THE LOOK OF SILENCE

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Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer

The companion piece to Joshua Oppenheimer’s last documentary The Act of Killing, Silence is yet another piece of brave, harrowing filmmaking that not only manages to be engaging, but ultimately finds itself in the elusive category of being a real document of human history. It’s a difficult film to stomach, but necessary viewing to perhaps understand the world a bit more, to see the effects of fear, hate, authority and rejection of responsibility that led to a genocide of more than a million civilians in Indonesia. No one sees themselves as an evil person, as the film argues, but anyone can assert that same evil onto their neighbours. Can we forgive those that have committed atrocities, that have murdered, and tortured, under the pretence that they were simply following orders, not knowing any better? Can we forgive ourselves for continuing our lives, not doing anything about it? Can we really resolve ourselves of guilt, and if so, at what cost? This is not simply a film about evil, but a film about being human. It’s a part of all of us, and it’s only up to us to be able to open our eyes and face up to our actions past, present and future.

A+

 

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JOY

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Directed by David O’Russell

It’s no secret that Jennifer Lawrence and David O’Russell are made for each other. Without batting an eyelid, Lawrence can transform effortlessly from comedy to drama, a method O’Russell’s films always seem to prescribe to. Joy is certainly no exception to the rule, and yet, upon viewing the film there were some discernible differences to his previous films that made it feel like a David O’Russell film, but perhaps without the best parts. Most notably, this is his first film in a while that rests it’s weight predominately on the shoulders of it’s protagonist, rather than an ensemble cast. It also spans over more than two decades, rather than anchoring itself around a single moment or period of time.

It’s a relatively biographical story about Joy Mangano, a woman who exceeded against all odds, which were mostly in the shape of other people. So much of the film’s running time is Joy being constantly put down, slandered, ignored and disrespected from almost all angles. While this may be true to life, and raises the stakes of her journey, I couldn’t help but feel like it created such a black-and-white tone for the whole film, where we could only sympathise with the one character, because the rest were made out to be so awful, bordering on cartoonish. I’m not saying Joy is a bad film by any means – the performances are spot on and it looks stunning the whole way through, but it felt like we were treated to what felt like half of what a David O’Russell film can be: a sweeping, musical world of complex, deeply funny and unpredictable characters that feels more true to life than this biographical film ever did.

B+

TANGERINE

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Directed by Sean Baker

What could I possibly say about Tangerine that hasn’t already been mentioned? The little engine that could, Tangerine fires on all cylinders from the get go, with an infectious energy that practically bursts off the screen. Indie filmmakers everywhere surely must have let out a collective sigh of relief, knowing that a feature film produced for $100,000 and shot entirely on iPhones could still make it’s way around the world. But the magic of the film doesn’t bank on it’s use of technology – as it shouldn’t – but on the esoteric nature of it’s characters, story, and style. Clocking in at a brisk 88-minute running time, Tangerine somehow balances moments of complete hysteria and comedy with moments of pain and vulnerability, crafted by incredible performances and fully-realised, complex characters. This is one of the most authentic portrayals of Los Angeles I’ve ever seen. This film is Los Angeles.

A-

CREED

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Directed by Ryan Coogler

Just two years ago, Ryan Coogler made his feature film debut with Fruitvale Station, which had, as I wrote about in 2013, “naturalistic and compelling dialogue, [with] warm, complex characters. The fact that this is a directorial debut absolutely astounds me. Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan are destined for greatness.” Cut to the present, and Coogler and Jordan are back, guns blazing. When I see the work they do, I’m so thrilled by the fact that there continues to be young, fresh filmmakers that set the bar exceedingly high with each film they put out. The writing, direction and performances are just so beautiful, that I can’t help but feel like Creed has become my favourite Rocky film by far. It manages to do what all of the previous films in the series seemed to struggle with: it makes you truly care about the characters.

Coogler brings real warmth and sensitivity into the story, bringing Sylvester Stallone back from the dead, and basically reminding us that we still have actual affection for the underdog story. This film is a hundred-percent determination, and it never lets up. Shot beautifully by Maryse Alberti (The Wrestler), Creed feels so incredibly human the whole way through: a sense of pain and longing, but with a pace that that keeps you glued to the screen. Easily the most emotional I’ve been in a cinema, since seeing the Amy Winehouse documentary. Ryan Coogler is set to next direct the Black Panther film for Marvel, confirming that he’s certainly not the underdog anymore.

A+

STILL ALICE

Directed by Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland

Portraying mental illness in cinema is always a difficult challenge for filmmakers, as you always run the risk of showing the character as unnecessarily disadvantaged, or defining the character entirely based on their disability. Still Alice had a great chance of falling into overly-sentimental territory, but Julianne Moore’s mesmerising performance keeps the film afloat. We stay with her for essentially the entire duration of the film, and watch as she tries endlessly to maintain her identity for as long as she can. The film doesn’t approach the narrative from a particularly subjective point of view: as an audience we feel more like a family member, watching someone familiar to us slowly disappear. If Julianne Moore should ever disappear in real life, the world would surely become a much darker place.

B

FOXCATCHER

Directed by Bennett Miller

Bennett Miller proves yet again that he’s one of the greatest working directors that has always remained under the radar (by choice). His patience as a filmmaker shines to the point of being fiercely aggressive as Foxcatcher highlights in its balance of restraint and tension. At it’s core, Foxcatcher is about the demons inside us, fuelled by the expectations we have of ourselves and the need for acceptance from the people we want it from the most. The incredibly physical performances from the lead actors and the control of the director bleeds into this hyperreal world where tragedy is set in stone from the opening frame. All you can do is witness the world slowly burn before your eyes.

A

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NEBRASKA

Directed by Alexander Payne

Alexander Payne takes such a long time in-between making films that I just simply forget how amazingly gifted he is as a filmmaker. His newest is pure, midwestern poetry. He has the innate ability to make films that defy categorisation: they are simply stories about characters who move and grow on you the longer the films go on. Shot in beautiful black-and-white, Nebraska moves along like a gorgeous swan-song, anchored by a wonderfully anachronistic Bruce Dern. I await Alexander Payne’s next film in utter anticipation.

A

DALLAS BUYER’S CLUB

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

Dallas Buyer’s Club is probably most well-known for the powerhouse performance of Matthew McConaughey. Well the hype ain’t for nothin: he absolutely commits to the character, flesh and bone. The rest of the film however, doesn’t quite match his tempo – it suffers from flat supporting characters and plot turns and set pieces which are less than original. Still a very interesting story, but not quite Oscar-worthy in it’s execution.

B