FILM REVIEW: First Girl I Loved (Sanga, 2017)

This review was originally published at ImpulseGamer.com.au

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With some relationships, admiration begins from afar. Expectations of love and ideas of sexuality are turned upside down for Anne (Dylan Gelula) as she photographs fellow teenager Sasha (Brianna Hildebrand) at a high school softball game, leaving her instantly beguiled. But love isn’t all easy in the Sundance indie film First Girl I Loved, where the placement of a high school same-sex romance in the swivelling unpredictability of adolescence makes this coming-of-age tale an emotional spin that attempts to increase its stakes at every turn.

First Girl I Loved continues to track the budding romance between the two contrasting teenagers, Anne and Sasha. Anne has just discovered her attraction to girls, while Sasha is less certain about the magnetic chemistry between herself and Anne. Neither girl is a smooth-talker; instead, they giggle like you’d expect teenage girls to, becoming fixated on inside jokes that aren’t particularly funny—but it’s an inside joke, so it’s hilarious to them. Amid their unfolding captivation with each other, within a small world they’ve created for themselves, Anne’s best friend, Clifton (Mateo Aries), becomes an unwelcome presence between the two; his presumptions of sexual orientation and consent add to the confusing burgeoning of the girls’ own selves, fuelling a drama that ultimately points its finger back at society.

The messiness of modern teenagehood is encapsulated in Kerem Sanga’s directorial venture, and it’s not just because he shows text messages that pop up on screen (at one point, Anne and Sasha engage in sexting that is portrayed both amusingly but with careful tenderness). Sanga breaks down the film’s structure non-linearly, so that each important moment in the film transforms into a fragment of a story. Flashbacks and flash-forwards occasionally jumble up the timeline with unnatural incoherency that make it too easy to lose our understanding of the story, but it contributes an airy mystery to the proceedings. The film never gives too much of itself away and holds enough back from its audience to stop it from slipping into familiar beats.

An inconsistency of aesthetic tone shifts between cool, carefree vibes of teen euphoria as Anne and Clifton open a bottle of champagne, to more standard camerawork that sees Anne and Sasha participate in the everyday, mundane routines of school life—almost a separate entity to the confined spaces of a nightclub, a room or a bed. But when it becomes a sweeping, hazy portrayal of their relationship, it looks wonderful, and a grainy multitude of overlapping colours as Anne and Sasha experience their first kiss under the club lights—where their love becomes the centrepiece—makes the film glimmer with warmth.

It’s when other players enter the picture, notably the interception of Clifton’s character, that it becomes unnecessarily complicated and detrimentally too-heavily plot-driven. Cliff, represented as the antagonist, struggles with the idea that his long-time crush Anne doesn’t reciprocate his feelings, and a crushed male ego drives him to commit actions, which leaves both he and Anne waning in regret. He also becomes a tormenter of Anne’s newfound sexuality (he steals her bike and meanly teases her during class)—this distracts from an otherwise slick romance tale, whereby the imposition of Sasha’s own uncomfortable realisation of her sexuality is enough to drive complications into the film, which endeavours to critique a societal intolerance and lack of support for gay relationships.

As Anne, Gelula strips off her sarcastic, exaggerated caricature of a teen step-daughter in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and replaces it with a vulnerable young woman who fluctuates between conflict and revelation, heartbreak and love. At the end of the day, it becomes more about self-dignity and an acceptance of one’s own identity through sexuality; this makes this unflashy indie drama a charmer and somewhat resonant of its modest film title.

First Girl I Loved is now showing at Dendy Newtown.

RATING ½ out of 5

 

FILM REVIEW: Okja (2017, Joon-Ho)

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In Bong Joon-Ho’s newest film, Okja, it is a tale that delights with an undying friendship between a child and a giant-pig that reminisces off the imagination of Spielberg’s most beloved films, but never without fails to interweave it with dark undertones that commentates on our burgeoning capitalist society that profits horrifyingly off a meat-industry, fuelled by human consumerism.

Opening up in the mountains of South Korea, we meet young Mija and her giant-pig, Okja – as they run freely through the forests – (one moment is especially an endearing homage to My Neighbour Totoro) – and it is a whimsical, sweet depiction of their relationship which exhibits the strength of their connection. Away from the city and others who begin to interfere with their relationship, this is when the film is at its most aesthetically gorgeous; the display of peacefulness within the natural world depicts how animal and human can live in tranquil unison on a platform of understanding.

The jolted reality of the outside world is soon realised, and it is here that Joon-Ho finds a perfect balance between his English and Korean multi-language platforms – highlighting the miscommunication between languages and people, as well as the bizarre foreignness of the cities of both Seoul and New York City. The signature tonal shifts are at its craziest in this wild ride, that sees it constantly shifting between the comedic with hilarious chase scenes (a girl running away in horror but never forgetting to bring out her selfie stick comes to mind), to shockingly bleak scenes (and occasionally graphic) that condemn the brutal, apathetic nature of humanbeings that substitutes wealth for empathy.

Watching this in a cinema brought to the forefront the dapper camerawork by cinematographer Darius Khondji – who captures the crisp swiftness of the absurd Mirando presentations, but also finds a place for the grimier realities of the slaughterhouses that draws in the darkest elements of the film that make it impossible to dismiss Okja as a purely optimistic film. Although it stars a wide-eyed child at its centre, Okja doesn’t shy away from a satirisation of its ridiculous self-obsessed figures (both Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal impress with a top-notch act of swivelling between playfully immature and disturbing characters), or depicting the messy ideals of activist groups (led by Jay, played by Paul Dano). Both Mija and Okja become caught up in the web of diverse interests, where the solution is unclear but the problem is most overt.

While the film mildly falls into a trap of a too-neat ending and slightly didactic messages, it always retains a hint of tongue-in-cheek glee or an underlying pessimism – suggestive of the continuing callousness of our society. But in almost the entirety of Joon-Ho’s burstingly clever directional vision, he always holds tight onto Mija and Okja’s special bond as the heart of his film, and the pay-off is a cinematic treat for the ages.

Okja will be showing on Netflix Worldwide from 28 June 2017.

RATING out of 5

FILM REVIEW: The Zookeeper’s Wife (Caro, 2017)

This review was originally published at ImpulseGamer.com.au

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Blockbuster movies set during the Holocaust are not a rare specimen; but The Zookeeper’s Wife offers a unique unfolding of an untold story in wartime Poland, where zookeeper of the still-standing Warsaw Zoo, Jan and his wife, Antonia – transform their zoo into a hiding refuge for over 300 Jews during World War II. At the risk of their own lives, the Zabinski’s real-life heroism pins an arresting starting point for Niki Carlo’s feature to soar, and while it stumbles in suffusing its characters with proper development, it achieves a humanist undertone unmatched in films realised in this context.

 The picturesque depiction of pre-war peace swells in its beauty as the camera tracks Antonia Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) waking up the zoo, light streaming through the blue skies as she speaks to the animals as though they were humans. But this too-perfect setting is brutally shattered as Carlo unrelentingly shows the chaotic effects of the first Nazi bombs on the zoo, killing animals and sending them fleeing onto the streets – familiar territory turned into a disorderly mess, only a taste of what is to come. This is the Nazi’s image of an ideal “picture”, where the death of animals (a parallel to the Jewish extermination?) is simply part of the ‘war effort’; where the regal eagle is stuffed into an ornament, and majestic animals, previously frolicking and untroubled, destroyed into war resources.

The change in perspectives results in protagonists that are no longer the victims but the middle-(wo)man. Stakes are still high as Carlo effectively crafts a tense but quiet drama that sees the transformation of the zoo into a pig-farm, and the Zabinski’s occupation in the smuggling of Jews from the Ghetto into their home. Through the stained window of Jan Zabinski’s (Johan Heldenbergh) truck, we see the appalling state of the Ghettos, but we only see what Jan does, and it is so brief; the truck must move on.

It is this frustrating impediment that Carlo’s film struggles with despite its well intentions. Although a winning and torn performance by Chastain oozes compassion that delves the film with emotive feeling, both Antonia and Jan’s inability to exercise action beyond hiding their occupants signifies their limitations in a crisis that effected millions of people. In one scene, Jan lifts children to their unknowing fates on what audiences would recognise as the carriages that would transport them to Auschwitz – a feeling of doom puts into perspective the limitations of their bravery.

Victims of the German regime are also brushed over in Angela Workman’s script, which render them only familiar faces; seen as a collective than individuals. The potential depth of stories is sacrificed, even so for Zabinski’s own child, whose upbringing in the zoo household leads him to shout anti-Nazi rhetoric that turns the head of German zoologist Lutz Heck (played creepily by Daniel Bruhl in yet another Nazi role).

But where the film is lukewarm towards development of its supporting characters, it makes up in its tender treatment of the subject material. Carlo’s fearless use of silence is when The Zookeeper’s Wife becomes most disarming, and it’s when the courageous hearts of the Zabinskis’ are on full display.

THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE
Directed by Niki Caro
Produced by Jeff Abberley, Jamie Patricof, Diane Miller Levin, Kim Zubick, Julia Blackman
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Michael McElhatton, Daniel Brühl

RATING ½ out of 5

FILM REVIEW: Hidden Figures (Melfi, 2017)

This review was originally published at ImpulseGamer.com.au

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Important women of influence are often excluded or forgotten from the history books. This is why Hidden Figures, a biographical film that seeks to reveal the story of three influential, African American women, is so integral. With its garnering of awards attention and financial success, it is a joy that audiences are able to finally learn of these remarkable achievements that these women struggled through gender and racial barriers to attain.

On the verge of the Space Race and the threat of a nuclear war with Russia, Hidden Figures opens on a flashback of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) as a child—a clear depiction of her early mathematical genius. A “knack for equations” and algorithms that has her exceling at school, this flashback shifts to the present, where close friends and colleagues—aspiring engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and unofficial supervisor Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer)—join Katherine as they are stopped by a white policeman as they are running late. In an amusing exchange, all the women not only shatter a stereotype of women in the workforce, but somehow also manage to convince him to escort them to the NASA station. As the title card of Hidden Figures flashes upon the screen and Pharrell William’s choral, snappy and upbeat score plays over, no longer will these women be hidden figures in the context of American history, instead their stories will be told with a sincere reflection of their charm and intelligence.

The divide between the “coloured” and “white” groups is almost immediately established from the commencement of the film, but Katherine’s new assignment to assist the Space Task Group—a department which is blatantly filled with white men—poses racial and prejudiced challenges in a job which she is more than capable of exercising. Upon setting her foot in the room, Katherine is the first African American woman to hold such a role at NASA and she sticks out and is quickly antagonised by the men in the room, who deliberately censor calculations from her to make her execution of her job more difficult. An equally tragic and frantic sequence has Katherine running to the “coloured” bathroom in record time, a stirring occurrence when she is forced to run to the building next door to use a bathroom due to the segregation between races. Theodore Melfi’s direction portrays these quieter struggles with ones that punch in the gut, particularly in a laudable performance by Henson where she vocally explodes—her pent up anger and frustration forces all in the room to sit in silence and reflect on their prejudiced behaviour and its effect upon others.

While the film occasionally loses focus due to the three stories it attempts to balance, Melfi never steers away from the core of the film which he seeks to make: the significance of female friendship. There are romantic interests introduced that show these women’s lives outside of their work and education, and white people (namely Al Harrison played by Kevin Costner) who assist in their endeavours, but it never clouds their monumental talents or shared struggles. If anything, the film emphasises the need to give chances and opportunity to minorities, and to no longer make such figures hidden from view, but to instead, recognise and foster people’s gifts.

Hidden Figures works as not only an optimistic and enjoyable experience at the cinema, but its note of remarkable achievements in our current context, signifies the power of cinema and art to give voice to women and people of colour, and to make others feel empowered to believe in possibilities and dreams. Most importantly, it highlights the incredible capacity that a unified community can accomplish, and the potential that recognising individual talents can have—and if sending men up into space is only one of them, what else is there in store?

HIDDEN FIGURES
Directed by Theodore Melfi
Produced by Peter Chernin, Donna Gigliotti, Theodore Melfi, Jenno Topping and Pharrell Williams
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons

RATING ★★ out of 5

FILM REVIEW: A United Kingdom (Asante, 2016)

This review was originally published at ImpulseGamer.com.au

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Occasionally British films are not afraid to offer a glimpse of optimism, which may be dismissed as clichéd. A United Kingdom is a prime example of this. Like 2015’s Brooklyn, the film locates a hopefulness in the very context hampering it, centring its story within the midst of interracial and political tensions.

Directed by Amma Asante (Belle), A United Kingdom tells the real-life story of African Prince Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and English office clerk Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike), who fell in love despite barriers barring interracial relationships in the years following the Second World War. The opening sequence sees Seretse introduced as a competent fighter in a boxing match; he is a law student, charming and intelligent, and surrounded by a group of friends. Ruth and her sister arrive at a Missionary Society dance, and when Ruth and Sertese dance together, sparks fly.

The believability of their love is integral in urging the future conflicts between the couple, and Asante’s attentive and sincere direction is an easy credit to this. She never rushes the romance between the lovers, but instead allocates a solid quarter of the film to indulge in the couple’s infatuation with each other, which ultimately leads to Seretse’s marriage proposal.

Not only does Seretse and Ruth’s matrimony face objection from Ruth’s family, but with the reveal of Seretse’s identity as the successor to the Botswana throne in Africa, the angry disapproval of his family and the Bamangwato chiefs raises questions about the acceptance of their marriage and Seretse’s own prospects as a leader. On a larger scale, Botswana’s position as the British protectorate of Bechuanaland is further opposed by the British government, which views their marriage as a threat to their link with the South African government—thus Seretse is exiled in London and the couple separated in the hope of Seretse relinquishing the throne.

Both personal and political restlessness increase the stakes of Seretse and Ruth’s love against a backdrop working against it. While Guy Hippert’s script opts for a predictable trajectory (shown through the British antagonists, Alistair Canning and Rufus Lancaster, which strike more as caricatures than characters), Asante’s ability to lift the screenplay and give it an affecting touch is a testament to her unfeigned desire to showcase the authenticity of the love between Seretse and Ruth, which becomes simply infectious.

Asante’s deep understanding of the intercultural differences and the uncertainty that permeated the context is apparent in the clear juxtaposition between the distinctly arresting shots of the African landscape against a grittier England. The segregation of race is still ironically present in Botswana; whites are privileged and the Bamangwato people are limited in their freedoms in their own country. The strain in nation ties is reflected in the voices of the people in their antagonism to Sertese’s marriage to Ruth, but an impassioned speech by Sertese, who declares his equal love for both country and wife, is an igniting point for the film. Oyelowo is magnificent here, especially in his vocal performance, which reminds us of his speeches as Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, but now with a romantic spark that drives his vigour. His chemistry with Pike is magnetic, and Pike’s beguiling performance as Ruth is especially stirring when she struggles for acceptance in Botswana following Sertese’s exile.

At the heart of it all, A United Kingdom is a breath of fresh air from the cynicism that permeates through higher-brow romantic dramas. It is an open and ingenuous look at the strength of love and how it can connect people of different racial and cultural backgrounds.

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A UNITED KINGDOM
Directed by Amma Asante
Produced by Brunson Green, Charlie Mason, Rick McCallum, Cameron McCracken, Justin Moore-Lewy & David Oyelowo
Starring: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Terry Pheto, Jack Davenport and Tom Felton

RATING ★★ out of 5

FILM REVIEW: Captain Fantastic (2016)

This review was originally posted on ImpulseGamer.com

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Honesty is a rare feat in cinema, but Matt Ross finds it in Captain Fantastic, reflecting the progressiveness of its male protagonist – Ben, played by Viggo Mortensen, who has raised his children away from the civilisation of the city and within the primal, survivalist forest. It is the news of the death of their mother, which brings them towards the city, traveling by a bus nicknamed ‘Steve’ on a journey of self-discovery, growth and inner reflection.

The heart and humour of Captain Fantastic strikes familiar tonal grounds with dysfunctional-family comedy Little Miss Sunshine, in which Ross presents a family with unconventional relationships and family dynamics. The opening of the film pans over the tops of the treetops, before landing upon a child killing a deer as an “act of manhood” – a sudden, yet stark realisation of the unorthodox parenting method dictated by Ben deep in this forest. Instead, Ben honours his children’s intelligence, where a campfire sequence sees them reading novels like ‘Middlemarch’ and being asked to offer insightful analysis about the novels, climbing mountains and teaching them resilience and first-aid. But while a presentation of anomalous relationships to its audience, the film’s distinctiveness – such as their notable celebration of Noam Chomsky Day – is nevertheless able to offer an affecting tale through its wit and heart.

It is perhaps this nontraditional premise which provides the film a fresh perspective on the educational parental methods, suggesting there may be alternative pathways that we should not be so quick to judge. But Ben’s questioning of his own uncompromising methods concurrently sees a re-examination of a ‘proper’ family, where this conflict is exacerbated by a cleansing motif which sees Ben undergoing water cleansing by nature (waterfall) and mankind (shower). The disconnection from ‘real-life’ civilisation also creates an inherent tension between socially accepted norms and self-taught values, manifesting into emotional strains within the tight-knit family and beyond.

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Yet, the film ironically suffers from its conventional approach to its off-the-grid concept. It follows an oddly linear trajectory, where the main events of the film appear soundly familiar, such as when the grandparents of the children hold an intervention to claim custody of the children over Ben, or when the eldest son kisses a girl for the first time. There is a lack of surprises in the film, and it is this where the authenticity of the film is  sacrificed, further reinforced by Ross’ need to neatly bow-tie his story so that all characters are left satisfied with the outcomes. The film’s attempt to find a middle-ground for all parties involved feels out-of-character, especially for the notoriously stubborn Ben, whose values seem to change little throughout the film’s running time.

But while feeling slightly contrived, it is the performances and the ability to fuse sharp-wit into the script of the film which sees Captain Fantastic manage to remain poignant and compelling enough to root for Ben and his family.

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CAPTAIN FANTASTIC
Directed by Matt Ross
Produced by Monica Levinson, Jamie Patricof, Shivani Rawaf, Lynette Howell Taylor
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn

RATING out of 5

 

FILM REVIEW: The Rover (2014, Michôd)

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“If you don’t learn to fight, your death’s gonna come right soon.”

Relentlessly bleak, The Rover‘s dystopian context bears no signs of optimism. Its desolate vastness is vividly represented by the post-apocalyptic Australian outback setting, and yet – it never fully explains its full background. Michôd’s ambiguous plot only outlines one certainty: the world is in disarray.

The Rover opens with Eric (Guy Pearce) – desert-tanned with buzzing flies around him – there is an immediate look in his eyes that strikes him as hopelessly lost. He lives a mechanical existence — one that encompasses the primal necessity of survival. We are then taken to a scene of 3 friends in a car, they crash their own car, steal Eric’s car and drive away. Pearce’s character chases after them, capturing one of the thieves’ brothers (Pattinson) – where they develop an uneasy bond throughout the journey. The length of the film never hints at the specific uniqueness of the car, but this significant plot device drives the film with increasing suspense and uncertainty.

Michôd’s examination into a world where crime and justice have completely collapsed, presents no explanation. Only focusing on the effects of these circumstances, Michôd presents a nihilistic outlook, deliberately pacing the film to reflect the endless torment induced by such ramifications. Its slow shots depicting the barren emptiness of the outback, assisted by its stunning cinematography, provides a unwavering uncertainty which permeates the film. The instantaneous and unexpected violence shocks in comparison to the relatively subdued tone which exacerbates underlying tenseness. Few words are spoken by the characters in the film, and it propels this overwhelming tension, which is supported brilliantly by creative decisions by Michôd. Antony Partos’ minimalist score is extremely effective – from its opening drones from the cello, it provides a powerful accompaniment to accentuate the ongoing uneasiness of the film.

Here, both Pearce and Pattinson are at the top of their game. Subtle, nuanced yet exceptional, their transformative performances render their characters with additional intrigue and interest. But it’s Pearce who leads the film – his dirt-ridden face, and face which displays unexplained emotions – adds to the layer of mixed feelings to these circumstances: pain, suffering, hopelessness, sentiment.

The contrast between Pearce’s and Pattinson’s characters is a fascinating exploration. An unlikely pair, Pearce’s character emits a certain ‘wise’ quality about the changing world, in which Pattinson’s “dim-witted” character cannot face. Michôd’s startling reminder of the innocence of Pattinson’s character is exuberantly blasted by Keri Hilson’s track in the most implausible scene — bringing yet a diverting tone, which is curiously comical. In fact, Michôd, once again, emphasises the devastating impacts of this broken world on humanity.

The Rover is an enthralling watch – its unanswerable questions intertwine with its unpredictability – ultimately ensuring the film’s deliberately paced unravelling remains acutely powerful.

THE ROVER
Directed by David Michôd
Produced by David Michôd, David Linde, Liz Watts
Starring: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson

RATING ½ out of 5

 

FILM REVIEW: A Most Violent Year (2014, Chandor)

J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year offers a glimpse into one of New York’s most violent years, but ultimately offers a unique exploration into the breakdown of the American Dream, classism, and morality itself. Soaked in a relatively dark palette, Chandor’s film contrasts from his last project, All is Lost; containing a fleshed out screenplay, while managing to divert his film from traditional crime conventions.

A slow burner, Chandor’s directional abilities to create tension stem from drawn out shots, and choices to steer away from constant graphic violence. Instead of focusing solely on the events of the winter of 1981, he uses this setting to create a gripping thriller, while enveloping relevant ideas. Set in this period, the film centres on an immigrant, Abel (Oscar Isaac), and his wife, Anna (Jessica Chastain), who have built their business empire in New York City. Yet, the paradox is that while the very act of violence surrounds them, Abel constantly desires to preserve the ‘right’ and legal way of doing business. He acts as the good face of the company, always insisting that he has always been an honest man – while his wife fiddles with the money behind the scenes. But as an investigation into their company by the police progresses, questions arise to the necessity of violence and corruption to advance in society. It isn’t a new idea, but Chandor nevertheless keeps it fresh and intriguing, by stretching out the film’s ideas through its slow pace and distinctive plot.

While concurrently challenging the very essence of the American Dream, the attacks on Abel’s business from an ‘unknown source’ express the uncertainty of existence itself, and the arbitrary way the world grants success. Is it through hard work? Is it through violence? Or is it just completely random? Chandor leaves us guessing with these ideas, but also doesn’t forget to leave his mark on the film too, by positioning a dramatic foil to Abel to offer an interrogation into why others are not deemed to be destined for success, compared to others.

Additionally, the strain between Abel and Anna’s marriage adds another layer to the already tense subjects regarding morals. Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac deliver astonishing and wide-ranging performances, and lead this film with their compelling chemistry and strong-willed natures. Isaac’s acting reminds me of his looked-over performance in The Two Faces of January, but with more screen time, he gives a nuanced and riveting performance as a man tortured by his ideals. Chastain can still do no wrong, and that is exhibited through her dynamic ability to raise the stakes of the film’s already palpitating drama.

Collaborating with Alex Ebert, whose score drove All is Lost beautifully; this time, Ebert’s score is much more subtle. It rumbles, broods and is seemingly less extravagant than his already unconventional All is Lost material. But it provides the right atmosphere to the film’s permeating uneasiness.

This isn’t your typical ‘gangster’ movie. In fact, that’s what makes A Most Violent Year so fantastic. Chandor’s niche vision expands to a never-ending critique of corruption, and how violence will continue to exist in different forms – if not, physically, then within systems of power.

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR
Directed by J.C. Chandor
Produced by J.C. Chandor, Anna Gerb, Neal Dodson
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, David Oyelowo, Albert Brooks

RATING out of 5

FILM REVIEW: A Bigger Splash (2016, Guadagnino)

This review was originally posted on ImpulseGamer.com

We are all obscene…”

While it begins with a deafening rock concert, A Bigger Splash’s use of silence is perhaps one of its most powerful tools. The immediate cutaway of the sanctuary of the Italian island of Pantelleria is interrupted after a presentation of a calm recuperating location; a phone call, a plane darkening over white sand—the return of Harry Hawkes (Ralph Fiennes) and the arrival of his daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) into Marianne (Tilda Swinton) and Paul’s (Matthias Schoenaerts) lives forebodes chaotic tensions. Swinton’s deliberate choice to render her rock star persona primarily voiceless and raspy whispers proves effective, allowing the film to revel in its sensuality, contrasting the exuberant with the quieter moments.

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Director, Luca Guadagnino masters this juxtaposition, with the audacious editing (Walter Fasano) and cinematography (Yorick Le Saux), creating an aesthetic that is beautifully alluring to look at, and yet borderline dangerous. In fact, the cinematography is not just crisply shot, but experiments with interesting quick zoom and close-ups, crosscutting between facial expressions and focusing quirkily on smaller material objects, as a way of foreshadowing later events. The way the camera moves thus becomes a mechanism to form certain subjectiveness to the film, merging the four leads’ perspectives into one – an inevitable havoc about to ensue.

And while jutting silence plays an impressive part in the cumulative tensions, the energy of the film is not achieved without its distinctive soundtrack, consisting of contemporary rock, operatic pieces, and a pulsating, grating score. It makes the merging of the flashback scenes so seamless, cleverly intertwining score as a way to progress narrative and provide background context about the characters.

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But it is ultimately the dynamic between the cast of four that sparks the sheer anticipation of A Bigger Splash. The slow-build up of tension is unrelentless, assisted by the glances of desire and jealousy that sneak into a relatively calm setting. It is one good-looking cast and Guadagnino is not afraid to use that to his advantage by complicating new attractions with old relationships and illuminating that nothing can really go right. Water serves this metaphor well; the pretence of tranquillity is exacerbated in the constant return to the swimming pool, a place of cooling down. However, this temporary resort is shattered at the hazardous consequences of concealing true emotions and base impulses.

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Unsurprisingly, it is Fiennes’ dancing that is the most delightful of all scenes, where the ebullience of his character bursts into a euphoric dance sequence, cementing his character as the vitality of the film. His presence is the provocation of the messy entangled relationships that incur and this release provides energetic liberation from the tight strains of the characters’ complex relations. It is a shame that these enticing qualities falter once the film hits its third and final act, where it endeavours to hit more emotional beats than it needs. Nevertheless, A Bigger Splash captivates through its gorgeous aesthetic and cracking chemistry between its cast, providing a sensuous and thoughtful experience.

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A BIGGER SPLASH
Directed by Luca Guadagnino
Produced by Michal Costigan, Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Matthias Schoenaerts

RATING out of 5