Monday, 15 April 2013

'In the House', 'The Place Beyond the Pines' and 'Finding Nemo 3D': review round-up and more Joe Blann quiz art

Finally getting around to some more reviews. My January resolution of 10 posts a month has failed spectacularly! Anyway, above is the latest Joe Blann picture round masterpiece from the Duke's at Komedia film quiz - Hold Onto Your Butts (first Thursday of every month). Below are some reviews.

'In the House' - Dir. Francois Ozon (15)

Prior to this one, my only exposure to the work of French filmmaker Francois Ozon was the kitsch and campy 'Potiche' - a multi-coloured 70s-set comedy about sexual politics that really grated on me in Venice, way back in 2010. It's possible that my intense dislike of that film has grown out of proportion since being bored by it at that festival, perhaps as much as a result of its bizarre appropriation by Odeon Orange Wednesday ads as by exaggerated memories of the film itself. In any case, my disdain for his last work almost prevented me from seeing Ozon's 'In the House' which, it turns out, would have been scandalous. It's one of the best films of the year: smart, funny, gripping, with a sly wit - excellently performed and with lots to say about storytelling, writing, voyeurism and more. It's truly excellent.

It stars the affable Fabrice Luchini, who seems to specialize in playing oblivious middle-class intellectuals, as a French literature teacher and failed author who is intrigued to find one piece of homework not written by a vacuous moron and becomes obsessed with the student responsible (Claude, Ernst Umhauer). Convinced that Claude has raw talent in need of guidance, Luchini takes him under his wing, giving him extra hours outside of school. However beneath this inspirational 'Dead Poets Society' style love of education and artistry there is also a slightly grubby aspect to proceedings: Claude's writings to Luchini take the form of an ongoing serial based on the student's real life obsession with and manipulation of the family of one of his classmates. So, in aiding Claude, Luchini is actively encouraging this increasingly destructive venture into another's family home and doing so partly to satisfy his own voyeuristic interest in the soap opera of their lives. A saga upon which he and his art gallery manager wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) are hopelessly hooked - filling the void left by their joyless, sexless marriage.

In telling this story Ozon's film is always fresh and imaginative. For instance, we occasionally witness the same events told by Claude in different ways, responding to the directions of his tutor. His style of storytelling and preoccupations also change in reaction to Luchini's advice. We see Luchini pop-up and offer critique to his student, even as events in the titular house unfold, in a device that feels like something out of the best Woody Allen comedy. There's obviously something about storytelling as voyeurism going on here throughout - and also the way the same events can be warped and manipulated when described to an audience, but what I found especially intriguing is the way Ozon's screenplay - based on a Spanish stageplay by Juan Mayorga - eventually finds a way to come full circle and investigate the homes of the protagonists: their growing obsession with this one, pretty ordinary family, ultimately saying more about their own unhappy lives. Literature as theraputic release or as harmful self-delusion? The ending left me uncertain.

'The Place Beyond the Pines' - Dir. Derek Cianfrance (15)

High expectations for Derek Cianfrance's epic follow-up to 'Blue Valentine' were undermined by my increasingly aggressive indifference to the growing hipster cult of Ryan Gosling. But, for reasons that become clear about a third of a way in, 'The Place Beyond the Pines' isn't really the spiritual successor to 'Drive' it's been marketed as in some places, on account of "the Gos" playing an ace motorcyclist-turned-criminal. It's much better than that: a cross-generational tale of fathers and sons - of consequences and regrets. Ambitious, sprawling and never less than compelling. It's the tale of one ostensibly bad man who will do anything for his son, even if it means breaking the law. And one clean-cut good-guy who will do his utmost to defend the law even if it means neglecting his son. There's more to it than that, especially in the third act, but it's an interesting central dichotomy.

Visually it's stunning, as shot by Steve McQueen's regular DP Sean Bobbitt, and somehow structurally tight in a way that belies its long running time. Factor in the fact that both Gosling and the recently Oscar-nominated Bradley Cooper are on top, career-defining form and it's potentially a modern American indie classic. It's not the crime thriller a lot of people will be expecting (it's really a fairly patient and introspective drama), yet 'Pines' isn't for want of horribly tense moments or spectacular sequences - notably a one-take car chase shot from the perspective of police cars in pursuit of Gosling's motorcycle. To say much more about it at this point would be to risk spoiling it, so I'll just leave it there for now.

'Finding Nemo (3D)' - Dir. Andrew Stanton (U)

It's not really a new release as far as I'm, concerned, so I'll keep it extremely brief. Andrew Stanton's classic - one of the vintage Pixar films - returns to cinemas, and I was delighted to find it was as funny and charming as the first time around. The gags come thick and fast, and range from the knock-about and silly, to the existential and witty, and more often than not they work. The animation and attention to detail - particularly the work the animators have done acting the various characters facially (no small ask considering all the characters are still recognisably fish) - is terrific and still holds up very well, even given Pixar's constant boundary pushing in the decade(!) since the film's original release. The 3D isn't really noticeable in all honesty so, given the damage the process seems to do to the vividness of the colours, I'd have rather seen it re-released in 2D. But don't let that put you off: like I say, It's barely noticeable - though that does call into question being asked to pay extra for the privilege...

Also, on a related note, the new 'Toy Story' short that precedes the film is really, really funny. Probably the best one yet - and a perfect antidote to 'Spring Breakers' (you'll know what I mean if you've seen it).

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