A sad time for anyone who loves movies.
- - -
That was the week in which...
Robin Williams died.
The reasons behind his suicide have been speculated upon ever since news of his death broke on August 11th. Twitter debate and abuse has raged. Tributes have been paid. Yet the basic fact remains unchanged: Williams is no longer with us.
For a man often stereotyped as a raging bull of chaotic motor-mouth comedy, Williams could effortlessly vary his tone and style at will. Sure, the big performances in family comedies Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook and Jumanji (and, of course, perhaps his definitive role in the less family-friendly Good Morning, Vietnam) were built on sheer energy. But his restrained performances in the likes of Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting (for which he won an Oscar) and The Fisher King truly served the story, and in turn, allowed his characters to maximise their required sense of inspiration, profundity and vulnerability.
What’s more, he could define the extremities of other darker characters too, as the protagonist pursued by Al Pacino in Christopher Nolan’s remake of Insomnia, and the creepy everyman Sy Parrish in One Hour Photo. Not everything that Williams touched turned to gold – over the course of a 100-plus films, there are inevitably going to be some that fall short. But even the less-obvious outbacks of his filmography, such as his role as Osric in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, offered something of intrigue.
Ultimately, Williams inspired and entertained countless millions of people the world over. What more can an actor and storyteller aspire to?
- - -
The Big Film: The Rover
A cleverly unexplained post-apocalyptic has left the Australian outback community ruined and reliant upon the American dollar in this violent, mid-paced drama. Much like Cosmopolis, The Rover feels like a deliberate choice for Robert Pattinson to step away from the Twilight world with an anti-commercial detour into existential minimalism which is dotted with a gun-runnin’ dwarf and a particularly grimy opium-fuelled brothel.
In such a scenario, it’s understandable that Eric (Guy Pearce) is murderously pissed off after the theft of his car which leads him on this meandering road trip to the nervy, needy Reynolds (Pattinson) – the polar opposite of his focused intensity, but someone who has been equally fractured by the chaos around him. After a vehement opening third, their connection sags the ferocity of the plot – a real shame as Pattinson is fascinating in his reinvention, while Pearce is thrillingly visceral.
The Rover subsequently quickens the pace a touch as it builds towards its punch-line of a finale, but the narrative can’t provide the dramatic clout needed to balance its rich atmosphere of survival in a world that’s suffering from the consequences of the past.
- - -
The Strange Film: The Congress
The follow-up to Ari Folman’s Golden Globe-winning Waltz With Bashir, The Congress is an audacious, ambitious affair that uses fantastical animation, pseudo-documentary and a nightmarish dystopian future to explore themes of mortality and the changing face of digitalisation in film.
Based on Stanislaw Lem’s novel The Futurological Congress, the film imagines a world in which actors can sell their cinematic identity. As Robin Wright discovers, the studio “scans” her entire persona to create their own visions of what she could potentially be, thus casting her off into a two-decade long retirement. As her alter ego becomes the Miramount studio’s biggest star, Wright finds herself in the trippy environs of The Futurist Congress.
This clash of an analogue humankind in a digital world provokes a curiosity of emotion within a primarily intellectual construct, but the strength comes – as with all prescient sci-fi – from the very fact that such a reality could be mere baby steps from cinema’s own future. Its commitment to a plot that always threatens to unravel itself is both a blessing and a curse, but The Congress engages mind and soul to dazzling effect.
- - -
Also Out: Blood Ties
Set amidst the flares and firearms of 1970s Brooklyn, Guillaume Canet’s Blood Ties is centred on two brothers – one a criminal, the other a cop, thus setting up a well-worn dialectic on the difference between morality and legality.
What follows is hard-hitting, stylishly executed shootouts, fistfights and bank robberies, while Clive Owen and Billy Crudup fight bravely to add some fire to the film’s undercooked subplots. There’s some engaging interplay between these two, but Canet’s script is frustratingly unoriginal – there’s scheming, double-crossing and backstabbing aplenty, but little in the way of genuine suspense.
It’s not often that you can identify one scene to symbolise the shortcomings of an entire film, but about midway through, Owen provides us with just that. Having been slighted at work, he responds by repeatedly slamming his own forehead into a nearby post and fixing the offender with a stare fit to cut stone as blood trickles down his face. It’s a fitting episode for a film that tries hard to be edgy, intelligent and original, yet ultimately finds itself beating it’s head against the same tired old tropes, with little to show for its efforts apart from some entirely predictable blood and gore. Words: Jack Enright
- - -
New Talent: Evan Bird
Who? Evan Bird is a Canadian actor who is still in his early years.
What’s he been in? His highest profile role so far as been as Tom in the American adaptation of Danish drama The Killing. Other credits include Jennifer Lynch’s Chained and, erm, JK Rowling biopic Magic Beyond Words, which seems to be shown on a rubbish movie channel on a near daily basis.
What’s coming up? Bird is the man behind what feels like dozens of the best scenes in David Cronenberg’s Maps To The Stars, which is out next month. He plays Benjie, a seemingly innocent yet repulsively over-indulged child star.
He says: “I love complex stories with deep characters, or it’s just not that fun to do. What interested me about Benjie is that he doesn’t really have love and yet he doesn’t really have limitations, either. So he’s searching for both of those things. He’s making way too much money, he’s being taken advantage of by his parents, and he’s really screwed up.”
They say: “Evan, when we cast him, was only 12 and he just turned 13 the month before we started shooting, and yet he had that gravity, that irony and sarcasm, while at same time, you still sense his boyishness and vulnerability.” David Cronenberg
- - -
Brad Pitt and Shia LeBeouf are among the stars of David Ayers’ WWII movie Fury, which is confirmed to close this year’s London Film Festival. It opens with the previously announced The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as code-cracking genius Alan Turing.
Like postmen with Tourette’s, The Inbetweeners f*ckin’ delivered by hitting the top of last weekend’s UK box office with a gross of over 12.5 of those really, really big ones for their feature-length sequel. The rest of the largely static top 10 includes raccoons, cats, apes, dragons and Pudsey The Fecking Dog.
Finally, Michael Cera (pictured, just up there) released ‘True That’, an entire album of lo-fi folky-pop. Jonah Hill said it’s good but you can make up your own mind.
My great friend Michael Cera not only is a brilliant actor, he also makes great music. Check it out: http://t.co/lbc8sDcSco— Jonah Hill (@JonahHill) August 13, 2014
- - -
Words: Ben Hopkins, except where indicated