Monday, 25 February 2013

The week in brief (18 - 24 February 2013)

This week, I have been mostly watching...

The Queen of Versailles (2012): 8/10
Dark Horse (2011): 6/10
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012): 6/10
Inside (A l'interieur): 7/10
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998): 8/10
The Big Chill (1983): 7/10

To start with, just a few words on last night's Academy Awards ceremony. When I say a few words, I mean it - I don't have too much to say about the Oscars this year, as I felt that justice was generally done all round. (There was certainly nothing as aggravating as seeing Drive overlooked in favour of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, as was the case last year). I was very pleased to see Argo getting the nod for Best Picture, as it was my clear personal favourite of all the nominated films. While I had mixed feelings about The Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook, I can't deny that the visuals in the former were spectacular (and clearly deserving of recognition), or that Jennifer Lawrence was very impressive in the latter. At the risk of sounding like a snivelling sycophant, I'd like to say very well done to the Academy. You've earned your opulent gift baskets from Harvey Weinstein this year.

Moving on to films I've seen recently, my pick of the week goes to the excellent documentary The Queen of Versailles. It's a look into the lives of Florida timeshare magnate David Siegel and his family, both before and after the economic crisis. As the film begins, Siegel and his wife Jackie are in the process of building America's largest house. Modelled on the Palace of Versailles, it was intended to have something like 30 bedrooms, 20 bathrooms, a grand ballroom, baseball and tennis stadiums and a separate wing for the Siegels' 8 children. Of course, when the downturn came, the fortunes of the Siegels were severely impacted, and the need to make cutbacks across their business led to the colossal new house being left as a derelict, half built husk. The family found itself needing to adjust from living a life of obscene, untapped wealth to a comparatively normal existence. It's a fascinating story, very well told - and what's most impressive is that the film doesn't seek to demonise the Siegel family, who would be easy targets for mockery. They're simply presented as they are - as flawed human beings, but certainly not monsters.

Once again, I didn't see any films which I actively disliked, but there were a couple of minor let downs. Beasts of the Southern Wild tells the story of a community living on the Mississippi delta who are forced to evacuate their homes in the wake of the impact of Hurricane Katrina. It's a film which has been critically lauded, but for one reason or another I never found myself engaging with the adventures of young Hushpuppy or her dysfunctional family and friends. Though the picture clocked in at a lean 90 minutes, it felt considerably longer. Dark Horse is the latest film from New Jersey miserabilist Todd Solondz, once again taking aim at the sad, unfulfilled lives of middle class Jewish families in the suburbs. While I loved Solondz's first two films (Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness), I've never been as impressed by his more recent efforts - and this feels distinctly like a later period Solondz picture. Though things get off to a promising and amusing start, the film goes completely haywire at around the halfway stage, with the effect that you're never quite sure whether what you're seeing is reality, or simply a daydream from the fevered imagination of its depressed, schlubby protagonist. A bit of a wasted opportunity.

Kirk's Quote of the Week

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

"Raoul Duke:  Few people understand the psychology of dealing with a highway traffic cop. A normal speeder will panic and immediately pull over to the side. This is wrong. It arouses contempt in the cop heart. Make the bastard chase you. He will follow."

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