Youth (2015) – A Review

youth

Youth touched me deeply with its perfect mix of drama and comedy. Sorrentino’s latest feature length piece rests in a gorgeously secluded Spa retreat in the Swiss Alps at the breast of prolific ex-maestro Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine). Pestered to perform for Her Majesty, Ballinger’s tranquil stay is shaken up, disrupted like only a shrieking baby in a small audience could.

Maintaining Luca Bigazzi and Christiano Travaglioli from The Great Beauty as the cinematographer and editor for Youth, Sorrentino maintains and builds upon the divine aesthetic that’s already had him internationally recognised. Sorrentino and crew demonstrate the power of a good shot by making literally every shot interesting; the carousel opening looked like a potential music video, zooming onto Caine rustling a sweet wrapper felt Nolan-esque with the isolation of the audio and the connotations – I heard an orchestral piece in a crackling, crinkled piece of cheap plastic.. Not to mention excellently capturing natural beauty, pulling off dream sequences that would have Fellini doff his hat and frequently introduce delicate and unexpected but not necessarily unorthodox tilts and pans that serve only to heighten the emotions.

Some might dismiss viewing Youth on its title alone, its “pretentious” setting among the elite of the artistic scene or maybe even its aged cast. Unsurprising to Sorrentino fans the film has so much life and vibrant colour spilling out of each frame that the film turned a profit in worldwide box-office (though I’ve no idea how much the marketing budget eats into that).

The simple story is relatable and moves the story along at a pace fitting for the elderly characters. Several hilarious cameos scattered through the film show directorial flare but Caine, Harvey Keitel (a has-been director trying for another magnum opus) and Rachel Weisz (Daughter of Caine’s Ballinger) give such stunning performances that steal the show. One long take monologue in particular with Weisz –  who looks absolutely beautiful here, once again – was electrifying. Paul Dano’s in there too, I love that guy.

“See how everything looks really close? That’s Youth” Keitel spins the telescope around so his young co-writer is using the telephoto lens against herself..“Now see how everything looks really far away?” . Youth celebrates the potential in losing control; not thinking too far ahead and not being hesitant – features of youth. It also reminds us to look fondly on what we achieve as we grow and that our latest doesn’t have to be our greatest.

8.8/10.

Where to invade next – A review

where to invade

Everyone knows the world is riddled with issues. What interested Michael Moore in his simplest documentary Where To Invade Next is the public perception that some systems are so fixed and deeply ingrained that not even the most innovative and optimistic industry leaders would ever be able to improve Quality of Life in America. Moore cheekily raids and “steals” the legislative assets of countries across Europe primarily and suggests that life for everyone, not just America, really could be so much better.

It’s actually fascinating how the world works. The statistics are publicly available for just about every anthropological aspect of life in  most countries of the world, good and bad: unemployment rates, economy strength, educational fortitude, ecological impact, mental health awareness… some countries handle these issues perfectly, but how? Furthermore, in this technological era where communication is often too easy, why haven’t we all cherry-picked from one another yet?

Using America and American history as a yardstick, Moore travels to Italy, Germany, Fra.. Moore heads to foreign non-English speaking lands to hear first hand from the people, the professionals, the police, the politicians on why they think they’re doing it right. The way he provokes people to share is funny and engaging to the interviewees and to me as a Brit but deprecating and shameful on America (Moore does not invade the UK though, worrying). He’s amazed at the structure of schooling in Finland and their quadrilingual students; the open-minded and powerful female figures in Iceland and Tunisia among so much else. Interwoven with embarrassing footage of American brutality and intolerance Moore’s morals are untarnished and anecdotally resounded idealistically but not unrealistically by everyone the camera points at.

Moore’s pondering of why place A is better for X than place B never delves deeper than the the people and situations he finds himself in; there’s limited number crunching, charts and infographics (more useful in Inside Job for example) which solidifies the idea that change is always more straight-forward than they want you to think and it comes from, and is ultimately for, the people.

This film is not just for the dispirited youth or millennial hipster. It’s for anyone who’d like things to be different and who’s hopeful that by pulling together we can ultimately make the world a community again.

Good grief, have I become Russell Brand?

7.5 Freedoms/10

What I’ve been watching, 2 – Haiku reviews

Out of Sight (1998)

Jenny with a Glock

Confidence, Cloons Kryptonite

Freeze frames are so cool.

Lincoln (2012)

Morals meet power

Good progressive change happens

And good movies too

American Movie (1999)

Who made B-Movies?

A man, a cam, and a crew

Even now, that’s who.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E (2015)

So all along she..

The English played that well, then

And Cavill for Bond

 

 

What I’ve been watching – 3 sentence reviews

High-Rise

Without having read the novel, this film is pointless.

Having read the novel, this film is disappointing.

A building’s inhabitants privately devolving modern civility into primal skyward resource-driven territorialism was what I hoped for, this was merely a sexy, confusing take on The Raid.

6/10

End of the Tour

David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest demanded more of me than any book I’d ever read.

Interviewed during his book tour by Rolling Stone Magazine, Wallace was his usual self; eclectic, downbeat, mysterious.

A wonderfully acted accompaniment to the few inspiring recordings of a man who saw through America’s many veils.

7.8/10

The Magnificent Seven

Star-studded classic.

Worthy adaptation of a film that inspired countless others.

Firepower, wit and teamwork was enough for these Superheroes.

8.5/10

All The President’s Men

The Panama Papers, the Wall Street Crash, fraudulence in supposedly democratic elections – without the determination and curiosity of honest people in the press to report all this, where would we be today?

Clever techniques like split field diopters being used to separate one man’s working world from the pack’s and a powerful, concise script accurately represent the rush of being a reporter on the cusp of a big story.

One of the defining political texts in cinematic history.

8.9/10

The Bridge over the River Kwai

Alec Guinness’ mind-blowing portrayal of a man maintaining order to keep his sanity is second to none.

A patriotic testament to British power of will encompassed in the building of a bridge – for the enemy – that meets a fate not unlike the General in Keaton’s classic comedy.

My personal favourite PoW film Rescue Dawn shares the same dry, dour camp setting but Guinness’ manly performance takes the film to the top tiers of acclaim.

8.4/10

Son of Saul

Brutal, shocking, disorientating, horrifying; and hundreds more adjectives to describe a portrayal of Nazi Deathcamps like no other through the story of a Sonderkommando.

Tactical shallow depth of field cinema and the cramped aspect ratio focus our attention away from the unbearable atrocities in the background and onto the affairs of fledgling escapists and a man’s attempt to properly respect the dead.

It may be too much for some, but it won at Cannes for a reason.

8.1/10

 

 

 

 

Hail, Caesar! – A Review

hail caesar

Masters of the movies Joel and Ethan Coen are back with Hail, Caesar! their latest ensemble film starring predominantly Josh Brolin, George Clooney and Alden Ehrenreich among a slew of other famous faces. Hollywood in the 60s, miles of aircraft hangar-sized soundstages organised in barrack-like order wherein various foreign lands and unattainable lifestyles are brought to life by the hottest talent week in week out to wow the masses; the Coens capture the energy of the thousands of people on the production lot whilst comically weaving classic genre drama, western, musical and prestige picture scenes into an uncomplicated, satirical noir.

I’ve mentioned before in my blog that I’m a fan of filmmakers’ films on film itself as I believe the modern filmmaker venting their thoughts into the medium often pushes the boundaries and develops the general understanding about what film can and should do. Therefore Barton Fink is naturally my favourite Coen Brothers flick, a film which reminded me a lot of Fellini’s 8 ½. In Hail, Caesar! the entire process is laid out clear, Brolin is an executive go-getter who basically makes the movies; he’s directly involved in procurement of star-power, management of budget, reviewing dailies and unfortunately when heroically-clad Whitlock (Clooney) disappears.. further procurement of star-power.

The directorial vision translates into a dynamic, versatile and gaily joyous romp around Hollywood with plenty of jokes, in jokes and stereotypically casted blokes. Literally, I think this is the most perfectly typecasted film I’ve ever seen. There’s a scene with a 4 different religious clergyman that aren’t only dressed appropriately but look exactly as you’d expect, the lawyers, the moneymen, the writers, the wives, the assistants – you could basically probably guess the character’s role by looking at their isolated face, incredible casting.

So, definitely see this film if you’re to keep calling yourself a fan of the Coens. Obviously not their best, probably not their worst.

7.8/10

Wild Tales – A Review

wild tales

Wild Tales is a film comprising of 6 short films all loosely linked by the kind of people that reach a point and stop giving a rat’s ass, a flying fuck or any kind of transferable obscenity. It’s hilariously reflective of a sizeable chunk of society, the portion who’d rather maintain their personal moral code and end up imprisoned, maimed or dead than suffer the puniest disrespect. Sometimes, people go wild.

The first of the six stories is known as “Pasternak”, people start talking on a plane and realise they all know… the same… person… how odd. How odd that none of them liked this person. How odd none of them purchased their own tickets for the flight but instead were given/gifted them. How odd. Not unlikely, the opening sequence of PTA’s Magnolia tells us of unlikely events, no, so many subtly linked persons in the same place is a result of planning, a certainty, like the friends of the birthday girl showing up at the party knowing one another too. This situation then is relatable as it’s realistically possible, but detached as it’s also incredibly different to real life – like a film is to an audience. The lack of lengthy narrative, lead characters etc. stabilise the film in this space and made it very unique and exciting and worthy of the Oscar nod it received.

Writer-Director Damián Szifron’s scenarios for the six stories are also really interesting. For me one of my reasons for loving cinema (and even photography) is it gives me the ability to see new images; maybe that’s the reason I hate Superhero films. What I mean by this is on multiple occasions among the tales were sets, shots, looks, fights and people I’d felt like I was seeing for the first time (and I consume a lot of media). When the aforementioned “Pasternak” plane lifts-off the camera is level with the hull of the ascending plane looking out the window at the angled horizon: a man near hanged from his car which is perched nose first on a van in a river under a bridge: a bride shagging a cook on a skyscraper roof – the finales seem reverse-engineered, they’re brilliant.

Brilliantly funny, too. The Wild people we know are often the most entertaining and the huge performances from everyone involved (Ricardo Darin from The Secret in Their Eyes is in it) back up the irony, the satire, the absurdity of it all whole-heartedly.

It’s funnier than Grimsby.

8.7/10.

Grimsby – A Review

grimsby.jpg

I liked Sacha Baron Cohen’s Grimsby (Grimsbeh) a lot. I love comedy films, everything from Superbad to Clerks, Modern Times to Dr Strangelove to Love and Death to Airplane! Some of my favourite comedies roll you over in your over-priced cinema seat, force you to partially cover your eyes and grimace as your inner-upperclassman recoils from the crass, disgusting imagery ahead – and my belly-laughs are never more painstakingly guttural and prolonged. Jackass: The Movie and its successors are, for me, the masters of manufacturing this torturous pleasure – I felt some of that in Grimsby and for that I’m grateful.

Borat had some real edge didn’t it? It was one of the first hugely popular Mockumentary films worldwide. Zelig, This is Spinal Tap, Man Bites Dog etc had all done it long before more locally, but springing off his Ali G. character Sacha became a worldwide megastar. People couldn’t believe what they were seeing and hearing, nor could they believe they were laughing at jokes on rape, molestation and sexism and still wanting more. Aside from his beer bottle + Oasis hooligan get-up, Grimsby amounts to little more than a retelling of Sacha’s greatest jokes (Rebel Wilson’s girlfriend character is Julie from Ali G., again, poo related misunderstandings like “laying a brick”) combined with an energetic Bond-esque and satisfyingly silly spy story featuring a great show from Mark Strong. Cohen and Strong’s characters’ differing attitudes make them a hilarious duo throughout.

If you can deal with more than just a smattering of F-bombs from little kids, synthetic scrotums and a caricaturist’s portrayal of Grimsby then definitely go and see this movie, especially if you’re British. It is one of those films where the whole audience will be guffawing throughout, even the most cynical of us.

7.3 dick jokes out of 10.

Clouds of Sils Maria – A Review

Sils

Olivier Assayas, director of this wonderful piece, has been writing for film since the late 70s in France. I’ve seen nothing of his work, I know nothing of his methods, after seeing his latest, Clouds of Sils Maria, I already rather like his style.

Firstly, more films need to be made around St Moritz; the scenery amongst the crowds of mountains jutting up majestically on the border of Switzerland and Italy is fantastic. Beautiful natural light fills low-flying cloud that we see from atop a grassy knoll opposite a snowy pass. The ideas of the unknown and anxiousness and loneliness are no more or less powerful in this open space than those a filmmaker can evoke in a bustling metropolis, they’re just different, and we as an audience need to know that.

So the outdoor sequences all look like the magic moment at the end of The Deer Hunter but a good film often has a good plotline and Sils is no exception. Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, an actress in town to receive an award on behalf of the theatre director whom made her famous over 20 years prior. Said director, originally not attending probably because he’s old and publically reclusive, kills himself just hours before the ceremony which despite Juliette’s assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) expertly juggling the LCD screens connected to Maria’s other issues like a divorce settlement, interviews, new jobs etc. – despite all these efforts to make life easy, really lowers the bloody mood.

Maria shows up mentally and accepts the award, she puts on a press-face and tolerates the intolerables when Valentine informs her that Klaus, an up and coming, respected director – a young, German PTA for arguments sake – wants to remake that play in honour of the deceased. Originally, a plotline revolving around a lonesome swan of an older woman that’s re-awakened by a moody but vivacious young vixen (like a grittier version of Hayne’s Carol) she starred as the young’un, in an edgy twist our new man in the Director’s seat wants Maria holding the other end of the story’s stick this time round.  Unsurprisingly, Maria’s developed as an actress and person since the last time she performed that play; she’s more intelligent, experienced and nuanced now than the raw, frenetic talent she once stole the show with. Questioning her suitably for her new role, and if she even wants to “go there”, things get a little bit Synecdoche, New York as Maria works her creative process and we watch to see how it affects her life.

So that may sound a little odd. The film shows you the behind-the-scenes of theatre excellently, like Birdman did with 90% less caricature but with just as much intensity; I often overly-deliberate committing to a long book but Maria has to commit to living another life for months, that’s tough. That toughness and that fragility, that malleability on the stage but astute stubbornness in making calls in real life – it’s all there in Binoche. I think I’m yet to dislike a role of hers, I loved her in Three Colours: Blue and Chocolat in particular. Also, Kristen Stewart, I’m not going to watch American Ultra because I hear it sucks and I don’t want to lower my opinion of you, but you’re also becoming one of my faves, even if you do always play the same character.

There is the subtlest commentary woven in on art, the subjectivity of art and how things change to you as you change yourself; “Literature is like an object, your perspective changes depending on where you’re standing” – these felt like Assaya’s personal thoughts running throughout, I’d love to have a beer with the guy frankly.

A brilliant film, Chloë Grace Moretz comes in and livens everything up at the right time AND there are multiple scenes where a wonderful rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon is played over images of those beautiful mountains.

Maria, you’ve gotta see her.

8.1/10.