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Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Film Review - Lars and the Real Girl
With its premise reading more like a rejected pitch for a Deuce Bigelow sequel than the foundation of what's now an Oscar nominated screenplay, Craig Gillespie's Lars and the Real Girl is a gentle comic delight.
Buoyed by an admirably vulnerable lead performance from the perennially impressive Ryan Gosling, Lars charts the journey of self-discovery unwittingly undertaken by an introverted office worker following his internet purchase of a high-end 'real doll' - a lifelike and anatomically correct silicone companion typically employed for you-know-what. As written by Six Feet Under's Nancy Oliver, what could otherwise have been a crude and lowest-common-denominator numbskulled sex farce instead becomes a moving reflection on loneliness and rebirth. Thanks to the sensitivity of Gosling's portrayal, Gillespie's film never falls prey to the affected preciousness a less accomplished performer may have laid thick on the unusual role, instead remaining tender, poignant and endearingly atypical much like its odd leading pair.
Lars' life-lacking lady-love (the half-Danish, half-Brazilian religious missionary, Bianca, he tells) proves the catalyst for her man's emotional reawakening. That Bianca is never here forced to consummate his doting adoration speaks volumes as to the isolation intrinsic to Lars, rendering his flat-out belief in her breathing humanity all the more richly compelling. Effectively fulfilling the role of imaginary friend, Bianca grants Lars what he's never allowed himself: a loving, trying and emotionally complex relationship with another adult human being.
That Bianca is decidedly perceptible, however, provides the film the heart of its drama, with Lars' neighbours and loved ones faced with the unusual dilemma of whether or not to accommodate the town's newest resident. A lively ensemble of secondary players flesh out the town's incidental denizens with aplomb, with the ever-excellent Paul Schneider laying claim to the bulk of the laughs in a droll supporting turn as Lars' incredulous brother. As his compassionate wife, Emily Mortimer is a tirelessly nurturing presence, softly persistent in her efforts to coax from Lars even the most basic of social interactions, while Thumbsucker's endearing Kelli Garner shares one of the film's sweetest scenes with Gosling and a debilitated teddy bear. Patricia Clarkson lends empathy and class as Lars (and Bianca's) physician, embodying the ethos of the production as a whole by refusing to treat our deeply troubled hero with derision irrespective of the absurdity of his condition.
Gillespie's work here is delicately nuanced, taking a sincerely original script and crafting from it an elegant and moving modern fable. Detractors may scoff at how things play out, but for most, Lars and the Real Girl will prove a winningly charming and acutely human tale of love and catharsis... through sex dolls.
10,000 BC (2008)
Film Review - 10,000 BC
Perhaps 10,000 B.C.'s title refers to the 10,000 Better Choices available to undemanding viewers looking to scratch their ancient action itch. Apocalypto, 300, Peter Jackson's King Kong and Steven Spielberg's two Jurassic Park films each offer exponentially more entertaining excursions to perilous lost worlds and exotic locales than director Roland Emmerich's prehistoric fizzer.
Concerning the exploits of an impossibly manicured young mammoth hunter (Steven Strait) on a cross-country quest to reclaim his Neanderthal-napped and improbably blue-eyed dolly belle cave-woman lover-girl (Camilla Belle) from the god-fearing clutches of a pyramid-building race of snarling human sacrifice enthusiasts, 10,000 B.C. couldn't come as more of a letdown. Emmerich, Germany's master disasterist extraordinaire, has heretofore proved himself an anarchic architect of cinematic soufflé, having built a career on vacuous and empty-headed exercises in big screen ka-boom, all dizzying pyrotechnics and the most special of effects. But therein has generally lied his appeal, with the likes of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow - though daftness incarnate - offering a happy balance between epic spectacle and blockbuster thrills. Even his widely derided Godzilla redux delivers more grand-scale action and primeval excitement than you can shake an archaic spear at, and makes the plodding 10,000 B.C. look like Cenozoic Question Time.
Emmerich's at his best with a stellar cast of whom to dispose and a mapful of U.S. landmarks to spectacularly obliterate. His incessant insistence on cramming his films with the gleeful destruction of American iconography (think Independence Day's exploding White House, The Day After Tomorrow's drowning and frozen Statue of Liberty) has previously tempered any qualms with broad, connect-the-dots plotting and thinly sketched stock-standard characters, and it's here where 10,000 B.C.'s sheer failure as an entertainment comes quickly and sharply into view. Without a Will Smith or a Dennis Quaid to wring precious credulity from Emmerich's painfully formulaic script, 10,000 B.C. has its considerable work as an action-adventurer cut out from the get-go, so the fact that - despite the immeasurable opportunity afforded by the prehistoric setting - this is by far the least visually remarkable entry in Emmerich's catalogue leaves this as a film with nary a grunt to recommend it.
The action here is dull and far between, with Emmerich's ordinarily faultless eye for effects-laden extravagance seemingly preoccupied with the wholesale lifting of major plot elements from superior films. Apocalypto takes the worst hit, its slight plot replicated almost entirely as 10,000 B.C., too, sees its small hunter-gatherer tribe of noble (and impeccably-dentisted) savages whisked swiftly away by foreign meanies from beyond the dunes for a lamentable future of either slaving or sacrifice. But the pilfering doesn't stop here, as Emmerich inexplicably throws in a 300-esque 'god king,' a late and worthless entrant to proceedings whose appearance bears no dramatic weight save for our hero to have someone to aim a spear at come the inevitable rallying of the troops in the eye-rolling finale.
None of which would matter in the slightest had Emmerich the courtesy to simply over-stuff the film with tiger-on-mammoth kickassery, but neither creature is granted so much as a sequence which elicits even the most meagre of excitement. The sabretooth, in particular, gets the stick's shortest end, in two action-free pussycat encounters which total ninety seconds of screen time and leave you wondering if the director is the same Roland Emmerich who blew off a guy's leg with a cannonball in The Patriot. Of the few inert and bloodless would-be-set-pieces on offer, only an attack by a pack of giant swamp turkeys comes close to raising something akin to a pulse, but even this fleeting highlight is wholly undone by a ridiculous hit-in-the-balls gag. Forget the stampeding mammoths and promises of a man versus sabretooth throw-down as per what can now be recognized as the film's deviously edited trailer; 10,000 B.C. is as stagnant as would be the modern-day remains of its absurd and unlikable heroes.
With dialogue so bad you'll long for the Quest for Fire approach and not a standout action sequence in sight, Roland Emmerich's 10,000 B.C. is a lumbering, cavepaint-by-numbers bore, as primitive and outdated as the rudimentary tools of its Paleolithic protagonists.
Le scaphandre et le papillon (2007)
Film Review - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
The true-life story of a magazine editor afflicted with locked-in syndrome following a massively debilitating stroke may seem better suited to the realms of heavy drama than feel-good jubilation, and yet The Diving Bell and the Butterfly arrives as just that. Thanks to the free spirit and painterly eye of director Julian Schnabel, Jean Dominique Bauby's slender post-stroke memoir makes for a truly astonishing film, both as effortlessly uplifting and unaffectedly artful as it is dazzling and visually ingenious.
Integral to the film's success is the ingenuity and dynamism with which Schnabel and director of photography Janusz Kaminski tackle the filmic translation of Bauby's potentially dealbreaking condition, employing here the most immersive camera-work this side of Kaminski's own beach efforts on Saving Private Ryan. In an opening act which unspools entirely in first-person point-of-view, the pair succeed exquisitely in capturing the interior turmoil of Bauby's fear and frustration as the writer comes to grasp with the unspeakable weight of his circumstances, his anxiety heightened tenfold by the shifting focus of a world now tumbling from reach. A sequence in which Bauby's muscularly ineffectual right eye is stitched closed is impossibly squirm-inducing, as we - as Bauby - are forced to watch hopelessly on as each eyelid-piercing flick of a doctor's wrist gradually enshadows his outlook by half.
Of course, inventive lensing only goes so far, and it's the perfectly-judged central performance of Mathieu Amalric which balances the fertile lyricism of Schnabel's imagery with a dry and resilient resolve. Afforded only a swift handful of flashback scenes in which to establish the character of a pre-stroke Bauby, Amalric expertly conveys the readjustment of self experienced by the former Elle editor, inhabiting his immobile frame with a startling realism and forgoing cheap Oscar-bait flashiness. For a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic capable of communicating solely by blinking his left eye, Amalric invests Bauby with a wealth of spirit, the wry self-deprecation of his droll internal monologue somehow embodied by his near-motionless physical portrayal.
Though as marvellous as Amalric here is, it's no wonder The Diving Bell and the Butterfly's most affecting scenes come from the latter-half glimpses of a healthy Bauby, be he in flashback or a player in one of his own bed-ridden fantasies, as when sharing a sumptuous meal during a fancied otherworld encounter with his patient and compassionate scribe (Anne Consigny). The late sight of an able-bodied Bauby shaving his ailing father (Max von Sydow) neatly articulates their sudden reversal of roles, furthering the heartbreaking enormity of his impossible situation whilst greater highlighting his tenacity to endure. It's this refusal to concede to his condition that defines Bauby, and damn if you won't come to love him for it.
An exceptional cast of supporting players offer sensitive, well-realised performances, amplifying the scope of the across-the-board achievement encompassing Schnabel's bold adaptation. Marie-Josée Croze makes for a charming speech therapist, whilst Consigny brings a quiet grace to the loyal Claude. Her relationship with Bauby, in particular, in genuinely moving, as is her dedication to his completing his memoir. Emmanuelle Seigner exudes a time-tested devotion as the writer's ex-wife and mother to his children, and von Sydow's heartrending sorrow at his son's affliction gives way to two of the film's most devastating scenes. From Ronald Harwood's neat and nimble screenplay to the dexterous editing of Juliette Welfling, this is hands-down must-see cinema and an instant art-house classic; radiant, triumphant and profoundly universal.
A remarkable lead turn from Amalric and the impressionistic beauty of Schnabel's lush visual poetics here coalesce to incredible effect, making The Diving Bell and the Butterfly not only one of the finest releases of the past twelve months, but an accomplishment worthy of greatness.
Film Review - Juno
If Jason Reitman's Thank You For Smoking was a showroom Mercedes, all sleek corporate chic and glistening cool, then Juno is the BMX you've had since highschool: perhaps unable to shoulder the expectations you've unfairly placed upon it, but crafted, nonetheless, with a genuine skill and in possession of an undeniable charm.
When sixteen-year-old Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) falls pregnant following a formative sexual dalliance with best-bud Bleeker (Michael Cera), the precocious teen makes an atypical decision regarding the fate of her womb's newest occupant. Determined to both have the child and find for it a loving home, Juno strikes up a relationship with her unborn's soon-to-be adoptive parents, only to discover teenage pregnancy isn't all its knocked up to be.
Spearheaded by a revelatory performance from its fiery young lead, Juno is the most satisfying comedy of the season. Where Reitman used the slick veneer of Thank You For Smoking to cut an incisive dissection of glib yuppie smarm, here he uses Juno's hyper-pop hipness and scruffy appeal to extol the virtues of family and teenage camaraderie. If Diablo Cody's retro-cool screenplay at first seems to have repopulated the suburban geek la mode neverwhere of Napoleon Dynamite from a feminine slant, rest assured, as Juno is revealed its own being entirely once we better settle into proceedings. Cody's script in fact proves one of the film's greatest strengths, its simple narrative defying expectations at most every turn and developing well-realised relationships between memorable characters. Married with Reitman's directorial snazziness, it makes for a rich, surprising experience, equally fulfilling as it is entertaining.
Delivering here on the promise displayed in David Slade's technically fantastic but emotionally bogus Hard Candy, Page shows herself well on the way to becoming a household name; that Oscar nomination comes not without credence. We look forward to the day when the age of her characters runs in step with her own, as the lightning-bright teen with the whiplash retorts bag initially proves mildly distracting. But Page wins us over, making defunct any "Kids don't talk like that!" beef, with a performance both hilarious and tender. Her rapidfire deadpanning and persistent good-humour make Juno a hero to root for, and, thanks to her subtle command of emotional complexity, one who remains ever more compelling for her numerous flaws.
Following Superbad, Michael Cera confirms he could play awkwardly pleasant for the rest of his life and still manage to keep it engaging, whilst J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney lend wisdom and warmth as Juno's father and pet-loving stepmum. Janney's flagrant berating of a standoffish ultrasound nurse provides the film one of its genuine laugh-out-loud moments, and the pair's private reaction to the news of Juno's pregnancy is one of its quiet highpoints. Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner each rise to the occasion as Juno's adoptive-parents-of-choice for the bun in her oven; Garner in particular has never been better than here.
Indeed, all about Juno is so intrinsically good that the film's biggest problem in fact proves external. What should have been an excellent little film to discover and cherish has been so forward-pushed that its slender frame buckles beneath the weight of bloated expectations on which it never anticipated having to deliver.
A small and wholly impressive work sporting excellent performances and a pitch-perfect Kimya Dawson-led soundtrack, Juno shines thanks to a clever screenplay and a confident director. Forget the praise and publicity and enjoy the film on its own terms - as the smart little comedy with the big, pulsing heart.
Film Review - Cloverfield
Following a six month viral marketing campaign marked by its steadfast and absolute refusal to cough up so much as a cursory peek at its creature of feature, Cloverfield arrives as something of a miracle in this spoilerific age: an honest to goodness blockbuster that's managed to save its thrills for the theatre, an intense, accomplished dash through B-movie terrain given a snappy do-over thanks to a fresh eye and the savvy execution of a potentially gimmicky conceit.
It's the night of Rob's (Michael Stahl-David) going away party, a last hurrah thrown by his brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and his girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) prior to his jetting off for an impressive new job appointment in Japan. Asked to document the occasion on Rob's handicam, Hud (T.J. Miller) finds it difficult to keep his wandering lens off the beautiful ring-in Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), the aloof object of his puppy-dog affections. But when Rob's one-time partner and long-time secret love Beth (Odette Yustman) departs early with her latest squeeze, it's only a hiccup in time before their lives are changed forever, as New York city finds itself at the mercy of some horror from the depths, some great, lumbering thing...
Shot entirely in handicam point-of-view with Miller's Hud acting as both commentator and cameraman, Cloverfield takes the 'human perspective of catastrophic events' approach employed by Spielberg's War of the Worlds and pushes it even further, offering a frenetic, man's-eye-view of the disastrous and grand-scale destruction typically relegated to Godzilla flicks. Towers are felled and bridges collapsed as the mysterious leviathan blazes a trail of ruin through inner Manhattan, the audience offered only the most fleeting of glances at the lion's share of the action as our band of protagonists flit in and out of shopfronts and alleyways in an ongoing effort to survive.
The hand-held photography is the real hook here, a device which proves eminently inspired. Director Matt Reeves sure knows how to sell the immediacy, ensuring the camera-work remains every nauseating bit as frantic and chaotic as you'd expect of the real thing. Sticking to his faux-vérité guns, however, means audience members craving the usual sweeping shots of the over-sized beast demolishing cultural landmarks and venting frustrations on sky-scraping highrises will be ever-so-slightly frustrated, wishing our camera-pointing heroes could perhaps adopt a brisk and steadied trot in lieu of their customarily haphazard hell-bolt. Of course, the frenzied slant obviously works wonders dramatically, and Reeves and scripter Drew Goddard even manage to find a use or two for the camera along the way beyond the obvious documentation tack to stave off any 'Why don't they just drop the damn thing and leg it?' critiques, the most noteworthy of which is a genuinely frightening giant parasite attack which plays out entirely in night vision. It's sequences like this which help reel us in, furthering the suspension of disbelief exponentially.
Of course, the harrumphing nitpickers will find much here to bemoan, from the lack of any discernible story and threadbare attempts at character development, to the questionable decisions made by said characters borne of a fundamental necessity to keep us close to the action, a problem inherent to the 'found footage' setup from the outset.
But hell, frownmongers be damned, for to focus on the minutiae is to deny yourself the thrill of an indisputably exciting exercise in escapist cinema. Cloverfield is a new take on the giant monster movie, nothing more, nothing less, and a terrifically entertaining action movie experience is there to be had for those open to it.
With its good-looking young cast and intrepid director all working overtime to ensure not a second of its economical runtime is wasted, the outstanding Cloverfield is a searing, white-knuckle monster flick from which fans of the genre will reap greatest rewards. Superior special effects and a city-trashing creature worthy of the anticipation push this over the line as a cracking, inventive example of a film that actually lives up to the hype.
Film Review - Rogue
Greg McLean's Wolf Creek proved that modern horror doesn't have to rely on humour and irony to hold an audience's attention, nor does it have to fall back on the crutch of extreme gore to sell its violence. A few minor quibbles aside, the film remains one of the most accomplished genre jumpstarts of recent years, which is why the news that writer-director McLean's next film was to be a bona-fide monster flick came as such a pleasant surprise.
With Rogue, McLean doesn't so much reinvent the monster movie as he does take the formula of Wolf Creek (slow start, big finish) and substitute a giant crocodile for John Jarratt's maniacal bushman. This tack worked to excellent effect in McLean's previous outing, as the extended build gave us time to genuinely get to know our three young protagonists, making the latter-half brutality all the more shocking. By the time Jarratt's Mick Taylor went from larrakin knockabout to devil incarnate, we were putty in McLean's hands, the filmmaker playing the audience with the reckless glee of a man operating at the top of his game.
This slow-burn approach, however, does not well-service proceedings in Rogue. Here we're served up a sizeable cast for the titular beastie to antagonise, but none of the characters really make an impression. That's not to say that the likes of Rhada Mitchell as top-chick tour guide Kate, Michael Vartan as the Yank journalist or Stephen Curry and John Jarratt in supporting turns are at all bad in this, but rather that very few of their characters feel defined enough for us to care whether they live or wind up as croc-meat.
Almost bizarrely, the first two acts near come off as boring. Where the tension should be building as the croc picks people off and relationships tried between survivors, we instead get quick, bloodless attacks and muted responses to the horror from the remaining cast. Where is the wailing and the gnashing of teeth that should come hand-in-hand with watching your best mate or hubby dragged to the depths by a great snaggletoothed abomination of nature? Considering that most of the attacks occur either off-camera or so quickly we can scarcely tell what's going on, it's the reactions of the witnesses that we need to sell the scare. When the best they can muster is a half-hearted wail or some "Bugger me!" equivalent, the spine remains resolutely untingled.
So it's scare factor: zero for the first hour, then, but thankfully, McLean seems finally to open his bag of tricks for a taught, nerve-racking finale. When one of our heroes finally enters the lair of the beast, Rogue turns up the tension to eleven for a fantastically executed final act. Revealing the creature as a wonderfully realised movie monster, the entirely dialogue-free climax almost feels like the incredibly satisfying conclusion to a better film. It makes you wish as much effort had gone into orchestrating tension in what's come before so the scene could be enjoyed not simply as an exceptional slice of action directing, but as the great ending it feels it should have been.
With Rogue, it seemed McLean was going to attack the monster movie with the same muscle and vigor he invested in Wolf Creek. Instead of a visceral, frightening, Outback Jaws, or indeed, a successor to Razorback, we instead get a genuine Aussie B-movie that can pass an hour and a half well enough thanks to an excellent finale, but lacks any lasting bite.
Film Review - Beowulf (in IMAX 3D)
About two minutes into Robert Zemeckis' sumptuous Beowulf, you'll breathe a sigh of relief; for the most part, the 'hollow-zombie-evil-eyes' syndrome which plagued Zemeckis' previous motion-capture outing, The Polar Express, has been enormously improved upon. Granted, the technology still remains unable to fully replicate the spark and nuance of actual human performance, but early in the piece, it becomes very clear that Zemeckis and co. have come damned close.
A modern re-jigging of the Old English epic, Beowulf sees its titular hero arrive at the hall of the aging King Hrothgar to slay the demon who's befouled his once-great kingdom and torn half of its inhabitants limb from bloody limb. Voiced with gruff swagger by a stalwart Ray Winstone, this Beowulf is a boastful champion, a man almost as great as the stories he tells of himself, but by golly, does he know it. This pride proves Beowulf's curse, and his lesson in humility and, in turn, true greatness, could scarce come harder learned.
An excellent supporting cast all rise to the occasion here, with Anthony Hopkins as the ill-fated Hrothgar and an ethereal Angelina Jolie as the demon's succubus honeytrap mother fleshing out the tragedy and elevating this to the level of genuine (albeit heightened) drama. As written by Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, Beowulf is an exhilarating spin on the classic hero's journey that sees richly realised characters brought to vivid, mesmerising life by Zemeckis' eye for scope and detail and the incredible technology at his disposal.
In fact, the only real complaint is that the film could have benefited from a few extra minutes to further cultivate plot and character and really push this into the realms of greatness for which its flawed hero so desperately grasps. Despite a solid effort in ensuring characters are given time to come into their own, the plot seems to move at whipcrack pace, and, at its completion, does leave the impression of being comprised almost entirely of action. That's not to say the film is left in want of character complexity, however, but more that the sheer spectacle of it all can tend to overwhelm its various more subtle aspects.
As for the technology, in IMAX 3D, Beowulf becomes a wholly immersive experience. The film's visual extravagance is serviced magnificently by the format; the major set-pieces bookending the film are nothing short of spectacular when witnessed like this. The 3D is rich and crisp and wholly convincing, providing, quite literally, an entirely new dimension to the action. If you plan on seeing the film at all, plan on seeing it like this.
Teeming with bawdy humour, surprisingly graphic violence and finely-honed visual inventiveness, Beowulf is not only Zemeckis' best film for some time, but also rates as one of the year's most fabulously exciting exercises in bang. If you like your action literate, with brains as well as boom, don't make the mistake of overlooking Beowulf.
Inland Empire (2006)
Film Review - INLAND EMPIRE
It's a foregone conclusion that attempting to make sense of a David Lynch film doth not time well spent make. Lynch is one of modern cinema's great provocateurs, a love-him-or-hate-him cinematic savant who manages to achieve with film what most only dare to attempt with paint or poetry. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise to learn that Lynch's latest mind-bender, INLAND EMPIRE, is a frighteningly surreal descent into paranoid perplexity that exhilarates every bit as much as it bewilders.
INLAND EMPIRE ostensibly concerns actress Nikki Grace's (the marvelous Laura Dern) involvement with a career-making new film project. But, Lynch being Lynch, this was never going to be that simple. We later learn the project is the remake of a cursed film that never wrapped production as its two stars were brutally murdered. And here's where narrative coherence takes a flying leap, and we should ready ourselves for what's to come.
At first, Lynch's decision to shoot on cheap digital video seems to prove distracting, as if the comparative nastiness of the image quality will detract from our ability to invest in the story. But, as the film progresses, it settles into a look all its own, and the grainy, hand-held camera-work actually seems more real and immediate, drawing us ever-closer to the edges of our seats as the narrative twists and contorts.
In INLAND EMPIRE, characters cross over the threshold defining the limits of reality and fiction, co-exist with their other-world counterparts in one fluctuating existential plane and change wholly and completely from one scene to another, Lynch all the while serving up the kind of hallucinatory hell that cinema-goers have come to demand of him. Just as you think you're figuring it out, Lynch throws in a dance sequence set to 'The Locomotion,' cuts to a sitcom comprised of giant rabbit-people, or offers a glimpse at what appears to be footage straight from the original doomed film.
As time perpetually folds back in on itself and the film's visual motifs begin to pile up, it becomes clear that this is Lynch's most daring and bizarre film yet. This is video art as feature film, with a serpentine narrative that defies comprehension driving us onward to oblivion with Lynch at the wheel. Its most obvious points of comparison are Lynch's own Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, but even they seem like child's play when compared to EMPIRE, which offers tantalising clues to unlocking its mysteries, with the audience forever ten strides behind.
This is Lynch down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass, a psychotropic epic that remains fascinating throughout, despite its three hour duration and the intentionally confounding nature of its plot. If you appreciate Lynch's previous exercises in dream logic and nightmare vision, and can handle the extended running time, INLAND EMPIRE is essential viewing. It's a terrifying and uncompromised journey to the depths of the subconscious, and one of the boldest cinematic statements of the year.
Film Review - Interview
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Interview proves itself an actor's dream. Co-written and directed by Steve Buscemi, the film is an insightful, at times intense exploration of the nature of celebrity, as experienced by a world-wearied, overly cocksure political journalist who'd do well not to underestimate his beautiful interviewee.
Buscemi is Pierre, the flailing reporter who begrudgingly finds himself waiting to interview Katya (Sienna Miller), the latest in a long line of flash-in-the-pan Hollywood It Girls. As played by Miller, Katya is a charming, supercilious, seductive, wild-tempered, pouting, screaming enigma, proving much more densely layered than the Paris Hilton clone who first presents herself to Pierre at the restaurant an hour late, tiny handbag yapping with the sound of a miniature dog mobile ringtone. While it's clear the uninterested and impolite Pierre initially cares very little for his subject, a strange relationship begins to emerge between the unlikely pair as the evening takes a turn for the unexpected, with an injured Pierre invited back to Katya's spacious loft. Once here, moods swing violently, old wounds re-open and skeletons emerge from closets, an uneasy air of sexual tension underscoring the proceedings.
Buscemi is certainly an excellent director of actors, himself not only in fine, sharply skewed form, but also earning from Miller possibly her best performance to date. This is literally a two-character piece, and thanks to the powers of both actors, Interview remains in constant command of our attention. If there's one complaint, it's that the film at times feels overly stagey, but this is a small grievance when weighed against the superior performances on show. The hand-held digital camera-work ably services a voyeuristic plot, and the script crackles with caustic repartee.
The remake of a film by murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gough, Interview is a tight, engaging drama with a thick nasty streak and an acutely barbed final act. It's a fine showcase for both Buscemi the actor and the filmmaker, and promises excellent things to come from Miller.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Overblown and Underdeveloped
When it was first announced that Shekhar Kapur was to direct a sequel to his 1998 film Elizabeth, my first reaction was 'Why?' The original was such a solid film good story, well told, well made and excellently performed that I saw little point in checking back in after nine years had passed. Then the trailer was released. My hopes were significantly raised; the film looked stunning. If Kapur could manage to balance the deft character drama of Elizabeth with the kind of lush and epic period visuals on display in the trailer, we'd be in for a treat.
Sadly, Kapur manages to achieve only the latter. Despite another brilliant turn from Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a film that keeps its audience at arms' length, a historical political pantomime that all-but defines 'style over substance.' The film concerns The Virgin Queen's growing attraction to a dashing newcomer, Clive Owen's Sir Walter Raleigh, during a time of political unrest. Thrown into the mix is a subplot concerning the fate of the scheming Mary Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton, criminally underused), Elizabeth's feeling the pressure of living so visibly to the public eye, Holy War with Spain and their nasty Inquisition, and a horse that jumps off a boat.
There's obviously an excellent story to be told with this material, but it's as if the film realizes half an hour in that it's bitten off more than it can chew and resolves to lay on the eye-candy hard and thick in an effort to distract us from just how convoluted its script is. Witness Rhys Ifans disappear into the mess after being set-up, along with Morton, as the film's sinister nogoodnik, only to leave absolutely no impression as the character goes nowhere. Abbie Cornish and Clive Owen fair slightly better, but only just, as their characters at least have the appearance of a narrative through line, but even they, two quite fine actors in their own right, find themselves merely ticking off plot points in an effort to push what story there is ever-forward and come off undercooked and oversimplified. But it's poor Geoffrey Rush who's drawn the short straw this time round. His Walsingham was such a key player in the original film; here he's basically an expositional mouthpiece who's thrown the sole dramatic bone of a small subplot involving the return of his Papist brother.
Blanchett is the real draw here, proving yet again why she's considered amongst the finest of her generation. Even as the film dissolves into a second half comprising a stretch of scattershot and impressionistic scenes that confuse rather than excite, Blanchett remains firmly on form, throwing into sharp relief just how much of a mess the film surrounding her becomes. In fact, once the midway point is reached, the film seems to do away with any notion of developing plot or character and comes off more as an extended trailer; glossy, gorgeous, the score all driving drums and soaring choirs, but absolutely nothing resonates. Here is a film that takes its most striking image an armored, pale and auburn-haired Elizabeth astride a gallant white steed and squanders it completely on a throwaway scene that's wholly robbed of any weight or power due to the lack of effort in developing what's come before. Elizabeth's rousing horseback speech to her troops before descending into battle should be stirring, the dramatic apex of the film where breaths are held and heartstrings tugged. Instead, it becomes another great-looking blink-and-you'll-miss-it flash that's all tell and no show, a final snatch at dramatic worth that rings hollow despite being delivered with genuine conviction on Blanchett's behalf.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a technically marvelous film that remains unsatisfying on almost every other level. The fire in the heart of Blanchett's Queen still burns bright; it's a pity the performance is done such a disservice by the film itself.