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Friday, January 28, 2022

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This Week We’ve Been Watching…

One of the things readers have been asking is that we post more film reviews, well, this is the feature for you. 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.

Eoin’s been watching…
GNOMEO AND JULIET
DIR: Kelly Asbury

I’m not sure whether it was the marketing department at Touchstone or some kind of weird request from John Lasseter himself, having moved the movie from Disney Animation to Touchstone because he didn’t think it was good enough, but they pretty much did their best to make Gnomeo and Juliet seem like a terrible waste of time.  The big thing about it is that, well, it isn’t. Not that it’s Tangled, but it’s not, say, any of Dreamworks’ early ‘Chuck some stars in and see what happens’ movies.

Gnomeo and Juliet revolves around the kind of clever concept of Romeo and Juliet done in Lawn Gnome form with two neighbours being divided in their hatred, reflecting on their gnomes, who go into red and blue factions. As the story went in Shakespeare, a boy and a girl, one from each tribe, fall in love and all heck breaks loose. Obviously, it doesn’t go the same way (pointed out to us by a really fun cameo by Patrick Stewart) but it isn’t as though it isn’t kind of fun to sit though. The effects on the gnomes are really nice to look at at times having a sense of age, wear and sometimes tear as the movie goes on and defiantly impressive on the part of the animators.

My main gripe, besides the forgetfulness of it all,  is the fact that the soundtrack is pretty much full of Elton John. I like Elton John but, like with most things, there’s so much Elton John a man can take before he desires anything else. Also the fact that, besides the obvious tracks, nothing really stands out from him on the original songs. I do understand he produced the movie and has a likeness cameo in it, but it almost feels wedged in and doesn’t fit compared to everything else the movie does.

If you were forced to see it by kids, you won’t feel bored like other animated movies. Everyone puts an effort in, including, surprisingly, Jason Statham, and there are some funny bits (the Terrafirminator bit being the funniest in complete credit to Hulk Hogan) but you won’t remember it too much in the really long term which, really, for films like this, it’s a good position to be in.

Mike’s Been Watching…
THE MILKY WAY
DIR: Luis Buñuel

André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto was written in 1924 and receives one of its finest cinematic essays in this sardonic road movie, which finds two drifters encountering all sorts of religious tomfoolery – including a sword fight between a Jesuit and Jansenist, who argue about predestination mid-duel. It’s absurdist, irreverent and a clear influence on Monty Python’s Flying Circus (who have often cited Buñuel as an influence) – but there is also the clear footprint of Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales) and Godard (Week End) in this offering. Beautifully photographed by Christian Matras (an underrated talent who also lensed work for Renoir and Ophüls), it’s a very funny movie which lampoons the concept of religion without ever poking fun at the individual; there is none of the mean streak of, say, the recent Religulous (2008).

After viewing this film I have come to realize how underrated Buñuel is not as an artist (for he is well acclaimed) but as a comedian, and an expert in the execution of visual gags – indeed, the quick-cut from a bourgeoise restaurant where a waiter mocks Jesus’ perfect posture to a scene of an exasperated, flustered Jesus running to his disciples to the greeting of “you’re late” is perfectly timed. It’s actually more like a series of vignettes, but a profoundly intelligent thread holds them together and the mise-en-scène is consistently accomplished. I never expected to laugh so much at an arthouse movie, or be so provoked – intellectually – by a surrealist comedy. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is very, very good indeed, and a great place to start for those new to Buñuel.

DIAMONDS OF THE NIGHT
DIR: Jan Nemec

Based on “Darkness Casts No Shadow” by Holocaust survivor Arnošt Lustig (who sadly passed away yesterday), Diamonds Of The Night (Nemec’s feature debut) is a bleak meditation on free will and imprisonment; a lyrical poem that is not just anti-war and anti-Nazi, but also deeply humanist, and at heart concerned with mans idealism and want to survive.

Stunningly shot by DoP Jaroslav Kucera, the film largely consists of tracking shots – never better exemplified than in the astonishing opening that sees two young boys (Ladislav Jánsky, Antonín Kumbera) fleeing into the woods from the train that was transporting them from one concentration camp to another (between two evils they find a desolate land of fatigue and starvation). It tracks them up the side of a hill, seemingly never ending, giving us the impression that their journey will be a hard one; and uphill. Nemec brilliantly introduces surrealist sequences (one of the boys fantasizes of rape and murder – perhaps a consequence of the violence inflicted upon him), best represented in a scene of falling trees. Of course no trees are really falling, as the scene exists as a device to externalize the feeling of fear and entrapment – either giving the impression of the forest (their only hope) closing in on them, or the idea that everything around them is falling apart, and they are becoming more exposed to the enemy.

With no real score to speak of, or any dialogue, the film takes place in long expanses of fear. Although its stance is quite obviously played, and stretched at even 63 minutes, Diamonds Of The Night is still a powerful and compelling debut, and a worthy indictment of conflict.

THE BURMESE HARP
DIR: Ichikawa Kon

I’m so pleased to be able to say that for the first installment of this new feature I’ve seen one of the best films of all time. The 1950s were a groundbreaking time for Japanese cinema, filled with masterpieces by Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ozu and perhaps the most underrated (but best) of all – Ichikawa Kon. Kon started life as an artist and his first film was a puppet short – and his understanding of texturing, shading and colour comes to the fore in this emotional tour de force which showcases some stunning photography.

Japanese filmmakers were also masters of evoking the fears and truths of life during wartime, and this film recalled another great essay on the subject of fallout – Mizoguchi’s The Lady From Musashino (1951). This film concerns the story of a young solider, and harpist, named Mizushima (Shôji Yasui) who is sent on a mission to resign a platoon holding strong in the mountainous regions of Burma. They are strong military men who hold pride above anything else – much like Col. Blimp, of Powell/Pressburger fame – and they take a stand on the suicide offensive. When they are killed Mizushima is left to wander the desolate mountains, and eventually becomes a Buddhist monk to fulfill his divine destiny and put to rest all those who fell without a grave – the charred remains of brave men who he once fought beside. The film is achingly emotional and accompanied by a subtle, evocative score – but best of all is the performance by Yasui, who convinces both as a solider and spirit. It’s another film that is also an indictment of war and a celebration of humanity – but this one is an unforgettable masterpiece.

Oren’s Been Watching…
BROTHER’S KEEPER
DIR: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky

A fascinating documentary detailing the murder trial of Delbert ward, a member of a family of four elderly, semi-illiterate brothers living together on their isolated farm near Munnsville in upstate New York who was accused of murdering his older brother Bill after a preliminary medical examination indicated that he may have not died of natural causes.

This documentary is fascinating and riveting for a number of reasons, first and foremost being that Delbert and his brothers are such fascinatingly odd individuals; off-putting at first but sweet and harmless, but as we spend more and more time with them we realize how charming and likable they are, Delbert in particular, who is clearly the smartest and most able of the bunch. Also interesting is that the documentary unfolds in real time – interviews and testimonials from both sides of the issue detail the events that unfolded in the two years since the murder in 1990 – the circumstances of the medical report, the police interrogation in which Delbert apparently waived his rights and signed a confession that he indeed killed his brother, and the rallying together of the Munnsville community behind Delbert, a man most of them had never seen or spoken to until the District Attorney’s office put him on trial for murder. But the film picks up just as the trial goes underway, and so most of its third and final act unfolds like a courtroom drama. Thirdly, the film serves as a fascinating allegory of the clash between the simple country life and the outrageousness of the city life.

THE ILLUSIONIST
DIR: Sylvain Chomet

Much like Chomet’s previous film The Triplets of Belleville, The Illusionist is a beautiful, touching, tender, wonderful animated film aimed at adults. It’s not that it features any risque material or anything of the sort, it’s just that it’s themes of regret, failure, and attempted redemption, not to mention it’s patient, calculated story progression and the fact that it is almost entirely devoid of dialogue (save for a handful of unsubtitled murmurs in French and Gaelic) might be a little hard for kids to handle. For adults, though, the film is an absolute treat: Brilliant characterization, compelling mini-plot, and ultimately, a very melancholy and quite sad emotional payoff.

The animation is simply gorgeous – Chomet retains the beautiful, vivid watercolor animation style of his previous film, but the characters and environments are drawn far more realistically and not quite like the exaggerated caricatures that appeared in Triplets. It is a very real, very tangible world – and little details help establish the time and setting. It is hands down the most beautifully animated film of the year – every frame is a gorgeous masterpiece. The story behind the film is just as interesting – based on an unproduced Jacques Tati script which the famed French mime/comedian wrote as a letter to his estranged daughter whom he abandoned when she was a child, the film clearly bears his mark in its shot selection and in the drawing and animating of its main character, also named Jacques. More importantly though, it takes the themes of Tati’s script and universalizes them, creating a truly raw emotional experience we can all appreciate and understand.

Sam’s Been Watching…
WOMEN OF HAMAS
DIR: Suha Araaf


This film will be screened at the Birds Eye View Film Festival 2011. For the full programme see http://bit.ly/htSw7C

Both in length and in feel Women of Hamas is a television film, but it packs a whole lot of punch into a scant 53 minutes. There is a tendency in the west to assume that women are the downtrodden victims of radical islam, this film certainly appears to give the lie to that perception, showing women occupying positions of great authority, respect and power within the Palestinian authorities ruling party. However, this is not such a positive thing as you might think, given what we see these women use there power for.

There is a great emphasis on the virtue of martyrdom, and many of the film’s most disturbing moment revolve around it. In one horrifying scene a female Hamas leader ‘comforts’ the mother of a martyr by telling her that he is in heaven, then begins to insist that this woman should encourage ALL of her children to die for the cause. It is one of many disturbing insights into the way people are indoctrinated into extremism.

At a pure filmmaking level Women of Hamas is very rough (by necessity) and it will gain nothing from a large screen, but this is a film that should be seen.

EYES WITHOUT A FACE
DIR: Georges Franju

I’ve been wanting to see Franju’s much admired horror film for a long time, and to finally have my first viewing at the NFT was a real treat (even if the introduction provided 15 minutes of the worst public speaking I’ve ever heard). The film is one of the three great horror tentpoles of 1960; along with Psycho and Peeping Tom it changed the genre, contributing much to the more visceral direction it would take over next two decades.

Franju’s story of a doctor (Pierre Brasseur) who turns to murder to give his beloved daughter (Edith Scob) a new face after she is disfigured in a car accident is effectively told by his stark black and white images and occasional sense of grand gugniol (especially during the face transplant scene, the special effects for which remain remarkably convincing after 51 years).

The downside is that there’s not much beneath the stylish surface, little real engagement with any character besides, and that engagement comes largely thanks to Edith Scob’s subtle, pathos filled, performance. It is though easy to see why the look of the film became iconic, the blank white mask that Scob wears for most of the film is still incredibly creepy and Franju’s use of lighting and shot selection only accentuates the creepy atmosphere. Eyes Without A Face may not quite be the deathless classic that Psycho and Peeping Tom are, but it remains an effective and essential horror film.

NO STRINGS ATTACHED
DIR: Ivan Reitman

Ghostbusters was a long time ago. Hell, Ghostbusters 2 was a long time ago, and even since that disappointing sequel, Ivan Reitman’s career has been on a downward trajectory. It’s not that No Strings Attached is terrible, it’s not, point of fact it is probably one of the better rom-coms to come out of Hollywood in the last five years, it’s just that that’s saying so very, very little. It’s clear that Reitman and screenwriter are looking to update When Harry Met Sally for 2011, changing the question from ‘can men and women be friends?’ to ‘can people who have sex with each other be friends?’

The problem is that No Strings Attached lacks the laughs, the insight, even the characters, of that genre classic. I don’t actively hate either Natalie Portman’s Emma (a junior doctor with a phobia of relationships) or Ashton Kutcher’s Adam (the almost disgustingly nice friend she engages as a sex buddy), but they don’t really have much going for them either, both are nice enough in that bland sort of movie way, but neither has any real personality. Think back to Say Anything, and how rich Lloyd Dobler and Diane Court were as characters, I haven’t seen that movie in over a year and I could still tell you a lot about those characters, I saw No Strings Attached less than eight hours ago, and I don’t know anything about Emma and Adam besides what I told you above, which isn’t really conducive to forging a connection with them and their relationship.

The performances aren’t bad, and when Portman is allowed to have fun she is quite adorable, but equally there are no real standout moments, and the film wastes talented players like Greta Gerwig in nothing roles. No Strings Attached is inoffensive, it is perhaps modern rom-com making near its finest, but that only emphasizes how awful the genre has become.

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