Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Quick Critique: 45 Years (2015)

Andrew Haigh’s previous cinematic outing, ‘Weekend’, is one of the best relationship dramas released in the last 5 years. What made it work so well was its sense of authenticity; the actors get so absorbed in their characters that they feel like real people, and a lot of the scenes are just conversations between the leads you can picture yourself having. While a bit more of a cinematic experience than its predecessor, his new movie ’45 Years’ also gives us this sense of realism and has proven to be one of the best films of the year.

The story is set in the week leading up to the 45th wedding anniversary of Kate and Geoff Mercer (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, respectively). After Geoff receives news about a past event he kept from his wife, her trust in their marriage slowly begins to unravel as the days count down. This framing device actually works really effectively of giving a day-by-day account of how the couple deal with this news, particularly Kate. What’s more interesting is that their moods and opinions go up and down throughout the week, very much like people react to shocking news.

Both actors are absolutely wonderful, and give two of the best performances of the year. Rampling manages to be introspective and understated without being a pushover and very subtly joyful in certain moments. Courtenay makes Geoff but quirky yet accessible; he’s not an overly strange man, but he’s both restrained and temperamental, having odd reactions to certain scenes. These characters complement each other and allow their conflict to fester from differing viewpoints, adding a lot of nuances and strengthening their bond. They are possibly the best couples onscreen this year.

As with ‘Weekend’, the music is minimal, almost non-existent, and it creates a stark and dry atmosphere. This actually works in the movie’s favour as it fleshes out the story being told. As stated above, there are certain cinematic moments in the film, like a scene being colourfully described in order to get its symbolic meaning across, or an interlude where Kate plays the piano. However, they’re very few and far between and can help rather than hinder it. It builds up the narrative weight of their marriage, leading to a fascinating denouement that plays against expectation and is richer for it.

What makes ’45 Years’ such a masterpiece is its focus on the characters and the thematic substance of their tale. Ideas of intimacy, trust, how well you really know someone and how your world view and life’s structure can so easily fall apart are all explored here. What’s even better is that we’re never given an easy answer, leaving the movie on a powerfully ambiguous note. It’s a seminal drama, wonderfully acted and produced, and creates a fictional relationship with pathos, history, poignancy and despair.  


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Quick Critique: Manglehorn (2015)

David Gordon Green is one of the most versatile and fearless filmmakers of his generation, willing to mix up his material and challenge audience’s perception of him. Al Pacino is rightly considered one of the greatest actors of his generation, who has constantly made daring and fascinating performances in his career spanning over four decades. A combination of the two seems like a match made in heaven and a film worth watching. What we got with ‘Manglehorn’ was something confused and ill-defined.

This film is part of a conceptual trilogy where Al Pacino explores different facets of old age. The rather abysmal ‘Danny Collins’ looked at the regrets an aging rockstar has towards the path he took in his life. ‘Manglehorn’ focuses on the titular AJ Manglehorn as he pines for a long-lost love while ignoring or taking for granted all other aspects of his life.

The film starts off rather solidly, delving into the depression and ceaseless loneliness of our protagonist. He tries to snap out of his ennui by fraternising with a man he used to coach baseball named Gary (Harmony Korine essentially playing himself), trying to reconnect with his son and granddaughter, and even attempting to start a romance with kindly bank teller Dawn (Holly Hunter). All of this is offset with Green’s clever eye for finding visual metaphors in rather mundane objects.

The problem is that the film doesn’t really do anything interesting with these stepping stones, if at all. We are delivered a story full of missteps, false starts, moments that go nowhere and incredibly forced monologues simply there to sing the praises of our lead.

The cast give it their all, but there’s simply not much to them. Manglehorn’s son is painfully one-note and his relationship with Pacino is textbook ‘daddy issues’, Harmony Korine is just slimy with no real hidden depths or actions that make him in any way interesting, and Hunter suffers the worst being forced to play way too nice and divine so the audience can get it hammered even further how obsessed Manglehorn is with his lady love.

There is a lot to admire with ‘Manglehorn’ and some of the scenes really work. The problem is that its way more preoccupied with speaking about its protagonist and giving him repetitive, insanely grating voice-overs than actually sufficiently exploring him in any great depth. Because of this, the script has really nowhere to go and just prods on with moments of no significant weight, occasionally broken up with the romance with Dawn desperately trying to add life to the beast.

What’s even more of a shame is that this is probably the best Pacino has been in years, and is under the helm of a director who is clearly fishing for profound brilliance but just doesn’t catch anything.

For diehard Pacino fans only. I hope ‘The Humbling’ fared better.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Quick Critique: Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

The teen sex comedy is a pretty frequent subgenre we’ve had to endure, though in more recent years it’s somewhat moulded into the rather repellent ‘party’ comedy. Still, the narrative remains about adolescent males trying their best to get laid and the (debatably) hilarious endeavours they get into in order to achieve said goal. This does bring up the fact that sexuality for younger girls isn’t given the same kind of exploration, be it in a serious context or not. Diary of a Teenage Girl provides exactly that kind of spotlight, while also managing to be funny as well as dramatic and profound.

The film, based on a play by writer/director Marielle Heller (the same dual roles she took for this adaptation), based on a graphic novel by Phoebe Gloecker, which is semi-autobiographical, explore the sexual awakening of 15-year old Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) in 1970s San Francisco. Said awakening occurs after she has an affair with her mother’s (Kristen Wiig) much older boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), which provides much of the drive for the story.

While these themes are controversial, the tone of the movie is a lot lighter than you’d expect while still taking the events seriously. This is due to the framing; it’s from the perspective of Minnie’s diaries, so we’re getting her insight into her life. While we are examining these sordid sexual escapades through the eyes of adults, we are told them from the language of a teenager, thus allowing the proceedings to have a youthful and fun-loving energy to them. It helps that Minnie, played wonderfully by Powley, is very confident and self-assured. While this doesn’t take away from how inappropriate some of the movie’s scenes can be, they don't feel as insidious as they could have been.

Helping this naturalistic tone is how the younger characters communicate. Even if you can’t relate to the actions they take, the language they speak in has a universality that teenagers can click with. Offsetting this is how irresponsible the adults are; in a sense, they have left the 60s in an adolescent state despite their ages. Alexander Skarsgard revels in how pathetic and underhanded the hebephilic Monroe is, while Kristen Wiig gives a career-best performance as the somewhat unlikable but very human Charlotte.

Further characterising the movie is Minnie’s interest in comic style art, which will frequently break out in her beautifully rendered and uniquely stylised drawings. It’s used to show a very different side of our heroine, as well mix various movements and ideas that were taking shape at the time. San Francisco becomes a character in of itself, beautifully realised through the cinematography, and coming of age in the same way our lead is.

Diary of a Teenage Girl is one of those films that reminds me why I love film. Provocative but relatable, it speaks in a language that will click with you while exploring elements of female sexuality all too ignored. One of 2015’s strongest entries.