Take this Waltz – Film Review

Michelle Williams plays Margot an idealistic woman who has been married to Seth Rogan’s chicken chef Lou for five years. After bumping into their neighbour Daniel (Luke Kirby), a struggling artist who pulls a rickshaw by day, Margot starts to find her self in love with two men and considering cheating on her husband.

Take This Waltz is troubling me greatly. There are so many positive things I could say about it yet somehow I am struggling to say that I liked it or found the film enjoyable. I’ve been putting off this review for days but the film is finally out so I have no more time to wait. Let’s see if we can get to the bottom of this.

The acting, writing, and directing are all absolutely superb. The film is an almost tactile experience. Every shot is gorgeous and I felt as though I could reach out and touch the film itself. The sets seem so real, the characters so authentic, and the emotions were so raw as to almost have a physical presence in the room. With every smile I felt a little warmth inside, with every frown I felt sad, and with every pained look of love between star-crossed lovers my heart twisted around itself.

Take This Waltz is a finely crafted emotional drama. It feels so real, so raw, and so honest. And yet…

I had the same trouble with the similarly realistic but pained Blue Valentine and Like Crazy. These are all films which show the painful reality of falling in love, with all the scuffed edges and imperfections that can bring. Maybe I am looking more for escapism from films that present the perfect ending to a romantic situation with only superficial trouble along the way. Polley also gets bonus points for a long shot showing a relationship developing over several months all in one room and involving multiple threesomes.

In many ways the fact that Take This Waltz was such a painful watch is to its credit. Sarah Polley is a wonderful writer-director that taps into the human core of a story. No one in the film says anything that couldn’t be said out of a film setting and none of the characters behave in an unrealistic way.

If looked at objectively Take This Waltz is a little masterpiece and well deserving of four stars:

But taking into account subjectivity and the fact that Margot irritated the hell out of me I can’t go above three:

I can’t stress enough how good this film is, but at the same time can’t deny how frustrated it made me.

A Few Obligatory Thoughts on the 2012 Oscar Nominations

In case you haven’t been lucky enough to have me mumble at you about the 2012 Oscar nominations in person, I thought I’d share with you some of my gut reactions to this year’s list of films of actor types that may win a fancy gold statue. For the full list of nominees have a look on IMDb, it’ll save me a lot of copying, pasting, and messing around with italics.

Extremely Lame & Poorly Reviewed
Somewhere amongst the nine nominees for Best Motion Picture of the Year is Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, the family drama about a young boy searching for the lock to match a key left to him by his father, a victim of 9/11. What makes this film stand out, beyond its terrifying poster, is that it is the worst reviewed film to get nominated for this award for the past 10 years. At the time of writing this potential Oscar winner has just 47% positive reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes with a pretty damning consensus; “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close has a story worth telling, but it deserves better than the treacly and pretentious treatment director Stephen Daldry gives it.”

Albert Who?
Noticing that a film called Albert Nobbs had gathered three nominations I decided to look into it. Turns out that Albert Nobbs is a woman in 19th century Ireland pretending to be a man in order to survive, and is played by Glenn Close. Curious to see what Glenn Close would look like as a man I bravely Googled on.

Thanks Glenn, I didn’t need to sleep tonight anyway.

Gary!
With Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sadly missing out on a Best Picture nod it’s great to see Gary Oldman getting his first ever Best Actor nomination, and not for his role in Kung Fu Panda 2. In Tinker Oldman ably held together a weighty bit of British cinema and showed hipsters that some people actually wear oversized glasses for medical reasons. What a guy.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Mediocre Biopic
With Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams both getting nominated for Best Actress, it seems that it really doesn’t matter how lukewarm the reaction is to your film so long as you give a scarily accurate portrayal of an icon. In a way it’s reassuring to know that no matter how mediocre the film you’re in, there’s still a chance to act your way above the rest of the film.

Plummer!
It’s exciting enough that the little seen film Beginners might get some free press thanks to Christopher Plummer’s nomination, but the fact that Captain Von Trapp has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor twice out of the last three years is almost too much too handle. Excuse the hyperbole, I’m tired.

Woody’s Back
Woody Allen has another hit on his hands as Midnight in Paris garnered four nominations, and three of them are the kind that people actually care about. Shame I have 45 Woody Allen films to get through before I’m allowed to watch this one.

How Could They Leave Out ________?
For every nomination which warms the cockles of your heart there will be dozens of omissions which are completely outrageous and terribly short-sighted of the academy, only in your humble opinion of course. For me there’s not enough love for Drive and Olivia Colman has been robbed, robbed blind I say! I’m sure you have your own opinions, but how can they be as important as mine?

A Few Surprising Screenplays
The fact that fantastic Iranian film A Separation and delightful silent film The Artist are both nominated for Best Original Screenplay, a category normally filled with English scripts filled with dialogue, shows a fun bit of diverse nominating from the academy. It brings to mind the fact that the only time Buffy was nominated for a Golden Globe for writing was for the almost silent episode Hush. For anyone not sure why I’m rambling about Buffy, why not have a look at what the script for The Artist looks like, you can download it here.

The Difference Between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing is…
The same as the difference between Drive and Moneyball, apparently. These two categories, for Sound Mixing/Editing, have always baffled me and no more so than this year where they share a fourfilmnomineecrossover.

Is the Animated Feature Oscar Just for Kids?
I had a theory that Best Animated Feature only goes to the most accessible end of the animated film genre. With a few “proper” animated films on the shortlist, Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris among them, I look forward to being proven wrong. The absence of Cars 2 from the list gives me hope.

If nothing else, at least we’ll get to see this fella again (I hope):

2012 Golden Globes Nominations

With awards season truly hotting up we are treated with the nominations for the 2012 Golden Globe Awards. They’re an interesting bunch, a lot of the more challenging and/or smaller films have been passed by. The Los Angles Times has it spot on when they say that the nominations seem to recognise those works featuring the A-list actors, more accessible films and less dark dramas. No Tyrannosaur or Like Crazy to be found below.

What you will find is my gut reaction and my opinions for each category (apart from Best Original Song and Best Original Score as that is not my strong suit) whether you want it or not. Continue reading

My Week With Marilyn – Review

Before we get onto the film I’d like to tell you a story about how I found the Phoenix Picturehouse in Oxford. Standing in line at the Odeon we noticed that the cinema wasn’t even showing My Week With Marilyn, clearly we were at the wrong Odeon. At this moment two women in the queue abandoned the cinema with one saying to their friend, “there’s still time to catch Marilyn.” Presuming that they meant the film and that they were heading for t’other Odeon we stalked them, darting from tree to lamppost to remain unseen. After a longer than expected stealth walk the two women lead us to a Picturehouse we didn’t realise existed. I love a good Picturehouse and this was no exception: lovely décor and sitting on the back row we had enough leg room to do the can-can had the need arisen. Lovely cinema. ANECDOTE OVER

My Week With Marilyn covers one week of production of the Lawrence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) directed The Prince and the Showgirl, as the star Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) clashes with her director and finds an ally in 3rd assistant director Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne). The much-disputed facts come from the memoirs of the real life Colin Clark so the film takes on a very subjective view of events.

As the film begins we are introduced to Clark, an eager young man with a dream of working in the movies, and the family connections to make it happen. Before long he has gotten himself a job on Lawrence Olivier’s new film, a job allowing him to interact with Dame Sybil Thorndike (played with no effort needed by Dame Judi Dench) and flirt with costumer Lucy (Emma Watson at her more convincing). At this point the film is playing as a enjoyable piece of British period cinema, everyone having fun with their roles, particularly Branagh, and the sense of anticipation at the impending arrival of Monroe was shared by characters and audience alike.

When Monroe arrives everyone holds their breath; while Monroe herself could turn heads, Michelle Williams so captures her essence that it is a marvel to behold. I still can’t decide whether or not footage of the real thing was slipped in as there were moments when Williams simply became Monroe. It is more than an imitation, it is an embodiment.

Having said all that Monroe frustrated me at first, her diva-like behaviour as she was constantly late to set seemed unjustifiable and left me far from sympathetic. It was only later as Marilyn and Colin became close that I began to understand this ephemeral character. With filming stressful Marilyn starts to depend on Colin, bunking off with him and refusing to sleep without him by her side. At this point Williams is able to show the severe vulnerability of Marilyn Monroe and brought some much-needed depth to the character. At various points the script tried to veer Marilyn towards cliché but Williams always managed to steer clear.

As essentially the lead, Eddie Redmayne as Colin was not the most dynamic of characters. Rather than do anything of interest Colin only ever seemed to have things happen to him. Not terrible in itself but I feel like Redmayne has a lot more to offer than this film gave him scope for. The only other true stand-out performance alongside Williams was from Kenneth Branagh who was gleefully camped up for his role as the great Sir Lawrence Olivier. Whenever Branagh was on-screen the film was infinitely better.

While a lot of fun My Week With Marilyn doesn’t have a lot going on beneath the surface. As the epilogue tells you at the end, this week was not the most significant for either Olivier or Monroe. Perhaps it was for Colin, but I’d have rather spent more time watching the two legends go head to head and struggle to work together. Besides, how can you ever sympathise with anyone who lets Emma Watson down?

Blue Valentine – DVD Review

Film
In Blue Valentine Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are a young couple seen at the beginning of their relationship, and at the end a few years later. The two are inter-cut to show the couple’s changing dynamic as the honeymoon period fades away.

With its improvised script and a lead couple made to live together for a month before filming the breakdown of their fake marriage, Blue Valentine achieves what it seems to be striving for; natural dialogue and a realistic love story. Everything about Blue Valentine is done to make it look, feel and sound as real as possible, when they kiss you believe in the kiss and when they fight you can feel each blow.

Unfortunately watching a couple fall in love and fall apart is not always that easy to watch. Some scenes sag a little and the piece leaves you feeling a little drained. Blue Valentine isn’t the easiest film to watch and hardly zips along but both Williams and Gosling are on career high performance levels and Derek Cianfrance is an unobtrusive director. It will get to you emotionally but might not be an experience you want to revisit.

Extras
Extras include a Q&A, director’s commentary and deleted scenes. The highlight is a brief “making of” which explore the improvised nature of the film and how Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling lived together for a month, arguing mostly, to get ready to film the second part of the film. Also included are the home movies the couple made together during this time, certainly something a little different to regular talking heads.

Blue Valentine is out on DVD and Blu-ray today.