DVD

DVD review: Song to Song

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Some directors can attract A-listers thanks to their previous collaborations, their industry reputation or by the way in which they make films. The acclaimed yet divisive Terrence Malick falls into this category and has pulled together Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman to make up possibly the most star-studded cast in recent memory. His latest feature is romantic drama Song to Song, which unfolds against the backdrop of the music scene in Austin, Texas. At the centre of it all is Faye (Mara), a rising musician who embarks on a relationship with fellow performer BV (Gosling) but who is also seeing his manipulative producer Cook (Fassbender); hence a complicated love triangle ensues.

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DVD

DVD review: Carol

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Todd Haynes’ romantic drama ‘Carol’ takes place during a crisp New York winter in the early fifties and is based upon the Patricia Highsmith novel The Price of Salt. Carol (Cate Blanchett) is strong-willed and sophisticated but suffering the trauma of a divorce with her husband Harge (Kyle Chandler), which is complicated further by a custody battle for their daughter. Whilst searching for the perfect Christmas present for said daughter, she meets shop worker Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) with whom she embarks on a forbidden relationship. Their romance clashes with the narrow minds of a less accepting time, but can love prevail against adversity?
  The plot unfolds at a slow but steady pace, perfectly capturing the nervous excitement and awkwardness of the early stages of a relationship through to the point where Carol and Therese have an almost telepathic bond, expressions often saying more than words can. That’s not to say the script isn’t joyous but sometimes less is more, and the silences are so effective. As good as the characters are, the backdrop they inhabit also deserves a mention. The high production values and attention to prop detail give the cinematography a rich texture and a dreamy glow which feels suited to the subject matter with just enough authenticity.
The success of this adaptation heavily depends on the acting, and Blanchett and Mara more than deliver, the juxtaposition of their performances highlighting the fact that you can’t help who you fall in love with. Carol is an elegant powerhouse, hard on the outside but with a soft, vulnerable centre. Therese on the other hand is wide-eyed and innocent, and has an endearing fragility to her that gives the resemblance of a porcelain doll. The contrast between them adds to their connection which is fascinating to watch in its carefully handled development.
 Todd Haynes succeeds in recreating the rigid yet dazzling fifties in a way that illustrates how far we have come in the acceptance of the LGBT community in society, and tells a hugely emotional story in the process. His greatest achievement is in the magnificently nuanced performances he draws from Blanchett and Mara and with awards season underway, ‘Carol’ will be deserved contender. Rooney Mara, in particular, should be a hot favourite in her categories. Her tender portrayal of Therese Belivet is, as Carol describes her lover, ‘flung out of space’.

4.5stars

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DVD

DVD review: Blue Jasmine

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Hailed as his long-awaited return to form, or his ‘best film in decades’, Woody Allen brings us ‘Blue Jasmine’, starring Cate Blanchett as a mentally troubled socialite who suffers a fall from grace. Blanchett is the eponymous Jasmine who is forced to move in with her adoptive sister after her glamorous lifestyle reaches an abrupt end due to her businessman husband Hal’s (Alec Baldwin) criminal activities. In a story lacking Allen’s trademark sharp humour but pebble dashed with his visual style and natural dialogue, he excels in offering a social commentary on the fragility of wealth and America’s class system, returning to shoot in his beloved New York after a string of films in European capitals such as To Rome With Love or his most successful box office hit, Midnight in Paris. So if his latest picture goes on to achieve a similar triumph, this can be heralded not as a return to form but as his most acclaimed period to date.
  The plot of the piece has drawn many comparisons to that of A Streetcar Named Desire, in which Blanchett has played the lead role on stage, so it seems a fair assessment however Woody Allen has applied his signature self aware shtick to the part, adding his own awkward and paranoid personality as he does with so many of his leading turns, this time though asserting itself in the female psyche. It quickly becomes known that Jasmine jazzed her name up from Jeanette as she climbed the social ladder and we see the film switch to and fro between her highs and lows. This provides a nice balance and a clear contrast between her snooty exterior and inner distraught as she continuously analyses her own life, justifying herself to anyone willing to listen, or even those that are not. It is a deep character study held in place by a rather obvious narrative with flimsy relationships being tested as they so often are in Woody’s line of work. The partnership of Jasmine’s sister Ginger and her grease monkey boyfriend Chili is a joy to watch alongside the gradual decline of Jasmine’s state of mind as she slowly loses grip of her own sanity.
  Allen has been good in the past at getting solid performances out his actors and he frequently uses the same faces again, this time Baldwin is the only returning name as the self-assured big shot, but Cate Blanchett is a marvel in the central role, displaying a clear understanding of her character’s unfortunate disposition without overdoing it. She shows versatility in portraying Jasmine at her most arrogant peaks, with equal effectiveness in her despairing troughs into manic depression. Her starring status is supported by an excellent ensemble cast including Sally Hawkins, Bobby Cannavale and Andrew Dice Clay. The verbal exchanges between the romantic pairings is well timed throughout, and Allen demonstrates his unfaltering ability to write believable lovers tiffs, reminiscent of Hannah and Her Sisters or Manhattan. Boardwalk Empire’s Michael S. Stuhlbarg surprisingly supplies some comic relief as the bumbling dentist Dr Flicker, whom Jasmine works for as a P.A. when her finances hit rock bottom.
  With a run of awards and nominations in recent years, receiving a host of accolades for his Midnight in Paris screenplay last year, momentum is building in time for the 2014 ceremonies, Blanchett is deservedly being tipped early for nods in the best actress categories and though Allen himself is publicly far from fond of the awards season, branding the whole concept as ‘silly’, he seems to be back in favour with the Academy so it would be surprising if Blue Jasmine isn’t recognised come February. Either way, he has again proven his worth as one of the best filmmakers of his generation, and largely due to a Blanchett masterclass, has created a fine addition to his ongoing and ever improving catalogue of cinema.
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