Sonntag, 21. Dezember 2014

Short takes

"Blue Ruin" is unapologetic, well executed genre fare that should satisfy the bloodlust of fanboys and -girls. The straightforward setup of revenge and counter-revenge, however, might prove too elementary for a higher level of viewer engagement. American writer/director Jeremy Saulnier certainly shows artistic ambitions in the long stretches of time where we're just treated to a quiet protagonist on a mission, wordlessly but fervently. With great sound design and a discerning eye for effective camera angles, he manages to build tension and communicate foreboding even in the absence of a full-fledged plot or much dialogue. The shot of the hero emerging from around the corner with a rifle trained on his targets near the end, for example, is hugely exciting for its sheer boldness in construction and idea. The lack of a more developed, nuanced backstory does disappoint though, affording all that violence graphically portrayed a whiff of pointlessness and juvenile inevitability.  
"Exhibition" is one of those Art Films with a capital A that are so tremendously empty they tend to alienate everyone in the audience before breaking any ground. Set around a middle-aged artist couple living in an immaculate townhouse, there's no noteworthy story to speak of. Hints of intimacy issues and personal safety incidents are dropped but overall British writer/director Joanna Hogg is far less concerned with narrative than the conveyance of a highly abstract, idiosyncratic sense of space. The focus of her camera is on the architecture itself, with its every aspect prominently featured and almost fetishistically considered. While such militant experimentalism shouldn't be punished, in this case the endless takes of shutters, staircases, skylights along with all the other shapes and surfaces of the compound just don't evoke much beyond a flatly aesthetic appreciation. Neurotic and self-centered, this is only suitable for those who can endure prolonged nonsensical contemplations in film.        

"Men, Women & Children" turns out to be a perfectly tolerable affair thanks to drastically lowered expectations from all the stinky press. The preachy, melodramatic non-ending is very damaging for sure, but what came before is a colorful if extreme exposé on sexuality in the age of instant messaging, a piece of horny Americana presented with linguistic and cinematic finesse. American writer/director Jason Reitman again brings a decidedly, alluringly modern sensibility to his storytelling, injecting a brisk blood flow and a healthy dose of cynicism to the proceedings and characters, making them seem dangerously present. The cast is solid, Rosemarie DeWitt and Judy Greer are their dependable selves, even Adam Sandler's performance as the frustrated, hormonal father is nowhere near bad. Though the whole thing gradually collapses in the third act, the calm enunciation of Emma Thompson as the foul-mouthed narrator and the coolly indie-flavored soundtrack spiked with warmly lurid desires remain a blast.

"Paddington" brings the beloved bear gloriously to life in a holiday film that actually deserves the attention of everyone in the family. The themes of displacement, cultural acclimation and finding a new home are dealt with genuinely, without condescension and made funny by the dry, self-deprecating London humor. British writer/director Paul King moves things along at a lively pace, playing with animation and live action with a splash of magical surrealism to seamless effect. The human cast is superb, with the divine Sally Hawkins bringing a ton of heart and the delicious Nicole Kidman whipping up some cartoonish evil. Best in show is probably Ben Whishaw as the voice of the 3' 6''-tall hero though. Brimming with sincerity, naïveté, wonderment and vulnerability, it's a captivating vocal performance that matches the achievement of the character design in brilliance. Textured both in looks and tone, it's a truly 3-dimensional creation that delights no end.            

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