Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April Mini-Reviews: Only Lovers Left Alive, Canopy, 52 Tuesdays and Belle

Only Lovers Left Alive (April 17) - When I left the cinema after this film I felt like I was on a blood high. Few films recently have created such an exhilarating feeling. From the opening minutes, when the relationship between the stylish visuals and the wonderful music had been established and I had been hooked by the compelling characters and the unique premise, I knew I was in tune with it. It is not really a vampire film at all, but a chapter (the reuniting) of a lengthy love story, with vampire lore layering the relationships. It is languid in pace and doesn't have a graspable narrative and yet it is ultimately about...everything. Centuries of literature, music, invention and world-changing historical events are just some of the topics that the pair reminisce about, and hearing Adam and Eve discuss their involvement with and unique knowledge of individuals responsible for celebrated art and theory is the source of much amusement throughout. The casting could not be more perfect. Swinton, who doesn't seem to have aged at all, is wonderful, but Hiddleston is especially impressive as a depressed, reclusive musician living in Detroit, completely out of touch with the modern world. He is lamenting the state of his immortality, and his home - an incredible piece of production work – provides a clear picture of just how much he has given up. That is until Eve returns. What a wonderful soundtrack. How bout that legitimate high praise for Yasmine Hamdan, too? I am sure many people have actively disliked this film, but I can't find a flaw with it and found it exquisite on every level. Sexy and passionate, droll and reflective, and effortlessly cool. On Jarmusch rankings, for me, it is 'Dead Man' good. ★★★★

Canopy (April 24) - Benefits from skillful (and frequently stunning) location photography, immersive sound captures and a sweaty pressure-cooker of an atmosphere. The flashes of war conflict penetrating the overhead jungle canopy, and the enemy soldiers silently navigating similar obstacles as the hapless protagonist, add moments of haunting unease to this hypnotic (often elusively hallucinatory) and dialogue-sparse survival drama. More a sensory experience than a narrative-driven film, but the thin plot doesn't come close to filling the 80 minute run-time, and I was intermittently engrossed. This does not look like a film that has been crowd-funded through Pozible. There are some incredible captures. Still, an admirably ambitious project that doesn't quite work out. ★★1/2 

52 Tuesdays (May 1) - It is a shame this important film runs out of steam towards the end because this moving drama tackles unusual subject matter and observes dual stories of significant personal development with sincerity, honesty and authenticity. A young woman grapples with her own burgeoning sexuality and independence as her mother undergoes a gender transition, restricting their relationship to a single weekly meeting. Conceptually bold - actually filmed on a skimpy budget with a skeleton crew on Tuesdays over the course of twelve months, I believe - 52 Tuesdays benefits from clever editing and some very impressive performances. A big winner at Sundance AND Berlin earlier in the year. ★★★1/2
Belle (May 8) - An elegantly produced, deftly directed, finely performed and ultimately moving period drama about Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a young mixed race woman raised an aristocrat in the household of her late father's uncle, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson). While the social mores of the time make her an outsider, Dido challenges the rigid British social and legal foundations as she comes of age and searches for a male suitor along with her cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon). It is not the desired wealthy aristocrat, but a young lawyer named John Davinier (Sam Reid) who catches her eye. He is a strong-willed opponent to Mansfield's position on the controversial Zong massacre slavery case, a decision that could have strong potential ramifications, even leading to the abolition of slavery in England. This case provides a dramatic backdrop for the story, and a challenge to Dido's moral character. While it all wrapped up fairly predictably this is a very pleasant story and I grew to care for the characters throughout, and hoped that all that Dido and John fought for was realized. ★★★1/2

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