Archive | September 2011

Trailer Reel

Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brokovich) has a new film out in the US. Allegedly the penultimate film of the Director’s long career, Contagion is a disaster film concerned with the struggle to survive in a society falling apart from a deadly airborne virus.

As you may already know, Steven Spielberg is trying his hand at an animated Tintin film, dubbed The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of The Unicorn.

George Clooney sits in the director’s seat for his debut film The Ides of March, a campaign thriller about a young press secretary who gets caught up in political scandal that threatens to destroy his candidate’s chances for the presidency.

The third installment of the Paranormal Activity franchise just got a new trailer to tease us with.

Paddy Considine‘s debut film Tryannosaur has been received well so far by critics, this gritty ‘Kitchen-sink’ drama focuses on a man haunted by a history of violence and alcohol abuse and his redemption through an unlikely source, a christian charity worker who has a dark and equally horrific history of her own.

DVD Reviews: Farewell (2009) and Of Gods and Men (2010)

2 French language films, 2 English language reviews:

Farewell is an entertaining but unremarkable French spy thriller based on extraordinary real events – 7/10 

Dir. Christian Carion

It’s the early 1980s and the struggle for No.1 Superpower status between the USA and the USSR is still very much alive. In the heart of the KGB, however, Sergei Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica) (loosely based on Vladimir Vetrov) has decided that enough is enough; the communist experiment was admirable but ultimately a failure and the Cold War has to end. Moreover, given that he is a high-ranking KGB agent he is perfectly placed to engineer that change – even if he risks everything doing it. In order to achieve his goal, the enigmatic and reckless Russian decides to hand over secrets to the French and the unwitting engineer, Pierre Froment (Guilleme Canet), becomes his accomplice and sole confident.

The plot is intriguing and the historical backdrop acts as the perfect setting for an espionage thriller. This backdrop is fully capitalised upon by director Christian Carion, who presents a coherent piece which captures the period well. Canet and Kusturica play the unlikely lead pairing brilliantly, particularly Kusturica who portrays the idealistic, Francophile Russian with some verve. The final half-hour pulls this slow burner tight, providing a suspenseful and emotionally engaging finale. This emotional engagement is, however, both the film’s downfall and achievement. Prior to this finale, Farewell spends a lot of time on Froment and Grigoriev’s character development and relationship. This allows us to sympathise with them on a personal level, but it also means the film plods along in parts. In addition, the scenes involving US President Ronald Reagan (Fred Ward) and French President Francois Mitterand (Philippe Magnan) feel out-of-place and awkward.

There are many nice directorial touches in this film and the contrast between East and West is subtly but effectively shown. Farewell makes a point of being underplayed and is relatively low on thrills. Some might say it requires a little patience, but there’s much to admire and it’s well worth the watch. Also, lovely soundtrack by Clint Mansell.

Of Gods and Men

Sad, profound and beautiful in equal measure, this is not a film that you will easily forget – 8/10

Dir. Xavier Beauvois

Of Gods and Men portrays the true story of 9 Trappists monks living in the monastery of Tibhirine, Algeria, before 7 of them are taken and killed by terrorists during the Algerian Civil War in 1996. Prior to being held hostage, the monks lived in harmony with their Muslim neighbours and much of the film shows their metronomic routine of life and worship. The monks make a considerable contribution to the community, particularly in their provision of medicine. They therefore struggle to comprehend the idea of leaving Tibhirine, despite the obvious danger, and the film predominantly focuses on the monks’ decision to stay and risk their lives.

Of Gods and Men was highly acclaimed and won several awards including the 2010 Cannes ‘Grand Prix,’ and for the most part these accolades are deserved. It is – in line with the subject matter – sombre without being mawkish and considers the issue of martyrdom without having delusions of grandeur. Clearly religion is central to the narrative but the film does not try to convert the viewer. Of Gods and Men is beautifully shot; it is contemplative and restrained throughout and this tone can be sharply contrasted with the way in which the monks were treated by their captors. Christian (Lambert Wilson) and Luc (Michael Lonsdale) lead their fellow monks in discussing what is the right thing to do. However, we learn most by studying their wonderfully expressive faces and it is clear that the monks never intend to leave their post. Although it is hard not to feel that the monks’ courage, loyalty or piety lead to a tremendous waste of life, Of Gods and Men is a brilliant study of their motivations and psyche.

Trailer Reel

Lars Von Trier is back with his new movie Melancholia, the type of bizarre looking film that Von Trier fans will be well accustomed to. Labeled as a psychological disaster movie, Melancholia centers around young newlyweds Kirsten Dunst & Alexander Skarsgard’s wedding celebrations. A day of happiness is juxtaposed with a notion of impending doom, as the planet Melancholia is set to collide with Earth. Melancholia is in cinemas on the 30th September.

Roman Polanski has adapted the play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza for his new film Carnage. The play tells the story of two sets of parents trying to settle a dispute between their sons after they get into a playground scrap. As much as they wish to walk away from the conflict, their dislike for one another keeps drawing them back into the argument. No UK release date has been announced as of yet but it did get its premier at the recent Venice film festival, where it was received very well.

Out next week is Gavin O’Connor‘s Warrior, it stars rising star Tom hardy alongside Nick Nolte and Joel Edgerton.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) – Review

It does justice to the source material and is a fantastic ending to a mixed series – 8/10

Dir. David Yates

HP7B has been out for a while now and some might say I have been slow in putting up a review. For this I am sorry, however, there is a reason for my tardiness: I wanted to let the dust settle. With such a huge franchise there was inevitably going to be a lot of hype, many superlatives and a fair amount of bullshit. Given this, I thought it was better to take my time, see it a couple of times and offer a carefully considered opinion. For HP7B different people wanted different things: everyone wanted an exciting final showdown; the Potter purists wanted a film that was true to the book; and those who haven’t read the book wanted a coherent and cohesive narrative that ties in with the previous films. Basically, there were a lot of plotlines to tie up but also a huge weight of expectation for high entertainment levels – this was never going to be easy.

PLOT SPOILER!!!

I feel there is little need for plot explanation, but here’s a brief summary: Voldermort (Ralph Fiennes) and his followers have taken control of much of the wizarding world. Their opponents are being killed and tortured and Snape (Alan Rickman) has become headmaster at Hogwarts. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are still after the last horcruxes (pieces of Voldermort’s soul) and venture back, first to Gringott’s and then to the school, to find and destroy them. With Voldermort sensing victory, however, the final showdown between the forces of good and evil is imminent.

The film starts slowly with two plodding scenes in which Harry ‘interrogates’ firstly Griphook (Warwick Davis) and then Olivander (John Hurt). The film then jumps into gear as Harry and co. attempt to break into the impenetrable Gringotts. This scene is brilliant. It’s initially nerve-wracking as the weird Goblins who run the bank cast a suspicious eye over the trio and then when their plan goes awry the adrenaline begins to pump as all hell breaks loose. This, actually, is the pattern of the film as a whole: moments of great suspense, some exciting action sequences, but also a few slightly mismanaged and halting scenes. Unsurprisingly, many of these were predominantly involving Radcliffe and if you read my previous article on the Harry Potter films then you’d be well aware of my dislike for his acting. Nevertheless, Radcliffe isn’t all bad as his single setting of awkward defiance seems infinitely more appropriate here than in other parts of the series. In addition, he is supported by a very capable cast.

Matthew Lewis’s Neville Longbottom threatens to steal the show whilst Alan Rickman is superb as Snape (possibly the most interesting character in the Potter series) and his flashback sequence is supremely moving. Michael Gambon (Dumbledore) is, as ever, wonderfully ethereal. In this film particularly he is suitably profound and simultaneously guilty of repeat obfuscation. But then again, that’s the point isn’t it? Dumbledore is the guy with all the answers and yet he can’t tell you them because you need to learn them for yourself. Dumbledore is like many characters we have seen before in films and literature; incomprehensibly old and wise but despite his age he possesses an extraordinary vitality and so we suppose that he will be around forever (which is what makes his death so shocking a couple of films ago). In that way, he is similar to God, or some form of deity. Having said this, he is probably more akin to other literary wizards such as Merlin or Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings.

On that point, Rowling’s books have more than a few parallels with Tolkien’s epic, both thematically and narratively. In this vein, Yates seems to have taken a couple of pointers from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. The image of Voldermort’s forces looming over the Hogwarts grounds and the sweeping view past the bridge leading to Hogwarts are two shots that strongly reminded me of the trilogy. Nevertheless, this isn’t a negative point as Yates’ handling of the action was expert. The big battle is shown in snippets intersected by Harry’s quest to find the remaining horcruxes. This breaks up the potentially monotonous large-scale fight scene into accessible clips which feature some wonderful images as wizards break through, and are subsequently expelled from windows in a flash and the minute Professor Flitwick scampers in-between an army of rock giants. Fiennes’ Voldermort seethes with serpentine fury and his declining levels of composure and self-belief are more vividly suggested than in the book.

After some rather turgid films in recent years, the 8th and final installment of the highest grossing series of all time had a lot to make up for. It achieved this feat and justified the splitting of the last book in two. Thrilling, moving, tense and exciting it delivers on all scores and is a wonderful end to the series.

The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito) (2011) – Review

Wonderfully suspenseful and beautifully crafted – the best film of the year so far – 9/10

Dir. Pedro Almodovar

If I were to classify this film in conventional terms I suppose it is a combination of thriller and horror; or maybe a thriller with horror elements. But to break it down in these terms fails to capture the true essence of the film. It is best understood as an Almodovar film, a melodrama engorged in perverted excess; a film that only he could make, which revisits many of the themes we have seen in his previous work – identity, sexuality, familial relationships, passion, lust, obsession and madness. Almodovar also revisits an old colleague in this film – Antonio Banderas – who plays Dr. Robert Ledgard, a meticulous and brilliant surgeon who is seeking to redress the perceived injustices inflicted upon his family. Writing Robert’s motives in those terms suggests sterility; however, despite the clinical nature of his actions throughout the film, I feel this may give the wrong impression. Robert’s revenge mission certainly doesn’t lack creative qualities and as we delve deeper into the surgeon’s sordid affairs, the true horror of his vengeful imagination emerges.

Early on we discover that Robert is attempting to develop an advanced form of skin – resistant to fire, but with the properties of human skin (soft, supple, sensitive to touch). The specifics of Robert’s plan remain obfuscated and we are left wondering about the mysterious past of his beautiful prisoner (Elena Anaya) for much of the film. Nevertheless, when it all becomes clear, it is difficult for our views on the nature of the crime and punishment not to become fuzzy. Throughout the film Almodovar is playing with our perceptions and intuitions. He is commenting on the nature of madness, justice and the issue of man playing god. Above all, however, Almodovar is entertaining us. Banderas plays the cool and collected Robert superbly, with an underlying menace and a nod to Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein. Anaya is also excellent as Robert’s test-subject, carrying a sorrow and fear in her eyes.

Almodovar’s direction is as meticulous and clinical as his lead character – Anaya’s porcelain skin coupled with the pristine mise-en-scène creates an eery feeling of perfection. The visual excellence demands a second look and the questions that the film asks require a second thought. This brilliantly over-the-top film shocks and thrills in equal measure and is the best film of the year so far.