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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.


September 17th 2014 05:00

Director Richard Linklater has had an enviable career. From one project to the next, he seamlessly crosses spheres from his home ground in the indie arena to the mainstream Ė and without ever selling his soul in pursuit of the almighty dollar. His reputation was initially forged with Slacker (1991), Dazed and Confused (1993), and Before Sunrise (1995) which would become the first leg of one of cinemaís finest ever trilogies. Later, there was his commercial breakout School of Rock (2003), but now heís settled into a pattern of seeking out a broad range of consistently interesting projects, the best of which include the wonderful Me and Orson Welles (2008) and flawed but compelling rotoscoped Philip K. Dick adaptation A Scanner Darkly (2006).

One that has long captured his attention finally sees the light upon its completion. Shot over the course of 12 years, Boyhood (2014) is a film of extraordinary ambition and daring. Without the ability to foresee the changing circumstances in the lives of its creative participants, Linklater imagined a series of ordinary lives unfolding in real time. The simplicity of the narrative belies its subject matter. This is a literal coming of age as Mason (Ellar Coltrane) negotiates his way from a boy of six through to his first hopeful day of college. Around him, relationships alter, renew, fall apart. His sister Sam (Lorelei Linklater, the directorís daughter) is a constant, his father (Ethan Hawke) returns intermittently to the frame, whilst his mother (Patricia Arquette) has trouble choosing stable partners, forcing a number of upheavals as the family regularly bounces around Texas.

The aging of the characters is far from a novelty. We quickly become invested in these lives, even as they move sporadically. Regularly we leap months in a single bound, forcing another re-evaluation as to where everyone has landed. The narrative has the feel of genuine memory, a juxtapositioning of good and bad days that intermingle in our own memories, later to be contorted or softened according to their importance in forging our own identities or maintaining happiness. The genius of Linklaterís writing is in trusting itself to reflect a common, relatable reality. There are no grandstanding moments, confounding twists or other contrivances. Rather itís the weight derived from an accumulation of observant, insightful, truthful scenes that allows the film to expand upon its own core immodesty.

Shot for only two or three days each year of its production, Boyhood may long be regarded as Linklaterís masterpiece. He incorporates elements of the castís lives, especially Coltrane, whose interest in photography is organically integrated into Masonís own expanding teenage consciousness and his desire to capture it artistically. Watching this understated, talented young actor grow up before our eyes in just under three hours is, in some sense, surreal, like an elaborate magic trick accelerated to warp speed.


The Grandmaster

September 3rd 2014 04:36

Wong Kar-Waiís long gestating follow-up to the greatest disappointment of his career - the English-language flop My Blueberry Nights (2007) Ė sees him back at the peak of his powers. A visually stunning martial arts film streamed with operatic gestures and aesthetically enriched flourishes, The Grandmaster (2013) tells two intersecting stories. One is of Ip Man (Tony Leung), the formidable new post-war contender from Foshan who is chosen to tackle the best fighter put forth from the other end of China by the regionís Grandmaster (Qingxiang Wang). The story of the daughter of the Grandmaster, Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), also becomes a major part of the narrative as she seeks to uphold her fatherís honour and impeccable record.

The film tends to ramble along episodically without imparting much in the way of detailed background or character building, even when it comes to the famed Ip Man who would later become known for mentoring Bruce Lee. Itís the artfully wrought fight sequences, including an opening set-piece in drenching rain, that provide the real highlights, thanks to Kar-Waiís extraordinary vision and the execution of cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd. The CGI enhancement of the battles isnít in the least distracting, whilst the mix of severity and sincerity in the demeanour of the directorís long-time collaborator Leung, provide a perfect balance. The film is hardly hurt, it must be said, by the ravishing beauty of Zhang Ziyi, who is surely the most exquisitely beautiful actress alive Ė at least without earlobes.

As The Grandmaster reaches its final stages, Kar-Wai takes time to slow down and emotionally connect the two lead characters. In turn, through the fading recollections of Gong Er, it becomes an affecting, poignant meditation on life, the passage of time, the strength of familial bonds and the indelible markings of deep regret. Even if the voiceover tends to express these core messages with a certain triteness that might make a Hallmark Card staffer green with envy, the earnestness involved means much of the narrative thinness can be partially overlooked. Adding to the excitement is a wonderfully varied and colourful score by another of the directorís returning artists, composer Shigeru Umebayashi.

The Grandmaster opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday, September 4.


Into the Storm

September 3rd 2014 04:32

Anyone who has ever seen the ground breaking TV series Storm Chasers will regard this big budget copycat as a poor manís version of the real thing. Tossing into the blender some lame rehashed elements of Jan de Bontís Twister (1996) and creaky generic loved-ones-in-peril plot devices from a thousand other disaster Ďepicsí and you have the thoroughly serviceable but undistinguished Into the Storm (2014). The film is directed by Steven Quale who made his debut with the fifth instalment of the Final Destination series but who has on his CV second unit duties on James Cameronís Titanic (1997) and Avatar (2009), and written by John Swetnam whose other new film Step Up All In (2014) provides, in its title alone, a fair sized indicator of the intellectual level at which this film has been pitched.

Peopled by cardboard cut-outs posing as flesh and blood human beings, the film begins mostly with found footage type video of a high-schooler, Donnie (Max Deacon), and his smart-arse younger brother, Trey (Nathan Kress), as the former attempts to compile a time capsule of his life to offer his future self, not to mention his over serious father and vice-principal (Richard Armitage). Cue a series of lame, inarticulate ponderings that lead to Donnie isolating himself with potential girlfriend once the mother of all storm systems touches down in their home town of Silverton, wreaking havoc on a gargantuan scale.

Itís in the post-production phase that Into the Storm has been transformed into something that will thrill and entertain audiences craving for little else. A series of increasingly elaborate set-pieces in which all variety of debris, including cars, trucks and aeroplanes Ė but no discernible farmyard animals unfortunately - is callously and brutally tossed about like shrapnel by Mother Natureís whims. Itís often jaw-dropping stuff, even if we have little investment in whether or not the various pursuing characters - including a humourless, nauseatingly dedicated storm chaser (Matt Walsh), a meteorologist (Sarah Wayne Callies), or for blunt comedic effect, a pair of moronic hillbillies hoping to profit from subsequent YouTube infamy Ė are impaled, dissolved or blown away, so long as the mayhem of the carnivalesque light and sound show returns at regular intervals.

Into the Storm opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday, September 4.



August 27th 2014 04:38


July 31st 2014 02:30

Deliver Us from Evil

July 23rd 2014 04:29

Reaching for the Moon

July 16th 2014 04:24

Tim's Vermeer

July 9th 2014 04:39

The Two Faces of January

June 24th 2014 04:26

The Rover

June 11th 2014 04:38

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