By Rebecca McRitchie
Who: Directed by Park Chan-Wook and starring Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Jackie Weaver.
What: After the death of her father, India’s (Mia Wasikowska) uncle (Matthew Goode) comes to stay with her and her unstable mother (Nicole Kidman). Soon India begins to suspect her uncle of murdering her father but instead of being horrified, she becomes infatuated.
Why: Stoker is positively brimming with beautiful imagery, unique filmic techniques and neo-gothic style. Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t quite live up to the sheer artistry of the film but I found it to be the standout movie of the Sydney Film Festival nevertheless. It is essentially a gothic horror movie combined with a psychological thriller, paired with a bildungsroman, a splash of off-beat humour, some sexual awakening and shoe fetishism.
Final Thought: 4 out of 5.
The Way Way Back
Who: Written and directed by the duo who gave us The Descendants – Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, and starring Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney.
What: A coming of age story about Duncan, an introverted 14 year-old boy forced to spend summer vacation with his mother (Toni Collette) and her overbearing boyfriend (Steve Carell). It is through his friendship with the manager of a water park (Sam Rockwell) that Duncan is finally able to find his place in the world
Why: It’s quick wit and humour – most of which from the characters played by Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney – does well to enamour an audience. However, the character of Duncan isn’t particularly endearing and although Faxon and Rash do everything right, the result comes off as a little bit too neat. I found myself wanting a thread of something a little bit darker or surprising running through the film to make it just slightly more evocative.
Final Thought: 3.5 out of 5. It is similar in vein to Little Miss Sunshine in that it is funny and sweet but it fails to evoke the same emotional response or charm. Plus, Steve Carell as the bad guy is just not good for anybody.
Who: Written and directed by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, and starring Greta Gerwig.
What: Frances lives in New York and struggles to afford rent as she attempts to fulfil her dreams as an apprentice at a dance company (although she isn’t really a dancer). When her best friend, Sophie, moves out of their apartment and seems to be moving on with her life, Frances is left wanting so much more than she has.
Why: Filmed in black and white, Frances Ha is the indie hit movie of the year. This is solely due to Gerwig’s endearing awkwardness. There is a slight lull about three quarters of the way in but as soon as Gerwig’s Frances says something like “I’m so embarrassed. I’m not a real person yet” when her credit card is declined, all is forgiven.
Final Thought: 3.5 out of 5. A mash-up of a Woody Allen movie and the TV show Girls (except more charming).
The Bling Ring
Who: Directed and written by Sofia Coppola, and starring Emma Watson and Leslie Mann.
What: Based on the true events of fame-obsessed teenagers who stole from celebrities like Paris Hilton and Orlando Bloom from 2008 through to 2009.
Why: Although she paints a beautiful picture, Coppola fails to go beneath the surface of her incredibly shallow characters. Whether this is to affirm that there is nothing beneath their superficiality, it is uncertain but the audience is left feeling ambivalent at best. The angle Coppola takes is one that repeatedly shows how ridiculous these characters, based on real people, are. And this is done well. Unfortunately, Coppola uses very long, drawn out scenes that seem to have no purpose and slow down the movie a whole lot, and this will turn off a majority of young audiences originally intrigued by the movie.
Final Thought: 2 out of 5. Beautifully shot but lacking in substance and instead of a series of interesting events, there seems to be 3 plot points dragged out to an almost unbearable length.
Only God Forgives
Who: Written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas.
What: Set in Bangkok and its criminal underground, Julian (Gosling) seeks revenge for his brother’s death at the request of his severely unhinged crime lord matriarch (Kristin Scott Thomas).
Why: Although the movie is full of technical achievements (the use of colour and framing in particular), the narrative and characters are completely devoid of depth, the narrative is incoherent and it is just an overall strange movie. And not the good kind of strange. There were a few scenes (the ultra-violent ones) which were great but these were few and far between. I found myself disappointed as I was particularly excited to see the next development from Refn and Gosling after their brilliant cult hit, Drive.
Final Thought: 2 out of 5. It is incredibly unfortunate that the next project by Refn and Gosling is lacking the emotional depth and narrative coherence of their previous work.
By Sophia WhitfieldOn June 12, 2014
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