New York Stories – The Grandmaster / Ain’t Them Bodies Saints / Short Term 12

The Grandmaster

By Glenn Dunks
August 28, 2013

The Manhattan Report: By now we’re sadly all aware that mobile phones are part of the theatre-going experience. Chatting couples, rowdy teens, and questioning seniors are all frustrating, but if I had a dollar for every time a familiar ringtone jingle has buzzed during a quiet sequence or for whenever the eye-catching light of a smartphone emanated throughout a dark cinema, I’d be a richer person than I’ll ever be through traditional means. I’ve resigned myself to knowing I can’t ask all of them to stop checking their emails for 90 minutes – at least in America it appears every chain asks patrons to turn them off – though I find it particularly baffling when they do it during a subtitled movie like The Grandmaster. Isn’t it… distracting? Not that Australian audiences are any better, but let’s respect the subtitle translators as well as your fellow audience members, okay?

The Grandmaster

The Grandmaster: The latest stylised romantic tragedy by Wong Kar Wai is full of scars. Not only the physical scars on a human body after a life spent fighting and avenging for family honour, but also the emotional scars as a result of unrealised love and wasted potential. Perhaps most obvious on The Grandmaster, however, are the scars of the editing room. Forced to bring the westernised version of his kung-fu epic in under two hours has led to this being a bit of a structural mess. Large swathes of history are seemingly eradicated and replaced with ridiculous title cards. Meanwhile, the director’s famed visual ticks cause hassles for the action sequences that are only fleetingly graceful.

The Grandmaster is centred on the famed “Ip Man” and the revolutionary form of martial arts he practiced. The love story between Ip Man (Tony Leung) and Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang) is ripe with melodrama, and the film works best with dealing in these emotions rather than kinetic action. It has scope – concluding with a coda about Ip Man’s most famous student, Bruce Lee – yet this is a disappointing effort from the Hong Kong legend whose strengths lie elsewhere. (No Australian release date at this time.)


Aint Them Bodies Saints

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints: With his feature debut, writer/director David Lowery has crafted what could work as an unofficial sequel to Terrence Malick’s Badlands. Beginning with a shootout and capture of two lovers and partners in crime, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints follows the pair’s relentless efforts to find each other once again before violence swallows them whole. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play the star-crossed lovers Bob and Ruth, with Ben Foster providing a ‘best in show’ performance as the kind-natured police deputy who finds himself literally in the crosshairs because of his friendship with Ruth and her child.

The other star is Texas. Gently lit as if by fireflies, the Texan landscape is rendered never-ending and ominous as well as beautiful. There’s danger behind every door and on every road. This dimly-lit cinematography and hushed soundscape – nobody here speaks much louder than a whisper at all times – make for a lullaby effect. This is not one to see if you’re partial to snoozing in the cinema, however. The funereal tone never changes and by its end the drama is rendered inert and inconsequential. The inevitability of Bob and Ruth’s romance fails to resonate and results in a feature of meagre returns. (It arrives in Australian cinemas November 28.)


Short Term 12

Short Term 12: Humanity’s a funny thing. Why is it that pictures about violence and crime so often carry more weight than those about good people and positivity? Those labelled “feel good” are so frequently scorned as over-sentimentalised junk, and I worried many would lazily lump Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12 in with the rest as little more than a well-intentioned issue movie featuring privileged white people helping the less fortunate. Thankfully, it’s much more than that and makes for one of the year’s most charming, tender, and honest efforts.

Titled after the foster care facility run by Grace (an excellent-as-always Brie Larson), Cretton’s flick follows the lives of its employees as well as its occupants. There’s genuine laughs and tears to be had in this wonderfully understated film that balances the serious and the funny with ease. Cretton’s screenplay delicately examines the intricacies of both teenage and twenty-something life; something rarely handled with such finesse. This is a unique and entirely fresh take on serious topics, and it ranks as one of the year’s best. (No Australian release date at this time.)


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