Blue Jasmine – Talent Never Dies

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MOVIE REVIEW

Blue Jasmine
Perdido Productions, US
98 Min
2.35:1
UK Release: 27th September, 2013

DIR Woody Allen
EXEC Leroy Schecter, Adam B. Stern, Jack Rollins
PROD Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson
SCR Woody Allen
DP Javier Aguirresarobe
CAST Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Sarsgaard, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay,Michael Stuhlbarg, Max Casella, Alden Ehrenreich, Tammy Blanchard

Woody Allen is at his finest with Blue Jasmine. Many were disappointed with To Rome with Love last year, as they expected big things from a follow up of the runaway success Midnight in Paris. Blue Jasmine might just be what fans were expecting. It reminds us of Allen’s seemingly infinite capabilities to make great films – 49 so far!

Allen may be on form as a director, he plays the narrative back and forth to great effect, but it is Cate Blanchet’s sterling performance as Jasmine – the socialite fugitive – that blew my mind. She is a character fuelled by excessive amounts of vodka and Xanax, horrified to be stuck inside her body and corrupting life; she is a train-wreck on legs. Of course, this may all sound drastically over the top and exhausting, but Blanchet pulls it together with immanent perfection and knocks me for six.

After being married to a bourgeois lifestyle through her slimy husband, Hal (played adequately by Alec Baldwin), a crook powered by investment, Jasmine embarks on a new life residing with her sister, Ginger, in the pits of San Francisco. Sally Hawkins gives a marvelous performance as Ginger, who works at a grocery store and lives a second-rate life, getting ramshackled by shady men; this is how Jasmine views it at least, hence the divergence between the two ‘sisters’.

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Allen’s script is impeccably sharp, weaving in an array of pessimistic thoughts and people around Jasmine; nothing is left unaccounted for. Jasmine struggles to deal with Ginger’s current boyfriend and the thought of going near his ‘mate’, who is eager to get friendly (wink, wink). It is painful to watch her attempt to come to terms with working-class life, having to work as a receptionist for a dentist who, to say the least, has some troubles of his own. Then, a rich, voguish man who falls acutely in love with Jasmine lures her in. His high hopes are to be devastated by consequences of Jasmine’s instabilities and lies. Meanwhile, Ginger is off on her own adventures, once again leading to misfortune. It’s a glamorous series of dismay for nearly all Allen’s characters in this melancholy script.

The film has less humor than Allen’s previous. Indeed, some may find the film too abrasive, and consequently may struggle to find empathy in any of the characters. However, Jasmine is so harrowingly tangible, you’d have to be inhuman not to find any compassion hidden away. This said, Bobby Cannavale, as Chili, Ginger’s apprehensive boyfriend, is occasionally apathetic and brings some form of levity to scenes that would otherwise be screaming with domestic perplexity.

Blue Jasmine is full of characters making the wrong decisions. It’s Streetcar Named Desire terrain as the domestics pile up. It is flawless, in a catastrophic and unforgiving way. Maybe these aren’t the themes people were expecting but that’s just unfortunate. Nevertheless, this is still a very entertaining film, and a beautiful one at that.

5 stars!

Short of the Week: Knife Point

My short film of the week: Knife Point

I’m not exactly keen on short horror films, but this film absolutely nails the genre to a pole.

There is a creepy essence throughout the film, you’re never sure which route it will take. It’s an awkward, warped type of suspense, which will leave you at ‘Knife Point’ of the malfunctioning human mind.

This film is worth your time, it has cinematic roots and a dark, moody undertone (beautifully shot by Chris Dapkins). It is slow, but anything from formulaic.

The film is directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis who is currently working on his debut feature (more info).

I hope you enjoy it:

 

Other honorable mentions this week:

Cargo – Another horror film that defies popular convention. It somehow manages to put empathy and human nature into a zomblie flick – watch it online here.

Wretched – A gritty drama acting out the dark trappings of drug addiction and relationship insecurities – watch it online here.

The Limelight Index: David Anthony Thomas – Writer/Director/Actor

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David Anthony Thomas is a filmmaker from Newcastle. He is currently in the process of embarking on a feature length project. I was lucky enough to catch up with him and ask a few questions about what got him where he is now, what to expect and his interests as a filmmaker.

David, as a writer, director and actor, what first sparked off your real interest in filmmaking?

I don’t come from an arty family, and it’s really bizarre that for as long as I remember I always wanted to work in the arts. I decided I would be an actor from a young age when others at school still all wanted to be firemen or ballerinas. I’ve been acting since I was 8 years old and doing it professionally since I was 10. I started off by working in theatre and I learnt so much working with and in such close proximity to some of the all-time great directors like Greg Doran. I started doing film and TV a few years later and began fall in love with filmmaking. I eventually made the move behind the camera and it seems to have turned out well.

Who are your influences?

I’ve loved Joe Wright’s work since Pride and Prejudice and I also love the old Ealing films. I’m a huge fan of British cinema and British characters, British stories and British history are always at the forefront of my mind when I write, because I think it’s important that our culture reflects our identity. However I’ve always thought I’ve been more inspired by authors and playwrights than by filmmakers, and perhaps this is why we do things a bit differently.

Your main body of work is in period dramas, what attracted you to this particular genre?

It has to be working for so long in theatre. Working with the RSC early on opened the door to the possibility of setting something in different eras, as it’s somewhat easier to pull off in the theatre. I grew up thinking “Why should cinema be different? Why should everything we make be set here and now?” Most people make the transition to that way of thinking later on, but the assumption that everything should be in a contemporary setting because it’s easier to make is just laziness to me when there are so many great untold stories still out there. Solitary Trees, for example, is set in 1940, but it’s still a very modern film about the role the press plays in British politics. The historical aspect just gives it a new angle.

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The Brontes, will be your debut feature film, how did this project all start?

I did a location scout up on the moors outside of Haworth when a film I shot called Love Thy Neighbour was screening at the Bradford International Film Festival. That film eventually became The Business of the Day that was screened at Cannes and Cyprus, but it was actually during the shoot that suddenly everything just hit me: I saw everything and realised that this needed to be done. I swear that the Brontes drew me there and wanted me to tell their story because of the suddenness and intensity of it, I’ve never experienced anything like it before. I kept going back up to the moors throughout the development and pre-production of Solitary Trees and getting a bit more every time, and I’d always have my notebook so I could just sit and write it all down by hand – I never do that but the words just kept flowing.

Do you find it a big risk taking on a biographical project of this nature? How much of your own creative input will there be in the story?

Not really, no. Challenging, but certainly not risky. I know the Brontes and all of their works through and through. We’re collaborating with anyone we can find with specialist knowledge on the subject and we’ve got a fantastic, world-beating team together. It would be dangerous to be arrogant about it and project anything I want to put across in a film using the Brontes as my characters, not to mention completely inappropriate. It’s about letting them tell their own story through the medium of film. It’s about the empowerment of women, about social issues and identity, so to an extent I understand my role is as much of an editor as a writer, using their own words and works where I can to piece together a strong narrative about their lives. When I look at it as a director, I then feel the freedom to tell the story knowing that the script is there and will keep me in check.

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Can we expect any prominent names, cast or crew, from the independent circuit to be cast?

Definitely, and likely from the studio circuit too.

Can we look forward to any important dates for the movies future?

The only date that we’ve revealed so far is Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday in April 2016. We’re planning something really big for it and that will be the film’s official unveiling.

Finally, can you give any parting advice for young filmmakers on the industry?

I can tell you that working in theatre, film and television is a lifestyle, not a job. I can tell you it’s one of the most rewarding lives to lead but it can also be incredibly tough, and most people don’t think of that going into it. Make sure you’re in it for the right reasons and treat your contemporaries like collaborators, not competition. You’re all in it together and you’re in it for the long hall so you can definitely benefit from helping each other out.

Never use the excuse that you’re “just” a student or “just starting out” to allow for mistakes or corners to be cut. If you’re calling yourself a director you should act and behave like one and you should maintain high standards and ask the same of your crew. Raising a budget to at least feed them, pay expenses and getting some quality equipment may not seem like much but it certainly makes a statement of intent and often your cast will give you that little bit more. Look after your cast and crew and they’ll look after you.

Also most young filmmakers, it seems like, make the same film over and over again. If you’ve seen a film about drugs, Facebook or dating in your film school or on your course for the past three years running, you should probably think about making something else. No festival selection committee will care that you insist yours is the better project because they’ve been told it all before. An understanding of your audience and your platform for exhibition is vital.

Thank you David.

There’s a lot to learn here. I particularly like what David said about culture reflecting our identity and treating your contemporaries as collaberators and not competition. Everyone should support each others work positively, after all how will the industry ever thrive if we’re not all in it together? David has definitely made a strong statement by delving away from common contemporary themes like drugs and the internet (as he mentions), and it has definitely worked for him and made a strong impact. Try and be different, it appears one of the few ways (or dare I say only) to make a stand in this industry.

Find David on IMDB here.

You can support his current projects on Facebook: Solitary Trees and The Brontes

The Call – Should you take it?

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Probably not…

Brad Anderson’s The Call is a cluttered B-thriller with a tight clasp, but very little personality.

Anderson’s The Machinist was an incredible divergence into the mind of the insomniac male (executed to sincere perfection by Christian Bale). It was a chilling ride, one that continued out of the cinema door and infiltrated your dreams. However, with Anderson’s The Call, we are sent on an intense and suspenseful adventure, only to be gatecrashed of everything fresh and intriguing in the third act.

The Call takes us into the high-stakes world of an LA 911 operator. This proves to be an interesting insight, as the emergency call centre setting isn’t something I can recall being explored much in film. It is totally immersive. Thus, the film gets off to a flying start. Halle Berry’s resourcefulness is tested after a terrified young woman (Abigail Breslin) phones from the trunk of the car of a serial killer who’s just kidnapped her. This is an edge of your seat premise. D’Ovidio was onto something here, a classic crime thriller could have been crafted from the elements laid forth – this wasn’t to be acknowledged by Anderson or D’Ovidio (where is David Fincher when you need him?)

It appears that most of Berry’s life is spent behind her desk in “the hive” as co-workers call it – this also happens to be where most the movie is set. It is a work-centric environment and even one that her handsome LAPD officer boyfriend (Morris Chestnut) is part of. It therefore has far greater impact when Berry can’t handle work anymore, as she blames herself for a misstep. This misstep condemns a teenage girl to be summoned to a shallow grave; Berry consequently joins the workforce training new operators instead. However, this is short-lived when, six months later, the veteran reluctantly takes over a call as the young operator couldn’t handle the pressure. This call comes from the girl (Abigail Breslin) who is locked in the trunk of the car.

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Once it is evident the car boot has a shovel in it, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the kidnapper is the same one from six months earlier. You can predict that things will get personal for Berry, in fact very personal, as the realization causes Berry to almost self-destruct.

The serial killer is offbeat, as one might expect, but Michael Eklund plays a twitchy, restless killer who looks as though he may have dropped some acid before each take. Eklund’s character is easily spooked and seems highly unprepared. This had me puzzled because he had a grand underground lair devoted to torturing young blonde teens – a little confusing for such a chaotic man.

The entire premise wouldn’t work without the fact that Breslin is calling from a cheap, pay-as-you-go, disposable mobile. Unlikely in an era where nearly everyone owns a Blackberry, Samsung or iPhone. Berry, therefore, can’t trace the phone and of course Breslin has no idea where she is. This makes for a nice cat and mouse chase. Unfortunately, form and imagination are clearly lacking throughout the belated chase sequence. The premise offers great opportunity for a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere, there are hints of this but everything quickly becomes flat. As you can imagine, endless shots of Berry yelling into her headset become tiresome and the action cuts seem rather wonky and disordered.

Eventually, the movie betrays its premise, a premise that could have been far more ingenious. Perhaps, Anderson realized it was time to go back to his roots and delve into a grindhouse style rape-revenge movie, with floods of horror. It sees Berry miraculously leave “the hive” and go on a solo mission to find Breslin herself. It seems dumb, and it really is dumb, but Anderson is now doing what he’s good at: creating oppressive atmospheres and orchestrating opaque horror. Of course, this third act concludes as unquestionably puerile and the resolution is left hanging thin in the air – and not in an indulging way. I was just left thinking: “After all that trouble, why the hell would they do that?”

All in all, this movie will summon you, but then dump you in a trench and maybe lift you back out again, but only half way.

It’s a tattered 3 stars for Anderson’s efforts and Berry’s slightly improved performance from a career of washouts (The Flinstones, Gothika, Catwoman, Movie 43 etc).

The Family – The Manzoni’s need a chill pill

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In most mob films it’s evident philosophy that the gangsters try to maintain some distance between family life and business. This is not so with the Manzoni’s, they are a mob, and they all feed off each other’s mishaps.

It’s refreshing to see Robert de Niro at home in playing Giovanni Manzoni (a great gangster name, by the way) as he blunders around, in contradiction of the witness protection restraining orders in place on the family, condemning trivial enemies to savage beatings with various tools (a sledgehammer and baseball bat, to name a few). It’s a reminder of why we thought of him as so great in the first place: De Niro is capable of honest warmth and love for his family whilst, at the same time, holding at bay his psychopathic tendencies which we’re always subliminally aware of. Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays Maggie, the wife, gets to toy with a role she has so perfectly executed in the past (Scarface, Married to the Mob) after a recovery of working sparingly for over a decade. Not to mention that she still looks amazing and manages to pull of a likable character, even though she has committed so many sins that even the priest is shocked and henceforth refuses her presence at the church. It’s a wonderful mix.

Another veteran in the mix is Tommy Lee Jones, who plays Stansfield, the main man assigned to overlooking the Manzoni’s case. Jones is his usual deadpan perfect self and has a few moments of invaluable countenance appearing next to De Niro. Stansfield is indeed given a hard time trying to keep the Manzoni’s at bay!

Luc Besson approaches the subject in a refreshing, witty and light nature. Despite mixed reviews, The Family is no different from Besson’s entertaining and chic approach, held across the board of his filmography, from Nikita to The Lady. He is not afraid of big, flashy action sequences, when the story demands it, but when he takes this direction he does so with a pleasant dose of over-the-top humour and a flair comparable to Tarantino. Although in this film, not meant to be seen entirely as a farce comedy, Besson doesn’t shy away from various in-jokes and occasional moments of sporadic tongue-in-check moments; moments I actually laughed at.

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Giovanni’s previous life is brought to attention when we see snippets of a previous mobster gang stewing in a rather luxurious prison cell – a refrigerator, music, and jail guards acting as servants? No doubt, Giovanni ratted out this gang, hence his current position under a witness protection plan in Normandy, France, and the gang being obsessed to find the Manzoni’s and literally blow them off the face of the Earth.

The way in which the Manzoni’s cover is blown is unequivocally whimsical and daft. It’s one of the many lunatic moments in this movie, others include: Maggie blowing up a French supermarket for not stocking peanut butter, Belle (the daughter) blooding the face of a creep with a tennis racket and Warren (the son) constructing a coalition to deliver vicious payback on bullies. This isn’t great cinema but it’s certainly good fun.

It’s not all fun however, some subplots just don’t work – whether this was intentional, I’m not sure. For example, Belle’s romance with the Math teacher, her despair over the fact he was the love of her life, and the families offbeat relationship with the Feds across the street. Giovanni’s attempts at being a writer also seem a little discharged and despondent.

A fantastic in-joke worth noting is when Giovanni is asked to perform a debate on an American classic at the local film society. Ironically the film that ended up screening was Scorsese’s Goodfellas – Giovanni’s typecasting on the film is a gigantic triumph with the residents who all stand up in astonishing applause.

To sum up, The Family is a deliberately eccentric, chirpy, violent and hit or miss film with just enough moments of inspiration to permit a recommendation. Be prepared for weird, different, but good.

3 stars.

Anamnesis – The ability to hold in the mind

Anamnesis basically means being able to hold memories in ones mind – it is the definition of memory. This film however is a metaphor for the inability of anamnesis – it is a metaphor for distorted memories.

My intention of this mini project was to explore memories via the medium of film. In this case, the staggered edits suggest remembrance is mislaid and the cycle of motion in the camera advocates that amnesia is boundless. Our memories are, no doubt, a monotonous foundation of deterioration.

In simpler terms, this short film attempts to showcase, in a lucidly abstract form, what existence might be like for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.

Alternatively, the film can be interpreted as representing a facile dream state, which is being played on rotation.

You might be wondering what or who my influences are for this project. These influences are simply embedded in the boundless abilities of the camera and this cosmic medium we call film. However, I could cite filmmakers: Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger and David Lynch as being influential players. Besides this, I also have a strong interest in mental health and it’s complexity – in this respect psychology correlates to the medium of film. So, expect more experimentally driven treats from me in the future.

Watch the film below:

Don’t miss my other work: my films.