Alright then, shall we begin forthwith?
Hail, New Releases
When the latest Coen brothers film screened at the Berlin Film Fest last week, it was hailed with much aplomb. Now, it is slowly being introduced to screens across the globe, little by little over the next month. Set in early Fifties Hollywood, the film starts smack dab with comedic flair and does not stop taking the piss out of itself (and Hollywood at that time) until the credits start rolling. It is best to note going into the film that this was also the era when the US government began mandating film studios to minimise their cinema growth and screen runs, the Cold War was beginning and everyone was commie crazy. And therein lies the beauty of this film. Hail, Caesar tells the story of moviemaking in the Fifties in all its formulaic and silly glory. The film revolves around studio head Eddie Mannix, calmly played by ageing Josh Brolin, who is at his wit’s end when all manner of hell starts blowing up. From a lingering new job prospect to a huge star (George Clooney playing laughable character Baird Whitlock) kidnapped by commies to his hilarious attempt to stop smoking. With so many different elements lining the holes in the plot and an array of topnotch actors doing perfectly-acted supporting roles and cameos (Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Frances McDormand, Ralph Fiennes, the list goes on and on…), it’s easy to just sit back and enjoy the laughs. But, as always, the Coens are lining up topics for a reason: faith, communism, capitalism, veiled homosexuality in the cine industry, the whiteness of the USA at that time…come to think of it, many themes which still affect us in this new millennium. This is a pleasure piece to be sure, and it is as quirky as it is easy and inventive, but we the audience get a nice dose of shtick served up piping hot by these ageless brothers, and we’re all the happier for it. ####
Okay now, the big box-office behemoth called Deadpool. The film has hit our shores, and as it comes with the praise of being the one film that could actually rival the box-office lord that was the last Star Wars film, I came into the film with some reservation…not to mention the fact that it’s a Marvel comic-film. I will most pleasingly declare that this is, without a doubt, the finest, funniest and smartest film of the Marvel film empire. I’m aware of what I’m saying. I’m also aware of the fact that there is perhaps a bit too much suspension of disbelief involved with this film, BUT…apart from that aspect…I could not stop enjoying this film from start to finish, and Ryan Reynolds (at the very least) deserves some of the highest accolades of his career, as this character and film will most certainly define it. Not only does he perfectly portray the mindset of the odd everyman to perfection but his comedic timing is brilliant! Why has he made so many shoddy comedies but then turns around with this opus? He plays Wade Wilson, a special ops mercenary in NYC, who meets an escort played by Homeland’s Morena Baccarin, falls in love, and after a year, the couple decides to get married only to discover Wade has cancer. Enter in an experimental treatment, deadly foes, Deadpool’s impalement and disfigurement yet survival, and here commences ye age olde revenge tale to get back his girl, after he is left for dead and Wade goes into hiding. What sets this Marvel film a tad apart from the rest of the comic-movies littering the history of cinema is that this is most definitely an action comedy with comedy so timely placed and well-written for the screen, it makes the film easily definable as a straight comedy, as well as an action film in the famed franchise of Marvel. I look forward to seeing its sequel, so long as, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick along with actor-producer Reynolds are at the helm. So unexpectedly good! ###-1/2
Finally for new releases this week, we have the latest from famed screenwriter Charlie Kaufmann. I didn’t quite know what to expect as the film began in its stop-motion animation glory. I now know why this is the first R-rated (restricted audiences only) film ever nominated for Best Animated Film at the Oscars. Anomalisa is set in the mid-noughties, and the film finds self-help writer Michael Stone flying to Cincinnati for a conference on customer service, which also serves to promote his book. The stop-motion animation is stunning and makes Michael seem detached from his body. Throughout the film, one can hear the sad musings of the people staying at the Fregoli Hotel with its creepy, dim corridors. The name actually alludes to the ‘Fregoli Delusion’, a rare syndrome in which some sufferers believe that everyone else is the same person in disguise. Tom Noonan voices the majority of the characters whilst the fantastic David Thewlis voices Stone…and then there’s Jennifer Jason Leigh. Oscar-nominated Leigh turns in another performance that, coupled with Thewlis’ sensitive and deeply-troubled character performance, is absolutely stunning and it brought up an issue. I personally believe that the Oscars could do with a Best Voiceover Performance by an Actor/Actress because there are too many, under-recognised performances that are dubbed by vocals only! (Think Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo, for example) What Anomalisa left me with was an undeniable gratitude to be the man I am at this age. Watching these two lost souls, one married and the other not, come together under the guise of existentialism and self-help when so much sad desire is passing through the film is astounding. And then you realise it’s an animated movie. Simply beautiful and deeply poignant. ####
It goes without saying that as a Mexican born in the US, watching a film like Cartel Land, up for Best Doc Feature this year at the Oscars, was a slight challenge but beyond that, it was an eye-opening experience and its look at vigilantism in the borderlands of North America is not only important but fascinating. I think we all know that the general consensus is that narco-traffic law enforcement between the US and Mexico are often (not always) linked, and we also know that the largest consumer of all types of drugs (black market or pharmaceutical) is the USA. This only adds to the fact that this film was quite likely not the easiest to make and its director Matthew Heineman was even awarded the International Documentary Association’s Courage Under Fire Award due to the dangerous nature of the film. Cartel Land starts with Mexicans cooking meth while telling Heineman that even though they know their product causes so much drama in the US, it’s business. The scene serves two purposes: to show that these men, while human, have no moral compass, and to suggest that Heineman himself has risked more than the typical gringo. The film also follows the vigilante movement in deeper regions of Mexico, specifically Michoacan, where the leader of this vigilante movement is a physician named Dr. Jose Mireles, and the events that follow in the film not only mark the idiosyncrasies of human nature but also highlight the issue that this is likely never fully to end. Exec-produced by Kathryn Bigelow, the film might be slight competition for Amy come Oscar night. However, most importantly, anyone who watches the film takes with them a deeper understanding of the plight and the current goings-on on North American borders. Riveting! ####
The Best Foreign Language Oscar is a bit presumptuous as English is a foreign language in most countries and in any case, so often the most meaningful work comes from cinema outside of that particular language. For example, A War from Denmark brought to you by the director of last year's Danish selection The Hunt, Tobias Lindholm. His craftsmanship is again so poignant yet simply honed that it's majesty lies in how he conveys three seemingly mini-film stories or acts into one realised production. The first case is as a war film...who knew the Danes were still actively involved in Afghanistan? Well, they are. We also have a second story extended from the first telling about the lives of the lone mum with her three rugrats as she waits for her husband fighting in the first story and thirdly, after a dubious situation that occurred in the first story, we have the third act...the courtroom drama that questions the probable war criminal actions of protagonist/general/dad Claus Pedersen (played to stoic, quiet perfection by actor Pilou Asbaek). Lindholm insists he’s taking no stand on Western presence in Afghanistan with this film, and perhaps he really believes that, though I don't. With this opus, Lindholm finds a unique balance between social and individual responsibility. We shall see if the Oscar agrees with him come Sunday. ###-1/2