Tracks TIFF Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Tracks

Starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver

Directed by John Curran

What negative thing could I possibly say about Tracks? Fine, there is one in Adam Driver, the second lead to Wasikowska’s character Robyn Davison. He plays Rick Smolan, a photographer who has to go with Robyn in her National Geographic-sponsored journey to cross the harsh Australian desert. Driver can only really play one type of character – the guy rambling non-sequiturs that would annoy Robyn and the audience.

I like how the movie is loyal to the real-life events. Rick isn’t the only person intermittently accompanying her in this gruelling journey. She also runs into settlers and Aboriginals. The movie examines the customs of different people and how they occassionally clash with the sometimes oppressive, xenophobic, urban Australians. Wasikowska delicately plays Robyn as someone who intelligently and respectfully treads every step of her journey. The movie also makes it compelling by incorporating flashbacks of her explorer father and broken, drifting childhood. After the flashbacks, the camera returns to Wasikowska and it’s as if she has lived those memories.

I would also like to applaud the cinematography, also loyal to Smolan’s brilliant photographs of Robyn’s trek with her camels. The movie depicts what could be a setting of a meditative, peaceful Western where Robyn’s worst enemies are nature and herself. We never give up on her even when she repeatedly faces hurdles that make her want to. And the last images top the movie off to give us a beautiful experience.

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Stoker Review (Kirk Haviland)

Stoker Banner

Stoker (2013)

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman, Lucas Till, Dermot Mulroney and Jackie Weaver

Written by Wentworth Miller

Directed by Park Chan-wook

New in theaters this week from Fox Searchlight Pictures is Stoker, the English language debut film from Korean master filmmaker Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance). The intense horror/thriller written by Prison Break star Wentworth Miller packs a stellar cast with Mia Wasikowska heading up the center of the story. With Chan-wook delving into the English market, the question remains, is his unique style and vision compatible and adaptable for an English audience?

After India’s (Wasikowska) father, Richard Stoker (Mulroney), dies in an auto accident her Uncle Charlie (Goode), who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her emotionally unstable mother (Kidman). But there is something not quite on the level with Uncle Charlie, something from the past has kept him from being a part of the family for India’s entire life, and that is not lost on the house matron and India’s Auntie Gin (Weaver). But instead of feeling outrage or horror the tormented and bullied high school girl becomes increasingly infatuated with her Uncle, and begins to feel urges and actions that she never knew she had come bubbling to the surface.

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Stoker is one hell of a debut from Park Chan-wook. Continuing to press forward with his trademark brooding atmosphere, pierced periodically with jarring violence, Chan-wook has crafted an unconventional yet beautiful looking story. The script provides a solid base for Chan-wook to jump off from, staging even the most mundane and generic dialogue in subtly dramatic tones that increase the ominous feel that permeates the film. The script does pack a sexually charged coming of age story that Wasikowska grabs with gusto. Her India goes from dour and reclusive, a girl whose best friend is her father and would rather go hunting with him than shopping with her mother, to a confident and determined young woman set upon a different path. Chan-wook does nothing to subtly connect this other ‘awakening’ to her sexual awakening, he smashes his audience over the head with it like a cast iron frying pan. Matthew Goode delivers the fully formed silent menace that was only touched upon in his Ozymandias performance from the Watchmen back in 2009. And Nicole Kidman chews scenery in a deliciously camp performance.

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On top of the heaps of violence there is a lot of stunning imagery on display here. The transitions are gorgeous and some of the most beautiful put to lens this year or last. Some of Chan-wook’s favorite imagery does creep into the film as well; his spider motif does show up here as does his fascination with unconventional weaponry, but this helps to add to the visual flair. The Stoker house is a visually compelling estate with lush grounds, including stones and large boulders that may have more than decorative purposes, old style French doors and all the creaks that come with a house of age. The Plantation type feel is lost once you enter the dungeonesque basement, complete with iffy lighting that India swats as she walks like low hanging school decorations.

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The film will not go without controversy though – it will not be universally loved. Chan-wook does not dilute his vision to appeal to North American audiences. His audacious and bombastic connections between female sexuality and violence, culminating in a shower sequence that very well may disturb quite a few, and may  have some screaming misogynist and sexist charges his way, and they may not even be wrong. But ultimately it is the same girl who ends up aware, and even gaining the upper hand, by the end of the film. Of course means to an end is hardly a defense but the seeds of India’s behavior are sown from the very beginning of the film, through another classic Chan-wook piece of imagery in a gift box. Seeing these exploited and maneuvered by Goode’s Charlie through the film you can see how the malleable India could be formed and shaped by his deeds into something more sinister than she may have if her father had lived and was around.

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In the end Stoker may not be a film for the masses. The unflinching portrait of a girl discovering the true meaning of her family and their dark secret, as well as discovering herself along the way, will be unsettling for some and possibly offensive to others. But for fans of Park Chan-wook, this is the film they have been praying his English debut would be. For fans of experimental and ground breaking cinema, who aren’t afraid of some violence mixed in, or fans of Park Chan-wook’s previous works, Stoker is a must see.

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Lawless Review (Kirk Haviland)

Lawless (2012)

Starring Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pierce, Mia Wasikowska, Dane DeHaan, Noah Taylor and Gary Oldman

Written by Nick Cave based on the novel by Matt Bondurant

Directed by John Hillcoat

New to theaters this week from Alliance Entertainment Canada is Lawless, a fictionalized accounting of the true story of the Bondurant brothers and their exploits bootlegging moonshine. The star-studded cast under director Hillcoat attempt to provide a prohibition era gangster epic, but do they succeed or go up in flames like a still set to blow?

Photo courtesy of Alliance Pictures

In the mountains of Franklin County, Virginia, the Bondurant brothers are the stuff of legend: Howard (Clarke), the eldest, survived the war; Forrest (Hardy), the brains of the outfit, nearly died from the Spanish Flu that took his parents but gained a reputation of immortality due to his perseverance; and Jack (LaBeouf), the youngest, is impulsive, impetuous and eager to join the family occupation. Times are tough and jobs are scarce, but the Bondurants are entrepreneurs and have built a thriving local business by concocting an intense and popular brand of moonshine. But the arrival of Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Pearce) from Chicago threatens to derail their business. Corrupt as the day is long, the family rallies to fight Rakes, while Jack’s ambitions and enterprises alter the fortunes of the brothers’ affairs. With the help of friend Cricket (DeHaan), Jack starts to prosper, even selling moonshine to Floyd Banner (Oldman), the big city gangster he idolizes. And while two of the Bondurants are soon under the spell of two beautiful women: the exotic, steadfast Maggie (Chastain), and the quiet, pious Bertha (Wasikowska), Rakes intensifies his efforts resulting in deadly consequences for all.

Photo courtesy of Alliance Pictures

Lawless is a solid outing, far from spectacular, but a fun, entertaining time at the multiplex. The script and dialogue are merely functional to drive the story along, although there are some genuinely hilarious moments. That said, there is a lot more fiction involved here than not – ‘based on a true story’ really should read ‘inspired by’. The set design looks and feels like a backlot the whole time, lending it a 70’s film feel that in retrospect may have been intentional, with a bar/house that looks like it came straight out of Silverado and other films of the like. The casting works to varying degrees. LeBeouf is clearly the weak link here, not necessarily because he’s awful, but his performance is just lacklustre. Hardy, as usual, really makes an effort to steal every scene and he succeeds with ease, managing to elevate the quality of the material and the movie as a whole with his presence. The supporting cast does decent work, with Pearce absolutely relishing his old school ‘moustache twirling’ bad guy archetype and DeHaan showing that he is really becoming someone to keep an eye on after this and his turn in Chronicle (one of my first reviews) earlier this year. Hillcoat’s direction is one of the other highlights here as the pacing is strong and the film moves at a refreshingly fast clip. Ultimately though, Lawless is the type of film you can safely walk out of not feeling as you’ve wasted you money on, but half an hour later you’ll be hard pressed to remember anything about it except for Hardy.

Photo courtesy of Alliance Pictures

Lawless is ultimately far from the worst fare out in theaters right now, but it’s also easily forgettable. For a reasonable night out at the movies you could do far worse. Lawless is a mild recommend.

Lawless opens in theaters nationwide on today, Wednesday August 29th.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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