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This Week We’ve Been Watching…

More review morsels from Mike, Oren and Sam’s latest week in movies.

    Mike’s Been Watching…

DIR: Andrew Birkin
An apocalyptic and intoxicating portrait of a very British depression, equally dreamlike and depressing, The Cement Garden is one of those adaptations I just can’t think of as a book. Perhaps the novel, by Ian McEwan, is brilliant, and if I’d read that first I’d be saying the complete opposite, but the bleak poeticism of Birkin’s film is so distinctly cinematic that I struggle to imagine how the same effect could be achieved on the page. The plot is too intricate to detail here, so I shall summate: imagine if the visual languages of sci-fi and miserablism were spliced into a tale of working class doom; the vast space surrounding a dulled cement house observing the very private ruination of a splintering proletariat family – the blue-collar father, sick mother and distant children, the elder of which are complexly and disturbingly displaying signs of sexual attraction. When the parents die the kids form a hermetic enclave wherein their psychosexual urges can be explored unchecked; the youngest son (Ned Birkin) dresses as a girl and pretends to be his dead mother, while Jack (Andrew Robertson) and Julie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) change their bond from siblings to parents to lovers. An interesting connection can be drawn with Lord Of The Flies (1963) in the idea of society’s lost children decaying without supervision; indeed, Jack is permanently stuck in an atrophic and masturbatory state of loneliness. And let’s not forget that Birkin developed the BBC mini-series The Lost Boys in the 70’s. This is the darkest yet perhaps most delicate portrayal of dislocated children that I’ve ever seen, because for all its melancholic misery The Cement Garden is actually incredibly beautiful – especially a scene where Jack nakedly dances in a downpour of rain. A new favourite, for certain.

DIR: Claire Denis

Set to the sparse tones of an electric guitar, Claire Denis’ The Intruder (based upon writings by Jean-Luc Nancy and Robert Louis Stevenson) is as infuriating as it is engrossing. Its narrative takes the form of a chinese puzzle; the film essentially belongs to the road trip genre, yet its destination is unclear and little action takes place on the road. I’m not even sure whose journey we are truly following, and what their quest means in spiritual terms. Wanderers; lost dogs; a dying man… they are part of a mosaic, which Denis’ deceptive cinematic framework delights in shapeshifting. Perhaps it is too self-conscious to be truly engaging, despite some breathtaking individual set-pieces and the tranquil, meditative pace at which the film unfolds. It’s beautifully shot by DP Agnès Godard, who imbues the environments with a delicate tone – a shot of mist rising over a dark forest is impressive, for example, and the scene of horses racing through a snowy vista is unforgettable. The scenes in Korea are also stunning. We’re forced to question the identity of the titular intruder. Is it the murdered man, the new heart of our protagonist or the protagonist himself? There’s only one thing I can say for sure: I won’t be watching this film again for several years. It may be a puzzle, but the solution is not of immediate importance; its parts must be considered over time. I must let the film dissolve into memory and operate as a dream until I can remember only pieces. Then, maybe, I can begin piecing them together, and Denis’ vision will become complete.

DIR: Miranda July

Although the portentous title would suggest writer/director/star Miranda July as yet another tiresome stalwart of indie quirk, her debut feature is a delicate portrayal of fracturing loneliness; bravely poetic and deeply profound. July’s worldview may be kookily askew but she’s an incredibly honest filmmaker, finding truth in heightened scenario. Some call the dialogue unrealistic. I think this is how people would talk if they allowed themselves the time to mull over their words and weren’t in such a rush to explain feelings. Too much conscious thought goes into emotions, which makes them mechanical. When we wander through day-to-day life wonders such as nature and art slip into our subconscious and inform our character. The subconscious does not occupy rhyme or reason; it is a swirling vortex of iconography, transcendence, memory, classic movie dialogue and pure imagination. The characters in Me And You And Everyone We Know speak directly from their subconscious – they are such endearing and warming people because their unfiltered emotions come from the nucleus of empathetic beauty; they are forgiving, open-minded, loving, and most of all scared. Their relationships are not rational – they are built on innocent deception, self-doubt and coincidence. Some people will fall together, some will fall by the wayside, and people (even fish) will wilt without sufficient care. Me And You And Everyone We Know is a masterpiece of emotive storytelling; it is both free-form and narratively coherent, tragic and uplifting. I can’t describe to you how much I love this film, but then too much conscious thought goes into emotions anyway.

    Oren’s Been Watching…

DIR: Paul Feig

I have been an unabashed fan of Kristen Wiig since she first stole the show with less than 5 minutes of screen time in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up four years ago. Since then, Wiig has proven time and time again that she is simply the funniest women working in film today. And yet, she seemed to be cursed with being regulated to a string of memorable but limited supporting roles. I was excited when she got her first true starring role in MacGruber last year, which turned out to be an extremely dumb film unworthy of its cast members’ comedic talents. This year’s Paul, also starring Wiig, was cute, but once again didn’t take full advantage of her talents. And then came Bridesmaids, easily the funniest movie of the year and quite possibly of the past two years, considering 2010’s conspicuous lack of any truly hilarious laugh-out-loud comedy. Bridesmaids is a riot – the perfect balance of rom-com traditions and more raunchy material we have come to expect from comedies as of late. The cast is uproarious, with Wiig leading the pack, delivering a truly hilarious performance playing into all of her comedic strengths. Jon Hamm’s uncredited role as her impossibly douchey boyfriend is also a highlight, but the true show-stealer has to be none other than Melissa McCarthy, sweet old Sookie St. James from Gillmore Girls, sweet no more! McCarthy’s character is the raunchiest, dirtiest, most vulgar of the bunch, and she truly steals the show in a bravura performance. But the key to Bridesmaids success – courtesy of the script written by Wiig herself and her writing partner Annie Mumolo, is that it never loses sight of its heart. It is, at its core, a character piece, driven not by gags or jokes but by the motivations of Kristen Wiig’s poor, poor Annie, who never seems to get it right. If there is one thing I really came out of the movie thinking – besides how funny and enjoyable it was – is that I would love to see Maya Rudolph and especially Kristen Wiig embrace a fully dramatic role. She is already queen of the comedy realm; I think it’s time for her to conquer the dramatic one as well, and a couple of scenes in Bridesmaids prove to me that she is capable of doing so.

    Sam’s Been Watching…

DIR: Michael Tolkin

Michael Tolkin’s film is a strange beast, and I’ll have to see it a few more times to unpick all my feelings about it, and decide exactly what I think he wants us to take away from it. The film is about Sharon (Mimi Rogers) who is very free with her sexuality, has an open relationship, and outside of work is largely concerned with enjoying herself until, out of the blue, she finds God. She immediately becomes a zealous believer in both God and in the idea that he is soon coming back to take the faithful to Heaven. Six years later Sharon is married with a daughter, but when her husband (David Duchovny) is murdered she becomes convinced that God is calling her and her daughter (Kimberly Cullum) to Heaven.

The Rapture is an extremely disquieting film. Tolkin takes his time, building a detailed character with Rogers, and showing us just how Sharon gets sucked into this cult that seems, to some degree, to be infiltrating into her workplace. It grows more disturbing with every passing scene, especially in the second half of the film, in which the tension as we await the inevitable is almost unbearable.

The film has uneven moments, it’s clearly low budget, and some of the supporting performances are very wooden (the disgruntled worker at Duchovny’s company for example), but the things that do work make it riveting and fascinating. Chief among those is Mimi Rogers’ performance, I’ve not really seen many of her films before (and one of the few I have seen revolved largely around her lying around naked while a masseur mused pretentiously to her, so not the best acting showcase) but she’s flat out excellent here, turning in a complex, layered and at times incredibly emotionally raw performance. Kudos are also due to nine year old Kimberly Cullum, who gives an exceptional, heartbreaking performance as Rogers and Duchovny’s young daughter, and for my money steals the film from under Rogers nose.

Unfortunately, Tolkin undermines a fine and thought provoking film with one of the most spectacular shark jumps I have ever seen. The last ten minutes takes every subtle idea in the movie, every implied message, every ounce of ambiguity, picks them up, and smacks you around the face with them, yelling ‘GET IT?’ until the credits roll.

I’ll definitely watch The Rapture again, and I would definitely recommend it, it’s fascinating and has a lot to say and a lot to appreciate, but I would be lying if I didn’t tell you it’s deeply flawed.

DIR: Dennis Gansel

Well, you can’t accuse Dennis Gansel of doing the same thing twice. Following his political high school drama The Wave he here changes gears for a much smarter take on some of the ideas of the Twilight franchise.

We Are The Night is about Louise, a vampire queen (played by the brilliant Nina Hoss) who has been searching for the reincarnation of her lost lover for centuries, and now she thinks she’s found her in the form of street tough Lena (Karoline Herfurth). Unfortunately Lena, once turned, doesn’t fit easily into Louise’s small group of female vampires (also including Jennifer Ulrich and Anna Fischer), she’s got qualms about killing, and her infatuation with a cop named Tom (Max Riemelt) threatens the group.

We Are The Night isn’t fully developed, but there are a lot of interesting ideas going on here. In fact it feels like the material is more suited to a TV series, where ideas like Charlotte’s (Ulrich) sense of loss when she finds her daughter dying in an old people’s home; Lena’s conflict between her humanity and her vampirism; Louise’s attempts to seduce Lena and her search for her lover and Tom and Lena’s infatuation could be expanded on and deepened. As a film it has cool moments (the action is nicely realised, as are the various scenes of the girls introducing Lena to her new vampiric abilities) but it feels overstuffed and undercooked.

What rescues the film from being no more than a pretty rendering of half baked ideas is the quality of the performances. Nina Hoss is a spectacular actress, the kind who becomes invisible in her roles (her striking angular beauty notwithstanding). She’s clearly not very challenged here, but still, she’s having fun as Louise and she gives the part her all, making both the character and her immediate infatuation with Lena convincing. Karoline Herfurth, another fine actress who has done consistently good work since Big Girls Don’t Cry, is equally compelling as Lena. She’s got quite a few vampire movie clichés to play here, but even if she can’t make them new, she sells everything with the down to earth conviction of her performance.

Deeply flawed We Are The Night may be, but that’s not due to anything other than an overabundance of ideas, and the performances make it well worth seeing.

DIR: Tom McCarthy

I missed The Visitor, Tom McCarthy’s second film, but if Win Win is any indication then his career seems to be sticking close to the template laid down with his character driven dramedy debut, The Station Agent.

Win Win isn’t a groundbreaking film, the story of Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) a lawyer and high school wrestling coach whose life is turned upside down when he takes on the guardianship of a client (Burt Young), and is then forced to take in the old man’s runaway grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer), it goes through most of the moves that you’d expect, in roughly the order you’d expect, but it’s well executed enough that the familiarity isn’t a problem.

That’s thanks, largely, to a clutch of fine performances. Giamatti, obviously, is terrific, but what really marks the film out is how well he plays off the other members of the cast, especially Amy Ryan, who plays his wife in one of the best drawn and most believable screen marriages in some time. There are also strong turns from Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale, who help form a sort of comic chorus with Giamatti in the scenes based around the wrestling team, which they help him coach. Also worth mentioning is the perennially excellent and, as ever, under used Melanie Lynskey, who again shows what a fine and subtle actress she is in a small role as Kyle’s mother.

There are a couple of problems here too. McCarthy’s direction is solid enough, but there’s not much in Win Win to make it feel really cinematic at a visual level. More damaging is the fact that, despite being effective in most of his scenes, young Alex Shaffer just doesn’t have the dramatic chops to carry the dramatic weight of the film’s third act.

On the whole though, Win Win wins more than it loses, and the beautifully drawn and played dynamic between Giamatti and Ryan is reason enough to check it out even before you consider its many other strong qualities.

1 reply on “This Week We’ve Been Watching…”

The teaser trailer released on October was met with mixed response. That said Im a huge fan of Mottolas previous films the cast is pretty stacked and the geek-focused plot seems up my alley. Ive heard nothing but good buzz coming out of test screenings of the film..Watch the trailer for yourself after the jump.

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