Only God Forgives [Winding-Refn, 2013]

 

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Only God Forgives [Winding-Refn, 2013]

In the opening scenes of Only God Forgives, the sadistic and cruel Billy (Tom Burke) murmurs that it’s “time to meet the devil”, shortly before he’s literally beaten to a pulp by the vengeful father of a young girl Billy had previously, savagely raped and killed. Devil or not, there is no doubting that we’re in hell – albeit one gorgeously rendered with murky shadows and a ravenous red hue, the seediness and depravity of Thailand’s rotten underbelly secreting its neon-infused poison into every scene.

Following Billy’s death, orchestrated by karaoke singing cop and all-round dispenser of ‘moral justice’ Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), Billy’s younger brother Julian (Ryan Gosling) is tasked with exacting revenge by their brilliantly vile mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas). What follows is a game of cat and mouse, albeit one as unsubtle as a hammer to the head.

But what it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in style by the bucket load. Each scene and shot have been so painstakingly composed that it’s almost enough to make you forget that this is a film, a MOVING image – like a neo-noir nightmare version of Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Yet, it is only almost enough. Whereas Marker’s film was seminal and unique, Only God Forgives, at times, feels little more than Drive transposed to Thailand.

The film neglects to utilize Golsing’s ability to act (he can do it, see Half Nelson and Blue Valentine), instead parading him to the point of adoration in a number of flashbacks, hallucinations and dreams, always beautifully lit and framed in a nigh-on catatonic state. And too, just like Drive, the soundtrack here is pulsating – thumping throughout its 90 minute running time, only pausing for surreal moments of Chang singing karaoke, which incidentally provide some of the film’s most memorable scenes.

That said, there are signs of post-Drive evolution from Refn here. Beneath the punchy visuals of Only God Forgives, there is a core of subtext and metaphor that its predecessor perhaps lacked. This includes an excellent recurring shot of Gosling’s outstretched arms; first sliding up the thighs of his exotic dancer girlfriend, later into his mother’s disembowelled stomach and finally being removed by Chang’s justice-wielding sword. These shots invite not only Oedipal connotations but also Julian’s fear of castration – a fear perpetuated by his intense love-hate relationship with the abhorrent and domineering Crystal, and linked to his guilt about previously killing his father with his bare hands.

All in all, Only God Forgives is another excellent exercise in slick style from the Winding-Refn/Gosling partnership that does have allusions to something deeper, although perhaps it does not go quite deep enough. That said, if God can forgive, then so can I.

3.5 out 5 – Seek it out!

Perfect Sense [Mackenzie, 2011]

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Perfect Sense [Mackenzie, 2011]

David Mackenzie, directing from a Kim Fupz Aakeson script, offers an intriguing, if not perfect, take on the apocalyptic movie, of which we have seen increasing numbers (Children of Men, 28 Weeks Later, Melancholia, Contagion et al.).

In Perfect Sense, Ewan McGregor plays Michael, a slick Glaswegian sous-chef who we first see, post-coitus, politely asking a woman to leave as he’s “unable to sleep while anyone else is in the bed”. However, he soon meets Eva Green’s Susan, an emotionally damaged epidemiologist, and changes his womanizing-ways. As romance (or adaptability?) blossoms, a mysterious virus that destroys the senses begins to sweep the globe. First, smell. And then, taste. Each one accompanied by a shocking side-dish of side-effects including uncontrollable sadness and ravishing hunger.

Initially, instead of the all out panic that ensues in the likes of 28 Days Later and Children of Men, people simply adapt. As the foreboding, yet occasionally clunky, narration (Green, herself) tells us “life goes on”. And so it does, beautifully. Mackenzie and director of photography Giles Nuttgens do a spine-tingling job of heightening audience senses as the characters slowly lose theirs with their hand-held camera and majestic lighting. In this way, the film calls to mind Lars von Trier’s equally visually vibrant Melancholia.

Visuals aside, the film at time lacks direction. Although the premise is thought-provoking and a new twist on the genre, Perfect Sense is never quite bold enough to explore the big questions it threatens to ask. At the same time, the love story at the centre of it all is a little nonsensical and on occasion, just plain unconvincing. McGregor and Green never quite seem to spark in a way as to engross you within their plight. And considering the film is largely based around a series of moments and connections between these two leads, on the whole, you’re left with the feeling that proceedings are all just a bit too superficial.

That said, as the senses continue to evaporate, emotions become sharper, culminating in a uniquely engaging final 10 minutes that are as good as anything the film has to offer – including a fleetingly poignant post-deafness moment, in which Michael returns to the alleyway outside Susan’s apartment building , standing in the spot where he used to whistle to get her attention – a subtle and sensory moment of connection, now gone in the blink of an eye.

So as the world ends with a hug described in darkness, Mackenzie’s gorgeously shot film makes perfect stylistic sense, it’s just a shame that the story at the centre of it is not quite so finely-tuned.

3 out of 5 – Worth a watch.

Five Word Review: Ted [MacFarlane, 2012]

Ted (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) and John (Mark Wahlberg) in a comedy about male fantasy and not growing up.

Ted (voiced by director Seth MacFarlane) and John (Mark Wahlberg) in a comedy about male fantasy and not growing up.

Ted [2012]

Plot – A slacker in his mid-30s whose best friend is his magical, foul-mouthed, washed-up celebrity teddy bear must re-evaluate his life as his girlfriend becomes increasingly impatient with his unwillingness to grow up.

In five words – Crude.  Unsubtle.  Funny moments.  Laziness.

See this if you like… Family Guy (1999-), Knocked Up (2009) or Harvey (1950).

Rating – 3 out of 5