Donnerstag, 21. November 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Like its predecessor, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is not consistently engrossing in its plot design, entirely thought-provoking in its political message, nor exceptionally photographed or very tastefully visualized. But since it is a little bit of all those things, it's never less than entertaining to watch either. A somewhat bloated first half, an utterly miscast Philip Seymour Hoffman and some inherent, logical problems with the wildly imaginative set-up aside, the movie whisks along without major hiccups and is best when those casually posed life-and-death questions become a brilliant reality or feelings stoked by the need to survive and revolt shine through.

Director Francis Lawrence upped the scale of the sequel significantly but managed to keep the human factor intact. Together with a strong Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, whose wealth of emotions always seems immediate and bubbling just beneath the surface, they delivered a couple of highly memorable scenes including a cool final strike and a game launch that sends your head spinning, eyes dancing, heart racing.

Sonntag, 17. November 2013

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

The story of "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is far from watertight, leaving behind such gaps and blanks both plot-wise and character-wise that it never became a thoroughly satisfactory work of narrative. However, the performances by the principal cast of Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Foster are so dedicated and imbued with such natural volatility and spirituality you can't help sinking into their ineloquently constructed but nonetheless captivating world. Said world, set in rural Texas with indefinite time frame, is created by director David Lowery with aplomb. Proving his great sense of style and innate understanding of genre sensibilities, the movie not only looks fetching but blends elements of revenge thriller, relationship drama and old-fahioned western to mythical effects, sprinkling something unnameably appealing in the air that's menacing, poignant, charged. Also conducive to the overall feel of a modern-day parable is the terrific score provided by Daniel Hart. With a mixture of prickly percussion, rhythmic soul and sizzling beats, it's smartly timeless work that intrigues, entrances.

Mittwoch, 13. November 2013

The Lunchbox

Indian romantic dramedy "The Lunchbox" is a charming little thing with a nice set-up and lots of heart. So it's a shame that writer/director Ritesh Batra failed to put an original spin on the rather tired, easily exhaustible storyline of fateful love through mixed-up correspondence. Sure there's plenty of romance mired in the notion of two unhappy souls drifting in an ocean of anonymity and loneliness finding the warmth of each other by chance- and the script really makes it a point not to put too much kitsch or gloss on the turn of events to sustain an endearing, human glow throughout- but ideas and goodwill can only get you so far. Inadequacies in writing show when the lunchbox routine starts getting familiar and the bluntly open ending has to be considered a directorial misstep.

In the end this is a commendable effort that has wonderful, character-based comedic moments, is honestly told and offers some rare peeks into the unglamorous emotional underbelly of metropolitan Mumbai. It just never quite rises above its own mild manners and breaks any grounds.

Donnerstag, 7. November 2013

Blue Jasmine

Oh when Woody Allen is good, he's VERY good. "Blue Jasmine" might need some fine-tuning in editing here and there, but overall it's written and acted with clinical sharpness and musical symphony, a splendid character study and an all-around delight to watch. The script is tremendous, observing the flaws of its figures and the perils of their worlds with such minute attention and nonjudgmental enthusiasm you can hardly tell the comedy from the drama anymore. The outstanding cast boasts highly memorable supporting turns from Sally Hawkins and Bobby Cannavale, bringing the rowdy charm and earthly sleaze into a picture that's all about the clash of personalities, fates and choices, yin and yang.

This movie ultimately belongs to Ms. Cate Blanchett though. She obviously knows she's been given a golden role and gladly runs away with it, leaving no bullets in her colossal reservoir of expressions unfired. The hysterics might be kicked up a notch too high occasionally, threatening to go over the top with that crazy energy shooting loose sparks all over the place. But in just the blink of an eye she'll give you a scene where she picks up a long-awaited phone call, settles herself down to zero and, with the survival instincts and killer timing of a criminal, lies straight through her teeth. To watch all that anxiety, doubt, vanity, pride, vulnerability and resentment pour out in an avalanche of emotions only to vanish into thin air again is to see a performer in the fullest command of her faculties, it's a feat of magic and a force of nature. If this performance doesn't win her that second Oscar, something's very wrong.

Sonntag, 3. November 2013

Short takes

"Exit Marrakech" is reluctantly structured like an unwilling two-parter with an abrupt ending and an unannounced beginning. But the fault of the flawed script is abundantly compensated by strong direction from Oscar-winning German director Caroline Link and the easy charisma of young lead actor Samuel Schneider, who combined to infuse this coming-of-age story (at least in its first half) with an infectious buoyancy and a tender burn. Accompanied by lively camera work that observes the breathtaking beauty of the Moroccan landscape in rapt appreciation, a stirring soundtrack tinged with an oriental flair and some great editing that lends the picture a spring in its steps, the movie is even with its 2hr-plus running time a breezy watch.

"The Fifth Estate" doesn't kick into gear until about halfway through. Until then this movie about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is a charmless thing that comes with the stylistically-challenged format of biopics but lacks any weight that real-life stories promise. Director Bill Condon woke up a bit for the second half of the film, piecing together several nifty scenes that crank up the gravitas and deliver the tension, but even then it's never quite the dynamite to match what it depicts. Numerous sprawling exotic locations aside, the movie is optically uninteresting and sonically even worse, featuring some poor dubbing work that makes it all the more grating to hear everybody talk in weirdly accented English.

"Filth" by Scottish writer/director Jon Baird is a curious blend. Whether you thought it'd be a raunchy comedy, a savage drama or a bestial horror flick, it'll still defy expectations and manage to surprise you. This uncategorizable quality is at once its greatest strength and weakness, as the constant shift in tone combined with a hardcore, violently splashy visual style always intrigues and even hits some comedic/scary peaks but also exposes the filmmaker's failing when jarring bits and pieces go overboard and block the narrative flow. The British ensemble cast is solid, with James McAvoy displaying formidable range and the delightful Eddie Marsan once again stealing the show.

"L'écume des jours" looks fabulous and sounds almost just as good. Its storybook production design, enhanced by hand-crafted, outlandishly quirky visual effects and accentuated by fuzzy jazz or misty chansons, gives whims, moods, emotions, fantasies a form and wows the mind. However, French director Michel Gondry has such a weak grasp on the narrative element in this movie it doesn't take long for all that frills to lose their meaning and appear desperately cartoonish. The cast looks good enough to eat but its two leads, Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou, might have just passed the age to convince as wide-eyed lovebirds.