Category Archives: Drama

Youth by Paolo Sorrentino.


“I don’t use twitter. I’m a serious person.”

When thinking about Paolo Sorrentino I often want to use the word serious, and then stop myself. His films have a lightness to them, and even the darker moments seem elliptical. But when I came across this brilliant quote, I felt it gave me permission to consider him a serious man.

Youth does not, at first, seem to be a ‘serious’ film. A famed British conductor, Fred Ballinger, (Michael Caine in a Tony Servillo turn) is holidaying in the alps with his daughter Lara (Rachel Weisz) and best friend and filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel). Fred is being tempted out of retirement to play a concert for Prince Phillip, whilst Mick writes what he considers to be his last, and hopefully best, film.

But this is a Sorrentino film, and nothing is really about coming out of retirement to play a final concert; it’s about the intracacies and complications along the way. Sorrentino meanders through this loose narrative, contemplating life’s bigger issues,  peeking through windows and doors, and stopping to stare at whatever he considers beautiful or interesting.

Fans of La Grande Bellezza will find much to be enjoyed here, and whilst the sweeping Rome vistas have been replaced with the comparatively contained setting of a luxury spa, there is a similar tone of navel gazing and philosophising.

Like many of Sorrentino’s films we encounter a roster of characters, from the morbidly overweight Maradona to Boyle’s team of scriptwriters, two of whom are slowly falling for one another. Even these  minor characters – like those of ‘screenwriter in love’ and ‘girl screenwriter’ – have something more to them than their few lines or scenes allow – and it’s that feeling of an underlying depth and richness that makes all of Sorrentino’s films so pleasurable.

Michael Caine, who could be said to have played the same character in many of his films, puts on a performance of his career. Ballinger and Boyle are caught between the extensive successes of their past and the limited but crucial success of their future. There are many references to this impasse. Boyle tells his young writers to look through a telescope. He points out that the mountain appears really close, which represents the future. When he turns it around and peers through the other end, he says everything looks really far away – and that that is the past.

Whilst Ballinger and Boyle are preoccupied with a yearning for their youth, or at least what came with it, the film imparts a wisdom that is only really achievable through age. Youth doesn’t quite leave the same feeling of awe and sentiment that La Grande Bellezza impressed upon viewers, but that seriousness of Sorrentino’s, that explores birth to death and everything in between, is yet again communicated in the most beautiful, subtle, and comic of ways.


Leave a comment

Filed under Drama, New Releases, Review

Ramona – La Grande Bellezza

It’s been over a year since I posted anything about film, but Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza has prompted me to ask one question; What about Ramona?

I always find it interesting when a significant death in a film is skirted over with haste – the adaptation of No Country for Old Men springs to mind.

Ramona was one of the most curious characters in this film. Despite a career which Jep’s high-brow friends frown upon, and a party costume that would make Britney Spears jealous, Ramona was a character of humility.

What happened to her? Did she kill herself, or was it another moment of surrealism? And if she did kill herself, did Jep care? Most of all, why isn’t the fate of Ramona clear?


Filed under Drama

Films for Girls – Thoughts on Melancholia and The Future

The extremity of difference between Melancholia and The Future cannot be stressed enough; one, a catatonic display of cosmic madness, and the other, a superficial break-up story narrated by a cat. At first glance there is nothing remotely similar between Lars Von Trier and Miranda July’s films. But upon closer inspection, they join a growing list of films which represent women in daring new lights. Dividing the film between sisters Justine (Dunst) and Claire (Gainsbourg), Von Trier examines the intensely acute anxieties faced by women, questioning the practicality of love and the fatuous intelligence of men. July’s film expresses a fear of the eponymous future using a similar experimentation with time and space, laughing nervously in the face of biological clocks and mid-life crisis’.

The opening of Melancholia has been praised for its impressionistic montage; a series of excruciatingly slow sequences depicting the gloomy end to Justine and Claire’s secluded world. It has been claimed that it offers an artistic promise that the rest of the film fails to deliver on. But this abstraction serves to hint at more complex suggestions made later on in the film about women’s apprehensions with life. Justine, wearing a beautiful white wedding gown, has become entangled in roots from the surrounding trees.  Claire, clutching at her child, trudges knee-deep through the turf of a golf course, her face contorted in a gasp for air. We cannot yet see what they are running from, but they are clearly weighed down by two signifiers of femininity; the wedding dress, and the child.

What else is interesting about Melancholia? Claire’s husband believes in science and absolute certainty, whereas Claire is cautious, relying on instinct. Despite the siblings’ major differences, it is Justine who sums up the women’s higher level of awareness, ‘life is only on earth, and not for very long.’ Dunst’s character won’t just resound with those who have suffered with mental illness. Justine also has a general lethargy towards modern pressures. She is not desirous of her new husband, she lacks passion for her high-flying job, and makes it seem okay to not feel completely satisfied. Life is no fairy tale, and Justine more than embraces the end of the world as an antithesis to that concept.
In The Future, flighty Sophie (July) returns to work at a kids dance studio and bumps into two friends. Alarmed to see that they are both heavily pregnant, she cannot believe that time has passed so quickly since she last saw them. They tell her that being pregnant is ‘a drag, but it’s also amazing.’ A series of cuts reveal the families grow old before Sophie’s eyes, whilst she remains stuck behind the reception desk. ‘It’s kind of a drag,’ Sophie remarks. ‘But it’s amazing?’ offers her friend. ‘Not really…’ (Watch it here) Sophie shows no desire in the film to bear children, nor to marry her boyfriend Jason. But here, a melancholy falls over her, as if disappointed with her lack of connection with their full lives.

Despite feigning a happy suburban existence for a short while, Sophie quickly becomes confused as to who she is trying to be. She can either live out the image of a ‘grown up’ existence, with her older lover and their weekend barbecues, or, she can return to Jason, where ‘growing up’ is the elephant in the room, brought to light by a sick cat. Either way, Sophie can’t find happiness. She is followed to her new life by a yellow t-shirt, which she used to stroke for comfort. It haunts her, reminding her of the child-like way she used to live, but also of the reassurance that life brought. In a bizarre but touching sequence, she climbs inside the t-shirt, stretching it out and zealously eating up its promise of protection. Her new partner looks on in admonishment.

The surface features of a Miranda July film may seem twee and stylistic, but given enough time, her saccharine soundings actually resonate much more deeply. Me and You and Everyone We Know is a more endearing and ‘together’ piece of work, but The Future is mature and less simpering. The Future conveys a timid uncertainty about relationships and life, but there is a confidence in July’s assertions which make her out to be a whole lot smarter than her cat voice would lead you to believe.

Both films take time to reflect on the opposite of sex, although hardly in a positive light. For Melancholia‘s Claire there is nothing worse than the thought of her life ending; but for her husband, there is nothing worse than the thought of being wrong. Jason in The Future admits he just wants another ‘normal, boring day’, despite the threat of losing  the love of his life. Justine and Sophie are the types of characters usually sidelined in films; the baddies, guilty of usurping the natural order of romantic love. But here they are the anti-heroes in two films very much about, and for, girls.

1 Comment

Filed under Comment, Drama, Review

Considine shows Fiennes how a directorial debut should be done

They come from stratospherically different acting backgrounds, one a bardic pin-up, the other a working man’s hero; but Ralph Fiennes and Paddy Considine have each just released their directorial debut. The films, Fiennes’ Coriolanus and Considine’s Tyrannosaur, are as unalike as one might expect. The surprise comes though that Considine, a young turk of sorts, has come up trumps against UK acting royalty.

Watching Coriolanus, Fiennes’ modern-day Shakespeare adap playing last weekend at the London Film Festival, felt like a return to the days of quality filmmaking. Fiennes has taken a heralded text, stuffed it with a stellar cast (Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave) and high production values, and served a stodgily indulgent prestige piece dressed up as a relevant political drama. It feels like the kind of film the UK industry has made an admirable effort to move away from in recent years. Although Fiennes’ direction demonstrated an adept eye, the whole piece feels showy and dated.

Considine on the other hand has plumped for the other side of mirror. Sombre and earnest, Tyrannosaur follows a faltering friendship between Joseph (an incredible Peter Mullan) and Hannah (an equally standout Olivia Colman). Joseph, a middle-aged drunk whose demons are tugging at his trouser leg, takes refuge in Hannah’s Christian shop. Although Joseph berates her demonstrative faith and middle-class standing, it appears that Hannah’s own violent crisis places them on a par with one another. Some reviews have cautiously warned of the film appealing exclusively to the chattering classes, with a kind of poverty porn. It draws comparisons with Oldman’s Nil by Mouth, but Tyrannosaur’s creators are stringent in avoiding charges of ‘social realism,’ a genre Considine and Mullan have criticized. The film doesn’t ‘tsk’ at the ‘state of society’; instead, the camera flits indiscriminately between the lower and upper-middle, holding back any judgement calls.

Redundant debates aside, Considine caught the breath of the whole cinema and refused to abate until the credits rolled. Something which, amongst the disbelieving sniggers of the Coriolanus audience, Fiennes failed to do. Simplistic indictments of class or social commentary discredit the scale of Tyrannosaur, a success for representational UK cinema, and a snub to the tastes of the past.



Leave a comment

Filed under Comment, Drama, Review

Midnight in Paris

The past decade has seen glimmering instances of greatness from Woody Allen, the native New York filmmaker with a taste for wry romance and Jewish comedy. But between the London of Match Point and the Spain of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Allen has failed to recapture the wistful poignancy of his Manhattan days. Midnight in Paris is his most consummate film in years. A fulsome story carried by an eclectic ensemble, with plenty of the usual Woody furniture in place to please die-hard fans.
Hollywood hack Gil (Owen Wilson) is visiting Paris with his high-maintenance fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents. Frustrated by Inez’s insistence on following art-gallery expounder and ex-boyfriend Phil around, Gil succumbs to the antiquity winking at him around every corner. Excusing himself from a late-night dance, Gil is tempted away by late-night revelers in an illustrious looking vehicle. Marveling at the throwback setting of the party they bring him to, he slowly realizes that the gentleman who has introduced himself as Scott Fitzgerald, is the F. Scott Fitzgerald, and by a stroke of magic, Gil has in-fact time-traveled to the 1920’s. Struggling to reconcile his first attempt at serious literature, Gil has stumbled upon a goldmine where, at midnight, he is transported to an era rich with literary and cultural icons who are eager to critique his work.
Owen Wilson, softening around the eyes, plays the prototype Allen protagonist to a tee, with his heavy footed stroll, cultural proficience, and courdorouyed charm. But underneath the surface features, Gil’s preoccupation with nostalgia and life’s ‘big things’ are staple Woody centerpieces. It’s Hemingway, and his fellow l’age d’or dwellers, who take the film beyond a fluffy romance. Although almost being sent up, Hemingway darkens the film, reminding us that life is a long journey on which you are only destined to die. The quixotic Adriana (Marion Cotillard) softly embodies the antithesis to Gil’s irksome fiance. She is a sensual muse, alive with chance and vivre. Thankfully, Adriana isn’t just some Aphrodite floozy; she too is caught up in the demon of nostalgia, lusting for Gil but tempted by the promise of her own golden age, the Belle Epoque.
As always , Allen makes the trials of a relationship appear so fair to weather – the personality defect in the other half, the sudden vision of their unhappy life together, and a pair of overly intrusive parents to hurry the split along. It would be refreshing to see him tackle the truth about break-ups, which are so rarely of such ease or without heartache.
All of Woody Allen is here to be seen. Life’s moments of magic, complication, philosophical interjection, and more so than ever, romance. Midnight in Paris is a quietly joyful success which will have you fantasizing about your own Parisian love affair. Truly, a movable feast.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Drama, Review

Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester: The Original Way of Nature and Grace

Undoubtedly a unique cinematic vision, The Tree of Life is an artistically realized consideration of life and death, which reaches far beyond the usual ambitions of a film starring Brad Pitt. One of the films key metaphysical concepts compares Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt’s husband and wife, in an exploration of ‘the way of nature, and the way of grace.’ This spiritual paradox carves out two ways of living; either as Pitt’s stormy authoritarian (nature) or Chastain’s saintly nurturer (grace). However, the divine characteristics embodied in Mr and Mrs O’Brien are not as original as, say, the atomistic timeline of humanity complete with dinosaurs and distant galaxies. The newly adapted version of Jane Eyre, by Cary Fukunaga, uncovers the early blueprint for the ways of nature and grace in Wasikowska’s unshakable Jane and Fassbender’s cold Edward Rochester.

In Malickian style, Jane is positioned fragilely in window frames, staring wistfully out onto the vast rolling landscapes ahead of her. Her puritanical disposition is constantly fringed with sunlight, giving her a verisimilitude against the unreadable Rochester. Rochester’s comparatively shadowy appearance brings with it a frenetic energy to the usually serene Thornfield, much like the silent tension which haunts the family home whenever Mr O’Brien is in residence. Jane has a natural affinity with children, where Rochester scorns them and is completely unmoved by their presence. Mr and Mrs O’Brien are also divided in their approach to raising children; the camera follows Chastain dreamily as she frolicks with the boys, where Pitt strikes tangible remorse in each of their hearts. Jane takes comfort in her painterly surroundings, a place free of fear and servitude, but Rochester takes to destroying them, shooting the birds one morning in an act of frustration. Whenever Jane disappears into the mist-laden fields, we feel unnerved, unsure of her safety. But when Rochester does the same, he blends in with the grey cruelties of the landscape, as if returning to its fold.

Although The Tree of Life is an altogether grander piece, with Malick’s reflections spanning the breadth of existence, there are striking similarities between the ethereal characters of both films. The stoical Jane and Mrs O’Brien embody the ‘higher’ order of the way of grace. They might yearn for lives which better reflect their gentle temperament, but they weather the storms of nature and provide a moral center to both of the films.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comment, Drama

Holy Rollers – The Best Hasidic Drug Trafficking Film I’ve Ever Seen

Williamsburg, NYC, is home to one of the largest Hasidic communities outside of Israel. Fascinating, considering that 10 blocks north you can immerse yourself in probably the largest hipster community outside of Hoxton. Holy Rollers might sound like a New Christian rollerskating team, but it is in fact the curious true story of an orthodox Jew from Brooklyn who falls in with the wrong crowd. Young Sam Gold, impatient in working for his Father and waiting to be married off, accepts the task of flying to Europe to transport some questionable ‘medicine’ back to the States. Said medicine turns out to be drugs, and with only a twitch of his moral-compass, Gold begins his descent into a full blown criminal underworld, where unassuming orthodox Jews are paid to enable drug smuggling.

Jesse Eisenberg is enjoyable to watch, but traces of previous characters he has played are becoming less faint. From the social awkwardness of Zuckerberg in The Social Network to the teenage gawkiness of his characters in Zombieland and Roger Dodger; Eisenberg is beginning to look and sound like a copy of a copy. His performance may be good, but it’s hardly breakout, and Eisenberg runs the risk of ‘doing’ a Michael Cera. Newcomer director Kevin Asch makes Brooklyn look cold and concrete,  contrasting nicely with the enticing sexiness of the New York clubs. The heart of the film is found in Gold’s unwavering desire to be, in his sorry way, a ‘good’ Jew. Wearing a beanie cap, he is asked on the street by a man offering teffilin if he is indeed Jewish; ‘of course’, is his snappy answer.

Though it might be filmed in the style of a Williamsburg-dwelling hipster, Holy Rollers is a sombre tale told in a gritty and often comical manner. The film succeeds in subtly demonstrating how deeply a religious disposition can penetrate, if indeed you believe in such a thing. Not even blonde babes, ecstasy or gelt can change that.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Drama, Independent Film, Review