Posts Tagged ‘Tilda Swinton’

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 12.50.06Kicking off the 2016 edition of Glasgow Film Festival last night was The Coen Brother’s new romp Hail, Caesar! their ode to the Studio System era of 50s Hollywood. As to be expected with the Coens, they deal with their subject with an equal amount of love and cynicism, looking at the “Golden Era” of their craft with a healthy dose of post-modern irony.

As is now customary with the Coens, the brothers direct a star-studded ensemble cast in their lighthearted love-letter to a bygone era, excellently re-creating the studio lots of Capitol Pictures. Binding the multiple simultaneous projects together is Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) the studio’s fixer who solves the various problems of the studio’s cast and crew, as well as batting away questions from scoop-hungry twin sister journalists, both played by Tilda Swinton.

Nearing the climax of the studio’s production of their “premier picture Hail, Caesar!” however, central star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears on an assumed “1 or 2-day bender”; though the party line is that he has a “high-ankle sprain”. In actual fact, Whitlock has been kidnapped, in a scheme actualised by a couple of extras on the set of the film, and taken to a strange place where nothing is quite as it seems.

Although they set the film up a potential road-caper, The Coens don’t, in fact, focus merely on Whitlock’s disappearance, but also the studio’s “the show must go on” attitude, in spite of adversity due to a tight schedule and budget. While Mannix is aware of the problem and its severe nature, it doesn’t suddenly jump to the top of his priorities list in his daily roles, as he must keep various other stars and directors happy with their own problems, while also considering a highly lucrative and much more comfortable job offer of his own.

This is when the film is at its best, showing the rather manic Studio System as it churns out its latest epic, western, drama and musical, all the while needing a cool pair of hands at the centre of it all (Mannix) who – while clearly respected within the studio – has no elevated status, which is reserved for the “key talent”. While Mannix doesn’t seem to mind this, he does battle his own personal demons and Catholic guilt, with a secret smoking habit and a tempting job offer. Despite this he is a seemingly decent man who genuinely loves and respects his family.

Brolin plays the, on the face of it, controlled Mannix with aplomb, and is excellent as lynchpin for the entire picture. While Clooney and other star cameo turns (Johannsson, Tatum, McDormand, Swinton) are all highly enjoyable, the film simply wouldn’t have a leg to stand on without Brolin.

The trouble is that the film as a whole fails to really capitalise on the wealth of talent on offer. While it is highly entertaining, there is nothing here that really sticks with you for much longer than the screen-time. There is plenty of humour and enjoyment to be found in the Coen’s faithful recreating of 1950s Hollywood, including an exaggerated nod to the blacklist and “Communist threat” of the era – playing at times like a twisted version of the recent biopic Trumbo – yet the film doesn’t dig much further than that.

While this isn’t necessarily a problem given the Coens have largely made a career out of films where nothing really happens, or works, it equally is that expectation which befalls Hail, Caesar!. Any fans of the brothers’ work can find various re-treadings of ideas they’ve done before and much more successfully.

For instance, the setting and ideas on display here are also in the masterful Barton Fink, the comedic road movie caper in The Big Lebowski, the kidnapping trope in Fargo, the theological considerations of A Serious Man. These films explored their central ideas very successfully and while Hail, Caesar! is clearly more light-hearted fare, one can’t help but feel that we’ve been here before and in more entertaining circumstances.

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1) 12 YEARS A SLAVE (DIR. STEVE MCQUEEN, USA/UK)

An ultra-early release of 2014 in the UK (January 10th to be precise), Steve McQueen’s third film 12 Years A Slave has endured, in my memory, as the most moving cinema experience of the year. Prior to this film McQueen had established himself – with Hunger and Shame – as one of the most important feature directors in the UK, for his ability to merge demanding topics with fresh visual language. With 12 Years A Slave he proved himself capable of this on a much grander scale, earning a Best Picture Oscar, a $187.7 million box office return and widespread critical support. It is essential that we revisit history through the eyes of great artists and Steve McQueen is one such artist.

2) 20,000 DAYS ON EARTH (DIR. IAIN FORSYTH & JANE POLLARD, UK)
In a strong year for cinema documentaries 20,000 Days on Earth expanded the paradigm. Composed of elements from dramatic fiction, observational documentary and the rock film this Nick Cave biopic, set over the course of a day, is an expertly framed Petri dish of fascinating ideas. While the film might primarily appeal to Cave fans, it should interest anyone who creates, or simply wishes to understand themselves and their human impulses. Cave’s transcendental live performances feature prominently, while the meaning of these occasions is explored in moments of fascinating examination, as the frank and eloquent Cave reflects on his life to a therapist and lives out his life in atmospheric Brighton.

3) THE WIND RISES (DIR. HAYAO MIYAZAKI, JAPAN)
The Wind Rises is the final film of Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki and it is a bittersweet achievement, not only about about the cost of innovation, but the cost of dreams. Based loosely on the true story of Japanese engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who was responsible for designing fighter planes during World War II, the film surrealistically captures the glorious freedom of imagination and intellect and contrasts it with the devastation these powers can bring. In line with Horikoshi’s own attitude towards the futility of WWII, the film’s tone is one of profound melancholy. The film presents a man whose talent for innovation and love of flight is tragically undermined by the impulse, in others, for war.

4) ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (DIR. JIM JARMUSCH, USA)
In the cinema, 2014 was a special year for the more esoteric side of rock n’ roll. With Only Lovers Left Alive, Jim Jarmusch took the horror genre into reverent territory and drew a line straight back through the history of art. The film, which centers around the reunion of a pair of vampire lovers (Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston), resonates with a universe of fascinating culture for those ready to listen. With locations in Chicago and Tangier the film takes us on a poetic punk journey, into a world once inhabited by Shakespeare ghost writers, Nikola Tesla, William S. Burroughs & The Stooges. The film’s soundtrack, featuring Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL, Jozef van Wissem and Yasmine Hamdan is also not be missed.

5) VIRUNGA (DIR. ORLANDO VON EINSIEDEL, UK/CONGO)

This extraordinary film from prolific director Orlando Von Einsiedel is a thrilling piece of journalism and another fantastic expansion on the possibilities of documentary cinema. The film follows the current crisis of the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as the park’s security team and rangers attempt to hold off an onslaught from Congolese rebels who appear to be collaborating with British oil company Soco. The documentary creates extraordinary emotional stakes by telling the stories of Andre Bauma, who cares for the park’s gorilla population, park director Emmanuel de Merode and journalist Melanie Gouby. These individuals put their necks on the line for the park, which the film depicts as an integral element to the survival and autonomy of the DRC, while the filmmakers capture the unfolding violence and human displacement.

6) THE KIDNAPPING OF MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ (DIR. GUILLAUME NICLOUX, FRANCE)
Back in 2011 controversial French author Michel Houellebecq (Whatever, Atomised, Platform) disappeared during a book tour for The Map and the Territory, leading to media speculation that he had been kidnapped by al-Qaida. The contention created by the author’s works may have justified such a possibility, but director Guillaume Nicloux’s dramatic interpretation of the situation (starring Houellebecq as himself) speculates on a much different – and hilariously funny – scenario. The integral joke of the film is that Houellebecq, in sly deadpan style, rather enjoys the experience, as he encourages his surprisingly benevolent captors to cater to his whims and vices. However you may feel about Michel Houellebecq, this film riffs brilliantly on his dark humour and outsider status.

7) NIGHTCRAWLER (DIR. DAN GILROY, USA)
Hollywood screenwriter Dan Gilroy (The FallReel SteelThe Bourne Legacy) made his directorial debut with Nightcrawler and doing so brought to the screen a career best performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, as aspirational anti-hero Louis Bloom. The film takes it’s cue from the post-recession job crisis, with Bloom as an ultra-opportunistic news cameraman who dispenses with all moral values to succeed in the business. His ambition leads him to film increasingly grisly crime scenes, as he simultaneously loses contact with the reality of what he films. The film is a thrilling romp, starring an unusually manic Gyllenhaal, which also works as a critique of the potentially exploitative nature of American news broadcasting.

8) 22 JUMP STREET (DIR. PHIL LORD & CHRISTOPHER MILLER, USA)
22 Jump Street is an unexpectedly great sequel, to an unexpectedly great feature adaptation (21 Jump Street), of a late 1980’s TV police comedy primarily remembered for kicking off Johnny Depp’s acting career. The beauty of 22 Jump Street is the way in which it comedically writes itself off as a pointless sequel. The irony of the film is that this bold sense of flippancy (embodied through the perfect buddy-chemistry of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill) is precisely what makes the Jump Street films relevant. After years of terrible sequels, remakes and computer game adaptations, these films are the evidence that someone in Hollywood is finally thinking what the audience has been for a long time.

9) BELLE (DIR. AMMA ASANTE, UK)
Following her 2004 debut A Way of Life, Streatham born writer/director Amma Asante made a strong return with Belle. The film tells the story Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) – the daughter of Maria Belle, an enslaved African woman in the West Indies, and Captain John Lindsay, a British career naval officer – who encouraged her uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (and Lord Chief Justice) to recognise slavery as illegal in England and usher about its formal end. The film is directed with elegant style and frank sincerity, influenced no doubt by the 1779 Johann Zoffany painting that it was inspired by, in which a headstrong Belle appears animatedly alongside her cousin Elizabeth Murray.

10) THE ROVER (DIR. DAVID MICHOD, AUSTRALIA)

David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom was one of the most striking debuts of 2010, showing Michôd to be one of the most gifted directors of contemporary Australian cinema. The film was a dense and engaging drama of a Melbourne crime family, made with an impeccable grasp of tension and great style. With The Rover Michôd stripped down the scope of his vision, focusing primarily on Guy Pearce’s mysterious protagonist who harbours an undisclosed agenda. The minimalist approach to his second feature pays off, with Michôd delivering a lean, bleak and thrilling film with excellent performances and a beautifully simple central conceit.

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It’s almost easy to forget that Wes Anderson makes films. Such is the cult that has grown around him over the years, he feels more like a brand beloved of hipsters such as American Apparel or Apple Macs. Just by uttering his name a person has given an insight into their adopted subculture. Numerous parodies have been dimwittily prepared and his signature visual style has been gentrified by a zillion twee graphic designers. Which all distracts from the fact that Wes Anderson does actually make funny, literate and often moving films.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, his latest film, feels like a culmination of all Anderson has been working towards in his career. It marries the the quirkiness and pathos of his earlier work with his recent dabbling with animation, as seen in The Fantastic Mr Fox. If some viewers felt his previous films were overkill, then they would be advised to cross the road for this one. The layered narrative essentially follows the exploits of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the hotel concierge, and his trusty protege Zero (Tony Revolori). Set between the world wars, Gustave oversees the running of the majestic ship while ‘seeing’ to the richer female clientele.

One such client, Madame D., (Tilda Swinton) is found brutally offed, and when Gustave is left with her invaluable ‘Boy with Apple’ painting, both her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and the police begin to suspect the hapless concierge of foul play. Gustave and his lobby boy Zero have to flee in order to clear his name, by which time the film descends into somewhat of a chase movie. All the typical Anderson staples are here; the intricate, gaudy mise en scene, the literary references, the witty wordplay and the slapstick flourishes. There is a greater sense of action here though, veering into the cartoonish.

Fiennes is a rather excellent comic creation, embodying both the eloquent workaholic in Gustave but also a childish goofiness. Newcomer Revolori is appropriately boyish and earnest, while William Defoe and Brody are deliciously devilish as the baddies in pursuit. Unfortunately a couple of actors are wasted in somewhat dull roles, like Ed Norton and Bill Murray. The script, loosely based on Stefan Zweig’s writings, is one of Anderson’s wittiest and funniest for a while. I can’t remember many laughs from Moonrise Kingdom, but this latest one definitely had the audience tittering into their craft beers.

The film gets off onto a very good, if slightly convoluted, start. The hotel itself has been so beautifully designed that you wonder if Anderson would have been better off making another of Roald Dahl’s books, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The hotel is part swank hotel, part toy shop, an intricate creation that Jacques Tati, surely one of Anderson’s greatest influences, would have been impressed with. The world is a joy to be in, so when Anderson takes us out of it and into the outside world does the film begin to flag. Particularly the 2nd half of the film begins to test the audience’s patience, as the jokes become less pronounced and the chase becomes bogged down in Anderson’s own elaborate tangents.

Still, this is one of Anderson’s best films in a while. Whereas some of his more recent films felt more subdued and perhaps even navel gazing, there is a sense of fun running through The Grand Budapest Hotel, even if it does turn sickly at points. If I were to nostalgically yearn for anything from Wes Anderson, it would be a sense of space. Looking back at his undeniably superior works Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, there was a looseness about them that let the inventive visuals and eccentric characters breathe. Perhaps for his next film, less is more.

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Undoubtedly one of the most talked about films of the year, Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin looks set to make an impact on the awards season. Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s controversial novel from 2003 takes a text and makes it irrefutably cinematic. Utilising extreme close ups, bold visual motifs and an intense sound design Ramsay’s film eloquently portrays the story of a failed relationship between mother and son, which subsequently manifests itself in extreme violence.

The film is told in two narrative strands, essentially a before and an after sequence. Both narratives are told from the perspective of Eva (embodied by Tilda Swinton). Both narrative strands are anchored around the high school massacre carried out by Eva’s son, Kevin (portrayed with great charisma and menace by Ezra Miller). Around this pivotal moment we essentially learn about the development of their relationship beginning with Kevin’s conception. We learn that Eva never wanted, and therefore never loved the child.

Ramsay uses the American locale of the story to further her vision of the inside of Eva’s head, rather than to say anything site-specific. She uses the locations of New York and Connecticut to represent Eva’s complete inability to tolerate her life since Kevin’s conception. In New York she juxtaposes the sound of baby Kevin crying with the sound of pneumatic drills, in Connecticut she uses the sound of country and western music to create a subtle and maddening atmosphere.

Ramsay’s decision to internalise every environmental feature into Eva’s psyche makes We Need to Talk About Kevin a slow burning and effective film. Ultimately it is all the more disturbing for the fact that our protagonist seems so off-kilter. This makes us ask ourselves who is the more insane, Kevin for his wild massacre, or Eva for her inability to find love for her first born child.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is an enormously creative and intensely psychological film that succeeds at placing you in Eva’s head. The only question that remains is whether you want to be there or not.

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