Heading Upstream

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2014 has really kicked off and I’ve just about managed to land back on my feet. Family gatherings, society trips, meetings, spreadsheets, phone calls and films – all these rudiments of my life have been thoroughly active these last two weeks.

Now is the chance to sit back, type and reflect on the great films that I’ve managed to see – unfortunately 12 Years a Slave is not one of them (I haven’t seen it yet)! Instead, these last two weeks have been full of cartoons and animations. However, watching Toy Story on repeat with my little cousin certainly isn’t a complaint. He’s got good taste.

This last weekend, included 24 hours on a coach (to and from Amsterdam) – a great chance to reflect on life and revisit some great films. Unfortunately, the coach was packed with girls aged approx. 20 who do seem to love a good chick flick. After bringing Kill Bill 1 & 2 on DVD and voting for a double bill, my arm was the only sole standing. The film Bridesmaids was cast next and all hands rocketed – outvoted 40 to 1.

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Never mind, I still managed to see some intriguing films… alone. My film of the week (3 & 4 combined) is Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color. I’ve been catching up with some indie frontrunners from 2013, including Fruitvale Station and Short Term 12, but Upstream color is truly intriguing and vastly impressive as Carruth is practically a ‘one-man band’ filmmaker.

You don’t want to try too hard to make sense of this film; otherwise you may get a little lost. Let yourself be absorbed by the bizarre images and the woozy, dreamlike passages of narrative.

This film is about a love affair that takes place in a disorientated cityscape, which is beautifully shot in a vast array of bleached out colours and overexposed lighting. However, there is also an enigmatic figure at play, a criminal who tests peoples DNA and cultivates weird experiments, injecting whatever it is he uncovers into his pigs. He also happens to be an electronic sound composer who finds new and interesting ways to record creative music. This tense music is often juxtaposed with the reality of Kris’s life and her love affair. Kris is also a victim of the mysterious figure, making her life even more perplexing and mesmerizing.

The sequences in Upstream Color play out in parallel and we strive to detect similarities in the profligate crosscutting. There is a sense of the extraterrestrial at bay. One way or another, this film is just a fascinating pulsation of ideas mixed with wonderful sounds and images. Although, Carruth’s designs may appear derived from Cronenberg and Malick, his filmmaking is superfluous and breathes fresh and freaky air in a dawn were most is dry.

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Fruitvale Station – This film will choke you

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MOVIE REVIEW

Fruitvale Station
OG Project, Significant Productions, US
85 Min
1.85:1
Release US: 26th July 2013

DIR Ryan Coogler
EXEC Michael Y. Chow
PROD Forest Whitaker, Nina Yang
SCR Ryan Coogler
DP Rachel Morrison
CAST Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O’Reilly

Sincerely powerful, it reminded me of John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood. These films are both earnest, striking and magnificent directorial debuts. Directed by Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station is highly ambitious, it is for the hardened hearts and Coogler has articulated his deep-rooted connection with the story flawlessly. The film is based on the real-life tragic shooting that happened at Fruitvale Station on the New Year’s Eve of 2009. This irrefutable piece of reality haunts the film and makes it duly hard to watch. Yet, you are transfixed.

Oscar Grant, a 22 year-old man with lots of feelings, cares for many people and many people care for him. We spend New Years Eve with Oscar as he goes about his daily routine, struggling and searching over the various obstacles that many working-class people face. This is the side of the story that Coogler has decided to tell. SPOLIER. It is the day leading up to the death of young Oscar Grant.

We sample Oscar’s daily life; we get caught up in his agitated world. Michael B. Jordan gives a brilliant performance as Oscar, and understands the prejudice history that exists within the borders of the Bay Hill area. Nonetheless he gets on with daily life and is determined to make a difference. He doesn’t necessarily care about what others think of him, he has the “don’t give a fuck attitude”, but this doesn’t make him a thug. It is the territory of young and black cinema, as was the term coined for the work of Spike Lee. It is promising that Coogler will have more heartfelt stories to tell that will contribute the past thirty years call for social justice in media, popular culture and sadly life.

Oscar is clearly troubled but events in his life. He wishes to share his inner burdens with others, he has a lot of close mates, but it is his girlfriend (Melonie Diaz) and mother (Octavia Spencer) who come through as most compassionate. Despite past hiccups, the family gets together and celebrates New Year’s Eve without controversy and with great empathy, as it is also Oscar’s mother’s birthday. The family is “lifted up” by God, as spoken by the radiant mother. It is soul-destroying when she blames the tragedy on herself. She only wanted her “baby” to do what would seemingly be safest: catching the BART train to town, rather than drink driving.

The cinematography is closing in, the train is entering Fruitvale Station, and my heart is already pounding. The scenes in which the incident takes place are harrowing and expertly crafted. It is mayhem and for no alleged reason; this is the lunacy of the incident. I’ve never quite felt so strung and wounded by the cinema.

This film deserves mass attention and should be honored for its courage.

5/5 stars

Watch the trailer below:

August: Osage County – 2014 is shaping up to be a wild year at the movies!

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MOVIE REVIEW

August: Osage County
Jean Doumanian Productions, US
130 Mins
2.35:1
Release UK: 24th January 2014

DIR John Wells
EXEC Celia D. Costas, Claire Rudnick Polstein
PROD George Clooney, Jean Doumanian, Grant Heslov, Steve Traxler, Harvey Weinstein
SCR Tracy Letts
DP Adriano Goldman
CAST Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale

If you enjoy watching family dysfunction on screen, then August: Osage County is heaven at your door step. This film offers incredible performances, flamboyant set-pieces and a story that certainly won’t leave you hungry. If you have the energy to sit back and absorb a powerful and fiery set of performances then this film is perfect for you, if you don’t, then the film is still perfect.

Adapted from the Tracy Letts play of the same name, August: Osage County is his third to reach the screen, following William Freidkin’s films Bug and Killer Joe. On the surface, it may seem like his most straightforward piece, however beneath it rests the most perverse and violent truths. The Weston clan are a family located in the heart of Osage County, situated in the northern territory of Oklahoma. They are a family who withhold a panorama of unfulfilled lives and who do the most unforgettable things to one another. They’ve all gone a bit mad, but for reasons that are surprisingly rational.

Meryl Streep plays Violet, the electrifying woman of the household; she has mouth cancer and takes rather too many pills of varying extremities. She is one of the greatest characters I can remember ever seeing on the screen or stage; I’ll never forget Streep’s fine performance of her either. One minute she’s wearing a frightening black wig and bulging sunglasses, the next she is cursing uncontrollably and at other times she is a sweet and affectionate mother. She is always at the centre of attention though and nothing ever slips by her, as she says repeatedly.

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Following up this astounding performance is Julia Roberts’s first big appearance for some time. She plays a confused, concerned and aging woman who seems dumbfounded by her family (who isn’t?), but at the same time she is clearly petrified of turning into her mother. She looks perfect in the role, her beauty trembling away as her character has to harden to various circumstances. Other members of the cast include Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Cooper, Dermot Mulroney and Margo Martindale; it truly is a stand of ovation.

John Wells directs the film, he is best known for having produced some small-screen spectacles such as ER, Shameless and The West Wing. Despite not being a natural feature film director per se, his achievement here is mightily impressive. The tricky task of adapting a stage play is creating a satisfactory boundary between not feeling stagebound and remaining cinematically expressive. Wells does this by maintaining an integral claustrophobia within the characters and setting without making it completely stagebound; one is reminded of Hitchcock’s brilliant achievement with Dial M for Murder. The film is also shot magnificently within a hazy half-lit house suggesting all the dark demeanours that have come and gone and the vast out-back of Osage County is exposed it its full glory. Wells has managed to make this film highly stylized; I couldn’t imagine a better cinematic treatment for this play.

So what is it that renders this film as a must see? For me, it is the characters captivating complexity and development throughout the script, the mighty fine performances and the generally striking production.

5/5 stars

Watch the trailer below: