Skip to content

The Brilliance of Juliette Binoche

April 17, 2018

Image result for juliette binoche

Follow below link to my latest article, this time on Juliette Binoche who has Let the Sunshine In released in UK cinemas this weekend.

The Third Murder

April 13, 2018

The Third Murder (2017)
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Actors: Masaharo Fukuyama, Kõji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose

Image result for the third murder

Synopsis: Shigemori (Masaharo Fukuyama) is drafted in as defence lawyer for Misumi (Kõji Yakusho) in a seemingly cut-and-dried case over Misumi’s culpability for the murder in question. As Shigemori starts to scratch beneath the surface though, he becomes more troubled by the facts surrounding the case.

Review: Hirokazu Koreeda’s shift into something of a commercial genre is not without its pleasures – he certainly adds a layer of reflective class onto the familiar legal tropes – but, ultimately, his signature feels too stymied by the conventions of the new mode of storytelling he’s found himself in. His greater, macro-interest in sociological and philosophical themes neuters some of the required schlocky thrills of the legal case, yet, conversely, the necessity of telling that story pulls Koreeda away from the more fertile territory he threatens to take the film to.

The film begins cleverly enough. The titular murder is committed in the opening five seconds, and by this, Koreeda seems to be setting in motion almost a classic deconstruction of what appears to be a deceptively unambiguous action. A full confession and all the case’s necessary exposition is over by the three-minute mark, and what Koreeda seems to be saying is: look, here’s the murder, but all is not as it seems….

The film works best when Koreeda is able to impress his aesthetic on the story. He succeeds in shedding light on the unglamorous, underdocumented aspects of legal cases (namely, the rigmarole of having to be a defence lawyer of a seemingly unsaveable defendant), and his stately visuals and the austere piano score sketch in Koreeda’s muted, detached take on the otherwise hokum genre elements.

In a sense, the genre almost appears to be an out-and-out macguffin as Koreeda explores the ironic symbiosis of three problematic father-daughter relationships across the various plot strands, but Koreeda’s reversion to the necessity for a third-act twist undersells the wider, more philosophical tone he’d been colouring the story in. (April 2018)

Unravelling the genius of Todd Haynes’ Far from Heaven

April 4, 2018

Image result for far from heaven film

With the release of Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck fast approaching, I wrote a piece for One Room with a View celebrating the excellence of Far from Heaven: by far his best film.

Follow below link for article:

Wes Anderson Films Ranked

April 2, 2018

Having just seen Isle of Dogs, I thought it an opportune moment to place Wes Anderson’s films in rank order. As ever with my directorial rankings, it’s a subjective mish-mash of “favourite” and “best”. I’ve included Anderson’s short film at the beginning of The Darjeeling Limited – Hotel Chevalier – to bring it up to a round ten.

It’s also worth nothing that, more than any other director I can think of, Anderson’s work is so utterly an exhibition of his own method and predilections, that there isn’t really a huge gap between his ‘best’ and ‘weakest’ work as specified below – the works to some extent are variants on each other and interchangeable. You could throw a blanket over this top 10 and re-jig the order of a few, and it wouldn’t be hugely unfair.

10. Fantastic Mr Fox (2009) (296×160)

Something had to be #10, and I’d still take Fantastic Mr Fox over 95% of all the other animated fare out there. It’s also clear that the transference of Anderson’s fastidious visual sensibility to stop-motion animation is sincere and an unqualified success. And yet, no matter how much you try to gloss it over, Anderson does still wind up supping from the same cutesy imperative of most animated movies that centre their conceit around anthropomorphising animals, monsters or aliens. It’s just funnier than usual seeing the very human, mordant sensibility of Anderson realised in foxes!

Full Review:

9. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Image result for the life aquatic

The Life Aquatic never really breaks free from its conceptual origins – perhaps betrayed by the best bits of the film being the non-storytelling parts (the tracking shot through the Belafonte ship; Seu Jorge’s Bowie ditties; the delightful closing submarine ride). That said, it’s a film that’s impossible not to like because of its idiosyncrasies and sheer zaniness, and it battles The Grand Budapest Hotel and Isle of Dogs for the title of Anderson’s most beautifully designed piece of work.

Full review:

8. Hotel Chevalier (2007)

It’s a bit of cheat to include this, as the work is sort of a one with The Darjeeling Limited. However, its relevance is as testament to Anderson’s skill as a narrative structuralist. Particularly with The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson was going through a very experimental phrase in terms of mixing up his chronologies, manufacturing stories-within-stories, as well as obviously this short film which acted as a crucial informant to one of the characters in the main film. Its cinematography, design and iconic use of a ’60s pop tune was also classic Anderson.

7. Isle of Dogs (2018)

Image result for isle of dogs

The narrative is pretty arbitrary, the Japanese and dystopian setting does seem to exist solely to sate Anderson’s pop cultural proclivities, and there is still the upmarket “cute” effect of anthropomorphised animals à la Fantastic Mr Fox. And yet – this is an absolutely stunning work of art. I could watch this time and time again just for the beautiful and ingenious animation. A work of staggering creativity.

Full review:

6. Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Image result for moonrise kingdom

Definitely one of Anderson’s sweetest films, and one where he flipped his usual focus on emotionally-stunted adults to characterise the pastoral rebellion of two earnest teenagers looking to take on the rituals of the adult world. This would probably rank higher if there wasn’t the nagging sense that beyond the delightful concept of the island and the seeds of the child rebellion, Anderson doesn’t show as much interest in furthering that narrative set up.

Full review:

5. Bottle Rocket (1996)

Image result for bottle rocket film

Although only Anderson’s freshman work and it lacking the starry cast and deluxe design concept of most of his later films, this is right up there as one of his better efforts for any number of reasons. There’s a real pathos and whimsy in its story of hapless, smalltown dreamers trying to strike it rich, and it was the first time that the formidable Wilson brothers were released on the movie world. It’s funny to see Owen Wilson’s reasonably colonised position now as part of the Hollywood set, and to reflect on how this wry, eccentric talent would have seemed anything but mainstream 20 years ago in Bottle Rocket.

Full review:

4. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Image result for the darjeeling limited

Unquestionably one of Anderson’s funniest films – the slapstick here is sublime – and it’s arguably one of his more affecting narratives too. I know the work’s come in for criticism for supposedly being a shallow, hipster depiction of an Indian spiritual vacation – but I thought that was entirely the point; it’s essentially a pastiche. The brothers’ first world narcissism is slyly juxtaposed to the throng of Indian life that slowly imprints itself on them despite their best attempts to disregard it. It reminded me of a 6-month trip I did round South America a few years ago. As a European, you go with the best of intentions, but there will always be a distance between the earnestness of those intentions and the end-result of your (in)ability to fully exist in the meaning of what that different continent and life experience has to offer.

Full review:

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Image result for the grand budapest hotel

“I think his world had vanished long before he entered it – but I will say: he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvellous grace!” The ageing Zero’s closing tribute to his memories of his mentor Gustave H could stand as postscript for the sensibility of the entire film – one of the richest and most eloquent comedies I think I’ve ever seen. It’s also a thing of visual, but also narrative, beauty. I only really appreciated the skill of the storytelling and the brilliance of its framing devices on a second viewing. This could easily be Anderson’s finest work, it’s just perhaps not my ‘favourite’…

Full review:

2. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Image result for the royal tenenbaums

A dazzling narrative matched by what may be Anderson’s most virtuoso visual work – especially in respects of cinematography. Anderson’s work’s perpetual undertow of nostalgia and grandiose sense of loss never felt more justified than here, and it’s also one of my favourite all-time cinematic ensembles. Each of the following actors give one of their best ever performances: Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anjelica Huston…

1.Rushmore (1998)

Image result for rushmore film

Perhaps Anderson’s clearest mandate for his own cinematic sensibility: it features the style that he would go on to repackage for each subsequent film, and its protagonist is the one that perhaps most represents his own irrepressible, ingenious spirit. There are so many immemorial skits and scenes here: my two favourites being Bill Murray’s character’s diving board non-epiphany, and Max Fischer (a great performance by Jason Schwartzman) and his dementedly ambitious school play productions.

Full review:

(April 2018)

Isle of Dogs

April 2, 2018

Isle of Dogs (2018)
Director: Wes Anderson
Actors: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Liev Schrieber

Image result for isle of dogs

Synopsis: In a near future Japan, Mayor Kobayashi begins his quest to have all dogs banished to the Isle of Dogs – an abandoned dumping ground off the Japanese mainland. A young boy, Atari, crash-lands on the island, looking for his beloved pet mutt, and is helped by five dogs to carry out his search.

Review: Wes Anderson returns with his second exercise in stop-motion animation after 2009’s Fantastic Mr Fox, and, once again, the medium proves an absolute match for Anderson’s fastidious attitude to design and his work’s perpetually droll, mordant sensibility.

Although ultimately I feel the work still boils down to the old animated conceit that something ‘other’ (be it an alien, monster or animal) has been anthropomorphised and –  dare I say it – cutesified, that doesn’t hugely lessen the narrative. The moment you know that the five dogs who are going to be helping the boy Atari to find his beloved pet have been voiced by Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Murray, you know the bout of gallows humour you’re in for.

If anything, it’s the human story in Japan that feels the most uninteresting and underdeveloped. Bar Anderson’s attempt to frame the happenings of the narrative with an early, extremely witty folkloric flashback, the political machinations and caper element are arbitrary, even by Anderson’s standards – as a man who has historically tried to send up the necessity for third act resolutions in works like Moonrise Kingdom. It’s almost as if Japanese regalia and its association with an atomic/dystopian past just suited Anderson’s pop cultural radar this time round, and that’s what he went with.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s all still a thoroughly enjoyable experience to sit through, and, if nothing else, Anderson has made an absolutely breathtaking piece of pop cultural art. Some of the designs are spectacular and I could watch this film again for its aesthetic quality alone. It’s almost as if stop-motion animation and its choreographed, symmetrical quality almost mirrors the buried, staccato emotional timbre of Anderson’s storytelling to a T. That said, a return to live action filmmaking would be most welcome for Anderson’s next feature. (April 2018)


Remembering Morvern Callar: A Forgotten Gem of British Cinema

March 7, 2018

Image result for morvern callar club

With Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here out this weekend, I take a look back at her 2002 masterpiece, Morvern Callar. Follow below link to article:

(March 2018)

Personal Shopper

March 3, 2018

Personal Shopper (2017)
Director: Olivier Assayas
Actors: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz

Kristen Stewart, Personal Shopper – Olivier Assayas film

Synopsis: Maureen (Kristen Stewart) is a personal shopper for a wealthy client in Paris. Alongside her hectic life acquiring clothes and jewellery for that client, she’s also mourning the recent loss of her twin brother. She engages in occult activities her brother was interested in, to see if she can communicate with him in the afterlife…

Review: One of the most sophisticated and cerebral genre films imaginable, Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper works on any number of different levels. It’s a richly moving essay on grief and faith; it’s a super anthropological portrait of our 21st century postmodern lifestyle; it’s a chilling supernatural thriller; it’s a tidy little whodunnit; and it’s a touchingly empathetic portrait of what Peter Bradshaw cleverly coined in his exemplary review of the film – the “old soul” – a character only in their twenties but with a “lifetime of sadness” already ingrained in their psyche.

At the centre of all that works in this film is the compelling presence of Kristen Stewart. It’s not hard to see why Olivier Assayas and French cinema, in general, might venerate her: she doesn’t have that Americanised idea of sexiness, but possesses a magnetic photogenic persona that extends beyond mere aesthetic quality and is more to do with an inherent soulfulness and projection of an innate inner depth. To quote from Bradshaw again, it’s a performance unlikely to gain fanfare amid the Oscar-centric consensus of the acting craft – where histrionics, impersonation and being “other than oneself” (even to the detriment of sincerity and truth) is the golden standard – but her “unforced and unaffected normality” is crucial to the film’s slowburn aura.

Assayas is right up there as one of the best filmmakers at documenting the minutiae of our contemporary world. With this film’s subtle rhetorical contrasts of a soulless, gilded, postmodern landscape versus the quest for transcendence, Assayas conjures a compelling portrait of how evolution has fragmented our sense of what is real. What’s clever is that Assayas doesn’t cast any pejorative sway over this impression he creates, it’s all sensory. Some of the best sequences honour this ethnographic, distanced view of how Stewart’s Maureen shuttles through her day. The most evocative of which is when Maureen is able to make a full journey to and from London over a series of hours, and Assayas settles into honouring the full, incongruous, cyclical whir of this (espressos grabbed without a thought before rushing to get a train; the familiar trudge through border security; one moment Maureen’s on the Metro with its iconic soundscape before suddenly she’s in an archetypal London vista of black cabs and slate-grey skies). This sensory focus beautifully compliments the simultaneous gripping narrative feature of the sequence which is a series of chilling texts that pass between Maureen and a mysterious contact.

It’s only fitting that Assayas doesn’t wrap his story up in false epiphanies. The closing coda of Maureen seemingly getting closer to a form of occult communion with her dead brother – which she claims she needs for closure – is a delicious red herring. If the moral of the piece is that what endures about the human condition is the essential mystery/finality of mortality, Assayas tantalises with the notion that Maureen – much like Christopher Nolan’s amnesiac antihero Leonard Shelby in the masterly Memento – may wilfully be reprising the same search over and over again so as to remain forever imprisoned within her own unending, gilded moebius strip. (March 2018)