapping, extortion, torture, and murder of several victims by an organized group of criminals comprising bodybuilders affiliated with the Sun Gym.

Michael Bay had been wanting to make this film since 2000. But first announced the film after the release of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009). However, He delayed doing so multiple times in favor of the Transformers sequels. He specifically said he wanted to make a small inexpensive film as a change of pace. Bay stated he wanted to do Pain & Gain between the second and third Transformers films. The project was put on hold when Paramount gave the third film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, a 2011 release date. Bay became interested in the project due to the fact that the home of Frank Griga belongs to Bay. It is also the former Miami home of Hulk Hogan. In February 2012, it was confirmed that the budget for the film would be $26 million and was to be funded by Paramount Pictures as part of a two-picture deal with Bay, making it the cheapest film he has ever directed, since his first feature film Bad Boys (1995), thanks in part to Bay, Johnson, and Wahlberg not taking salaries. They instead signed on in exchange for back ends on the film's profits.

The film stars Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rebel Wilson and Ken Jeong. The cast were hopeless from start to finish. They themselves filled with nothing but "manly" silliness and just pure Michael Bay testosterone that is a hallmark of all his films. The only commitment that the actors have made to their on-screen counterparts was to bulk up to hulking masses. For his role as a body builder, Wahlberg bulked up to 212 pounds for this film. Wahlberg was in the process of trying out supplements for his own line of body-building products while bulking up for his movie. So he said he effectively got a body-builder physique by using his own products. Bay also wanted Mark Wahlberg to be as tan as possible. So Wahlberg, throughout filming, had to get a full-body fake tan every week for the movie. Mark Wahlberg said that his sons loved the enormous, muscular, body-builder physique that he was sporting during filming, but his daughters hated it. Johnson bulked up to nearly 300 pounds for his role. Anthony Mackie put on 17 pounds of muscle for the role and bulked up to 213 pounds. He had only 3 weeks to train before filming began.

Pain & Gain may star Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson, and may be directed by Michael Bay; unfortunately, both leads are just nothing but new wine in old bottles. And director Bay too often drowns it out with set pieces and mindless Americana in place of an actual story. Whenever a movie like this starts to drag, there's always one infallible solution; have mindless action and then have good-looking people to distract the audience.

Simon says Pain & Gain receives:

Also, see my review for Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Film Review: "Only God Forgives" (2013).

The film’s tagline reads "Time to Meet The Devil", which is what Only God Forgives is all bout. This French-Danish co-production crime thriller film written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. The film follows ten years later after Julian killed a man and went on the run. Now Julian, a drug-smuggler and manages a Thai boxing club in Bangkok's criminal underworld, deep inside, he feels empty. But then sees his life get even more complicated when his brother murders an underage prostitute, the police call on retired cop Chang - the Angel of Vengeance. Also his mother, Crystal - the head of a powerful criminal organization, arrives in Bangkok to collect her son's body and dispatches Julian to find and kill his killers and 'raise hell'.

The film stars Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm and, introducing, Rhatha Phongam (Yaya-Ying) in her first major English language film. The performances in this film were somewhat poorly acted, as well as lacked general common sense and good characterization. Gosling's performance was intense but was filled with unnecessary moral and character-based ambiguities. Scott Thomas was just absolutely depressing and dull. Her character was not the least bit interesting nor was she empathetic. Pansringarm's performance was also intense and dangerously silent as Gosling's performance. But it lacked the general characterization that was needed for the villain and his motivations. Lastly, Phongma's performance was absolutely unnecessary and pointless. She was a supporting character that had the least amount of lines, lacked the most amount of basic general characterization and the most amount of common sense. I felt she was 'all-show' for the men to come into the theaters. Especially in her sexually explicit scenes (including her scene when she had to abruptly and randomly strip in front of Gosling's character).

Rather in the manner of Alejandro Jodorowsky, whose self-conscious conflation of the roles of charlatan and ringmaster of the unconscious Refn apes, Only God Forgives is a breathtaking concoction of often striking, but more often ludicrous, images. The result is a movie that, though it impressed some, in retrospect is clearly a minor, albeit often very confusing work. There's not enough art to justify the sickening reality of Refn's artistic method. The meaning of the film is not to be found in the mystical camouflage of the ambiguous and stoic nature (for what, one wonders? Evidently self-agrandizement rather than the well-being of his congregation of the deformed), but in the picturesque horrors and humiliations. They're all there, in a movie that is all guts (quite literally) but that has no body to give the guts particular shape or function. Under the influence, the film becomes a violent, would-be erotic freakshow, and that, I suppose, can be very heavy. For others, it is enough to make one yawn. However, on first blush it might seem no more than a violent surreal fantasy, a work of fabulous but probably deranged imagination. Surreal and crazy it may be, but it is also (one realizes the second time through) as fully considered and ordered as fine clockwork.

Simon says Only God Forgives receives:

Monday, 5 August 2013

NZIFF Classic Film Review: "The Cameraman" (1928).

"Buster has a camera, but what he doesn't know about it would make even the little birdie laugh!" This is The Cameraman. This 1928 American silent comedy film directed by Edward Sedgwick and Buster Keaton, who was uncredited. In this silent classic, photographer Buster meets Sally, who works as a secretary for the newsreel department at MGM, and falls hard. Trying to win her attention, Buster abandons photography in order to become a news cameraman. In spite of his early failures with a motion camera, Sally takes to him as well. However, veteran cameraman Stagg also fancies Sally, meaning Buster will need to learn how to film quickly before he loses his job.

In late January 1928, Keaton signed a two-year deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The deal required two films per year from Keaton and paid him $3,000 a week, making him the third highest-paid actor at the studio. Keaton brought most of his own crew with him from his own independent production company. He immediately pitched the idea for The Cameraman to MGM, who paid him $1,250 for it.  According to Keaton, twenty-two writers were assigned to work on the script before and during production, but Keaton convinced MGM's head of production Irving Thalberg to throw out the script and allow him to film it his own way. On his previous films, only three or four gag writers were the norm. MGM countered that only five writers had worked on the film. The film was then overseen by producer Lawrence Weingarten. Weingarten and Keaton fought on set and Weingarten called Keaton a child. According to Rudi Blesh's biography of Keaton, he came on the set the first day of shooting and, unaware of his reduced status as actor-only, began to "feel" for comedy bits and request props and characters, as he had with his own company. Sedgwick took him aside and told Keaton that he was undermining his directorial authority. Buster genuinely apologized and faded into the background. Sedgwick couldn't get the set-ups he wanted, couldn't get the actors to understand his direction, and eventually gave up and asked Buster to take over. As quietly as he had left, Buster regained control of the scene. Buster began to call Sedgwick "Junior" and they became fast friends. Thalberg loved the finished film and laughed during screenings of its rushes, a rare display of emotion from Thalberg. However, at the studio's insistence, Keaton's original ending with him smiling was replaced with the current ending after it received negative reactions when it was previewed. Keaton was accustomed to complete control over his own productions and was unaccustomed to interference from producers. MGM would take away Keaton's creative control over his pictures, thereby causing drastic and long-lasting harm to his career. Keaton was later to call the move to MGM "the worst mistake of my life." This film was used for many years by MGM as an example of a perfect comedy. The studio would get all its directors and producers to watch it and learn. Only two scenes were improvised on the spot by Keaton. The Cameraman would later serve as inspiration for part of the 1950 comedy Watch the Birdie, starring Red Skelton, with Keaton working as a gagman for MGM and serving as an advisor to Skelton. The film was almost lost forever. The master copy of it used today was made using a print that was found in Paris, in 1968, and a master positive copy of nearly the entire film, found in 1991. In modern copies of the film, the quality of the image varies dramatically; the scenes with best quality were obtained from the material found in 1991. It is now considered to be Keaton still in top form by fans and critics alike, and it was added to the National Film Registry in 2005 as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." It is also included among the American Film Institute's 2000 list of the 500 movies nominated for the Top 100 Funniest American Movies.

The picture stars Keaton, Marceline Day, Harold Goodwin, Sidney Bracey, and Harry Gribbon. With very little words obviously, the cast gave remarkable and mind-blowing performances, especially from Keaton, who were able to convey so much through their faces and bodies, especially for Keaton. The featured gags are as much artful exercises in stuntwork and timing as they are orchestrated attempts at humor, and the fact that they work so well as both is testament to Keaton's brilliance as a filmmaker and performer. Keaton has great sight gags and goes to amazing ends to get the thrills he wants. In these times when all risk is assumed by CGI effects, Keaton's squealing funny, exquisitely timed, death-defying leaps are all the more breathtaking. There was only one Buster Keaton, and this film is his swansong.

Not just one of the greatest films of the silent period, but of all time, and arguably the greatest comedy ever made. The Cameraman explores man's tumultuous relationship with technology through the propulsive images and rushing emotion available only to the advents of cinema. The film boasts the most sustained passages of virtuoso slapstick genius Keaton ever shot, and an unflagging momentum that lets it get away with being a reel longer than most of his best-known pictures. It is the highlight of his career's tragicomic performances, featuring not just the awe-inspiring stunts that were his bread and butter, but also a level of fluidity only he and Chaplin attained at the top of their games. Spectacular performances, whether dramatic, comedic and/or stunt-wise, are captured with fluid camerawork. There are no stunt doubles for Keaton and of course no digital effects. A jaw-plunging blend of physical dexterity and bravura moviemaking. A thrilling and hilarious comedy. Among the finest comedies of all time, it wears its greatness lightly, and one of Keaton's most hilarious and most popular comedies. This is a silent film worth making a noise about. A Silent masterpiece is entertainment for all ages.

Simon says The Cameraman receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for The Dance of Reality (La Danza de la Realidad).

Sunday, 4 August 2013

NZIFF Film Review: "The Dance of Reality" ("La Danza de la Realidad") (2013).

From the director of El Topo and The Holy Mountain comes The Dance of Reality (La Danza de la Realidad). This Chilean-French semi-autobiographical musical fantasy drama film written, produced, and directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky presents a fanciful interpretation of his childhood, set against Chile's turbulent social and political environment.

The film marks Jorodowsky's first film in twenty-three years. In early 2011, Jodorowsky scouted for locations at his childhood village in Chile. Jodorowsky received permission from the local Chilean government to shoot in the coming spring. In late August, he held a forum with the locals to discuss his vision for the film. By June 2012, Jodorowsky, as well as his sons Brontis, Adán, and Cristóbal, grandson Jeremías Herskovits, Pamela Flores, Bastián Bodenhöfer, and Andrés Cox were cast. At the same time, with a budget of $3 million, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in August 2013. Filming took place in Tocopilla in the Antofagasta Region, in the north of Chile. The film was shot digitally, on the Red Epic camera with Angenieux Optimo Lenses, the first for Jodorowsky. In January 2013, Brontis stated that the film was in post-production and would be finished by March, saying the film is "very different from the other films that he made". The film blends Jodorowsky's personal history with metaphor, mythology and poetry, reflecting the director's view that reality is not objective but rather a "dance" created by our imaginations. Jodorowsky has expressed his ambivalence towards the film industry and its focus on making money and claimed he did not want to "make money but rather lose money" in the making of this film, asking for it to be funded purely through donations.

The film stars Jodorowsky, as well as his sons Brontis, Adán, and Cristóbal, grandson Jeremías Herskovits, Pamela Flores, Bastián Bodenhöfer, and Andrés Cox. The cast has ample affection for outcasts and much to say about religious hypocrisy. A surreal circus of invention, pretension and astonishment that, like many carnivals, touts the talents of its performers but knows most customers came to gawk at the freaks.

While it's not especially easy viewing, and unquestionably not for all tastes, The Dance of Reality is exhilarating, challenging, enigmatic and distressing, but entirely rewarding and entertaining. Whether or not this is the most accessible of Jodorowsky's films, it is certainly the most accessible "Jodorowksy film," a vision filled with circus imagery, surreal scenes, and grotesque violence. Drawing on his training in mime and his fascination with Gnosticism, Jodorowsky converted a story about his early life into a grand work of art, full of symbols and imagery that reach beyond language to something primal and original. What's probably most amazing about the film is that most of it works, and almost never does it feel like it's being unsettling just for the sake of it. A trip that was calculated carefully, the near constant use of slightly off-key circus music adding to its hypnotic quality. More extravagant, but less controlled than his infamous allegorical western, El Topo (1970).

Simon says The Dance of Reality (La Danza de la Realidad) receives:

Also, see my NZIFF review for Much Ado About Nothing.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

NZIFF Film Review: "Much Ado About Nothing" (2012).

"An awful lot of fun", which is what you’re in for with Much Ado About Nothing. This independent romantic comedy film adapted for the screen, produced, and directed by Joss Whedon, from William Shakespeare's play of the same name. It is a modern retelling of Shakespeare's classic comedy.

Much Ado About Nothing is a comedic play by William Shakespeare thought to have been written in 1598 and 1599, as Shakespeare was approaching the middle of his career. The play was included in the First Folio, published in 1623. Much Ado About Nothing is generally considered one of Shakespeare’s best comedies, because it combines elements of robust hilarity with more serious meditations on honor, shame, and court politics. Much Ado About Nothing, though interspersed with darker concerns, is a joyful comedy that ends with multiple marriages and no deaths.

Principal photography started mid-October 2011, and took place at Joss Whedon's residence, in Santa Monica, California. On the choice of location, he told Studio 360, "First of all, my wife built that house. And I knew from the moment I set foot in it that I would want to film something there. Because it's all in one place, that place informs the mood and the feeling and the look of the picture so much, and I was really already comfortable with that". It was filmed entirely in a black-and-white palette over a period of 12 days. Whedon shot it while on a contractual vacation from the post-production of The Avengers (2012). The cast and crew were informed to keep the project a secret until production was finished. Shooting wrapped on October 23, 2011. Whedon explained his initial interest in the project, saying: I fixated on this notion that our ideas of romantic love are created for us by the society around us, and then escape from that is grown-up love, is marriage, is mature love, to escape the ideals of love that we’re supposed to follow. He elaborated on that sentiment, and said "It’s a very cynically romantic text about love, and how we behave, and how we’re expected to behave. It’s a party, but there’s something darker there as well".

The film stars Amy Acker as Beatrice, Alexis Denisof as Benedick, Nathan Fillion as Dogberry, Clark Gregg as Leonato, Reed Diamond as Don Pedro, Fran Kranz as Claudio, Sean Maher as Don John, Jillian Morgese as Hero, Spencer Treat Clark as Borachio, Riki Lindhome as Conrade and Ashley Johnson as Margaret. The performances were fantastic in this film and Whedon's finest collection of performances yet. They had the right mix of drama and comedy all at once. Acker gave a strong performance as Beatrice. Denisof gave a witty and 'cocky' performance as Benedick. Fillion gave a humorous performance. Gregg gave a great performance as Leonato. Diamond gave a great performance as Don Pedro. Kranz gave a emotionally fantastic performance as Claudio. Maher gave a great, cold performance as Don John. Finally, Morgese gave a wonderful performance, in her debut film.

Cheerful from beginning to end, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is a ravishing piece of entertainment. Whedon has, once again, blown away the movie-going public after his triumphant success of The Avengers (2012). This film cements Whedon's status as a great director of Shakespeare, and perhaps of film in general, as well.

Simon says Much Ado About Nothing receives:

Friday, 2 August 2013

NZIFF Film Review: "I'm So Excited!" ("Los amantes pasajeros") (2013).

From the director of All About My Mother and The Skin I Live In comes I'm So Excited! (Los amantes pasajeros). This Spanish comedy film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. A Spanish flight headed for Mexico runs into technical difficulties. The crew decide to drug everyone in economy class and devote themselves to cheering up the small group of passengers in business class, and themselves, by all available means.

With a budget of €5 million, the film was financed entirely by pre-sales. By early July 2012, Javier Cámara, Antonio de la Torre, Raúl Arévalo, Carlos Areces, Lola Dueñas, Cecilia Roth, Blanca Suárez, with Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, and Paz Vega were cast. At the same time, principal photography commenced, and wrapped in early September. Filming took pace at the decommissioned Ciudad Real Central Airport in Madrid, as well as Castilla-La Mancha, Spain

The film stars Cámara, de la Torre, Arévalo, Areces, Dueñas, Roth, Suárez, with Banderas, Cruz, and Vega. The film is playful fun thanks to the ensemble cast who delivered. All the actors were superb and gave superb performances. The cast slinks devilishly (and expertly) between farce, absurdism and tragedy.

I'm So Excited is a film whose overwhelming liveliness provides an enthusiastic, ebullient rebuke to the despair of its characters. The film's colour scheme is like a makeup counter display, and the narrative has the same sort of spirit, with dabs of humour that gloss over or disrupt the heroine's grief. An ensemble comedy with real bite; it always brings down the house. The film is the gold standard for Almodovar's screwball farces. It is an exuberant comedy of manners drunk on its own outlandish dark comedy drama. The film is a great addition to Almodvar's world and a great introduction for a new generation of Almodovar fans. In the film, Almodovar sets out to charm rather than shock. That he succeeds should not come as a surprise. It is probably Almodovar's most completely accessible film - certainly it's one of his funniest and most popular works. Almodovar's funky widescreen style is captivating, but his madcap story is maddeningly devoid of seriousness. The film doesn't exactly feel like a farce, even though that's quite obviously what it is. It is even wackier than Almodovar's other films -- it also just happens to be more universal. However, when Almodóvar attempts a plot the film becomes tedious. It is a somewhat harsh critique of a Spanish culture that dooms women to indentured servitude. Almodóvar's films have an admirable newness and originality that shouldn't be ignored. The film shows off the bright, gaudy visual style, the breezy manner and the exuberant energy that are Almodovar's particular virtues. Almodovar has already learned how to pull off such a difficult act, by treating the potentially offensive with such cartoonish abandon that it becomes ridiculous to take offense. This new cinematic effort from Spain's enfant terrible is amateurish in both the positive and negative senses of the term, but it already shows his penchant for shock and provocation.

Simon says I'm So Excited! (Los amantes pasajeros) receives:

Also, see my reviews for The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito) and The Crowd.