Sunday, February 28, 2016

The 50 best film of 2015 / Inside Out / No 35

The 50 besfilm

of 2015 

in thUS  

No 35

Inside Out

Inside Out review – a buoyant and sweet-natured comedy from Pixar

While it might not challenge their greatest films, this is a smart and visually inventive piece of entertainment

Peter Bradshaw
Monday 18 May 2015 13.18 BST

ete Docter’s new animation, Inside Out, does not deliver that shock of the new that was so stunning in the Pixar heyday of the last decade — all the dazzling technical spectacle of detail, colour and light that had us gobsmacked, and which we now take utterly for granted. This movie is a sweet-natured coming-of-age comedy, a kind of tween-transition crisis, though with a fundamentally sunny, Disneyfied worldview. It hasn’t anything as genuinely emotionally devastating as Up, or the subtlety and inspired subversion of Monsters Inc and the Toy Stories, which it certainly resembles at various stages. But it is certainly a terrifically likeable, ebullient and seductive piece of entertainment, taken at full throttle. There is that sheen of pure professionalism that I associate with its executive producer and presiding deity, John Lasseter

Like the earlier movies, Inside Out is about the secret imaginary quasi-adult figures who are the unseen, unsung guardian angels for kids. Riley (voiced by Kaitlin Dyas) is an 11-year-old girl who has had to leave behind all her friends in Minnesota when her parents move to San Francisco, where her dad is precariously setting up as an entrepreneur. But the move is making her depressed in ways that her parents have not fully appreciated — we appreciate it, because we are taken inside the mission control headquarters of Riley’s mind, perhaps a very U-certificate version of a similar idea in Woody Allen’s sketch for Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex. Riley, like every other human being and indeed animal, is controlled by five different mood-entities: the upbeat Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), the cringing Fear (Bill Hader), the ferocious Anger (Lewis Black), the fastidious Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and the miserable Sadness (Phyllis Smith).

They are in charge of creating glowing little memory balls which are stored in the control suite for the day and then, when Riley goes to sleep, dispatched to be warehoused off site with all the other long-term memories. This infinite memory-ball library is situated in a huge, Daliesque alien-planet landscape, which includes vast identity islands symbolising various aspects of her personality: honesty, love of family, etc. It all runs perfectly until Riley spirals into unhappiness: Joy and Sadness somehow become locked out of the command centre, leaving Riley in a disastrous state of emotional illiteracy and confusion. Her identity islands of childhood are crumbling and Docter shows that it is a cross between a Three Mile Island meltdown and a bad LSD trip.

As ever, with this kind of symbolism, there is potential confusion. When these mood-entities are effectively humans themselves, what does it mean in terms of drama or logic when Anger calms down, or when Joy becomes sad, or when Sadness cheers up? Well, of course, you just have to go with it, as it all part of the general lesson that Sadness is actually important: the primacy of Joy at the controls could be a problem. Unless Sadness is acknowledged and is permitted to take the wheel, there can be no happiness and no growing up.

It is tremendously buoyant and watchable, with some great visual invention. There is not much in the way of irony: Inside Out does not want to send itself up, except right at the end in the wacky gag-reel over the closing credits, as Docter unleashes a torrent of jokes which seem to have been pent up over the previous hour and a half. No great leap forward, this: but slick, smart and funny.


The best 50 films of 2015 in the US
01. Son of Saul

The 50 best films of 2015 / Mad Max: Fury Road / No 34

The 50 besfilm

of 2015 

in thUS  

No 34 

Mad Max: Fury Road

Charlize Theron joins Hardy’s lone wolf ex-cop in George Miller’s deliriously strange action adventure, a rollicking Grand Theft Auto revamped by Hieronymus Bosch

Peter Bradshaw
Monday 11 May 2015 15.06 BST

hat adjective in the title is accurate. Extravagantly deranged, ear-splittingly cacophonous, and entirely over the top, George Miller has revived his Mad Max punk-western franchise as a bizarre convoy chase action-thriller in the post-apocalyptic desert. There are what seem to be dozens of huge rigs and chunky 18-wheelers driven by large, cross men with long hair and bad teeth, or no hair and no teeth, their rides pimped out with skulls and other badass accessories. Some of these assault vehicles have permanent armies of drummers on board, thumping belligerently and rhythmically away, creating the kind of scary and upsetting noise usually only heard on the streets of the Edinburgh festival.

With a similar view to terrifying the enemy, one truck has a lead guitarist perched on the hood with a stack of amplifiers, thrashing out what might be a continuous Slipknot medley. Using a recording won’t do – these people believe in keeping their aggressive music live. And when the vehicles crash, they don’t do any forward-facing twirl though the air the way they used to do back in the 1970s: now it’s the customary rear axle lurch-up for a giant somersault and juddering crash that took the fillings out of my teeth.
It’s like Grand Theft Auto revamped by Hieronymus Bosch, with a dab of Robert Rodríguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn. Tom Hardy plays Max Rockatansky himself, the former interceptor lawman and petrolhead of the original movies, driven to extreme measures by the murder of his wife and child. This film does not appear to run sequentially from the previous trilogy; it’s more a general reimagining of the first, or the overall raddled mood-scape of all three.

Max is here a lone wolf, a survivor of the vaguely delineated global catastrophe that has made oil, water and bullets rare commodities thereabouts, and he is tormented by flashback memories of the child he couldn’t save. He is captured by the hateful chieftain Immortan Joe (played by Mad Max veteran Hugh Keays-Byrne) and taken to his grotesque stronghold, the Citadel, where Joe warlords it over an oppressed semi-bestial populace by controlling the water supply and bizarrely supplementing their fluid intake with industrial quantities of mother’s milk, farmed from imprisoned pregnant women. Max is fated to escape with another rebel: the one-armed Imperator Furiosa, played with glittery-eyed panache by Charlize Theron, whose job was to lead raids, stealing gasoline, ammo and other commodities.
Once captured like Max, and turned into a gladiatorial warrior in Joe’s service, Furiosa is now furious at his patriarchal tyranny; she is escaping, taking with her an improbable phalanx of scantily clothed young women, the “breeders” the warlord wishes to make the mothers of his children (they look as if they are heading for an edgy Australian Vogue photoshoot). Max and Furiosa are heading for a spectacular showdown with their oppressor, and must also deal with Joe’s mercurial, shaven-headed footsoldier Nux, played by Nicholas Hoult.

It really is a strange film. As Max, the craggy but full-lipped Tom Hardy doesn’t look anything like Mel Gibson. It is Theron – or possibly Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, playing a sultry breeder called Splendid – who is channelling the eerily beautiful Gibson from 1979, except that probably neither is pretty enough. Mad Max: Fury Road is almost a silent film in its way. Dialogue is at a minimum, and when Max says anything it is usually preceded by an eccentric rumbling, mumbling mmmm sound, like a macho Mr Bean. He is impassive, to say the least: the nearest Tom Hardy’s Max comes to an emotional outburst is when Splendid does something very brave while hanging on to the side of the truck. Max gives her a little smile and boyish thumbs-up. It’s the Mad Max equivalent of hugging her and declaiming: “Darling, your courage is magnificent.” And when Nux wishes to express defiance or euphoria, he sprays his mouth with silver-grey paint, to make his face look even more like a skull. That is pretty dysfunctional.
At certain key moments, people’s body movements, especially Max’s, slightly speed up, giving the film a kind of dreamlike horror effect, which further colours the occasionally Dalí-esque strangeness of these feral militia on the landscape. Everything looks churned and charred: the heat and desert have turned everyone mad, like Max. As someone says: “Do not become addicted to water; it will take hold of you and you will resent its absence.” It could be a poster tagline for this entirely demented film.

The best 50 films of 2015 in the US
01. Son of Saul

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Michael Haneke / The Art of Screeenwriting

Michael Haneke
Michael Haneke

The Art of Screenwriting 

No. 5

Interviewed by Luisa Zielinski

Winter 2014
The Paris Review No. 211

Michael Haneke was born in 1942 to an Austrian mother and a German father. He spent his adolescence in Wiener Neustadt in the care of his aunt and grandmother before leaving for Vienna to study psychology, philosophy, and drama. It would be some years before he made his first feature film. Der siebente Kontinent (The Seventh Continent) (1989) tells the story of a young, well-to-do family and their dreams of immigrating to Australia. Predictably—in retrospect, for viewers familiar with Haneke’s work—that never happens. They flush their money down the toilet. They kill the goldfish and, next, themselves.
Since then, Haneke has maintained impressive consistency both in his choice of topics and in the stark, unflinching visual language of his films. This has earned him critics and admirers of equal ferocity. He is, depending on whom you ask, the minister of fear, a master of horrors, Europe’s greatest auteur, or simply a sadist. Although his films are considered violent, nearly all the physical violence occurs offscreen. His camera omits the brains-on-the-windshield clichés and torture porn of Hollywood. It lights, instead, on the everyday cruelties to which audiences are not yet numb: the petty acts of bullying, the failure to listen, the delusions of class and privilege. 
Haneke’s early films, such as Benny’s Video (1992) and 71 Fragmente einer Chronologie des Zufalls (71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance) (1994), largely escaped the attention of ­international audiences. Then, in 2001, La Pianiste, his adaptation of Elfriede Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher, was awarded the Grand Prix at Cannes, affording Haneke worldwide exposure. The next years saw the release of Caché (2005) and the American remake of Funny Games (2007), Haneke’s most ­severely cynical work, whose Austrian precursor had been released in 1997. For both Das weiße Band (The White Ribbon) (2009) and Amour (2012), he ­received the Palme d’Or at Cannes; the latter also won him the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In addition to his work in cinema, Haneke ­occasionally directs opera and teaches at the Filmakademie Wien.
Most of this interview was conducted in Haneke’s vast study in the  Vienna apartment he shares with his wife, Susi, an antiques dealer. Over
the next ten months, he patiently fielded my follow-up questions: curtly via e-mail, exuberantly on the phone. In person, Haneke was an impeccable—if occasionally strict—host. He floated vague promises of wine on the first night, only to deny me a glass: “We must work, Frau Zielinski!” On the second night, however, I arrived to a bottle of Mayer am Pfarrplatz Wiener Gemischter Satz. We finished it. 
Wine or no, Haneke is a spirited conversationalist who carefully weighs his bons mots and can send himself into fits of giggles. He speaks in the drawl of the Viennese haute bourgeoisie, which to Prussian ears sounds opulent and somewhat impenetrable—necessitating, as Haneke quipped, a ­double translation of this interview, from Austrian into German into English. 
Luisa Zielinski 
When you were young—say, a teenager—did you ever imagine that you would become a filmmaker, or was your focus on other arts? 
Like everyone in the throes of puberty, I started writing poems. But originally, I wanted to drop out of school to train as an actor. I’m from a family of actors—my mother was an actress and my father was an actor and director. One day I even decided to skip school and flee Wiener Neustadt for Vienna to audition at the Max Reinhardt Seminar. Everybody there knew my mother, and I considered myself amazingly gifted—it never occurred to me that they wouldn’t take me. But that’s what happened. I was livid. In the end, I did have to get my high school diploma. Then, as a student, I became more serious about writing. I also worked for radio and various magazines as a critic—I ended up reviewing literature and films although I didn’t actually know all that much.

The 50 best films of 2015 / Creed / No 37

The 50 besfilm

of 2015 

in thUS  

No 37 


Creed review – new Rocky movie is a split decision

 The end is original and exciting, but whether you want to put yourself through the ponderous rest of the movie depends on how much you like punishment

Jordan Hoffman

In Rocky III, Sylvester Stallone’s Italian Stallion devises a strategy to defeat Mr T’s Clubber Lang. He endures a devastating beating in the earlier rounds, which frustrates and exhausts his opponent. Just when he can take no more, Rocky springs to action at the end, and with powerful, dextrous blows, he finally knocks the baddie on his ear. Creed, the seventh film in the Rocky series, but the first neither written nor directed by Stallone, works in a similar manner. Its opening act is staggering in its inelegance, but the film keeps pounding through the predictable set-up and storyline until finally, when you think it can fight no longer and will have to throw in the towel, it charges back with some scenes of originality, pathos and, in ever-so-swift jabs, excitement. If you want to put yourself through this punishment, it’s probable you’ll come out the other end finding some merit.

While very much a two-hander, we don’t even see legendary Philadelphia bruiser Rocky Balboa until the 20-minute mark. Our lead is Adonis Johnson, played with great confidence by Michael B Jordan, re-teaming with director Ryan Coogler, with whom he made the vastly superior Fruitvale Station (newcomer Aaron Covington shares writing duties with Coogler). Johnson, an orphan in and out of juvie and group homes, was rescued at the age of 10 by Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), the widow of Rocky’s friend, foe and canvas soulmate, Apollo Creed. It turns out this lonely boy, prone to getting into scrapes, is the result of Creed’s marital infidelity, and is fated for greatness.
Mary Ann raises Adonis (called Donnie) in great wealth and, when he comes of age, he’s working in the financial sector in Los Angeles by day, but sneaking to a boxing circuit in Tijuana by night. Though it means breaking his adopted mother’s heart, he decides to find his destiny and look for a trainer who knows how to mould him. He comes to Philadelphia, looking for Rocky.

But Rocky has put boxing behind him, since his wife Adrian and his best pal Paulie have both died. But Donnie’s tenacity eventually wins him over, and, at the 45-minute mark, we’re treated to our first of several training montages, as Rocky agrees to take Donnie under his wing.
So much of what made the first Rocky film a success was rooting for the gentle giant who slurped raw eggs, reluctantly broke thumbs for the mob and was sweet on the socially awkward girl from the pet store. Man, that Rocky, he sure was a character. Donnie, as written, really isn’t all that interesting. He’s a kid with drive, but wrapped up in a lot of vague “I must reclaim my name” psychology. Far more interesting is neighbourhood girl Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a kind, earthy musician suffering from progressive hearing loss. (Her hearing aid is a throwback to the one Rocky’s old trainer Mickey wore.)

Bianca isn’t the only one with physical woes. It’s during a late-night spar that Rocky topples over, races to the hospital and learns that he has cancer. As a widower with all of life’s trophies behind him, Rocky declines treatment – but you know that decision isn’t going to last. “You fight, I’ll fight,” he agrees, and as Donnie hits the heavy bag, Rocky kneels over the bowl, vomiting from chemotherapy.

Donnie’s big shot is an out-of-nowhere dream, a mirror of what his father offered the unknown Italian Stallion in the first film. This time the title holder is a nasty, hot-headed Englishman (boooo!) named Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew). Conlan can’t even be in the same room with a challenger without throwing punches, but he wants to end his career with one more big win. When word gets out that Donnie is a long-lost Creed, it makes for the perfect showdown. And what better way for an old white man and young black man to join forces in these racially troubled times than in a symbolic recreation of the American revolution? (No offence to the British ticket-buyers, I’m sure.)
The family that emerges between Donnie, Rocky (whom Donnie calls “Unc”) and Bianca is a portrait of working-class sweetness. They live humbly and eat ice cream on a worn couch under a ratty blanket. Stallone’s self-deprecating humour is better than ever now that he has achieved complete sagaciousness, with the real-life Philadelphia statue of Rocky making an in-world cameo. The script may feature numerous wobbly passages in which everyone eerily states precisely what they are thinking (an unfortunate tradition that runs throughout the series) but if anyone can sell it, it’s Stallone and Jordan.

The big fight (and a shorter one beforehand) is indeed quite intense, mixing brutal hits and elegantly choreographed long takes. No, it’s not Raging Bull, but boxing once again proves to be the most cinematic of sports. It’s just unfortunate that so much of the lead-up is painfully hackneyed and overwritten. There are numerous cuts to television talking heads, awkward freeze-frames with printed stats, and endless chatter during the bout. The acting is good enough on its own and the material is hardly that complex. We do not need the yammering voice of God to express what Donnie and Rocky must be feeling with each landed blow.
Even more embarrassing is when the drama screeches to a halt after the match, as an interviewer shoves a microphone in our duo’s faces so they can tidy up their character arcs. In the original, this exact moment led to Rocky ignoring public spectacle for private drama, bellowing “Adrian!!!” from deep within his heart. With this one it sounds as if he’s telegraphing studio notes.
There’s an interesting theme in the film, in which Donnie puts aside his desire to do everything on his own as a Johnson and accepts the legacy of being a Creed. It’s as if Coogler realises there’s only so much he can accomplish with this story without settling into the groove established back in 1976. It’s not a knock against him; it’s when he’s harmonising with the past that the film works best. But Coogler is selective with his memories. Art museum steps – yes; slabs of frozen beef – no. Does Bill Conti’s triumphant theme make it onto the score? I’ll leave it to you to make the wager. My overall assessment of Creed is something of a split-decision, but there are a few instances where it’s a knockout.

The best 50 films of 2015 in the US
01. Son of Saul

The 50 best films of 2015 / Room / No 36

The 50 besfilm

of 2015 

in thUS  

No 36 


Room review: Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay escape confining adaptation

Director Lenny Abrahamson seems uncertain of how to translate Emma Donoghue’s novel to the big screen – but his cast appear more confident


Nigel M Smith
Saturday 5 September 2015 07.58 BST

mma Donoghue’s novel Room was a literary sensation soon after its publication in 2010 – and rightfully so. Told from the perspective of Jack, a five-year-old boy who knows nothing outside of the small room he and his mother have lived in for his whole life, it’s an unsettling story of survival that’s life-affirming without being overtly manipulative. The triumph of the novel lies in how deftly Donoghue enters the psyche of a sheltered young boy – no easy feat.

Lenny Abrahamson is the man behind the inevitable big screen adaption, and while the film boasts exemplary performances, it fails to register on a level as profound as its source due to its director’s sometimes shaky grip on the material. The script, meanwhile – courtesy of Donoghue herself – distills the essence of the book without foregoing its elemental power.
Relative newcomer Jacob Tremblay is a startling revelation as Jack, a long-haired boy completely oblivious to the everyday struggle his mother goes through to find the will to live. In the lead role, Brie Larson registers as numb to the pain she’s been forced to endure since being kidnapped and held captive by a menacing man Jack only knows as Old Nick.
There’s no way around it: on paper, the subject material is grim and unforgiving. But seen through’s Jack’s eyes, their shared everyday existence is oddly whimsical and intimate. After all, it’s all he knows.

That factor is what made Donoghue’s novel a pleasure not a chore. But on film, the overall effect can be cloying, largely thanks to a superfluous voiceover, as well as an overwrought score that’s more annoying than affecting.
Abrahamson also unwisely cheats the child’s perspective to allow more breathing room for Larson’s character and their captor, Old Nick. In doing so, he removes the wonder and dread that made Donoghue’s story so compelling and unique.

Brie Larson and Lenny Abrahamson attend a screening of 'Room' during the BFI London

He exhibits more confidence behind the lens in Room’s second, more involving, act, when the action shifts to outside the shack that Joy and Jack call home. Jack’s inability to connect with his new environment is devastatingly rendered, aided tremendously by Tremblay’s remarkably credible performance, and Larson’s palpable pain. Joan Allen and William H Macy lend stellar support as Larson’s bereaved parents.
If anything, Room proves Abrahamson as a master actor’s director. The overall vision, however, is muddled.

The best 50 films of 2015 in the US
01. Son of Saul