Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Taking Woodstock

Written by: James Schamus

Directed by: Ang Lee

Starring: Demetri Martin, Henry Goodman, Imelda Staunton, Eugene Levy, Liev Schreiber

Rating: 6/10

Director Ang Lee is certainly in no fear of being pigeon-holed. Just file him under “Miscellaneous”. His films have ranged from gay cowboys to period drama to super-heroes. His latest piece of work Taking Woodstock bears many of his signatures but is, yet again, vastly different from his previous work. This film tells the story of the notorious Woodstock festival from the point of view of young, desperate, motel-owner’s son, Eliot (Martin) who initially suggests his tiny town of White River as a possible site for the concert. As chaos descends upon the town it brings new leases of life in spades upon the town, but also brings its fair share of contempt from the locals.
The beauty of this film is the microcosm from which the story grows. The audience doesn’t get to see every little detail of the organisation of the festival, but only sees what Eliot sees. Eliot is smart as a whip, confident and sensible and he is cleverly introduced as a likeable, competent and resourceful guy but as the story progresses it is interesting to see how quickly he is pulled under the current of hippies and suits and farmers and family, barely keeping his head above water.
Lee, as always, creates a beautiful world. A world that shows as many sides of the story as possible; the lunacy of hippies, the beauty of hippies, the close-mindedness of small towns, the open-mindedness of small towns, the muck, the sunshine, the pain, the freedom, it’s all here in a mix of stories and characters.
What drags this film down is its pacing. Throughout the whole film, although it moves along constantly, it feels like it is dragging its heels. As it approaches the end of the film there is an ill-advised LSD sequence that not only takes the attention away from the story but also fails miserably in its effort to depict the trip as beautiful, but comes across as rather creepy instead. The script is poorly constructed at times with a wealth of superfluous characters creeping in and out.
Despite its flaws, this is a pleasant film to watch with some strong performances from comedian Demetri Martin in a very demanding but successful lead role and from two Brits (Staunton and Goodman) playing his wonderfully over-the-top Jewish parents.
This is probably not a very memorable film, but it is quite beautiful to look at and certainly invokes the spirit of a musical festival in all its glory, but be warned there is no actual Woodstock footage, so don’t expect a documentary. This film is staunchly centred on our lead character and his remarkable true story.

- Charlene Lydon

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox

"I don't have a bandit mask, but I did modify this tube sock."

Director: Wes Anderson

Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwarzman, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon

Rating: 8/10

How does one bring to life Roald Dahl’s woodland tale of the irrepressible but fantastic Mr. Fox? Director of The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore Wes Anderson brings his signature droll characterisation and rich, autumnal colour palette to the story and treats his audience to a beautifully realised and highly enjoyable adventure through the world of wild animals.
The plot follows Mr Fox (Clooney), a former chicken thief who gave up his wild ways in favour of settling down with his wife (Streep) and new cub (Schwartzman). As his son grows older, Mr. Fox sneaks back into his former lifestyle which sets in motion a disastrous pursuit by local angry farmers, putting the lives of his animal friends in danger.
The film has its share of ups and downs. It is clear by about twenty minutes in that there has been some necessary but not always successful stretching of the plot. At 87 minutes this is a rather short film but it still feels spread a little thin. However, if you are as enthralled by the film as I was, you will probably find you can forgive this.
The voice casting is immaculate and gives life to the simplistic characters. The script is quirky and hilarious, basking in its own playfulness while also showing a confidently mature sense of humour. Particularly enjoyable is the conflict between Ash, Mr Fox’s less-than-adequate son and Kristofferson, Mr. Fox’s very adequate nephew.
Perhaps this is too eclectic a mix for all tastes. It will delight some and irritate others but it will certainly charm audiences with its beautiful visuals and its sense of innocence and fun. Anderson instils in the film a knowing self-awareness of its own childishness, but manages this without the slightest air of pomposity. Definitely a bit of fun for both children and adults alike, and when compared with what’s been done with other beloved children’s stories (Dr. Seuss, I’m looking at you) this film proves to be refreshingly sophisticated.

- Charlene Lydon

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Directed by: Park Chan Wook

Starring: Kang-ho Song, Ok-Vin Kim

Rating: 7/10

Touted as an antidote for the Twilight-weary vampire fan, this Korean vampire love story is certainly original. It tells the story of kind-hearted priest Sang-hyeon who puts himself forth for Ebola Virus tests. When these tests go wrong and turn him into a vampire (they never really get into the science here) the virginal, innocent priest slowly and to his horror begins to lust, not just for blood, but also for his friend’s wife, Tae-joo. From here the plot erupts into a volcano of madness with sex, gore, murder, ghosts and of course, vampire high-jinks. What starts as a tragic, fascinating examination of Sang-hyeon’s struggle with his bloodlust, ultimately turns into a madcap horror-comedy. It’s all very fun but there are too many changes in tone to allow this to compete with the director’s Vengeance Trilogy. Twilight it ain’t, but it’s no masterpiece either.


Written & Directed by: Christopher Smith

Starring: Melissa George, Liam Hemsworth, Robert Dorman, Rachel Carpani.

Rating: 6/10

A group of friends set sail off the coast of Florida, presumably towards the Bermuda Triangle, though this is never mentioned. All seems well except for Jess (George) who shows up haunted and exhausted. She is vague when asked about the whereabouts of her son and despite her best efforts is having trouble socialising. Soon, they have found themselves victim to a storm, leaving them shipwrecked. Eventually a ship arrives and they board it, expecting salvation but receiving a mess of time loops, murder and identity crises.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that despite how messy the plot seems, the script has been written with great care and thought. As each twist unfurls, it nicely fits into the questions that have previously been set up. As is often the case with time loop stories, Triangle seems unsure of how to end itself. However, it does manage to bring about a decent denoument, though the final scenes don’t quite explain themselves as nicely as it could have.
The film’s weakness lies in its tired premise. It is decidedly similar in design and tone to a particular episode of The X Files (incidentally called Triangle) and feels like an episode of The Twilight Zone except it’s dragged out for an extra hour, or the entire plot of Lost squeezed into a movie. There’s nothing cinematic here, therefore nothing to justify another time loop story making its way to the public. The amateurish CGI doesn’t help either!
Having said that, the film does entertain and it maintains a nice level of paranoia. Melissa George’s performance is consistently cold and distracted, always keeping the audience wondering what had happened before her arrival on the boat. As the third act begins and everything begins to make sense, Jess’s primal maternal urges begin to make sense and thus the film becomes an insightful psychological thriller.
This is my no means an original story, nor is it the most satisfying but it is a decent thriller and credit must be given for the careful script, the melancholy tone and the snappy pacing. It’s not one for repeated viewing, but if you’re a fan of mind games, this is actually rather satisfying.

- Charlene Lydon