Wednesday, 26 October 2011

***REVIEW: The Artist***

Dir.: Michel Hazanavicius
With: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman

I think I just found my new favourite film! And a new favourite actor!

At the moment ‘The Artist’ is triumphantly playing at various film festivals and my future husband, Jean Dujardin, won the best actor award at Cannes earlier this year and I think that the film will be nominated for an Oscar. There are plenty of reasons as to why.

This is one of the more daring films I have seen in the past few years – it’s silent! The director, Michel Hazanavicius has studied reels and reels of the silent era cinema to put together this love-letter to the early days of Hollywood. The story follows a very successful silent actor George Valentin in the years between 1927 and 1931 when “talkies” or sound films began their ascension. His unwillingness to follow this new direction results in his personal and professional demise. There is also a very touching love story between Valentin and Peppy Miller, an extra in some of his films.

Surprisingly, after about 5 minutes into the movie you completely forget that it is silent. The emotions, the story and the characters are so vibrant that the lack of conversation does not limit the film in any way. It is also highly humorous and I promise you, you will fall in love with Peppy, Valentin and his adorable dog Uggie. There are a number of great appearances by John Goodman, James Cromwell and others. I think one has to have a very expressive face to be able to star in a silent film - Bérénice Bejo is highly adept at that.

I am absolutely infatuated by Jean Dujardin and his brilliant moustache. Although he is known as a comedy actor in France, he successfully demonstrated his dramatic and dancing skills in this film. Also, this year’s most charming smile award goes to him (for the million-dollar smile that vanishes from his face when he hits hard times). Honestly, I cannot praise the film and the performances enough, it is so rare to see such a gem that has so much heart and soul and is not corny.

I watched ‘The Artist’ in Belgium, it is coming out in the States on 23 November and the UK release date has not been confirmed. It is also coming out in various European countries in the next few weeks. Go watch it!!! I can't wait to see it again.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

REVIEW: Contagion

Dir.: Steven Soderbergh
With: Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard

I think that ensemble casts are very dangerous. It is extremely difficult to make a movie with several intertwined plots and keep them entertaining throughout the film. That’s why I was really looking forward to seeing ‘Contagion’; I was hoping that Soderbergh would manage to achieve the impossible.

And the film does start with several brief yet gripping character introductions – we have Gwyneth Paltrow as a jet-setting wife, Matt Damon as her husband, Laurence Fishburne as a head of some sort of a medical facility, Kate Winslet as his employee and Jude Law as a conspiracy blogger. The thing that connects them all together is the outbreak of a new deadly virus MEV1 in Hong Kong.

‘Contagion’ has several highly unpleasant scenes especially the ones that show how the disease spreads from person to person (after watching this you’ll think twice before shaking someone’s hand again). However, after quite a powerful start, the movie begins to lose its intensity. Some storylines sag in the middle and need more development. I thought that Jude Law’s Australian accent was terrible as was his character to be honest.

I guess the film attempts to analyse various human reactions in the moment of global crisis but some of people’s motivations were very unrealistic I think (or at least the way they were presented was not persuasive enough). I feel like Soderbergh tried to cover too much ground in this film, it veered from thriller to mock documentary to disaster movie. Maybe it would have been better if he stuck to one genre only. It is still not clear to me what the main message of the film was – whilst being quite preachy and moralistic it also had some typically American disaster-movie moments that undermined the whole “documentary” feel of it. And despite the huge scale of the drama in the story, you don’t really get to see any real human tragedy. Additionally, the action takes place largely in China and the States – Africa and Latin America where the people would suffer the most presumably are not even shown. The ending does not provide any sense of closure/satisfaction and the movie fizzles out completely. 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

REVIEW: Sleeping Beauty

Dir.: Julia Leigh
With: Emily Browning, Rachael Blake

I was quite surprised to learn that this psycho-erotic drama was written and directed by a woman. As far as I am aware, previous films that dealt with similar topics were directed by men like Luis Buñuel and Stanley Kubrick. I thought that a woman’s touch would mean that ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was going to be an interesting exploration of sexual politics. Instead, what you get is a highly stylised work, which attempts to offer a fresh perspective on the psychology behind sexual perversion.

The child-like Emily Browning plays Lucy, a young university student who is struggling to make ends meet. She has several extremely dull part-time jobs and flatmates from hell. It is insinuated that she occasionally dabbles in prostitution. Her financial situation changes when she joins an exclusive escort service for wealthy elderly gentlemen with various interests, from bondage to necrophilia. Some of the scenes look like titillating Agent Provocateur photoshoots and it is certain that the film ends up glamourising fetishism. It offers an unforgiving look at the aged male body, especially when contrasted to Emily Browning's firm and smooth derriere. Also, she looked so young (could hardly walk in heels!) that I felt like a bit of a pedophile even watching her.

Lucy’s own history is unclear, she seems to have come from a troubled family, she does not have many friends and is generally isolated from society. At first she finds her new job rather absurd, however she slowly becomes obsessed with finding out what exactly goes on in this gentlemen’s club. Whilst I completely appreciate the difficulty of the emotional and physical stripping done by Ms Browning here, I cannot help but speculate about what made her think this was going to be a good role to try on. I felt that the character is underdeveloped and is almost impossible to relate to.

‘Sleeping Beauty’ is both disturbing and tiresome to watch. The lack of a soundtrack means that much of the film is in complete silence. There are a number of very graphic scenes that are designed to shock but the main message of the film is indistinct. It does poke fun at the older, more powerful men for using young women for personal retribution; however, the plot development fails to satisfy. The protagonist remains shrouded in mystery and her detachment from the real world makes it hard to take it all seriously. The film leaves you with an aftertaste from all the creepiness in it but fails to really shake things up. When you compare 'Sleeping Beauty' to Buñuel's 'Belle de Jour', the latter is a by far more enticing and memorable work even with less flesh on display.

Monday, 17 October 2011

REVIEW: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Dir.: Tomas Alfredson
With: Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth

I finally managed to go and watch it! Probably about a month after its release date – but better late than never, right?

There was always a lot of pressure on ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ – it is based on the famous novel by John le Carré, then there is the highly acclaimed BBC series with Alec Guinness in the title role and, of course, there is the all-star cast. If you look carefully, almost every single person in the film has recently appeared in something. It was actually rather distracting because instead of concentrating on the plot I was often trying to remember where I’d seen a particular actor or actress.

I’m aware that many people have complained that the plot was too complex to follow. I must heartily disagree. If you memorised the names of the main characters and paid attention to Smiley’s glasses (they told you whether a scene was a flashback or not), it really was not all that hard. In fact, it was most refreshing to watch such an intelligent thriller with a realistic and believable plot instead of having testosterone-fuelled oafs like Bond and Bourne run around trying to save the world. I say it was realistic because ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ managed to re-create the grim world of the 1970s secret service populated by bureaucratic men with synthetic shirts and receding hairlines. London appears as a run-down backdrop for an intricate chess game between the top echelons of MI6 and a mysterious Soviet puppeteer Karla.

Gary Oldman will surely get an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Smiley – a retired agent called back to uncover a Soviet mole. His performance is very subtle, here is a man who presumably had seen a lot in his life, including personal betrayal. He is tired and stiff in the neck, yet he retains his fierce intelligence and humanity. His right-hand man is Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), he is young and still has the integrity that the top officers seem to have lost in their years in service. To stray away from the topic slightly – Benedict Cumberbatch will provide the voice for Smaug in Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit’ – and what a damn fine voice he has! The rest of the cast did their job well too. The ending was not too much of a surprise if you kept your eyes peeled but then I think this story is more about Smiley's investigation rather than the denouement.

This film is an interesting study of the nature of secrets and the reasons behind hiding something in the shadows of one’s consciousness, be it romantic or professional. The agents all lead a double life to some extent – they either cheat on their wives or girlfriends, are closeted homosexuals or lie to their best friends and colleagues. My only criticism is that the movie was rather self-indulgent at times and certain scenes could have been a bit more dynamic, but then I guess, this was a way of showing the suffocating world of the Cold War-era intelligence and its apparatchiks on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

REVIEW: Johnny English Reborn

Dir.: Oliver Parker
With: Rowan Atkinson, Gillian Anderson

Firstly, a few words on the timing of my reviews. I started writing for my student newspaper, so I feel that  I should give them the priority of getting my reviews first. I'll publish the reviews (or extended versions of them) after they come out in print, which is every Thursday. Of course, if I write something extra it'll be here asap. Anyway, here's what I thought of Rowan Atkinson's latest work.

‘Johnny English Reborn’ did not really leave much of an impression on me. It follows exactly the same pattern as the first instalment and does not disappoint nor surprise. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I were a twelve-year-old boy – it is mostly a slapstick comedy aimed at family audiences. In retrospect, it does meet the audience’s demands quite well.

Rowan Atkinson is back in this familiar role as the hapless spy Johnny English –a more masculine version of Mr Bean in a better suit but with identical mannerisms. The film centres on Johnny’s return to London after some years spent in a Tibetan monastery, learning The Way. Gillian Anderson plays his new boss who makes it very obvious that she does not think highly of him and his abilities. Rosamund Pike gives a straight-faced performance as a super-psychiatrist who is also the only person who seems to like Johnny English and his archaic manners.

It is fairly clear that this film originated as a spoof of James Bond. I am not entirely sure why it needed to be done again after ‘Austin Powers’. ‘Johnny English Reborn’ does have a few scenes set in very “Bondian” locations like a casino, underground laboratory and aboard a plane. However, it is not enough to simply copy-paste the styling of the Bond franchise; what’s lacking is the actual parody. Perhaps, if a different actor played Johnny then the film would have had more of an original feel. Rowan Atkinson’s presence, although commercially dictated, places the film on the same footing as the Mr Bean movies, both condemned by the critics.

Having said all this, there were a couple of funny moments in the film but I could not shake off the feeling that I have seen this all before in Mr Bean.

Monday, 3 October 2011


Dir.: Nicolas Winding Refn
With: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan

I had high hopes for this movie and I wasn’t completely disappointed. This is a very conscientious take on the LA noir genre. “Drive” could have easily been set in the 60s, 70s or 80s – the main character with no name seems to bear not just a fleeting resemblance to Steve McQueen in his denim outfit and driving gloves. The story revolves around Driver, played by Ryan Gosling, who is a very talented…well…driver. His day jobs include working as a mechanic at a garage and as a stuntmen in action films. At night he operates as a get-away driver for armed robberies. He never carries a gun and his only rule is that he gives exactly 5 minutes of his skill to the robbers; during the 5 minutes he delivers them to safety.

The first half of the film was particularly enjoyable – it has a certain visual flare that reminded me of some Tarantino films. Ryan Gosling, whom I haven’t seen since “The Notebook” delivers an amazing performance. He is extremely composed and tranquil for most of the film, yet there is a quiet intensity about him and he gives us just enough of facial expressions to guess what could be lurking beneath the reserved exterior. I loved the contrast between his apparent stillness and the passion of his driving. He barely opens his mouth to speak – the enigma is almost ruined when you do hear him talk, he has an almost comical, womanly, nasal voice. His slick, uniformed silhouette is so painfully cool that you almost want to be like him. His movements are minimal yet very graceful. He has a curious moral code and seems to follow it to the fullest when he encounters Irene (Carey Mulligan), his single-mum neighbour. Driver's feelings for her are quiet and unassuming.

I was thoroughly enjoying the central performances, the visual style and the fabulous soundtrack by Kavinsky (it really reflected the pulsating underbelly of LA and the sounds of a revving engine) up until the story took a 90-degree turn and became a violent story of revenge. The holes in the plot were so apparent that my appreciation of the film was somewhat dampened. I did like the unflinching take on the violence in it - hammers, face-smashing et al, but the plot development was not great.

There was one cameo that stood out the most – Christina Hendricks from Mad Men has a short but very memorable part as a petty criminal, and as unusual as it was to see her in modern clothes, she managed to convey all the emotions of her character in a few strong scenes.

Having said all this, it is really Ryan Gosling who holds the movie together. He has visibly matured since his notebooking days. Unlike many other actors of his generation he continues to make independent films with interesting scripts and I very much look forward to “The Ides of March” with him and a certain Mr Clooney.

Do not watch the trailer for “Drive”, it tells you the whole story. Instead, listen to some Kavinsky!