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Andrea Arnold (#110 of 8)

Cannes Film Review: American Honey

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Cannes Film Review: American Honey

Cannes Film Festival

Cannes Film Review: American Honey

Andrea Arnold’s latest, American Honey, is a rambling, nearly three-hour travelogue, an On the Road for the millennial set. It may capture the no-fucks spirit of today’s disenfranchised youth, but it’s content to indulge and aestheticize their behaviors for empty displays of style. This is Arnold’s lower-class fetishism at its most vacuous and exploitative.

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Live Action Short

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Live Action Short
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Live Action Short

How do you go about predicting the likeliest winner in a category that so frequently includes among its nominees (and occasionally even hands the trophy over to) some of worst films nominated in any Oscar category? Obviously you start with, as Michael Douglas was heard to joke at the Screen Actors Guild after party, “the bottom.” And this year, rock bottom undoubtedly belongs to That Wasn’t Me, unanimously selected by Slant’s prognosticating panel as this lineup’s most obnoxiously self-satisfied case of well-heeled white-savior guilt run amok. It’s not that we dispute the basic veracity of its depiction of seemingly permanent civil war in deepest Africa, nor are any of us impervious to the tragic Beasts of No Nation plight faced by violently “recruited” child soldiers. But it quickly becomes clear that director Esteban Crespo’s dramatic investment centers around the much-degraded Spanish doctor who, after watching her boyfriend gunned down by a preteen legionnaire, straps on her Lone Survivor boots in the Congo, transmuting third-world sympathy into bloodlust. Did I Do That?’s smug final shot, which suggests Fernando Meirelles directing a prolonged Super Bowl spot for Hallmark, sets 2014’s patronizing curve.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: Wuthering Heights, Habemus Papam, & Kotoko

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Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Wuthering Heights</em>, <em>Habemus Papam</em>, & <em>Kotoko</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Wuthering Heights</em>, <em>Habemus Papam</em>, & <em>Kotoko</em>

Wuthering Heights: Midway through Wuthering Heights, Hindley blinks in disbelief at the grown-up, returning Heathcliff: “What the fuck…?” Long before this groggy-hooligan double take, Brit kitchen-sink realism maven Andrea Arnold has already left her gritty imprint on this version of Emily Brontë’s novel, shooting the rustic open expanses of 19th-century Yorkshire moors with the same splintery, handheld camerawork she used for the cramped housing project of Fish Tank. Immersive, elemental sensation is all: Blood from wounds is gently licked in extreme close-up, a character smelling another’s hair during a horse ride is a luxuriant event, wind and mud are virtually supporting characters. However, while Arnold’s provocative decision to cast Heathcliff with black actors (Solomon Glave as a youngster, James Howson as an adult) both reaches back to Brontë’s original description of the character and adds a new dimension to his romance with Cathy (played by Shannon Beer and Kaya Scodelario), her conception of the couple as feral creatures knocking between a rugged Eden and foppish civilization, unsubtly accented with multiple glimpses of snared critters, is blunt and amorphous. Designed to hack away at the ornamental crust created by years of genteel literary adaptations, it’s a visually forceful attempt at seizing the ardor of the novel that nevertheless pales next to the abyss of passion explored by Luis Buñuel in his own strange, 1954 visualization of Brontë’s classic.

Review: Fish Tank

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Review: <em>Fish Tank</em>
Review: <em>Fish Tank</em>

Fish Tank, Andrea Arnold’s second feature, is the heir to a long-standing British tradition of Kitchen Sink Realism, in which the pains and reality of Britain’s lower class denizens are captured in what is often a pared down realist aesthetic. Mia (Katie Jarvis) lives with her mother (Kierston Wareing) and hilariously potty-mouthed sister Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths) in a low-rent tenement. She’s been expelled from school, is prone to outbursts of violence, has no friends and a lush of a mother who treats Mia’s existence as the weight of the cross. The film pivots on the relationship Mia establishes with Connor (Michael Fassbender), her mother’s new boyfriend, who seems to take an interest in Mia, slowly chipping away at her centurion guard and encouraging her to pursue hip-hop dancing (Mia’s one pleasure and mode of escape).

Basically, the film suffers from the same problem as its central character: heart’s in the right place, but its excesses are sometimes a bit too much. Arnold has good visual sensibility, yet she loves to send up red flags of “pay attention, this is important!” which actually ends up taking away from the moment by pulling you out of it. Case in point: While on an excursion, Mia accidentally cuts her foot. Her mother and Tyler cringe at the blood and scurry away to the car, while Connor attends to the wound and offers a piggy back ride. Once Mia jumps on Connor’s back the shot becomes slow-motion, so you can hear every breath of air Mia takes and really internalize the moment; finally someone is showing Mia some attention, some kindness, and clearly there’s a burgeoning attraction between Mia and Connor, so it’s all very momentous. Here’s the thing: We can appreciate the beauty of one human being doing a small act of kindness for another, and understand how profound of a moment this probably is in Mia’s life, without time having to slow down.

Cinema 16’s European Short Films on DVD

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Cinema 16’s European Short Films on DVD
Cinema 16’s European Short Films on DVD

The latest DVD release from Cinema 16, European Short Films offers a diverse and illuminating collection of cinematic work that, despite the regional specificity indicated by the title of the set, stands as a microcosmic look into many of the art form’s otherwise unexplored niches and corners. Even assuming the vast diversity of taste and viewing experience of potential viewers, the wealth of material here makes it unlikely that one won’t find something of value, whether in one or more of the individual films themselves, or in the bulk of material overall with its many fascinating comparisons and contrasts.

For cinephiles like myself who are generally unaccustomed to and unfamiliar with short films, the experience afforded by a collection of this sort demands something of a reexamination of one’s relationship to the medium. For the Woody Allen-esque types who prefer to watch everything from beginning to end without interruption (The Sorrow and the Pity included), it is a small revelation to find a wealth of material lending itself to more practical viewing habits. It goes without saying that this two-disc set is by no means definitive, and nor does it aspire to be. It instead lends itself to iPod-like cinematic playlisting, though consider this means of sampling a potentially added bonus for younger buffs yet unfamiliar with the joys existing outside of feature films. Given their similarities and differences, I have attempted to talk about the shorts in as logical a fashion as possible; as a rule of thumb, however, consider those discussed earliest to be those most preferred.