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.
By the time it screened at the London Film Festival, Whiplash was already one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. The reviews from Sundance, where it won both the Jury and Audience prizes, were overwhelmingly positive, with 4 or 5 stars being pretty much guaranteed with each individual critique. Happily, I can say that Whiplash deserves all of these plaudits, and it received a standing ovation in London. It’s one of the most exciting, entertaining and well-edited films of 2014, with an excellent script brought to life by mesmerising performances from Miles Teller and JK Simmons. I have not yet seen enough of the big awards films (Birdman, Inherent Vice, Imitation Game etc) to proclaim any film my best of 2014, but Whiplash is most definitely a front-runner. (more…)
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.