After violent protests broke out after irregularities in the 2009 Iranian election, journalist Maziar Bahari faced a choice: risk his life and career by videotaping totalitarian abuse, or drop his camera and run. He chose to release the footage. When I first heard the premise of Jon Stewart’s directorial debut, I couldn’t think of a more compelling personality to deftly negotiate its weighty subject material with a sense of scope and a light, often comedic, touch. Based on Then They Came for Me, Bahari’s memoir on his 118-day imprisonment in notorious Evin Prison, what elevates Rosewater isn’t strict adherence to documenting past events, but its ability to capture the essence of one man’s experience and expand it beyond its physical and temporal boundaries. Bahari himself has explained that though the film is not true to the letter of his experience in Evin, it captures a higher truth of imprisonment. This crafted, whittled-down truth drives Rosewater in way that only fiction can.
Kill Me Three Times thinks it knows what makes a dark comedy: liminal locale, ruthless characters, and a catchy theme. What it doesn’t understand, however, is that bashing the audience across the skull with self-conscious zaniness is neither dark nor comedic. The whole film fails to engage with any suspension of disbelief, a direct result of its profoundly slapdash and inconsistent tone. Even Simon Pegg as snarky assassin Charlie Wolfe doesn’t bring the film much joy, adding another mediocre non-Cornetto title to his name.
Taking a marked turn from Gareth Edward’s survival film Monsters, Monsters: Dark Continent feels like Pacific Rim smashed into Hurt Locker with all the best bits taken out, ending up as a gritty depiction of modern warfare with, hm, twelve-story-tall shuffling tentacle monsters from space. Though its technical prowess makes it a seemingly worthy sequel, Monsters: Dark Continent is severely hampered by its inconsistent focus, shallow characterisation, and bizarre racially-charged mysticism.
Following the remarkable Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios continues to impress with the intergalactic excursion of an unlikely team of crusading criminals in The Guardians of the Galaxy. Blasting off from cookie-cutter crap that has characterised many superhero films in recent memory, Marvel’s trend of differentiating each saga through tone and genre keeps the continually expanding universe fresh—if there’s one word that summarises this film, it’s ‘fresh’. In a lot of ways, Guardians plays as a parody of the superhero genre with its hilarious rag-tag collection of flawed heroes, but its fun tone sits extremely well with deeper themes of friendship, unity, and support which could easily have felt superficial in a less confident film. Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy delights with its chaotic sense of humour, its incredible ensemble, and its surprisingly touching sincerity.
Boyhood is a film that thrives on personal reaction. Its attention to detail in cataloguing the last decade sent eerie shivers up my spine. Mason (Ellar Coltrane) dressing up as Harry Potter for the midnight release of The Half Blood Prince blew me right back into my baby-years. The film begins just after his parents’ divorce, and follows Mason and his family through a variety of friends, schools, stepfathers, and seminal moments for twelve years. However, despite how it may seem on the surface, I don’t believe that this film really is the ‘coming-of-age’ epic as it has been described. If anything, it is a journey through arrested emotional development and trauma, while dealing with never having quite enough. Detailed, sweeping, and hypnotizing, Boyhood connects across the emotional spectrum, and though it occasionally loses focus, it never becomes boring. In a project whose scope seems unwieldy, Linklater manages to pull off his usual filmmaking magic, sculpting and nudging reality into narrative form.
After the breakout critical and financial success of 21 Jump Street two years ago, Chris Miller and Phil Lord flex their comedy muscles for the second time this year (after the spectacular Lego Movie) with 22 Jump Street. Sequels come in all shapes and sizes, and, especially in the comedy genre, generally disappoint more often than not (see Hangover and whatever the hell Dumb and Dumber To is supposed to be). Similar plot premises from original to sequel incite diminishing returns, and this was something that concerned me after seeing trailers of Jump Street’s return. It looked like the same movie but bigger and broader, bad news for most film sequels. However, 22 Jump Street plays with audience expectations expertly, and proves itself a pedigree of all sequelkind that is as self-aware as it is spit-take inducing.
After a late-night pre-screening of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Watching Between the Lines gang decided that the best way to review the film would be through a discussion. Given that we all have different levels of superhero fanboyism and Marvel expertise, there’s something within for all. [SPOILER WARNING] from here on out.
Under the Skin is, no doubt, a troubling film. Many critics have hailed it as a masterpiece of the medium, triumphing its striking cinematography and meticulously constructed visual narrative. I don’t hope to undermine these aspects of the film, as they are certainly nothing short of remarkable. There’s no doubt that Under the Skin is a feast for the eyes. But, as my eyes ate up the spectacle and chomped down on the vistas, my mind starved. At its best, it is unsettling. At its worst, it feels watered down, disjointed, and sporadically paced.
With only a few hours to go until the obviation of all 2013-14 Oscar predictions, the Watching Between the Lines Gang thought it would be worth posting their collective predictions. The politicisation of the Oscars is often touted (and abundantly apparent), and these predictions don’t necessarily reflect what our team thinks should win, but what films we predict the academy will award. For some categories, favourites clearly emerged, but some distinctions of opinion appeared. Hopefully between us, we get ’em all right.
Let’s get this awards show on the road, from last to first.
When I stepped out of BFI Southbank after seeing a (somewhat) advanced screening of Dallas Buyers Club, I knew I’d just seen a very important film. I think the first words out of my mouth were to describe it as ‘Breaking Bad with a conscience’, in the most affectionate way possible. However, for reasons I hope to explain, it didn’t quite impact me in a way I believe it could have. Despite beautifully dense direction and a consistent charmingly dark tone, the film’s ensemble appears muted at times, despite its avant-guard subject material. As it stands, Dallas Buyers Club is a well-crafted film, with a moving narrative and brilliant social commentary, but its only truly extraordinary quality lies in Matthew McConaughey’s transfixing performance as bull-rider turned pharmacist Ron Woodroof.