Saturday, February 04, 2012

January Film Highlights

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Coriolanus (2011) Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain, James Nesbit, Paul Jesson. Dir: Ralph Fiennes.

When heroic General Martius is rejected by his people, he seeks an alliance with his greatest enemy. Fiennes’ directorial debut is punchy and captivating, staged smartly in a striking contemporary warzone, allowing its political and social themes seem powerfully relevant. Strong performances all round.


Dreams of a Life (2011) Zawe Ashton. Dir: Carol Morley.

Documentary about Joyce Vincent, whose death in her London flat went undiscovered for 3 years. A film about how well we really know each other. Joyce was sociable, popular, loved, but uncovered evidence points to a disturbing, secretive existence, unknown to friends, that will probably never be uncovered. Deeply upsetting.


Sleeper (1973) Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, John Beck, Marya Small, Susan Miller. Dir: Woody Allen.

After being frozen, a man wakes up in the 22nd century and is forced to become a revolutionary. Witty spoof of sci-fi conventions with charming Keaton-esque touches. Importantly, begins to discuss relationships and sexual politics, laying the way for Woody’s later movies, but loses the thread before the end.


Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) James Franciscus, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, Linda Harrison, Charlton Heston. Dir: Ted Post.

A rescue mission arrives, looking for the first crew; meanwhile the apes plan to invade the forbidden zone. Heston’s reluctance to appear means the first half’s spent retreading familiar territory with a dull look-a-like. Later we enter strange territory with a post-apocalyptic bomb-worshipping cult, significantly raising interest. Another startling ending.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan SkarsgÄrd, Steven Berkoff. Dir: David Fincher.

A journalist receives help investigating a decades old murder from an unconventional researcher. Swedish version’s a tough act to follow, but Fincher makes remaking it worthwhile by reinterpreting it as a pacey jet-black thriller. Unfortunately, leads are less ambiguous, becoming a more typical action double-act eventually, though performances are excellent.


Return to Oz (1985) Fairuza Balk, Nicol Williamson, Jean Marsh, Sean Barrett, Denise Bryer, Brian Henson. Dir: Walter Murch.

Dorothy’s committed to an asylum for believing in Oz, but when she returns, it’s become a ruin. Doomed to failure – you couldn’t do sugar-coated Oz in the 80s, nevertheless, it’s so dark it almost seems like deliberate critique. Yet you can’t deny the intriguing visual power of its nightmarish world.


Shame (2011) Michael Fassbinder, Carey Mulligan, Nicole Beharie, James Badge Dale. Dir: Steve McQueen.

A sex addict faces his demons when his emotionally fragile sister arrives. Effectively shows the dark side of a condition few take seriously. Fassbinder’s sexual hunger masks desperate loneliness, an inability to develop meaningful relationships. Layers it on too thick occasionally, but long unedited sequences give leads chance to impress.


The Artist (2011) Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell. Dir:Michel Hazanavicius.

A silent star helps a young actress, but as her star rises, his fades with the coming of sound. Glorious tribute to silent movies, full of witty visual flourishes that showcase the beauty of purely visual storytelling. Endearingly romantic with wonderful humour, it’s difficult not to fall under its spell.