Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review: Lifeboat (1944)

* * *

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Tallulah Bankhead, John Hodiak, Hume Cronyn, Mary Anderson, William Bendix, Canada Lee, Henry Hull, Walter Slezak

Alfred Hitchcock is one of cinema's most revered directors and his greatest works are still discussed, debated and dissected by film fans and scholars. But, while films like North by Northwest, Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho and Notorious will always come up when considering Hitchcock's craftsmanship and skill as a filmmaker, films like his 1944 feature Lifeboat seldom seem to get a mention. While Lifeboat isn't "top tier" Hitchcock, it is a film which demonstrates how the director's mastery of form could make an engaging film out of a premise which, on paper, would sound uncinematic. Lifeboat is a film which takes place entirely in its eponymous locale, the characters trapped together in the North Atlantic, at the mercy of the elements and their increasing internal conflict. Though it never quite attains the level of tension of Hitchcock's great thrillers, it is a solidly entertaining film - and, as a plus, it contains what is arguably the director's cleverest cameo.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Review: Alan Partridge (2013)

* * *

Director: Declan Lowney
Starring: Steve Coogan

Steve Coogan is a very funny performer. Why his popularity in his native England hasn't really translated to this side of the Atlantic is one of our great entertainment related mysteries. His Alan Partridge character is one that I had heard of previously, but never seen in action before and having now watched Alan Partridge, I can definitely understand why the character has enjoyed such longevity and made so many appearances in TV and radio series. Alan Partridge is a highly entertaining film which deftly combines dry wit with physical comedy and a fairly incisive satire about celebrity culture. It's also totally accessible to those of us who have no previous experience with the character, though I imagine that there are probably a few references that require previous experience in order to be fully appreciated.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Review: The Rover (2014)

* * *

Director: David Michod
Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson

The Rover, writer/director David Michod's follow up to his brilliant 2010 debut Animal Kingdom, is a brutal and bleak vision of the future. Set in Australia a decade after a global economic collapse has turned the landscape into a desolate wasteland where life is cheap and violence comes easy, the film isn't science fiction so much as a good old fashioned western about a loner riding the plains in search of the men who wronged him, pushing further and further into the frontier. On a performance level, and often on a technical level, The Rover is a very good movie and I have no doubt that it will find many champions, yet as I finished watching it I was left cold. Individual pieces of the film are brilliant but, taken as a whole, the narrative starts to seem relentlessly prosaic the longer it carries on, which left me feeling split on the result. In the end, I think that The Rover is a decent movie, but one which doesn't really have anything new or different to say.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

21st Century Essentials: In the Mood for Love (2000)

All eras have works of art that are fundamental to our understanding of not only the craft itself, but the culture from which it was created. The 21st century is still nascent, but it isn't too early to start creating a canon that demonstrates the heights to which film as an artform has reached since the year 2000. These are the essential films:

Director: Wong Kar-wai
Starring: Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung
Country: Hong Kong

He remembers those vanished years. As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.

The mood may be right for love, but the timing never is in Wong Kar-wai’s masterpiece. It is always too early, or too late; the moment, when it comes, is fleeting and slips away as soon as it appears, so that what lingers is not a memory, but a dream of what might have been in different circumstances – though, had circumstances been different, the moment might never have come at all. A beautiful and incredibly bittersweet love story, In the Mood for Love is a visually glorious movie that floats effortlessly across the screen even as it takes on increasing emotional weight. As directed by Wong, this film is where style and content meet and create something precious and utterly perfect.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Canadian Film Review: Monsieur Lazhar (2011)

* * * 1/2

Director: Philippe Falardeau
Starring: Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nelisse

Since 2003, when Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions took the prize, Canada has had a pretty decent track record when it comes to the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars. Invasions is the only Canadian winner to date, but four Canadian films have been nominated in the category since then, compared to the mere two that earned nominations between 1971 (the first year Canada submitted to the category) and 2003. One of those nominees was Philippe Falardeau's Monsieur Lazhar, a quiet and exceedingly gentle movie, particularly compared to the Canadian nominees of the year immediately before (Denis Villeneuve's Greek tragedy Incendies) and immediately after (Kim Nguyen's searing child soldier drama Rebelle/War Witch). On the surface, Monsieur Lazhar's tale of a teacher trying to connect with his students sounds like a familiar story (and the sort of typical, non-challenging fare that AMPAS so often goes for in the foreign language category), but while Falardeau keeps things simple, he nevertheless manages to tell a deeply affecting story about the psychic space where grief resides and the many ways that grief finds to express itself.