Reviews: Clouds of Sils Maria, A Royal Night Out, Pitch Perfect 2, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Tribe
Reviewed this week are Clouds of Sils Maria, A Royal Night Out, Pitch Perfect 2, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Tribe.
Your first thought watching Clouds Of Sils Maria is that you don't envy writer-director Olivier Assayas having to manoeuvre Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart about a filmshoot in the Alps. To be fair, there's a chemistry between the two famously mercurial leading ladies that makes perfect sense, while also suggesting Assayas may have something of a magic touch.
It is a dominant factor in why this elegant, ponderous European film works on the levels that it does. Binoche is Maria Enders, an ageing screen goddess travelling with her vaguely emo PA Valentine (Stewart) to accept an award on behalf of the aged playwright who gave her her first break. He passes away en route, they discover, and soon afterwards an edgy young director asks her to appear in his new production of the same play - only this time as the tragic elder of the two central female protagonists.
Maria and Valentine decamp to the Alpine home of the late writer to rehearse. Of course, that's only part of what goes on. There's lots of metadramatic undulations as Maria faces usurpation by the bratty starlet set to play opposite her (Chloë Grace Moretz). All the while, smudges appear as Maria and Valentine collide at varying temperatures.
It's chatty and meanders a bit, but there's a hypnotic, unfixed ambience to Clouds of Sils Maria that is wholly compelling (and more than likely intentional on Assayas' part). Full of wit, wisdom and knowing glances it may be, but it's earthy and sensuous too. A mature, perceptive drama for grown-ups.
IFI and selected cinemas
Editor's pick: A Royal Night Out
A NEW British royal has just landed in this world but don't expect Princess Charlotte to get a viewing of this problematic comedy-drama about her great-grandmother and great-grandaunt itching for a night out on the tiles to celebrate VE Day in 1945.
Playing Elizabeth is David Cronenberg favourite Sarah Gadon alongside Bel Powley's more unruly Margaret. They implore King George (Rupert Everett) and the Queen (Emily Watson) to let them on the loose but quickly shake their military escort and are dazzled by the lairy hubbub. Soon Liz is skipping through the braying streets of London in search of her sister who has run off with some pilot and is now in the back room of a brothel. (Yes, you read that correctly). Helping her negotiate such frightful things as buses and people is Jack Reynor's robust squaddie (helpfully called Jack).
A Royal Night Out fancies itself as some kind of Richard Curtis pastiche whereby the beautiful caged princess gets swept off her plummy vowels by Jack's everyman (who of course has no idea what or who she is). The problem is that these are real people who are alive and well and sitting on thrones. So it's not really spoiling things to say that at the very logical moment when our two handsome young leads should lock lips in romance, the camera has to swing away awkwardly so as not to get anyone into any trouble. This gives the entire operation a hollow, ultimately conflicted feeling. It has its charms - a jazz-age fizz, Powley's gooning, a tasteful aesthetic - but it is too lightweight. Wicklowman Reynor, meanwhile, struggles with the London accent.
Pitch Perfect 2
It's been three years since Pitch Perfect proved a surprise box office hit. The story of the Barden Bellas, the a-cappella girl group fighting the boys for competition supremacy, surfed the Glee wave by adding a bit of knowing humour and proving far less derivative than expected.
The sequel finds the young women nearing graduation and thinking somewhat vaguely of the future. It's a consideration made all the more important in the opening scenes when the Bellas, having reigned supreme for those three years, face the ignominy of failing in front of President Obama. Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) suffers a wardrobe malfunction during a Wrecking Ball-style aerial number and the world gets a chance to see what type of waxing she favours.
Stripped of their titles and overloaded with shame the only way that the Bellas can get reinstated is if they win the World Championships in Copenhagen. Their main rivals are German uber group Das Sound Machine, perfect specimens of somewhat fetishistic a-cappella greatness.Cue some arguments, sing-offs and lots of great singing. Beka (Anna Kendrick) is the only one seriously considering a future after college as she gets a secret internship in a recording studio. There's also a new recruit, Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), who is keen to sing her own compositions, and presumably take on the mantle when Kendrick, Wilson et al graduate.
Kay Cannon's script is sharp in some places like the digs at casual misogyny. Conservative America's assumption that a bit of female anatomy is the worst thing ever is a case in point and the thoughtless insults delivered by the commentators John (John Michael Higgins) and Gail (Elizabeth Banks) are the most consistently funny parts of the film. The other humour is a bit more hit and miss and Rebel Wilson starts to grate after a while.
Overall the script does feel a bit formulaic and contrived in parts, I especially didn't like the parts that were meant to be heartfelt, but perhaps I'm just a heartless ould boot. There are lots of cameos and a good few laughs and on the whole lots to enjoy for fans of Glee style musicals, and fans of the first film won't be disappointed. It also happens to be Elizabeth Banks' feature directorial debut and she does it well.
Mad Max: Fury Road
The gods may have chucked all kinds of obstacles - from unfavourable exchange rates to actual wars - in the way of this belated fourth instalment of George Miller's gasoline-soaked western but it has been worth the wait.
Such a wobbly genesis combined with a monstrous budget ($150m) and comparable storyline could have seen Mad Max: Fury Road go the way of Waterworld (shudder). The key here is that Miller himself is still at the helm, and he's had a long time - 30 years since Tina Turner cackled in Beyond Thunderdome - to think about just how he wants his legacy to remain intact.
Controversial mainstay Mel Gibson is dropped from the role of the titular road warrior for Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises, Inception). Mad, tormented and murmuring sparsely in a Lee Marvin burr, Hardy does nicely as the brave loner reluctantly helping Charlize Theron's traitor guide five young women across the scorched nothingness of post-apocalyptic Oz.
They are on the run from Immortan Joe (Hugh Keys-Byrne), a monstrous dictator, and his army of tooled-up and revved-up War Boys who rampage over the sands.
The word electrifying is flung about too lightly in describing action cinema, but Fury Road is certifiable in this respect. There is barely any let-up over its two hours of grinding, white-knuckle gear changes, crashes and explosions. Max and his charges are hunted from one knife edge to the next, and talk is kept to a minimum.
It could be tedious if it wasn't so downright stylish and smart. Miller now ranks alongside Gilliam, Lynch, Burton et al as one of cinema's more distinct visionaries thanks to this elseworld of warped, hideous survivors and bizarre contraptions.
An iconic hum is palpable, the same as when any future classic announces itself.
I confess that the prospect of two hours of a Ukrainian film with no words, just sign language and no subtitles did not fill me with great excitement. Yet Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's writing/directorial debut is one of the most remarkable films of the year.
Slaboshpyrskiy has said that his dream was to pay homage to the silent movie, and in this he does it in an extraordinary way. Unlike other productions which feature deaf characters in a hearing world this is total immersion in a world where everyone is deaf.
Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko) arrives in a large institution for deaf teenagers and must negotiate his place in a well-established hierarchy. There are rites of passage to accede to the most powerful levels of this hierarchy which is built largely on an after school hours schedule of crime and prostitution. At night, with the help of the woodwork teacher, the young men go out to mug people and drink. Two of the young women, Anna (Yana Novikova) and another unnamed (Rosa Babiy) are transported to have unprotected sex with lorry drivers with the ultimate aim of getting them to work in Italy. When Sergey falls in love with Anna the rules are broken and the balance tipped.
There is a kind of Lord of The Flies vibe and much of it is graphic and unflinching. For one protracted scene, raw in terms of both visuals and emotion, I simply had to look away. A tough film but with many rewards.
Sunday Indo Living