LATEST:

I'm still in the process of adding old film reviews to the Blog, just not very quickly, must try harder...

Labels

Film (70) Music (12) Photography (6) Television (1) Writing (3)

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Rack and Ruin

As there is nothing new in Blue Ruin (underdog, violence, revenge, crossbows), it would need to be very good to deserve your attention, and it is. Writer/ director Jeremy Saulnier's second feature film is packed with raw tension, inventive quirks and fresh perspectives on its central tropes, also benefiting from Saulnier's evident appreciation of less-is-more in the film's compact 90 minute running time, which generates a lively pace. Macon Blair is another name to watch for in the future. His central turn as Dwight is highly effective, conveying a powerful determination in refusing to accept his own vulnerability and ineffectuality as barriers to reaching his goal. The performances around Blair are good, the off-mainstream cast contributing significantly through Saulnier's direction to the impact of the film, but it's Blair's performance and Saulnier's creative flair that deserve the highest praise. Go and find this film now, because we will all be talking about Saulnier in five years' time.

Longed-For Originality

Actually, LFO is an acronym for Low Frequency Oscillation, but it is also the delightfully Heath-Robinson story of the excellent Patrik Karlson's troubled acoustician and his increasingly obsessive behaviour. Writer/ director Antonio Tublén (who also wrote the electronic score) has fashioned a fine morality tale that (as good writing dictates) is plausible after the initial conceit is accepted. The film's tone is cold, it is almost emotionless and often claustrophobic, but this only multiplies its effectiveness in provoking the viewer's contemplation of increasingly challenging events. Karlson is ably supported by forthright performances from Izabella Jo Tschig and Per Löfberg as his neighbours, and Ahnna Rasch as his wife. In a landscape of modern cinema in danger of becoming dominated by endless high-rise multiplex  pap, it's refreshing to discover such oases of intelligent and thoughtful film-making as LFO, and you owe it to yourself to see this film, if only to recharge the batteries your Bay-sh-t detector.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Lunch in A Cold Climate

The most stunning feature of How I Ended This Summer is its Arctic setting, the glorious wilderness presenting a grand, yet harsh spectacle every bit as sparse as the film's dialogue. It's a two-hander between Grigoriy Dobrygin's callow youth and the seasoned meteorologist played by Sergey Puskepalis. Writer/ director Aleksey Popogrebskiy does an excellent job of conveying the pair's isolation and the monotony of their existence, and there is a convincing tension created by the gap in their ages and experience, although Dobrygin's young adult antics, which highlight the disparity, are a bit 'on-the-nose'. These strands form a solid tripod for the conflict that follows, however it's the catalyst for that conflict that introduces a wobble which, for some, might topple the whole construct, one decision that some viewers might struggle to reconcile with previous events or any kind of sensible human instinct. At this juncture it seems that nothing more complicated than a moral compass is needed to keep their mission on track, but its lack, along with the absence of an actual compass later on, causes no end of ructions. Despite common sense saying that their difficulties could have been avoided by a straightforward conversation, the end result is a convincing escalation and a compelling third act. If you can accept the single, arguably inexplicable (and certainly unexplained) failure to communicate, How I Ended This Summer is a highly satisfying watch and, either way, these three are ones to look out for in the future.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Oui, Ministre!

Quai D'Orsay (retitled The French Minister for some markets) is a likeable and highly amusing French political farce from director Bertrand Tavernier, perhaps best known for 'Round Midnight. Quai D'Orsay presents the shenanigans within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a wonderfully straight face, while delivering laugh-out-loud moments by the portfolio-ful. Thierry Lhermitte's turn as Minister Alexandre Taillard de Worms is delightfully effective, every bombastic centimetre the Gallic Jim Hacker, with no sense of the events around him, yet, unlike Hacker, he is brimful of arrogant confidence in the face of every disaster. His foil is not a scheming Parisienne Sir Humphrey, but his long suffering chief of staff Claude Maupas, excellently portrayed by Niels Arestrup. Enter Raphaël Personnaz as  the youthful and politically naive Arthur Vlaminkck, then sit back and chortle as young Arthur learns the workings of the ministry the hard way, doing his best to manoeuvre through the eccentricities of the minister's characterful staff. Quai D'Orsay is an enjoyable film with plenty of smiles and laughs, yet at almost two hours, it does begin to feel a bit baggy after the first half, still well worth seeing however.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Resistance is Futile

Borgman is queer piece of cinema, challenging right form the off with the opening scenes of pursuit which point in a certain direction, but be prepared for your feelings to change as the story progresses. Writer / director Alex van Warmerdam's film bars very few holds, and yet it does not sensationalise increasingly troubling and occasionally brutal events, presenting them in a frank and open way, inviting the viewer to judge the participants and their respective fates. You would do well to prepare yourself to feel little sympathy for any of the characters, and yet there is something compelling about the spartan direction and the economy of the performances that will hold your attention to the end. Jan Bijvoet as the titular Camiel Borgman and Hadewych Minis as Marina are stand-outs, and deserve to be seen by a wider audience. One possible conclusion is that Warmerdam's script presents a black-and-white position in reaching a verdict, but in reality there are Lynchian levels of grey and plenty of scope for interpretation over a glass of wine (or two) afterwards. Well worth seeking out for those of a less delicate sensibility.

Turning Things Downside Up

Up In The Air is a highly enjoyable and thought-provoking drama starring George Clooney and Vera Farmiga. Clooney’s corporate ‘hit-man’ is gloriously uncaring, but still exudes charisma in a way that is difficult to take one’s eyes off. Clooney’s chemistry with Anna Kendrick’s character is very entertaining, and the corporate (and personal) carnage that they wreak, while wince-inducing, is inventively captured by Jason Reitman through the device of talking heads. This is a superb follow-up by Reitman to the excellent ‘Juno’ , almost looking at the opposite end of the human condition for its inspiration, it should send you off to look for Reitman’s other films ‘Thank You For Smoking’ and ‘Young Adult’. There are clever and thoughtful twists in the third act; it is ultimately a very satisfying and enjoyable film that should leave you with something to think about if you are on a professional career path.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Bravo, Maestro!

The themes are familiar, the characters are interesting but not complex, the script is uncomplicated, the humour comfortable – the story itself is straightforward, but the sum of these largely unremarkable parts is a truly uplifting piece of cinema. It is a great pleasure to discover that a film like The Concert can still exist in a cinematic landscape over-shadowed by violence, sexual objectification, product placement and the commercial imperative. Mélanie Laurent (Inglorious Basterds, Now You Seen Me) is probably the best known face in a largely eastern European cast, but it is Aleksey Guskov who steals the show as the Maestro with an endearing performance. Thank goodness (and thank Rumania director Radu Mihaileanu) for cinema with a good heart and a positive message, and characters motivated by kindness and artistic vision. The finale is a heart-warming emotional crescendo. It is genuinely satisfying to see a happy outcome, and well worth the modest investment of time to experience entertainment that is life-affirming, which, sadly, cannot be said about the majority of cinema these days.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

King of the World

Princess Mononoke is a delightful anime from the man who has come to define everything that is best about the genre, arguably, this was Hayao Miyazaki's calling card to the world outside Japan. The English voice cast boasts Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, Claire Danes, Jada Pinkett Smith, Gillan Anderson and Keith David - a considerable volume of talent for an animation back in 1997 (Toy Story was 1995), arguably marking the beginning of another trend - for big names to be heard and not seen. There are familiar anime tropes here, but all handled with such sensitivity and style that they still feel fresh on viewing today. The theme of environmentalism is strong, but not stereotyped - character motivations going far beyond cardboard cut-out in their complexity, and it is refreshing and enjoyable that Miyazaki finds room for nobility and honour in his protagonists given the present penchant for anti-heroism. Cinema is the poorer for the recent news that Miyazaki has retired at the age of 73. Here's hoping that the art of animation and of film-making properly acknowledge the debt that it owes him.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Bare-faced Greatness

A compelling throwback to the suspenseful thrillers of 60 years ago, Two Faces of January is as stylish a film as you will see from any decade since talkies began. Reminiscent of Hitchcock in his 1950's pomp, but without the melodrama, writer director Hossein Amini's interpretation of Patricia Highsmith's novel is beautiful to look at. The European locations evoke an idealised period of foreign travel, yet the film has an underbelly that scrapes the surface of gritty realism in the way that Hitchcock did not. The result is an involving slow burn with flashes of action only when warranted. The heart of the film is the evolving relationship between its three stars, who quickly become tied together. No McGuffins here, only solid plotting and convincing events used effectively to advance the story. The central performances are compelling and highly accomplished. Oscar Isaac must now be on the verge of the A-list after following Llewyn Davis with his excellent turn here, and Kirsten Dunst steps out of the shadow of teen movies and blockbuster love interest with a beguiling  performance in the role of Colette. But Mortensen is the emotional engine whose misfiring character, MacFarland, pushes the plot forward with stuttering steps. His performance should be considered a career best as he embraces all of MacFarland's flaws and lays them bare for the audience to great emotional effect. After such an assured and beautifully realised performance behind the camera, there can be little doubt that Hossein Amini's future is likely to be in the director's chair, and his next project should be awaited with keen anticipation.

Bring Me the Head of Butch Cassidy

Sam Shepard is as watchable as ever as the titular Blackthorn in this predominantly Spanish-produced Western that harks back to the latter days of the genre's golden period. But Blackthorn also rejoices in some of the fresh realism that has been a feature of the few successful Westerns since the likes of Robert Mitchum and the Duke himself hung up their spurs in the late 60's, with Kevin Costner and godfather of the modern western, Clint Eastwood, seemingly at the forefront of the drive to keep the genre alive. Shepard does hard-bitten outlaw as well as anyone,  but it would be a lesser watch without the strong support of Eduardo Noriega (Vantage Point, The Devil's Backbone) and Stephen Rea (no reference required!), and the characters around them, including support from South American actors led by Peruvian actress Magaly Solier, which deserve much credit, and all enhance the production significantly. The flashbacks to more familiar past events are inevitable given the central conceit, and this is where the main scenes are in danger of being undermined. The scenes from the past, featuring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Padraig Delaney and Dominique McElligott, seem to attempt the easy comedic camaraderie of the original Newman-Redford film, but fall a long way short. Still, the flashbacks are not long, and Shepard's performance relegates any concerns to the back of one's mind. Blackthorn is less po-faced and introspective than The Assassination of Jesse James, more expansive than Unforgiven and more challenging than Open Range. Not to be missed by genre fans, and deserving of attention from everyone.

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

The Draughtsman's Contract is a quixotic and verbose tale of intrigue, mistrust and betrayal from auteur Peter Greenaway, Anthony Higgins is captivating as the titular protagonist, Neville, with strong performances from all around him in this typically stagey production that rejoices in the full glory of the English language. The premise is novel, the manners quite brutal and the appearance of the whole thing utterly overblown. Unsurprisingly, it is not a comfortable watch, but always entertaining.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Welcome to the Wild East End

If Mike Leigh had directed Lock Stock, it might have turned out something like this charming and enjoyable drama about family. Dexter Fletcher displays a sure touch in the direction of a script co-written with Danny King and there are fine lead performances from Charlie Creed-Miles and rising star Will Poulter (Son of Rambow, We're The Millers, etc.), with a liberal sprinkling of able support from a fine range of British thesping talent, including Marc Warren, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Sean Pertwee and Andy Serkis, deservedly permitted to leave his ping-pong ball-covered leotard in the cupboard again. The mobster tropes are predictable but, thankfully, the snappy script keeping things moving and avoids proceedings ending up in that derelict siding reserved for rusting gangster cliches.  Credit for that goes to Fletcher, who has generated some real expectations with this fine beginning.