Category Archives: Drama
My TIFF 2014 reviews continue to trickle through and today I’ve got something special, one of my most anticipated films of the year, “The Imitation Game.” Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, and Rory Kinnear, “The Imitation Game” retells the unbelievable life-story of Alan Turing. Feel free to click on the link below which will redirect you to my review over at The Cinematic Katzenjammer and please drop a like/comment/share.
Greatly influenced by Arnold Fanck, pioneer of the mountain film genre, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and his film, “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.” Oliver Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria” can’t help but keep its glamourized mindset floating amongst the thin, cool, moist air. Whether it’s the altitude, a life of fame, or a last-ditch attempt at recapturing dissipated youth, the fleeting, ungraspable nature of the film’s gaseous metaphor leaves little to sink one’s teeth into. That’s not to say there isn’t redemptive qualities about having one’s head in the clouds, literally and figuratively.
The Swiss Alps, ripe with greenery and dusted with snow at their dizzying peaks, provide a heavenly backdrop for this supremely meta drama. Yet, the promise of a Maloja Snake, the result of ideal atmospheric conditions, clouds drifting north from Italy and slithering their way through the distant mountain scape is the scenic treasure we, along with our leading ladies, can’t help but ache for.
We arrive at the remote, sparsely populated town of Sils Maria via a spectacular train ride through central Europe’s vistas and some fine vehicular maneuvering brought on by our heroine, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) and her passionate assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart). Enders, a well-renowned actor, has dragged her lovely and devout second in command Valentine to the middle of nowhere to accept a rather prestigious award on behalf of Wilhelm Melchior, the author/director who’s play had a significant role in launching Maria’s career when she was 18.
We’re now 20 years down the road from her big break and Enders is dealing with a rough divorce, a tragic loss, and an up-and-coming co-star (Chloe Grace Moretz). All whilst struggling to grasp the opposing role in a reimagining of the same play from her youth that landed her in the spotlight. Alienating herself in Sils Maria to rehearse with her assistant, Enders inability to comprehend and execute her latest part slowly dissolves everything around her.
“Clouds of Sils Maria’s” intertwining narrative is a tough code to crack. Touching on a slew of themes with relevance to both the lives of the film’s characters and the actors who portray them (Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace Moretz). This makes it exceedingly nerve-wracking to decipher the film in its entirety upon a single viewing. It’s quite easy to see that Assayas’ intentions were to infuse a sense of realism into his characters, a sort of funhouse reflecting multiple vantage points on age, immediacy, choices, power…and he achieves a level of theatrical meaning and importance unlike anything I’ve witnessed.
In addition to the intersecting paths of Assayas’ characters and cast, the dialogue between Maria and Valentine rapidly shifts from rehearsal of Binoche’s character’s source material, which the two constantly run-through, and genuine, wholehearted conversations…seamlessly I might add. These prolonged isolated interactions Maria and Valentine find themselves in often descend into visceral altercations, envy, and sexual meddling, curiosity on Maria’s behalf, akin to that of the two characters in Enders’ source material, making the origins of their discussions almost indecipherable.
Typically, a film of such self-reference and intertextuality would be better off leaving hints, subtle clues throughout to assist the viewer in the process of decoding. Yet “Clouds of Sils Maria” benefits greatly from the shroud of mystery and is surprisingly quite rewarding, like the satisfaction that accompanies the solving of an intellectual recreation puzzle. Assayas does a phenomenal job structuring and carrying through his latest as the experience will greatly attest.
The uncanny similarities between the cast and their characters makes it relatively easy for the ensemble to invest, explore, and portray their respective roles. Chloe Grace Moretz, a serious talent with an extremely bright future, does what she can in the limited screen time given. She adds a much-needed comedic element to a rather bleak, intentionally monotonous picture. Not to mention the hilarious, yet oddly depressing connection to modern starlets.
Juliette Binoche is everything Assayas could’ve hoped for when scribing the role of Maria Enders. She’s encompassing, stunning, complex, and there’s rarely a moment when she doesn’t command the screen. Her character might not demand that significant of a stretch, but there’s no room for error. If a hint of disingenuousness or indifference seeped, the rest of the film would crumble. Thankfully this is not the case.
With little hesitation I conclude that Kristen Stewart’s performance in “Clouds of Sils Maria” is a career-best, ‘On the Road’ being the only evidence to the contrary. Stewart has always chosen interesting, emotionally driven roles and that doesn’t change. As she matures, Stewart has ditched the mannerisms that plagued her early on and has really become comfortable acting outside of the ‘Twilight’ series. With Valentine, there isn’t much on the surface, but there is a hurricane under the skin. Clearly producing the stoic surface and hidden treasures of emotional vulnerability and honesty, Stewart is brilliantly transparent.
Easy on the eyes yet incredibly intricate, Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria” is beneficiary of strong performances and striking panoramic views…
Clouds of Sils Maria: 9 out of 10.
In case you missed the news, I’ve started contributing to The Cinematic Katzenjammer, in addition to Gone With The Movies. Of course, The Cinema Monster will still remain my home. That being said, it’d mean the world to me if you could head on over to The CK and give my latest review (Tracks) a gander. And while you’re there, feel free to drop a like/comment, seeing as the site is also run through WordPress! So logging in and such won’t be a hassle. Just click the link below!
If you did happen to miss the notice last week, you might have missed out on my review of “The Trip to Italy.” Don’t feel left out, it’s very easily rectified. Simply click on the link below and it’ll immediately direct you to the article!
There’s really nothing special about Ivan Locke, he’s actually quite common. He has a wife and two children. He departs for work every morning in a respectable vehicle and returns home to his family at day’s end. He dresses satisfactory, has a scruffy beard, and catches colds like the rest of us. At his place of employment, he answers to his superiors and manages those with an inferior title. He struggles mightily with his own mortality and cheers on his favourite football team. For reasons beyond his control, Ivan was deprived of a father figure growing up and sadly lives his life to achieve an unreachable status of fatherhood immaculacy, a goal his neglectful dad could never dream of fulfilling.
Ivan has lived his life as if it were a blueprint. He takes excruciating precautions not to misstep, as he understands the consequences of an error, no matter how small. Unfortunately however, Ivan has made but one mistake in his trivial existence and it will end up costing him everything. For you see, on any other day, Locke would be retuning home about now, but he should have realized that a single mistake sets off a chain reaction. And like a series of dominoes tumbling over one another, Ivan’s empire, slowly but surely, will collapse… Yes, I guess you could say Ivan Locke is nothing special.
If I’m to be honest, there’s a multitude of reasons why Steven Knight’s “Locke” is such a triumph. It’s incredibly strong dialogue, endless chain of symbolic metaphors, and brilliant use of rhetoric and pathos sets a marvellous, nearly flawless foundation which allows director/writer Steven Knight, his crew, and ensemble to not only take risks and part ways with convention, but to thrive inside their own trial and error. They consistently violate and push their own discoveries to an extreme like no filmmakers have done before them. I mean, some of the things done in this film left me flabbergasted. Not to mention that the realism of “Locke’s” premise, dialogue, and circumstances gracefully and painfully transcend the screen. In fact, it’s so revolutionary that regardless of the fact if you enjoy the film or not, one can’t help but admire and revere what Knight and company have done here. With “Locke,” less is truly more.
I do find it odd however, rather ironic actually, that a film centred around the notion that safety comes with structure and convention has such disdain towards method and canon. I mean, at countless moments we are gagged with the premise that to build something concrete, one needs feasibility, rules, design and stability. And yet, Steven Knight’s “Locke” is existing, contradictory proof. It’s quite the paradox when you think about it.
“Locke” is experimental, minimalist cinema at its finest. The film was shot entirely on three cameras mounted inside a BMW with only a handful of external shots sparsely spliced in. In addition to a minuscule budget, “Locke” was filmed in its entirety from start to finish each night twice during production, with Hardy inside the vehicle and the voice actors in a hotel room calling the number connected to the X5. There are so many little quirks and factual tidbits about the film that you just have to investigate and experience for your self. Like Tom Hardy having come down with a head cold immediately before production so the script was changed so his character could accommodate the sickness. Additionally, Hardy’s seemingly brilliant sporadic anger fits are just a bi-product of the X5’s incessant “low fuel warning” alarm interrupting his performance.
Now, with a director like Terrence Malick, for example, the scope can never be too large. Knight’s latest on the other hand, takes it down to the microscopic scale. And although the amplitude may vary, I can assure you there are equal amounts of talent and dedication on either end. And while Knight isn’t exactly new to filmmaking, actually he’s quite the wily veteran, he is still getting ahold of directing as “Locke” is only his second full-length feature behind the camera. It’s rather comical actually seeing as one would think Knight had been directing his entire life judging by the caliber of “Locke.” His mastery of the film’s mood is nothing short of superb. His ability to create this dark, almost apocalyptic atmosphere that lingers so heavy on the screen translates to his characters and the film’s overall effectiveness. Of course, it does help that the film’s soundtrack is as hauntingly ambient and foreboding as they come.
If you know me at all, it should be crystal clear that I can’t say enough good things about Tom Hardy. The guy’s a one man show, literally. I honestly thought I’d seen his best, but once again Hardy manages to dazzle in ways I never thought possible. I know I’ve been praising Knight’s technique, inventiveness, and ingenuity a lot in this review, but his efforts would have been for nothing had Hardy not carried the film in the manner he did. Shifting from a stoic, control hungry realist to an inconsolable and flawed man with seemingly little-to-no effort, Hardy appears to get better with each outing. His voice, eyes, and demeanour give Hardy unbelievable control of the screen, and the fact that the film takes place in such a confined space only enhances his abilities. I know it’s early, but Hardy’s performance in “Locke” is easily the best of 2014 thus far.
Ingenious, hard-hitting, and undoubtedly simple, “Locke” is an expressionistic piece that is, without question, one of a kind. Featuring a phenomenal performance from Tom Hardy and stern, resourceful direction from Steven Knight, “Locke” is one of 2014’s must-see.
Locke: 9 out of 10.