Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Freight Trains and Boarding Schools

Yet more quick reveiws of films I've been watching recently. I'm enjoying doing these but I also have two or three full reviews that will hopefully surface sometime soon. For now here's four shorter ones. Be sure to let me know what you thought of these films if you've seen them, I'd love to know. There may be some mild spoilers in these.

Jordan Scott // 2009 // 15 // 104 mins

At a remote girls boarding school the diving team are treated as the elite, under the caring eye of their eccentric coach, Ms. G (Eva Green). When a new foreign pupil, the beautiful and exotic Fiamma (María Valverde), arrives at the school and joins the team, Ms. G's fascination with the girl causes tension amongst the girls and brings their coaches character into question. Each of the performances within the film are perfect, Eva Green plays the charismatic yet creepy teacher exactly right while the likes of Juno Temple and Imogen Poots portray the cliquey, unfriendly nature of the girls team with great conviction. Temple particularly excels throughout the climax of the film as the world around her character comes into turmoil and she plays the conflict of the characters situation wonderfully. The attention to detail on display here is second to none ensuring that the films entire aesthetic is stunning, most notable through the fantastic costuming, while the cinematography is used to beautify the era in which it is set. Slow motion shots of the girls diving into the glistening lake are beautifully filmed and recurrent throughout the film, and display the manner in which the film explores how 'pretty façades' are employed in order to thinly veil the sinister nature of plot. The story itself is extremely engaging with continuous levels of intrigue and character exploration, particularly in regards to the complex figure of Ms. G. Cracks is a visual accomplishment that succeeds in exploring a dark subject matter while also delivering a number of enjoyable performances.

Anna Karenina
Joe Wright // 2012 // 12 // 129 mins

In late 19th Century Russia a high-society aristocrat, Anna (Keira Knightley) turns her marriage and social standing upside down in order to carry out and affair with charming cavalry officer Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Director Joe Wright and writer Tom Stoppard place the events of Tolstoy's famed novel in a fantasy theatre world in which the artificiality is celebrated with sets coming apart as the characters traverse locations; a decision which is for the most part hugely successful. Visually the film creates a rich tapestry through it's remarkable use of costume, lighting and set, which is used to its greatest effect during a dance between Anna and Vronsky early on in the film. This style unfortunately peaks at this point however and nothing that follows can quite reach the high standard set by this sequence, which it seems the director knew as the utilisation of this unique theatrical device becomes considerably lessened in the last third of the film, to the point that when it does return it seems out of place. The story is engaging but never fully explored, with Anna's separation from her child lacking the attention and emotional impact it is suggested to have on the character, whilst a sub-plot focusing Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) and his romantic interests in his friends sister-in-law Kitty (Alicia Vikander) feels merely tacked on and more of a hinderance to the main story. The trouble when adapting any novel into a film, particularly one as vast as this, is that plots and characters become compromised by the runtime, and in this case a focus on aesthetics as well. Unfortunately the performances do little to save the film from becoming simply a stylish experiment that succeeds in pleasing the eye but fails to do evoke anything deeper.

Gerald McMorrow // 2008 // 15 // 98 mins

The lives of three unrelated Londoners are intertwined as they each search for something or someone missing from their lives, whilst in a dystopian metropolis, Meanwhile City, the masked vigilante Jonathan Preest (Ryan Phillippe) hunts down a sinister religious leader. In unravelling the four separate stories that have been created here the film goes to some dark, bizarre and sometimes touching places, but unfortunately they never seem to interweave as smoothly as they should. In particular the transitions between modern day London and the timeless world of Meanwhile City often seem forced and jarring which takes away from the experience of the film as a whole. Ryan Phillippe delivers his best Rorschach impression, and while his storyline is visually impressive it lacks any real purpose and sure enough, when the final act reveals the inevitable connections between the four characters it becomes increasingly apparent that this story was included simply to diversify the narrative and add some aesthetic interest. The performances are all mediocre, talented actors like Eva Green and Sam Riley do nothing to elevate the often bland characters to any kind of higher status, with the only truly engaging character being a secondary character who appears in two of the stories for a minimal amount of time. Throughout the film it is overwhelmingly apparent that this is simply the product of a director mixing together numerous stories, characters and styles that he likes and seeing what happens. The result is an uneven, yet pleasing to the eye, mess that doesn't work hard enough pay off for the viewer.

Tony Scott // 2010 // 12 // 98 mins

On their first day working together two freight train workers, newbie conductor Will (Chris Pine) and veteran engineer Frank (Denzel Washington), find themselves on the same track as an unmanned train that shows know sign of stopping and is speeding towards them. Aside from it's generic placement as a 'mindless entertainment' movie, director Tony Scott's last effort somehow succeeds in being extremely watchable. The plot is relatively bland and uninspired and the 'based on true events' title card that precedes it appears as a cheap way to gain some extra attention from the viewer. Nevertheless each of the principal actors present delivers engaging performances that are usually sparse within this kind of film. Pine and Washington have a great chemistry that makes what could be bland dialogue between two fairly one-note characters entertaining. In conjunction with Rosario Dawson as the yardmaster responsible for the runaway train the three actors provide humour and a decent level of engagement that helps this film become more than the pointless action flick it could so easily be fated for. The most detracting element of the film is the cinematography and editing, which floods the film with constant camera movement through tracking shots. The surely ironic notion of having the camera never still in a film about a train that can't stop moving is badly employed, and when coupled with the rapid editing of such a fast-paced film makes for a dizzying, disorientating and downright irritating at times viewing experience. Fortunately the actors save this film, the plot may be simple and nothing original but after all this is only mindless entertainment, isn't it?

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