Archive for July, 2012

As this review was published following the release of The Dark Knight Rises we would first and foremost like to express our sympathies to all of those affected by the Aurora premier tragedy.

Returning to the Batman franchise for the final time Christopher Nolan offers up The Dark Knight Rises. Dredging the emotional depths of Batman Begins and blending in the thrills of The Dark Knight, Batman’s final stand is a muscular epic, which successfully pulls its own monumental weight.

Bruce Wayne/Batman’s (Christian Bale) story picks up eight years after his battle with The Joker (Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight. Grief stricken at the loss of his sweetheart Rachel Dawes, Wayne has abandoned his playboy reputation and become a mythic recluse to the people of Gotham. When terror attacks rock Gotham Wayne considers revisiting the Bat suit, but his loyal butler Alfred (Michael Caine) fears Wayne’s own self-destructive tendencies may lead him to defeat.

Alfred Hitchcock once said “the better the villain, the better the film”. Christopher Nolan’s challenge for The Dark Knight Rises was to apply Hitchcock’s theory, in the shadow of Ledger’s show stealing Joker. This time Nolan opts for muscular terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy), a criminal mastermind constantly pumped with a strength serum via an intimidating facemask. He is a considerable threat to the fragile Wayne, with a deep-seated conviction against Gotham’s culture of corruption. He plans to nuke Gotham city and wipe the slate clean.

While lacking some of the infectious charisma of Ledger’s Joker, Tom Hardy’s Bane is wholly compelling. Hardy personifies the character with bulging muscles and an air of worldly wisdom: he is well spoken, yet he phrases with an accent inspired by Traveller and bare-knuckle boxer Bartley Gorman. Hardy’s Bane is an odd proposition, but he is a convincingly vengeful outsider; this makes him all the more dangerous to tattered billionaire Bruce Wayne.

As well as staple characters like Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Alfred, Nolan introduces other characters to ultimately explore Batman’s scarred psyche. Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) challenges Batman to delve deeper inside himself to fight Bane. Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) stands out as a young cop who revitalises Batman’s responsibilities. Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) exploits the corporate weakness of Wayne Enterprises’, while Wayne entrusts the seductive Miranda (Marion Cotillard) to look after his interests.

But all is not perfect upon Nolan’s return to Gotham. In spite of the film’s apocalyptic intentions, there is a sense that it has been heavily toned done to achieve the 12A rating. When Bane and Batman brawl we expect serious bloodshed, but the fight scenes feel unmistakably muted making Batman’s peril less immediate. The script also sidesteps some serious logical concerns, in favour of narrative pace, and key characters are given fatally insufficient screen time for the same reason.

Another aspect that leaves an empty feeling is the complete lack of The Joker. While the character need not have appeared portrayed by another actor, many references to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight occur in flashback; Heath Ledger’s Joker should have too. The character made a sincere impression on Batman and we feel his presence, but cannot acknowledge it.

In spite of its flaws however, The Dark Knight Rises is a true cinematic accomplishment. Christopher Nolan has graced us with a mature blockbuster with a majestic scale reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Nolan has also achieved the essential with this film: he has returned the resonance to Bruce Wayne and to Batman. The Dark Knight’s ironic flaw was that the villain ultimately undermined the hero. With The Dark Knight Rises Batman sincerely captures our hearts and minds like he never has before.

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Film and rock music have led an often tempestuous relationship over the years. There always seems to be a difficult push and pull between the logical narrative and the spontaneity of sound. Musicals? Pah. An artificial creation that bares no resemblance to any music that sane people listen to. Of all the filmmakers of recent years, it is arguably French auteur Gaspar Noe who has come closest to bridging the gap between heady pop music and cinema; most notably, the hallucinogenic Enter the Void evoking an uncomfortably sweaty club experience.

With Electrick Children, debutante writer-director Rebecca Thomas tries to orchestrate her own mini festival of images. She authors the story of Rachel (Julia Garner), a teenager living with her family cult in remote Utah. Taught/controlled by her spiritual father Paul (Billy Zane), she lives in blissful ignorance of the outside world, happy to listen to the words her father sings to her. Of course, this existence grinds to a halt once she discovers the musical tapes hidden in the basement and sets her on a world of discovery. This epiphany is heightened by the discovery of her pregancy, which she is convinced has been caused by a song on the tape. Can a cover of Blondie’s Hanging on the Telephone really result in immaculate conception?

Suspecting her brother Mr. Will (Liam Aiken) as the only possible culprit, the parents throw him out and seek to marry off their daughter to a local boy. The siblings make their escape, finding themselves in the neon landscape of Las Vegas and the incapable hands of Clyde (Rory Culkin), a stoner dude who introduces the bewildered pair to the local rock’n’ roll scene. Rachel’s search for a father for her child and the mysterious voice of ‘the telephone’ has begun.

Electrick Children is an enjoyably sensual experience, DOP Mattias Troelstrup revelling in the sun-hued desert plains and dusky streets of Las Vegas and Utah. If Rebecca Thomas’ aim was to evoke the hazy comedown after spilling out of the club at 3am, then she has succeeded. The muffled, gentle piano score combines well with the woozy visuals, and Thomas makes frequent use of noise music to replicate the rock’n’roll experience.

The performances are fine, Julia Garner the standout as the innocently elfin yet determined Rachel, who bares an uncanny resemblance to a younger Leelee Sobieski. Director Thomas utilises the juxtaposition between this clash of cultures, the wholesome siblings and the wayward rockers that they find themselves veering towards. Yet, this fish-out-of-water element feels fairly familiar and executed with more conviction in Peter Weir’s 1985 mormon thriller Witness. The biggest problem with Electrick Children is Thomas’ flakey script, which lacks focus and meaning. At times it feels like Thomas is trying to relate something meaningful about discovery, yet by the final act we are left with flippant quips and an uncharacteristically showy finale.

It is evident Thomas has an eye for visuals and an ear for music, but it’s the unsubstantial structure and content of the piece that ultimately drags the film down. However, there is enough promise and singular vision here to mark out her as a filmmaker to watch in the future.

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With much the same dark humor that made The Exorcist a provocative hit in 1973, director William Friedkin returns to the feature film form. His offering is the accomplished, occasionally masterful, but ultimately frustrating Killer Joe.

Killer Joe stars Matthew McConaughey as Joe Cooper (aka Killer Joe), a lawman moonlighting as a contract killer. Joe is contacted by Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch), a young man desperate to kill his estranged mother so that he can claim a large amount of insurance. Joe is driven by the fact that his father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) is an alcoholic, his stepmother Sharla (Gina Gershon) is a slut and his younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple) is the picture of innocence, in need of saving from a dreadful life. He is also in debt to a local gang lord.

When Joe realizes that Chris has no money to pay him for the hit he turns down the deal, before proposing the dubious idea of a ‘retainer’: that is to say he wants permission to engage in an adult relationship with Dottie, despite the fact that she is only twelve. Chris allows his desperation get ahead of him and agrees to the deal, before promptly regretting it.

McConaughey’s turn as the leather clad Joe Cooper is utterly compelling; he is charming, amusing, assertive, immoral and sadistic. McConaughey wraps up all of these disparate characteristics seamlessly, with the classicism of Robert Michum in Night of the Hunter. He is a disgusting pleasure to watch.

Juno Temple is the film’s second revelation. While the twenty-two year old does not convince entirely as a twelve year old, she could certainly pass for fourteen. The sheer innocence of her performance is plenty to revile us at Joe’s sexual advances. The most disturbing factor though is that he treats her with more respect than any of her family members, in spite of his off kilter moral values.

Friedkin’s direction is electric throughout, quite literally at times: lighting and rain set the scene of this trailer trash noir. There is often great wit to be found in Friedkin’s camerawork and tense scenes can become hilarious in an instant. One raucously funny moment sees Sharla remove a loose thread from Ansel’s jacket, only to unthread the entire shoulder. The director shifts between scenes of comedy, tenderness and violence, blending them into one bizarre story world.

The film’s strength is in the ride. It is a nauseating, thrilling, riotous film with a skewed moral center and brilliantly defined characters. As the film builds to its intense conclusion (in a scene revolving around fried chicken) it showcases Friedkin’s grasp of cinematic extremes, but the build up exceeds the payoff.

Ultimately Killer Joe leaves us feeling appropriately reviled, but also somewhat deflated; when an audience experiences this much madness they are also due tangible closure.

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If there’s anything I’ve learned about the inhabitants of Russia in this life, then it’s their fondness for vodka and fixation with mortality. This fixation has cut a cultural path through the centuries, from Nikolai Gogol’s darkly humorous novel Dead Souls  to Andrei Tarkovsky’s existential dramas Solaris and Stalker among others. Director Aleksei Fedorchenko continues with this theme in Silent Souls, a dreamlike take on death and the afterlife.

It is a simple narrative; Aist (Igor Sergeev) and Miron (Yuriy Tsurilo) work in a paper mill in a rundown rural town, inhabited by a people known as ‘Merjans’. Miron, the boss, confides in his friend that his wife Tanya (Yuliya Aug) has died suddenly and asks Aist to help him give her a proper farewell. For the Merjan people have a way of marking events differently than civilised society. The two middle aged men set off on a road trip in order to complete the task at hand.

Nothing much really happens in Silent Souls. The two men sit in silence in the car, Aist cradling his precious Buntings, a delicate set of birds that come to symbolise some kind of transition for them both.  Now and then, Miron tells Aist about his life together with Tanya, a Merjan ritual that the widower reveals all the personal details of his loved one after their death. A cleansing of sorts, but a vulgar one at that.

Silent Souls is a strange, languid oddity that works best if the audience let it wash over them. The elliptical editing, swinging between the present and the past, and the vivid, wintery visuals have a woozy, hypnotic effect on the viewer, lulling them into a trance. The long tracking shots from the car are reminiscent of Stalker’s infamous tunnel sequence, an oddly calming and cathartic experience. Andrei Karasyov’s pretty score veers between the dreamy and the sentimental, echoing the film’s mix of emotion and distance.

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