Meewella | Critic

According to P

Tag: Clint Mansell

QuickView: Sharper (2023)

“We’re going to teach you a little about everything, so that you can lie about anything.”


Hollywood con artists are typically painted with a light tone and a glamorous sheen that is entirely absent from Sharper, a neo noir thriller set in a dark and clinical New York rather than the bright lights of Vegas. There is plenty of slick, moody cinematography (Charlotte Bruus Christensen also shot Molly’s Game) capturing these characters in cold hues that serves to reinforce a lack of chemistry or genuine emotion behind much of the melodrama. This detachment seems to be a directorial choice rather than a fault of the actors and Sharper is to be commended for forging its own path rather than taking the easier derivative route, but the result is audience disengagement. Much of the winding plot is predictable, and the script commits the common sin of inserting one too many twists. For all its seriousness, beneath the surface Sharper manages to be just as soulless as some of the genre’s worst offenders.


QuickView: The Fountain (2006)

The Fountain poster

“Death is the road to awe.”

Lord of Xibalba

If there is a common theme to Darren Aronofsky’s films it is obsession, in this case a doctor’s desperate drive to cure his wife’s cancer before it takes her, failing to spend time with her whilst she comes to accept her mortality. Rather than focus solely upon this personal drama, Aronofsky seeks to tackle the more profound nature of death through a separate fiction that mirrors the central narrative, with the same lead actors. This serves to depersonalise the characters, along with a brief running time reducing them to sketches, so that we understand them on an intellectual level but struggle particularly to empathise with them. From the opening ten minutes, spanning multiple eras with fantastic elements and a striking black and gold palette, I feared this would be a frustratingly inscrutable experience. Instead, once its structure emerges, The Fountain‘s ideas about death turn out to be surprisingly straightforward, with far less depth than its ambition.


QuickView: Out of Blue (2019)

Out of Blue quad poster

“Do you know your place in the universe? Do you know where you are?”

Jennifer Rockwell

Out of Blue is a mesmerising noir mystery that prizes atmosphere and a singular perspective over its meandering plot, calling to mind Donnie Darko (down to the soundtrack’s use of The Killing Moon) without quite descending into Lynchian madness. Director Carol Morley draws the female detective and cosmology elements as ingredients from Martin Amis’ Night Train, but mixes her own cocktail with a strong visual language and an unusually British lens on a New Orleans setting. Patricia Clarkson is perfect as detective Mike Hoolihan, comfortably wearing the typically male noir tropes whilst her character wryly wards off a complaint, “there’s many ways to be a woman.” Mike’s murder investigation draws parallels with the work of her theoretical physicist suspects, particularly the notion of observation changing results. Not only does observation alter Mike’s understanding of the present (she is routinely pictured closely observing evidence through a magnifying glass) and her own past, but one also reflects on whether the audience members, by observing different clues, each create a different a film. This idea fits with Morley’s desire to make the film “spacious enough that people can insert themselves”. There are definite parallels with True Detective‘s first season, with its similarly atmospheric take on Louisiana, its pervasive sense of dread, and the anticlimactic result of its more inscrutable fantastic imagery which never quite lands. And, just the same, Out of Blue lingers hauntingly afterward.


QuickView: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

“You are more than just a weapon. You have a soul — a ghost. When we see our uniqueness as a virtue, only then will we find peace.”


Ghost in the Shell is a cultural phenomenon that has been adapted from the original manga into animated films and TV series, but its first live action feature comes from the USA rather than Japan. The result is undeniably visually stunning with extensive CGI bringing its future tech to life and illuminating it with colourful hues. Yet the franchise’s central question proves an apt analogy for the film: beneath the flawless exterior of this glossy shell there is no soul, no emotional weight. Accusations of Hollywood whitewashing are not resolved by the mere fact that Major’s mind is revealed to have come from an ethnically Japanese woman. If the film’s tacit suggestion is that the Western ideal of a “perfect” designer body would invariably look white, it fails to engage with this at all. The film’s most inspired casting is the legendary “Beat” Takeshi Kitano as Major’s boss, Aramaki.


QuickView: Mute (2018)

“He doesn’t need words.”


It is unsurprising that, after the lukewarm reception of Warcraft, Duncan Jones chose to return to smaller scale sci-fi. The relative freedom of Netflix funding was squandered on the tale of a mute bartender searching for his missing girlfriend in near-future Berlin. Near-silent protagonists taking on criminal elements invariably means style over substance, though both Drive and Baby Driver have shown it can be successful. Although the cyberpunk visuals are impressive, they are little more than a painted backdrop for uninteresting characters in a messy story that veers into uncomfortable territory due to poor handling of its darker subject matter. The setting invites an unflattering comparison with Blade Runner, seeking to evoke its atmosphere without any world building (the best attempts being the nods to Mute existing in the same universe as Jones’ debut Moon).


Requiem for a Dream (2000)

director: Darren Aronofsky
writer: Hubert Selby Jr., Darren Aronofsky
starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans
running time: 102 mins
certificate: 18

You are beautiful. You’re the most beautiful girl in the world. You are my dream.

The last quarter of an hour of Requiem for a Dream is probably the most intensely harrowing closing I have witnessed, and yet the moment the credits roll there can be no dought that this was a spectacular achievement in film. The depiction is of the depths to which four drug addicts fall, each trying to attain their dream, only to have it snatched away as they fuel their own addiction.

Sarah Golfarb [Ellen Burstyn] is a lonely old woman whose solitary existance is punctuated only by occassional visits from her son, Harry [Jared Leto], to provide cash for his drug habit. Sarah spends her day watching a self-help informercial, until she receives a phone call informing her that she is to be the contestant on a TV show. Her life gains new purpose and revolves around losing weight to appear on the show. The cycle of the addiction of both mother and son is cleverly shown through the television which he repeatedly pawns for money, and she buys back each time. The differencce between addiction to hard drugs and TV as methods of dealing with reality are not so far removed, it would seem. Harry’s own dream is make one big score with his best friend Tyrone [ Marlon Wayans ] to raise himself from a small-time dealer, but he’s already developed an addiction to his product. His girlfriend Marion [Jennifer Connelly] dreams of opening a shop to sell her fashion designs, taking hits surrounded by her sketches. After a great summer where all four are successful and happy, in each case addiction kills the dream, as Sarah finds herself addicted to the dieting pills prescribed by a doctor, Harry and Tyrone’s big score falls through, and Marion cannot cope during a heroin drought. The resulting winter is a harsh one indeed.

The key performances in this film are all of an incredible quality, especially Burstyn who portrays addiction in a different light, first to televesion, then the red dress, then true drug of her diet pills. By the end of the film her transformation is so horrifying that she is utterly unrecognisable, yet never does she seem unrealistic or excessive. The performances of all the actors are all the more impressive because of the way they truly take on the roles they play, allowing the audience to see the changes internally as well as externally. This is most true of Connelly’s change from the wide eyed young girl to the hopeless addict by the end. She, above all others, should be heralded for her bravery and integrity as an actress, in the degredation she put herself through in order to accurately depict the depths to which Marion has fallen. The controversial scene in which a four girl orgy is portrayed in a series of sharp jump-cuts is never erotic in the slightest, but shows the utter destruction and total loss of the any self esteem in a character we have come to care about. It is a truly incredible task for any actress to agree to, and an astounding performance to match Burstyn’s. Leto and Wayans play more difficult characters to understand, perhaps because of their depiction in the opening, and really it is Burstyn who offers us a way into their psyche through her depiction of an “everyday addiction”. Nonetheless, both actors are able to display a subtle innocence and insecurity in their roles which is what draws us to them.

Aronofsky’s skill at manipulating varied camera styles can seem harsh and confusing, but the dizzying array of techniques is used to display the detatchment of the characters and the altered speed of a world where the next hit is the true goal. Speed-ups, slow motion, split screen, fast cuts, montage, camera shakes and time elapse each have their own careful use in his reportoire. An especially effective romantic scene between Harry and Marion singlehandedly defines their relationship of loving dependence, a split screen showing the lovers staring at one another, then a gentle caress on one half with the reaction on the other’s face opposite. This is not to say Aronofsky has created a flawless work. As the vibrating fridge in Sarah’s drug-filled mind becomes more violent and finally opens its jaws, it is difficult to see whether his intention is for us to be scared, amused or disturbed.


As the film closes, no doubt each viewer will take away a different image that spoke to them more powerfully, but be sure that there will be a powerful image residually burned into you. The putried shot of the infected vein, the blood splattered across Harry’s face, and the thought of losing an arm; the strong Tyrone in a work facility rather than detox, drawn into a foetal position as he sleeps through a craving; Marion returning home after degrading herself so greatly, cradling the hit she has scored as a child cuddling a teddy bear for comfort – and she is actually smiling; Sarah pumped full of electricity, screaming in pain with a plastic bit between her teeth, fried and seemingly brain dead when her friends finally visit; and the haunting sound of the infomercial after we see these results, “we’ve got a winner…”


"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

Up ↑