Monday, 25 February 2013

The Oscars 2013: Winners and Losers

So Life of Pi emerged as the overall winner of the night with four wins including an unexpected win for Ang Lee for Best Director, snaffling the gong from a sure-thinged Spielberg. Pi also won for Best Original Score for Mychael Danna (his first), Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects.

Argo won three awards - the predicted Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Editing.

Also with a modest three was Les Misérables including an Oscar for Anne Hathaway she was so destined to win they probably started embossing her name on hearing the news she'd joined the cast. It also won for Sound Mixing and Hair and Makeup.

Django Unchained won two gongs - one for Quentin, who gave a typically gushing school-boy speech, and one for Christoph Waltz for Best Supporting Actor in one of the widest open categories in years.

Lincoln had to make do with just two awards - for Day Lewis, as the runes had predicted since day one, and one for Production Design.

Silver Linings Playbook only managed to snag one of its eight nominations - for Jennifer Lawrence in the Best Actress category.

Good news for Bond fans too as Skyfall picked up 40% of its nominations - one for Adele and one for Sound Editing, although Roger Deakins missed out on collecting an award for Best Cinematography, bringing his total Academy Award Nomination to Win ratio to 10/0.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Oscars 2013: Review Roundup

Freshly rebooted from the stuffy old "Academy Awards" to the more informal "Oscars", it's that time of year again when we get to go to work on Monday after two hours sleep. It's also a year of notable records - Emmanuelle Riva and Quvenzhané Wallis get to become the oldest and youngest nominee respectively in the Best Actress category, and for the first time ever, the Best Supporting Actor category is made up entirely of previous winners.

So how many of the Big Nine nominated this year for Best Picture have you seen? Click on the films below for a recap of what The Film Exciter made of them.

Beasts of the Southern Wild, dir. Benh Zeitlin, scr. Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin, based on Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar, st. Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry

A kind of cautionary environmental tale/docu-drama amalgam, Benh Zeitlin's hand-held 16mm Beasts of the Southern Wild follows nine-year-old Hushpuppy (Oscar-nominated Wallis) and her Father Wink (Henry) as they live out their lives in a southern Louisiana bayou (known as "the bathtub" due to their isolation from others) against the backdrop of impending storms and encroaching invasion - both natural and man-made. Much has been made of Wallis' performance and it is indeed a magnificent thing, but it is her narration skills that really sell the actor's maturity. In quietly assured tones, speaking text that belies her tender years, Hushpuppy dreams, fears and hopes with eloquence and clarity. It's a bewitching portrayal. Zeitlin's camerawork is woozily up close and personal, but the sumptuous location-work wholly captures a world geographically and temporally disconnected from familiarity. Added to the documentary feel is Zeitlin's fantastical sub-plot about prehistoric cattle, their hibernation having been disturbed by melting ice in the Arctic, and their their long trek to the bathtub. Designed, I suspect, to interconnect with the film's ecological theme, this is one of the less successful elements to an extremely sensory film. That said, however heavy-handed Beasts of the Southern Wild can be at times in its themes of displacement, settlement and parenthood, it proves a winning balm to counter showier, more frenetic films of this nature.

Argo, dir. Ben Affleck, scr. Chris Terrio, based on The Master of Disguise by Antonio J. Mendez and The Great Escape by Joshuah Bearman, st. Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman

The most interesting aspect of the so-called "Canadian Caper" - the joint operation between the Canadian government and the CIA to liberate six American diplomats from Iran in 1980 - is the idea of a disposable commodity such as film-making having such an elevated importance; creating the Science Fiction epic Argo in order to provide the diplomats with 'legit' cover so they can waltz off Iranian soil on a Swiss aircraft was quite literally a matter of life and death. It's an idea that Affleck gives all too short shrift to in order to make room for the more traditional thriller elements of the film. Of course, like everything based on historical fact, the thrills have built-in dampening. The knowledge that "they did" quickly answers the "will they/won't they" question that the drama hinges upon. But the inner machinations of Hollywood and the elements concerning how a production gets off the ground, as seen through the eyes of Goodman's award-winning make-up artist John Chambers and Arkin's film producer Lester Siegel is desperately intriguing and frustratingly de-emphasised. Of course, Affleck's Argo is about good-guy cunning trumping Middle-Eastern bad-guy single-minded political vengeance, and not about what happens when an industry of game-players are played at their own game by their own, and it's the poorer for it. For whilst Affleck is a competent director, and there're moments of genuine tension, Argo can't help but feel perilously pedestrian. Added to which, it turns out the aforementioned tension - the last 30 minutes of the movie - actually never happened. Does that make it any less enjoyable? No, but it does bring in to focus the nature of film's inflated significance as just another piece of flag-waving. Argo is, as things stand, odds on favourite to win the coveted Best Picture award at this year's Oscars, and certainly when compared to the other flag-wavers in competition - Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty - at least they're rooted a shade more in historical accuracy.

Amour, dir/wr. Michael Haneke, st. Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert

In Amour, Haneke shows us the tragedy of failing health and the tests of companionship with such numbing intensity, it's hard to tell whether he's dropping an icy veil in front of us for the sake of objectivity, or whether he's merely reflecting the reality of slow-burning personal cataclysm as it so unceremoniously plays out in real life. In either case, this is exactly what you might imagine a film about an octogenarian couple's managing of the effects of debilitating illness directed by Michael Haneke would look like; statically shot, unscored, and laden with ambiguous imagery and plot. Trintignant and Riva play Georges and Anne, their music-teacher backgrounds rich in feeling, tone and colour, and setting up a lifetime of sensation and wonder from which to descend. As Anne suffers a stroke, Georges is left to manage the practical aspects of her health whilst attempting to keep a promise he made to his wife to keep her out of the hospital, as well as trying to collate his own reflections on the vast span of their life together. The film's title neatly encapsulates the response to this terrible impasse. Haneke's lack of theatrics allows his cast to bear the weight of the film, not only the solemn performances of the central couple, but also Isabelle Huppert as their daughter Eva, highlighting how different the effect of this singular event can be between a daughter and a husband. Riva, at the age of 86 has become the oldest ever nominee in the Best Actress category, and not without merit. Her portrayal of an affliction so prevalent amongst her demographic must have been an extraordinary feat of triumph over personal fears. Amour remains in stark contrast to what else is on offer at this year's Oscars, but it's certainly one of the more ruminative pieces on subject matter that's at once painful to watch and crucial to observe.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Life of Pi, dir. Ang Lee, scr. David Magee, based on Life of Pi by Yann Martel, st. Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu

We tend to gravitate towards things that affirm our own beliefs and, not necessarily reject per se, but certainly disregard those things that confront or question them. That's just human nature. But it is interesting to note that as open as receptive as we try to be when watching films, it is sometimes difficult to engage with certain genres or thematic material that don't mesh with our core beliefs, our bedrock inspirations, those things that inherently make us tick. As a fierce athiest, Life of Pi should have been troubling in its predominent theme of religious absolution and communion, but I can honestly say that it's been a long time since I have been quite so moved by a piece of cinema.

Yann Martel's supremely visual though "unfilmable" novel went through M. Night Shyamalan, and then Alfonso Cuarón and Jean Pierre-Jeunet before it was inherited by Ang Lee. The story concerns a young Indian boy - Piscine Molitor Patel - a kid so predictably teased for his first name that he learns several blackboards' worth of π decimal places to cement his new abbreviation amongst his peers. After running a successful Zoo his family decide to emigrate to Canada - taking their precious animals as carry-on on a large Japanese freighter. When the ship goes down during a storm, Pi is left marooned on the immense, unending sea with only a handful of rescued animals for company. The mere idea of the large bulk of a movie revolving around a boy and a Bengal tiger sharing a lifeboat on a horizonless ocean would be enough to send studio execs and movie-goers alike into an immediate state of preemptive deep-vein thrombosis. However, as Martin Campbell so masterfully demonstrated in Casino Royale in 2006, even the simplest, seemingly actionless set-piece (in the case of Bond - a card game), filled with handsome, painterly set design, flagons of detailed character development, and a broad canvas of conjoined emotional beats, can trump any hyper-kinetic car-on-car explosionfest.

It's not a perfect film; Lee still insists on Hulk-like comic-book partial-dissolves and transitions from one scene to the next, which I'm sure were put in to help cohere the mise en abyme of Rafe Spall's real-world writer interviewing the adult Pi, with the more fantastical elements of Pi's story, but whilst so much of the extensive CGI was exquisitely rendered - Tarsem-style - the swipes and cutaways looked flat and uninspired in comparison.

So what does it all mean? As Apple have proved: Simplicity is beauty. For in Life of Pi, a film that deals with so many ideas about family, faith, fate, companionship, fear, guilt and love, there's a great many avenues that go unexplored, and therein lies the film's greatest potency. Far from resorting to answerless, question-posing vagaries, the film acknowledges the vastness of its own ambitions, addressed directly towards the film's end. When the freighter's insurers arrive to discuss the nature of the tragedy, they simply do not believe Pi's story. Upon offering them a more 'plausible' alternative, they're not sure about that one either. It's not important how we find peace, the film seems to ask. The important thing is that we do. 

Ang Lee's back catalogue continues to astound with the sheer breadth of style and content in his helming choices. For what could have been a possible career-breaker, Lee has taken Martel's novel - a quixotic story about redemption and a big cat named Richard Parker - and turned it into not only an early contender for the best film of 2013, but one of the most important films of the last ten years.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Lore, dir. Cate Shortland, wr. Robin Mukherjee, Cate Shortland, based on The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert, st. Saskia Rosendahl, Kai Malina, Nele Trebs, Ursina Lardi

In many ways a more poetic, less overwrought companion piece to Mark Herman's The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas in its depiction of children being forcibly confronted with the realities and horrors of the Holocaust, Lore is desperately penetrating in its impassive and bleak storytelling. World War Two is over, the Führer is dead, and all over Germany, people await an uncertain future. At her rather grand family home, Lore (Rosendahl) watches as her SS officer Father burns his papers and her Mother sets about organising their exodus to the countryside, an environment that may or may not prove a sanctuary from the invading forces. Lore and her four siblings soon find themselves having to fend for themselves, aided only by a near-silent guide of sorts - Thomas - who's carrying Jewish papers, and this is really when the film begins its exploratory journey into darker realms. How does one unlearn those delicate parameters established by one's parents? What happens when notions of morality, right and wrong, good and bad are challenged, and how do these conflict with innate survival instincts? Cate Shortland, whose 2004 feature debut Somersault dealt with similarly esoteric themes of the convergence of child- and adulthood, paints a rather grim picture of adolescence, dependence, responsibility and burgeoning sexuality, yet Lore is composed in the most anempathically sensuous way; long dewy blades of grass, broken and furled rivets of farmland, dense mists that hang in valleys and troughs lend a lyricism to the desolation in the narrative. Out of all this comes Lore herself (in an aggressively intelligent performance from Saskia Rosendahl), a character that oscillates wildly between rooted principles and emerging awareness at her country's - and her own - new predicament. In a scene where Thomas threatens to abandon Lore and her family, Lore's impassioned begging flips unsettlingly between anti-Semitic hate and despondent pleading. There's an eeriness that permeates Lore that is as disquieting to watch as it is compelling. So little of outside events are depicted that Lore and her siblings' trek through an altered physical and unseen political landscape is that much more palpable; the world is shifting between her feet, and for the young, comprehension is as abstract and elusive as the reality of a fairytale. A delicate and sobering film.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

King Kong, dir. Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, scr. James Ashmore Creelman, Ruth Rose, st. Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, Robert Armstrong

Putting aside for one moment the more thorny reading of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s 1933 movie King Kong as a troubling metaphor for white man’s assertion of power and control over an alien environment’s indigenous population, and indeed the fetishising of white women by the native peoples themselves, there is a rather yearning love story at work in the film. In fact, I would be inclined to argue that Kong aspires to be a role model for all us men; fiercely loyal, obsessively protective, bringing all efforts to bear on a singular objective – his gal, Ann Darrow (Wray).

If the hero in the picture is Kong, then surely the antihero is man. Again, ignoring all colonial interpretations (although it’s mighty hard not to) of white folk travelling to an exotic foreign clime, harnessing the wondrous and exotic, ripping it from its natural environment, and transporting it back home so richer white folk may gawp at it and feel culturally enriched, in our reading of King Kong as a simple love story, the men – in particular those who rush around the island Benny Hill-style trying to ‘rescue’ Darrow from the ape, are a clear illustration of male ineptitude. Filmmaker Carl Denham (Armstrong) states from the off that his new picture will be nothing without a glamorous girl to sell it, and so he sets off, trawling the streets like a sex-trafficker until he finds Darrow, down on her luck and desperate for work. Denham’s made so many references to the Beauty/Beast allegory up until this point, his final line in the movie seems as orchestrated as his plan to line his pockets. He cares not for Darrow. She’s pretty, he’s on a deadline, and the ship’s engines are a-crankin’. The captain of the boat Englehorn and first mate Jack Driscoll (Cabot) are no better, full of lame-o machismo and condescension. “Women just can’t help being a bother. Made that way I guess,” says Driscoll. The realisation of Darrow’s role as an expendable commodity is quite shocking. Who would know if she never came home? Who would care? Who would claim responsibility?

Once the natives kidnap Ann and offer her up as a ritual sacrifice to the mighty ape, we see for the first time Kong’s reaction to the girl. After all, “blondes are scarce around here”, the crew have noted. True, Marcel Delgado’s stiff, fur-covered animatronics are primitive when compared to Andy Serkis’ mo-capped performance in the 2005 Peter Jackson remake, Kong’s expressions reduced to Chewit-advert eyebrow-raising and chest-pounding, but the reaction to the girl is unmistakable. Kong is curious, cautious, delicate and clearly besotted. After we see the pursuing crew fight off a Stegosaur and a Brontosaur in their search for Ann, we see Kong placing her atop a huge limbless tree-stump, a prize on a pedestal yes, but also, a sensible temporary placement out of harm’s way. Darrow’s reactions to all this meanwhile, to be fair whilst grounded in realism, are to shriek and scream. It may be how we might react were a lovelorn behemoth to carry us off into the jungle, but it makes for a poor heroine. Art and literature is full to bursting of tales of women being screwed over by men, treated as objects, discarded at will, the men blissfully unaware or unconcerned by what they have, but painfully comes up short when attempting to show us the opposite may also be true. It’s something the Jackson remake got right, and in no small way thanks to Naomi Watt’s portrayal of Darrow. In Jackson’s King Kong, the love may not be quite reciprocated in the same way, but it is at least understood. The pre-Empire State climax in which girl and monkey go for an after-hours skate in Central Park may indeed be a bridge too far, but it shows us something very important – that there is a connection between the two.

Back to 1933 and along comes a T-Rex who too wants Darrow, but this time presumably for lunch. In quite a gruesome scene that follows, Kong wrestles with the lizard, a violent and bloody battle that culminates in the ape breaking the monster’s jaw. The scene may be dismissed as just another tediously primal assertion of one beast’s assertion of masculinity over another (and over a woman) – compounded by Kong’s victory roar and fist-clenching – but the scene is ultimately sold as an expression of tenderness by the way his guttural growls and snarls soften as he tends to Ann, her perch having been toppled during the skirmish. Still fearful, Darrow attempts a retreat but Kong gently scoops her up and carries her further into the jungle. By this time, the only member of the crew still on Ann’s trail is Driscoll, the only really eligible love interest, although his relationship with her hasn’t convinced so far. Back at the ship, having lost the girl he vouched for, Denham prepares to set sail the following morning regardless of whether Driscoll’s managed to signal to them of Ann’s sound rescue. For him, Ann is his ticket to seeing his name up in lights on Broadway, his McGuffin, literal bait to ensnare his prize creature.

High up on a rocky cape, Kong pauses to further examine the blacked-out Ann. In a scene that was to be excised from the print by the censors, he paws at her clothes with all the interest and curiosity of an adolescent boy faced with something he’d read about in books, but never dared to hope he might one day have in his hands. Kong rips her skirt and blouse, examining the strips of material that come away beneath his hands before smelling his fingers. It’s a highly sexualised scene, and an ungainly one at that, but it does show sexual attraction as having its roots in innate biological fascination, as opposed to lustful, barbarous desire. How rare it is to find an alpha male strong enough to topple any adversary, but bewildered and entranced by beauty instead of claiming it outright.

Once Kong has been be-chained and dragged to Manhattan to be placed onstage as the exhibit to end all exhibits, we see Ann and Jack waiting nervously backstage for the curtain to go up. Two attempts at character redemption follow one another here; first, Ann comments on how she doesn’t like to see Kong (offscreen) chained up, and Denham deflects the press labelling him a hero onto Ann, stating it was her that lured the creature, and thus deserves any praise. But it’s too little too late as Kong breaks free, grabs Darrow once more and makes his way through the urban jungle before scaling the famous skyscraper. Jackson’s film has a wonderful shot of Watts’ Darrow appearing dreamlike through the fog, a call-back to the earlier scene of forced sacrifice, but this time, offering herself up in order to pacify the creature, a voluntary union. But whereas Jackson’s Ann Darrow and Kong reach a mutual understanding, Fay Wray resorts back to the histrionics of her earlier capture. The girl in the remake contextualises Kong’s fascination with her through her actions and reactions; the original 1933 Ann Darrow damns and compounds it. Like Titania and Bottom-as-an-ass’ relationship in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the drama indirectly speaks of something quite profound beyond its intended meaning; the helplessly blind nature of attraction, and the unbreakable bond of true love.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Limitless, dir. Neil Burger, scr. Leslie Dixon, based on The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn, st. Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro

Similarities abound between this biotech thriller from The Illusionist helmer Burger and Josh Trank's Chronicle in that they both document the same urge for fevered dreamlike desires. In Chronicle, three high-school kids take on extra-sensory powers after investigating a sink-hole. They can - and do - do everything, even flying through the sky through bursts of dense cloud. Limitless' hero Eddie Morra is older but with the same school-slacker mentality; unkempt and living in his own filth, Eddie has writers' block, and to make matters worse, he's just been dumped by his girlfriend Lindy (Cornish) for ongoing douchedom. This movie's Macguffin, like Chronicle's buried alien artefact, is a pill that allows the ingester to access 100% of his brain, no matter what his attitudes may be towards spurious urban myths. Eddie's eyes dilate. He gets himself a suit, a haircut, a posse of friends, and a goal - make it big on the stock exchange. After that? What can't he do with his new ability? Only, like all the best things in life, there's a price to pay for overindulgence. Burger's film is just what it purports to be, a visually arresting and enjoyable pseudo-sci-fi romp that never takes itself as seriously as you hope it won't. Cooper neatly sidesteps smugness even if his character's vanity is damming, and portrays an endearing and persuasive protagonist. It even has an ending that doesn't feel like the cop-out it might resemble from a different angle. Like NZT-48 itself, the magic might not have a long-lasting effect, but for its duration, Limitless is quite a buzz.

Room 237, dir. Rodney Ascher, st. Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner

Room 237, Rodney Ascher's vivisection of Stanley Kubrick's seminal horror film The Shining made quite a splash when it landed at Sundance last year. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign and produced on a shoestring budget of a paltry $5000, the film has various voices - writers, journalists, and enthusiasts - throwing in their two pence worth's and claiming Kubrick's film contains hidden codes and meanings. Whether or not you really believe that The Shining is actually an allegory for the Holocaust or an elaborate confession from Kubrick to his wife that he faked the moon landings, there's much joy to be derived from following the dot-connecting and piecing together the clues. Not all the theories seem to hold water, but for anyone who believes Kubrick was a master of what the frame contained, and that in turn nothing appears in it by accident, Room 237 offers up some seductive suggestions of alternate readings or layers within certain scenes, sets, choreography and props. Using The Shining itself as the documentary's primary on-screen, close-text analytical source, Ascher's film makes for an irresistible and informative companion piece to its subject matter, and it'd be really something to see this packaged alongside Vivian Kubrick's Making The Shining film that accompanies The Shining's DVD release.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Celeste and Jesse Forever, dir. Lee Toland Krieger, wr. Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, st. Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen, Elijah Wood, Emma Roberts

Celeste and Jesse Forever announces its own seriousness from the off by having two heavyweights of TV comedy - Parks And Recreation's Jones and Saturday Night Live's Samberg - as the protagonists. That the laughs do not come thick and fast is in no way to do a disservice to this perceptive yet often cumbersome dramedy. We start, unusually for romcoms, at the end. We are expositionally informed that Celeste and Jesse's relationship is winding down. They've had a good run, but now it's time for them to part and go their separate ways. Only like two orbiting satellites, the mutual stability enabled by their symbiotic gravitational pulls isn't letting them spiral off and forge their own trajectories. In-jokes, and familiarity which was once their bedrock is now a prison of their own making, comforting as it is. Once Jesse decides to make a break for it with Veronica (Rebecca Dayan), a post break-up, pre-divorce fling, Celeste is cast adrift; isn't this what they wanted? Jones' script deals compassionately with the ludicrousies and nonsensicals of post-relationship minutiae, but the warm and tender charisma between her and Samberg cannot aid the lack of backstory shown between these two characters. So keen is the story to focus on moving on, it forgets to illustrate what we are moving on from. Personally, I would have liked to have seen fifteen minutes or so of edits re-inserted into the film to allow for this, as well as help certain scenes improve their transition from one another, but the overall tone is suitably sombre and bittersweet and whilst telling us nothing new, reminds us that breaking up always will be the hardest of things to do.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Silver Linings Playbook, dir/scr. David O. Russell, based on The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, st. Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker

It's no secret that one of the films I constantly bang on about is Vincent Gallo's 1998 directorial debut Buffalo '66. Gallo's film, about an afflicted narcissist, an irritable fun-sponge who, freshly released from state pen, kidnaps Christina Ricci's Layla from a grotty dance glass in order to pass her off to his hellish, football-obssessed parents as his wife, is as exceedingly funny as it is desperately sad, a film that champions and celebrates fucked-up neuroses whilst being able to laugh at their absurdity. Director David O. Russell, whose The Fighter won a slew of accolades in 2010, has made in Silver Linings Playbook something of a companion piece to Gallo's film, broader in scope, forfeiting Buffalo's intricate indie sensibilities, and at times edging towards the mundanity of pedestrian dramedy, but unashamedly feel-good, solidly romantic, and intelligently presented.

Bradley Cooper, the sexiest man alive (according to People Magazine, not me) (although, you know, fairs), plays Pat Solitano, a patient at a psychiatric institute after his bipolar disorder compelled him to brutally attack his cheating wife's lover. Pat moves home with his parents Pat Sr. and Delores (De Niro and Weaver), and an encounter with Tiffany (Lawrence), his best friend Ronnie's wife's sister-in-law, leads to the pair forming a brittle co-operative alliance, as she helps relay messages from Pat to his wife Nikki in return for assisting her in a dance project, a distraction from her own battle with sex addiction following the death of her husband. Cooper's portrayal of the illness shows a marked step away from what might seen to be more conventional, less showy award-pursuing renditions. Indeed De Niro's Pat Sr., with his OCD-distressed rituals and compassionate pleas for him and his son to reconcile often remind one of his portrayal of Leonard Lowe in Penny Marshall's 1990 film Awakenings, though to be fair, that might just be De Niro being De Niro. Pat Jr.'s temperament fluctuates, but he also has trouble censoring himself. Words tumble from his mouth like a tic. Tiffany's troubles are less external than Pat's, chiefly manifesting themselves in Lawrence's ever-present scowl, a glowering gothic mass of self-pity and grief. This all sounds like the makings of a fantastically awful film, but there's tremendous chemistry, not only between the leads, but the ensemble cast together. Pat Sr. has a deliciously narky relationship with his gambling buddy Randy (Paul Herman), Pat Jr. enjoys a solid but economically illustrated relationship with fellow inmate Danny (Tucker, wonderfully restrained), and his best mate Ronnie (John Ortiz) does a great line in Whipped-But-That's-A-Marriage cockle-warming husbandry opposite Julia Styles' Veronica. Under Russell's assured direction Silver Lining's Playbook never spirals off into the kind of maudlin over-affectedness that brings down similarly aspirational romances, though it's unlikely to leave the kind of heavy indent weightier films might impress. A win for Lawrence - already sporting an impressive CV with the likes of Winter's Bone and The Hunger Games - at this year's Oscars would certainly give the Academy a satisfyingly broad demographic of ages to applaud, although I would be keen to see a win for a role more worthy of her considerable talents.

Paperman, dir. John Kahrs, st. Clio Chiang, Kendelle Hoyer, st. John Kahrs, Kari Wahlgren

Blending traditional 2D hand-drawn animation with the cutting edge expression and lustre of CG, Paperman, a short attached to prints of Rich Moore's Wreck-It Ralph, is a masterclass in effortless artistic expression and creativity. The plot couldn't be simpler: a pair meet at a train station, a dorky man and a Disney-eyed lass, and before they can say a word to each other, they part their separate ways. That is of course, until he spies her in the building across from the one in which he works. Animated shorts have always been a delight - perfectly formed bite-size aperitifs with enough narrative and emotional heft to oil the limbic system before the main course. It's something that Pixar, for example, have got down to a fine, fine art. Where Paperman excels however, is in its abstinence from cutesy critters or the anthropomorphising of inanimate objects, and giving us real human (and adult) characters to work with. Paperman, with its depiction of fleeting attraction, commentary on rat-in-a-wheel toil all watched over by humourless authority, and fatalistic resolution, provides us with a very profound and mature angle, all lovingly pencilled and scored by masters of their craft. Marvellous. 

Paperman is free to watch on YouTube here.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Hitchcock, dir. Sacha Gervasi, wr. John J. McLaughlin, based on Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello, st. Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Danny Huston, Jessica Biel, James D'Arcy, Michael Wincott

Hitchcock by Sacha Gervasi, currently developing the remake of Morten Tyldum's Jo Nesbo novel Headhunters, here delivers a biopic of the great British director that is a lot of fun despite being neither incisive nor thorough enough to truly tantalise. What we do get though is a film that retains momentum of orbit thanks to the central performance by Anthony Hopkins as Alfred. Certain that Robert Bloch's icky novel Psycho is a palpable hit of source material genius, and much to the chagrin of his financial backers and studio heads, Hitchcock obsessively pursues the endeavour via a self-financed operation, whilst visions of Ed Gein (the notorious murderer and inspiration for the Bloch novel) galvanise his energies for the film and fuel his suspicion of his wife's infidelity. Hopkins, portly and precise in body and voice sells Hitchcock as a man with a singular vision, bloody-minded and resolute. Gervasi is careful to illustrate Hitchcock as a man who was fascinated by his female actors and wasn't afraid to manipulate in order to get what he wanted, but stops short of selling him out as a Savillian sexual predator as depicted in the other recent AH biopic - Julian Jarrold's HBO film The Girl. Mirren as Alma, Hitch's long-suffering spouse, putting up with the open flirtations with leading ladies, cuts a sympathetic figure of wifely support, sowing the seed of suggestion that he lose his main protagonist early on in Psycho and even stepping in to handle production when he falls ill. Hitchcock may be less pruriently compelling than its HBO counterpart, and feels suspiciously more like a TV movie than a bona fide feature, but as a rough guide, it serves.