New York Stories – Stoker / Upstream Color / Stories We Tell

Stoker1

By Glenn Dunks
April 9, 2013 

There’s a wide world of cinema out there, and Quickflix’s Glenn Dunks is on the ground in New York City bringing you the titles that will soon be seen in Australian cinemas, and eventually available on home entertainment.

The Manhattan Report: With the New Directors/New Films festival having just concluded in midtown, the SoHo International Film Festival in full swing, and the Tribeca Film Festival about to begin, cinema culture is everywhere you look in this city. I even got to meet Sarah Polley at a screening of Stories We Tell where she advocated her desire to never work in Hollywood. “Government funding forever!”

It certainly didn’t take long to experience one of those nights out that you hear about but rarely witness. One particular Friday evening – the opening weekend for Harmony Korine’s stunning multiplex-baiting take on teenage freewill Spring Breakers, no less – was a unique one. Firstly, one woman brought along her newborn to crawl on the floor (at least the bare breasts in the movie wouldn’t have been shocking to the baby), a group of young girls got up and danced to Skrillex’s soundtrack, and then one man started yelling “Spring Breakers is a lie!” throughout the final ten minutes. Who knows what would happen if he discovered star Selena Gomez wasn’t really a Wizard of Waverly Place.

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Stoker“La Traviata: is that a horror movie?” “No, it’s an opera.” Nothing within Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut Stoker better exemplifies its intent than this exchange. An intimate familial drama with odes of tragedy and terror that revels in the ornate and beautiful, Stoker comes with pedigree to spare but never quite takes hold of the drama the way it should. More concerned with crafting an atmosphere of porcelain dread, Park’s obsession is with visuals and aural soundscapes. It’s when the actors take control that the picture truly finds its feet.

Mia Wasikowska stars as India Stoker, daughter to Nicole Kidman’s Evelyn. When India’s father (Dermot Mulroney in frequently unnecessary flashbacks) dies, her previously unknown uncle (the deceptively smooth Matthew Goode) arrives to seemingly whisk India to her next level of existence. That existence just happens to involve a whole lot of stabbing and strangling and death. Naturally, secrets are exposed and other family members (like a scene-stealing Jacki Weaver, completing three generations of amazing Aussie casting) pop out of the woodworks. Featuring a funnybone-tickling screenplay by Wentworth Miller and Erin Cressida Wilson, Stoker is an undeniable winner in many ways and yet never soars. (Playing the Sydney Film Festival in June.)

3/5

UpstreamColor

Upstream Color: It’s been nine years since Shane Carruth took an uncharacteristically smart look at time travel with his debut Primer. In his sophomore feature, Carruth moves away from such direct science-fiction elements, instead making a labyrinthine romantic drama about a couple (Amy Seimetz and Carruth) who take on elements not just of each other, but also their surroundings. It’s a brave take on romance; one that ultimately rewards as much as it frustrates thanks to its overly complex structure and repetitive nature.

Carruth directs, stars, writes, produces, edits, and photographs Upstream Color, and he’s crafted a film that is hypnotically beautiful, if self-consciously so. Its final act will certainly inspire discussion – seriously, what’s with all the pigs? – in audiences as much as it will enrage and bore. It lacks the bold impact of Primer. Instead, it has a tranquil quality all its own. (August in Australia.)

3.5/5

StoriesWeTell

Stories We TellSarah Polley’s third directorial effort sees her turn the lens upon her own genes in Stories We Tell, an affecting documentary that digs into her family much to the chagrin of many involved. Polley blends fact with fiction, concluding an unofficial trilogy of sorts – started by Away From Her and Take This Waltz – that explores how far memories can take us and how much we attempt to preserve or destroy them.

After years of casual family joking that Sarah, the youngest of five, didn’t resemble her father, she decides to document an investigation; one that eventually proves prophetic. Polley has assembled a puzzle of a family tree that leaves a lot of questions unanswered (or even unasked in the first place). A late-in-the-game act of pulling the rug out from under the viewers is superbly handled, and Polley shows she’s continuing to mature as a filmmaker and storyteller with this, her most personal yet. (Playing the Sydney Film Festival in June.)

4/5

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