Saturday, 12 April 2014

Blu-Ray Review - That Obscure Object of Desire

That Obscure Object of Desire is a mesmerising film about love, obsession, and the lengths to which people will go to seek what they truly desire. Adapted from the novel 'Le Femme et le Pantin' by Pierre Louys which was written in 1898, Bunuel's film isn't the first to tackle the subject matter but is undoubtedly the best. The title translates to 'The woman and the puppet' and those who have previously seen Bunuel's film will agree that this would be just as fitting a title as his chosen adage.

Following a strangely hypnotising opening sequence against a backdrop of palm trees and exotic music we are introduced to a mature gentleman who soaks a beautiful young lady from a stationary train with a bucket of water. After returning to his carriage the shocked onlookers seated beside him cannot hold back their curiosity and probe for the motive behind his actions. The story is then told through a series of flashbacks as we discover the connection between Mathieu and Conchita, the lady he soaked, and the build up to this bizarre event.

Forget (500) days of summer, That Obscure Object of Desire is the ultimate 'anti-romance', with the relationship that develops between our protagonists causing nothing but endless problems for the completely besotted Mathieu thanks to the devilish designs of  the beautiful but manipulative Conchita. Set against the backdrop of a series of terrorist attacks, Bunuel's film tackles politics alongside the love story and is one of those films that poses numerous philosophical questions but can also be enjoyed without reading too much into the deeper meanings.

Bunuel's masterstroke of using two actresses to play Conchita was apparently conceived accidentally, when the original actress scheduled to play Conchita (Maria Schneider) left the production. Carole Bouquet took on the role of the more timid and reserved side of Conchita's personality, with Angelina Molina showcasing her more promiscuous side. These performances combine with Fernando Rey's fantastic portrayal of a man with a rabid desire for that which he cannot have to elevate That Obscure Object of Desire to a near masterpiece that is well deserving of the lavish treatment of a Blu-ray release.

The Blu-Ray transfer is gorgeous to behold with the vivid colours bringing life to Bunuel's perfectly framed shots and the crisp sound transporting you to a host of exotic locations throughout the film. Interviews with cast members and an accompanying booklet are welcome additions to what is an excellent restoration and if you are a first-time viewer I guarantee that you will want to delve further into the film's history when the credits begin to roll.

Luis Bunuel's final film is a fitting end to an incredible career that still feels remarkably fresh despite first being released over 35 years ago. Fans of the director and newcomers alike are likely to be entranced by this intelligent and thought-provoking film, with the impressive transfer and a generous amount of extras making this disc a great addition to any collection.


If you like this you will enjoy these:
Before Sunrise
Brief Encounter
Blue is the Warmest Colour
(500) Days of Summer

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Blu-Ray Review - Weekend

2011 was an excellent year for British films with a number of hidden gems that may have passed you by, here is a look at the Blu-Ray release for one such film, Andrew Haigh's Weekend.

It seems almost disrespectful and crass to use the most obvious comparison out there as Weekend is an accomplished film that stands alone but there really is no easier way to explain the storyline than as Before Sunrise meets Brokeback Mountain. Those unfamiliar with Before Sunrise first of all need to go and watch it, it's incredible, but will need to know that the storyline takes a look at the brief romance that develops between two strangers over the course of a very short space of time. Weekend is very similar in this respect apart from the Brokeback Mountain element, which everyone will be aware of even if they haven't seen the film, as both of the characters here are young gay males who strike up a very close friendship after a drunken encounter.

Those who have read my reviews over the past few months here at Front Room Cinema will be well aware that due to my tastes I am more inclined to enjoy horrors and disturbing movies than a romance but I like to think that I can appreciate a good film when I see one regardless of genre. Although Weekend is not a film I would head out of my way to see I was taken aback by how impressive it was for a small budget character study and I have already recommended it to a number of friends. If you have a penchant for Richard Linklater films you will undoubtedly enjoy this dialogue heavy drama that explores the rich tapestry of lives within the gay community.

There are a handful of scenes that I did find a tad too uncomfortable due to their explicit nature, and it was during these moments that I found myself thinking about social acceptance and the controversy surrounding sexuality that still exists in modern society. This is a thought provoking screenplay that does push the bar in terms of what we see on screen but it is always in fitting with the story and everything that has been included in the film is there for a purpose.

Both of the main actors, Tom Cullen and Chris New, are fantastic as Russell and Glen respectively, the two strangers who forge a strong connection and begin to uncover secrets relating to their past. Russell is far more reserved about his sexuality and appears uncomfortable in certain situations whereas Glen is a cocksure individual - no pun intended - who is open and proud when it comes to his interest in men. These contradicting personalities heighten the drama as their different outlooks on life lead to deep conversations which expose their vulnerabilities and make the couple realise they may have found something worth holding on to.

British film-making is going from strength to strength and it is great to see so many new talents emerging; Andrew Haigh showcases the skills of a director far beyond his years and is certainly one to watch out for in the future. His unique and at times provocative vision of the bond that can grow between two males deserves to be seen by a wider audience, trust me, you will be doing yourself a favour if you add this to your watch list.

The people responsible for putting the extras together have been very generous with both the quality and quantity of features and as someone who enjoys watching trailers for other films I was amazed at the amount included on the disc. Here is a full list of the extra features:

Cast and Crew Interview
Quinnford + Scout picture gallery with commentary
Weekend UK Premier at LFF
Interview with Director and Casts
Interview with Director and Producer
English subtitles for the Hard of Hearing

Weekend is a revealing yet remarkably intimate drama that makes no compromises and delivers a powerful storyline that will stay with you for a long time.


Weekend is out on Blu-Ray and DVD on Monday 19th March courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Cinema Review - Frankenweenie

Tim Burton must have a very bittersweet taste from the release of his latest stop-motion animation, Frankenweenie, as it was his short of the same name that originally got him fired from Disney when it was deemed too frightening for children back in 1984. He has long since buried the hatchet and returned to his rightful home at Disney where his career began as a fledgling animator, and his fascination with all things dark and macabre has led to an impressive and varied filmography, as well as gaining him legions of devoted fans.

His latest offering is a step up from his recent underwhelming efforts, Dark Shadows and Alice in Wonderland, and is return to form for a director well known for his exceptional work in stop-motion animation. Loosely re-worked from his original live action short and extended into a full length feature, Frankenweenie is a monochrome stop-motion animation horror for kids, which on paper may sound over-ambitious, but given Burton's warped ideas and his incredible attention to detail, children and adults alike are bound to succumb to the twisted charm of Frankenweenie. 

In a role that may well be reminiscent of Burton's own childhood, Charlie Tahan voices Victor Frankenstein, an outsider who spends his spare time making monster films on a super 8 camera with his dog Sparky often taking centre stage as creature that destroys miniature cities. Encouraged to take part in sports by his father, Victor's dreams come crashing down when Sparky is critically injured during a baseball game and his school science project may be the only way he can restore life to his beloved dog. When Victor's classmates discover the truth behind Sparky's return it is not long before the whole town is caught up in a disaster of monstrous proportions.

Burton's choice to present the film in black and white lends Frankenweenie an eerie atmosphere that combines well with the retro design of locations such as a traditional funfair and Victor's creepy attic. The inevitable graveyard scene involves an inspired nod to a certain kitty product and it is this balance of light humour with black comedy that makes Frankenweenie such a joy to watch.

A number of  actors bring life to characters who are clearly inspired by classic horror films, including Burton regulars such as Winona Ryder and Martin Landau, whose exceptional voice work leaves little to be desired as Victor's kooky neighbour Elsa Van Helsing and his booming teacher Mr Rzykruski respectively. Danny Elfman contributes a suitably haunting score which adds a grandiose scale to the proceedings whilst never overpowering the dialogue.

Whilst Frankenweenie cannot compete with Burton's earlier classics it is still a brilliantly realised film that lovingly references films such as Frankenstein and Gojira and it is a delight to see his original story fleshed out into a more substantial screenplay. Horror fans are bound to enjoy the homages and those who miss the references are still likely to be entranced by the captivating visuals and Victor's adorably entertaining dog Sparky. For once the use of 3D enhances the film and Frankenweenie is sure to enchant both children and the big kids amongst us now that Burton has rejuvenated one of his very first creations.

Bottom Line - Perfect for family viewing during the build up to Halloween, Frankenweenie will satisfy Burton's devoted fans and is likely to impress any curious newcomers - 7/10

Positives - Burton is back on top form, and the 3D is perfectly suited to the jaw-dropping animation

Negatives - Frankenweenie may be a bit too scary for very young children - there were a few tears at my screening!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Cinema Review - Labor Day

Almost ten years after the release of his impressive debut feature, Thank you for Smoking, Jason Reitman's career is still going from strength to strength, with his latest outing Labor Day continuing his trend for character-driven dramas that place his protagonists in unfamiliar and testing situations. Kate Winslett stars as a single mother, Adele, with all of her love focused on raising her adolescent son Henry, who is due to start high school in the coming days. The two appear to live a peaceful, if at times lonely, existence until this is shattered when an escaped convict, Frank - played by the suitably rugged Josh Brolin, stumbles into their life whilst fleeing from the police, and Adele begins to develop feelings for the seemingly innocuous criminal.

From the very start of the film there is a subtle air of menace which hints at the foreboding danger to come, as well as informing the audience that Labor Day is likely to tread a darker path than Reitman's previous outings. This it does, but not without demonstrating some of the director's lighter quirks, such as references to pop culture and his ability to rekindle vivid memories of a time now past. An E.T. poster in Henry’s bedroom and the family’s choice of film viewing, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, serve not only as a reminder of the era the story is set in but both films referenced also feature a single mother struggling to keep her family together when alien intruders arrive, and this is surely no coincidence.

Much like in these classic sci-fi films the intruder in Adele & Henry’s life initially appears dangerous, but Frank soon shows a warm and generous side that kindles a desire in Adele she long thought lost. Unable to escape to pastures new due to his injury, Frank is forced to hide from the police (and other visitors) until he is fully healed but when his relationship with Adele blossoms his inclination to move on lessens. Flashbacks to the reason for Frank’s incarceration slowly reveal his troubled past whilst adding depth to his character, and this heightens our concern for all three parties, raising the question as to whether this newly founded family unit will be able to make it through the difficult times ahead.

Winslett and Brolin are a joy to watch, as too is the young Gatlin Griffith, who confirms that he is an actor to keep an eye on in the future with his pitch perfect turn as Adele’s son Henry. Scenes with Henry and his estranged father towards the end of the film add an emotional note that is unexpected, as do the scenes he shares with Frank, proving that Reitman is an adept screenwriter as well as an accomplished director.

Amongst the current deluge of superhero films and children’s animations, it is refreshing to see an adult-orientated story that is firmly grounded in reality, whilst still providing enough unexpected turns to keep the audience firmly engrossed. Part coming of age drama, and part unlikely love story, Reitman perfectly balances these two elements to create a captivating picture that is sure to move all but the most cynical of viewers.


If you like this you will enjoy these:

The Notebook
Young Adult
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
The Kings of Summer