As an Aussie, I have been watching the career of Chris Hemsworth with some interest. As time has passed, he seems to have really grown as a performer and more importantly, made really intriguing choices in the films he is involved in.
That looks to continue with Ron Howard’s Rush, a drama set in the world of Formula 1 racing that chronicles the rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt. This trailer has me really excited for this period piece, looking like it may be able to successfully balance the high speed thrills and human drama of the story.
I was really quite intrigued walking into The Paperboy (2012) at my local cinema the other day. I had heard strange and also really varied things about the film and was curious to see how it would play out.
After seeing the film I can see why the response was so varied, because it is quite the hodge-podge. It starts with a totally unnecessary framing device that achieves nothing, either at the start of the film or as it wears on. The film itself tells the story of a sweaty Southern summer in 1969 where a sheriff is murdered. The greatest achievement of the film is that it does really create this sweaty, Southern world and allow the viewer to really feel as though they are there. It is not always (or ever really) a nice place to be, there is a nightmarish atmosphere to the entire film. Perhaps it is the subtle undercurrent of Southern prejudice that runs through the film. It is nicely done, never an explicit focus of the film, but always in the background ready to flare up if the situation dictates. Nicole Kidman plays Charlotte Bless, a woman who writes letters to prisoners. She strikes up a particularly strong bond with Hillary Van Wetter played by John Cusack, who has been jailed for murdering the aforementioned sheriff. Also involved in this swirling summer are Matthew McConaughey, David Oyelowo and Zac Efron, doing a pretty darn good job here of shedding at least some of his High School Musical (2006) image. These three become involved in trying to discover if Hillary really did kill the sheriff.
Of the attention that the film has managed to garner, most of it has focused on its shock value, particularly a scene where Nicole Kidman urinates on Zac Efron. I would argue that the film has a number of more shocking scenes, some of them very disturbing, but that none of them are really what the film is about. Indeed the film works best when it plays as a relationship drama, with interesting and real feeling alliances and rivalries springing up between the main players. Probably the most interesting of these circle around Efron’s Jack, with Kidman’s Charlotte and Macy Gray’s Anita. It is these relationship with enthral and intrigue the viewer, as perhaps the central mystery of the film should. Indeed once the characters of Jack and Charlotte separate, the film probably weakens a little. Technically the script can be praised and criticised. On one hand, a vast majority of the film’s characters are exceptionally well written. On the other, the film never works as the detective story it is trying to be throughout the first hour or so and the narrative is not focused enough for the film to be a great one.
Nicole Kidman’s performance in The Paperboy is as good as I recall seeing for a number of years. What on the surface at first seems like a standard ‘trashy’ woman, in the hands of Kidman evolves Charlotte into a nuanced character, simultaneously smart yet stupid, pulling all the strings yet powerless. Kidman plays it big, but it is a tribute to her skills that this ‘bigness’ never feels anything but genuine. The first time Kidman meets the killer she has been writing to in person, in lesser hands would have come off as farcical, but Kidman makes it ultra disturbing and also impossible to look away from. Whilst Kidman is incredible, essentially everyone is good in this. John Cusack is utterly chilling in what is a pretty small role. As mismatched but nicely written damaged brothers, both Efron and McConaughey excel. Indeed the only performance and character that lets the film down I think is David Oyelowo as Yardley. The character, a posh African-Englishman, never rises above the level of caricature, whilst all the other characters which could all have reached that level manage to avoid it. Oyelowo’s jarring and over the top performance does not help matters. As good as Nicole Kidman is and as surprising as Zac Efron is, the real revelation in the film is the performance by Macy Gray. If the singer has been in any films before, I have not seen them. As Anita, the family maid, she is a strong presence throughout the film, providing both social commentary and occasional comedy. The voiceover her character provides guides the film and fills in what the times were like, but is not overdone.
The Paperboy is at times very violent and shocking. It is not always successful at what it is trying to do. Perhaps as a symptom of not always knowing which direction to take the narrative. But it is definitely worth seeing, for Nicole Kidman’s stunning performance if nothing else.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
Here is my regular monthly roundup of films not featured elsewhere on the site. A relatively quiet month thanks to life getting in the road and a focus on longer film reviews, but still a lot of cracking stuff in here. I actually found it really hard to choose my top pick of the month.
- Like Water (2011), Pablio Croce – The title refers to a Bruce Lee quote and the film concerns the closest that mixed martial arts has to Lee – Anderson Silva. This doco is a great insight into a man who is generally very guarded. We see a charming, relaxed side that does not get much exposure. Silva is a transformative genius, but it is good to see that this film, which was produced by his manager, is happy to tap into some of the controversy surrounding the man
- The Loneliest Planet (2011), Julia Loktev – This film is a pretty extraordinary, elemental experience. The three leads are very good, especially Hani Furstenberg who is wondrous. The film looks incredible, the shooting is lush and deliberate bringing to life beguiling scenery. A late plot point I found hard to process and reconcile with what had come before. But it left me thinking long after the film. This is an at times challenging watch, due to the pace of the film as much as anything else. But as a chronicle of life’s endless cycle of sullying then purging, it is an extremely interesting one too.
- Parks and Recreation Season 1 (2009), Greg Daniels & Michael Schur – This is a very funny mockumentary style show, which reminded me of the classic Aussie show Frontline. It gets progressively better as the series wears on and the final few episodes are crackers. Amy Poehler is incredible as the wannabe political go-getter. The series benefits greatly from writing that is able to examine a woman’s place in the public service in a very clever and funny way.
- Rust and Bone (2012), Jacques Audiard – So much of this film should be unbearably trite. A woman loses her legs in an accident, then we see her swim, dance and make love for the first time afterwards. But none of it is trite, thanks to a very real sensibility, stylish shooting and great performances, especially from Marion Cotillard who is out of this world good. The film encompasses so much of life, what makes it simultaneously wondrous and crushing.
Not Worth Watching:
- G.I Joe: Retaliation (2013), John M. Chu – Better than the first one, but still utterly daft. Atrociously acted aside from Adrianne Palicki and I guess the Rock. D.J. Cotrona undermines that by giving one of the least charismatic performances I have ever witnessed. This series is the new Transformers.
If you only have time to watch one Parks and Recreation Season 1
Avoid at all costs G.I Joe: Retaliation
I am one of the four people on earth who still has not seen District 9. But after seeing this trailer for Neil Blomkamp’s follow up Elysium I am definitely keen to check both out. If this trailer does not get you rather excited, you must not have a pulse or something, because I think it is pretty gnarly.
Jean Renoir is one of those towering figures of world cinema. The only film I had seen of his is Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932), which I love, but which I do not think is entirely representative of his broader body of work. I was luck enough to catch A Day in the Country (1936) on the big screen at Arc Cinema recently, as part of a program of the short films which were featured in the most recent Sight & Sound poll.
The film is a gentle look at the societal mores and conventions of the time, a comedy of manners of sorts. A group of Parisians funnily enough spend a day in the country, focused around drinking, eating, sleeping, rowboats and a little fishing. The most engaging aspect of the film is when it contrasts the deeply engrained attitudes and desires of an urban mindset with those of a rural one. Two young local men who are lazing about at the country inn decide that they will attempt to seduce Henriette and her mother, whilst the other men are off tending to their fishing rods. Sylvia Bataille, who plays Henriette, gives the best performance in the film, as a young naive woman with an utterly bland fiancé.
Apparently the film is actually unfinished, though you cannot really tell. In terms of running time, it is a long short film, so perhaps it was originally envisaged as a feature film. What is here though is beautifully shot, even the simplest of images, such as the women enjoying their time on the swings, are a joy to look at. Whilst it is a very different film to Boudu Saved from Drowning you can see Renoir’s ability as a humour stylist as the script has a fair bit of humour in it. The film got a lot of laughs in the crowd I saw it with and the comedy is for the most part very successful, even today. Indeed the dialogue of the script is one of the film’s real achievements, full of double entendres, there are numerous layers to absolutely every line.
A Day in the Country is a sumptuously shot, if gentle, look at a specific time and place. It perfectly illustrates many of the societal constraints that dominated that time and place, which I am glad are not a part of my life. It is engaging, even if the connection between characters is not established enough to support the emotional dénouement that is aimed for.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs