Ceci n’est pas un list (2013)

The Great Beauty (Swide)

By Barbara Goslawski

I love other people’s year-end reviews and ‘Best of’ lists.  I enjoy the debate that happens within and between these lists as each individual, and group, sets out their own parameters for a coherent overview. But god, I hate composing my own. However, I just needed to find a way to view 2013 and communicate it clearly to others while providing a meaningful point of view.

This is by no means a “Best Films of 2013” list. These are, in no particular order, my picks that provided me with “Holy shit!” moments – those serious cinematic experiences that make this sometimes cynical Cinephile stop in wonder.

A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhang-ke)

Sophisticated visual and thematic depth inform an intricate narrative scheme to lift the four seemingly unrelated tales into a profoundly universal sphere. Teeming with unforgettable moments and images and tropes, this film demanded my attention right from the outset. A wealth of cinematic riches in a single masterful vision, I’ll still be bubbling over with newfound enthusiasm after my tenth or twentieth viewing.

Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley)

Family stories, family lies, family secrets: fact and fiction blur in this illuminating and deeply cogent investigation into the nature of personal truth. Bold, yet not brash.

Jingle Bell Rocks (Mitchell Kezin)

I love Christmas as much as the next person but it has become increasingly difficult to understand why in the face of relentless commercialization. Force of habit, it seemed, until this film poked through all the cloying sentiment and provided an alternative view worth sharing. This film bears repeat viewings as my future holiday tradition. Yes, the ending is kinda predictable but sometimes it’s lovely to see things come to fruition.

Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen)

Another intricate Coen Bros. puzzle portrait of a time, place and person that zigs when you expect a zag, and keeps the tone refreshingly complex and yet familiar. Startling in the manner in which they can mix unrelated conventions into an unlikely mix to reimagine genre and expectations, proving once again that it’s not always easy to label a Coen Bros. film. Thankfully.

Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine)

Yes, he’s usually more obviously cutting-edge, but a slight stare inwards quickly reveals that Korine is cleverly lampooning the very façade that he builds up. Over the top, of course, but unexpectedly refined at its core.

Siddarth (Richie Mehta)

This director made some brilliant aesthetic and dramatic choices while operating within a landscape that would have tempted others to remain myopic and sentimental. Shocking in its subtlety, and haunting in its erudite mix of poetry with realism.

The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino)

A love letter to Rome, it’s also a piercing celebration of a modern society in an ancient city, in all its glories and pitfalls: finally the term Fellini-esque has a thoughtful implication. The film is a decadent banquet that also provides necessary palette cleansers.  It’s the proverbial wild ride, but one that lands in an unexpectedly gracious place.

15 Reasons to Live (Alan Zweig)

Another admitted list-avoider, Zweig’s solution is to incorporate input from others even as he masterfully shapes the delicate trajectory of this film, such as it is. The film moves more with an emotional logic, acumen being a matter of course. Understated but nonetheless uplifting (and no, Zweig has not gone sentimental on us).

Gloria Victoria – 3D (Theodore Ushev)

Russian constructivism in animated 3D motion. Slight gestures and shapes echo and repeat upon themselves to take on meaning in an ever-increasing rhythmic push to bring forth the lifeblood of its subject.

Impromptu – 3D (Bruce Alcock)

The magic of a single line animated and moving through time, while simultaneously encapsulating and realizing a world of possibilities. Simply glorious.

Portrait As A Random Act of Violence (Randall Okita)

Revelling in the joy of pure movement, a simple act becomes a moment of transformation. Not an easy experience to put into words and yet the metaphoric implications abound.

Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée)

Two magnetic powerhouse performances are intricately knotted into a context where it becomes obvious that the filmmaker knew when to step back and not interfere. I rarely credit performances for being intrinsic to the creation of a great piece of cinema, but this film’s filmmaker-actor dynamic turns what would’ve been a great film into an outstanding one.

Oldboy review

Oldboy poster (Wikiedpia)

By Barbara Goslawski

It’s as if Spike Lee didn’t even have a fighting chance. His latest endeavour, Oldboy, is a remake of Park Chan-wook’s film of the same name, a modern-classic South Korean revenge-action-thriller which won the celebrated Palme D’or (2003). Notice that I didn’t call it Spike Lee’s Oldboy or refer to it as one of his “joints.” That’s because, although slightly reworked for American audiences, it is almost an exact replica of the original. In fact, Spike Lee’s effort really has no identity as a film in its own right. Park’s film has simply been re-made. Whatever personal touches Lee may have added (admittedly few considering his last few films) are lost opportunities lingering in the air of the cinema.

But I should temper my frustration with the admission that Josh Brolin’s performance in the lead as Joe Doucett is almost strong enough to salvage this effort. Almost. Oldboy tells the story of a man who is kidnapped, and mysteriously imprisoned in a hotel room for 20 years (15 in the original). When he is suddenly released, he naturally seeks to find out why and to exact vengeance on an unseen enemy. Unseen until the last quarter when, unfortunately, Sharlto Copley steps up to the plate to deliver a jaw-dropping spoof of Austin Powers attempting a serious role.

Is it even fair to compare a remake to its predecessor: two different cultures; two different points-of-view? Of course, details change in the transfer. Spike Lee turns Doucett into a hard character to like at first: a train-wreck of an alcoholic as selfish as he is angry. Once trapped, we almost expect an easy answer.  It’s got to be someone he’s insulted.  In the remake there is greater attention placed on vengeance on which this film relies.  Otherwise, the film would move too slowly for its target audience.

In Park’s film, Oh Dea-Su is an ordinary man caught up in a shockingly unusual situation. The strength of that film is its pacing and the director’s rigid control: like a lion playing with its prey, Park deliberately relies on a repetitive structure, one that accentuates the psychological torture of the imprisonment and the seemingly never-ending restriction.

Regardless of where one stands on the whole issue of how to judge a remake, you just can’t escape the urge to compare in this case. Lee is constantly harkening back to the original in this film. There are endless direct references that remind us that this film is a remake. Seriously, does Doucett have to be tortured with Asian dumplings?

There is nothing in the new version to convince me that it was logical for Spike Lee to remake it. Since Do The Right Thing, he has not had much in the way of a style that anyone can speak of. Plenty of justifiable anger but no characteristic methodology behind it: just confusing attempts to be artsy (mostly with odd camera angles). In Oldboy, Lee uses a lot of extreme hand-held close-ups – not only is Doucett’s inner turmoil exposed, but we are drawn into his point-of-view. This at least helps us bond with him while imprisoned. Otherwise, Lee’s style in this film is pretty sloppy; nothing noteworthy, just pedestrian filmmaking. It’s got a dark, gritty look but that’s about it. And one of the most cartoonish, painfully melodramatic endings I’ve ever seen.

Oldboy is now in theatres.

Only God Forgives review

 

By Arthur Yeung

The dreamteam consisting of director Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhalla Rising) and leading man Ryan Gosling (The Notebook) who delivered us Drive dazzle again with Only God Forgives. Julian (Gosling) must confront his brother’s killer and mother played by an amazingly villainous Kristin Scott Thomas, who arrives in a typically exotic-looking Bangkok to bury her eldest son and rejuvenate the family’s drug empire. Between punches of eroticism and flashes of gore, not all audience members will be down with the subtle pacing and meticulous art direction. But those who succumb to Refn’s world where the hero rarely breaks his stone-face and wooden gait (aided by the dressiest and most versatile pair of black boots) will find a lot to chew on in this highly stylized film.

Opens July 19 in theatres Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and VOD.

Frameline returns to Radio Regent from Summer break on Thursday, August 29.

Spring Breakers review: Grrrls on Top

 

By Barbara Goslawski

Spring break is the epitome of excess. In the movies, this yearly ritual lends itself to simplistic depictions of the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll variety. It also raises the shackles of us feminists who don’t want to see another exploitive film about girls. Until now. Harmony Korine in Spring Breakers toys with these conventional trappings to the point of spinning this genre on its head. The result is oddly exhilarating in a completely unexpected way: Korine creates a film that I can only describe as uncomfortably brilliant.

Read the rest of Barbara Goslawski’s impassioned review here.

Frameline returns to Radio Regent from Summer break on Thursday, August 29.