Amidst the madness of JDIFF 2015 we still managed to find our way into the cinema for a few new releases…
Note: This list is of course by no means complete, we’re only rankin’ wot we seez.
Note 2: Where two films get the same rating they’re ranked alphabetically
Morgan Matthews’ X&Y is a beautifully made film which tells the story of a group who are very poorly represented on-screen – those with Asperger’s, in this case Nathan, a teenage boy. We recognise Asa Butterfield as “Hugo” from the Scorsese picture of the same name or the 8-year-old Bruno in “Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”, but his performance here is much more mature and nuanced than anything we’ve seen from him before.
Films about mathematics and people with intellectual gifts are always presented weirdly on-screen. Instantly the vision of numbers flying around the screen, strained brows and squinting, and frantic blackboard scratchings come to mind (Good Will Hunting, A Beautiful Mind, The Theory of Everything). Here Matthews’ takes a different approach and instead alludes more to what goes on in Nathan’s life than in his head. He is a boy without any friends who doesn’t fit in and slowly finds allies in the shape of maths tutor Humphries (Rafe Spall) and a cast of fellow “mathletes” representing Great Britain at the International Mathematical Olympiad, spending the middle chunk of the film on location at Maths training in Taiwan.
It falls down with the teenage romance angle which doesn’t work, with the true heart of the film lying with Sally Hawkins as Nathan’s mother. She is superb and brings a relatability to a film primarily about characters residing at either end of the introvert/extrovert scale. Her husband and Nathan’s Dad was killed in a tragic car accident when he was just a child and really they’ve never gelled or recovered from that loss. The story is as much about their journey to a belated new beginning as it is maths – with this theory (badum tish) being proven by Matthews’ brave choice of ending.
A film unfairly slammed by critics who seem to have misunderstood just what director Neil Blomkamp was trying to create. What we’ve ended up with here is one of the most carefree, fun films you can imagine which wears its heart on its sleeve and is proudly aimed at an audience of boys just on the verge of puberty.
CHAPPiE is set in the near future in a PG-version of dangerous Johannesburg. It tells the story of Deon (Dev Patel), who has developed robots to run a machine-based police force but do not think for themselves, following a strict set of guidelines for their action. Deon is a simple soul and really wants to develop robots with true Artificial Intelligence, much to the chagrin of his boss (Sigourney Weaver in trouser-suit heaven) and mullet-wearing bushwhacker Hugh Jackman, who favours heavier warfare with robots powered remotely by humans. Everything goes wrong when Deon unwittingly creates a robot (“Chappie”) who can think and feel for itself, and who gets into a world of mischief when under the tutelage of some brilliant rappers playing gangsters (Ninja and Yolandi of the rap-rave group Die Antwoord having great fun).
Does the film hold up to any philosophical or technical scrutiny? Absolutely not. Is it great fun? Yes indeed. Alongside its perfunctory and zippy script is a wealth of cartoon character-like villains and scenarios which packs in some great action set-pieces and laughs. Blomkamp has created a welcoming, technicolour dystopia and Chappie himself calls to mind the “out of their depth” creations seen in the likes of E.T., Big Hero 6 and Short Circuit.
Kim Longinotto’s documentary about sex workers in Chicago is not easy-viewing. Her style is to just observe and let her subjects reveal themselves and because these women have been through so much, you’re left pulled apart by the choices they’ve been forced to make. Time after time, we’re exposed to the cycle of neglect, exploitation and abuse that so many of these women have found themselves in, as they now struggle to break free and hit reset in a series of stories that would fit in well in the NPR “This American Life” radio series.
At the centre of the world is the sex worker-turned outreach volunteer Brenda Myers-Powell who calls to mind Oprah Winfrey if she’d ended up on a very different path in early life. Brenda’s comfort with the camera and the people around her is remarkable and she is the reason the film works so well, without her it might almost feel exploitative of the exploited.
A delightful tale of one girls love and special bond with her beloved dog Hagen. The girl’s father is not so enamoured with the canine and casts him out onto the road when she must stay with him. We then have a Huckleberry Finn type adventure story as Hagen must learn to live on the streets and all the tribulations it brings.
The film changes drastically mid stream and audiences must choose to go with it or not. It’s an emotional film where the feelings and experiences of the animals are so more visceral and engaging than their human counterparts. An original story and impressive feat in making one of the most well developed characters who you deeply care about, a dog.
The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (kaguyahime No Monogatari)
Studio Ghibli has already cemented its legacy in the annals of film history, regarded as one of the finest studios in operation today. Their latest offering The Tale of The Princess Kaguya is certainly one of the most beautiful films you will see this year combining poignant water colours with charcoal etchings.
It tells the story of a tiny baby girl being sent down in a bamboo shoot and into the care of an older couple. She grows at an usual rate and her surrogate parents pushed mainly by the father believe her to be a princess and therefore must start to act like one. They move to the city where Kaguya is basically imprisoned within a mansion and has her free tomboy like spirit broken into a conformist Geisha with white face and black teeth.
All the characters are incredibly one dimensional, a dotting caring mother, an overbearing father who means well but does almost everything against his daughter’s wishes while Princess Kaguya herself must lead a cloistered life, waiting to be married off like a possession to the highest bidder.
While based on a 10th century Japanese folk tale called “The Tale of The Bamboo Cutter”, it is obvious that social norms of the time will jar with current practices but this still makes for depressing viewing. There seems to be no comment on these practices merely a telling of the tale which seems like a missed opportunity.
At just shy of 2 hours and twenty minutes this is certainly felt towards the end. The reveal of Kaguya’s origins doesn’t seem to gel with the rest of the film and comes as quite a shock which up until that point had contained some fantastical elements but stayed mainly grounded in reality.
Unquestionably an amazing feat in animation terms, it’s unfortunate the story-telling couldn’t quite match the same heights.
Ryan Reynolds has a slight departure from form in this quirky slasher film from Persepolis director Marjane Satrapi. He works in the production floor of a bathroom manufacturer and we realise soon enough he’s there as part of a bail condition. Regular meetings with a court appointed psychologist also start to shed some light on the fact that all not might be 100% with Jerry. Oh and there’s the fact his cat and dog talk to him either prompting or preventing him from committing murder.
The film’s supporting cast (Anna Kendrick, Jemma Arterton), while good have little to do as it really all is the Ryan Reynolds show. People have been surprised by his performance but I think he gets cast in a harsh light having put in good performances before in the Amityville Horror remake and Buried. He performs all the animal voices within the film, showcasing his vocal talents as well as his acting chops. A tad cliched and an ending that doesn’t quite work, The Voices is an entertaining distraction but nothing more.
Run All Night
Liam Neeson is finally heading off to make a real film once again, this time in the shape of Martin Scorsese’s Silence which sees him playing a Jesuit priest in sixteenth century Japan – in other words, some proper acting befitting of a man of his vintage.
He signs off from the dumbo action genre with a strong performance, that shares more in common with his entry-point (Taken, 2008) than any of the dross he showed up in last year (avoid A Walk Among The Tombstones at all costs).
Run All Night sees him playing Jimmy, a washed-up old hard-man who has to go toe-to-toe with his former boss (Ed Harris having fun as an Irish-American Bronx mobster) after their two sons become embroiled in a bloody battle. The plot is a little convoluted and tired at times, but Joel Kinnaman (as Jimmy’s son) elicits enough empathy for the audience to buy into their fractured relationship.
The action is solid, New York looks great and Neeson is impossible not to root for. Unlike last year’s Non-Stop, this is a perfectly decent airplane movie.
Goodbye To Language 3D
When people go to make a skit about art house films or deride the genre, Goodbye To Language 3D is exactly the type of film they imagine. An experiment in the medium of 3D with a scatted narrative that is often quite hard to decipher.
The strengths of the film come in the camera trickery involving the 3D at times makes your eyes unsure just what you are seeing. A film that has to be seen in the cinema and makes a unique instrument of 3D this film would feel more at home in an art gallery as opposed to a movie theatre.