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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.


April 22nd 2014 05:20

Aaron Wilsonís debut Canopy (2014) is a riveting tale of a lone fighter pilotís survival in wartime, 1942. Shot down over Singapore, Jim (Khan Chittenden) wakes disoriented, suspended in a treetop. Meticulously he must re-orient himself and take all measures to avoid being captured. After working alone to lay the groundwork for his immediate survival, he meets a frightened young Chinese soldier, Seng (Mo Tzu-Yi), with whom he gradually builds a tentative trust and rapport. Working in unison, they must combat the harshness of the natural world as well as evade the invading, ever-present Japanese forces.

Wilsonís film, which he also wrote, is an audacious and brave first feature. Limiting his characters, who are unable to communicate verbally, to a single location requires a lot of creativity to prevent Canopy from literally and figuratively bogging down in the murky surrounds. He takes chances narratively, and for the most part, they pay off handsomely. The film is a genuinely immersive experience, establishing a raw intensity and tension in the early scenes; our confused perspective mirrors that of Jim who soon gets his bearings using his small but essential pack of emergency supplies and equipment.

The decision to mute Jim by denying him all but a few whispered intonations of his own name to his companion - no exasperated outbursts or cries of rage, frustration or surrender - may seem a peculiar one. Yet, the longer the film goes on, the idea gains dramatic weight as we watch the pair becoming sealed in the vortex of their intimate, shared experience. The jungle becomes a place in which they must bridge their circumstances with a shared humanity; a place in which words would seem extraneous anyway.

The convincingly physical performances from Chittenden and Mo are strong but the ultimate success of the film can be attributed, largely, to the stunning sound design, which is amongst the most effective Iíve ever heard. A barrage of loud, piercing sound effects of war, emerging from both close at hand and lingering in the distance, are constant, nerve-wracking reminders of an inescapable context for Jim and Seng. Canopy, a co-production with Singapore, was publicly funded within Australia as well. Regardless of its limited budget, itís an impressive film, one that will likely signal the beginning of a promising career for the highly talented Wilson.

Canopy opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday, April 24, 2014.


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 Jarmuschís new film effortlessly puts a charge into a wearied, overexposed lifeform Ė 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, itís the rich texture of Jarmuschís 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 Ďaliennessí is turned on its head by Eveís Ďhumanityí, her decency, exquisite taste and capacity to love. Thereís a gentle, sustaining poignancy at the heart of the film thatís 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 Eveís man, whilst Mia Wasikowska steals a chunk midway through as Eveís carefree, troublesome younger sister Ava.

From the perspective of these centuriesí 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 doesnít 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.


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 doesnít 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 weíre 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. Heís 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). Itís 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 Desplatís 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. Andersonís screenplay, inspired by the work of Austrian author Stefan Zweig, sparkles with invention, wit and lashings of silliness. Itís the texture of the directorís films that separate them from the pack. Thereís 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 Ė and it canít 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 Zeroís love interest and many others are all magnificent contributors to the creation of the whole with its accrual of superbly rendered parts. Happily, thereís been no decline whatsoever in the quality of Andersonís 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.


The Lego Movie

April 1st 2014 03:47


March 31st 2014 04:31


March 19th 2014 03:49

All is Lost

March 5th 2014 03:06


11.6 @ The French Film Festival

March 4th 2014 03:26


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