Monday, November 28, 2016

Japanese Film Festival (kind of): Your Name

Mitsuha is a girl living in a quiet mountainside town in the Japanese country. Bored and frustrated by her surroundings, she wakes up one morning to find that she has become a Tokyo boy with his own entirely different like named Taki. They soon deduce that the two of them randomly body swap during the week, and as they get to know each other, a devastating revelation sends their story into disarray.

Based on the novel of the same name, written by the director Makoto Shinkai and released in June, Your Name juggles a lot of interesting threads. Honestly the gender bending stuff is probably some of the best in the film; it could so easily come off as crass and stupid, but they’re actually careful to play around with them and not make it so cliché. It’s really clever how Mitsuha helps Taki get a date with a co-worker he has a crush on because her feminine traits are endearing to her. They really help distinct the movie from other body swap plots, and while some jokes may bother people, it never feels to take humour from just the idea of ‘boys do X, girls do Y’ and seems more based on societal expectations and how their differing personalities clash with their differing lives.

Then we get to the massive twist in the middle of the second act, and the movie loses me somewhat. It still has a lot of mystery and charm, but to be honest the stuff with the characters interacting indirectly and the teenage drama unfolding is so good that it’s a shame they kind of skim over it for the sake of the plot. I can’t believe I’d rather see high school crap over multi-layered fantasy concepts! While some of the stuff later on gets really, really clever, they drag their feet a lot (A LOT!) on certain scenes. The overstuffed first act is pretty forgivable, how freaking long the climax and ending is isn’t.

As for the animation, it’s pretty standard. I know CG is the new king, but the moments with the landscapes are way too obvious, and they clash too much with the traditional animation that it took me out of these moments completely. There is one amazingly gorgeous scene that I have no complaints about in terms of style (you’ll probably guess what it is when you see it), but outside of that there are a lot of shortcuts and nothing about it really stands out for me.

Your Name tells the sweet story about discovering yourself through the eyes of another person, and this stuff works really well. When it moves onto bigger ideas and a love angle to boot, it begins to get bogged down by overplotting and way, way too many clunky expositional moments. Despite the characters feeling broad in places, they are relatable and likeable enough to carry the story, and while some of the fantasy aspects can be well handled, all the best stuff is to do more with these characters and less to do with its complicated and surprisingly large plot (not that it’s hard to follow) that takes over everything halfway through. Anime fans will likely love this, but it will likely try the patience of those who see a good story trapped inside a larger one.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Quick Critique: I, Daniel Blake

Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a late-50s Newcastle carpenter who suffered a near fatal heart attack. He has his sickness benefits cut off after an outsourced company deemed him fit to work despite his doctors claiming otherwise. The film follows Blake’s waiting to appeal this as he struggle to deal with the process of claiming unemployment benefits and looking for work he cannot physically do. He is also helping out Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother from London Daniel befriends after meeting her at the Job Centre.

I, Daniel Blake is one of those films that comes out every once in a while to make you realise just how relevant and important cinema can be. Ken Loach, a long-serving filmmaker focused primarily with social realism, captures a harsh and painful reality for many of those in England being mistreated by a service that is supposed to support him. Many people can relate to Daniel’s struggles, and similarly with Katie’s as someone trying desperately to make ends meet.

What really pushes this film is the level of detail. Both Daniel and Katie’s homes are filled with what you expect from both characters in terms of their history and economic leanings. I love all the woodwork and old-fashioned technology surrounding Daniel-he’s clearly a man set in his ways. Also the attention to detail in the jobseekers office is potent. Anyone who’s had experience in these offices can relate to everything that happens here.

Daniel and Katie have one of the most beautifully realised and potent friendships I’ve seen in cinema in a long while. Two people from completely different worlds brought together by a common struggle. It feels neither exploitative nor unnerving; the actors play off each other naturally and you seriously buy their friendship. Alongside their kindness, Loach is also careful not to paint everything in a cynically negative light for the sake of getting his point across. There are people in the Job Centre that are helpful, or even just neutral. The scene in the food bank comes to mind when showing how kind and understanding people can be-it’s not entirely beset in its own misery.

I, Daniel Blake may not be one of the best shot films in the world (quick point: if you hate fadeouts, you are in for a treat!), but it’s characterisation and social relevancy completely outweigh this as a flaw. It’s a potent, moving and anger-inducing film, enrapturing you with its good nature and sympathetic yet put upon characters, offset in a system that is built to beat them down. It’s one of the most important films of 2016, and the best one by my own estimation. If you care what everyday people are struggling with in this current economic climate, I implore you to see this masterpiece of the ordinary person.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Quick Critique: Nocturnal Animals

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is a successful art gallery owner with the veneer of a perfect life. However, she unexpectedly gets a manuscript of a new novel written by her estranged ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). Sheffield claims the book was inspired by Morrow and even dedicates it to her. However, as Morrow continues to read it, a violent revenge thriller, it begins to shake her as she interprets it as a rather deliberate message to her.

Nocturnal Animals is a fascinating beast, pun entirely intended. When it plays on the paranoia of our lead character, it also plays on our own. We begin to read into every facet of the novel as to what the story actually is saying to or about the character, thereby making us an active observer. This is Tom Ford’s second film, after the excellent A Single Man, and he really knows how to frame a narrative around around a character’s internalised fears and desires. The way the novel segments are cut up near the start are beautifully done; it really feels like how you picture a story as you read it, as well as the longer takes and intense moments showing how much more Susan is investing into the story.

The framing of the narrative-within-a-narrative is handled brilliantly, as it both connects to the ‘A’-plot thematically whilst having its own story entirely. Both stories are filmed in a very distinctive style; Susan’s life being cold, pristine and clinical while the novel’s story being naturalistic, rough and sun-drenched. Meeting halfway is the more ‘normal’ feeling flashbacks, where Susan remembers her relationship with Edward and how it came to an end. Each gets into our lead character’s mind set, as she is both feeling deeply reminiscent of her time with her ex while also fearful of what his novel may mean.

Amy Adams is absolutely stunning here, with probably one of the best performances of the year. It’s not easy to spend most of your time reacting to things, but Adams not only does that, she makes her role feel fully fleshed out and believable. I love how much more loose and friendly she plays her younger self, clearly demonstrating something has been lost in the years of high-life domesticity and financial success. The rest of the cast are stellar too, standouts being Jake Gyllenhaal’s excellent dual roles as well as how much fun Michael Shannon is.

This is one of the smartest and most intense films of the year. Breaking into a character’s psyche as well as examining our personal connection with literature, it’s a wonderful display of how the past is never behind us and how amazingly adept human beings are at making ourselves go crazy. Hope you sleep well after catching this amazing flick.