Thursday, 28 February 2013

No Review

Director: Pablo Larraín

Writer: Pedro Peirano

Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Nestor Cantillana, Antonia Zegers, Luis Gnecco, Alejandro Goic

Synopsis: During Chile’s 1988 referendum the Government implemented two advertising campaigns for a new election. It included a “Yes” and “No” cause for Augusto Pinochet. No focuses on the “No” campaign and one young advertising executive, René Saavedra (Bernal), and his method and work towards defeating Pinochet.

No may be a relatively small film – with low production costs and no star-studded cast – but it makes an assured impression. Tonally it’s quite unique, becoming a quaint political thriller/drama (not your average description of that type of genre).  However, the stand-out feature of the film is arguably its aesthetic – filmed with a U-Matic and looking incredibly old-school, No looks so different to the RED or 2K A-grade cameras of today that it immediately grabs your attention.

The seemingly archaic aesthetic, laced with blurred lines and crackly pixels, is jarring at first. Once your eyes adjust to the HD-free cinematography the style does, in fact, become unnoticeable and perfectly fitting for the capturing of the era and events.

Much like the advertising agenda of the film, No is very clever at hitting all the right notes in order for it to get noticed. First off, the lead actor, Gael Garcia Bernal, has a fantastic screen presence who perfectly embodies the everyman hero. Watching as he controls the advertising campaign (experiencing comedy, peril and romance along the way) is fascinating, more so due to the character being a young man in the company of tired, old officials. Under the circumstances of taking on an established power figure, Bernal’s character does find himself on the wrong paths; these scenes are particularly tense sandwiched between dialogue-heavy or (contrasting) comic moments. The aforementioned scenes of heavy dialogue are the only drawback to the film, leaving No to drag in certain places where action and rumination are mismatched in the narrative’s arrangement.

The light-hearted nature of No will be one helpful factor in generating a wider audience (along with its Oscar nomination). The theme song created for the “No” campaign will inevitably get stuck in your head for weeks and the general “kill them with kindness” efforts of the adverts shown will additionally remain memorable. Those not particularly interested in politics should be able to find something in No, whether it be the humour or the execution of the campaign. Because of what No aims to show you and the level of strangeness in the “No” operation, it becomes a striking film deserving of audiences and accolades.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms

Monday, 11 February 2013

The Walking Dead Season 3 Episode 9 Review

Much to some readers’ consternation, I felt the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead’s third season wasn’t all that wonderful. It was still energetic, visceral and enjoyable (bettering the majority of contemporary television) but was noticeably poorer than the 7 episodes that had preceded it. Returning after a two-month hiatus, The Walking Dead still stands as one of the best programmes currently airing, but episode 9 is nonetheless overshadowed by the several seminal episodes.

Major Spoilers Follow

Season 2 was flawed by a bitterly slow series of events – a problem dealt with perfectly during the start of the third season. Whilst “The Suicide King” never becomes too sluggish, there are some issues with the pacing, mostly a decision to rush through events. Given the relatively long break from episode 8 to 9 airing, the best thing to have done is to take things steady with the action. I found episode 8’s Woodbury infiltration and escape frantically shot and edited, ruining some of the tension. The same can be said for episode 9 which starts off with Daryl and Merle pitted against one another in a fight to the death. This was the cliff-hanger clincher for me last December – something I was eager to see the result of – but takes a mere few minutes to end at the start of the season’s second half. Just a few more shots on the brothers’ faces (showing their turmoil/anger/fear) would have sufficed and brought a bit more drama to the set-piece.

Despite this, the second infiltration by Rick and Maggie brilliantly builds on the new “Rick versus The Governor” story arc. The Governor coolly walking through the smoke grenade’s smog is now the new iconic image of The Walking Dead’s conflict. It shows the possible end to Woodbury – a point lingered on for the right amount of time. The best piece of damning evidence to Woodbury’s survival is a gap in the gate, with a classic-looking zombie drooling and moaning before it.

With The Governor knowing of Rick et al’s hide-out, the prison may also become a doomed locale. However, before that happens there is still some change happening there to keep you interested. For one, there is the new group currently housed in the cell next to Hershel, Carl, Beth and Judith. They all seem pleasant and humbly concerned about their future with or without the prison lot. But one member changes your perception when he mentions knocking off Carol and Carl in order to get their guns. The leader, Tyreese, is shocked by the idea, yet it can’t erase the idea in the audiences’ mind that they may not be as innocent as they appear.

There isn’t much development with the new crowd that warrants immediate attention; all concern goes towards Daryl leaving his borrowed family for his blood one. Daryl is an integral part of the show – Rick’s right-hand man and one of the most beloved characters. As he trudges off with his evil brother there is a definite drop in the show’s credit (how it will last without Daryl or how they’ll bring him back is now a haunting question).

What marks the series as a well-acclaimed one is its ability to deal well with certain themes. The overarching ones will always be loss, survival and humanity, though each episode usually contains a specific one. Episode 9 looks closer at Rick’s madness and also the clashes between counter-communities (Woodbury and the prison). For the latter, there is a sense of the community degenerating – whether it’s the take-over of Woodbury with zombies or its people wanting to leave, or Daryl leaving Rick and co for the prison lot – showing a slightly mirrored image of decay. Rick’s tortured mind is a theme seen only in snippets since Lori’s death. As the episode finishes he looks up a Shakespearian-type ghost of Lori, cloaked in shadow on the upper floor of the cell. As a programme continually promoting horror or scares, this is one of the most upsetting images to date. Not only does it reveal Rick as a broken, disillusioned man, it also draws on paranoia and phantoms – prime material for creeping you out.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on Flickering Myth

Friday, 8 February 2013

Holy Motors Review

Director/ Writer: Leos Carax

Starring: Denis Lavant, Edith Scob, Eva Mendes, Kylie Minogue, Elise Lhomeau, Michel Piccoli

Synopsis: A day in the life of Monsieur Oscar (Lavant), a man travelling in his limousine to a string of “appointments” where, in each, he takes on a new identity and agenda.

One of the leading film critics, André Bazin, titled a series of essays “What is cinema?” (“Qu’est-ce que le cinema?); it was, and still is, a question of great debate and discussion. Often, when looking at the meaning of film the subject itself becomes introspective. From the glitzy, comic reflections of Singin’ in the Rain, to the topic of the viewer in Cinema Paradiso, or the surreal machinations of narrative and characterisation in Holy Motors – cinema continually draws attention to its own workings and effects.

Leos Carax’s Holy Motors is arguably one of the oddest films (not only in terms of its style, but in general) of late to instigate examination. Like most art-house films this is a film that will thrill some whilst alienate others. Its premise is never completely explained – nor seemingly concluded upon – leaving some fascinated long after watching it, or annoying others with its ambiguity.

Whilst it’s understandable to consider the latter, it is the former that is truer in Holy Motor’s evaluation. The presence is simple to explain, more difficult to assess – a man’s odyssey through Paris serving “appointments” in different guises, for a reason relatively unknown. It is a joy and challenge to watch; it cries for a studious analysis that would add to your wonderment.

Denis Lavant in the lead role is astonishing. He is predominantly named Mr. Oscar yet is a man of many names and faces. As he puts on his make-up and costumes he totally transforms himself. You can never completely know the character(s) he plays but Lavant never makes them too mysterious or too distant either – in every one he adds a nuance to the performance to generate audiences’ engagement. His acting abilities are wonderfully on show here, with none of the supporting cast getting the slightest bit close to stealing the show.

The 8 and a half (possible reference to Fellini’s ?) appointments he goes to are excellently enigmatic. Some scenes are aesthetically great (the motion-capture dance is one of the best scenes of film 2012) and some are curiously captivating (the crazed hobo and doppelganger hit-man being two brilliant bits). Not all are that interesting and the much-required second viewing may have you smiling at the anticipation of your favourite segment or sighing at the prospect of another.

Holy Motors is a wholly weird film laced with cinephilia. It will appeal to the cine-literate crowd and perhaps misunderstood by the average filmgoer. In whatever case, it still deserves a watch just to expand your appreciation of imagination and storytelling. Carax never gives you a straight answer to what it’s all about though it doesn’t really matter; you will never forget at least a third of the film for its sheer insanity.

DVD Extras: Excellent hour-long interview with director Leos Carax. Deleted Scenes that should remain ignored as some ruin the allure of the final film. Basic trailer. ***

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on Flickering Myth