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Mood Indigo – 02/08/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

After making ‘Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind’, a film that had heart, creativity, was emotionally engaging as well as occasionally funny, Michel Gondry has been getting steadily worse over the years. ‘The Green Hornet’ was further proof in my opinion that Gondry is a one film wonder and is better suited to music videos. I would like to think this film would prove me wrong, but it didn’t. It just irritated me with it’s quirky and overly random ideas and a playfully twee tone which I have grown to hate.
Romain Duris stars as the wealthy bachelor Colin who lives in a converted train where pretty much anything turns into an animation. He has a live in lawyer who is also a chef named Nicolas (Omar Sy). He also has a friend named Chick (Gad Elmaleh) who has an unhealthy obsession with an existential philosopher Jean Sol Partre (obviously a play on the French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre). In his house, he has a door bell that comes to life when someone rings and it crawls around the room until someone steps on it. Also, people’s legs go all noodley when they dance, Colin’s shoes run away from him, there is a piano that makes cocktails and many more. There is not a single scene that goes by without multiple visual quirks or whacky, random events which just happen for no reason. It is as if Gondry made an endless list of any daft idea he can think of and decided to cram every single one of them into this film to annoy his audience into boredom. It is very tiresome after the first 20 minutes, and most of them are not funny. Why some members of the audience were laughing at every little thing that happens really escapes me. All these ideas did not add much to the characters or the story which for me starved the film of any emotion when Colin meets Chloe (Audrey Tautau), falls in love and then goes on a date in what looks like a space ship attached to a crane. I found all the falling in love parts just mainly annoying and airy fairy. Too much twee makes John want to smash the screen into silence, just like Colin wants to smash a radio into silence when he hears a cheesy power ballad.
Later in the film, it does take a progressively darker tone as Chloe accidently inhales a water lily which starts to grow in her lung. When things go all sad and Colin has to work extremely random jobs to fund Chloe’s recovery, I did not feel much in the way of emotion, I just felt mainly annoyance that these daft ideas were still happening in rapid fire pace. When the film ends, I just felt exhausted. That was enough quirkiness for me for one day (Although because of my occupation, I had to sit through this 3 times). Also I was surprised by the downer ending. As the relationship gets more difficult between Colin and Chloe as well as everyone else in the film, the hues become gradually more pallid until the final scenes where they are black and white. Some of the scenes looked very good and colourful, but for me, more suited to a music video.
I feel the film was trying to say something more deeper and meaningful. Was it some kind of dream like allegorical tale of life. It may be vague, but it was all I can come up with as I was so distracted by all the stupid stuff. Sure a lot of hard work has gone into making all the animation and effects happen on screen, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it! It does not give me great pleasure to say that this is in my opinion yet another mis-step from Gondry. I don’t think he will make another great film on par with Eternal Sunshine. I’m sure he will still attract a devoted legion of fans who are into the quirky and the twee, but I shall not make much of an effort in future.

Grand Central – 26/07/2014 @ The Waterhed, Bristol.

Recently, I have become a fan of both Tahar Rahim and Lea Seydoux purely because of their powerhouse performances in previous films. Despite the strength of expected top notch performances by the leads and their fizzing on-screen chemistry, it somehow didn’t do enough to sustain my interest.
Main character Gary (Tahar Rahim) Gets himself a job at a nuclear plant as a decontamination sub-contractor. His job is of constant risk as he works around radiation. During his time working at the plant, he starts a passionate affair with his bosses wife Karole. There are many analogies present in this movie, mainly the feeling of love is comparative to the feeling of what is referred to as ‘the dose’ of radiation when overexposed to it. The element of risk is analogised by both the daily potential danger of working around radiation and the illicit affair with Karole. Karole cannot take this type of risk after a while and chooses to stay with her fiancĂ© as a means of security. The love scenes were well done and in no way excessive. All scenes take place in an idyllic countryside setting away from the poisonous, polluting air of the power plant, however the sound and the sight of the plant are always present as a reminder of the dangerous situation they are both in
I think the problem with the film for me was more tonal than anything. It felt rather dull and monotone throughout. I don’t think I found the symbolism that interesting and I don’t think I found Gary very interesting either. Once it got to the end of the film I thought it is a film I will forget about in the near future.

Joe – 26/07/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

This title reminds me of another recent film where the tile comprises a characters first name, which is ‘Mud’. Joe may have similar character attributes like a dark past and a will to change his life, but Joe is more unhinged. This may be because of the fact he is played by Nicolas Cage, an actor with a notoriety for on-screen freak outs which have mostly become comical to many. Here, he does give a more restrained performance and it is nice to see him play a good role effectively after many recent poor choices to pay the bills.
David Gordon Green I feel has taken a step up here from last years overly subdued film ‘Prince Avalanche’. I see this as his return to form. One of the strongest aspect of this films is the performances, not only by Nicolas Cage, but by Tye Sheridan also. He plays Gary, a 15 year old kid from an impoverished family. His Dad Wade is very desperate, cruel, sadistic and a drunk. He beats up Gary any chance he gets and tries anything he can to get money, including taking it from Gary who has worked hard for it. Gary gets a job working for Joe. Joe runs an illegal operation poisoning trees as the law states that you cannot cut down trees that are alive. There is a lot of symbolic possibility in this particular occupation. My interpretation is this represents people, especially the characters in this setting who have nothing to look forward but a slow, steady decline because of a hostile and harsh society. Also, this town is full of desperate, uneducated people who need to do any kind of work. It is a very bleak state of affairs, but this film is not afraid to show it. Gary proves he is hard working and trustworthy towards Joe, however, Wade is making the situation more difficult as Joe knows he is an abusive drunk. Joe has spent some time in jail and wants to live a peaceful life so at first chooses not to get involved.
As the film goes on, a connection is formed between Gary and Joe. They start to hang out more and Joe becomes a role model, albeit not entirely a good role model, but a step up from Wade all the same. Of course, the more Joe Connects with Gary, the more Joe’s life starts to spiral out of control as the violent past starts to surface. This works it’s way to violent confrontations in the end and the symbolism of a new start for Gary when he gets a job planting trees.
Like any other meditative David Gordon Green film, the cinematography is beautiful. Nature is usually a huge presence in most of his films and here he portrays it in all it’s darkness and light, not only through the poisoning and planting of trees, but through the dogs and how they are used as a deterrent to intruders and a companion to the lonely characters of this film. It presents the themes of cruelty, masculinity, extreme desperate measures to temporarily escape poverty, or in a brutal scene involving Wade and a homeless drunk, just simply wanting a drink. The characters Joe and Gary have a lot of depth and are very convincing together on screen. There are a few scenes when they are drunk together which is a point when it moves into comedy. Nicolas Cage turns on his comical acting without over doing it and has some moments of vintage Cage freak outs, but again with some restraint. One of the only flaws was the character Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins) who is the town’s bully and coward. His character is a little clichĂ© and he plays up to that typical bad guy like he does in his other films. That said, this is without a doubt David Gordon Green’s best film since his days of making films like ‘George Washington’ and ‘All the Real Girls’.

Boyhood – 18/07/2014 @ TheWatershed, Bristol.

Not a stranger to time lapse concepts, director Richard Linklater has already displayed a similar thing with his ‘Before…’ trilogy where a brief period of a couple are shown to us every nine years. Through that time, their relationship evolves and they of course age considerably in each film. In his latest film ‘Boyhood’, Linklater has filmed once a year over a period of 12 years to show each character age and grow as a person in one single movie. What he achieves here is not just showing the main character Mason Jnr’s boyhood, he shows how the family grow as mother, father and sister/daughter. The passage of time is un-announced, but it somehow flows naturally. We can tell when time has passed by the sudden difference in haircuts and the changes in cultural aspects like games consoles and computer games, phone technology, music soundtrack and the political landscape of the time.
Boyhood does not concern itself with a plot. It is simply a look at various moments of Mason Jnr’s (Ellar Coltrane) life from the age of 6 to the age of 18. He comes from a broken home where his Dad Mason Snr (Ethan Hawke) has left his mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) to raise Mason Jr and Samantha (Lorelie Linklater, Richard Linklater’s daughter). Mason Snr starts to come back into his children’s lives to spend quality time with them while Olivia has a string of failed relationships with alcoholic men, but also tries her best to raise her kids while embarking on a career as a psychology lecturer. We see Mason throughout these events grow up on screen from a mischevious, charismatic little boy into an artistic and in some ways, a negative slacker, but ultimately a nice guy starting out in college. It may have been said in many reviews, but the most fascinating thing about this film is each characters evolution both physically and character wise.
Olivia’s character starts off as a young single mother who is struggling to make ends meet and is dating a self absorbed man who expects too much of her. She moves town with the children and starts to study psychology. She marries her lecturer Professor Bill Welbrock who initially is a the intellectual and charismatic older man, but eventually becomes an authoritarian and abusive drunk. When Olivia becomes a lecturer herself, she dates one of her students, a seemingly sensitive ex soldier, who eventually becomes a macho drunk like the last guy. In my opinion, comparing the two men, they have something in common. Each man is seemingly indoctrinated with the macho expectations of being a man. They have to exert their authority and provide for everyone, something they clearly cannot cope with. Olivia manages to get through these tough times with her kids and career intact.
Mason Snr evolves from absent father to mature and responsible figure who is a big part of his children’s lives. He starts off as a little childish and idealistic. He wants to play in a band, drive his Pontiac and do his bit for the Obama campaign. As time passes, we see him gradually relinquish his idealism for a responsible job and marries himself into a right wing family. In an earlier scene when he enlists the help of his children to put Obama signs in peoples gardens, there is a confrontation from an old man with a Confederate flag who is clearly not an Obama supporter, but a right wing caricature. I thought the film had a political agenda, until you see the family he marries into. Although they have an unhealthy relationship with guns and God, they are hospitable and loving people toward Mason and his children. He also gets rid of his Pontiac for a family sized car, much to Mason Jnr’s annoyance, another sign of responsibility.
Not forgetting Samantha, Mason Jnr’s older sister, she grows from cheeky young lady into a high achiever at school and a positive influence on Mason as she goes to College. There is a realistic dynamic between her and Mason throughout, how they engage in conflict and how they never admit that they love or care about each other, but really they do.
All these events, especially the negative events do not seem to have a long term effect on Mason Jnr. Coming from a broken home, it shows that having good influence from his parents who are not necessarily together can surpass the negative, aggressive macho influence which Olivia brought into Mason’s life. Mason Snr had a certain degree of that view with his statement during a tenpin bowling game ‘Life don’t give you bumpers’, but was more balanced as he chose not to squander his life away to alcohol dependence and was never overly aggressive towards his children. Later in the film, Mason Snr gives his son a compilation of various songs from each member of the Beatles solo career. The point he makes is if you combine the different elements and messages of each solo career, you hear the Beatles. This to me is Mason teaching his son to embrace all points of view and to be open minded to live a fully rounded life.
This film is a staggering achievement by Linklater. This kind of concept has been attempted before but unfinished and abandoned in the past. Linklater is the first to make a film over this long period of time and he has done it very effectively. He managed to get excellent performances from the whole cast who interact with each other brilliantly, creating these very believable and realistic characters.
Linklater is not interested in dramatic contrivance or story arcs. The only dramatic part of the film was the segment involving increasingly drunk and abusive Bill Welbrock. What Linklater is more interested in is passing moments, some which shaped Mason as a person and some scenes that are seemingly normal events in a child’s life. I found one or two scenes a little pointless as there were some threads that are not explored more or ever returned to.
I think the general message of the film is trying to highlight male aggression and dominance in American culture and how it effects each generation negatively, but not always. Olivia’s partners seem negatively effected by these social pressures, as are some of Mason Jnr’s friends who boast about the women they slept with etc.
Despite the films minor flaws, it is a bold and ambitious film which takes you on an epic journey of the life of a family.

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – 08/07/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

The lengthy title did get me excited for a second. What I did get was a sub standard ‘Forrest Gump’ featuring a very old man in Sweden. It does draw a few similarities from Forrest Gump – Firstly, it uses the same don’t-think-too-much kind of simplistic approach adopted by Tom Hanks’ character in the form of ‘Life is like a box of chocolates’, but in this film, it is re-worded as ‘Things just are!’. When central character Allan Karlsson climbs out of the window of his old folks home and simply just walks away, it starts a random adventure involving a suitcase full of money he stole from a biker gang. Allan meets a bunch of oddball characters who help him evade the potentially violent biker gang while he recounts his colourful past which includes lots of an unhealthy obsession with dynamite, unwittingly being involved with Stalin’s death and the creation of the atomic bomb. Again, another similarity to Forrest Gump as it is about a character who by sheer chance manages to become an integral part of major historical events.
The results of these involvements and the general tone is mildly amusing at best and trying to be original and imaginative, but instead succeeding in being an arduous final third of the film. Allan’s character just wonders around, oblivious to the world around him and manages to have a very colourful and interesting life. At least Forrest Gump provided some joy, laughs and some sadness. 100 year old man… provided none of those!

Cycling With Moliere – 08/07/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

Lambert Wilson and Fabrice Luchini star as Gauthier and Serge respectively in this French comedy drama about two egocentric, narcissistic actors who have the chance to put their past grievances aside. Gauthier is the more successful actor as he is in a central role in a popular TV series, whereas Serge has quit acting and has decided to live as a hermit on an island. Gauthier turns up to his home and offers him a part in the play Le Misanthrope. Serge agrees to practice reading the part for a week and give an answer after the week is over. During the course of the week, they bicker about which parts they want to play, how the words should be said and they compete over the local feisty but attractive Italian woman Francesca (Maya Sansa).
During the course of the movie, it becomes increasingly apparent that Serge is playing Gauthier for a fool and wants to try and exact some kind of revenge on him by subtly denting his ego. Could Serge be the misanthrope like Moliere’s play? It seems that he does read the part very well and he always wants to play that particular part.
The two central performances are very good as it is a film about acting. They are very complex and masculine characters who play well together. The film has a few light comic touches as well as the melodramatic element. The problem with it is it’s not entirely memorable. It seems like a bit of light entertainment to pass the time, and once it is over, the film will be eventually forgotten. It still managed to surpass the low expectations I had when entering the cinema at least.

The Golden Dream – 06/07/2014 @ The Watershed, Bristol.

Known more for his work as a cinematographer, Diego Quemada-Diez has made his feature debut, and what a debut it is. Initially set in a slum in Guatemala centred around children trying to cross the US border to seek a better life, Quemada-Diez researched the story by interviewing real life young people who have attempted this themselves and the horrific experiences they endured doing it.
Juan, Sara and Samuel are three teenagers who escape their slum to begin hopping freights to the United States. Sara has to cut her hair short and disguise herself as a boy as she understands the risks of being a young girl attempting something this potentially dangerous. During their travels, they meet Chauk, a native American who cannot speak a word of Spanish. He joins the group despite Juan’s initial hostility and together they endure many awful events that happen to them. When things seem to be going well for the group, the train is suddenly raided by people traffickers looking for young women. Also, there are teenage scammers working for illegal employers which the characters fall for. When these events happen and the characters are prised apart from each other, your heart sinks like a stone. Later, the remaining characters have to deal with border patrol and they need to attempt to find people they can trust who know of a way through the American border.
What the Director has created here is something very harrowing. It is what you don’t see that is most disturbing. The writing is also very clever. The dialogue is very minimal throughout the entire film as there is a character who cannot speak Spanish. There is still a lot a of character depth through the actions they choose to escape poverty for a better life. It is also a very confronting film pointing out the problems of de-regulated capitalism and all it’s inequalities and how it has effected countries in central America. It is a very bleak and complex situation which most people either turn a blind eye to or would treat these human beings like dogs. The lack of compassion from not only Americans, but their own people is astounding. It reminds us that atrocities like these continue to be a daily occurrence which needs to be looked at.
This for me is a film which everyone must see. It is not just an educational film, but a fine example of visual poetry. It shows the beautiful rural dwellings of Guatemala and Mexico and how such human cruelty and barbarism could co-exist in this natural beauty. The performances are excellent as it is more in the children’s faces which give us all we need to try and understand their plight which we could never imagine or fully understand. I could not help but compare this to Ken Loach’s ‘Bread & Roses’ and coming to the logical conclusion that his is far more superior! Truly exceptional work.

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