Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Oscars 2013”

War Witch (Rebelle)

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 12 May 2013

This Oscar-nominated film dramatises the plight of child soldiers in sub-Saharan Africa, as 14-year old Komona recounts the harrowing story to her unborn child of how she came to be stained by bloodshed.

The opening shots are documentary-like in their impassivity before Komona is swiftly kidnapped from her village, orphaned and trained to kill (the rebel commander tells his young recruits that the gun is now their “mother and father”). On entering the forests where her new family massacres the government soldiers, Komona finds her calling as a prescient witch, a skill that provides protection and importance in the eyes of the head rebel, Great Tiger.

Novice teenage actress Rachel Mwanza deservedly won the Best Actress prize at the Berlin Film Festival for her phenomenal performance – stunning in its restraint and yet all the more amazing given that when the filmmakers discovered her she was an illiterate street kid in the Congo. In a gentle, thoughtful voiceover Komona’s dulcet French tones belie the horror she experiences and is forced to perpetuate.

Thankfully, beautifully realised mysticism and an underlying love story help to lighten the mood slightly, with the children even finding time to play kung fu and watch generator-driven Van Damme movies.

The sound design is impeccable, in certain scenes mercifully dullened (which only mildly lessens the trauma) and the characters seem like real people caught on camera in the course of daily life. Though the premise won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, this exquisite film is an example of flawless filmmaking.

No

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 24th March 2013

Chile, 1988. Military dictator Augusto Pinochet takes the unusual step of allowing his citizens to vote in a referendum as to whether he should retain power or not. With the State supremely confident that people will vote “Si”, advertising executive René Saavedra (Gael Garcia Bernal) is brought in to lead the “No” campaign for the opposition. Using techniques usually reserved for soft drinks and blue jeans, Saavedra and his team create an imaginative message for their audience, and come under fire for their efforts.

The fascinating true-life conceit of this Oscar-nominated movie is almost as enthralling as watching the creatives devise the crucial 15-minute film every day in which to make their case.

Even more clever is that the whole movie is shot in the blanched-out video of the day – familiar to us now only from trips down TV’s memory lane. This interesting choice brings a documentary-like authenticity to the action, though it takes a while at first to adjust to taking it all seriously and not just for laughs.

Interposed with archive footage from the actual campaign, the story teaches much about political power in the recent past and how people will embrace innovative methods to attain freedom.

 

Amour

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 24 February 2013

By now, Michael Haneke aficionados will know that Amour won the Palme D’Or at Cannes last year, won the BAFTA for Best Foreign Film, and is highly likely to take a prize at today’s Oscars (it’s up for Best Film, Original Screenplay, Actress, Foreign Film and Director. My bets are on the latter two).

The premise is simpler, yet even more devastating, than the Austrian director’s previous films. But while the couple in Amour are named Georges and Anne after their Hidden (Caché) counterparts, this plot is everyday, devoid of a whodunnit mystery or overt psychological cruelty, and the characters’ relationship much more solid – a true example of how love, felt over decades and into old age, can be.

The elderly couple live a comfortable life in a culture-filled apartment in Paris. Anne suffers a stroke, and Georges embarks on the long and painful journey of devotedly tending to his wife. Life is punctuated by visits from their self-centred daughter (a terrifically believable performance by Isabelle Huppert) but for almost the entire running time we are cocooned in the daily life of Georges and Anne, artfully echoing the growing suffocation of Anne’s world.

There’s no denying, this is a tough watch. The film has been receiving universally high star-ratings and accolades around the world. Emmanuelle Riva is making history as the oldest Best Actress nominee – she turns 86 on the day of the Awards! – and notwithstanding her powerful performance, for someone of that age to embody this subject matter makes her quite extraordinary. This speak to Haneke’s incredible talent for casting great actors who take themselves (and us) deep into the world of their character, and for creating an atmosphere that is on the one hand entirely natural, while also completely enthralling. Something as simple as Georges (the legendary Jean-Louis Trintignant, a worthy partner to Riva) recounting a tale from his youth, has us hanging on every word.

Those who appreciated Hidden will recognise Haneke’s style, shooting scenes from a static camera position, quietly listening in on his actors, or from a distance through doorways that neatly frame the action as if not wanting to intrude. The long-held shots allow for complete immersion in the performances, more like theatre than film. Like the closing shot in Hidden, this film starts with a long takes shot from a distance, your gaze searching out the leads who are inconspicuously present amidst a crowd – everyday people, to whom everyday things will happen.

Without doubt, Amour, for all its emotional devastation, is a superlative film. If you have the stomach for such truths as it unveils, it is a deeply rewarding watch.

Silver Linings Playbook

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 3rd March 2013

A welcome change from the media’s usual ineptitude at representing mental illness (if anyone calls Gollum “a twisted schizophrenic” again, I shall scream), in this excellent adaptation of the bestselling novel by Matthew Quick, the challenges of mental ill-health are portrayed accurately and with respect. Eschewing the overt “craziness” of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Quick’s protagonists are as relatable as our own family member or colleague, and their experiences authentically relayed.

Add major league casting to the mix, and you have a powerful and affecting film. Bradley Cooper (sincere, charismatic and devastatingly credible) is Pat, recently released from eight months in the local psychiatric hospital into the supportive arms of his long-suffering mother (Jacki Weaver) and superstitious bookkeeping father (the best Robert DeNiro has been in more than a decade). Pat experiences bipolar disorder, and erratic behaviour saw him estranged from his wife prior to hospitalisation. Committed to proving he is “better” and getting her back, he enlists the help of headstrong Tiffany, herself battling demons following the death of her husband.

The core cast members have been nominated for four of the film’s eight Oscars (Jennifer Lawrence, at only 22, is up for her second best actress gong after Winter’s Bone. She won the Golden Globe, and when you see her owning a scene against a legend like DeNiro, you know why). Cooper, the hunk from dumb comedies like The Hangover, finally gets a meaty role with complexities he is more than capable of juggling.

Director David O Russell (up for best adapted screenplay and director) shoots this as he did The Fighter, with grainy photography of sun-spared Philadelphian streets. This is the real world, even if its characters sometimes seem higher-strung than most.

Silver Linings Playbook is a surprise gem which certainly manages to see the bright side of life.

Flight

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 3rd March 2013

Denzel Washington thrives on the big roles, the complicated, flawed characters, the opportunities where he can exercise the intriguing clash between his inherent charisma and the bad guy within (he won his second Oscar as the corrupt LA police detective from Training Day). He is box-office magic, a man for all seasons, and arguably one of the few true “movie stars” of today.

The opening of his latest “tortured soul” drama sets the tone brilliantly. Captain Whip Whitaker wakes groggily next to a beautiful woman, swigs from a beer bottle, snorts a line of coke, and sets off for his day at work. As he swings round a corner with supreme confidence and walks towards the camera in his pilot’s get-up, we are simultaneously appalled and thrilled.

Soon he will be flying a domestic passenger jet with 102 souls a short distance across America. He can’t imagine that the plane will go down, and in due course his high-functioning lack of sobriety will rear up and bite him.

Director Robert Zemeckis boasts a varied body of work, from seminal 80s flick Back to the Future to What Lies Beneath, Castaway and even Jodie Foster’s alien-chasing movie, Contact.

He also knows how to roll out a blockbuster. A solid cast (Bruce Greenwood for grit, John Goodman for flash); a straightforward but involving premise (where once Tom Hanks entertained us, alone on an island, for 2 hours, here Whitaker’s principal conundrum is whether to tell the truth, or let his addiction conquer him). Zemeckis’ regular composer, Alan Sylvestri, appears to have written four movie soundtracks a year since the mid-80s. The legendary Don Burgess shot it. This is an A-team of movie-makers, telling an everyman’s story.

Addiction dramas are nothing new, and often make for uncomfortable viewing though they are undeniably good fodder for carrying the audience along with every “will he, won’t he” moment the protagonist approaches a liquor cabinet (captured with nail-biting tension here). Whitaker’s trajectory from arrogant denial to rock-bottom and potential redemption, while a staple of the genre, is nonetheless gripping. Though not an overtly sympathetic character, it is impossible not to fall under the spell of Washington’s Oscar-nominated, charismatic, high-functioning egoist. Cleverly, at the same time we are left under no doubt about the destruction his substance abuse has caused him and others in his life.

Of course, he can’t do it alone. The supporting cast is universally excellent, notably Kelly Reilly’s ex-addict whose attraction to Whitaker, while cliched, is understandable, and Don Cheadle’s matter-of-fact, morally pliable lawyer. Even John Goodman’s shock-jock drug dealer provides welcome light relief, the perfect comic foil to Washington’s grim concern.

Inevitably for an addiction story, Flight strays into mawkishness towards the end, though one wonders (particularly for a major Hollywood picture) how else it could go. It is to Washington’s credit that he flies it just this side of saccharine, and Zemeckis’ decision to avoid unnecessary soundtrack and hammered-home monologues is admirable.

Lincoln

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 27th January 2013

Up against 12 Oscar nominations, mine may be a lonely cry in the wilderness. Because frankly I found Lincoln interminably boring. Well, it does eventually end after two-and-a-half hours of talk and swirling John Williams music – but aside from the occasional scene where superb acting distracts you from writing a mental shopping list, it’s disappointingly dull.

Without doubt, Daniel Day-Lewis will, and should, win Best Actor for his portrayal of slave-trade-liberator Abraham Lincoln. His performance is simply astounding, effortlessly conveying the great president’s unrelenting commitment to the noble cause, the avuncular influence with a warm twinkle in his eye. Despite not having seen footage of the real Lincoln, Day-Lewis has us believe he is the man.

Granted, there are other strong performances, though we’ve seen Tommy Lee Jones’ fist-thumping southernness before. Sally Field has been lauded as Lincoln’s erratic and ultimately (sym) pathetic wife, but she comes across shrill and old, and not at all a match for the great man (neither actor nor president).

The main problem is the film lacks tension (save the ultimate scene of vote-counting), suffering perhaps from being a story to which we know the ending. Spoiler alert: Slavery was abolished!, although 2006s comparatively lighter, yet more moving, Amazing Grace, proved much more engaging with the same outcome.

Otherwise Lincoln is just scene after scene of almost exclusively male famous faces spouting complicated and oft-witty lines. It is a veritable Live Aid of a cast, sporting James Spader, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Hal Holbrook – not quite everybody who’s anybody, but a lot who used to be somebody.

Perhaps Lincoln resonates with American audiences because slavery is a scar on their past which continues to itch. Whatever, director Steven Spielberg has made many a true story interesting and exciting before. But here we are given no Negro identification character to care about, so it’s hard to feel what’s really at stake.

Those swayed by the Academy’s enthusiasm will, and should, make up their own minds. But I’m afraid this is one super-hero story that couldn’t make me care.

Post Navigation