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I Am Love begins at the house of the Recchi's, an important wealthy Milanese family, of which we discover Russian born Emma, has married into (why her accent isn't perfect). She plays the stylish, cold, intelligent housewife to her detached and distant husband Tancredi, who is always working away. The extravagant parties she throws leave her as a bystander, and she departs early or finds ways to slink off alone, that is until she meets her son Edo's friend and business partner Antonio, a young and brilliant chef. In one of the most engaging and heady scenes Emma is taken to Antonio's restaurant with her mother in law and 'soon-to-be' daughter in law. In a spectacular scene, Emma eats a dish Antonio has made, and it's exciting, lush and incredibly sensual. She is engaged in an illicit affair with a prawn dish, while her mother and daughter in law discuss bland formalities. This obviously leads on to a deep, intense full blown physical affair, with Antonio not the prawn.
Everything seems to change for Emma when she discovers her daughter Betta is not only gay, but also in a happy relationship. She lovingly accepts and sympathises with her grown children. There is a beautiful scene when Betta gives her grandfather a new piece of art she has finished, (usually in the form of painting or drawing), only this time it's a photograph, its clear he doesn't really enjoy or understand the print. Emma soothes and reassures Betta, they are affectionate and intimate, and it's then Betta confides in her mother, adamant she doesn't tell her father or grandfather as they wouldn't understand. Later Edo realises that his mother has been unfaithful to his father, and in turn, him and takes it a bit too far outside by the pool. The following events show Emma being released from her wealthy, respectable cage to the freedom she's always given her children, in a touching and pulse racing crescendo. John Adams masterfully showers the film in a strange, operatic and eerie soundtrack which perfectly complements the style of the film.
I Am Love is simple and elegant, rich and powerful but equally beautiful and delicate. It's an incredibly arresting and almost theatrical in its portrayal of love, family, passion and the cocoon that wealth and desire bring. The story, technique and style are pleasing to watch, but it's the acting and soundtrack that keep you drawn in throughout. Admittedly, if you're not really in the right frame of mind for this it will appear trivial and maybe just too visually over-the-top. But even if this is the case, the luscious and picturesque surroundings, phenomenally stylised outfits (Jil Sander and Fendi), will not only make you want to go to Milan, but will leave you feeling lustful and cultured, even if you really, really hated reading the subtitles.
On Friday I managed to wangle myself into a first showing of Studio Ghibli's newest venture; Tales From Earthsea, (originally a fantasy novel of wizards and witches by novelist legend, Ursula K. Le Guin). It was apparently made in around half the time of 'Spirited Away' and 'Howl's Moving Castle', (two of the more popular Ghibli productions). And possibly because of this the film resembles some of the earlier Miyazaki works, 'Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind' and 'The Castle of Cagliostro'.
Like the older Ghibli films there is excellent use of light and shadow, simplistic and natural like animation instead of the intricate detailed animation of more recent films.
The character designs are simple yet very effective, the evil wizard Cob was especially haunting and sinister, perfectly voiced by Willem Dafoe. Timothy Dalton's gentle yet powerful vocals also don't disappoint, providing a sort of gravity to his character Sparrowhawk.
The film appears to have been taken from one episode of the series of tales (there are four), where Sparrowhawk is the central character. Where Sparrowhawk encounters and befriends a seventeen-year old prince, called Arren, who then rescues a mysterious girl, named Therru.
The story begins within a civilised society men seem to live in peace with each other. However soon dragons (who don't co-exist with humans and are seen as threatening) are spotted. After a meeting between the King and his ministers about the dragons and state of the city, Arren, the King's son, kills his father and steals his sword.
At this point, Sparrowhawk saves Arren from a pack of wolves, but Arren appears to be possessed.
Together Sparrowhawk and Arren visit a city, where Arren meets Therru as she is trying to escape from a scrap; she shuns Arren though, leaving him confused. Therru is probably one of the best characters in the story, gentle but strong willed, mysterious yet loving. They meet later coincidentally and she slowly becomes friendlier towards him. It takes her a while to let him talk to her but when she finally does, she grows to be powerfully loyal to him, eventually coming to his aid in a massive and slightly disturbing climax.
The story develops quietly and fluidly, its not as fast paced, as some of Ghibli's other films, and it's not a bloodbath action anime for those who might be expecting another 'Princess Mononoke'. Tales from Earthsea is gentle and poignant, and like all the other Ghibli productions there is a moral at the end, but it's so beautifully done, and so well written, you feel warm, impressed and your faith in brilliant storytelling is restored.
Somewhere between the summer blockbusters and Christmas epics, Sean Penn has managed to sneak in, in my opinion, one of the most powerful films of the year.
With skill and poetic imagination the film begins to unstitch a brilliant portrayed American tragedy, the true story of a 22 year-old soon to be Harvard Law student, dropout Chris McCandless' adventure across the American wilderness.
The film begins when Chris McCandless decides leave his advantaged lifestyle declining the gift of a new car from his parents, and donating the remaining $24,000 from his college fund to Oxfam, he manages to quite efficiently disappear from their lives. He starts by travelling across the United States, stopping to earn some money here and there, for essentials, then kayaks down the Grand Canyon and into the Gulf of California. He unofficially changes his name to 'Alexander Supertramp' as he burns his identity in the desert. Constantly dreaming of escaping society and civilisation to live off the land in Alaska. And for more than 100 days he manages to do just that. It seems like he is aiming for an absolute emancipation and release from the false sense of security that he has only known.
From the cruel and harsh streets of Los Angeles to the eerily quiet South-Western deserts to the beautiful rolling corn fields of South Dakota, McCandless eventually found the thing he had been looking and hoping for. To be utterly isolated and wrapped by the wilderness of the great Alaska.
The film starts and finishes with the abandoned "magic bus" that McCandless found early on, and used as a semi-home and shelter from the stark wilderness. But flashbacks and McCandless commentary that he has taken from his journals and his sister's recollections of him, all wrap together to set out his 2-year journey of the fundamental time.
You have to admire McCandless' idealism, hope and almost fearless sense of adventure. The surroundings of the film encapsulate all the most beautiful and romantic images of the great outdoors, while the soundtrack perfectly sets the speed and atmosphere without giving away the time and date of the film. And in some of the best parts McCandless shares his time with other people he's met and influenced on his journey, including an octogenarian widower who unexpectedly bonds and connects with the him before he sets off on the last stage of his life, and adventure.
Recently I was hassled into seeing the newest Julie Deply film, by my slightly anti-bourgeois friend Lauren, who'll be in the bar until Thursday. I say 'hassled' as it wasn't my choice in cinema viewing, but after a dodgy Chinatown dinner and half a bottle of cheap plonk, I'm your lady.
As you may know, Deply is the Parisian, blonde co-star of the film. What you may not know is that she is also the writer/director/editor/co-producer/co-closing songwriter and probably the tea lady. Perhaps because she likes control, perhaps because she's a bit of a cheapskate, but for whatever reason the film works.
The focus of the film is on the relationship between Marion (Deply) and her cynical, bearded, New Yorker boyfriend Jack. They take a trip to Europe and spend two days in Paris visiting Marion's family and ex's. Their initial plan was for them to get back some of the romance that has begun to disappear after being together for two years. But in a humourous twist of fate Marion can't seem to avoid her ex's and Jack can't seem to get away from America. Whether it's a group of 'Da Vinci Code' fanatical tourists, or a visit to Jim Morrison's grave where he mockingly tells Marion's father "I'm a huge Val Kilmer fan".
Marion's mother and father (Delpy's actual parents) are both brilliantly natural and amusing together, causing Jack to feel uneasy and paranoid with the language barrier which neither can be bothered to break. Marion's father also turns out to be a bit of a blase vandal who without any hesitation drags a key across parked cars because they are parked badly.
It seems Delpy is a talented comical writer, but Marion and Jack just didn't seem to work as a winning couple. Their constant quarrelling started to distract me from wanting them to sort out their problems, and instead break up. However, as the film draws to a close it starts to clean up, and as Marion comments on troubles they have had as lovers, we listen to something more thought-out and sympathetic. The film is funny and cringe-worthily insightful, its no Manhattan, but with a bit more thought and time, Deply will no doubt write something even better. But for now, this little erratically funny commentary on relationships is a hopeful indication of what's to come.
I thought that the last few drops of life from the desiccated carcass of the vampire films, had been sucked out, but I couldn't be more wrong.
30 Days of Night is brilliantly filmed in the agoraphobic and nightmarish Alaska, where for 30 days a year there is no sunlight. A somewhat eerie, unsettling and completely unnatural way of life, throwing the Alaskan dwellers into a massively life altering conundrum; do they go or do they stay. And to make matters worse, they're not alone.
The film begins before the epic month of darkness, where the small village of Point Barrow's sheriff has been lead out to investigates a series of unusual crimes; all the village cell phones have been stolen and burnt, all the sled dogs have been slaughtered and the emergency helicopter has been trashed. But of course, we already know that these cannot be just random acts of violence and destruction.
As soon as night falls we're aware that the village is in trouble, but without showing too much we are quickly lead around the village using handcam-esque, jumpy, loud and fractious movements. What pursues is a gruesome, bloodbath of a vampire film, setting the tough-skinned and minded, residents of the Alaskan village, against the agile, strong and strangely demonic looking nocturnal creatures.
Generally this film keeps pace throughout, running alongside the surviving humans and the vampires, without turning into a cheesy horror cliche. I think one of the reasons for this is that the film holds quite a strong gritty feel. Because its all set at night you get a really cold and hostile feel from the washed out colours, everything is gray and dark, and skin tone becomes white and lifeless, even on the survivors.
There is a lot of extreme violence in this film, however it's not ridiculously gratuitous, and in a sense its part of the story, until one of the final scenes, which did make me want to vomit into my popcorn. One of the films highlights would be a gung-ho performance from an outcast Alaskan out to save the day, going after the vampires with a huge snowplough type vehicle, several tonnes of dynamite, shotguns and lighter fluid. Amidst the violence and spine-tingling scares the film has to offer, it also shows the power of the group of survivors will to.. well survive.
The survivors start off with sheer determination hoping that the Alaskan wilderness can be used against the vampires: "this place is strong, maybe we can outlast them". Alas they soon realise that it's always better to fight fire with fire. This leads the final scenes to be a sort of melange of vampire mythology sentiment, ending the film with quite an inventive plan.
After all, when one is faced with an something that is so completely relentless, brutal and depraved, what must you prepare to become to stop it?