Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: Like Father, Like Son (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2013)

Like Father, Like Son is a touching human drama from Japanese writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda (I Wish). It is a warm and genuinely lovely study of the challenges of parenthood (and most specifically fatherhood), of personal redemption and accepting what it means to call your child your own. It screened in competition for the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where the Steven Spielberg-led jury awarded it the Jury Prize. Similar to I Wish, a little miracle on it’s own and the only other film by Kore-eda that I have watched, the family unit (and its variations) is at the heart of this story. Simplicity, especially considering its length, and the overly illustrative characterizations, are minor detractions, but Kore-eda is filmmaker with an extraordinary ability to observe the relationships between parents and their children. He draws magnificently pure and convincing performances from his entire cast (especially the youngsters) and Like Father, Like Son will surely leave many a viewer drying their eyes on the way to exit. 


Ryota Nonomiya (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a hardworking and successful businessman and engineer, largely absent from the promising development of his six-year-old son Keita (Keita Ninomiya), nurtured daily by his dutiful wife Midori (Machiko Ono). When Ryota and Midori learn that Keita is not their biological son, the result of a switch with another child after birth, they are forced to make a life-changing decision.
 
Through the hospital they are put in contact with the Saiki family, who own and live above a hardware store. Raised in a different social class, and under very different parenting tactics, the son of Yudai (Rirî Furankî) and Yukari (Yôko Maki), Ryusei (Shôgen Hwang), is very different to the kind, quiet nature of Keita. Not only has Yudai been a present and energetic influence on his growth, but Ryusei also has two younger siblings.

The families are encouraged to switch their children before elementary school, a mere six weeks away. They begin to spend time together and allow the boys to spend weekends at their respective houses in an attempt to acclimatise them into their future living arrangements. But, as expected, the decision is a difficult one, with parents and children individually affected by the unfortunate situation. Can they love a child without their blood the way they did before? Will Ryota choose his true biological son or the boy he has raised as his own?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

New Releases (17/04/14)

In cinemas this week: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Other Woman, Only Lovers Left Alive, The Invisible Woman, Chinese Puzzle, My Sweet Pepper Land, Like Father, Like Son and The Finishers. 

An incredible eight films. Who can keep up with this?



The Amazing Spider-Man 2: We've always known that Spider-Man's most important conflict has been within himself: the struggle between the ordinary obligations of Peter Parker and the extraordinary responsibilities of Spider-Man. But in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker finds that his greatest battle is about to begin. It's great to be Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield). For Peter Parker, there's no feeling quite like swinging between skyscrapers, embracing being the hero, and spending time with Gwen (Emma Stone). But being Spider-Man comes at a price: only Spider-Man can protect his fellow New Yorkers from the formidable villains that threaten the city. With the emergence of Electro (Jamie Foxx), Peter must confront a foe far more powerful than he. And as his old friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), returns, Peter comes to realize that all of his enemies have one thing in common: Oscorp.

The Other Woman: After discovering her boyfriend is married, a woman (Cameron Diaz) tries to get her ruined life back on track. But when she accidentally meets the wife he's been cheating on (Leslie Mann), she realizes they have much in common, and her sworn enemy becomes her greatest friend. When yet another affair is discovered (Kate Upton), all three women team up to plot mutual revenge on their cheating, lying, three-timing SOB. Review by Blake Howard, Graffiti With Punctuation.

Only Lovers Left Alive: Set against the romantic desolation of Detroit and Tangier, an underground musician, deeply depressed by the direction of human activities, reunites with his resilient and enigmatic lover. Their love story has already endured several centuries at least, but their debauched idyll is soon disrupted by her wild and uncontrollable younger sister. Can these wise but fragile outsiders continue to survive as the modern world collapses around them? Stars Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston and directed by Jim Jarmusch (Stranger Than Paradise, Dead Man and Broken Flowers). Review by Nicholas Brodie, Graffiti with Punctuation.

The Invisible Woman: Nelly (Felicity Jones), a happily-married mother and schoolteacher, is haunted by her past. Her memories, provoked by remorse and guilt, take us back in time to follow the story of her relationship with Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) with whom she discovered an exciting but fragile complicity. Dickens - famous, controlling and emotionally isolated within his success - falls for Nelly, who comes from a family of actors. The theatre is a vital arena for Dickens - a brilliant amateur actor - a man more emotionally coherent on the page or on stage, than in life. As Nelly becomes the focus of Dickens' passion and his muse, for both of them secrecy is the price, and for Nelly a life of "invisibility".

My Sweet Pepper Land: A 2013 French-German co-production drama directed by Huner Saleem. It was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. It was nominated in the 7th annual Asia Pacific Screen Awards for Achievement in Directing. In a remote village in Kurdistan lives the Kurdish patriot Baran who since recently serves as a policeman. He cannot help but provoke the local villain Aziz Aga and finds himself supported by an attractive lady named Govend who works as a teacher. 

Chinese Puzzle: A 40-year-old father of two, still finds life very complicated. When the mother of his children moves to New York, he can't bear them growing up far away from him and so he decides to move there as well.

Like Father, Like Son: Ryota (Masaharu Fukuyama) is a successful Tokyo architect who works long hours to provide for his wife, Midori (Machiko Ono) and six-year-old son, Keita. But when a blood test reveals Keita and another baby were switched at birth, two very different families are thrown together and forced to make a difficult decision while Ryota confronts his own issues of responsibility and what it means to be a father. LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON extends the Japanese cinema tradition of familial exploration to deliver a gentle and moving story of personal redemption that playfully navigates its way through the drama.

The Finishers: Julien (Fabien Héraud) is 17, has a great sense of humour, bags of charm, and is wheelchair-bound due to cerebral palsy. Despite their love for him, his family is gradually falling apart under the strain of dealing with his disability. In a bid to bond with his father Paul (Jacques Gamblin), Julien challenges him to participate with him in the Ironman race in Nice (French Riviera), a triathlon in which his father has previously competed. This trial is already exceptional, but it becomes almost impossible if one has to help a disabled youth throughout the course. Beyond the sporting exploit, this is the story of one family’s exemplary combat, and a moving portrait of the love between a father and his son.


Weekly Recommendation: I have only seen The Invisible Woman so far, which I liked, but I intend to see The Amazing Spider-Man and Like Father, Like Son this week. The latter and the latest Jarmusch film, Only Lovers Left Alive, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year and are no doubt worth a look. I am also interested in My Sweet Pepper Land, a Kurdish western with a very limited release. A loaded week, but if you missed The Grand Budapest Hotel don't miss it! 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)

Throughout the frivolity that encapsulated the entire duration of The Grand Budapest Hotel a little smile (or maybe it was a mischievous grin) never left my face. I love new introductions to the worlds of Wes Anderson (responsible for The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr Fox and Moonrise Kingdom) and being repeatedly surprised by his ability to find humour in the most sad and mundane events, his stunning shot compositions and his ability to attract such wonderful casts, all of whom seem to be having a great deal of fun. It is impossible not to admire the amount of work that has gone into the conception and execution of these ideas. Anderson is a true auteur, a man who seems to possess unlimited originality and imagination, and with a newfound sense of unbridled inspiration. He has faced his animated critics head on and refused to alter his widely considered worn out style, but has tightened his scripts, chiseled his style down to the strongest features and spruced them up. 



Anderson has crafted a gem that is characteristically hilarious and playful, yet surprisingly bold in its construction (the film shifts between 1.33, 1.85 and 2.35:1 ratios), and tackles a horrific period of history with seriousness and respect. The Grand Budapest has some genuinely grisly bits, and an all-new darker edge, but offers plenty of charming, emotional developments. It is a venture into fun-house cinema you may cherish for a long time after.

This layered narrative comprises, on the simplest level, of a friendship between the legendary concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, M. Gustav (Ralph Fiennes), and his loyal lobby boy and protégé, Zero (Tony Revolori), and the wild adventure they share with many others. The story, set in the fictional republic of Zubrowka, a European alpine state, predominantly during the year 1932, revolves around the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for the enormous family fortune of one of the mysterious hotel guests, whose sudden death is treated with suspicion. We also visit the hotel during the late 1960’s, where an unnamed author (Jude Law) meets an older Zero (F. Murray Abraham), who recounts the experiences we witness. The true character of the film is the hotel, a relic that has survived being surrounded by war and barbarity to continue thriving as a result of the passion of those operating within its walls.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation.

Monday, April 7, 2014

New Releases (10/04/14)

In cinemas this week: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Muppets Most Wanted and Divergent


The Grand Budapest Hotel: Recounts the adventures of Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story involves the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune -- all against the back-drop of a suddenly and dramatically changing Continent. Review by Cam Williams, Graffiti With Punctuation.

Muppets Most Wanted: The Muppets are on a world tour in their latest big screen adventure where they've been visiting Europe’s biggest cities. They find themselves in a European jewel-heist caper headed by Constantine, a Kermit look-a-like described as the world’s number one criminal. He is helped by his sidekick, Dominic (Ricky Gervais).

Divergent: A thrilling action-adventure film set in a world where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is warned she is Divergent and will never fit into any one group. When she discovers a conspiracy by a faction leader (Kate Winslet) to destroy all Divergents, Tris must learn to trust in the mysterious Four (Theo James) and together they must find out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it's too late. Based on the best-selling book series by Veronica Roth.

Weekly Recommendation: Reviews haven't been great for Divergent, though Maria wrote about it's success at GWP. Similarly, Muppets Most Wanted hasn't been as well received as the last film, but it should still be a lot of cameo-filled fun. The Grand Budapest Hotel, however, has been near-unanimously praised. For good reason. It is brilliant. My own thoughts on the film are coming to GWP soon. This week I intend to re-watch Budapest and catch The Muppets. There will be a decent family line-up for the school holidays assembled, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Noah also likely to maintain solid takings over the period.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Review: The Invisible Woman (Ralph Fiennes, 2013)

This handsomely produced period drama expresses a fondness for the 19th Century literary genius of Charles Dickens while serving as a compelling biographical exploration of an emotional and tragic personal chapter of his life, when he was at the height of his fame. Ralph Fiennes, who stars as Dickens, proves to be an excellent director, crafting just his second feature, following his critically lauded adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. Based on the Claire Tomalin book The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, the script is penned by Abi Morgan (Shame).



The Invisible Woman is set over two time periods. Opening in 1885 we are introduced to Nelly Wharton Robinson (Felicity Jones), a mother and schoolteacher who runs a school for boys with her husband George (Tom Burke). Though she thoroughly enjoys her life and staging elaborate plays with the schoolchildren, including the finest of those by Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens, she is haunted by events of the past. She takes long walks on the beach, lost in thoughts provoked by remorse and guilt.

We flash back to 1857, when a then 18-year-old Nelly is attending rehearsals with her actress mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) and sisters. She is assigned a small role in The Frozen Deep by the charming and charismatic director, Mr Charles Dickens (Fiennes), though she doesn’t possess the acting talents of her mother. Not only a genius of the written word, Dickens is also a talented amateur actor and energetic director, yet reveals himself as not being as emotionally coherent as a man when outside the realm of craft. Their affection begins to grow after several personal encounters – a party to celebrate their successful performance, a trip to the Doncaster Races – before Dickens pursues the dangerous affair with Nelly. Their courtship was sensuously charged and their covert meetings had genuine emotional stakes. Even beyond Dickens’ death in 1870 and after he separated from his wife, their relationship was kept a secret.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Review: Noah (Darren Aronofsky, 2014)

Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s very unique big-budget interpretation of the Creation of the Earth and the story of Noah and his Ark, is loosely drawn from Chapters 6-9 from the Book of Genesis. This is a mammothly ambitious project and is, as expected, visually splendid with periods of brutal conflict and immense tension.



Aronofsky has layered his film with elements of fantasy, promoted concepts of theistic evolution, and in elevating this human story of good vs. evil (opponents on both on the surface of the Earth and within our very souls) to a grand scale has left his recognizable stamp on the Hollywood blockbuster.

Russell Crowe gives his best performance in years and Clint Mansell’s compositions are still echoing in my ears. Noah offers something distinct and memorable, and I was absorbed into the story immediately. Unfortunately, there are some elements – perhaps the result of tight studio pressure – that don’t work so effectively and stifle its complete success. While Noah is perhaps the most wildly inconsistent film yet from Aronofsky, showing such assurance in his bleak, affecting character-driven dramas, Requiem For A Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan (though it has the most in common with The Fountain, his underrated masterpiece), it leaves a viewer questioning just how far they are willing to go for what they believe in. For better or worse, conventional it is not.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation

Monday, March 31, 2014

Monthly Round-up: March 2014 Viewing

In addition to finishing True Detective S1 and Brooklyn Nine-Nine S1, and reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, I watched 35 Films.

Most of the viewing took place at home, but I have been slowly catching up on new releases in the cinema. Having seen Noah and The Grand Budapest Hotel over the weekend my enthusiasm for reviewing has been renewed, after a lengthy slump. 

New-to-Me Films (In Order of Preference)

-------- Essential Viewing --------


Seconds (John Frankenheimer, 1966) - Amidst post-war dissatisfaction and failed American Dreams a secret company offers a 'do-over' with what we learn to be sinister intentions. Enter Rock Hudson's Tony Wilson, a 'Second' to John Randolph's purposeless banker, Arthur Hamilton. He's younger and better looking and he works as an artist from his beach house in Malibu. With this second chance will Hamilton have the chance to live the life he has long desired? One of my favourite films of the year to date; an eerie and relevant sci-fi which morbidly taps into failure as inevitably human. Hudson is great and the photography is genius.


Duck Soup (Leo McCary, 1933) - A bombardment of visual gags, snappy one-liners and risqué, politically incorrect wordplay. Genius!


All is Lost (J. C Chandor, 2013) 




The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014) - Hilarious (and yet it's quite dark), Anderson's madcap delight is formally astounding (on a peaked scale). Cast (Fiennes and Goldblum were my favourites, but it runs deep), music etc. all brilliant. Like Anderson's other films, a treasure to admire again and again.


Stranger than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch, 1984) - Funny and quotable with calculated laziness, Stranger than Paradise defines a generation of slackers and drop-everything road-trips. Has there ever been a finer representation of that thoughtless flushed-with-cash escape?


Tootsie (Sydney Pollack, 1982) - Hoffman is the star, whether appearing as Michael or Dorothy, but the supporting cast are all stellar too. I especially enjoyed the scenes shared by Pollack and Hoffman. And who couldn't love Jessica Lange. Hilarious and touching with sharp observations about sexism in the entertainment business, and a satirical insider into the daytime soap. Ultimately about a man improving himself, having been forced to rescue his career by playing a woman.


The Garden of Words (Makoto Shinkai, 2013) - Quite stunning. Conceptually and visually.

-------- Essential Viewing --------


New Releases (03/04/14)

In cinemas this week? Just two films, but two biggies - The Lego Movie and Captain America: Winter Soldier.


The Lego Movie - Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) is an ordinary, rules-following, perfectly average LEGO minifigure who is mistakenly identified as the key to saving the world. He is drafted into a fellowship of strangers on an epic quest to stop an evil tyrant, a journey for which Emmet is hopelessly and hilariously under-prepared. Review by Cam Williams, Graffiti With Punctuation.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - After the cataclysmic events in New York Marvel’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” finds Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the world at risk. Joining forces with the Black Widow, Captain America struggles to expose the ever-widening conspiracy while fighting off professional assassins sent to silence him at every turn. When the full scope of the villainous plot is revealed, Captain America and the Black Widow enlist the help of a new ally, the Falcon. However, they soon find themselves up against an unexpected and formidable enemy—the Winter Soldier. Review by Blake Howard, Graffiti With Punctuation.

Weekly Recommendation: I haven't seen either of these yet, but I am looking forward to watching both on Friday. How's that for an awesome double feature? Captain America is still my favourite of the stand-alone Marvel films, and the sequel promises to be just as good.