Arrived in Vancouver – to gorgeous sunshine and no rain I might add – yesterday. I’m in town to do a wee bit of work and see friends … and shop around for a condo maybe? Hmmm, maybe…
Stuart Hazeldine wrote and directed this stylistic thriller that has a mysterious group of wannabes entering a room to take an exam which will land one of them a much coveted job with the world’s greatest pharmaceutical. At the outset the exam’s invigilator (Colin Salmon) lays down the rules the 8 candidates must adhere to. These include no spoiling the exam paper; no talking to either the invigilator or the armed guard stationed in the room; and no leaving the room. With that, the exam and intrigue commence. The central players end up being White (Luke Malby), Black (Chukwudi Iwuji), Blonde (Natalie Cox) and Deaf (John Lloyd Fillingham) who – once they realize they can talk to each other – try to sort out the mystery and answer the question that appears to elude them. Exam is a well thought-out thriller expertly directed within the confines of a single room. It captures you from the opening credits forward with enough cerebral and physical action to keep you pondering. You’ll look at your next exam a little differently for sure. My rating 8 out of 10.
Daniel Woodrell’s novel of the same name is adapted by director Debra Granik and becomes a movie critic’s darling. When 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is told the home she and her family live in will be confiscated unless her drug-dealing father Jessup is found, she takes things into her own hands to search the underbelly of Missouri hillbilly country – and its vile web of secrets and mean inhabitants – to discover the truth. Sadly, she finds it in a swamp but does come out richer for it. Winter’s Bone is beautifully filmed in an unflinching fashion and cuts very near the bone. And while Lawrence, John Hawkes (as her uncle Teardrop) and especially Dale Dickey (as the cruel-to-be-kind matriarch Merab) are all excellent, in the end you have no emotional attachment to these folks – real as they may be in portrayal – and worse, tire of the dreariness of the whole thing. A good example of style over substance, Winter’s Bone leaves this critic cold indeed. My rating 4 out of 10.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
After promising his pregnant wife, Mrs Fox (Meryl Streep) he’ll refrain from his fox raiding ways to take up a job as a journalist, the erstwhile Mr Fox (George Clooney) moves his home from a den to an oak tree situated beside three of the biggest, baddest farmers in the county – Boggis and Bunce and Bean. There, with his very odd son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) grown-up and his nephew Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson) moved in, he resumes his chicken stealing ways. This inevitably leads to a war between the farmers and Mr Fox which draws in the entire animal community living beneath the ground. Directed by Wes Anderson and using stop-action animation – a decidedly brave move that works in a world of computer drawn animation films – Fantastic Mr. Fox takes Roald Dahl’s much loved characters on a new adventure that is endearing, slightly odd, and wickedly funny. My rating 7 out of 10.
The King’s Speech
Telling the little known story of King George VI’s (an excellent Colin Firth) struggle with stuttering and the speech therapist, Lionel Logue (an even better Geoffrey Rush), who aided him, The King’s Speech recounts a heady slice of European history from the death of George V (Michael Gambon), the ascention and abdication of Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) and the arrival of George VI on the throne at the start of World War II. Directed by Tom Hooper, the film gives us a peek into the Family Royal and the intrigue – real or imagined – of life at court. Everyone is good in this film and the production has a regal air about it fitting the subject matter. The film’s best bits though are those with Bertie and Lionel alone working through his stammer and the psychological baggage that birthed it. A good film that marries a history lesson with a drama few of us – at the time – knew was taking place behind the velvet curtains of Buckingham Palace. My rating 7 out of 10.
Even today this 1964 film by artist-turned-director Masaki Kobayaski remains a masterpiece. Whether viewed as a psychological horror, a histogram of creepy folktales or a fantasy, Kwaidan remains hugely influential in Japanese film even today and echos of Kobayaski’s style appear in modern anime with his pioneering use of stark colours and subtle messaging that mixes fable and parable. The film is a compendium of four stories based on the stories of Lafcadio Hearn – Black Hair, The Woman in the Snow, Hoichi the Earless and In a Cup of Tea. Each has its eerie and supernatural aspects and of the four the first and third work the best. Hoichi the Earless is a profound segment that blurs the lines of history when a story teller’s ability to recount the past has the ghosts of the past trying to recruit him. Essential viewing for any Japanese film fan, Kwaidan gets my rating of 9 out of 10.