medium close up film blog

Detachment (2012) Dir. Tony Kaye

5/10

There is a really good film somewhere here. Unfortunately, a lot of that film seems to have hit the cutting room floor. The cast is so good, all fantastic actors and they do all perform, but there is so much missing that monologues and climaxis seems of many of the supporting characters seem out of nowhere because there hasn’t been much to build it up on. This unfortunately reduces a lot these high dramatic scenes to questionable, jarring scenarios. An example being Lucy Lui’s breakdown, but although many other characters may have been shown feeling the strain, hers wasn’t. And Bryan Cranston is in the final cut of the film for about 2 minutes, literally. I think Tony Kaye tried to keep the ensemble cast balanced as background leaving Brody to shine, but in doing so, leaves only Adrian Brody to shine briefly.

I think this film would have worked so well if Tony Kaye was as brave a director as Sion Sono and decided to screw convention and make this film 4 hours long to give dedicated time and effort to all the supporting cast, because all of them were great characters that did not have the time they deserved. He could have done that or he could have just stayed out of the editing room and got in a proper editor. It is a shame, still there is enough interesting things going on to keep you watching and to an extent engaged, even if it is at time incoherent. 

Warrior (2011) Dir. Gavin O’Connor

4/10

I heard alot of critical praise about this film and it was recommended to me very highly by a friend but I did not see the same film they did. Yes the performances are real good and yes its directed pretty damn well. The script is okay, but it isn’t great which unfortunately has to be if you are going use a formula that has been worked a dozen times for a dozen sports dramas. Firstly, the main change to this formulae is putting two protagonists and bouncing your support between them, which sounds good, but it doesn”t pull it off because you can’t give enough time to build each characters back-story to get a real sense of what they are going through. Secondly, you have to be a very talented screenwriter to write the coincidence of two brothers by chance entering a highly publicized tournaments both us underdogs without knowing and make it a believable. The actors great performances do try their best to make the film as believable and unpredictable as possible, but unfortunately fail. I would give this 5 out of 10, but I took a point off from the sheer boredom of watching every fight scene in the tournament leading up to the final. You know the two brothers are going to meet in the final, one by ripping through his opponent and one by struggling, getting knocked down, then miraculously pulling through. I got that about the characters half way through the film.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012) Dir. Lorene Scafaria 

1/10

This film is total garbage. It is nothing that it intends to be…it ain’t cute, heart-warming, melancholic or funny. In fact, if this had been executed as intended it would have been a light, candy floss to Melancholia but instead, it is candy floss that has got real wet; annoying, sticky and have no interest in finishing it. 

The Impossible (2012) Dir. J.A Bayona 

5/10

The Impossible, a film that ever since I heard about it has made me uncomfortable and sad by seemingly epitomizing the condition of mainstream Western perceptions and representations of tragedy of the other. I am not arguing or questioning at all about the films technical credentials or artistic merit, because even with a wet, sloppy script, director J.A Bayona does a great job, especially capturing a visceral intensity throughout with some top rate performances all combining to make a fairly decent film. 

However, this was a tragedy where almost a quarter of a million people were killed and millions others lost families, homes, villages and entire societies. It is an event that requires a respect and gravitas that any artist who wants to represent or process it as work needs to keep. By choosing to re-tell a story, if true, still a story about a privileged white family who experience a slice of the disaster but are lucky enough to walk away from it in their own private plane does not give the respect it needs.

Now, I am not saying it is completely wrong to focus on this story, because it is a remarkable and fascinating one, but to focus on it in a way that shows them and other white tourists survival as more important than the locals disgusted me but didn’t even surprise me. The local people are background, they are treated as just mise-en-scéne, like the exotic palm trees or pure sand of the beaches, they have no dialogue and when are actually shown on screen, are seen to be just tending to the needs of the white tourists in soft, blurry focus. In a recent interview Ewan McGregor suggested that this caring light that the local people were shown in was an example of the movie not ignoring them, but if you are going to cover this topic, to show the suffering of tourists and none of the ‘other’, it doesn’t matter if they are shown to be helpful, they are ultimately voiceless in anguish. 

What makes me most sad is that this is not a creative choice, it is the way the industry and our society in general is willing to invest or more correctly not invest in topics focusing on the ‘other’. For instance the family of the true story that inspired The Impossible were Spanish, but that has been changed to English because Bayona has said himself it was easier to get more investors and a bigger budget, so what chance does a director have to make a film on this scale about the impact of the tsunami outside of a holiday resort? None. There is even a further part to this debate that disturbs me even more that this transcends nationality and goes as deep as race, and it sticks like a fungus to the heart of mainstream Western cinema and to an extent non-fiction media too.

The Raid (2012) Dir. Gareth Evans

9/10

Went to a midnight screening of this after almost 24 hours with no sleep. I was worried I will fall asleep 10 minutes in because I was pooped. But after a tense, engaging and cerebral 10 minutes where I was engaged but felt sleepiness coming in I was punch, kicked and shaken like a shot of adrenaline right to the heart. This is a fantastic action, martial art film, the  combat is bone crunching and the story is as bare-bones as it should be so it can contain all the minutes of just pure kick-ass enjoyment. 

Upstream Color (2013) Dir. Shane Carruth

9/10

I wrote my review of this film on a piece of paper, the recycled one with bits in it and I used a fine tip pen and handwriting that was pretty eligible to anyone else but to myself. With the review finished I tore the paper up in three separate pieces - I swallowed one third whole, waited an hour for a gust and let the wind take another and buried one deep in the woods next to the most imposing tree. Next week I’m going to the theatre to see the film again.

Once Upon a Time in America (1984) Dir. Sergio Leone

9/10

While shooting this film, Sergio Leone wanted rain to start during a scene so he waited for god to start filming, and when he said action it did rain. This is visionary piece of film making by an artist who knows what he wants to achieve, which is the unachievable scale of American social history. Leone has crafted every scene that was so distinctly storyboarded in his mind that it transfers to the screen like the fruits of the most beautiful apple tree. But every apple is rotten, infected with worms and stinking with a rich odour, but Leone captivates you so much that you want to pick every apple and check if has at least one good bite.

There are no likeable characters, and some of their actions are so vile but you are engrossed in their story for the entire 4 hours run time. Without giving anything away, he takes such incredibly bold steps in narrative, only such an established and invested director could achieve. The non-linear format is marvellous, and it flows in wonderful transitions and even if you’re not always up to speed you huff and puff until you catch up. That is just the way the film has been created, let alone the magnificent performances through the whole cast with Robert De Niro the mesmerizing nucleus. Oh and Ennio Morricone’s score is one of his greatest. The only nit picks I do have is that I sometimes got lost in it’s scale and characters but it just makes me want to watch it again.

It is a true artistic epic cinema and is a tragic story that it was completely destroyed by producers on it’s initial American release.

Khane-ye doust kodjast? (Where is the friends Home?)(1987) Dir. Abbas Kiarostami

8/10

This is a wonderfully sweet little film. It is about a boy who by mistake, takes his friends homework book home from school and spends the rest of the day trying to return it to him. That is it, and it is all that is needed for Kiarostami to show everything important and everything anxious that children feel. Someone has been kind enough to upload the entire film with English subtitles on youtube so you have no excuse not to watch it. It is in the top 10 of the BFI top 50 films to see before you are 14 and has the best performance by a child on screen, ever. 

The Grandmaster (2013) Dir. Wong Kar-wai

6/10

The Grandmaster, after almost a year and half of being released everywhere else, finally got its release in the UK this week.  The great romantic Hong Kong auteur, who makes poetry pop in all his works and in his best burns your senses into smoke you can never shake away, but here, Wong Kar-wai puts his cinematic alchemy into the confides of a biopic.

The story of renowned Chinese martial arts master, Ip Man, whose teachings set the stone rolling for the philosophy of martial arts to spread amongst everyone. Whilst influential in his own right, Ip Man is famous for being Bruce Lee’s teacher. Wong Kar-wai collaborator, the incredible Tony Leung steps in to the precise, powerful role as Ip Man as we shift through, in and out of his life throughout the 20th centaury.

Christopher Doyle is missing as cinematographer, however Philippe Le Sourd takes full credit for bringing elegance that Doyle might not have suited too. The cinematography is gorgeous, every frame feels like a considered painting, at its best reminding me of the seminal Gate of Hell. This with the choreographed fight sequences does elevate your senses to something profound. Time, sounds and movements seem to flow in their own respects, giving the entire picture a mystical feel – almost a fairy tale representation of history – it is here where the film finds feet…but only here.

It is a collage of poignancies but they never quite sync up to give any real weight of the heart or head to the punches and parries besides the initial impact on the senses. It speeds through moments with title cards and voiceovers, often describing things that are more interesting than what is visually shown. Tony Leung is one of the great actors of the world, especially in expressing so much through just his face, but even he couldn’t bring an emotional connection to this portrayal of Ip Man. In fact Zhang Ziyi is terrific as Gong Er, Ip Man’s love and talented fighter herself, trapped in world where a woman can’t find their place and a more emotionally connected character.

Even with the narrative in dust and dullness – there is enough of Wong Kar-wai’s cinematic alchemy to get you in haze when you walk away from the movie, a mythic haze of honour, respect, dedication and passion…

Bernie (2012 US, 2013 UK) Dir. Richard Linklater 

8/10

This was a treat of a film. The cinematic chameleon Richard Linklater twines around his idiosyncratic roots by stepping in to reality and carving out fiction in a heartfelt, entertaining and slightly tragic piece of work -similar in some ways, if far less depth and poignancy, to Kiarostami’s masterpiece ‘Close-up’.

And it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t go into the narrative with a documentary or purely poetic agenda to touch and explore the entire pool, but it gently bobs in and out, sometime in the a deep end but mostly in the shallow, but in the shallow with fun inflatable balls. 

It won’t be a landmark in cinema history, nor will it be a defining film 2013 but by god it is thoughtful, effective and completely entertaining. 

The House I live In (2012) Dir. Eugene Jarecki

7/10

This documentary is a fascinating documentation of Americas ‘War on Drugs’, full of true stories, interesting viewpoints, lots of statistics, seamless editing and all centred around a very articulate, intelligent and though provoking interview by 'The Wire’ creator David Simon. A really well done documentary, however there are a couple things that don’t quite work. Involving a story that one level is touching, interesting and perfectly fits but because the director himself has a distant personal relationship in almost highlights the fact that he is part of the white middle class that the drugs war favours. Also the fact that the entire subject feels 20 years too late, although better late than never. 

The Exorcist (1973) Dir. William Friedkin 

7/10

A thoroughly enjoyable and frighting piece of cinema that lives up to its reputation. However, even though it maintains a creepy presence throughout, I do find the actual characters quite flat and uninteresting (except the detective, who is really just bit part). This alongside the fact I felt that I saw too much of the horror at times took away from the overall creepy presence. Other than that it is well scripted, well paced, superbly directed by William Friedkin and an undoubted cinematic landmark.

The Hunter (2012) Dir. Daniel Nettheim 

6/10

I really want to love this film. When watching it I could see a message and a film that  was magnificent, Willem Dafoe is excellent in a rare central performance…but unfortunately, the director clouds up the wonderful core of this film with too much The films best bits are Dafoe’s existential exploration in the wilderness, although I think even though the cinematography is great, it could have been so much better. A better, more adept cinematographer such as Roger Deakins could have got the full potential of the awe-inspiring landscape. The score is the same, it is good, but it could have been stronger in a film like this. The main reason why this is a 6 and not an 8 or 9 is because of the scenes midway with the family and townspeople. The scenes with the family was touching and perfectly suited up until the mother woke up; the children were great, and Morgana Davies is probably one of the best child actors around…but once the mother woke up, they got pushed into the background and this bland, poorly acted, one-dimensional ‘kinda’ love interest took centre stage. After that, there was far too much time spent back in the little town and not enough exploration. Every time it would cut to him driving back into town, I was disappointed. The final 20 minutes is fantastic and the opening half hour is excellent too, but in between a lot could have been presented using a lot less.

Killer Joe (2012) Dir. William Friedkin

7/10

This was a very entertaining film that will have you choking with a dry throat from either gasping or laughing. It is the most violent and in your face film I have seen in the theatre all year so far. Matthew McConaughey is like you have never seen him, bringing a Natural Born Killers-esque presence of violence and insanity; the rest of the cast are on top form too. Friedkin is so confident behind the camera even though some of what is happening verges on the borderline of total, nonsensical absurdity. I have read certain critics detracting from the film by saying it’s humour is misplaced and its crudeness unwatchable but I found that the humour was placed perfectly to make the unwatchable scenes watchable. For example, I find the humour at times very misplaced in Todd Salondz’ Happiness because it tries to tackle weighty themes, but Killer Joe is thrilling and tense and it’s themes are not weighty but float all over the place dripped in chicken batter and blood.

Henry: Portrait of Serial Killer (1986) Dir. John McNaughton

5/10

I have been wanting to see this for a long time. With all it’s censorship troubles and notoriety I hope for a brutal, detailed sketch of a serial killers mind. The opening sequence of bodies post-murder with audio of the murder over it created a haunting, twisted atmosphere from the go. It is truly a great opening and it makes our mind re-create the brutal sequences of how the body became so bloody or mutilated which made me quite shocked at how much detail and vivid murder in mind seems to be…This purposely awkward atmosphere that toys with the watcher lingers through the film and paired with the casualness of Michael Rooker’s performance really does jar every time there is violence, even though you expect it. However, there is a side of this film that ruined most of the good for me and made it a very average film. The character of the brother and sister I thought was a terrible idea, they wasted time, were obvious, hardly subtle and badly acted and every time they interacted with Henry they rubbed out any sketching of the ‘serial killer’ that was formed and because of this it never gets a chance to draw any detail. There is a portrait of a man who has no morality of taking life, but the portrait is missing any shading or visage.