FILM REVIEW: Dheepan

Some years ago now in my brief stint as an industrial recruitment consultant,  I was tasked with placing refugees from all over the globe, and with limited English language skills, into menial factory work. An immigrant brain surgeon from Somalia required to stack flower pots in a plastics factory, or an Eritrean engineer who’d filled the ‘reason for temporary work’ section on his application form with the words, “Civil War” – that sort of thing.

The issue of civil war and the resultant mass immigration that can occur is the subject matter of director Jacques Audiard’s excellent, gritty drama, Dheepan.

With a war ripping his home land apart, Dheepan, a Sri Lankan Tamil fighter, is determined to flee these troubles and emigrate to pastures new. An opportunity to relocate to France presents itself and together with fellow refugee camp dwellers Yalini and Ilayaal, they take their falsified documents and board the first boat out of port in search of a new life.

A ‘family unit’ they may well be on paper, but none of them actually know each other.

A move to a run-down housing estate on the periphery of Paris under normal circumstances might be a fairly daunting prospect, but considering where they’ve come from and what they’ve all been through, Dheepan and the others put a brave face on it and quietly assume new roles within their newly adopted lifestyle.

Dheepan is to be the caretaker for the estate, whereas Yalini will work as a carer for a relatively elderly gentleman in the block opposite. Whilst the connection remains unconfirmed, it would appear that the elderly man is in some way related to Brahim (Vincent Rottiers), a young lad of dubious character and temperament, recently released from jail and with whom he shares the flat.

Whilst hoping that a fresh start would confine the untold horrors of his previous life to the pages of history, Dheepan is soon to discover that his new surrounds present a whole new set of challenges, with drugs and the dealing thereof, causing continual disturbances and explosive anarchy within the estate. With this as a catalyst, it’s only a matter of time before the apparently mild-mannered Dheepan begins to descend into a familiar, troubled state of mind; gradually nudged closer to the edge of his tolerance levels.

Jesuthasan Antonythasan’s performance is very affecting as Dheepan, whilst Kalieaswari Srinivasan and Claudine Vinasithamby are both excellent in their support roles as Dheepan’s surrogate wife and child, Yalini and Illayaal, respectively, collectively portraying a ‘family’ forced to display admirable restraint having somehow stepped out of the frying pan and into the fire.

With the latest EU immigrant ‘crisis’ fresh in everybody’s minds, director Jacques Audiard’s take on the issue, whilst coming from a slightly different geographical angle, is highly topical and tackles the issue of both immigration and necessary integration, and it does so convincingly.

That said, it is something of a surprise though that Audiard doesn’t necessarily attribute the film’s somewhat unexpected explosive finale to any sort of cumulative effect of people’s ignorant racial prejudices, but more so to the long-term mental scarring that so often plagues those that end up as psychological casualties of war.

A tense, sometimes bleak look into lives torn apart, and the tough, unforgiving road that can stretch ahead, in rebuilding them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FILM REVIEW: Chronic

There was one moment whilst watching this film when I just found myself staring – unable to look away – at an expressionless face sat in a car, the kind of way you do when someone or something piques your interest to such a degree that you just cannot help yourself; second-guessing their every thought.
Such levels of intrigue and curiosity are commonplace in director Michel Franco’s at times rather heavy-going Chronic.
Absent is any form of soundtrack and incredibly rare are the film’s fleeting moments of levity, but for the film-goer that’s prepared to put in the dedication and emotionally invest in it, the rewards are huge.
Tim Roth plays freelance palliative care worker, David.
His is a curious existence. A man of few words and of limited expression, he reveals very little about himself to others and his daily life can best be described as functional.
The film frequently cuts to David running – going through the motions – initially jogging on a treadmill, and in later scenes plodding along the pavements of suburban Los Angeles. Just running. But running for fitness? Running to escape? Running to forget?
The truth of David’s story will unfold, but it’s clear that the memory and buried emotional pain of having to facilitate the death of his terminally ill son many years before, seems to have shaped the withdrawn shell of a man that he’s become and the sort of monochrome existence that he now goes through. Crucially, it appears that it’s also been the catalyst for his determined yet under-stated desire to help others similarly afflicted – sometimes to the point of quiet compulsion.
Curiously, he lives his own life vicariously through the professions and achievements of his patients, either fabricating back stories to somehow implement their lives into his own personal history, or actually adopting his interpretation of their personas, in public.
Working through a care agency, David is assigned patients as and when he has concluded his duties where last assigned, and be it a late stages AIDS casualty or a bitter stroke victim struggling to come to terms with their sudden disability, David’s calm but focused dedication is unwavering; even when fate conspires threatening to take away from him the one solid constant and remaining raison d’être of his life; his work…
Never visibly distraught or exasperated, Tim Roth it has to be said is superb with his stripped back depiction of this mysterious care worker. So natural is his performance within the film’s minimal backdrop, it’s easy at times to forget that you’re even watching a film at all, particularly with director Franco’s propensity towards long, drawn-out takes, and infrequent edits or cutaways – unflinching in the face of potentially awkward and emotional subject matter.
Chronic is every bit a multi-layered film that sucks you into David’s world, inducing a very genuine empathy in the process. It’s also a film of minimal dialogue. Indeed the whole thing feels at times rather unscripted, even improvised. Perhaps most notably of all though is that it’s a film of narrative ambiguity, and very much left open to personal interpretation as it subtly transitions from one potential meaning to another. What appears on the surface to be a story of melancholy, loneliness and frustration is at the same time a story with potentially far more sinister overtones, if you choose to see them that is.
It won’t be to everyone’s taste and its slow, considered pace and fairly weighty subject matter that unrepentantly refuses to pander towards any need for light relief, will alienate a fair few, but I really have to implore you to stick with it.

 

FILM REVIEW: Midnight Special

In many ways Midnight Special is a film about fear. Fear of losing what we have. Fear of living without something or someone that we hold in great reverence, and perhaps above all, fear of the unknown.

Then again, to label Jeff Nicholl’s engaging science fiction thriller soley in such a way is to only tell a part of the story.

Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) is a young, gifted boy with special abilities way beyond the comprehension of human beings. He is introduced, head under a sheet, reading a comic book by torchlight whilst wearing a pair of protective darkened goggles. He is in the company of two men that have apparently kidnapped him with assorted television news bulletins reinforcing this story. The three of them make a hasty exit from the motel room in which they’ve been holed up in the wee small hours. It’s clear that they’re on the run; but from whom and to what ends?

The truth is that Alton’s special powers are a wholly misunderstood phenomenon, and have been spooking the living daylights out of everyone and everything that he encounters. Comparable to some vampire-like entity he cannot be exposed to direct sunlight lest some truly bewildering supernatural upheaval occurs.

Aware of such powers, the FBI, and separately, representatives from the ‘cult’ from which he and his father have run, are hot on his trail. Both parties realise the value of the boy and, through their ignorance, the potential danger that they believe he may represent to them and the world at large. It is unthinkable therefore that he may ultimately evade their clutches.

Alton however, guided by his father, Roy, and his state trooper friend, Lucas, is moving ever closer to his own personal date with destiny, and he has a father that’s hell-bent on getting him there.

It’s a relief to see Adam Driver not portraying unconvincing villainous super-beings on this occasion and instead, he’s well cast as mild-mannered, Sevier, the man tasked with tracking the boy down. It’s the excellent Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton that play Alton’s father and friend, whilst Kirsten Dunst convinces as warm, caring and maternal, Sarah Tomlin.

For a film of 12 A certification it’s surprisingly intense and at times even a little disturbing as was pointed out to me in no uncertain terms by my co-viewing partner on the day whose view was erratically framed by the gaps between her own fingers. The overriding sentiment though is one of beautiful mystery, questioning just exactly what it is that lies beyond our own limited sensory perceptions and the importance of embracing the unknown.

It’s a slow-cooked science fiction yarn that gradually reveals itself, taking the wise option to focus more upon its characters’ interactions and relationships than the simple thrill of the pursuit. That said, writer and director Jeff Nichols strikes a good balance here and still succeeds in sustaining an ominous sense of threat throughout that the ‘powers that be’ are surely closing in.

There are certainly significant nods of the head to ET, tips of the hat to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and perhaps even a passing influence taken from Spielberg’s masterpiece, A.I, but credit to Nichols, Midnight Special still convinces sufficiently on its own terms.

A film not quite of such significance as the aforementioned classics, but, along with the likes of Ex-Machina, an important place-marker for the science fiction genre in the twenty-first century, nonetheless.

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Eddie The Eagle

For those of us of a certain vintage, hurtling around the corner of life, slipping effortlessly – not to mention majestically – into our prime years, the name Eddie Edwards will instantly transport us back in time to the decade that style forgot, the 1980s.

Side-stepping the sticky issue of the decade’s defining politics if I may, it was a decade with a propensity for a head-in-the-sand kind of innocence and naivety, and a decade of film-making quite unlike any other.

Aaah, so many rose-tinted memories of films that absolutely defined our childhoods, yet barely warrant a repeat viewing today without inducing a considerable dose of ‘curled toe’ and certainly not films that have stood the test of time in any great way or in any significant numbers.

But I guess that’s why we love them.

At the tail end of this most ‘bubble-like’ of decades and this time of ‘good and plenty,’ was the culmination of the Eddie Edwards story – one of the great triumph in the face of adversity, quintessentially British, plucky loser stories.

First and foremost, let me just say that it’s about time somebody made this film.

It’s an amazing if clearly ridiculous tale, characterised by an unconventional character that really should have known better, yet, in that rather typically British, care-free, ‘bollocks to the consequences’ manner, he didn’t, and Gawd bless him for it.

No-one perfects the art – and it is an art – of losing, quite like the British – apart from maybe Equatorial Guinea. Eric the Eel certainly made a considerable splash at the Sydney Olympics – but I digress…

Dexter Fletcher has gone the whole hog here in his depiction of events directing a movie that isn’t just set in the 1980s but actually feels like a 1980s movie; Matthew Margeson’s Dave Grusin-esque soundtrack adding considerably to this over all aura.

How much of Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton’s screenplay is faithful to actual events, I’ve no idea, but the story unfolds with Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) as a young lad; a dreamer with a gammy leg, determined to represent his country at the Olympics by any means possible. Certainly not born an athlete by any description, his encouragement is virtually non-existent; a few resigned shrugs and a roll of the eyes from his father and a sort of genuine maternal concern from his mother.

Unperturbed by his nearest and dearest’s lack of enthusiasm for his lofty ambitions, he stumbles from one opportunity to another, eventually by some quirk of fate, finding himself representing Great Britain’s skiing hopefuls.

Ultimately discouraged from this by Great Britain’s powers that be – the excellent Tim McInnery reviving memories here, to some extent at least, of his marvellous Captain Darling role from Blackadder 4 – and on discovering that Britain has no representation in the ski jump whatsoever, Eddie sets forth to become Britain’s fresh new hope in this most glamorous, not to mention dangerous of winter sports, much to the chagrin of his father and continued concern of his mother.

Predictably, no-one takes him seriously although he does get some bewildered, reluctant help from alcoholic ex ski jumper, Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman).

A lesser man would have sneaked out of the back door, made his apologies, and taken the first plane home.

But not our Eddie.

Just how he came to end up representing his country at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics and charming the pants off the world in the process, if you don’t already know, you’ll have to find out for yourself.

It’s balls-out in your face bleedin’ obvious stuff, it’s cheesy, it’s contrived, it’s cliched and then some, but I’ve got to admit… I loved it, even to the point of welling up on the odd occasion.

Pathetic? Yes, probably, but for pure entertainment, in spite of all of the film’s considerable flaws, and believe me they are considerable, Eddie the Eagle is a film that makes you just want to punch the air! A genuinely heart-warming frolic through the life of a man whose joi de vivre and never-say-die spirit (bordering on the delusional), should give hope and courage to everyone and anyone that ever dared to believe in the improbable.

A big old uplifting slice of feel-good pie.

Lovely stuff!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GUEST FILM REVIEW: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice – (Parvez Siddiqui)

…and the Superhero bandwagon rolls on.

Zack Snyder directs this juggernaut of a movie of which we have all been waiting in anticipation for! Or have we?

Following on from 2014’s Man of Steel, BvS delves into the fallout from Superman’s arrival on Earth, and his subsequent battle with General Zod, which destroys much of Metropolis with laser beams, extra terrestrial punching and pretty much a super ruck of the highest order.

As it turns out, during this battle, Bruce Wayne/ Batman (Ben Affleck) happens to be visiting the branch office of Wayne Enterprises in Metropolis that day, and wouldn’t you know it, the tower where all his work chums are located bites the big one with some super eye lasers.

Therein begins the question of the policing of Superman, with congressional hearings, Clark Kent/ Superman (Henry Cavill) making up his own questions about who is policing Batman, and everyone trying to justify each other and themselves. This all seems a bit like government departments justifying their budgets for the next year “well, if I punch this bad guy this year, that means I can punch double the bad guys next year, right?”

This leads to the finale of Batman facing off against Superman, the Dawn of Justice!

I wish I had more to say, but I really don’t. The very stunning Gal Gadot skulks around until we see her in the finale as Wonder Woman, where she teams up with Bats and Soups to fight off Doomsday (who?) and has a massive CGI battle which must have used a green screen the size of the O2. Jesse Eisenberg plays a wisecracking Lex Luthor, and in my humble opinion, if they used Kevin Spacey or Gene Hackman as in previous incarnations, they may have had a better fit.  There are also flashbacks to the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, which I’m sure there are undiscovered tribes in the Amazon that know what happened to them by now. There are so many more stars in this movie, which just pop in and out. This includes Amy Adams as Lois Lane which I haven’t mentioned, and I’m not going to.

This all sounds like I didn’t enjoy the movie, but this isn’t the case. Yes, it weaves in and out, and yes, it is dull and fragmented in places, but I thought it was OK, and this is purely down to Ben Affleck.

For those in the know, Affleck plays an older more rueful Dark Knight, as per the graphic novel ‘The Dark Knight Returns’. He smoulders brilliantly, and is funny where he has to be and is generally brilliant. Affleck has taken a lot of flack for taking this part, but he really shows what power he has on screen, as he outshines everyone.

The problems are that this film is too long at two and a half hours, and could easily have been an hour shorter and gained better reviews. There’s also a lot of posturing with style over substance, and as mentioned before, too much green screen.

Personally, I like my green screen to have 22 players running around on it, kicking a pig’s bladder.

FILM REVIEW: Marguerite

Marguerite, Baronne Dumont, the wife of wealthy Georges Dumont, is a most gracious and amiable lady and the host of regular gatherings for music lovers, at their mansion.

She invites and encourages up-and-coming musicians to perform in front of a small, appreciative audience at her musical recitals, and being the host of such get togethers, she also takes the opportunity to indulge her own love of singing, often saving herself up as the ‘main event.’

With one minor issue.

Her singing is genuinely dreadful.

Word and rumour of Marguerite’s ‘interesting’ talent, however it is spread, is far reaching with all manner of hangers-on keen to to observe the spectacle for themselves whilst taking advantage of her considerable generosity. All are happy to use Marguerite’s good nature and renowned hospitality for their own devious or selfish means. Indeed, there is an almost conscious collective effort not to upset the Marguerite apple cart for those that have a vested interest.

Contained within the lavish walls of his own mansion, and away from the cynical eyes and ears of the world, husband Georges is happy to indulge Marguerite’s fantasies. He knows the importance of keeping her happy, even if their own marriage has degenerated into nothing more than a sham. Marguerite is to him, something of an embarrassment and he will go to great lengths to limit the effect that her hobby has upon him, with the suspiciously-timed break downs afflicting his car en route to her recitals, a regular occurrence.

It’s fairly clear that things have not always been this way, and in his own self-centred fashion, Georges seems adamant that even if his and Marguerite’s relationship is now purely functional, he does still care for her and her well being and does what he can to protect her.

With the potential for embarrassment and ridicule minimised and crucially, well contained within the couple’s own four walls, things are tolerable, but it’s when Marguerite begins to socialise with a journalist and his duplicitous ‘performance artist’ acquaintance that Marguerite’s horizons begin to broaden, developing substantial delusions of grandeur in the process.

For Georges, things will reach a head when Marguerite becomes obsessed and hell-bent upon performing in public.

This can only end badly…

Catherine Frot is truly wonderful portraying the film’s lead role, Marguerite, displaying both naivety and know-how simultaneously as a delusional woman who only truly achieves happiness in her life through her singing and her appreciation of the music genre. Enveloped by her collection of seemingly countless operatic props and memorabilia, and serenaded by gramophone recordings of the pick of the world’s choral talent, Marguerite lives in a sort of rose-scented bubble of isolation, a bubble that separates her not just from the ‘real world’ but from her inner pain.

It’s an amusing tale on a certain level, but one in which exists a very definite undercurrent of tragedy and melancholy.

Beautifully observed as a period piece, infused with wit and humour and thankfully never over-stated, Marguerite is a most memorable piece from director Xavier Giannoli – an excellent addition to 2016’s best output thus far.

Interestingly, following relatively hot on the heels of Marguerite, we will soon have the release of the seemingly slightly more comic in its direction, Meryl Streep depiction of Florence Foster Jenkins, the infamous American amateur operatic singer and socialite – a lady similarly afflicted by a love of singing, but sadly an almost total inability to do so.

A chance to compare and contrast.

Needless to say, the review will follow…

 

FILM REVIEW: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), wakes up lying on a mattress, hooked up to a drip in an underground concrete bunker. If that isn’t worrying enough, she’s additionally chained to a pipe that’s fixed to the wall in there.

The last that she remembers, she was driving along a main road at night, so quite how she’s gone from the one state of affairs to the other she’s unable to say. Understandably though, she has an overwhelming desire to escape.

Her ‘captor’ is Howard (John Goodman), a larger-than-life character who, according to him anyway, is going to be, along with an additional bunker-dweller, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr), her only form of company for the next year or two.

For you see, there has been some kind of ‘attack’ on the U.S home soil, the fallout from which will render any hopes of leaving the bunker’s secure casing most fool-hardy indeed.

Through an exterior window, two mutilated pigs and the sudden appearance of a traumatised, facially disfigured woman appear to back up Howard’s far-fetched story.

To add further legitimacy to proceedings, Emmett admits to actually having asked Howard to let him into the bunker when it all kicked off outside.

So, what does one do? Take the word of a strange man who saw fit to create and kit out a survival bunker in his backyard and potentially lose a couple of years of one’s life in the process, or remain sceptical and look for a way to escape?

This is the conundrum facing  Michelle and for three quarters of the film, though not brilliantly done, the suspense and slow unravelling of the truth of this unusual predicament makes 10 Cloverfield Lane perfectly engaging and decent viewing…

…which is what makes the film’s absolutely wretched, bolted-on, dumbed-down car crash of a conclusion such a massive disappointment.

Somehow director Dan Trachtenburg has managed to snatch defeat from the hands of a modest victory here with an absolute smacked-about-the-face stinker of a finale and in doing so, successfully undoes any good work that had preceded it within a most lamentable final fifteen minute spell.

The whole shebang is left wide open to an almost inevitable sequel, though quite what that would entail and more importantly why it would be even be deemed necessary is another thing altogether.

Gord bless Hollywood.

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Anomalisa

One of the best pieces of casting so far in 2016 is undoubtedly David Thewlis’ ‘portrayal’ of Michael Stone; a disillusioned, mid-life crisis-afflicted self-help author and public speaker, in Charlie Kaufman’s wonderful stop motion animation, Anomalisa.

A voice over part it may well only be, and perhaps it helps to have seen much of Thewlis’ back catalogue of film and television work, but, without insinuating for a moment that Thewlis is actually in any way a morose, middle-aged misery, he really can turn his hand effortlessly to this sort of blunt, curmudgeonly, irritable character; the sort of person we’ve all encountered or perhaps even ‘been’ in our own lives at some point.

One shouldn’t get hung up however on the notion that this is some comic story, poking fun at an old misery guts. Instead, director Kaufman has painstakingly and with much love and attention to detail it should be said, pieced together a gentle tale of mid-life frustrations and the soul’s eternal search for meaning and contentment.

Sprinkled with subtle observational humour throughout, Anomalisa follows Michael, something of a minor celebrity within the self-help field, on a visit to Cincinnati – home of chocolate chilli and a very good zoo – he is repeatedly informed by those of good intentions. Here he will deliver one of his trademark speeches at a customer service conference.

It’s a whistle-stop stay, but Michael, currently a man of rather unhappy and confused nature, intends, against his better, married judgement, to contact an ex-flame whilst in town under the misapprehension that he can somehow re-kindle something special that they apparently once had well over a decade ago.

Needless to say, it’s a foolish plan, doomed to failure, but out of such ill-judged intentions, by chance, a slither of opportunity reveals itself.

Distress and desperation leads Michael to the door of fellow hotel guests, Lisa (the voice of Jennifer Jason-Leigh) and her friend, both of whom just so happen to be in town to attend Michael’s conference speech.

Lisa flicks a dormant switch in Michael’s head and heart, and for one fleeting moment and one ‘perfect’ night, life suddenly regains some purpose and meaning. But for how long? And is this really the change that he’s been craving or just a momentary illumination in an  otherwise melancholic existence?

Anomalisa is not just a marvel of animation, it’s also a splendidly accurate portrayal of human interactions and foibles; quite an achievement when you consider that there’s not a single human being in it.

The question of course will be asked: Does Charlie Kaufman’s decision to approach the story using stop motion animation truly add anything to the project that using actors wouldn’t have done, or is it just an admittedly superbly realised gimmick?

It’s an interesting thought. I’m certainly no great fan of animation, but in many ways, it ensures that this simple story of loneliness and longing lives long in the memory and whether that is down to the novelty factor of Kaufman’s artistic approach or because it is simply so well executed, will be very much down to the individual in this instance.

One thing is certain though, Anomalisa is a genuinely touching, bitter-sweet tale which successfully conveys almost the entire gamut of human emotions through a painstakingly detailed animation process – which, buying into the animation concept or not, is remarkably impressive in itself.

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Eye In The Sky

Eye In The Sky is director Gavin Hood’s look at the complexities of the military drone bombing procedure.

Set in a small, ramshackle town in Kenya under the occupation of muslim extremists, it tells the story of the complicated military ‘defence’ network challenged with the task of eliminating terror targets; in this particular case, the rare opportunity to remove three of the top five targets on the U.S military’s terrorist hit list.

Helen Mirren heads the British unit coordinating all such operations from afar, but this is very much unavoidably a global effort with a handful of the targets being U.S and British nationals.

Holed up in a house within the town, preparations – thus far monitored at every stage of the process through ingenious micro drone technology – are underway to fit two young muslim recruits with explosive-packed suicide vests, the repercussions from which should they make it out into the general public need no explanation.

Mirren’s military task force has no intention of letting this happen and having successfully identified key ‘terror’ targets within the building, initial clearance having been granted and with drone missile sights trained in, all is set for a quick and easy execution of procedure.

What no-one has banked on however is an additional moral conundrum presenting itself at the last minute, with the sudden emergence of a young girl on the scene, choosing to set up her bread stall well within the missile’s blast zone.

And so begins an at times farcical chain of events as the buck of responsibility is well and truly passed from pillar to post. From the highest military echelons, through political levels, to key legal personnel, even the Prime Minister and US Secretary of Defense get involved – everyone lives in the hope that someone will develop the cojones to give the nod for the desired drone strike.

With the fear of the potential political own-goal and media hate-fest that may ensue, there’s a considerable reluctance to give the all clear.

With technical experts frantically computing and number crunching to produce what are essentially legally-acceptable collateral damage ‘waivers’ and personal assistants scurrying hither and thither from bigwig to bigwig, the clock is ticking and the situation is becoming ever more critical by the minute.

All said, it’s a well put together piece if not entirely convincing, making a good fist of examining the value of human life within an extreme pressured scenario, and poses the question: just exactly what is or should be deemed acceptable when it comes to collateral damage?

Director Gavin Hood is keen to paint a picture of there being no winners in such a predicament. Ultimately, whatever the outcome, no-one is ever truly ready to make that decision and give that final order to proceed, not to mention of course that unlucky someone that must physically put finger to the ‘fire’ button and actually carry out the orders.

Helen Mirren is reliably good as Colonel Katherine Powell , whilst it’s a final big screen appearance for the late Alan Rickman who plays Lieutenant General Frank Benson with that pompous air of the old-school British military.

Gavin Hood successfully induces high levels of tension from proceeedings, but more than that, almost succeeds in creating a convincing case that everyone involved in such drone bombing procedure is entirely morally torn and almost apologetic for their actions, albeit in doing so, he rather stretches levels of credulity in the process.

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Victoria

It becomes apparent pretty early on that what on paper at least is an experimental piece of cinema, almost bordering on gimmickry, is in fact anything but.
Victoria is a truly astonishing piece of film making.
Much has and will be made of Director Sebastian Schipper’s audacious attempt to film an entire motion picture in one single take. That he proves such a feat to be logistically possible is to be roundly applauded, but the fact that he’s produced such a massively impressive film in its own right within such ‘constraints’, is down right incredible.
Of course this then presents the argument of whether such ‘constraints’ are indeed constraints at all, or whether they are in fact a bold approach to film making, producing a raw and gritty end product that no amount of clever edits could ever achieve?
Judge for yourselves…
Victoria (the extraordinary Laia Costa) is a sweet, young Spanish girl from Madrid, living and working in Berlin. She’s new in town and thus has no genuine friends to speak of. She’s also blissfully unaware that on leaving a nightclub, a chance encounter and flirtation with Sonne (Frederick Lau) and his gang of drunken Berlin rogues, will end up being the most memorable and genuinely life-changing encounter of her life.
What starts off as innocent fun and games, larking about with her new found German buddies, quickly morphs into something far more sinister when ex jailbird ‘Boxer’ (Franz Rogowski) receives a call in the early hours from his former protector and jail acquaintance, with a demand that he repays an outstanding debt.
Unable to decline, he calls upon his three friends to help him out, but with one of them paralytically drunk, Victoria steps in and volunteers to drive them all to their destination, unaware of the true implications of her selfless decision.
It’s a decision that will lead to grave regrets, but there’s really no turning back now…
All shot in one continuous take, one can only imagine the amount of preparation and logistical headaches that this project must have caused.
Perhaps such weight of expectation accounts for the film’s slightly reticent start with things a little slow to kick into gear if truth be told, but Victoria‘s a film which requires the viewer to bear with it and more importantly, to make an investment in the film’s concept. The rewards are manifold.
There’s a lingering, ever-present potential for distraction throughout due to the unavoidable sections of shaky camera work, sometimes drifting in and out of focus due to the demanding nature of constant, edit-less image capture on the move, not to mention the exacting low-light conditions of a Berlin night. The audio too suffers a little from time to time with muffled dialogue lacking a little clarity from those actors speaking from peripheral positions, but all in all, these are minor details in the grand scheme.
There is an over all level of accomplishment here which is genuinely extraordinary and must have taken gargantuan levels of coordination and concentration from all involved, not least a set of actors who pull off the impossible with impressive consistency throughout; Sebastian Schipper’s super-ambitious approach here exposes them completely for two hours of screen time, warts and all, with genuinely nowhere to hide. None of them are found wanting.
If ever there was a project that screamed ‘teamwork’ – this is it. Everything from an overworked camera crew, a director sweating buckets, to Nils Frahm’s excellent and sparingly applied soundtrack – it’s all mightily impressive on so many levels.
Thoroughly deserving of all of its plaudits, Victoria is a landmark film which achieves the improbable and in doing so, raises the bar of expectancy to lofty heights, producing one of the finest films of recent times in the process.

FILM REVIEW: Disorder

 

Vincent Loreau (Mathias Schoenaerts) is a French soldier back from Afghanistan. Following inconclusive medical tests, he is assumed to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Prone therefore to anxiety, hallucinations and a ringing in his ears, he’s been signed off temporarily from his army role, and in a bid to make ends meet, has taken work in a security capacity along with fellow military friends.

A lavish party thrown by a wealthy Lebanese businessman is the occasion for which Vincent’s talents are required. Together with fellow security personnel, he patrols the grounds, mans the gates and ensures that no unwanted flash points occur between any of the guests. Quite why this would happen at a ‘civilised’ black tie do, we are left in the dark about – at least initially.

Although it’s an evening that proceeds relatively issue-free, Vincent, courtesy of a good word from his friend and colleague, Denis (Paul Hamy), is invited to return to the mansion once again to provide security and general help around the place. This time though he is tasked with looking after the businessman’s wife, Jessie (Dianne Kruger), and their young boy, for an extended period of time whilst the husband is away on business.

Not yet medically cleared to rejoin the army and in need of the money, Vincent accepts the role. The reason for his security presence will soon become apparent as will the gravity of the predicament he will find himself in.

There are two really strong aspects to Disorder, the first of which is Alice Winocour’s direction. Her decision to be in absolutely no rush to reveal anything here, proves to be a wise one. A slowly simmering plot unfolds, gradually, allowing the piece to build in tension and to an extent, it lulls the viewer into a sense of calm. It’s an effective trick and one made all the more easy to pull off thanks to Disorder’s second aspect of great strength; Mathias Schoenaerts.

As with A Bigger Splash earlier this year, Schoenaerts’ role is one of minimal dialogue; smouldering and devastatingly effective, as much because of what he doesn’t say as what he does.

In many ways, Disorder is a straight forward piece. Vincent is employed as a security presence for a reason, and ultimately, with the reality of the scenario revealed, his training and military expertise will come to the fore as he draws upon his considerable skill set in an attempt to keep Jessie and the son safe, but it would be a mistake to believe that Disorder is merely predictable good guy / bad guy fodder.

It’s a lot more than that, but I’ve seen it reviewed as such, bemoaning a lack of action and the substance necessary to sustain it as a feature film – viewing the entire thing as nothing but a vehicle for Schoenaerts to flex and smoulder for the cameras.

Flex and smoulder he does, to an extent, but to view it as nothing but that is to miss the point quite spectacularly. It’s a film of great tension yet it’s all subtly under-stated, and that is to be applauded and admired, if anything.

Artistically shot and moved along by an excellent, painfully cool Mike Lévy soundtrack  – deserving of considerable recognition – Disorder is that most rare of things, a genuinely suspenseful, stylish thriller that doesn’t feel it necessary to beat the viewer around the face with the ‘obvious hammer.’

Ignore the mediocre reviews penned by the attention span-lite generation, Disorder is the real deal.