Initially deemed ‘too gay’ for theatrical release in the United States, Steven Soderbergh’s accomplished biopic based on the book of the same name was met with generally positive responses from audiences upon theatrical release in Europe, with the film even in the running for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It is a heart-wrenching insight into the life of an eccentric yet often misunderstood musical genius and the demons that haunted him in his heavily shadowed and secretive life. If by ‘too gay’ the film studios meant a joyously charming, fascinatingly intriguing and irrefutably enthralling cinematic experience led by a veteran craftsman, then may their judgment be met with resounding agreement.
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If Abrams’ copious lens flares and Chris Pine’s distractingly dazzling yet somewhat unearthly blue eyes aren’t visually assaulting the audience, they are lavished with consistent beauty and finesse brought to the screen by advanced high resolution IMAX cameras employed by a creative artist more than capable of crafting an accessible and thrilling Sci-Fi chef d’oeuvre. Despite jumping starship to the Star Wars franchise, J.J Abrams has once again delivered a grandiose offering of cosmic magnitude; Star Trek (2009) might have proven difficult, if not impossible to follow but in the experienced hands of a directorially accomplished veteran and self-professed Sci-Fi nerd, there was little cause for concern.
Chasing Ice is in its most basic form an environmental documentary, a man with a plan ready to educate the general public about the speed and immediacy of global warming in a medium everybody understands – photography. Sounds self-righteous and preachy? Well it isn’t.
Director Sarah Polley is most widely known as an actress (Splice 2009, Dawn of Dead 2004) and in her native home Canada for her political activism. Her first film Away From Her was academy award nominated for screenplay, and her second film Take This Waltz premiered at Toronto International Film Festival. Stories We Tell is her third film and first documentary feature, which after a premier at Venice Film Festival was awarded the prize for best Canadian film of the year by the Toronto Critics Association. Polley is said to be a critics favourite for her sensitive portraits of conflicted young women in independent films, so it’s no real surprise that her documentary is an exploration of the search for the truths behind her biological paternity.
The Iceman is a film suited to Michael Shannon’s sensibilities as a man who masks hidden rage better than any other modern actor. It is the true story of Richard Kuklinski, a hit man for the mob who ultimately killed dozens and dozens of people while managing to carry on a family life with a wife and children who never knew his true identity. The mob elements are familiar, but The Iceman is not a film about organized crime so much as it is a strict character study about a psychopath, a serial killer who turned his evil desires into a profession. And as this picture is more character driven than focused on a plot, or the inner workings of mafia business, I cannot think of an actor I would rather watch in this role than the great Michael Shannon.
The Canadian DVD release of the Studio Ghibli animation feature From Up On Poppy Hill follows the recent announcement that the studio’s co-founder and established animation director Hayao Miyazaki is in full retirement. His eleventh film The Wind Rises premiered in competition at Venice Film Festival which is currently underway. The news was broken by Studio Ghibli president Koju Hoshino and a formal statement by Hayao Miyazaki is to follow at a press conference in Tokyo next week. Fans worldwide have known the director to be in partial retirement for years, so it won’t come as a surprise as the most recent films have subsequently involved Miyazaki in more senior roles with less and less involvement in the animation progress. Working on the vast amount of the studio’s productions, film industry and animation has never been just a career for the now seventy-two year old Japanese master.
There is huge irony in the film’s title, ‘Now You See Me’ and this is that the film disguises itself in an alluring and seductive trailer that promises to amaze and astound through intelligent and thoughtful storytelling, then ultimately delivers a mediocre and far from magical cinematic experience when watched in full. Directed by The Incredible Hulk’s Louis Leterrier, Now You See Me regrettably falls into the category of film that leaves no surprises to the imagination, mistakenly advertising arguably the best of the film’s climaxes in the trailer, ultimately leading to one inevitable outcome when experiencing the film in full for the first time: disappointment.
Baz Lurhmann’s take on the definitive American novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald is yet another addition to the ever growing collection of The Great Gatsby book-to-film adaptations that now warrants its own genre due to the multitude of motion pictures inspired by the novel. However, unlike previous efforts, Baz Luhrmann brings his trademark stylish flair to this modern remake that indisputably translates the grandiose class and extravagance of the novel to the screen. With a cast as star-studded as the elaborately designed period dresses attired by its characters, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is a magnificently executed modern take on a popular classic.
Satyajit Ray, Madhabi Mukherjee, and a Trilogy of Spaces of Female Identities: Charulata (1964) - NP Approved
Though Charulata’s drama takes place practically inside the upper-middle class abode of married couple Bhupati (Sailen Mukherjee) and Charu (Madhabi Mukherjee) and could be described as a love triangle, the characters’ preoccupations and relationships with each other make the film not just about a family and suppressed romance but also about a woman’s desire, class, dissent in the colonial era, and Bengali literary culture. With its literary references and the act of writing translated into cinematic terms to elaborate the above, Charulata is one of Satyajit Ray’s most infinitely insightful films and one of the most fully realised in terms of cast-crew collaborations and understanding the uniqueness of his medium.
Satyajit Ray, Madhabi Mukherjee, and a Trilogy of Spaces of Female Identities: The Big City (1963) - NP Approved
Early in Satyajit Ray’s The Big City/Mahanagar, Subrata Mazumdar (Anil Chatterjee), a bank clerk, tells his wife Arati (Madhabi Mukherjee) in English, “A woman’s place is in the home.” Yet what transpires in the film is not about Arati suffering in the small, cramped house where she lives with her husband and their son, her teenage sister-in-law Bani (Jaya Bhaduri), and her in-laws in Calcutta. Instead, the film is an exquisite, sensitive work about the emotional growth that Arati experiences when she decides to take a job to help with the family’s limited financial situation. Moreover, the film is a keenly felt portrait of how Arati’s emotional growth forces those around her to feel challenged in their sedimented attitudes towards women’s roles outside of a domestic, familial context and undergo their own respective emotional developments.