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Like Crazy (2011)
Brutally honest portrait of a young couple and the pains of living apart.
21 February 2013
Brutally honest portrait of a young couple and the pains of living apart. While studying in LA on a student visa English Anna (Felicity Jones) falls for fellow student Jacob (Anton Yelchin) and they spend several blissful months together. But when she is forced to return home after the expiry of her visa the relationship is put under the strains of long distance and brief visits.

A far better film than the plot outline suggests, 'Like Crazy' is so accurately observed it will clearly resonate with anyone who has suffered the ups and downs of young love. Making use of a tight edit it breezes through Anna and Jacob's relationship, with its petty fights, drunken calls and euphoric moments. The film's success rests squarely on Jones and Yelchin with both the young actors delivering expertly subtle, natural performances with every look and delivery feeling genuine. This is even more impressive considering it's wholly improvised, with the actors only working from a plot outline – and it is this approach which turns what could easily have been a twee sentimental indie flick into a much darker emotive experience that truly feels like watching the unravelling of a real relationship. Right down to the smallest mannerisms, the couple feel thoroughly believable – one scene of Anna and Jacob in a London pub particularly stands out for its authenticity. If they'd been working from a script it's hard to imagine the film having the same energy and intensity that director Drake Doremus has developed here.

The performances are great, but thanks to an impressively restrained edit, 'Like Crazy' is still completely accessible and thoroughly engrossing. Not wasting a single frame, it cuts directly from one human drama to the next without meandering around between them to fill in the gaps. Youth is fleeting, and that is demonstrated clearly here as it rattles through scenes that often feel like snatches of memory rather than a single cohesive narrative – with only the most idyllic or bitter moments recalled by Anna and Jacob. This is a truly intelligent, surprising film that marries the look of an indie teen romance with the theme of soulmates and everlasting love - before adding the cruel complexities, embarrassment and intense suffering that doubtless strike all young lovers.
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I Wish (2011)
A philosophical yet thoroughly accessible film that effortlessly gets under the skin.
14 February 2013
Lighthearted but profound Japanese family drama about two young brothers forced to live apart after the separation of their parents. The more sensitive Koichi (Koki Maeda) lives with his mother and grandparents in Kagoshima under the shadow of the active Sakurajima volcano, while the happy-go-lucky Ryu (Ohshirô Maeda) has remained in Fukuoka with their slacker musician father. Koichi longs for them to be reunited and when he hears of a magical rumour that when two super-fast Bullet trains pass each other they create enough cosmic energy to grant your wish, he and his friends set out to put things back the way they were.

The suburban tale of a troubled family told with a touch of fantasy and adventure draws obvious parallels with Spielberg, and it is more than worthy of the comparison. Director Hirokazu Koreeda elicits two incredibly natural performances from the boys (real life brothers) and indeed all of the young cast – in the scenes where they're hanging out he has seemingly turned the camera on some local school friends, their relationships seem so genuine. Koichi and Ryu's story is interspersed with those of their friends and family, all of whom have their own struggles and aspirations. Be it their grandfather's desire to bake a successful sponge cake, or Koichi's friend's dream of marrying the beautiful school librarian, every character – no matter how minor – is portrayed as a real person with their own hopes and fears. As a result it is constantly engrossing, establishing an affinity with everyone on screen and also allowing some fantastically warm funny moments to emerge from the characters themselves. Despite its concentration on character over narrative, and its general unpredictability, the film still has a mainstream tone and is more than capable of cultivating a wide, varied audience.

A quiet natural film that avoids obvious melodrama and sentimentality, it retains a thoughtful depth about what it is to dream and hope for that which is just out of reach. As is often the case with the most affecting cinema its power lies in what the viewer brings to it from their own lives, and how much they are willing to invest in the film. With no obvious moral or message, it has the potential to be interpreted in many ways. A philosophical yet thoroughly accessible film that effortlessly gets under the skin.
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End of Watch (2012)
Flawed cop drama
27 November 2012
Flawed cop drama following two red blooded young partners as they patrol South Central Los Angeles. Best friends and courageous hotshot cops Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Mike 'Z' Zavala (Michael Peña) work the dangerous streets of LA, driving from one case to the next and putting their lives on the line to keep the neighbourhood clean. Partially shot in a wholly unnecessary 'found-footage' style cut together with frenetic handycam shots it attempts to give the film a real world, gritty feel. This works well in the action scenes, especially the opening chase scene which is well handled and looks completely authentic, lending a sense of real danger. But for the rest of the film where we're meeting the characters and hearing their back stories it all feels a bit jarring and pointless. This attempt at realism also massively clashes with some of the situations the partners find themselves in that just feel too 'big' and implausible for two average patrol cops to be encountering over the course of a few weeks. But it's Taylor and Z's relationship that is at the heart of the story, best friends and partners who would lay down their lives for each other brought to life by the fantastic chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Peña. The scenes where they simply drive the streets sharing macho banter are the film's highlight and it's a shame it couldn't have been put to better use in a more considered film. You can feel several different genre films fighting to get out – a full blown action movie, a gangland thriller, a touching drama – and it never really settles and becomes a fully rounded piece of its own. In the end it's a collection of well handled action scenes, revolving around a tight friendship that is all individually entertaining but doesn't come together to form anything cohesive, and lacks the emotional punch it is clearly intended to have.
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Near perfect romantic comedy
27 November 2012
Near perfect romantic comedy about two friends who test the myth that men and women can never be "just friends". Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) meet when sharing a long hour car journey to New York after graduating college, spending the time bickering about relationships and life. They eventually agree that men and women can never be platonic friends as sex will always get in the way. They part company and their lives move on, but years later they encounter each other again and the same issue is raised. The real star of the film is Nora Ephron's sparkling script full of fantastic organic lines that flow through the characters and never feel forced. It's written and delivered so expertly it's at times indecipherable from ad-lib. Like all the best romantic comedies it's a film with real heart about believable characters, and the comedy is allowed to stem from that - unlike so many of its contemporaries where relationships seem to have been roughly sketched around a few big set pieces or an overarching concept where the guy is secretly two twins (or something). It begins at a steady pace allowing us to bond with Harry and Sally before asking us to sympathise with them. This deliberate controlled direction by Rob Reiner gives the film some weight as well as humour, not simply rushing the character development to get the gags. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are superb as the 'couple' delivering pitch perfect performances that don't overshadow the quality of the material and investing real warmth and likability into the characters. It's a timeless, beautiful film that will still be relevant as long as the question "Can men and women be friends?" is around.
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