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Extremely investing analysis but underwhelming commentary to a beloved classic
A 91-minute analysis of the famous shower scene from Hitchcock's 'Psycho' and how it changed the course of cinema. The first of its kind, a feature length documentary on one scene. The film gets its name '78/52' from 52 shots in a 78 second sequence. It's very entertaining and incredibly rich with goodies you never considered went into the making of the famous scene. I loved the archival Hitchcock commentary they recovered. Though, as I personally feel the movie horror scene has drastically changed (you can decide for the better or for worse), to have young horror film makers (of some damn awful films) and irrelevant actors interviewed to share their thoughts in quite enthusiastic ways suggests that Hitchcock's achievement is less pioneering than the film makes it seem. That aside, I'm surprised they pulled it off, you can tell the director (who is obviously a massive Hitchcock nerd) adores the content and it really shows.
Aus dem Nichts (2017)
Not Akin's best but still solid
After a woman's husband and son die in a bomb attack, her life collapses and she must come to terms with injustice in what is another film about xenophobia, reconciliation and ultimately European identity by German- Turkish writer/director Faith Akin. Diane Kruger delivers a powerhouse performance as she gives her character enough emotional depth without overdoing it to bring her grief and anger to life. Inspired by xenophobic murders in Germany by a neo-Nazi group, the film sets out with good premise, starts strong but then falls into familiar narrative territory before concluding with an ending that would dissatisfy some audiences. It labels itself as a political film but doesn't have a solid stab for it to deliver in what is otherwise an entertaining, sometimes intense picture.
God's Own Country (2017)
A Powerfully intense and beautiful romance with shades of Brokeback Mountain
A Young farmer struggles to come to terms with his sexuality until a Romanian migrant worker that arrives to help for lambing season opens his mind. This is an intense, challenging yet beautiful drama that begs to be watched. Similar in its themes to Brokeback Mountain, it explores gay sexuality with hope in tough circumstance, with an isolating, turbulent backdrop of the Yorkshire countryside. The depiction of animal husbandry among the absence of human tenderness is interesting. There are narrative clichés and it's a tough watch but it's a deeply rewarding experience.
Powerful avant-garde but can be a painfully dull watch
Sharing the name of a novel where a character (Austerlitz) sees his mother in a Nazi propaganda film about the Theresienstadt camp where this documentary is set, the film painfully and disturbingly observes tourists walk around the camp for 90 minutes like the character Austerlitz did. When the camera is fixed for at least 5 minutes at a time in different spots around the camp, you notice how the tourists behave as they look around, chat, and take selfies. They don't act disrespectfully, just normally like they were at a theme park or whatever, making you question how they should behave in a Nazi prison camp. Indeed, interesting thoughts arose as I watched this film. Though, the film is precisely that, 90 minutes of fixed shots around a Nazi camp with no additional dialogue. It was (apart from its praises) painful to sit through at times. I don't expect anyone to walk out and think it was a great cinematic achievement or entertaining but perhaps they acknowledge its message that could be read in many ways.
A Ghost Story (2017)
A wonderfully hypnotic and philosophical film exploring the enormity of life
The exploration of the enormity of life when a recently deceased ghost returns to his house to try and reconnect with his wife. Made on a shoe string and in secret, it is a hypnotic observation of life and time after we die and it achieves to visually convey the psychological weight of certain death and that life will continue once we're gone. The people sitting next to me left the cinema about 20 minutes in because it is indeed a very slow moving film and I can understand why they left but that's the point of the film. Life is not a highlights reel, and this film achieves to show its enormity through legacy, love and loss. It is philosophical, psychological and extremely poetic. A wonderfully strange film.
Wind River (2017)
An engaging thriller that is unfortunately loaded with cheap genre clichés
An FBI agent teams up with a tracker after an American Indian girl is found dead in a Native American reservation. Nothing you haven't seen before but its chilly winter conditions and alive setting effectively and collectively perform as a character in the story grabbing the audience's attention. The mystery seems psychological until the ending where the film changes gear and falls into some genre traps like venturing into Tarantino territory and making some shortcuts to save explaining itself. Having said that, I enjoyed the soul of the film and some of the characters were interesting even if they didn't have much time to explain themselves.
Could have been so much better with its great premise
The film is an underwhelming, underachieved Portuguese horror film about (without giving away spoilers) two people who meet each other at a popular suicide spot after going there on the decision to commit suicide. I really wanted to give this film a higher rating because it (again, without giving away spoilers) had a great idea but it was just clumsily done falling into cliché horror tropes that really didn't serve it any good. It feels like exposition that initially has good premise but just can't argue to save itself. The black and white cinematography serves the polar motives and overall mood nicely with emptiness and shallowness but the film disappointingly fell apart when it could have taken a great idea so much further with greater meaning and better execution.
Cate Blanchett and the intelligent art direction make the film with an unconventional premise work
Cate Blanchett once again displays her vast array of talent as she plays 12 different characters in 12 different settings decontextualising some of history's famous manifestos, bringing humour and new meaning to them, or perhaps no meaning, to stress a view of meaninglessness to them. There is no conventional narrative here but the film still has urgency to keep you watching through its compelling art direction and wit.
Happy End (2017)
Not Haneke's best but still manages to engage with cultural relevance and authenticity
I'm a fan of Michael Haneke, so I was looking forward to his latest film. From his previous films and now this one, he is clearly a filmmaker interested in surveillance; the film opens and closes with shots from a phone screen surveying 'crime' in one way or another. A filmmaker also concerned with social issues, this film is about a disjointed family in crisis with a backdrop of the European refugee crisis. Join that with the modern way to keep everyone 'connected' with technology (social media or smartphones) you can perhaps read what Haneke is trying to say about European Identity. There are a lot of scenes that drag and the narrative is unfortunately disconnected forcing the audience to join dots so 'Happy End' had the potential to be a lot more.
A heartwarming film that had the potential to be better
A heartwarming, tranquil ode to the simplicity of art and life. Based on the true story, Sally Hawkins is wonderful as Maud Lewis, the housewife turned folk artist who escaped her imprisoned family life to live freely and become a beloved figure in her isolated Canadian community. The film was effective in showing the serene lifestyle of the country but spent too much time delving into her love life when it could have fittingly and effectively expressed Maud's love for art in order for us to fully embrace her character.
An often uncomfortable drama with great central performances
A tough, psychological drama about the trauma caused by pedophilia. A directorial debut by the Australian theatre director Benedict Andrews adapting the critically acclaimed stage play. A cinematic technique to parallel the real-time storytelling of a stage play of this nature is to have a curious camera voyeuristically track action. This serves as a plus but also a problem for this particular, sometimes hard to watch film. As a spectator 'spying' on such disturbing subject matter made me think twice about what I thought was morally right about the situation. I also would have liked to have seen more of the characters that had little screen time. That aside, extraordinary central performances by the emotionally cold Rooney Mara and unflinching Ben Mendelsohn.
Le jeune Karl Marx (2017)
It is what it is; bringing the young Marx to life though people wanting more may be disappointed
'A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of communism'. These are the opening lines of the Communist Manifesto which ironically is the film's conclusion. We learn that the purpose of the opening paragraph in the manifesto was to be simple and straight to the point, while saying so much. That's what this film is and what it did so well, draw the viewer into a simple world of major importance and complexity. "Substance, but no style!" Is what I heard people say as they left the cinema. Hmm, I'm not sure if I agree...well, fully. Indeed the film had its flaws and yes, it lacked urgency to go read Marxism but what we did get was the man himself and his 'world'. The title using 'young' is realistic; a man most known for the 'birth' of communism is the premise of the film and it was super compelling. This film could have had more style sure, but what is style if there is no substance. Communism has a collaborative process so it was great to see its collaborative side through a fantastic supporting cast ushered by an intelligent screenplay, though the film may be overwhelming for some with its excessive discussion of 'Marxist' philosophy. You never see Marx in a room by himself which ignores an independent or 'hero' image that he may be associated with because he was honestly a family man who liked to chat and have a good laugh. A family man, with the help of his friends, produced the product (The Communist Manifesto) that the film ends with in its final scene and is ultimately what the film is about.
I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
Best documentary I've seen in a long time
A documentary that adapts James Baldwin's unfinished book 'Remember This House' recounting the lives and assassinations of Martin Luther King Jnr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. Not much to say other than this one of the best documentaries I've seen in a long time. Powerful material delivered like a story with the aid of archival footage, photographs, newsreels, Hollywood film clips, debates from the civil right era all to suggest Baldwin's writings. Nominated for the Best Documentary Academy Award, 'I Am Not Your Negro' is a rare cinematic achievement about an issue that is still so relevant today. You can't take your eyes off it nor your mind.
A realistic portrayal of a Romanian family in crisis
A realistic Romanian drama about the struggles, compromises and implications of the parent's role in a family. This is a really intelligent, well made film that gives a bleak representation of contemporary life in Romania, particularly the youth who are told by their previous generation that they must hope and start fresh in a depressing state, though they are searching for their identities themselves. I liked that the film didn't stretch the emotional depth to a point that it seemed too unlikely or cliché but rather describe an honest family situation. It did in places fall flat but it's ambiguous ending alludes to the mysteries and uncertainty of life which serves the premise of the film nicely.
Ingrid Goes West (2017)
So refreshing and extremely funny
An off-beat, often hilarious comedy/drama about a girl (Plaza) who believes her world has gone from bad to worst until she stalks a seemingly perfect 'influencer' (Olsen) on Instagram and moves cities to try live like her and be a part of her life. The obsession genre has been over done but what this film does to stand out from the rest is not take itself so seriously and is able to pull off using Internet language without you looking for the exit sign. It's great fun even if its flare dwindled a little in the final act as the narrative changed course. It will make you laugh out loud but also reflect on how you use social media to present yourself.
The Wall (2017)
Disappointing from a great action director
Two American soldiers trapped by a sniper with only a wall for cover in this not so intense, action/war thriller. I admire the effort been put in but when the narrative requires the intensity to be maxed out for the duration of the film, there's only so much to prevent that from happening. It fails simply on the terms to make me want to care. For the majority of the film you have to sit through tiresome 'you're the enemy' 'no you're the enemy' mind games to reach the short run time of a completely unoriginal film.
Axolotl Overkill (2017)
An uninspiring nightlife film made with stylistic authenticity
A hugely stylised character study of a German teenage girl who, after struggling to cope with family issues, resorts to Berlin nightlife. The film is so in the moment though that when it is all over you ask yourself 'oh wait, what was that about again?' Winner of the Sundance cinematography award, it has a keen visual feeling and the main character Mifti is somehow endearing despite her bad behaviour. It sets the scene nicely through Mifti's confrontations with people too caught in the moment to really have a grasp on life but the story line is so convoluted that it spoils the film's charms.
Ma vie de Courgette (2016)
Great entertainment and social commentary for both kids and adults
An animated French film about a young boy nicknamed Courgette (French for Zucchini) who moves to an orphanage after his mother dies in an accident. From the poster you can see that the film is in claymation; at first, creepy, but becomes rather cute and beautiful when in motion. For a kid's film, it has quite a dark opening that would freak kids out even if they don't understand what's going on. I wasn't sure where it would go from there. The film turned out to be quite heartwarming and funny, cute and rather gentle. A great message on the relationship between parents and children and it's importance, that kids and adults can both get something out of. Sitting among kids and adults in the cinema, I had a great time.
Song to Song (2017)
Far from terrible but still a let down by Malick
Another hypnotic, philosophical film by Terrence Malick, this time about two love triangles that intersect in the music scene in Austin, Texas. With a run time that's far too long for the material used, Malick's notorious use of moments instead of scenes, through a kinetic, fish eye lens and sedative whispering, find meaning even if you're searching constantly for story. It's all a bit of a dream how the movie cuts from one moment to the next without establishment. Some scenes were nothing more than looking like expensive perfume commercials. Malick's style becomes deceptive as he recycles vivid visual techniques for a story that really is quite a drag. I found myself a bit bored to be honest but admired how the framework of Malick's mind translated on the screen.
The Beguiled (2017)
A return to form
I was a part of the first audience in the Southern Hemisphere to see this new film by Sofia Coppola (Marie Antoinette, The Bling Ring). It's about a wounded 'yankee' (from a northern state) soldier in the American civil war who is picked up by a sheltered girl's school in Virginia where (from the film's title) sexual tensions and rivalries arise. Best film Sofia Coppola has made in a long time. Everything from the costume choices to the dull scenery make sense. Coppola's interests in materialism and gender politics are on display, bringing insouciant wit to a dark tale that opens and closes with narrative satisfaction. It can be over the top at times but it's entertaining nevertheless.