Winter Roundup

It’s time to confess: my time management skills are diabolical.

Over the past two-and-a-bit months, I’ve fallen far behind the curve on this blogging malarkey.  Since the curtains were raised on 2013, countless films that I’ve wanted to absorb, and stacks of albums that I’ve wanted to put to my ears have eagerly made themselves available.  Unfortunately, though, this year has decided that it’s going to be crazily stressful, and as a result, I’ve not been able to soak up half of the amount of new releases that I’ve wanted to so far.  And, to really rub salt into the wound, I’ve had even less time to focus on the art of Quotesponging for a while.  I could reasonably argue that this is due to overbearing university work, but really, that’d be dealing in half measures.  Truth is, I can procrastinate like a bastard.  And series three of Breaking Bad is really, really good.

So, apologies for being very slow this year thus far, and for missing out on full reviews of many of 2013’s early big hitters.  Still, better late than never, I suppose, so to tidy up some loose ends, here are a handful of condensed reviews for films which I didn’t manage to fully address earlier this year.  Also, given that each of these films was rather helpfully Oscar-nominated in at least one field apiece, they are still arguably relevant enough to be granted listing on this here blog.

Life Of Pi

(Ang Lee, 20th Century Fox, 2012)

My ‘Big Summer Read’ of 2012 was Yann Martel’s beautifully-sculpted tale of a young man and the sea (and his tiger, and his assorted faiths).  Screenwriter David Magee wrung a tight, respectful screenplay from Martel’s prose, and with Ang Lee’s keen visual eye watching over all, Life Of Pi was able to make the leap from page to screen with considerable aplomb – not to mention a hell of a lot of guts.  Technically flawless, watching this film is like leafing through an eye-popping picture book, with its visceral dazzle matched by a platform for interpretative weight.

Major props should be given to Suraj Sharma, whose performance as the teenage protagonist serves as the perfect anchor for such an ambitious project.  Sharma’s brave, expansive portrayal of Pi – and his interaction with a (staggeringly-rendered) CGI beast – adds a fierce humanity to what could have been an unwieldy disaster.  Even though it still does lack the intimacy and some of the wilder touches of Martel’s novel, Lee’s Life Of Pi is refreshing and bounteous enough to leave me more than satisfied.  Here’s to thinking big.

8/10

Django Unchained

(Quentin Tarantino, Columbia Pictures, 2012)

Whatever your stance on the mouthiest director working today, there’s no doubting that Quentin Tarantino’s films always have the power to jolt.  In light of the media firestorm surrounding his latest venture, I went into Django Unchained expecting something nuclear, especially in the wake of the marvellous Inglourious Basterds (which remains my favourite ‘tino film thus far).  And yet, I couldn’t help but walk away from Django Unchained with a slight feeling of anticlimax.  It’s certainly a great film, packing in some top-notch characterisation and more than a fair helping of badassery, but there was something about it which left me wanting more – even if criticisms have been levelled at its indulgent runtime.

It boasts an intriguing set-up, heralded with some of the auteur’s finest creations yet: the intensely likeable Dr. King Schultz (Tarantino could well have earned the Oscar simply on the basis of conceiving of a bounty-hunter-cum-dentist), the disquietingly charming Calvin Candie, and of course, the title hero himself, whose arc soars above the entire thing, ending with one of the best final kiss-offs this side of Robert Mitchum.  Even Tarantino’s appalling cameo ended with him getting blown to bits, so that’s got to be appreciated.

But for all of its strengths, Django Unchained still doesn’t quite sit as comfortably with me as the majority of the director’s previous works.  Naturally, it’s a very wordy film, but with the exception of the paralysingly tense dining-room scene, there are few which I can really pull out which I would happily add to my top ten Tarantino moments.  For all its panache and vigour in choice sequences, there really is no avoiding the fact that Django Unchained is something of a mess.  Still, with supreme performances from DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson and of course, The Waltz, what an enjoyable mess it is.

7/10

Lincoln

(Steven Spielberg, 20th Century Fox, 2012)

Despite scooping surprisingly few baldies at the Oscar ceremony in February, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a towering achievement which finds its sexagenarian director back to his assured peak.  Although it does creak from time to time with its dialogue-heavy framework, this kinda-biopic is kept well-oiled with deft humour and an intimate, profound portrayal of a number of crucial players in Abraham Lincoln’s inner sphere.

True to its title, Lincoln is very much grounded in characters rather than in actions, even if a pivotal moment for the United States Constitution rests at the crux of it all.  We are given a warmly human account of the President himself, with all his well-bottled personal troubles examined under Spielberg’s steady gaze, perhaps best demonstrated in Daniel Day-Lewis’ one-on-one scenes with Sally Field.  Both deliver masterful turns, with Field’s blistering anguish set at odds with her husband’s tempered aura of calm.  Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader add some spiky flavours to the mixture, with the former bagging some of the best lines of dialogue we’re likely to hear all year as he spits pithy insults at the Democrat party’s blithering gaggle of stiffs.

True, Lincoln can be a bit of an exhausting experience to sit through: it’s very dense and from time to time its magic does clam up with a few pacing issues.  But on the whole, it’s a majestic, impressive feat of filmmaking from a talent we’ve come to miss in the last few years.  Flanked by a heavyweight cast, and with John Williams and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński providing that extra sparkle, Spielberg is still going strong.

8/10

Wreck-It Ralph

(Rich Moore, Walt Disney Animation Studios, 2012)

It’s not perfect, but Wreck-It Ralph is one of Disney’s best offerings of recent years, if only on the basis of its concept and breathtaking visual flair.  Heavily – but pleasantly – indebted to the bubblegum videogames of yesteryear, Wreck-It Ralph is filled with witty humour and in-jokes, but mercifully, it never sags into obsequiousness, instead bringing its own flavours of fun to the table as well, embodied in a plethora of endearing characters.  The title character is an entertaining and surprisingly heartfelt lug, given life by John C. Reilly’s wearied tones, and even Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) isn’t as annoying as the trailer would have her seem.

When it comes to plot and structure, it does become overly zippy, occasionally feeling as though the filmmakers felt overwhelmed by the amount of options open to them on such a project.  As a result, they’re left unsure of which way to turn, and the second half of the film does career through countless avenues rather haphazardly.  Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be charmed by the clear enthusiasm and heart that was obviously poured into this film.  Bright and bonkers, Wreck-It Ralph is a breath of fresh air to the realm of family animation, even if it didn’t quite bag that statue.

7/10

Argo

(Ben Affleck, Warner Bros., 2012)

Who’d have thought that the man once known for the bomb that is Gigli would go on to direct a Best Picture winner?  Stranger things have happened, of course, but Ben Affleck’s transformation from pesky pretty boy to Hollywood heavyweight is enough to prompt a good eye-rubbing.  In light of Argo, his directed productions so far resemble well-played moves in a greater game: 2007’s Gone Baby Gone garnered the attention, and 2010’s The Town cemented Affleck’s chops as a man with a rapidly ameliorating skill set, with his credits including director, writer and actor.

However, it’s with Argo that Affleck has made his claim for greatness, and the world has responded loud and clear.  Although it’s still a criminal oversight that he was snubbed a crack at Best Director, Affleck’s third feature has achieved a type of crossover appeal, grossing five times its budget as well as receiving plaudits up and down the award tables.  It’s easy to see why, considering the engrossing and distressing circumstances of its subject matter, alongside its remarkable power to entertain.  Argo is not only nail-bitingly tense, it’s also frequently hilarious, poking fun at the (true-to-life, lest we forget) ridiculousness of the fake-film scenario in which the CIA invested their final hopes for the salvation of six American hostages.

The concept and performances are initially what hook you in, with Affleck (and his dashing ’70s beard) supported by a tight collection of greats, including the ever-reliable Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin’s gleefully impudent film producer.  But what really lodges in the mind is Affleck’s technical assurance.  Argo is studded with ambitious set-pieces and reconstructions, some of which will have viewers blown away at their construction and execution.  Special mention should go to the opening assault on Tehran’s United States embassy.

Yes, it eschews some of the smaller facts and a fully authentic feel for that big, sweeping ending, which probably didn’t pan out the way it does onscreen.  But, hey, although it does resemble one at times, Argo doesn’t outright claim to be a documentary.  Instead, it offers up an exhilarating, cathartic experience, laced with political truths and one big confirmation: Affleck the Director has well and truly landed.

9/10

17/03/2013

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Posted on March 18, 2013, in The Film World and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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