Oh boy, this week! If you’ve been enduring the DVD dry spell that has been this summer, this week will be all you’ve been waiting for and more. We have not one, two, but three of the films mentioned in our Best of 2013 So Far Q&A hitting shelves, so you know it’s an outstanding week for spending upwards of $20.
I suspect Harvey Weinstein thought he’d get more traction out of this film than it did, but chock it up as a first-half pleasure that was unduly forgotten in the later months of the year. While nothing is exactly revelatory about The Sapphires, which sees Chris O’Dowd’s loveable lug group up with a quartet of Aboriginal singers to play for the troops in Vietnam, it’s still just as entertaining as you’d hope it would be. The film’s racial politics aren’t shoved under a broad curtain of white guilt, but the focus is on the tattered relationships between these girls. That alone would be justifiable entertainment enough, but throw in Chris O’Dowd’s affectionate showboating, one of the few untarnishing things in life it seems, and this may be a better choice than any of most of the studio fodder populating this month.
It’ll take you just the opening scene, assaulting us out of the gate with close-ups of several mentally challenged Austrians playing bumper cars, to realize the title Paradise is ironic and that Love may not be so flattering a statement in Ulrich Seidl’s trilogy of films that landed at Cannes, Venice and Berlin festivals this past year. I’ll save a full write-up for my formal review, but given that describing a single scene has caused me to use the term “mentally challenged” to describe onscreen character should indicate how provocative the material Seidl is working with is. With Paradise: Faith and Hope still on the way, this is a film worth enduring so you can experience the next two on the big screen.
I can’t say I’m as enthusiastic as many were (Justin Jagoe included) for Jeff Nichols’ southern drama, but I totally see why this film has had such wide appeal. As American as apple pie, and sharing in its rich creamy texture, Mud follows two boys who come across Matthew McConaughey’s eponymous outlaw stranger, who charmingly recruits the two of them to help him and his love Juniper escape the cops and gangsters looking for them. It’s an old-fashioned adventure story with endearing coming-of-age instincts to boot, and my issues with it mostly stem from its simplistic boyishness. There are many who see that quality as less of a detractor than a sweetening bit of nostalgia, so to each his own. This is admittedly the most likely of this week’s releases to make any slight dent in awards this fall, though its Best Picture chances will rely on just how much enthusiasm stays on its side through the season.
Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance is quickly becoming one of the most intriguing structuralists rising in cinema, that prior film having jumbled its narrative to compelling effect in 2010. Here his structural quirks are more literally straightforward, with three story playing out linearly over its 140 minute runtime. It’s hard not to look at the film as a kind of cyclical fable, with each of its three acts circling eventually back round to the beginning. Even though much of the bravura heavylifting is done the first act, the rest ought not to be discarded, as it goes through more predictable territory to a very necessary finish. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper give strong performances, but it all comes second to the keenly weaved story at hand. I don’t imagine it’ll be long before Cianfrance’s structural ingenuity and stylistic deliberation coalesce into a true American masterpiece. Though if you agree with G Clark, this may already be his masterpiece.
When it comes to this year’s great directors turning out less than great features, I understand why Terrence Malick’s latest has come under critical fire. Malick’s signature wispiness may indeed turn to extremes here and Olga Kurylenko may be less a character than an epitome of Malick’s frolicsome romanticism, but that’s less a fault of excessive tropes than off-kilter juxtaposition to contemporary times. The opening scene brings his style through a camcorder lens, making it clear that Malick is telling a story not far from Badlands, but in a different cultural environment. Those themes of love as a fantasy are more jarring than accepted in today’s bleaker mood, and To the Wonder quite viciously reflects that. It’s at once a more defined and less ambitious narrative than The Tree of Life, yet it accessed my less conscious emotions more creatively than his last feat of elegant abstraction did. I imagine this will continue to be criminally overlooked for years to come, but at least some people realize the incredible craft at hand here, Alex included.
Wow, there really are too many new releases to count this weekend. I heard plenty calling disaster thriller Aftershock the worst film released this year, so naturally I have to see it for curiosity’s sake. Shouldn’t we strive to make our Worst of 2013 lists just as complete as our Best of 2013 lists? The answer’s no, but hey, EARTHQUAKES! If you’re looking for some more visually astonishing disaster landscapes, Joseph Kosinski’s sci-fi adventure Oblivion offers quite a gorgeous world to look at and be in, even if the story that fills it leaves much to be desired. Alex briefly reviewed the film to similar results.
Remember that On the Road adaptation that was quickly forgotten after its debut at Cannes Film Festival last year? No? Okay then. How about you take a look at West of Memphis then? It might offer a more compelling look at the much publicized court case that the Paradise Lost trilogy brought to public attention. While all those films are disposable to some degree, I’d actually recommend readers seek out Magic Magic, the Sebastian Silva-Michael Cera Sundance feature that wasn’t Crystal Fairy. It may even be better, though its psycho-horror reputation has unduly relegated it straight to DVD. I’ll talk about it more at length later on, but certainly do not judge this book by its cover.
Streaming Pick of the Week
Instantly Streaming via Netflix
With Elysium releasing this Friday, I have no doubt I’ll be revisiting District 9 before I check out Neill Blomkamp’s latest politically allegorical, action spectacle. In case you’re looking for something closer to Netflix, however, you can’t go wrong with this British indie drama. Comparisons to District 9 ran wild upon its release, but I’d consider this an even more accomplished feat of low-budget sci-fi thrills. Following a couple as they attempt to make their way back to America, the tension and imagery it weaves is more post-apocalyptic, but with a surprising naturalistic beauty cutting through the thankfully streamlined world-building. With director Gareth Edwards making his own crossover to the mainstream with next year’s Godzilla remake, the timing couldn’t be more perfect to catch up with this underseen gem.