Film Reviews/Rambles For the Week 23rd to 29th of January, 2017

As promised, if not a tad late. More coming soon.  Apologies for any grammatical errors. Also in case the title did not clue you in these are rambly as hell. Enjoy.

Stroszek (1977)

Werner Herzog’s depressing and very good story of a group of essentially nice people who leave their terrible lives in Germany to go and live in America, under the false impression that life is better on the other side of the pond. Like I said, it’s very good. For one thing, all of the main cast is great. Bruno S. (whose own experiences serve as a basis for many parts of the script) gives a great performance as the title character, an honest but disadvantaged man who the world has done nothing but screw over. Eva Mattes is also really good, playing a prostitute, who after being abused by her pimp, leaves with Strozek for America. Clemen Shceitz is also quite good, as a slightly crazy but essentially good natured old man. While his character doesn’t really receive nearly as much screen time as the other members of trio, his performance is still interesting enough to leave a lasting impression. Like may of his other works, this film is fairly nihilistic. The general theme K got from it was his “bad things happen to good people” and “society always screws over the less fortunate”. Which are both really interesting themes, and they’re executed incredibly well here. The film contains some scenes of terrible cruelty, and it’s often greatly upsetting. Despite all that though, it’s incredibly compelling. It’s not hard to get invested in the characters, and if this kind of socially aware drama is your thing like it is mine, you’ll find yourself sucked right into this tragic tale.

Also, because I couldn’t fit these points into the main body:

  • The music is really wonderful.
  • Though it’s not revolutionary in the way it’s shot or anything, Herzog’s use of location shooting makes it very pretty to look at, in its own desolate sort of way.

Jackie (2016)

Biopic about Jackie Kennedy in the days after her husband’s assassination, here played by Natalie Portman, in what would seem to be a transparent attempt to get her an Oscar, but ends up being so much more when that. 

First, to get it out of the way: Portman is phenomenal. She perfectly embodies Kennedy’s loss, her grief and anger, her feelings of hopelessness, but also her strength and her determination in the face of terrible tragedy. About the shortest and highest praise that I can give her is that you never feel like you’re watching Natalie Portman playing Jackie Kennedy. You feel like you’re watching Jackie Kennedy. This rather incredible feat of acting is made more incredible by Portman not really looking all that much like her subject. 

The rest of the cast is also great. Peter Sarsgaard as Robert Kennedy is excellent, conveying his character’s grief and frustration excellently in a relatively limited amount of screen time, and John Hurt (RIP) playing a priest in whom Jackie confides is also excellent (but since when is John Hurt not?. Greta Gerwig and Billy Crudup, as Nancy Tuckerman and “The Journalist” respectively,  also both leave big (positive) impressions with fairly small parts.

Now, I’ve made this sound like just a particularly well acted biopic. That is a falsehood. Everything in this film is excellent. First up, the music. The score was composed by Mica Levi, who also did the score for Under the Skin, and based on what little I’ve heard of that soundtrack (obligatory “I’m getting to it!”), this is very similar in tone. At times, the score can make the mood feel almost horrific, with its ethereal strings making the already intense drama almost hard to watch as it pushes you right to the edge of your seat. Thankfully, the OST doesn’t always keep you in quite that much suspense, with some very nice piano compositions lending the particular scenes that they accompany a mournful, reflective mood.

Also brilliant: the structure! The structure of this film is what really made it for me. Moments of time crash and fall over each other in Jackie’s mind, replaying and fading into each other as she tries to make sense of her situation. Not only does it add to the film as the study of a broken mind, but it also means that the film keeps you on your toes, keeping you moving from one moment to the next and then back again before things start to get stale. 

It’s also wonderfully directed by Pablo Larrain, who shoots the whole thing on film, occasionally cutting in actual archive footage, seamlessly I might add, adding to the realism. Often, he frames the characters in close ups, adding a sense of intimacy that invests you further into what’s going on onscreen.

Frankly, the film is kind of miraculous. Pretty much nothing ever seems to go wrong, and everyone is working at top form, and as always, there’s a lot I haven’t touched on. This is one of the best of the year and well worth checking out. 

Duck Amuck (1953)

Classic Warner Bros. short with a surrealist bent. Pretty great honestly. Breaks down not only the fourth wall, but the world of the film itself. Daffy Duck screaming at his creator to animate him properly is not only absurd, but also really funny. One of the most celebrated of all the Warner shorts, and with good reason. 
I, Daniel Blake (2016)

Ken Loach’s latest, showcasing the trials and tribulations of good, working class people at the hands of the state. As I understand it, this is not exactly a new theme for him. But if he’s this good at it, I say keep going. This is an excellent film, but it’s also a pretty harrowing one. It kind of amounts to watching these lovely people being undermined by a hopeless bureaucracy that is supposedly there to help them. It’s filmed in a very barebones style, mostly unshowy mid shots, with some occasional wide and close-ups. This stripped back approach allows you to focus on the emotions of the film, which consist mostly of:

  • Righteous anger
  • Crushing sadness
  • Occasional hope

And those very powerful feelings that are baked into the screenplay are heightened further still by the two leads, Daniel Johns and Hayley Squires, who are both incredibly sympathetic and very believable. Everyone else is great in the movie, including the child actors, but those two particularly stand out.

Suffice to say this is an incredibly raw film, and one that, even a couple of days after seeing it, is still in the process of breaking my heart. Well worth seeing, but be warned, you’re going to feel the feels. 

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