Sunday, 10 December 2017

2017 Catch-Up Reviews - 2

Spoiler Free.

The Lost City of Z [dir. James Gray]

If I were to grade films solely on how they looked, James Gray's The Lost City of Z would have a 10 sticker sitting underneath it. This film is gorgeously photographed, its rustic city interiors contrasting beautifully with the expanse of the Amazonian jungle. Cinematographer Darius Khondji uses fire frequently with his lighting: sunsets encapsulate entire landscapes as our characters sit, minuscule, at the bottom of the frame; giant man made fires illuminate the faces of those who occupy the scene, their features flickering with each lick of the flame. As a purely visual experience, James Gray's film is astonishing to behold.

Where it's let down, though, is in its storytelling. Gray, who also wrote the film's script, drains the sensational true story of all its grit, all its power. There's little excitement to be found in the way the film presents the potential discovery of a lost civilisation, you'd think Gray had given us a film about a lost shoe in a cluttered home. The film's characters are interesting in themselves, and they're acted strongly enough too, but Gray's script rarely brings them to life. As well as his narrative structure forcing the film into a horribly jittery rhythm, Gray simply can't make The Lost City of Z as gripping as it most definitely should be.

In A Sentence: Wasting a bucket load of potential on a bloated, uneven script, The Lost City of Z never musters up the excitement or intrigue to match its mouth watering visuals.

Ingrid Goes West [dir. Matt Spicer]

Matching quirky humour with a dark narrative is a tough beast to crack, but it's one that Matt Spicer achieves borderline perfectly with his comedy-drama Ingrid Goes West. Aubrey Plaza (in a rare leading role) is sublime as the titular Ingrid, a social media obsessed young woman who uses up her mother's inheritance to travel to LA purely to force a friendship with a popular Instagrammer. The film's script, co-written by Spicer, isn't afraid to take on some serious stuff: Ingrid begins her friendship with Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen, terrifically funny here) by kidnapping her dog and returning it as the saviour, and by the film's endgame it's looked at depression, mental illness and the ramifications of what that involves.

Plaza brings a much needed lightness to the film, demonstrating her impeccable comic timing - if any role has the potential to launch her into stardom, it needs to be this one. Ingrid Goes West takes on a fairly predictable plot - it's not tough to see the ending coming - but as a story itself the film is refreshingly original. It's as timely as it is intelligent, and as serious as it is hilarious. Spicer has created a comedy of our time, one that feels as if it could only have been released now - it laughs at the more questionable elements of technology and social media, but also pushes its own boundaries endlessly. You might be able to guess where the film ends up, but how it gets there is another matter entirely.

In A Sentence: With a star-making performance from Aubrey Plaza, Ingrid Goes West is a topical comedy-drama that knows exactly what it wants to say and precisely how to say it.

Elle [dir. Paul Verhoeven]

Of all the topics to make a film about, rape may just be the trickiest. How do you discuss such a vile act in tasteful, appropriate ways? With his film Elle, Paul Verhoeven has an answer to that question: you don't make it in tasteful, appropriate ways. Elle is perhaps the antithesis of what we expect from a movie about rape, abandoning the self-blaming victim or overbearing social commentary in favour of a cold hearted, unpredictable look at the subject. When Michele is raped in her own home, she simply carries on with her life for a while, until she discovers who her attacker is around the film's midpoint - and, at that point, she enters a sexual relationship with him.

In a move likely to drive the feminist community stark raving mad, Elle explores the very definition of rape, and it does so in bravura ways - Michele refuses to alert the Police about the incident, but not for the reasons you might expect. At the centre of it all is Isabelle Huppert, robbed of her Oscar trophy for this very role earlier in the year. She plays Michelle with subtlety and nuance, but also with rage and passion - able to flick between the two at any given moment. She's our centrepiece through a dark voyage into the taboo, carrying the weight of the film's risk-taking on her own shoulders. It's the performance of a lifetime, and just one of many unforgettable things about Verhoeven's stunning, unshakeable Elle.

In A Sentence: Elle is a bold, boundary pushing drama that takes on powerful themes in starkly unique ways, all led by a masterful performance from Isabelle Huppert.

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