Meewella | Critic

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Tag: Tilda Swinton

QuickView: Asteroid City (2023)

“I still don’t understand the play.”

Augie Steenbeck

Wes Anderson’s recent films have begun to feel like pastiches of his own work. Asteroid City trades his usual literary trappings for theatrical ones, a meta narrative providing monochrome sequences — narrated by Bryan Cranston — about a play that is represented by a full-colour film in traditional Anderson style. The increased artifice makes it more difficult to connect with these characters who are now characters being portrayed by actors who are played by actors (with nothing quite so pithy as Tropic Thunder’s “I’m a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude.”). Ironically the most nuanced performance within the play is probably Scarlett Johanson’s… as a famous actress. The location, a desert town known only for its crater, feels less like a populated location than the empty shell of a theatrical set. It is unclear whether the 60s-era sci-fi technology is a deliberate anachronism or simple suited to Anderson’s aesthetic preferences. Although he blurs the edges at times, Anderson’s approach is neither as convoluted nor as ambitious as, say, Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York. That makes it easier to switch off and enjoy the contrivance for what it is, but there is little substance here.


QuickView: The Killer (2023)

“It’s amazing how physically exhausting it can be to do nothing.”

The Killer

Fincher crime movies are almost a sub-genre of their own — we know how they will feel (isolated and tense) and how they will look (heavy shadows with single colour lighting). Adapted from a French graphic novel, The Killer opens intriguingly with Fassbender’s assassin trying to keep his mind occupied as he waits for a target in Paris. The initial half hour is effectively an extended voiceover monologue, peppered with some interesting references — he quotes Aleister Crowley, though not by name, and refers to sniper assassinations as “Annie Oakley jobs”. Fassbender embodies the character gamely, measured movements and psychologically intense, but he cannot make the writing seem profound (“if I’m effective it’s for one simple fact: I don’t give a fuck”). The voiceover continues as the film shifts into a slow revenge story, and one can see the influence of the Dexter series, though it lacks any of Dexter’s disturbed charm or poetry. The film’s somber tone rarely changes although, in a brief appearance late in the film, Tilda Swinton manages to instill some suspense during a confrontation. Its production may be slick, but The Killer is retreading very well-trodden ground and its grand insight is that hitmen are patient, can’t afford empathy, and live by a code. Who knew? If you want to spend two hours being told this, perhaps you too have the patience to be an assassin.


QuickView: Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)

“All gods and monsters outlive their original purpose and are reduced to metaphor.”


The appearance of djinn in Western fiction is oddly liminal, fantastic and yet somehow more plausibly grounded in their foreign exoticism. Such is the appearance of a djinn in the hotel room of professor Alithea on a trip to Istanbul. Granted the traditional three wishes, she is professionally cautious as her study is in global narrative mythology and she knows all too well that in stories wishes always serve as cautionary tales. Cinema feels at times a clumsy medium for this self-referential story about stories (itself adapted from a short story), wonderful as Idris Elba’s deeply intoned narration may be. This is not to say George Miller does not present us with impressive sounds and sights, with evocative use of colour and magical effects constructed from shifting sands and vapours (incidentally visual elements that suffer the most from streaming compression). Three Thousand Years of Longing explores the ways in which we can be trapped by desire, and the foolishness of love at the expense of oneself, but the emotional tone is one of solitude and loneliness, with a longing to be seen as much as for freedom (“We exist only if we are real to others”). There is also an overarching comment that — even as science may reduce our reliance on fictional deities — stories remain how humans understand the world and how we interact with one another, and your enjoyment of the film is likely to reflect how interesting or pretentious you find these ideas.


QuickView: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)

“People are sometimes afraid of things they don’t know.”


This is the second high-profile adaptation of Pinocchio in 2022 alone. Whilst Zemeckis continued Disney’s creatively barren attempts at live action remakes of its beloved animated features, Guillermo del Toro’s is a true retelling of the story in his own inimitable way. Within the framework of a family film, it feels as though del Toro has crafted a companion piece to Pan’s Labyrinth with shared themes of death and fascism. Pinocchio’s very creation is an act of grief — after Geppetto cuts down his dead son’s tree in a drunken fit of rage — and his early moments of life are reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster, inspiring fear in both his creator and the villagers. Although the familiar story beats remain intact, del Toro’s sympathies have always lain with outsiders struggling to find their place in society, as everyone’s ideas for Pinocchio are exploitative — a father wishing to replace a lost son, Christoph Waltz’s wonderfully mercurial circus owner (“You may have no strings but I control you”) sensing profit, and the fascists who wish to turn him into an undying soldier. Stop motion is perhaps the perfect medium for Pinocchio since it turns all the characters into stringless puppets. There is a genuinely handcrafted feel to Pinocchio, roughly hewn with nails sticking out of his back, and the physical sets scale wonderfully with the puppetry. Although there is a slew of high profile actors, there is no stunt casting and only Ewan McGregor’s narration as Cricket was distractingly recognisable. The musical numbers are the film’s weakest aspect, interrupting the pacing and entirely forgettable. To explore what it means to be human, however, Pinocchio is a rich and satisfying adaptation.


QuickView: The French Dispatch (2021)

“There is a particular sad beauty… well-known to the companionless foreigner as he walks the streets of his adopted preferably moonlit, city. In my case, Ennui, France.”

Roebuck Wright

Whilst there has always been a literary chic aesthetic to Wes Anderson’s films, The French Dispatch is an ode to the art of long-form journalism — rather than being divided into chapters, this is really a collection of short films masquerading as articles. The fictional French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé (literally “boredom on apathy”) is fittingly named, and even the colour palette eschews the bold saturation one expects from Anderson; yet within this disaffected community, the writers seek out — and perhaps manifest — absurdly colourful tales. The quality is distinctly uneven, Anderson seeming to have little to say with the content of the stories so much as their loquacious delivery. The most creative is also the most entertaining, a food review that morphs into an unpredictable heist. Although that earns the film a strong closing, it cannot resolve the disconnected narrative of a vapidly kitsch tale of student protest or a bizarrely aggressive travelogue. Fans of Wes Anderson will find plenty of details to enjoy, together with the de rigueur stellar ensemble cast, but The French Dispatch does not rank amongst his strongest work.


QuickView: The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

The Dead Don't Die

“This is really awful. Maybe the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

Chief Cliff Robertson

Not quite as mangled a mess as those corpses, The Dead Don’t Die is still a deeply disappointing waste of talent. Given his original take on the vampire genre with the exquisite Only Lovers Left Alive, I was excited by the prospect of Jim Jarmusch turning his talents to a zombie movie with an exceptional ensemble cast led by Bill Murray and Adam Driver. Sadly, the best cast ever to grace a zombie movie cannot combat a flat and uninspired script with little to say. Sure, the undead are drawn to their addictions in life so we are treated to moans of “Chardonnay” and “wifi” rather than “brains” but the social satire is stale for a genre that was built upon it — a voiceover about consumerism seems laughably derivative three decades after George Romero popularised that parallel. There is some humour to be found in the small town residents’ laid back attitudes leading to less panic than one might expect; however that same lack of energy does little to aid the viewing experience. Driver manages to inject a little charm as does Selena Gomez, but nothing here is memorable once the heads and credits roll.


QuickView: Snowpiercer (2013)

“If you can’t remember then it’s better to forget.”


Snowpiercer is fresh high-concept science fiction that arrived a few years ahead of its time with an admittedly unsubtle allegorical tale of climate-induced revolution as the destitute rise up. Director Joon-Ho Bong adapts a French graphic novel with a confident blend of Korean and Western sensibilities that needs to be viewed texturally in the manner of Jean-Pierre Jeunet or Terry Gilliam. Logical interrogation of the implausible story will invariably lead to disappointment, but the violent journey through this train — hurtling ceaselessly through a frozen wasteland — is filled with tension and fabulous imagery. The revolution’s success seems ever balanced on a knife-edge, but as they advance each carriage presents its own distinctive diorama full of wonderful details. Chris Evans carries the audience as the reluctant hero, supported by a host of venerable British talent, including John Hurt and a riotously hammy Tilda Swinton. More than the sum of its parts, it was perhaps inevitable that the creative yet bleak Snowpiercer left critics more enamoured than audiences.


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (2005)

director: Stephen Frears
starring: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent
running time: 140 mins
rating: PG

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The WardrobeI have intentionally not re-read the book prior to viewing the film as I wished to experience it anew, while hoping for the story to rekindle the same emotions it had as a child. As comparisons with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings are inevitable I shall not shy away from them but would offer as a warning that this is a very different film and a viewer who approaches it with the same expectations will be sorely disappointed. Equally, though it be a magical children’s story, it is something vastly predating Harry Potter and bears little resemblance below the surface. Rather it is something of a hybrid, epic children’s fantasy, in a way that will only truly become evident if the franchise does extend to further films (all seven books have been optioned, although The Horse and His Boy seems an unlikely candidate for a film).

The four Pevensie children, Lucy [Georgie Henley], Edmund [Skandar Keynes], Peter [William Moseley] and Susan [Anna Popplewell], are evacuated from London during WWII. They find themselves in a large stately home belonging to a reclusive professor [Jim Broadbent]. While exploring they discover a mysterious wardrobe that leads them into the magical world of Narnia. While marvelling at the wonderous creatures they soon discover, much to their surprise, their coming has been foretold signalling the end of the battle between the evil White Witch and Aslan, Narnia’s true king.

The children enter Narnia near the lamp postGiven several television adaptations it is easy to regard this film as somewhat redundant. However, the impressive production values and Weta’s involvement in bringing the creatures to life makes this a much easier world in which to lose oneself. Nevertheless one must still approach it with an open childlike imagination in order to experience its full effect. It remains very true to C.S. Lewis’ book in both style and content. Although changes are evident, the Biblical imagery, particularly that embodied in Aslan, remains both intact and prominent.

The children’s performances are all decent, if not particularly noteworthy. Georgie Henley’s open-mouthed awe avoids being overly cutesie, while Peter and Edmund’s brotherly fighting seems a little rigid. In short you won’t find yourself cringing as in the first Potter instalment, nor will you be blown away. The secondary actors fare better, particularly James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus, the fawn. Liam Neeson voices Aslan with sufficient gravitas, but the majestic lion still seems a little subdued in the film, perhaps because we see him from an outside perspective, rather than through the children’s feelings as in the book. Equally the witch, though suitably manipulative and chilling, seems to be lacking in presence.

Mr. TumnusNarnia itself feels less expansive than I would have liked, perhaps due to the lack of the lingering, sweeping panoramic shots of The Fellowship of the Ring. Despite this, it feels inherently magical from the first moment Lucy scrambles into its snow-covered forest. The soundtrack provides an enchanting accompaniment in the first half, becoming somewhat more routine further in. The battle sequences showcase Weta’s work with polar bear-drawn chariots and dozens of centaurs charging into battle. These are not the dark clashes of LOTR, however, but rather the epic fantasy battles of a child’s imagination with shining armour and bloodless swords.

Shots like the lamppost ground it well for those familiar with the book, while others may feel there are too many unanswered questions, such as Aslan’s disappearance and the witch’s origins. It is important to remember that these remained mysteries in the book too, answered only in the penultimate instalment, the prequel The Magician’s Nephew. This highlights that the faithful adaptation from the book is both its strength and its weakness.

rating: 3/4

"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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