Voyage of Time Review

voyage-of-time-space

Voyage of time is a montage of footage concerning the creation of the universe, the evolution of life on earth and the early days of man. This journey through time is intercut with scenes of modern day poverty. The film is narrated by Cate Blanchett who addresses a character named “mother” and talks of this “mother’s” increasingly noticeable absence.

As with all recent Terence Malick films I can’t help but feel I’m missing the point. Some of these sequences are truly beautiful. I was particularly taken with the shots of volcanic activity meant to represent the early forming of the earth. Lava flows just below the earth’s crust, metamorphic rock spews forth beneath the sea and bright red fire blasts against the ashen black skies. It’s quite beautiful and terrifying; it just doesn’t feel like it’s part of a narrative or signifying anything other than the aesthetic.

The impoverished people whom are revisited throughout the film are both the victims of mankind’s malice and neglect but are also the proponents of it as we see them brutally slaughter cattle in the street, allowing their animals to limp around with their throats cut. The distance Malick keeps from his subjects restricts our ability to emphasise with them.

voyage_of_time_-_lifes_journey_1-h_2016

The most obvious comparison to make here is with Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi. Reggio depicted the titular “life out of balance” by contrasting shots of the majesty of nature with terrifying footage of the cruelty of man and the impersonal nature of modern life. All set to the startling and hauntingly beautiful soundtrack by Phillip Glass. Reggio’s film has no narration but the intention is clear.

Blanchett’s narration does nothing to illuminate what it is we’re meant to be observing in this footage. Who is mother? Clearly some kind of creator but what does the narrator mean by saying she has gone silent. Has mankind lost its relationship with the creator? Is mankind to be contrasted against nature? Mankind hacking the cattle to death is treated just as passively as a school of fish being preyed upon by swordfish and birds. Is the film a critique of modern life or human nature? If so, then I’m not too sorry to say that Reggio has done it first and better. Perhaps the point is that mankind is merely an extension of nature and therefore as susceptible to random acts of destruction. A film that is open to interpretation is a good thing, but here I am simply unmoved to build any interpretation of the admittedly beautiful footage.

You can, however, be assured of some stunning footage of nature and similar special effects work as seen in the Tree of Life depicting the creation and formation of the universe. See it if you’re happy to watch a David Attenborough documentary without the insight.

voyage-of-time-the-imax-experience-1

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

For the second time this year we have been asked to return to JK Rowling’s world of witchcraft and wizardry. However, whereas the stage play was able to fully capitalise on Rowling’s strength for story, world and character in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, poor direction somewhat comprises this cinematic effort.

fantastic-beasts-newt-scamander

The film tells two stories. The first concerns Newt Scamander, a young wizard, and his attempts to reclaim a number of “fantastic beasts” who have escaped his stewardship in the city of New York. He is joined in his attempts to reclaim the beasts by a factory worker, amateur baker and muggle (or no-mag), Jacob Kowalski. The other story concerns a mysterious evil presence rampaging around New York City, despite the best efforts of the Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA), and unwittingly aided by an anti-witch hate group.

These two stories have just enough of Rowling’s talent for intrigue and mystery to be interesting, but they are deserving of two different films (and considering five sequels to this film have already been announced, they certainly can afford to provide the breathing room). The two intersect and inform each other quite clumsily, culminating in a scene in which Porpentina Goldstein, a witch working for MACUSA but assisting Scamander in his search, says to Scamander “We must capture the rest of your beasts so MACUSA can’t keep scapegoating them!”. You see Scamander is the chief suspect of the crimes perpetrated by the mysterious evil, and so he is drawn into the second story.

This is a contrived connection and ultimately neither is really allowed to flourish. One storyline is resolved by the end of the second act, and the other must capitalise on setups that have been diluted amongst the rest of the action. You’d be forgiven for losing track of Percival Graves’ motivation as we spent most of the film not knowing who he is or how he pertains to the rest of the story.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

However the real problem with the film is the direction and editing. The film awkwardly cuts from one scene to the next. A scene of chaos as Scamander’s bag is opened, unleashing some of the beasts within, is very abruptly cut with a mundane scene of a child playing hopscotch. The cut was so abrupt I expected the chaos to extend into her scene. That is the grammar of film, which when interrupted can be very jarring.

This is most noticeable in the action sequences. Large-scale destruction must unwind slowly and deliberately. If you have a great monster storming down a street, knocking cars aside as if they were nothing and charging through solid stone and iron without slowing, then the actions lose all meaning. The images have no weight to them and there is no emotional impact to the destruction. Fantastic Beasts is unfortunately, for such a frequently charming film, all too often lacking any emotional content.

newt-scamander-fantastic-beasts

Take for instance the opening sequence. Five wizards are seen walking across a dark field, wands drawn, when they are all suddenly wiped out by a wave of menacing light. This sequence is achieved in less than ten seconds of footage. We have no incentive to empathise with these characters. I don’t believe we even see their faces before they meet their fate. What may be an attempt to establish a darker atmosphere and genuine sense of threat is robbed of its effectiveness by the lack of decent pacing. There then follows some very clumsy exposition delivered by a series of newspaper headlines flying at the screen.

This may seem inconsequential, but something important is being missed here. An audience member makes a decision early in a film; the decision to consent. If a film’s opening sequence seduces the audience member then they will suspend their disbelief and invest themselves into the film. If the grammar of the film is clumsy, even subtly so, then they will remain firmly planted in their cinema seat, retaining their disbelief. Once the audience member decides that what they’re watching is a bad film, they will commit to finding further evidence to support their conclusion. Unfortunately, anyone who makes that decision early in Fantastic Beats will find plenty of this evidence. Which is unfortunate, as something is being missed.

The film has plenty of strengths. Rowling’s world of witchcraft and wizardry is as charming as ever, as are the films characters, all ably played by the international cast. The stories, though muddled, are engaging. But be prepared to ignore some very poor transitions and incredibly jarring pacing. A fantastic missed opportunity.

fantastic-beasts-mtv

 

Christine

rebecca-hall-christineI’m going to write this review as if you had not heard the sensational and tragic story of Christine Chubbuck. If you are unfamiliar with Christine’s story then I suggest you do not read into it before seeing this film. I shall reveal very little of it here.

 The story concerns the real life story of Christine Chubbuck, a reporter in Florida in the 1970s. As an opportunity opens up at a bigger news station, Christine finds herself attempting to adopt the station managers sensationalist approach to the news. The film details her struggle with depression and it’s impact on her personal life and work.

 The depression is seen as both the result and cause of Christine ‘s difficulty in connecting with others. Many characters throughout the film reach out to her only for her to pull away. The cyclical nature of depression is all too familiar but what’s interesting here is that each character who reaches out to Christine is well meaning but insist on viewing her depression in their own way instead of actually speaking with Christine.

 At one point Christine screams “why is no one listening to me?!” and it’s true. No one listens to Christine. Her mother is certain that she just needs a man. The anchor on her news show is certain she just needs therapy. Her friend at the station is certain that she just needs ice cream. Everyone is so quick to offer possible remedies and solutions that Christine is actually overlooked.

This is exemplified in the “Yes, but” game as seen in the trailer for the film. In the game the speaker tells the listener their problems. The listener then suggests a solution to which the speaker replies “yes, but” and points out the issues with that solution. The idea may be to get to the heart of the speaker’s problems or for them to simply run out of problems and start thinking about solutions but the effect is clear. The issues and concerns of the speaker are being dismissed, one by one. Often with just a few words.

christine-rebecca-hallThis portrayal of the isolating effects of depression is very affecting. We see Christine attempt to bury herself in work, buying a radio scanner to listen in on police frequencies in an attempt to find the gruesome story she needs to gain recognition. As we see her hunched over her notepad listening to two police officers brag about sexual conquests, we can see the cracks starting to appear.

The entire film hinges on Rebecca Hall’s ability to play a character who is simultaneously spiralling out of control and deeply sympathetic and fortunately she accomplishes this extremely well. She is magnetic to watch even as she shrinks into the backgrounds of the scenes in which Christine finds herself. Her awkwardness and frustration are told through tiny movements and gestures.

The film takes some liberties with the real life of Christine Chubbuck. Some people on her life have been omitted and some incidents have been made to occur later than they actually did for dramatic effect. However if you walk into this film without knowing how Christine’s story ended then I am sure you will be as shocked as the world was back in 1975 and hopefully you will reflect on how you personally react to depression, in yourself and others. If you’re anything like me you will emerge from the cinema desperate to know more about this enigmatic and tragic young woman.

The film is a very tense and uncomfortable slow burn with some surprisingly funny moments. Performances are excellent all round but this really is Hall’s show and is an excellent showcase for her talents as a screen presence.

christine-chubbuck-rebecca-hall

 

Park Chan Wook Screen Talk

park-chan-wook-directorPark Chan-Wook directed my favourite film of all time. Oldboy had a tremendous effect on me in 2003. I had the opportunity to see him talk as part of the London Film Festival. The talk was held at the Curzon Soho. After an initial sound error the event went well, seamlessly integrating clips of all of Park’s film into the discussion. However I feel that the organisers had not anticipated the extra time needed to accommodate translation. Consequently the last ten minutes of the film in which Park discussed his new film were rushed and there was only time for audience member question. This was unfortunate as the discussion was very interesting, a lot of people had attended to hear about his new film and many audience members had questions. I hope that the Curzon allows more time for such events in the future.

The Interviewer’s first question regarded what drew Park to film, mentioning the importance of the film Vertigo. Park reveals that he first saw Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller when studying philosophy. It was a terrible VHS copy but watching Jimmy Stewart pursuing the mysterious Kim Novak through San Francisco had a strong impact on Park. The next time he saw the film was at a special screening where he met his wife. Clearly the cinema has been generous to him.

His two early films were moved past fairly quickly, they weren’t even named. One interesting story from this time did emerge though. The interviewer asked Park if it is true that he once reviewed his own film. Park laughed and revealed that his early films were so small that they had not been reviewed. So when a friend told him that he was due to review one of them and did Park want to do it for him, Park agreed. He positively reviewed one of his own films under the friend’s name describing himself as a “visionary director”. Park explained that even having a bad review is better than no reviews at all. His openness and good humour when speaking about this potentially embarrassing story

joint-security-area-switched-hatsThe interviewer had clearly done an impressive amount of research. His next question involved a quote that Park had given saying that only tough guys make films. He explained that he felt it required a tremendous amount of will to make a film and that he felt nice people would be unable to command the necessary authority. This naturally led to the production of his first big film, the film that won him international acclaim, Joint-Security Area. The film explores a friendship between two South Korean soldiers guarding the Joint-Security Area and their North Korean counterparts.

Park explained that as a child he and the rest of his school were required to take part in a competition to a draw a North Korean in the most unflattering way possible. Pictures of North Koreans as animals or demons would be given the greatest prizes. The goal was to convince children not to think of the North Koreans as human beings. Park however retained his perspective and he remarked that it was a travesty that both his country and North Korea had to pour huge amounts of money into defence against each other when the money could be spent addressing the real problem facing both countries, poverty.

Park believed he may be arrested for making his film, but remarkably the film was released to huge critical acclaim and commercial success, becoming the highest grossing film in Korea ever. The film also won Park international attention which allowed him to make his next film, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, the first film in his “vengeance trilogy”.

After watching a clip of the stylish and moving revenge thriller, the interviewer asked Park about his use of the colour green. An abstract question, but Park’s answer was very revealing. He explained that most people attribute the colour green to positive elements like wealth, vitality, the eco movement. However for Park, green evokes decay and death. He consequently likes to surround his more fated characters with this colour as a form of foreboding.

oldboyIt then came time to discuss my favourite film. The famous corridor scene was shown. It was wonderful to see this sequence on the big screen again but I would have liked to have seen something bespeaking the film’s greater emotional value. I would have chosen the sequence in which Mido talks to Oh-Dae Su about his hallucinations and a flashback reveals her own experience of solitude. In fact, had there been time, I would have liked to have asked how Park feels about how the discourse around his film tends to focus on sex and violence. Personally I’ve always felt that the kinky sex and graphic violence acts as a deterrent for the more closed minded. Those with the fortitude to look past these elements are then able to appreciate the films true gifts.

im-a-cyborg-but-its-okPark recalled the experience of attending the premier of the film at the Cannes film festival. He attended the festival with his family, including his young daughter. The family walked the red carpet but before entering the screening, his daughter had to be taken away as she was too young to watch the film. This experience, coupled with the fact that his daughter’s favourite movie was Pirates of the Caribbean, motivated him to make “I’m a cyborg, and that’s ok” a film about a woman who believes herself to be a robot. She is admitted to hospital where she meets a man who is convinced people are trying to steal his emotions. The interviewer pointed out that even though this is Park’s only outright comedy, it does still contain a sequence in which the main character imagines herself gunning down all of her fellow inmates. Laughing at this amicably, Park reveals that his daughter nevertheless enjoyed the film.

In discussing Park’s vampire film, Thirst, we learned about Park’s experience of Catholicism. He was an avid churchgoer as a child and a very good student within the church. Then one day his priest visited his house and told his mother that he should be sent to the seminary, as he could well be the next bishop. He promptly stopped going to church. He also told us how his wife had dated a man just before Park who had left her to enter the priesthood. This clearly inspired Thirst, which focuses on a catholic priest who leaves the priesthood to explore a sexual relationship with a woman. He also happens to contract vampirism whilst doing missionary work.

mia_wasikowska_matthew_goode_piano_a_lThere was a brief opportunity to discuss Park’s only American production, Stoker. I consider this to be the weakest film in his filmography, but nevertheless contains many of the finer qualities of his best works. The clip selected from the film was one free of dialogue. This, I felt, removed one of the greater weaknesses of the film and allowed me to appreciate the truly wonderful composition of shots. The scene features Mia Wasikowska playing at the piano. As she plays she is joined by a man claiming to be her uncle, to whom she is clearly attracted. As the tempo and shot length tighten, the tension is expertly escalated.

There was very little time left to discuss Park’s most recent film, The Handmaiden. This is a great shame as this was my favourite film of the festival and I was eager to hear him talk about it. I was also curious to hear more about Park’s unusual writing method. Apparently he wrote the Handmaiden with his writing partner, each using a keyboard connected to the same computer. This must require a tremendous bond between them.

Park continues to direct visually stunning and thought provoking works. Hearing him discuss his craft and process was invaluable. I hope at some point to hear him talk again, hopefully without the abrupt end.

handmaiden-poster