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Monday, January 30, 2023

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This Week We’ve Been Watching…

Welcome to This Week We’ve Been Watching… Here the MultiMediaMouth film staff will come together and give you capsule reviews of some of the films they’ve been watching over the past week. We’ll cover old films and new, from all genres and all over the world, so hopefully each week you’ll be able to find a couple of titles from this post to hunt down and check out yourselves.

Mike’s Been Watching…
DIR: MiloŇ° Forman

One of the best things about the Czech New Wave is the fact that even though most of its films are political satires they never feel like essays or lectures; they are humanitarian stories, often casting non-actors in the role of middle-class workers put upon by the authoritarian state. The films are often heightened, surrealistic or dreamlike – even the bleak dramas like Larks On A String (Menzel, 1990), which mixes oppression with almost farcical sketch comedy. Forman’s The Fireman’s Ball (1967), the follow-up to this feature, is not such a film. Despite its warmth the film now unfurls more like cynical propaganda – its politics overshadowing character and scenario. Maybe Forman became embittered after shooting this honest and sensitive film, beautifully shot by DoP Miroslav Ondr√≠cek. That isn’t to say the subtext isn’t obvious – in fact, the outdated politics deny the film a timeless quality it could otherwise have had. But I felt like Forman had a lot of compassion for these characters, and their mannered repression and bashfulness makes for some cringing social comedy. The scenes between three balding middle-aged soldiers and the three teenage girls they try to chat up are endlessly funny, and provide the highlight of a film that ends on a surprisingly poignant emotional blow. All of the characters have flaws, but remain likable, save for the cheating young womanizer who is cast as the result of a system falling in on itself. I liked A Blonde In Love, but I would have liked it more without an agenda – there’s a cracking little coming-of-age romance in here somewhere, behind the bureaucratic jabbing. Still very entertaining though…

DIR: Ivan Reitman

I, like most people, have lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen Ghostbusters now, as it remains one of the most re-watchable and entertaining films of all time. It has one of the best screenplays for any comedy but what really lifts it are the performances, particularly the lead turn from Bill Murray. His brand of deadpan, hangdog sarcasm is really biting here – he just looks totally bored and fed up, only brightening up at the appearance of a female client. He gets all the best lines and delivers them with dry relish; if it weren’t so underplayed I’d call it a comedic tour de force. I think I laugh every couple of minutes due to his very presence, and even by the way he walks into a room. The high concept is still as deliriously silly as it always was, but the perfect ghost/creature design still goes shamefully unrewarded and I think most viewers take for granted how solid the special effects are – they still hold up, with or without nostalgia. With a firecracker pace and some inventive action (the scene in the hotel restaurant is excellent, as is the stream-crossing finale), Ghostbusters would probably work even if it wasn’t a comedy. But the fact that it is elevates it to a place that very few films can reach – it takes it to a place that moves and excites you while its busting your gut. It’s been doing that for the last 27 years, and if you can remember how many times you’ve seen it, you haven’t seen it enough.

Oren’s Been Watching…
DIR: Coen Brothers

The Coen Brothers can do no wrong, and O Brother is one of the best demonstrators of that fact. Having less in common with their more dark, cynical films such as Blood Simple, Fargo or No Country for Old Men and more in common with the madcap comedy of Raising Arizona and the pure storytelling of Miller’s Crossing and True Grit, O Brother is one of the greatest demonstrations of the Coen’s pure craftsmanship and sense of humor, if less of an exploration of their trademark dark themes and philosophies about the nature of humanity. It is a fairly straightforward narrative, loosely adapted from The Odyssey and riffing off of the classic Hero’s journey as described by Joseph Campbell, and what it lacks in darkness or irony it makes up for with pure whimsy. The cinematography is top notch, the performances – many of which are delivered by a troupe of long-time Coen collaborators – are hilarious, and the soundtrack is in and of itself almost a character of its own in the film. However, what stands out the most is the Coen’s sharp, brilliant writing; their clearly drawn characters, their attention to the detail of speech patterns, vocabulary and local dialects, their use of repetition and variation, and their crazy, quirky characters that still feel grounded enough to elicit sympathy from the audience. A triumph on all levels.

DIR: Duncan Jones

Having been a huge fan of Duncan Jones’ first directorial effort from a couple of years ago, Moon, I was very much anticipating his follow-up film. Working in a similar science fiction setting but this time with a studio budget and a stellar all-star cast, I was curious to see how Jones’ would adapt to his newfound luxuries and if he would deliver the goods his first film promised. The marketing for the film wasn’t great – it was distributed by Summit Entertainment, so this comes as no surprise – but the cast, premise and director kept me interested. The film turned out to be just as good as I hoped it would be, and even more so. Jones really managed to up the ante from his considerably smaller and more modest debut film, and proved that he is a directorial force to be reckoned with, and a true leader in the modern renaissance of the science fiction genre. I don’t want to talk too much about the film itself because it offers something new and fresh and unexpected at almost every turn, but suffice it to say that the script is a brilliant little science fiction yarn with a brilliant premise and an even more brilliant storytelling technique utilized to create inherent tension in every frame of the film. Since the character only gets an 8 minute time window at a time, the film moves along at a breakneck pace, the timeframe utilized to its utmost potential. But the film’s true success lies is in its emotional core – the protagonist was driven more than anything by strong, heartfelt, genuine emotions that were handled expertly by Jones and his cast. Overall, this is a smart, thrilling science fiction film with a strong emotional core to boot, and I highly recommend it.

Sam’s Been Watching…
DIR: Neil Burger

Limitless should be a lot more interesting than it actually is. The premise promises much; seriously blocked writer Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) gets access to a drug that allows him to use not just the 10 to 20% of his brain that most of us are apparently able to use, but to access all 100% of his mind’s potential. On this drug he completes his book in four days, then becomes a wall street whizkid. Unfortunately there begin to be side effects of the drug, and people begin to question how he has become this overnight success, which, of course, leads to serious danger.

Director Neil Burger finds some arresting visuals, notably in travelling sequences, depicting Eddie’s ‘lost time’ that create a 3D feeling more effectively than any 3D films I’ve seen. The performances are, if never especially brilliant, proficient (though, as he has for the past 15 years, Robert DeNiro coasts). The script has some interesting twists (Eddie’s loan shark starts taking the mind enhancing drug, with interesting effects) and the film is seldom boring, but there’s just a feeling of a missed opportunity, the chance to deliver much more than this very routine, workaday thriller.

Whatever its other strengths and weaknesses, it’s almost worth seeing Limitless just to see the spectacular way it falls on its arse in its last scene. This film has the most abrupt ending I’ve seen in years, it literally ends in the middle of a scene, at a point when the movie feels as though it is only half over. In closing, I’m going to try and approximate the film’s ending. Like this.

DIR: Duncan Jones

As with Duncan Jones’ previous film, Moon, this new one is being hailed in some quarters as a sci-fi masterpiece, and as with Moon, though I don’t dislike it, I’m not quite on board. I think the problem lies somewhat in the premise; the idea of a soldier (Jake Gyllenhaal) being able to have his mind projected into the body of another person in the last eight minutes of their life in order to discover a bomber and, hopefully, prevent a subsequent attack in the real world sounds really strong, until you realise that what it means is that you are going to be sitting through a lot of the same scenes over and over again.

The problem for me was that the series of events just wasn’t all that thrilling that I wanted to see it eight times, and despite the film’s efforts to build in a deadline I never felt any great urgency about what was happening, because Gyllenhaal was always able to simply try again. It’s never boring, but equally the film never really grabbed me.

Jones’ direction is solid, he creates a creepy real world for Gyllenhaal’s Colter Stevens to exist in; one that is dark, jagged and confining, and draws a sharp visual contrast between this and the bright, almost hyperreal, Source Code. The performances are also strong, with Gyllenhaal impressing as a man having a distressingly literal out of body experience and Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga making the most of largely expository roles. The disappointment is Jeffrey Wright, whose scenery chomping performances unbalances many real world scenes.

Like too many films these days Source Code over explains, with the whole last twenty minutes or so of the film feeling entirely superfluous (to say nothing of making a nonsense of the rules laid out for how Source Code works). There are things to admire here, but for me the film just doesn’t quite thrill as it should.

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