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Nov 27, 2012

Quick Takes: Snowtown - Elena - Bernie.

Snowtown (2012)


          Daniel Henshall, Lucas Pittaway, Aaron Viergever, David Walker, Louise Harris, Keiran Schwerdt, Bob Adriaens, Frank Cwiertniak, Matthew Howard, Marcus Howard, Anthony Groves and Richard Green.


                  Justin Kurzel.


                 Snowtown is a very disturbing movie from Australia based on the true story of the gruesome and famous series of murders known as "Snowtown Murders" or Bodies in the Barrels. I mostly know the Australian cinema due to their gritty crime stories, the last one that i watched was Animal Kingdom. Snowtown is a very dark, grim and bleak story of evil and how it takes away innocence from the most innocent people due to their hardships and problems in their life. The focus of this movie is on a family living in Adelaide, the neighborhood is very poor and everyone lives together. Jamie (Pittaway) is the main character and from the very start of the movie, we see him and his family's daily routines. There is this haunting and quite atmospheric feeling that it has which further makes this movie quite compelling. Jamie has younger brothers and his mother living in a house with no father. They are helpless, their condition and ways of living is effected deeply by Jamie's mother and her constant relying on men. One of which, their neighbor, does something really disturbing with the children. She then calls a gay man who introduces them to John (Henshall). John slowly takes over the status of the father figure of the family due to his influence and his charismatic persona. He is dominant and quite aggressive in his views and later we find out that he is even more brutal in his actions. Jamie is someone who is drawn towards him, he can't help it even though what they later on does is something that he know isn't right in any way but he just can't do anything about it. John's views and attitude towards homosexuals and pedophiles is something that slowly brings down the hell upon the family as he starts killing people before they are brutally tortured.

                 Now most of the killings happen off-screen so you wont know when and how they happened. A character that you just see alive is found dead the next and you really can't make a sense of it. The director and writer somehow assumed that the audience will know about the history so we aren't actually given much, you'll have to work it out by yourself. A few scenes does show the torture and abuse which is quite violent and aggressive. Its painful to see someone like John doing such things with such liberty but above all, how it effects the people around him. The actor who plays him, Daniel Henshall really delivered an amazing performance. But the star of the movie is definitely Lucas Pittaway, breakthrough performance of the year. Without saying much and sometimes without saying nothing at all, his face and his eyes speaks miles about the character that he plays. Louise Harris plays the mother, she did a really fine job too. Snowtown has a superb cinematography and it plays a vital role in the movie. Camera moves and focuses on the characters in a way that makes us the observant, the way its been done is not conventional but its quite appropriate in this situation. It also has a very haunting score. Snowtown is quite slow in pace but it builds the tension, growing sense of claustrophobia that almost stops your heartbeat with it. The chills and constant horror slowly crawls underneath your skin, its a different kind of horror movie. In the end, you need a kind of a strong stomach to really make it to the end of it but Snowtown is an effective movie in its depiction of an evil person and his victims. Unsettling, thought provoking and very brutal.

Grade: B

Elena (2012)


          Nadezhda Markina, Elena Lyadova, Andrey Smirnov and Alexey Rozin.


                  Andrey Zvyagintsev.


                 Elena is an excellent and chilling portrayal of the moral breakdown of society in modern Russia. Elena (Markina) is married to a very rich old man Vladimir (Smirnov) for many years now. The man has a daughter, Katerina (Lyadova) but she is quite independent and rebellious. Elena herself has a son Sergey (Rozin), he is married with kids but unemployed, poor and usually lives on his mother's pension. Elena is a very close, intimate and closer look at this family. The way this movie unfolds at the start is quite a lot like Chantel Akerman's masterpiece "Jeanne Dielman..." in a sense because you see Elena as she does the daily chores. Elena lives a not so happy life with a very arrogant husband, she does everything that she should but the one thing that she don't want from her husband above anything else is his behavior towards her son. Elena asks him to help her son with money but he hates how he wont work deliberately and relies on his mother. You can see her questioning how despite his own spoiled daughter, he questions her son's way of living? In quite an atmospheric and almost noir-ish way this story unfolds slowly as you see the characters doing things for love, a very different kind of love which is the love for yourself and everything that is related to you. Things slowly falls apart and we are inclined to observe them. Elena shows us the end of the world, the moral world and the slowly building isolation among the characters that is marital, moral, societal and generational.

                 It is set in the urban Moscow where the gap between poor and rich have grown quite big which often results in hellish situations. We do the best we can to survive in this world where power is what you need to have for survival. Elena is often quite thrilling, gritty, minimalistic, stylish, character driven and as i said noir-ish, making for a very unique experience. It has superb cinematography, the long tracking and lingering shots creates a unique mood in the movie. It has quite a thrilling pulse pounding score to back it up. Elena has some brilliant performances. The role of the spoiled yet very mature daughter played stunningly by Elena Lyadova is the highlight of this movie. She makes her character very interesting to watch. Nadezhda Markina plays the wife in yet another great performance in the movie as a woman torn between what to do and what not to for people she loves and people she loves more than her own self. Andrey Zvyagintsev made a very suspense filled movie with a gritty realism that makes you question your own lifestyle and your thinking about the world you live in and the world you think you live in. Its about the hell we create for our self and for our loved ones and to live in it for the rest of your life.

Grade: B+

Bernie (2012)


          Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey,
Brady Coleman, Richard Robichaux and Rick Dial.

                   Richard Linklater.

                 Well Bernie is a 2012 movie by Richard Linklater, the director who made Before Sunrise/Sunset movies of course. I wasn't very keen to watch this movie but it wasn't until i heard great things about Jack Black's impressive performance and the unusual style with which Linklater tells this story that i decided to watch this movie. Bernie is a black comedy and the style with which the story is shown is that of a mockumentary and its also a drama/ true crime thriller. I'll applaud Linklater for taking such a risk and choosing such a bizarre yet highly effective way of telling this story which i think wouldn't have worked otherwise in any other way. So the movie is based on an article that told a murder story of 81 year old millionaire Marjorie Nugent in Carthage, Texas by her employed companion Bernie. Bernie was a very charismatic character, he was known and loved by every town member. Furthermore, the woman was hated by everyone for being an arrogant and ignorant woman and many of them just because they loved Bernie doubted that he might have done something like that and even after his confession, they actually spoke about the justification of his act. A rare step is taken, the District Attorney is forced to request a change of venue because the jury was bias.

                 What adds the significant amount of charm to this movie is how the common people of the town speaks about him to the camera. Yes its all done is a very documentary style where the common people of the town speaks about Bernie and how he was while their constant hilarious remarks on certain things is the reason why it all comes out quite funny. Its a rare comedy in its seriousness, a moral character study deep in its crime story and a portrayal of an American town and its people. A case could be made that this movie doesn't really succeeds in telling Nugent's side of story. Shirley MacLaine plays the part to its perfection, her character is very unpleasant, distant, annoying and someone with a cold attitude. People shared a very negative view about her even though she was a widow. Bernie who always helps everyone so selflessly starts taking an interest in her. He doesn't sees her like everyone else do and tries to get as close as he can to her. They eventually becomes quite close together and as Nugent's companion, they go on long trips together. Bernie eventually becomes sick of her constant and desperate need of attention while she being no different to him as she is to everyone else even though he is someone who is always there for her. You constantly question the acts and the assertions of everyone, the movie often becomes more than a simple crime story. The fact that how the actions of the characters are easily justifiable yet you are somehow unable to accept them moral wise because they are downright wrong. Darkness can be found in the innocent and the sweetest soul but it is always woken up by some external factor. Jack Black is impressive in his quite bizarre role, he creates this character himself and knows what he is doing. Its fascinating how he did wonders with such a strong role that he got, he is quite talented if given the right kind of role. Matthew McConaughey surprises in his yet another film appearance in his already busy schedule. Overall, the three actors are the strongest part of this movie while the people of Carthage are its soul.

Grade: A-