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20/20 Filmsight - Film Criticism by David O'Connell

 
Film Criticism by David O'Connell

I'm a Sydney-based film reviewer that loves to review local screenings and film festivals. Want me to cover your event? Email me at cibbuano ~AT~ orble ~DOT~ com.


Only Lovers Left Alive

April 16th 2014 04:03



A resounding return to form after the soulless, clinical miscalculation of The Limits of Control (2009), Jim Jarmusch’s new film effortlessly puts a charge into a wearied, overexposed lifeform – the vampire. Set mostly in the backstreets of Detroit, Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) initially separates the two central lovers: musician Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is lying low in Detroit, contemplating suicide as he hides out from groupies. Rare joy comes from visits from his human friend Ian (Anton Yelchin) who procures vintage guitars for him. Meanwhile, Eve (Tilda Swinton), is doing likewise in exotic Tangier, her source of sustenance being the waning Marlowe (John Hurt). But times are tough for those requiring high quality blood to survive and so Eve treks back to the States to reunite with her immortal beloved.

Though thin in terms of plot, it’s the rich texture of Jarmusch’s film that helps maintain a hypnotic hold. It's drenched in lazy, random rock riffs, swirling, depleted colours and plenty of dreamy visual asides that illuminate the slowly passing lives of these timeless lovers with an eroded poetic grandeur. It goes without saying that the performances are exceptional. Swinton has long possessed an otherworldliness, a fact used to great effect by Jarmusch. And yet the very notion of her ‘alienness’ is turned on its head by Eve’s ‘humanity’, her decency, exquisite taste and capacity to love. There’s a gentle, sustaining poignancy at the heart of the film that’s only enhanced by the most seemingly mundane scenes of the pair cruising the streets at night or reliving centuries old memories with wry observations. Hiddleston, in a less sympathetic role, is equally good as Eve’s man, whilst Mia Wasikowska steals a chunk midway through as Eve’s carefree, troublesome younger sister Ava.

From the perspective of these centuries’ old beings, the humans are the zombies, the wastrels sucking the blood out of one another in mindless pursuit of their own meaningless holy grails. Jarmusch has wicked fun at our expense in sculpting the parameters of this dark void as well as slyly jabbing away at literary and art history with tongue planted firmly in cheek. This ever ironic, idiosyncratic director, thankfully, is back, in a rich vein of form, and even if it doesn’t quite match his finest work, Only Lovers Left Alive is bloody delicious all the same.






Only Lovers Left Alive opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday, April 17, 2014.







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The Grand Budapest Hotel

April 8th 2014 05:12



For his eighth film, director Wes Anderson adopts a familiar aesthetic, one inextricably linked to his back catalogue. Again, venturing into his obliquely unique world is akin to a visitation from a lovably eccentric and brilliant friend. The scope of his latest tall tale is broader than usual in The Grand Budapest Hotel (2013) but no area of the production has been short-changed. Still his idiosyncratic brilliance is etched into every visual gag and line of dialogue. It doesn’t really add up to a hill of beans, ultimately, but for devotees of this prodigious creative talent, who cares, for the passage from point A to point B is joyous enough. With Anderson we’re truly in safe hands, surrounded by a company of many fondly recurring faces, bathed in confectionary colours and housed by an elaborate, hyperstylised production design.

The film elaborates on a tale within a tale within a tale, introduced by a writer (Tom Wilkinson) who takes us back to a younger version of himself (Jude Law) passing through the desolate hotel in the fictional European land of Zubrowska, a shell of its former self. He’s intrigued by the appearance of Mr. Moustafa (F.Murray Abraham), who later regales him, over dinner, with a detailed history of his part in the life of the establishment's former head concierge, Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes). It’s an elaborate, colourful tale of death, deceit, family squabbles, revenge, imprisonment and daring escape. Somehow, it all hangs together with a kind of chaotic precision, Anderson cramming the margins of his narrative with a wild assortment of bit players, each revelatory in allowing familiar actors to join in, if only momentarily, the fun as it romps to its hilarious conclusion. Every beat of the action is matched by the uncannily assimilated perfection of Alexandre Desplat’s score which seems to keep pace in divulging its variations on a theme like a metronome.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, even its most endearingly unruly moments, feels almost perfect, if only for reflecting the idiosyncratic virtuosity of its author and the spirited collaboration of a willing cast. Anderson’s screenplay, inspired by the work of Austrian author Stefan Zweig, sparkles with invention, wit and lashings of silliness. It’s the texture of the director’s films that separate them from the pack. There’s the same kind of pleasure in delving into his worlds as derived from anything concocted by the Coen brothers. In both cases, the filmmakers take special care to make even the most marginal, fleeting characters memorable and a large part of their impact is, again – and it can’t be emphasised enough - through impeccable casting.

Has Fiennes ever had a more perfectly sculpted role? His Englishness is mined for every ounce of its usefulness in submitting to random humiliation whilst always able to revert back to a brave, resolute face in the event of catastrophe or imminent danger. Newcomer Tony Revolori as Zero, the young Mr. Moustafa, with his deadpan, acquiescent loyalty to his employer is almost as memorable, whilst Law, the formidable Abraham, a seething, near silent Willem Defoe, Edward Norton, Adrian Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Saoirse Ronan as Zero’s love interest and many others are all magnificent contributors to the creation of the whole with its accrual of superbly rendered parts. Happily, there’s been no decline whatsoever in the quality of Anderson’s output; if anything, his films are only getting better, richer in their smallest detailing, and overflowing with an eccentric worldview and uniquely left-of-centre comedic slant. This latest may even top his previous film, the blissful Moonrise Kingdom (2011).





The Grand Budapest Hotel opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday, April 10, 2014.











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The Lego Movie

April 1st 2014 03:47




Nothing in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009) and 21 Jump Steet (2012) , the two previous films of writing-directing duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller, could have prepared audiences for the inventive and hilarious final product that is The Lego Movie (2014), the unlikeliest adaptation of a non-original source in cinema history. With wit, charm and adherence to a frenetic pace that sees the spit-shined visuals and sparkling narrative packed with visual and verbal gags aplenty, they’ve turned the world of block building toys into an outrageously real metropolis populated by master builder superheroes. Then there's the ordinary Joe, Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt), who fatefully becomes a hero of his own making by breaking free of the mindless contentment that keeps his life on a predictable path but stymies any possibility of individuality.

Content to be just another construction worker, Emmet stumbles onto a key piece of a universe-affecting puzzle, thus injecting himself into a battle to save the universe from evil dictator Lord Business (Will Ferrell) who evilly keeps the various Lego worlds designated and unable to be crossed. Thought to be the “special one”, Emmet bluffs his way into the superheroes lair for a while before his painfully generic citizen status is exposed. But undeterred he steps into the fray with help from perky potential love interest Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a suitably snarling Batman (Will Arnett), wise sage Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), a goodcop/bad cop (Liam Neeson) and a wacky assortment of recognisable others.

The underlying themes of The Lego Movie may be familiar ones but by not condescending to their audience and filling every frame with fast-tracking, colourful distractions, Lord and Miller have created a senses-stimulating entertainment that resounds with meaning through the relevance of the messages and the emotional investment we have in the characters’ quests. That all sounds slightly absurd considering these are Lego figures we’re talking about, but the brilliance of the duo’s screenplay is borne out in the clever reconfiguration of modern life as we know it. There’ll be consistent, approving laughs from adults and children alike, such is the breadth of the canvas on which the film has been devised. It ranges from funny jibes at aspects of pop culture, authority and conformity to poignant reinforcement, most importantly, of why our individuality need never be sacrificed for the greater common good.





The Lego Movie opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday, April 3, 2014.






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Wadjda

March 31st 2014 04:31
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Gloria

March 19th 2014 03:49
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All is Lost

March 5th 2014 03:06
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11.6 @ The French Film Festival

March 4th 2014 03:26
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Tracks

March 3rd 2014 04:21
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