Monday, August 19, 2013

August Mini Reviews: The Conjuring, The Bling Ring, Frances Ha, Red Obsession and Elysium


The Conjuring (July 18) - This film is very creepy and it takes a skilled director to make some of these now-generic malevolent elements as convincing and fresh as they feel here. I love watching horror films but half way through I was growing terrified of what was to come in The Conjuring, and whether I wanted to endure it that particular day. That's a compliment. This well-acted horror smorgasbord is thankfully more attentive to building character and suspense than James Wan's jump scare-heavy previous film, Insidious, and there are some really well-directed sequences which prove that Wan is a maestro. I really liked the relationship between Farmiga and Wilson, whose investigation into the secrets of an old house confront them with a case from their past. This facet, like the supernatural elements, felt grounded in an acceptable reality. 2013's best horror film so far. ★★


The Bling Ring (August 8) - In Sofia Coppola's (Lost in Translation, Somewhere) latest film, a group of vapid, materialistic, selfie-obsessed teenagers who built a claim to fame by robbing the homes of Hollywood's rich and famous (Paris Hilton amongst them, who apparently left the keys to her home under the door, had no security installed, and had so much stuff that she failed to notice anything missing despite the group's repeated returns to her place) are the subjects. Unfortunately, they aren't really the subjects. Their actions are. This disappointingly shallow film doesn't offer much insight into more than the robberies themselves, leaving their friendships, their motivations and the media response in the background. The robbers are eventually brought down, unsurprisingly, by social media gloating, a fallout providing the only real drama. It is strikingly shot, the soundtrack is funky and Emma Watson has some great lines, but it soon gets repetitive and tedious. A pass. Barely. 1/2


Frances Ha (August 15) - Greta Gerwig delivers an infectiously warm and bubbly performance in Noah Baumbach’s thoroughly enjoyable New York-set dramedy about a charming hipster stumbling through a directionless mid-20’s life crisis. Always optimistic about her future and determined to continue to purse her modest artistic aspirations, Frances cannot seem to make anything else work. Barely scraping together enough funds to support her living expenses, and unlucky in her romantic pursuits, her series of misadventures are captured in pleasing black and white photography. Fueled by an energetic soundtrack, Gerwig’s klutzy and awkward pratfalls are a consistent source of humour, earning my sympathy in a way I found Lena Dunham’s 'Girls' characters did not. ★★


Elysium (August 15) - Neill Blomkamp's anticipated follow-up to the excellent District 9 (2009), opens in stunning style - establishment of the two opposing worlds, the diseased, polluted and slum-riddled future LA and the decadent, luxury excess of the Elysium rich - showing signs that the foundation for an epic struggle for equality and acceptance could be laid out. But Damon's heroic mission, after he discovers that 'he' has everything to lose if he doesn't make the impossible journey from Earth to Elysium, isn't a universal one we ever embrace. There are a couple of exciting, if haphazard, action sequences - the 'data heist' was cool - but they are marred by unforgivable conveniences and the subsequent return of Copely's horrendous villain. While Copely and Foster are distractingly poor, Brazilian actor Wagner Moura is great in an energetic support role. There are inconsistencies, plot holes and unnecessarily nasty things in the muddled screenplay, the film's interesting political ideas swept aside for an action-centered and repetitively sentimental tale more interested in a hero's destiny and his lost love. It really diminished quickly, failing to live up to the potential of Blomkamp's ideas.


Red Obsession (August 15) - From France's Bordeaux region to the Chinese auction houses, Red Obsession is a fascinating insight into the startling economic side of the wine industry. With the rapidly rising prices in response to critical evaluation, and the ensuing decline of quality due to not only irregular climate, but also vastly heightened expectations about Bordeaux's output, we learn about the rise of China as the world's largest new investor in the coveted commodity and the supply/demand strain that this places on France's leading manufacturing region. Filmmakers Warwick Ross and David Roach traverse the globe, exploring the expansion and interviewing winemakers, critics and eccentric collectors - who purchase large volumes of expensive wine not to drink, but as an investment (like stock or gold) to be sold in the future at even higher prices. What also impressed me about this documentary were the cinematic qualities; the striking photography and the brisk narrative structure that covers a lot of territory, offering up shocking revelation after another. Effectively narrated by Russell Crowe, Red Obsession is an accessible, humanist and culturally informative insight into our changing international economy and how an obsession in Shanghai affects the most illustrious vineyards in France. ★★

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