Monthly Archives: November 2013

LFF Review – Enough Said

Enough Said is a film that will be released in the wake of tragic circumstances – the death of James Gandolfini – and as a result, it may not always get judged by its merits alone, which is a shame, because it’s great and is more than capable of standing on its own two feet.

It tells the story of Eva and Albert (Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini), both middle-aged and divorced, who meet at a party, and in the wake of saying neither is attracted to anyone there, begin a tentative relationship, with both of them slightly surprised at the type of person that they’re with. From the off it’s clear that Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini have superb chemistry (and Gandolfini proves to be an accomplished comic actor), and simply watching them meet and awkwardly make small talk is a joy in itself. While at the party, Eva also meets Marianne who, she later discovers, is Albert’s ex-wife. This dynamic is what propels most of the drama in the film, but the problem is, it’s not as interesting as it could be and occasionally feels like a distraction from the best part of the film; the relationship between Eva and Albert.

From their first date onwards – and with the help of an excellent script – there is not a single moment that rings false, all of the humour feels genuine; both things that are said, and the awkward pauses in the conversations, and none of the drama is forced. The dramatic aspects of the film, particularly the turmoil on Eva and Albert’s relationship after he discovers Eva’s friendship with his ex-wife, are among its best moments, and seeing Louis-Dreyfus perform something more serious than comic is a rare pleasure.

Enough Said isn’t exactly groundbreaking however, it follows a similar structure to most romantic comedies, as well as a sub-plot about Eva’s daughter going to college, but fortunately it never feels like its retreading old ground, its excellent execution of standard ideas mean it always feels like a breath of fresh air. Its helped by a strong supporting cast, including Toni Collette as a friend of Eva’s (even if her accent does jump around a bit) and Ben Falcone as Collette’s husband, who steals scenes constantly and provides some of the film’s biggest laughs. It also never feels empty, no plots or characters are wasted and, even if it’s telling us things we already know about second chances and people moving on in their lives, watching these characters in particular navigate it is what makes it so good.

Refreshing, witty, and with moments of understated and effective drama, Enough Said may be forever marred by tragedy, but should instead be a reminder to the singular talent of James Gandolfini. It’s a damn great film, and I can only hope the circumstances surrounding its release won’t change that.

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LFF Review – All Is Lost

Some films, no matter who’s involved in creating them, will be a tough sell to an audience. All Is Lost, an essentially wordless tale of a man lost at sea (played by Robert Redford, and simply called Our Man), is one such film. And while it may be a tough sell, it’s certainly a worthwhile one, with Redford giving one of the strongest performances so far this year, and the film itself being created to a painstakingly high standard.

Writer/director J. C. Chandor is of course known for his excellent Margin Call, and to see him move from something like that – very dialogue heavy, with a large scope – to this, an intimate study of one man trying to stay alive, is fascinating. While of course none of his ability as a writer of dialogue is present, his ability as a director has only developed; everything is done with purpose, nothing is wasted here, which seems fitting given the situation Our Man is in. Between this and the high calibre filmmaking – the cinematography is stunning and the visual effects are strong – the fight for survival that Our Man endures becomes visceral and gripping in a way that seems almost unexpected given the quiet intimacy that defines a great deal of the film.

Sometimes as good as a film is as a whole, there is a single piece – normally a performance – that stands above the sum of the individual parts. Like with Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, Redford does this for All Is Lost. Although his performance is almost entirely reactionary to the things around him, it is an incredible piece of work, something subtle and nuanced, where every single moment can mean life or death, his building desperation is truly something else to behold, Redford’s performance is a towering achievement.

All Is Lost is unfortunately not without problems; it’s pacing – particularly a final act that feels longer than it should – can’t help but make the whole thing feel a bit too Kafkaesque. And of course, while it’s intimate with Our Man, everything else feels vague and abstract. There’s a lot to be read into by audiences, it’s about survival, survival of the American Hero and there are a host of metaphorical things to explore. Unfortunately, All Is Lost doesn’t do that. There’s plenty to be said, but Chandor remains quiet.

It might be too long at times, and even put its own hopes at realism and pragmatism – something mirrored superbly in Chandor’s direction – in danger by indulging with its length, but at its best, All Is Lost is an intimate and gripping tale of survival, and Redford is nothing short of incredible. It might be a tough sell, but if nothing else, it should be seen for his performance.

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LFF Review: Late At Night: Voices of Ordinary Madness

When I hear the phrase “ordinary madness,” I think of Charles Bukowski, who had a tendency to write about people that society considered to be a little downtrodden, who struggled to make ends meet and weren’t all shining examples of, in the case of Bukowski, the American Dream. Much like Bukowski, in Late at Night: Voices of Ordinary Madness, Xiaolu Guo looks at (mostly) the working class in the east end of London as they live in their own corners of the sprawling metropolis.

The first noticeable thing about Voices of Ordinary Madness is the objectivity and non-judgemental gaze through which the people in it are considered. While that’s expected in documentaries, it’s difficult not to think that most people would raise an eyebrow when they’re told that a man strangled their psychiatrist. These are exactly the kinds of things that are hear almost as horror stories in places like London, but Guo looks at these people as if they are no different from anyone else, that their madness is indeed ordinary. That’s when the film is at its strongest, when the kaleidoscope of people interviewed – immigrants, fishmongers, men with criminal pasts – all divulge how their world functions, and even though they are disconnected from one and other, a portrait of a place is shown with intimacy and honesty.

While this, the backbone of the film is consistently effective, as each chapter in the lives of these people is revealed, the film cuts away to a Warhol-esque newsreader; anywhere between one and screens of the same person reading the same news story (all of the stories are real), which range from the utterly trivial – the announcement that a celebrity couple have had a child – to the harrowing – a woman who is asking for the death penalty to be reinstated – with a philosophical or political quote superimposed across the screen, with the sources ranging from Orwell to James Joyce to Emmanuel Kant. The question I asked myself whenever this happened, was “why?” Occasionally it works as a counterpoint to these people – whose lives are often considered by the media to be full of problems, and even in need of saving – and the gradually increasing horrors of what are shown by the media; none of which seem to impact the lives or location of the people interviewed. However, it often seems that Voices of Ordinary Madness seems to have political or philosophical delusions of grandeur; the weaving together of these people is effective enough that the film doesn’t need to frame it in this grander scope. In terms of the film’s visual style, these sequences are effective, there’s a kind of grittiness to them (helped greatly by the music used in the background of these news sequences) that adds to the realism of the film, it just feels as if it’s grasping at thematic straws every now and then.

Voices of Ordinary Madness is a very strong documentary, it looks at people that are often left in the cold, doing so with empathy and honest, the dark sides of their lives are never deliberately demonised, and perhaps the more tragic side – a cafe that is essentially out of business, which then implicitly hints at the destitution of those that work there – is never made forcefully emotive. It doesn’t always succeed in delivering its message; it’s philosophy sometimes feels shoehorned in, but at its best, it offers an earnest look at a group of people who’s stories go unheard too often.

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