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Saturday, 2 March 2013

THIS WEEK: Antiviral / Beasts of the Southern Wild / The Flowers of War

0 - No Redeeming Feature

1 - Poor

2 - Passable

3 - Good.  Rent it.

4 - Excellent!

5 - Buy It!!


ANTIVIRAL (2013 - UK Certificate 15)


I don't know if Brandon Cronenberg minds living in the shadow of the respected master of body-shock, or whether he ultimately wants to make his own way, but two things can be said: His name undoubtedly helped him helm a film that drew more professional and critical attention than many debut efforts, even capturing the attention of cult favourite Malcolm Mcdowell (yes, him of A Clockwork Orange), and that not only does the apple not fall far from the tree, but this particular piece of nastiness is effectively on the same branchAntiviral, as an idea, could easily be part of his father's early canon; what sets it apart is the lack of experience, which does show a bit.  

Obsession with celebrity has gone far beyond Celebrity Big Brother and it is now the norm to consume meat derived from cell cultures of the famous, and you can buy colds and infections carried by your idol, if you can pay for it.  The story is of Syd, working for an agency whose business is the buying, selling and administering of these infections.  Through an act of carelessness Syd finds himself hunted for the disease he carries, and on the road to death because of it.  There are those who will talk about the extreme silliness of the idea, but if art is not free to push the boundaries of metaphor and ideas, what is?  In any case, this is not the first time we have seen a troubling idea taken to a disturbing extreme; aside from the aforementioned similarity to his own father's more fleshy, extreme work, you may easily see reflections of Darren Aronofsky's Pi here.

The film features a solid lead in Caleb Landry Jones (No Country for Old Men, X-Men: First Class, Contraband), who plays Syd with a coldness that fits right in with the starkness of the world Cronenberg creates.  It must also be said, he works the extremely ill look pretty much naturally; no offense to the guy but his grim, dour, pale and naturally malnourished appearance does make him a perfect fit.   Alongside him is Sarah Gadon, who has appeared in three Cronenberg films in as many years, with the last two being David''s all getting a bit incestuous, actually.

She is also perfect casting, and although given fairly little to do other than lie down a lot, I suspect there is thinking behind the idea that she is little more than a beautiful star for people to fawn after. In selling herself to The Lucas Clinic, the company for which Syd works, she represents the rather spiritless (talentless?) artist who has only to exist in order to be celebrated.

The film has its pacing issues, could have been trimmed, and even hits a hurdle in the middle, where it goes a bit 'conventional thriller' mode, but for a first timer Brandon Cronenberg puts together a solid, visually exciting, sufficiently unsettling body-shock drama to live up to his family name, although it could be said it never gets as extreme as some may want it to. Whilst it does not tie up as well as it could, Antiviral certainly makes for a strong debut, and suggests great, better-honed work in future. Well worth a look.

3.5 / 5 

To buy or rent
Catch it if you like:  Pi, David Cronenberg.

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012 - UK Certificate 12)


Benh Zeitlin's film about a six-year-old member of an ignored, poor, self-supporting community the wrong side of a sprawling levee, who survives an awful storm and learns early lessons in life and love, drew a lot of critical attention and even earned a couple of Academy nominations this year.  This is why I feel I've missed something, as I did not really like Beasts of the Southern Wild; I would go so far as to say that I found myself, at points, wondering when it was actually going to draw me in.

This is not to say it doesn't have its charms, such as the score, the central performance, and it is impressive that for a nothing budget it comes out so solid, clearly echoing and commenting on events in America's very recent history, but it ends up feeling like it has more to say than it actually does; for the most part it lacks engagement, which is frustrating given that the final ten minutes are rather poetic.  Had the rest of the film hit the same height, perhaps I would have been more impressed.  There is potential here, and clearly I am in a minority, but I just didn't get to grips with it; my recommended alternative to this is the gorgeous New Zealand film Whale Rider.



To buy or rent.

THE FLOWERS OF WAR (2012 - UK Certificate 15)


Yimou Zhang brings to the screen an astonishing, brutal beauty that looks at a situation where pure humanity and bravery stood against the evil that men do.  The less said about the synopsis here the better; it is enough to know it is set in 1937, the fall of Nanking at the hands of the Japanese, and that it is beautiful and terrible in equal measure.  It takes a mature look at the loss, or perhaps we should say theft of innocence, and the sacrifice and virtue of the brave.

A terrific, subtle performance from Christians Bale, which was hugely and unfairly overshadowed by his other films around the time of its release; this is the performance that should have won him the Oscar.  The women playing the prostitutes are good, but the young girls in the roles of the schoolgirls are incredible!  The photography is fantastic, but this is no surprise from the director of House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower, although it is understandably a generally darker pallet than his previous work.  Tough when it needs to be tough, and tender when it needs to be tender, this film does not fail to move you.

The only things holding it back are a few misjudged moments, and even with these the intentions are clear; they simply do not play as well as they could have done, which is strange given how well balanced and observed the movie is as a whole.  Nevertheless, simply by virtue of the fact nobody saw it, and that it is the dramatization of an important, overlooked, and even a denied part of history, this is a film you must watch.  The critics did not respond well while audiences were far more generous; in this case, the critics were so wrong, and the audience are so right!

One of my picks of 2012.



To rent or buy
Catch it if you like:  House of Flying Daggers, Letters to Iwo Jima

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