Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tom at the Farm

At some point within every director's career, there's that one point in time where they experiment with a new genre. Not always does the sudden genre change work with some directors but when it does, the result is amazing.

Such is the case with Xavier Dolan. His first three films (I Killed My Mother, Heartbeats, Laurence Anyways) focused on the complicated personal relationships between the main characters. His fourth film Tom at the Farm strays far away from the (not-so) comfortable domestic ambiance. Very far away.

Being Dolan's first film to be based on another source (in this case, Michel Marc Bouchard's play of the same name), it doesn't take long to see the tonal difference of Tom at the Farm from Dolan's earlier films. Rather than the heavy visuals clearly inspired by Wong Kar-Wai, the imagery here draws comparisons to Terrence Malick's work. It's subtle but very noticeable.

And like I Killed My Mother and Laurence Anyways, Tom at the Farm highlights the issue of homophobia. But it's not merely fear like the former two films. No, Tom at the Farm depicts it in its true hate-filled form. Sometimes the true monsters are those we mistakenly assume are friends...

Tom at the Farm is easily Dolan's best film to date. Think of what Dolan does here to what Quentin Tarantino did when he made Jackie Brown. A director with a distinct (if sometimes erratic) style makes a non-original work their own, and the result is amazing.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Morvern Callar

The opening moments of Lynne Ramsay's Morvern Callar show the title character (Samantha Morton) caressing the body of her boyfriend who's committed suicide. The following scenes have her behaving as if nothing had happened. (She does have the occasional moment of silent grief.)

She and her friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott) go to Spain as a means of personal escape. It's during this sudden vacation that Morvern makes an emotional discovery. Amid the debauchery, she realizes what she must do.

Morvern behaves in a similar manner to that of Eva, the protagonist of Ramsay's follow-up film We Need to Talk About Kevin. Both recently suffered personal tragedy and they try to carry on with their everyday lives. Though both face different reactions from others (Morvern innocent questioning, Eva vicious persecution), they end up as different people as a result. Very rarely is such a thing depicted in fiction for female characters.

A small detail of Morvern Callar is how the backdrops of the film are set up. Glasgow is featured in a muted palette whereas Spain is shown in a much brighter light. Clearly a way to establish the change in mood but Ramsay does it in a way that's effortless.

Morvern Callar is good though not as great as Ramsay's next film. Morton is also good (though she usually is regardless). All in all, you rarely see a female-led (or even female-directed) film focused on such a complex lead. More films like this please, Hollywood.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mr. Turner

2014 saw the release of many films revolving around real-life people. The prominent (Selma, The Theory of Everything), those forgotten by history (The Imitation Game, Belle) and the recently living (Wild, American Sniper), it was a menagerie of (mostly) factual stories.

So where does Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner rank? Indeed, its subject matter of British artist J.M.W. Turner is not someone many people know of like Monet, van Gogh or Picasso. But Turner's work is easily memorable once one has seen it. (He isn't known as "the painter of light" for nothing.)

In the role of Turner is Timothy Spall, a regular name among Leigh's films. Here, he delivers the performance of his career. Spall portrays Turner as a multi-faceted personality, a man of many triumphs and flaws. It's a role that's once in a lifetime for an actor, and Spall gives it his all. (Erm, that rhyme wasn't intended.)

It simply must be mentioned that the cinematography from Dick Pope is stunning. Every shot looks as if Turner's paintings had come to life. (That's a common thing, isn't it? Films about people making beautiful things having been gorgeously shot?) Combine it with the Suzie Davies and Charlotte Watts' production design and Gary Yershon's score, and it makes for an absolutely striking film.

Like Topsy-Turvy, Leigh proves with Mr. Turner that he can make a great costume drama. All of its elements work wonderfully, something not frequently seen in contemporary films. It's a film that people should see.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Dear White People

We supposedly live in a "post-racial" society. Yeah, right. Considering the number of unarmed black people murdered by people who don't have the right frame of mind to even own a gun, it's clearly a claim of utter bullshit.

Justin Simien's Dear White People showcases said bullshit to the fullest. You'd think by now we'd be in an unbiased society. But Simien shows how far we've yet to come. (How much longer we'll be in this sociological rut is hard to say at the present moment.)

Though the film's a satire, Dear White People hits a lot of points. It highlights how little progress has been made over the years when it comes to race relations. How much longer we'll be living in such a society is anyone's guess.

Dear White People also manages to eschew stereotypes for the main characters. The film does what most films tend to ignore: depict people without prejudices. (That said, the depiction of those frat boys could easily be likened to the average comments section of any given article.)

It doesn't work 100% of the time but Dear White People has one hell of a bite. It also raises the question that's been on many people's minds for years: when will we live in a society that's completely equal and free of prejudice? Hopefully it'll only be a matter of time...

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, February 8, 2015

American Sniper

Clint Eastwood's American Sniper is a film with many discussion points. Is it a film that objects war or glorifies it? Does it depict post-traumatic stress disorder properly? And finally, does the film depict Chris Kyle as a war hero or a cold-blooded sociopath?

Eastwood himself is familiar with the war movie genre, both as an actor and a director. So where does American Sniper place? Much like The Deer Hunter and The Big Red One, it focuses on the horrors of war and its effects on people. But unlike Michael Cimino and Samuel Fuller's films, American Sniper revolves more around the brutality than the aftermath.

That said, however, American Sniper does manage to highlight post-traumatic stress disorder when it's required. It depicts it in a low-key manner (none of the flashback nightmares frequently shown in fiction), but even then it doesn't feel like it's been done properly. (Then again, you can't have everything.)

Starring as Kyle is Bradley Cooper, who in recent years has established himself as a serious actor. But how does Cooper depict Kyle? By many means, he depicts Kyle not as someone with a blood lust but rather as someone who feels that he's doing is merely to protect his country. It's simply something that happens in both real life and fiction.

American Sniper has its flaws, certainly, but it has its moments as well. (Admittedly most of them are courtesy of Cooper's work.) It's not great like Letters from Iwo Jima (it's more like Flags of Our Fathers) though again, it does shine in spots. Had the script been modified considerably, the film would probably rank among the greats. (Key word is "probably".)

My Rating: ****