• Syngué sabour, pierre de patience (The Patience Stone)

    The Patience Stone is set on the front line, in a family home. And that is very much where its central character (an unnamed woman) has found herself for the last decade of her marriage. For her absent husband has barely spent a third of their time together actually living with her, and has been an alienating presence even when he has.

    Yet his current situation - shot in the neck and alive but unresponsive - has created a new dynamic in their relationship. He's still there but not really, presumably as he ever was, but now our woman (played by Goldshifteh Farahani) in the face of guaranteed silence finds the courage to do the one thing she's never dared: talk. In relieving herself of her burdons she treats her husband as a "patience stone", a mythical object that delivers someone from their suffering after hearing their secrets.

    The Patience Stone

    Farahani's voice is a calm, beautiful and beguiling one, and there are worse ways of spending a hundred minutes than listening to her gently unravel. When the more demanding aspects of the part kick in she shows herself to be more than capable and does very well with an unusually demanding role.

    Screen presence is key here, and if nothing else she has that in abundance. She may be pushed a tad too frenzied on occasion, and some of the plotting does feel a touch obvious and forced, far removed from the delicate nature of her performance. The Patience Stone is a compelling, depressing gust of air to the face that is both refreshing and bitter, in equal amounts, but ultimately is worth it for her alone.

  • Hi

    I thought I would have killed this blog via inactivity over the last three months, but apparantly I get more views now than I ever did before. I'm going to try to do more written reviews - I do have some recently that I just never got around to typing up. Anyway I think my days of doing something on every new thing I see are done, it's too time-consuming for me, but I do want to review stuff that's worthy of talking about (which won't necessarily mean I'll only review the stuff I like). Do check out the podcast if you want to hear my thoughts on everything new, but for now I'll see what I can do in my lunchtimes at work.

  • Venezia 70 - Vi är bäst! (We Are the Best!)

    It's taken an entire decade, but with We Are the Best! it appears that Lukas Moodysson has finally come to terms with the fact that it's okay for people to like his films. While everything he's done post-Lilya-4-ever may have been a 10-year exercise in lowering (or obliterating) expectations, here he is very much back in the territory of his beloved debut, Fucking Åmål (Show Me Love).

    The themes (straight from his wife's comic book, which was the source of this film) are very much there; dissatisfied young girls, alienated at school, finding the courage to be - and comfort in being - different, rock music, crap parties, misplaced parents: in short, youth. He has also, predictably, got the very most out of his inexperienced cast. They are three girls who start a punk band in revenge for people being mean to them.

    We Are the Best

    This is not Show Me Love though, it's set-up in a far more comedic way, it's dripping with far greater period and political awareness, and despite the specific setting it feels strangely timeless. Maybe because a deal of the comments and behaviour (like being told punk's dead, or making ridicuous snacks) echo Fucking Åmål, which is set 15 years later. And it shows just how "successful" Moodysson has been at letting his audience know that he can make things awful, average or off-putting that when he returns to the world and feel of his debut it doesn't matter that, while fun, it's not in the same league because you're just so glad he's gone there again.

    There isn't much of an emotional centre here in terms of relationships, but Moodysson very much captures the spirit of his subject. The punk ending is quietly perfect (and very Joy Division) as it resonates with the ethos and purpose of the girls, and remains completely believable and satisfactory. It's entertaining, it's not a masterpiece, but at least he's at peace with this being the former as long as you are with it being the latter. And that's fair enough.

  • Venezia 70 - Tracks

    With the vast, expansive landscapes and a population outnumbered by mutton many times over, stories about walking are very Australian indeed. Tracks is the true story of Robyn Davidson, who embarked on a 1,700 mile journey in the 1970s from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean. On foot. With camels. So essentially it's a road movie without too many roads, and plenty of Antipodean wilderness to explore.

    Robyn is played by Mia Wasikowska, and she is the film. And she isn't. Because given that Robyn is in every scene of the film, and for long periods is the only human around (alongside her camel-train and her canine companion) this really should be a performance piece and a showcase for Wasikowska's not inconsiderable talents. And it is. But it isn't.

    Mia Wasikowska

    That's because it's directed by John Curran (who made The Painted Veil midway through the last decade) and he is going to make sure that whatever happens performance-wise his films are going to look stunning and sound gorgeous. Garth Stevenson's score is a real film score: it suits the images and story beautifully rather than concerning itself with how it will sound on an ipod after the fact. And Mandy Walker's cinematography is breathtakingly arresting, capturing the phenomenal scenery with flair and artistry.

    Some of the characterisation is a little spotty, some of the pacing a touch too literal (halfway through the film she'll be halfway through her trip, etc.) and it never really fully immerses itself. It's like standing at the beach watching a woman on a jetty, feeling the waves intermittently lap at your feet. It's a nice sensation, it feels good, but you're always aware you're stood on the beech watching that woman and feeling the water wash over your toes. It never washes over you fully, but it is certainly a worthwhile experience. Wasikowska has been better before, but anchors the film with a quietly fierce dignity and determination. It's Curran's film though and it's such a treat for the senses, and has such a satisfying conclusion that its flaws are fairly forgivable.

  • Venezia 70 - Jigoku de naze warui

    About an hour and a bit in to Why Don't You Play in Hell? (Jigoku de naze warui) one character mentions that something has come out of nowhere. And there is nothing remotely surprising about the turn of events that have just taken place, so the natural thought is "nowhere? It's been on the cards for at least half an hour!" Up until that point the film has been a reference-fest with gentle nods to and reminiscences of everything from Cinema Paradiso to Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. When the multiple strands finally come together director Shion Sono launches into a completely unabashed Quentin Tarantino homage, which ushers in a truly riotous third act.

    Why Don't You Play In Hell?

    That there is half an hour or so of fantastic entertainment on show belies how frenetically disjointed, convoluted and inherently hit-and-miss everything else is up until that point. The basic plot set-up is that a group of wannabe filmmakers ("the fuckbombers") have been trying, without success, to make a masterpiece, despite the director of the team offering his life to the "movie gods" should such a feat be accomplished. Eventually their paths cross with a pair of rival clans in the midst of a mob war, and the former child-celeb daughter of one of the leaders, who he is trying to make into a star.

    It takes very much a magpie approach to the cinematic pilfering, and whilst very cine-literate it takes 2/3rds of the film to really find its feet in its own right. That last thirty minutes or so is where the farce finally takes and it's frequently laugh-out-loud funny. The very end may revert back to less interesting areas they were in before, but it eventually engenders more than enough good will to carry it through. It tries the patience, and through the trying it ultimately succeeds in delivering what should be hoped for: stupid, silly fun.

  • Okay...

    ...Wow. It's been a month. I can't believe that, that's only happened once before. Basically, I've been so busy I haven't even had time to upload the podcasts here. Anyway, I got a concussion playing football on Tuesday and am off work until Monday, so I'll be updating over the next few days. I've got all my reviews from Venice, a few others, plus I'll sticky the latest podcast too. Hope it was worth the wait.

  • Podcast - Sobriety is a Virtue

    This week we have part one of our Venice-trospective of the 2009 Festival, and review Red 2, The Heat, Only God Forgives, Paris-Manhattan and The Conjuring. Press play here :

    Written reviews will be up after the weekend, I'm off to Croatia and the down-time in airports/on the plane gives me plenty of opportunities to get the blog stuff done, so they should be coming any time after sunday.

  • Podcast - Car Crashes in Black and White

    This week Cal and I do a rundown of the upcoming Venice Film Festival lineup, before launching in to reviews of Frances Ha, The Internship, Renoir and Blancanieves. Press play here :

  • Podcast - Less Quality Fringe

    After a couple of unsuccessful recordings last week we're back to usual now, with our latest podcast having a round-up of last week's films plus The World's End, Eden, The Wall and Breathe In. Press play here:

    That will be here for three weeks, and permanently available to stream or download on our podcast website (click here). You can get in contact with us through a variety of means; facebook (like us here), twitter (follow us here), or reply in the comments section of this post or on moodforpodcast.com - any questions or suggested segments make their way on to the recording so feel free to get involved.

  • Die Wand (The Wall)

    There are moments in cinema when time seems to stand still. Where something so unearthly and unexpected happens and the result is breathlessly intriguing. With Die Wand something approaching that occurs about a reel or so in, and it seems almost churlish to give it away for those unfamiliar with the plot outline or the seminal (for German speakers, at least) 1960s novel that this film is based on. So, that being said, essentially the story is of a woman who takes a trip with a couple in to the Austrian mountains, and after they don't come back from the local village she finds herself forcefully isolated with no physical way of leaving, with only animals for company.

    At its best The Wall utilises a curious combination of Christoffer Boe-esque creation of metaphor as a physical reality for its character(s), an animal based-allegory a la Life of Pi, and David Lynch-style brooding sound design. But none of that is really its calling card, because in actual fact it's a performance piece for The Lives of Others' Martina Gedeck. Any role such as this (where one performer is on screen for its entire runtime) demands a certain level of screen-presence, and she commands it with quiet, controlled assurity. There are few "oscar clip"s for Gedeck because it is such a contained role, but she's good enough not to need them.

    Die Wand

    Part of that too is that there is a voiceover that runs consistently throughout the film, and at times it does come across as if writer/director Julian Pölsler was more in love with the source material's prose than finding the best way to get across this woman's plight. Another nagging feeling is created through the structure, as having Gedeck's story told through flashbacks removes any tension, increases the sense of resigned helplessness, and drags it out more than a traditional narrative may have.

    Also, by not using the flashbacks to show how Gedeck was before, her lack of back-story is a missed opportunity, as had the characterisation been fully fleshed out this could have been powerfully moving rather than just outrageously depressing, which it is. Depression and desolation have seldom been more gorgeously rendered though as the cinematography is quite simply a dream, before even getting to the spectacular scenery being captured. Die Wand is many things; a director's piece, an acting showcase, and a pensive, eerie, ethereal haze of a film. It makes you think, and works when you do, and few efforts nowadays achieve that.

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