Friday, January 30, 2015

The Guest

Adam Wingard's The Guest is clearly influenced by films of the late 70s and early 80s, Wingard's editing in some scenes is reminiscent of similar scenes from action films. A few of the music cues sound almost like the infamous theme from Halloween. In fact, were it not for a few props, it would look like a film from that time period.

Adding to the homages, The Guest behaves like a film from the era. Robby Baumgartner's cinematography sports a muted palette. The characters are openly flawed, much like those found in films of the then-new Hollywood movement. Not very often do you see a film paying tribute to a particular era of a genre.

And even with the various homages, The Guest knows how to stand on its own. It's a film that starts on relatively normal terms but slowly shifts into something far more disturbing. (To be honest, those are the best kind of films.)

At the center of The Guest is Dan Stevens. He seems quiet and polite but beneath those piercing blue eyes and that charming smile, something dark lurks. Suffice to say that with this performance Stevens took his Downton Abbey image and smashed it into a thousand pieces.

The Guest is very well done though it does lose some momentum in certain scenes. That said though, it's one hell of a slick ride. And oh, that ending is a stunner. "What the fuck?" indeed.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, January 22, 2015

After the Wedding

Susanna Bier's After the Wedding starts off on relatively normal terms. In an effort to stay in good graces, Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) attends the wedding of a businessman's daughter. But it's during the reception that things begin to unravel.

Many times in fiction do you see calamities at wedding ceremonies. (Most of the time it's in comedies and before the actual ceremony.) But with After the Wedding, none of the calamities are of a comedic nature. (It's a Danish film, so what else can you expect?)

Also a familiar feature in fiction is how the dynamics between people can change. Throughout After the Wedding, this happens with the characters. The people they start as and the people they end up as are stark contrasts.

Though by many means, what's shown in After the Wedding isn't anything original. If you're familiar with any standard family drama, what happens in the film becomes rather obvious. Still, Bier manages to make the most out of the familiar traits.

All in all, After the Wedding is good but not great, That said, however, Bier and the actors know how to hit the right notes. In other words, it's worthy of a look.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Foreign Correspondent

Our first glimpse of John Jones (Joel McCrea) in Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent shows him clearly being unimpressed by his newspaper job. Shortly after his introduction, he gets sent off to Europe to cover a peace organization's conference. Soon he finds himself entangled in political intrigue.

Released the same year as the more popular Rebecca, Foreign Correspondent was one of several films of the era with a political slant. (Well, it was an era of political unrest.) And has it lost any of its bite after all these years? Not in the least.

There are certain elements of Foreign Correspondent that are rather grim in hindsight because of what would happen in the following year. There's talk of disagreements throughout Europe, not mentioning the possibility that the rest of the world would be on the brink of war as well. Ah, life and its cruel ironies.

On a different note, McCrea makes for an ideal Hitchcock leading man. Bear in mind this was before Hitchcock used the likes of Cary Grant and James Stewart but either way McCrea (better known for comedies like Sullivan's Travels and The More the Merrier) proves what he's capable of. It's a shame that he and Hitchcock didn't work together again.

Foreign Correspondent is certainly a lesser-known work of Hitchcock's and it's also one that should be seen. Sure, some of its politics may not resonate nowadays but the rest of them do. It's only a matter of time before we're at war once again.

My Rating: ****

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Safe

Carol White (Julianne Moore) of Todd Haynes' Safe has a good life though a dull one. Married but sexually unsatisfied, a housewife though bored, content yet ambitionless. Then...something...begins to happen to her.

In a stark contrast from Haynes and Moore's next film Far From Heaven, Safe moves away from the comfortable domesticity of the former film. It instead focuses on the suffocating nature of life people sometimes encounter. (It is common, you know.)

It's a small detail of Safe but it's one worth bringing up. The white noise heard throughout the film adds a certain sense of paranoia. The noises from television sets and radios only makes it more clear that something isn't right with Carol.

And Moore's performance is one that must be seen. This was only a few years before she got her first of five nominations, and it's clear that her work here should have gotten more recognition than it did. This was proof that she really knew what she was doing as an actress.

Safe has its flaws but it really gets under your skin. Thanks to the work from Haynes and Moore, it's a film that will linger in your mind long after it's finished. Sometimes the scariest things are those around you...

My Rating: ****

Friday, January 16, 2015

Cleo from 5 to 7

The opening moments of Agnes Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7 have singer Cleo Victoire (Corinne Marchand) receiving grim news from a fortune teller. She fears she has cancer. While waiting for her test results, she witnesses the sights, sounds and people of Paris.

Cleo by no means is a deeply likable person. She's often quick to anger and she possesses an arrogant air. (She's frequently called "spoiled" by some of her acquaintances.) But as the film wears on, she gradually softens into someone more sympathetic.

What Varda does with Cleo's perspective is very subtle. It goes from her being the center of attention to being one of the many people walking the Paris streets. It's a quiet detail but a very distinct one.

Similarly, the cinematography by Jean Rabier captures the film much like a photographer would. It focuses on the faces, buildings and bustle of Parisian life. Much like how Control and Ida would be shot in the following decades, Cleo from 5 to 7 is shot like photographs coming to life.

Cleo from 5 to 7 is hypnotic and beautiful. It's a quiet film but Varda and Marchand do wonders with it. It's also proof that female film directors should get more recognition than they currently do. (Honestly, more progress in the film industry would be nice, don't you think?)

My Rating: *****

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Relationships in fiction are often only depicted one of three ways: straight, gay and lesbian. They're all fine but very rarely do you see bisexuality in fiction. Characters are either straight or gay, nothing in between.

This is why John Schlesinger's Sunday, Bloody Sunday is a nice departure from what's usually seen. Focusing on the complicated relationship between doctor Daniel (Peter Finch), divorcee Alex (Glenda Jackson) and sculptor Bob (Murray Head), it's far from the usual LGBT fare we frequently get nowadays. It's a film about people and their complexities.

Here's the thing about Daniel and Alex. They're fully aware that Bob is seeing both of them and they're fine with the situation (though the occasional pang of jealously passes through them). This is another feature of Sunday, Bloody Sunday that's very rarely highlighted in fiction: polyamory. Many relationships focus on only two people. If a third person's involved, that's frequently a sign of cheating.

This had to have been a daring film to make at the time. Not was it depicting sexual relationships as a normal aspect of everyday life, it was made at a time when opinions on sex were changing. (This was made four years after homosexuality was legalized in Britain.) And much like Carnal Knowledge (released the same year), the film shows how sex isn't so straightforward.

Sunday, Bloody Sunday is a gorgeously complex film. (Would you believe this was Schlesinger's follow-up to Midnight Cowboy?) It's been more than forty years since its release, and we still haven't made much progress when it comes to depicting various types of relationships and sex. How much longer until we have?

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

BOOK VS MOVIE: Inherent Vice

The nostalgia filter. It's something frequently seen in fiction, always painting a particular time period in a flattering light. Though as of late (such as Mad Men and Masters of Sex), fiction is willing to show the not-so-ideal lives of the past.

Such is the case with Inherent Vice. Set as Charles Manson's trial is underway, it's a story with a menagerie of characters, a whirlwind plot, and the dying era of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.

Thomas Pynchon's novel is a work of sheer insanity. It's a work that reaches many bizarre levels and being unfamiliar with Pynchon's writing style, it was hard to know what to expect. The result is something adventurous and original.

And who better to adapt Pynchon than Paul Thomas Anderson? Sure, it has the usual traits of a film adaptation (characters reduced/removed, scenes changed/taken out), but Anderson keeps Pynchon's wild nature intact. Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin ("Motto panukeiku!") are great but special mention goes to the rest of the cast as well. (Also, though not in the novel, the last scene between Phoenix and Brolin is hilarious.)

So which is better? Pynchon's novel does have some gems (a good portion didn't make it into the film) though Anderson's film has an easier flow. Well, that consensus made things a lot easier, don't you think?

What's worth checking out?: I'd go with the movie.