Interstellar Review

In many ways, Interstellar feels like the film Christopher Nolan was born to make. I’m not sure if he’d agree with that assessment himself, but everything about the film screams a labour of love. It’s a space odyssey, it’s a human drama, it’s all the pathos and love and hope and glory of humanity squeezed into just short of three hours. It’s laden with intense introspection and sci-fi spectacle tempered by a focus on the humanity at the heart of it all. It defies expectation and breaks convention at every turn and takes cues from the sci-fi greats like Kubrick’s 2001, Zemeckis’ Contact, and even the recent and incredible Gravity by Cuaron.

 

interstellar

Interstellar stars the always affable Matthew McConaughey as Cooper, a former NASA test pilot and engineer turned farmer. The film is set on an earth a few generations from now where dust storms ravage most of the planet and food struggles to grow, save for masses of corn. Cooper stumbles upon a secret mission to send humanity to other planets through a wormhole supposedly left just outside Jupiter’s orbit by a benefactor extra-terrestrial species to save humanity. While most of humanity seems content to remain on earth and toil in the dying soil, Cooper seems to know that we are meant for more.

The science all checks out, supervised by super genius physicist Kip Thorne. The wormhole that leads to another galaxy, and the monstrous black hole of Gargantua with its endless abyss of crushing gravity, it’s all possible. Though when you watch it unfold on the big screen, the experience of the stars bending around the black hole and the spherical wormhole tearing the fabric of reality asunder are sights to behold that will nullify all questions of science in an instant and make you feel very, very small.

In hands less able than Nolan’s, there would be a danger of spectacle overshadowing humanity, of the void of space snuffing the spark of exploration and survival that keeps us all moving forward, but the film is perfectly paced. There are moments that will reduce you to floods of tears, especially if you’re a parent. McConaughey carries the humanity of Interstellar on his weary shoulders and has excellent chemistry with scientist Brand (Anne Hathaway) and thankfully they don’t take the easy route with this relationship. The two are constantly at odds with one another, and tough decisions of survival, of the selfish against the selfless, rise again and again.

When Interstellar began life back in 2006, Spielberg was at the helm, and his hand is felt keenly throughout. Cooper leaves his children behind for the mission with a promise that turns into a lie, and if you’re unfamiliar with relativity you might be too busy scratching your head to receive the appropriate level of heart string tugging, but Cooper’s relationship with his 10 year old daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) is in many ways the beating heart behind all the science. Murph’s hurt at being left behind by her father is bitter and palpable, and Spielberg’s motif of the lost and abandoned child repeats here. Murph’s stubbornness matches her father’s, and it provides a moment midway in the film that will make you weep bitter tears.

interstellar

The science is explained well through narrative handholding that manages to avoid veering too far into exposition, though a segment explaining the folding of space by folding a piece of paper feels like a cliché that’s been done to death. One of the surprising achievements of Nolan’s space epic is that you leave the film with a real desire to learn more about the science behind it all. It’ll make you want to swallow everything you can find about black holes, relativity, time and space, and the vast sea of stars all around our tiny planet. The humanity in the film anchors it, stopping the spectacles feeling just like that and nothing more. You’ll want to weep at the beautiful brutality of the planets through the wormhole, but Cooper’s relationship with Murph and the denouement of the film will make the tears flow freely.

It seems strange that Nolan’s name has become synonymous with realism, but his two big hitters besides The Dark Knight trilogy have been Inception and Interstellar, two films that somehow feel like flights of fancy, two films that are layered like onions and need (and deserve) to be digested slowly. While Inception deals with dreams and the impossible, Interstellar is very much concerned with the real, with the possible future of humanity, and if nothing else, it’s worth seeing for that alone. It’s worth seeing to try and recapture that thirst for adventure and exploration, that desire for humanity to survive and grow. Professor Brand (Michael Caine) the genius behind the whole mission comments at one point that every bolt on the spaceship could have been a bullet instead. Maybe it’s worth us considering the opposite.

Boyhood, A Review

The excitement around the release of a film twelve years in production was palpable as Boyhood, directed by Richard Linklater, revealed its first trailers. To find that Linklater had filmed the growth of a real boy (Ellar Coltrane) from carefree youth to awkward teens, it was difficult not to see the whole project as a gimmick that would no doubt draw audiences in but would ultimately lack emotional depth. However, the reception of the film was that it would almost certainly change things, a revolution in film production as we know it.

Boyhood A Review

The film begins with what can only be described as an exceptionally basic first few shots. Coltrane at his youngest is seen lying on a grassy verge, gazing into a cloudy sky as Coldplay’s Yellow begins to play, which essentially sets the scene for what is to come. As a writer, there is a constant struggle between the initial ideas that bubble to the surface and yourself as you search for something more original, something with bite. It can be considered that perhaps, for this film at least, Linklater’s writing lacked that first mental piece of editing that filters out the obvious. Boyhood follows the story of Mason, a white, lower middle-class American boy as he grows up. The set of cliches that punctuate the movie is just astounding. The concealed lingerie magazines, the camping trips with the useless, often absent father, the radical musician-turned loveable rogue and the wise, truth-spouting teacher. The two step-fathers who between them make up the catalyst for ‘evil step dad’ as we touch upon (but never fully explore) domestic abuse, alcoholism, right-winged patriotism and harsh conservatism neatly illustrated by anger-inducing black nail varnish.

Boyhood a review

There was often a feeling throughout the film that the main concerns during production were the mechanics of how the ageing process was going to work, which often gave the impression that the storyline was written at the very last minute. The character of the mother, played by Patricia Arquette, had some intriguing light shed upon her, as hers is a story often spoken about but very rarely given much screen time. Throughout the film, we see her experience a series of losses in regards to her relationships, the final one being the loss of her son who leaves for university. Arquette’s was the character I, as a viewer, felt most invested in as we see her attempt to build a successful career and home. However, seeing her in her last scene, broken, crying and voicing her loneliness it became clear for what purpose this character was used. The mother did not get her own arch within the narrative but instead was used as an object at which abuse and anguish were thrown. It shows a warped understanding of domestic abuse when it is used purely as a plot point to give your main character some anguish, only to disregard (and ultimately punish) the woman who was subjected to it in the first place.

Boyhood merely exhibits the anecdotes that we feel we know but are neither based in reality nor even interesting. A set of clichés hidden beneath a gimmick.

Boyhood A Review

In it’s last thirty minutes the movie began to drag as we focused on a now grown Mason, Coltrane having inconsequentially not grown up to be an actor. The reviews of the film have been staggeringly in the positive, almost all written claiming that this was the perfect rendition of growing up. I believe however that the film fails to offer any form of an accurate portrait of youth and instead reels off a series of common tropes, all of which we’ve seen before, but only from the screen. The wonderful thing about real life is that it is full of strange and unexpected things. Real life is dense and complex and very rarely plays out like a movie. Boyhood merely exhibits the anecdotes that we feel we know but are neither based in reality nor even interesting. A set of clichés hidden beneath a gimmick.

20,000 Days on Earth Review


20,000 Days on Earth makes for a very unique viewing experience, the film follows 24 hours in the life of the multi-talented Nick Cave. Arguably one of the most important figures in popular music, Nick Cave has fronted two legendary bands, co-scored critically acclaimed films such as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) and The Road (2009), Cave has even proven himself as a successful screenwriter, boasting credits such as The Proposition (2005) and Lawless (2010). This is Nick Cave as we have never seen him before, part-truth and part-lie.

20000 Days On Earth

Cave’s 20,000th day marks the very start of middle-age for the Australian rockstar, the film attempts to shed some light on the mysterious cult of the god-like figure but ends up taking us somewhere completely different, perhaps revealing more about ourselves than Cave himself. Right from the beginning 20,000 Days on Earth begins to blend fact with fiction, it soon becomes clear that some of the events of the film have been fictionalised and the real truth remains unclear. The film does a great job of imitating reality, for example, we are led to believe that Cave is on his way to a routine visit to meet with his therapist, in reality it’s not his therapist: the man playing the therapist is none other than famed psychoanalyst and writer, Darian Leader. The therapist engages with Cave about everyday life but cuts in with difficult questions here and there, peppering us with anecdotes and personal reflections, we are teased the truth but it’s hard to spot the man from the myth.

Cave has shot down and dismissed any plans for a so-called “honest documentary” as he did not want his life invaded by a film crew for months on end, if anything, 20,000 Days on Earth satirises the artificial nature of certain rockumentaries and concert films, Cave is playing a version of himself, not too dissimilar to the people depicted in popular concert films like One Direction: This Is Us (2013) or Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (2011). 20,000 Days on Earth is very much the anti-documentary, directors Ian Forsyth & Jane Pollard purposely distance themselves from myth-making works like Searching for Sugar Man (2012) and Bill Maher’s controversial Religulous (2008)

 

he connects and engages with the adoring crowd in a way that’s hard to put into words, his performance at the Sydney Opera House left me in complete awe.

 

The rare and seldom glimpses into the real world of Nick Cave are just as fascinating as the fiction, seeing the living legend in the studio is quite incredible, Cave has a has a wondrous way of words, his voice is soulful and tortured, every syllable has some profound meaning or depth behind it. A big-budget rockumentary would have added unnecessary glamour and polish to the raw and unfinished sounds of the studio. 20,000 Days on Earth expertly uses concert footage to help remind us of what a powerhouse Nick Cave can be when performing live, he connects and engages with the adoring crowd in a way that’s hard to put into words, his performance at the Sydney Opera House left me in complete awe.

20,000 Days On Earth

Ray Winstone and Kylie Minogue both make fleeting appearances in the film, the two of them share conversations with Cave as passengers in his car, there is no real importance to these scenes but they help make sense of the distorted reality. Winstone and Minogue have both been part of Cave’s life to some extent, they talk not of being fellow actors and musicians, but of friends and acquaintances, they talk about their fears, their hopes for the future and pretty much everything in between. These scenes paint an ugly portrait of show business and the cult of celebrity, seeing Minogue and Winston as real people helps bring the message home.

Quite understandably, 20,000 Days on Earth may prove to be an acquired taste for many, at times, the film can seem a bit pretentious and overly self-important, as if the same joke was being repeated time and time again. The film does not serve well as introduction to the music of Nick Cave, if anything, 20,000 Days on Earth is very much a treasure-trove for devoted fans; those not already familiar with Cave’s music may feel a bit isolated and left out. The cinematography and sound design is very hard to fault; the crisp and frantic editing style lends itself particularly well to the dreamlike and alien imagery. If you are looking for a straight-forward concert movie then you will walk away disappointed, however, if you are looking for something a little bit different to the standard fare then there is much to take away from 20,000 Days on Earth.

I Origins

Someone once said, moaning cleanses the soul. Me, it was me. I just said it. Many things in day to day life grind my gears. For instance, when intellectually stunted girls begin sentences with: ‘I’m not being funny, but….’Don’t worry. It wasn’t funny, one bit. A second instance, is when I get uncontrollably enamoured by a film I’ve seen, proceed to reinforce my love with the approval from my bible of all review websites, Rotten Tomatoes, only to find a shockingly contrasting rating to what I expected to encounter. Being an amalgamation of different opinions from various critics, it’s almost always a trust worthy source that corresponds with my judgements. Saying that, these instances are very rare, but for I Origins, I anticipated a higher rating than just 53%.
I origins

Another Earth director Mike Cahill addresses the interesting theme of religion vs science in his second feature film. I Origins dogmatic philosophical approach may seem pretentious to some, but its intriguing subject is undisputedly intended to disarray the heart strings. As someone very much fascinated by the ideology of souls and spirituality, but also a cynical realist, the concept of questioning the universe is at the top of my list, and I’m sure similarly is for other like-minded thinkers.

 

Scientist Ian Grey (Michael Pitt) is a PhD student researching the evolution of the eye. Rather than a belief in fate, his life philosophies are based on solid facts and science, and through his explorations he hopes to prove the non existence of god. In an engaging opening scene Ian meets a masked female at a Halloween party named Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). The closed off mysterious girl quickly disappears from the party, and after their brief but captivating encounter, Ian is left with just a picture he took of her eyes. He adds this to his visually mesmerising collection of Iris snapshots and becomes infatuated with seeing her unique eyes once again. Fate seems to reunite the two, and the cynical scientist is brought face to face with circumstances that contrast completely with his firm beliefs. It is in fact science itself that leads him to question these beliefs, as him and his lab partner Karen, (Brit Marling) studying non-seeing organisms, begin to develop an eye from scratch.

 

The idea of using the ‘eye’to evoke a debate of interpretations from both scientific and spiritual stances is rather genius. Never mind the characters; the eye itself, as something to think about, but something you never really ever think about, is almost interesting enough. For example, all people with blue eyes share a common ancestor. Cool, right? Every single adult in this world has the exact same diameter of eye, but every single eye is completely unique to each person. There’s another. When I left the cinema I found myself noticing strangers eyes more than I normally would. Wondering about all the amazing things those eyes have shown them through the years. What their favourite view of all time has been. Your eyes define you on this earth. When you’re dead and gone, your once shining and bright distinctive eyes that brought you this world will also appear dead and empty. We have all heard ‘the eyes are the window to the soul’, and perceptions like these make it seem a possibility. On the other hand, from the scientific view point, the eye has a diameter of 24mm, only 1/6th is exposed and there are over 7 million colour cones that detect colour. Yes it’s impressive, but facts and figures equate to science and evolution, awakening quite a veteran debate. The dispute is conveyed through two characters who share an exhilarating love, and Ian’s opinions begin to be swayed by Sofi’s spiritual ideas.

I origins

I must confess, despite being rigorously impassioned by my first viewing of I Origins, watching it again some days later left me with a slightly lesser sentiment. I failed to notice that almost every line of dialogue is some sort of philosophical speech, alongside the amount of in-your-face establishing shots conveying conceptions already expressed enough through other means. We get the point Cahill. Having said that, its appeal is probably an acquired taste and I am a sucker for these types of ‘deep and meaningful’articulations. Its flaw also lies in cramming way too much into the plot line half way through. It even diverts the complicated concept all the way to India, which begins to feel like a whole different film. However, this confusing plot turn is somewhat validated by an unexpected and emotional end.

Tim’s Vermeer

Tim Jenison is a talented architect, an accomplished musician, a pioneer in computer effects industry and something of a prolific inventor. This documentary follows Jenison’s goal to recreate The Music Lesson by legendary Dutch artist, Johannes Vermeer. The only problem is that Tim is not a painter.

Tim’s Vermeer is directed by Teller, one half of the famous double-act, Penn & Teller, the duo also serves as writers, with Penn producing and providing narration. Tim Jenison is an old acquaintance of the magicians and they have both been in awe of Jenison’s unique ability to marvel at any skill he lays his hands on. Though technology is at his heart, Tim has long been fascinated by the works of Vermeer, he is fascinated by the “filmic quality” of Vermeer’s paintings, this unique quality distances Vermeer from others Renaissance artists. The great works of Vermeer have an uncanny glow to them, akin to a photograph rather than a painting, the colours too realistic and the attention-to-detail at a near-impossible level. Jenison believes that Vermeer was aided by optic tools in order to achieve such perfection in his paintings and so his investigation begins.

 

Tims Vermeer Review

Screenshot from ‘Tim’s Vermeer’

After doing some initial research about optic tools of the era, Tim begins to paint aided with a curved mirror. He uses a photograph of his father as an early template and successfully replicates the photograph. After working out the correct colours, he only has to follow what he sees in front of him, not quite tracing the image but rather filling in the spaces. The finished painting looks flawless, looking like an exact reproduction.

Feeling happy with his results, Tim decides to pay a flying visit to legendary English artist David Hockney. Hockney himself had previously published a book that argued Renaissance-era painters were aided by optical aids and other technology. Both Hockney and Jenison marvel at Vermeer’s technical skill as well as his tremendous artistic ability, they agree that science and art don’t have to be mutually exclusive, they can work together to produce something extraordinary. Tim’s Vermeer does not set out to destroy the romanticised portrait of the master painters, if anything it applauds the Renaissance painters as pioneers ahead of their time.

Now reassured in his actions, Tim begins work on his very own copy of Vermeer’s The Music Lesson. As an absolute perfectionist, Tim wants to paint exactly as Vermeer would have done and every detail from The Music Lesson is slowly replicated in his warehouse studio. We are treated to a fantastic montage that shows Tim’s exhaustive efforts in sourcing every object from the picture, the montage is truly incredible, reminiscent of something straight out of a Hollywood film. Tim’s extraordinary, almost super-human efforts are proof that this is no vanity project, Tim has had a love affair with Vermeer for most of his life and wishes to honour the great master as best as he possibly can.

Arguably the best part of Tim’ Vermeer is seeing Tim becoming more and more attached to his painting, behind the tears and the frustration is someone who understands the importance of art, how it can improve our life and of the unexplainable way it makes us feel. For me, Tim’s emotional journey was as important as the progress of the painting.

Though I believe Tim’s Vermeer is an excellent documentary for both art connoisseurs and everyday cinemagoers, I do feel that the film has a certain agenda behind it, mostly due to the inclusion of Penn & Teller. It’s a commonly known fact that Penn & Teller are sceptics: the pair have spoken out against a variety of subjects such as pseudo-science, faith-healers, psychics, Feng Shui, capital punishment and several other controversial subjects. At times Tim’s Vermeer feels like an attack on the concept of artistic genius. A few scenes are dedicated to debunking that Vermeer was not an artistic savant and they make it clear that the great artist had no profound physical abilities, a noble conclusion but it feels like the filmmakers are trying to take the “magic” out of his paintings. Tim’s finished painting is presented more as a finished experiment than a brilliant painting. It’s true that Tim did not paint unaided but the brushstrokes and focus didn’t come out of nowhere.

 

Tim’s Vermeer is a wonderful film but it has drawn some inevitable backlash from members of the art community for understandable reasons, but in my opinion, the film should be seen as a form of entertainment rather than a serious document. The claim that anyone can paint like Vermeer aided with tools may be a bit much for some, but you can still take some joy from watching a near-impossible project that took years to finish unfold before your very eyes. If you take the film at face value then you won’t regret it, Tim’s Vermeer is packed full of heart, warmth and humour, it can be moving at times and perhaps it may even teach you a thing or two. It may not be the most cinematic documentary ever but it’s an honest film and has its heart in the right place. Whatever you think of the finished product, the journey getting there was the best part.

 

Finding Vivian Maier

Finding Vivian Maier is a documentary film created by amateur John Maloof that is based upon the somewhat obscure and mysterious career of Nanny Vivian Maier. It was unknown that Maier had a cache of over 100,000 photographs in her collection. This has led to her posthumous reputation as one of America’s best and The New York Times regarded her as “one of America’s most insightful street photographers”. The documentary itself has won a variety of prestigious awards and been chosen as part of the official selection of Berlin and Palm Springs International film festival 2014.

 

vivian maier

Vivian Maier was born in the U.S and spent most of her childhood in France. She was a self-taught photographer and was meticulously private. She shot mostly urban life in Chicago and New York. Maier had a talent for catching the most striking monochromatic street photographs and examples of her work are shown continuously throughout the film. Themes that are popular with street photographers such as the down and out, crying children (or children with ice-cream), crime scenes and the interesting old man with a hat and a cigar is prominent within the Photographer’s work. Nonetheless, Maier’s photographs are beautiful. I absolutely adore how she captures truth and strong emotion from her subjects. Maier has a sense of humour documented within some of her photographs that include cheeky shots of women’s skirt’s flying up, dogs that provide comedy value and various other random shots. Within the situations Maier has been able to make her subjects feel at ease and capture close and personal shots that is highly commendable.

Of the various interviews throughout the film from the children she had cared for, none of them knew much about her. Truthfully, they all appeared as rather odd individuals that described Maier’s imagination, her stern demeanour and her political views. They all stated that Maier was never without her Rolleiflex Camera and guarded her possessions zealously.

 

vivian maier

John Maloof encountered Maier’s negatives at a thrift store in Chicago’s West side that led to his decision to reveal the photographer’s work to the world. This raises the question of the artist’s rights and if Maloof had the right to promote and curate Maier’s work. It was widely advertised throughout the film that Vivian was very private and showed her work to no one. Maloof questions himself continuously throughout the film and debates if he should continue to promote Maier’s work without her permission. To begin with, the photographer’s work was not even accepted or recognised by major galleries. The film documents Maloof’s struggle of raising awareness in regards to Maier’s photographs. Currently, Maloof has catalogued over 90% of Vivian’s work and is in the process of receiving recognition from major galleries across the USA.

Vivian Maier documented American street life from the 1950’s and continued for the next five decades. Maloof relates her to Henri Cartier-Bresson, which is a rather strong statement although her photographs are striking and each one is stronger than the last. The film is mediocre and does what it says on the tin (describing the life of Vivian Maier). The most important part of prying into this photographer’s life was being able to see the magic of her work on film. It is inspiring and is a must see for an aspiring photographer.

 

 

Cutie and the Boxer

Documentary films have the rare power to capture life like no other medium. Great documentaries like the phenomenal Act of Killing and Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine offer us a very unique and personal exercise in the human condition. Cutie and the Boxer is something of an enigma; for one thing, it defies tradition with its abstract picture of a self-proclaimed “boxing artist”, Ushio Shinohara and his assistant, Noriko, who also happens to be his loving wife.

The documentary chronicles the inner workings of a highly creative couple, husband Ushio is highly regarded by the underground art scene for his surreal alternative works and wishes to be recognised by a larger audience through a dedicated exhibition. Ushio is famed for his unique style of painting; dipping a pair of boxing gloves in colourful inks and paints and then striking the canvas, creating brilliant patterns, bursting full of energy. Ushio’s wife, Noriko, wishes to break free from her husband’s shadow and wishes to be seen as a credible artist on her own merit.

Cutie and The Boxer

Cutie and the Boxer explores the dynamic, and sometimes strained, relationship between two very creative people, who both have very different attitudes and motives behind their art. Noriko’s art is very self-reflective and autobiographic whereas Ushio is based on impulse and raw energy. Though they are very different people in their own right, there is no denying the underlying affection they have for each other, it is refreshing to see such an honest and truthful relationship on screen.

This is very much a film that is open to interpretation; I don’t believe that there is any profound message behind the film and I don’t think there was meant to be one. Cutie and the Boxer is for lovers of art and those who are interested in real human drama. I felt attached to both Ushio and Noriko to a certain extent; I warmed to them both as people and as artists. Though I can’t say that I have fallen in love with Ushio or Noriko’s art, I can see the thought, direction and hard work behind each piece. Ushio was part of Japan’s rebellious avant-garde scene in the 1960’s, and at the age of 81, you can still see what drives him to paint, sculpt and draw. For Noriko, her art is far more melancholic and emotional. As a young woman she lived for art but after so many years caring for her family she simply lost the energy for it and now as an older woman, her art tells the story of her life. She may have lost her way in the past but her burning artistic vision never truly died.

Cutie & The Boxer

There’s no doubt that Cutie and the Boxer celebrates art and artists but the film led me to believe that the whole art scene was a very cynical and shallow system. I found myself feeling very bitter towards the art dealers who were praising Ushio with such a nauseating atmosphere of elitism and pretention. For what it’s worth, I truly felt like I was experiencing the day in the life of an artist, from the highs of selling a piece to the excruciating lows of rejection and self-loathing.

My only real criticism of the film is its blatant objectivity in certain places. I wanted someone to address Ushio for his actions or learn more of Noriko’s past. This is what great documentaries do, they invest us in the lives of others. After the film had finished, I was still thinking about the couple and I wondered what future they may have together, whether Ushio will thank Noriko for everything she has done for him, for standing by him for so many decades.

I really enjoyed watching Cutie and the Boxer, I definitely feel that I have take something away from the film. I feel that I can appreciate the work of artists more. This is an excellent documentary for those interested in the arts or just people just looking for a real-life love story.

The Wind Rises – A Farewell to Hayao Miyazaki

Wind Rises

On the one scorching Scottish summers day, of the year probably, I sat alone in my local cinema screen, anticipating the experience of Hayao Miyazaki’s farewell Studio Ghibli film. As a second audience member entered the dark empty room, we glanced a look of understanding and approval; we had both made a fine and wise choice on how to spend this sunny afternoon.

The darkness began to unfold into a bright other world. A recognisable world full of imagination familiar to any Ghibli fan. However, The Wind Rises departs from Miyazaki’s distinctive style of magic and mythical creatures, providing audiences with something slightly more mature.

Based on a true story, the 72 year old visionary director portrays the life of Jiro Horikoshi, an aspiring engineer fascinated by the creation of airplanes. We embark upon a journey spanning from Jiro’s innocent childhood dreams, through the hardships of his life, and to the end reality of his accomplishments as a renowned airplane designer during WW2. Although the inspiring beauty within Jiro’s dreams and passion is unmistakable, Miyazaki’s use of juxtaposition allows the exploration of serious ethical issues. Supporting our protagonist dreams and success is fundamentally supporting the creation of machines that aided the Nazi Regime and caused many deaths.

We see this moral contrast within Jiro’s dreams. The endless blue skies and vivid colours prove Miyazaki’s escapism into imagination and fantasy is still definitely present, but we also see the opposite in Jiro’s nightmares. He foreshadows the future with flames and death, and cannot dismiss his guilt of what his magnificent designs will eventually be used for.

On the one hand we have a gentle and enchanting story, accompanied by a delicate soundtrack and adorable characters. On the other hand we explore issues of poverty, the economy, natural disasters, death and war. Although more of a war-time drama than Miyazaki’s fantastical classics like ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ and ‘Spirited Away’, the adult protagonist and serious themes aren’t just for adults and in fact could be a great beacon in enticing children to analyse aspects of history and humanity. Seeing Miyazaki’s delightful animations swiftly changing from happy faces to distress and panic really exerts feelings of empathy, and proves animation can be a very powerful device.

Life lessons of never giving up on your dreams, the importance of family and love, and the kindness of strangers are further simple philosophical themes that are lightly, but faultlessly expressed. Jiro is quite a simple protagonist, and may even seem slightly dulland lacking in personality. However, it is his morals of life that make him our hero.

Auteurist’s believe that the style of a director should be individual and identifiable, and Miyazaki definitely exudes this quality. The impressive visuals and attention to detail within The Wind Rises is standard within Studio Ghibli productions, as is the lyricism present within its narrative. Only they could make the labour of industrial technology beautiful and romantic. The consistent visual style invites us into Japanese culture through its unique aesthetics of Japanese homes and architecture. We observe the characters sitting on traditional Japanese floor mats eating food and conversing. These low shots render an intimate atmosphere. The customs and mise-en-scene designs are standard within Japan, but provide an intriguing quality to audiences not accustom with the Japanese way of life, and the fine details of these drawings are truly mesmerising.

Miyazaki cleverly inserts the concept of retiring into his retirement film, and leaves us fuelled with one last dose of inspiration, an element unceasingly sustained within his animations. In the beginning a simple gust of wind introduces Jiro to his true love, and later, brings them back together again. The wind also provides the inspiring quote that sums up the film’s philosophical nature very nicely. Given to us through fellow retiring artist Caproni, perhaps this allows us to pretend it’s Miyazaki speaking to us himself: ’The wind rises! We must attempt to live!’ The original words of French Poet and philosopher Paul Valery, and now the epic farewell to a genius director. Now we must attempt to live without the prospect of more beautiful and magical Miyazaki films.

The Wind Rises

The Double

The Double

Have you ever had that gut-wrenching feeling of believing you just aren’t good enough? The perfectionist inside you, brainwashing you into thinking ‘what is the point…I’m not as good as her/him anyway…’? Well, if there’s any hope in convincing us insecure and torturously over analytical lot that it’s all just in our heads, then self-deprecating yet extremely talented Richard Ayoade is definitely our man. And what better casting to star in his new film The Double than Jessie Eisenberg; an actor who also proves you don’t need to be an extrovert to be outstandingly successful.
Many of us continually put ourselves down. I know I wouldn’t allow anyone to insult me the way I casually devour myself with negativity. People are their own worst enemies, and Ayoade literally transports the old clichéd saying: ‘the only thing holding you back is you’ onto screen, in a unique and distinctively dark approach.

Although Ayoade sincerely believes his directing skills aren’t that great, his adaption of Dostoyevsky’s The Double renders a visually impressive dystopian future. In this world, compliant Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) lives a monotonous life. Unnoticed by his work colleagues, and his photocopy girl crush (Mia Wasikowska), he simply exists as just another insignificant face. His obsessive feelings towards his co-worker are the only optimism within his depressing existence. However, his awkward romantic attempts get him nowhere and he feels powerless to change his timid ways. Simon’s mundane routine takes a bizarre turn with the arrival of James Simon (also Eisenberg), who is his exact physical double, but everything Simon is not. The confidently suave alter ego hurls him into a psychological nightmare, while no one else notices the resemblance, and James begins to attain and accomplish everything Simon wishes he could. Ayoade’s previous ties with the innovative effects artists at London’s Framestore invite their smart mirroring techniques to double the protagonist up on screen. Eisenberg does an impressive job in the portrayal of two distinctly contrasting personalities.

 

The Double

 

Shot at nights, in an abandoned business estate and underground for three months, Ayoade crafts a claustrophobic and unidentifiable place and time. The visual effects cleverly depict oppressively endless buildings, although the structures are in reality no taller than four levels high.We feel trapped in a humdrum existence of lonely apartment blocks and narrow office corridors, which magnify the feelings of anguish and frustration. Suicide is a recurring theme yet the film’s black humour shines through just enough to stop things becoming unbearably bleak. Whilst the dialogue is everything you might hope from an Ayoade film, ranging from subtly hilarious to wonderfully strange, the heart of the film lies in the ominous aesthetics. Many amateur film makers wonder why their attempts don’t convey a cinematic feel, and a common answer to that is lighting. The characters are bathed in a dim but sickly yellow light, akin to that of a seedy motel lobby, and as the film’s reality spins further into ambiguity the characters are cast in a post-apocalyptic mist. The soundtrack similarly is haunting and shrill, almost as if the world is creaking and on the brink of falling apart.

Watching The Double is like being plunged into the deepest depths of the human psyche for an hour and a half, face to face with the crippling fears of underachievement and self-doubt. It also illustrates a world so disconnected from real life, that it sucks you in and obliges you to feel equally isolated. However, Ayoade neutralizes the unsettling gloominess with the ideal amount of humour, while Jesse Eisenberg seems more than capable of taking on the British sarcasm the film is drenched in. We may all at times feel inadequate, and wish we could be the complete opposite of who we are. However, Richard Ayoade need not worry about his flaws, as his bold directorial style apparent within The Double is a quiet triumph.

Under The Skin

So when I heard A-list celeb Scarlett Johansson was starring in Glasgow based low-budget indie movie Under the Skin, it didn’t wholly surprise me.  I met Johansson last year in Los Angeles, while she was being presented her Hollywood star on the walk of fame. Jeremy Renner was her guest speaker, who introduced her as ‘the girl he met a few years back in NYC wearing dirty Converse, covered in tattoos and piercings’.

Not your conventional Hollywood A-lister, Johansson stems from two films that try to avoid clichés; Terry Zwigoff’s quirky and bizarre Ghost World and Sofia Coppola’s melancholy yet beautiful Lost in Translation (my hands began to hurt from excessive clapping when these titles were mentioned during the voice-over list of her career), and has starred in almost 40 other films to date. Maybe just luck or perhaps our shared choice of septum piercing caught her eye and brought her in my direction; however, she walked straight to me after her first interview. And no, I did not just imagine this in the way deluded fans exclaim ‘Oh my god, the lead singer totally just looked at me and sang that song JUST to me’. We made eye contact, she obviously dug my style, and then she walked towards me. She did. I promise.

As she was signing my small yellow post- it, and not the vast amount of large laminated Avenger’s posters pushed towards her by obsessively costumed fans, and people hoping to sell them online, I proceeded to ask her where her septum piercing was? She laughed and replied with a cheeky grin, ‘Oh it’s in there!’ possibly tucking it up after the bad press she received with her bold piercing choice.

Now with rumours she may be moving to my neighbouring city Glasgow, for its poetry festivals and underground live music scene (although Edinburgh is better…ahem…), her likeability, in my books, continues to grow.

Under The Skin

Her recent role in Jonathan Glazers’s Under the Skin depicts a man- eating alien disguised as a seductive woman, who drives around looking for unsuspecting male victims. Filmed in Glasgow, the cinematography offers realistic images juxtaposed with powerful sci-fi visual effects. The portrayal of Glasgow may offer escapism to viewers unacquainted with the location, an attribute many audiences desire from cinema. However, for myself, I feel I could see these images with my own eyes, for free, if I simply walked into the city centre.  Although the concept that scenes were secretly filmed with the crew hiding in the back of the car is interesting and demonstrates a unique and intriguing technique, I feel the bleak realism of Glasgow may be excessively depicted. The frustratingly slow shots and repetitive nature of events creates a dull and monotonous narrative. However, with almost no dialogue or back story, the mysterious element certainly lingers after its viewing. The minimalist role is a very internal performance from Johansson. She perfectly captures the emotionless yet deadly femme fatal character, and alongside the visually stunning digital effects and creepy soundtrack, evokes an eerie darkness throughout the film.

The notion of gender is also cleverly represented. Being voted sexiest woman alive by Esquire Magazine in 2006 and 2013 proves Johansson to be the perfect casting for the object of male desire. The effortless ability to lure a male through sexual lust is one gender weakness Glazer explores. The film also illustrates a statement of society’s beauty culture. The alien takes the form of an attractive female, as women seem to be valued by beauty. The use of mirror images as Johansson applies her deadly red lipstick interestingly captures this theme. Furthermore, the patriarchal culture of men believing woman to be an easy sexual endeavour is also apparent. Watching a male characters dissolve into the unknown, when he thought he’d be getting some straightforward sexy-time, gave me some slight sadistic pleasure as a female…

A second gender weakness is femininities role in the downfall of Johansson’s once blank character. When watching the film I noticed engaging links to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, similarly set in Scotland. The character Lady Macbeth asks to be ‘unsexed’; allowing the removal of nurturing and motherly characteristics stereotypically associated with femininity, to instead become ambitious and murderous. She even discusses the killing of a baby, an act one would think unimaginable for a female with maternal instincts to carry out. The reverse happens to the Under the Skin alien. In an early scene we see the detached character ignore a crying baby left alone on a beach at night, after the parents have been washed out to sea. I found this scene very distressing to watch, but its presence is a very effective tool in portraying the alien’s initial empty and cold demeanour. However, taking female shape results in ‘feminine weaknesses’ developing in the form of emotions and vulnerability. The alien begins to ignore its male-devouring purpose as its human morals begin to grow.

Overall, Under the Skin is an interesting and original take on a ‘female’ alien prowling the streets, and I feel that with the streets being Glasgow, it adds to its unique element. I enjoy seeing big stars, like Scarlett Johansson, branch back out to the organic roots of independent film. Globalization within film opens up opportunity for wider audiences to observe other cultures. Although its bleak and unglamorous depiction of Glasgow is not a very positive portrayal, it still offers a refreshing distinction from Hollywood cinema. It took Glazer 9 years to adapt the original novel. Even if you don’t like the film, you will definitely not forget it. Maybe for its mesmerising visual effects. Perhaps for its unusual idea and its realistic shooting methods. Or possibly you will simply enjoy observing Johansson walk around a normal shopping centre, unnoticed by every day people, and realise famous celebrities may not be as alien as we hold them up to be. Under the skin we are all just human.

 

Written By Nasreen Saraei

Blue Is The Warmest Colour

Blue is the Warmest Colour

 

 I recently watched the 2013 Cannes Film Festival award winning ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’. Having received the highest prize award ‘Palme d’Or’, ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ has had a number of reactions from critical acclaim to others finding it’s 10 minute long lesbian sex scene an unnecessary element in the Director, Abdellatif Kechiche’s, grueling aim for realism and perfection.

However coming from the perspective of not having seen any of the director’s previous films and knowing that it was a coming-of-age story based on a same sex relationship, I generally wasn’t sure how the storyline would unravel apart from the fact that I do have a love of French cinema.

Blue is The Warmest Colour

 I found that its consistent realism was an incredibly powerful tool. I connected with the main character, Adèle, and it felt like I was watching a real life documentary. This specifically manifested itself during the scenes of Adele crying; it was the kind of crying of heartbreak and loss, the type an audience can resonate with. It had no air of Hollywood drama and over acting. It felt as if the emotion was real and you felt her pain. The same effect goes into the scenes of Adele sleeping and eating. It’s a simple concept in terms of a film scene, however these are the moments in the film that make it so realistic, that before you know it you are sucked into her world. Realism within ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ not only comes through within the narrative of the relationship but also within the characters; Adele wants to be a teacher and Emma is a painter in the harsh economy of France, where the film discusses it’s personal effects on the lack of jobs due to the recession and the protests against it. Nothing is over fantastical and everything you witness is tangible. It allows you as the audience to relate.

The elements of realism seems to be a fundamental aspect of the Director’s aims and what I enjoyed initially is it doesn’t appear to be a gimmick about a lesbian couple and never particularly plays on it, whilst still managing to delve into the struggle of accepting one’s sexuality in a realistic scenario. It is more of an exploration of a person’s first real relationship, it’s high and lows and the love and loss, and this is something I felt was executed very well above anything else. However I do feel that this was somewhat undermined by the 10 minute long sex scene that seemed rather gratuitous and was there just for shock value. Whatever the reason for it, the length of time did feel a little too long but it did in a very basic way, showcase the level of passion and lust the couple had for one another that was also represented in other areas of the film in a much cleverly executed manner.

Overall I will recommend this film and I especially recommend it to those interested in French realism cinema to that of Un Prophète and La Vie en Rose. It is a slightly long film of three hours but it is a worthy piece of cinema non the less.

Alexandra