Tag Archives: The Wayward Wolf Film Review

ENTEBBE

Two Star Rating

“…the word ‘unconvincing’ is probably the choice adjective to describe pretty much all of the constituent parts of Padilha‘s piece.” – WaywardWolf.

Considering its potentially inflammatory  subject matter, director José Padilha adopts a surprisingly balanced political approach to this 1970’s era thriller, Entebbe.

Based to some degree upon actual events, Entebbe depicts the story of the hijacking of Air France flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris, by a handful of politically motivated freedom fighters.

Forcing the flight to land at a small airfield in Entebbe, Uganda, the hostages are then moved into the decrepit airport terminal where they are separated into two rooms. Jews and non-Jews. The proposed end game from here – should Israel then fail to release a number of captive terrorists, according to the hijackers’ demands – probably needs no further explanation.

Such tales of hijacking we have of course seen umpteen times before. Sadly, Entebbe, the film – aside from informing those of us that weren’t as yet clued up with regards to this particular hijack scenario – offers very little by way of originality, though it could be argued that Padilha does at least attempt to tap into the psychological quandaries faced by two of the German hijackers, Brigitte Kuhlmann (Rosamund Pike) and Wilfried Böse (Daniel Brühl), who are both seen to be wrestling with the morality of their actions, fearful of being portrayed as some sort of neo-Nazis.

But it’s all rather unconvincing.

Indeed, the word ‘unconvincing’ is probably the choice adjective to describe pretty much all of the constituent parts of Padilha‘s piece. A film which, sadly, barely hits the mark on any sort of level. Dare I even make reference to Entebbe being something of a fatally grounded movie? One that fails to ever really take off. Hijacked by a poor script and under-cooked characters, as it is.

You get the picture.

Cheap gags, one and all.

Harsh but fair.

Even the film’s ‘climactic’ conclusion centring around counter-terrorism operation Thunderbolt, is clumsy and breathtakingly limp in its reenactment of events, barely raising the pulse level.

Entebbe is effectively floored by a fatal combination of unconvincing characters, a rather walked and talked through narrative, an almost complete absence of either menace or suspense, and hundreds of bewildered looking half-arsed extras being regularly shuffled around from pillar to post to little or no dramatic effect.

Even acknowledging the impact of an initially apparently inconsequential interpretive dance routine which is then used to reasonable effect in enhancing the film’s latter stages, such effective devices are few and far between, and offered nowhere near enough to leave this particular viewer feeling anything other than significantly underwhelmed.

On the plus side, hats off to the Israeli Commandos on somehow successfully turning an initial few ham-fisted brush strokes into an immaculate spray-painted body job,  converting a brown Mercedes car into a black one in the process.

Hmmm. Miraculous, yet… unconvincing.

There’s that word again.

 

 

Advertisements

THE LEISURE SEEKER

Three Star Rating

“…Leisure Seeker is in fact rather good fun, highlighting as it does the myriad ‘laugh or you’ll surely cry’ trials and tribulations brought about by the unrelenting onset of old age.” – Wayward Wolf.

Some bafflingly irrelevant, not-so-subliminal anti-Trump / pro-the wonders of diversity propaganda-aside, The Leisure Seeker is a rather entertaining – if slightly contrived – road movie – with a big heart.

Donald Sutherland portrays John Spencer, a retired English teacher with severe dementia, who, along with his beloved wife, Ella (Helen Mirren), decides to dust-off the old Winnebago Recreational Vehicle, which Ella affectionately refers to as The Leisure Seeker. Together, the couple head off on an impromptu road trip from their home in Massachusetts, right the way down to Ernest Hemingway’s house on Florida’s Key West, much to the despair of their concerned children, Will and Jane.

The trip is littered with incidents ranging from the lightly amusing to the highly improbable as the pair encounter all manner of shenanigans en route to the sunny south. All the while their grown up children fret over their whereabouts and well being, as one surely would considering the elderly couple’s respective precarious states of health.

If you can remain undistracted by the rather formulaic and at times forced narrative, Leisure Seeker is in fact rather good fun, highlighting as it does the myriad ‘laugh or you’ll surely cry’ trials and tribulations brought about by the unrelenting onset of old age. Powerless to halt this relentless march of time they may well be, but for John and Ella nothing ever seems quite so bad when contemplated over a shared bottle of Canadian Club whilst sat on the edge of a beautiful lake, miles from anywhere, at the end of a long day of driving.

Laughs-aside, The Leisure Seeker also offers an all too often painful insight into the debilitating havoc that the onset of dementia can inflict upon those affected by it, both directly and indirectly.

It is clear that John’s deteriorating memory is proving to be increasingly burdensome for Ella, not to mention cruel, both through the fluctuating nature of its manifestation, and with its propensity to lay bare some harsh and unwelcome truths of yesteryear.

All too fleetingly now John is still the effortlessly charming man that Ella married, only to revert in the blink of an eye to the confused incontinent stranger that she has more recently come to know, and for whom she must now care – morning, noon and night.

Undoubtedly it is the highly believable and impressive on-screen chemistry of the film’s leading pair that focuses the mind fully on the The Leisure Seeker‘s numerous plus points, and sufficiently away from its handful of prominent failings.

Though Paolo Virzì‘s film is ultimately a little wistful, it nevertheless casts an optimistic light, choosing to regard John and Ella’s story not as one of unremitting struggle, but of two lives well lived, and in spite of everything, done so without any lasting regrets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE ISLANDS AND THE WHALES

Three and a half Star Rating

“Day’s film primarily concerns itself… with a number of increasingly weary Faroese fishermen and sea bird hunters on whose shoulders the gathering issues and pressures of modern life are weighing heavier than ever” – Wayward Wolf.

It’s fair to say that the Faroe Islands (Føroyar to the locals), will probably always remain close to the hearts of the majority of folk that are ever lucky enough to visit them.

I’ve been enormously lucky to have paid a visit on two separate occasions, and whilst each of these trips produced enough thrills, spills, entertainment and incomparable beauty to fill ten separate holidays, I’ve always been aware that a visitor’s impression of Føroyar – as privileged as it may well be – is probably still a million miles from the reality of living, and more importantly making a living within these stunning islands.

Mike Day’s thought-provoking documentary The Islands and the Whales takes a very topical look at the Faroe Islands and its people.

As far back as anyone can remember, the Faroese people have relied upon the sea and the delicate food chain that it nurtures, for their survival. But studies which have been ongoing now since 1986 reveal increasing concentrations of mercury within this chain, with particularly high concentrations discovered in sea birds and more prominently in the pilot whales whose yearly migratory route, unfortunately for them, passes close by.

With the gravity of this revelation being keenly impressed upon the locals by health professionals, and with the inconvenient truth and implications of what this therefore means slowly dawning upon them all, the proud traditions of hunting and harvesting that are so deeply engrained within the Faorese, are now under serious threat.

This of course will be music to the ears of a whole multitude of pressure groups and environmental campaigners – most notably the activists of Sea Shepherd – whose whole-hearted loathing of the Faroese tradition of whale herding and hunting (grindadráp), is well known.

Day’s documentary not only illustrates the activists’ attempts to sabotage these hunts, but  also the levels of hypocrisy and ill-thought-out logic that they then seem to display when proposing that the Faroese people import their food instead; apparently blind to the environmental impact of such actions.

Interestingly, though I’d argue inaccurately, as the grindadráp has gained increasing notoriety, it has been rather unfairly maligned as being the Faroese equivalent of the ritual Japanese combined slaughter and capture of dolphins for the benefit of Sea World and the like, as exposed in Louie Psihoyos’s harrowing 2009 documentary, The Cove.  Such comparisons are dismissed by the Faroese who are keen to insist that the killing of pilot whales is a far quicker and more humane process than the ham-fisted butchering experienced by schools of dolphins off the coast of Japan.

There will of course always be exceptions to the rule, but having witnessed them both to some extent, even for a fairly devout vegetarian / occasional Pescetarian such as myself, I struggle to equate the two events beyond their mutual harvesting of Cetaceans.

Day’s film primarily concerns itself, however, with a number of increasingly weary Faroese fishermen and sea bird hunters on whose shoulders the gathering issues and pressures of modern life are weighing heavier than ever.

Indeed, Føroyar is feeling the pinch of encroaching Globalisation and many of the ills that it so often brings, more keenly than most these days. Some even go so far as to suggest that their country and way of life is coming under attack and they display an understandable bitterness about it, especially considering that the increasing prevalance of mercury in the food chain is down to large-scale industrial pollution and very much an issue not of their own making.

But this is a quietly spoken, fairly placid people, and it’s therefore often difficult to gauge the true levels of disenchantment that they feel with regard to such prickly subject matter.

The Islands and the Whales documentary is a very matter-of-fact piece which takes a fairly sympathetic, yet essentially politically-neutral stance on the plight of these fishermen and their families.

The characters are filmed going about their day-to-day activities, engaged in conversations pertaining to the increasing hardships that they now face in their lives. It’s particularly interesting to note that it’s not only the older generation that choose to bury their heads in the sand with regards to the very real health risks of consuming mercury-infected bird and whale meat, but this sense of denial seems to pervade the psyche of the younger generations too. It’s a proud and stubborn stance, but it not only places their own health at risk, but that of their young families too.

Inhabited by a people that are quietly, yet firmly nationalistic, and unafraid to show pride in their heritage – take note please, United Kingdom – there are few places on earth quite so arrestingly beautiful, and awe inspiring as Føroyar.

Traditionally such a self-sufficient nation, the impinging and intrusive effects of Globalisation increasingly prove to be very much to the detriment of the Faroese people. It threatens their very way of life and has the potential to irreparably change the nature of these wonderful islands, forever.

And take it from me, Ladies and Gentlemen, that would be unthinkable.

 

 

 

 

 

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY & POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY

Four Star Rating

“…it’s Katherine Parkinson’s comical yet wonderfully vulnerable and bitter-sweet portrayal of the gin-distilling lonely heart, Isola Pribby, that is possibly the film’s most surprising delight.” – Wayward Wolf.

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society (and you can forget about it if you think I’m reeling that off repeatedly over the next few paragraphs! Let’s call it T-GLAPPPS from hereon in), is a film whose historic setting is the aftermath of the German occupation of the channel island of Guernsey – an island, like neighbouring Jersey, that suffered badly at the hands of the German army during the Second World War.

Incidentally, as a slight aside – the Military Museum – housed in an old German bunker on the island of Jersey – is a really excellent must-see not only for World Ward II aficionados, but for those that would benefit from gaining a more in-depth background to these troubled years of war time occupation.

But I digress…

The bizarrely named Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society was formed as something of an off-the-cuff cover story out of necessity during a routine German stop-and-search of a group of local friends who had been caught out at night after curfew. They’d been making their way home following a gathering at a friend’s house in which they’d all feasted hungrily upon roasted pork, a food source that was now strictly forbidden under the German rule.

Having come up with and duly registered their peculiarly-named society in order to fool their captors, they now had no choice but to continue with the charade, and thus, once a week, initially under the short-lived supervision of a bored German, the group would assemble to read and discuss literature with one another.

A few years on, and with Guernsey once again liberated, a letter sent by one of the society’s members, Dawsey (Michiel Huisman), to a London-based journalist and author, Juliet Ashton (Lily James), leads to a rather intimate pen-friendship developing between the two. Juliet’s interest in this remarkable society is suitably piqued and soon enough she finds herself aboard a boat en route to Guernsey, temporarily abandoning her fiancee in the process, but determined to finally write an article of true substance and worth.

But as Juliet will soon discover, this society, though amusingly-titled and formed through an act of rebellious deception, in fact hides tragic and painful secrets for its members.

Whilst using the German occupation as an historical setting and a frequent reference point, Director Mike Newell’s film is in fact much less a gritty depiction of the horrors of war, and far more a conventional love story. The age old tale of the girl who apparently had it all, yet deep down realised that what she had did not provide her with sufficient emotional fulfilment.

With this point understood and acknowledged, Newell’s film can be considered as something of a charming triumph. Certainly it’s a career best performance from Lily James, whose nuanced depiction of the enthusiastic and head-strong Juliet, is full of warmth and sparkle.

There are predictably solid performances from the likes of Tom Courtenay and Penelope Milton, but it’s Katherine Parkinson’s comical yet wonderfully vulnerable and bitter-sweet portrayal of the gin-distilling lonely heart, Isola Pribby, that is possibly the film’s most surprising delight.

Indeed, the casting is well judged throughout with an array of well-formed characters in whom one can truly emotionally invest. This is perhaps not surprising considering that T-GLAPPPS benefits from the directorial involvement of the man behind everybody’s? perennial favourite, Four Weddings and a Funeral – a film whose feel and sense of formula is fairly evident here.

It’s true that there are one or two inconsistencies here and there and elements of the narrative at times feel a little ‘token’ in nature and might have benefited from some further exploration. But these are more suggestions than faults. What is undeniable here is that this is British film making done well and crucially, done with considerable commercial appeal, and not at the expense of its artistic integrity.

T-GLAPPPS is a film that’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in. A film that knows exactly what it’s doing as it sucks you in with its considerable well engineered charm. But above all, T-GLAPPPS is a film that’s almost impossible not to like.

FUNNY COW

Four Star Rating

Truth be told, this is probably not one for the easily offended or keen advocates of a more modern Sofie Hagen-esque safe-space type of comedy.” – Wayward Wolf.

“It’s always been too much for me… life… and not enough. All at the same time…”

Funny Cow is the tale of fictional female comic, Funny Cow (FC). It’s a piece whose narrative is loosely anchored around occasional footage of FC delivering some sort of ‘For TV’ career retrospective monologue in which she reflects upon her life and times to date. Going by this particular TV performance’s high production values, it would seem that this is at a point in her life when she’s clearly ‘made it’. Whatever that may really mean.

There’s a pervading air of melancholy about it all, something that is very much prevalent in this Adrian Shergold film which traces FC’s life from its poverty-stricken beginnings, through the frustrations of an abusive marriage, to her eventual breakthrough success (and beyond) as a female comedian.

The child of an alcoholic mother and abusive father, comedy had always been the perfect outlet for FC, but it’s only ultimately through a combination of perseverance and a bitter-sweet twist of fate that she finally gets a chance to prove her worth.

Though the backstory of Shergold’s film is to some extent one of developing the courage to shoot for the stars, Funny Cow is just as concerned with the concept of female empowerment, and examining life’s myriad struggles and the ties that so often bind us, whether we would choose them to or not.

“Confucius say: He who drop watch down toilet have shitty time…”

The 1970’s northern working class setting and brash sense of old fashioned humour lends Funny Cow something of a gritty backdrop, and whether it be racial stereotypes or ‘in-bad-taste’ one-liners, considering that we live today in such a timid and easily-offended nanny state, it’s actually rather surprising –  and refreshing – that so much of a nationally-released film’s shall we say, ‘questionable’ language and terminology has not been airbrushed from history. Undoubtedly this lends the piece a real sense of authenticity which could so easily have been stripped away, much to the film’s detriment.

That said, though the more controversial content is at most fleeting, truth be told, this is probably not one for the easily offended or keen advocates of a more modern Sofie Hagen-esque safe-space type of comedy. But that probably goes without saying.

Paddy Considine’s awkwardly circumspect portrayal of Angus, the arts-loving, book shop owner and FC’s woefully mismatched other half for a period of time, is reassuringly solid and understated. Lindsey Coulson’s performance as FC’s mother in later life, though not an extended role, is nonetheless arresting for its depth, range and conviction, whilst Alun Armstrong’s turn as the tragic, long-in-the-tooth jobbing morose comic, Lenny, is a highly impressive if excruciatingly mournful performance.

And then of course there’s Maxine Peake whose performance as FC wonderfully encapsulates the actions and emotions of a woman who is first to acknowledge that she has never really fitted in, and whose struggles and persistence – not to mention a thicker than average skin – have eventually paid off professionally-speaking.

Although there is evidently a part of her that remains unfulfilled and more than a little world-weary, the over-riding impression here is that FC is one life’s great survivors, who, having been through so much in her life is consequently an emboldened woman, steadfastly refusing to ever even entertain the notion of being considered a victim.

Aided by Richard Hawley’s sympathetic soundtrack, Adrian Shergold expertly straddles the line between good and bad taste, between tragedy and triumph, and between tears and substantial laughter, to produce not only a film that is genuinely funny, but one which is thoughtful and emotionally engaging too.

ISLE OF DOGS

Three and a half Star Rating

“…Anderson unsurprisingly adopts Hollywood’s de rigueur left-wing narrative, examining many of the issues that have become so highly relevant to the times in which we live…”  – Wayward Wolf.

Given that I live locally to it, viewing Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs on London’s own Isle of Dogs, E14, seemed like something of a ‘must do’. Unsurprisingly London’s purpose-built financial district overspill has notably fewer stray mutts running about, and its city-scape, whilst to some extent being overwhelmingly vulgar in its 1980’s faux-grandiose misadvised styling, is admittedly a lot more pleasing on the eye than the island wasteland setting of Anderson’s new stop-motion animated feature film.

An aesthetically-pleasing backdrop Anderson’s film may well lack in places, but there is something of an inherent beauty about this pain-stakingly detailed animation. Indeed, visually there is a huge amount to admire here.

Built upon a back story that tells of much historic conflict between cat and dog lovers, the city of Nagasaki is, according to its pro-cat leader, Mayor Ayasabi, now completely over-run with diseased dogs to such an extent that there is no other solution than to annex them all to a neighbouring waste island.

With this in mind the Mayor embarks upon a major mutt-move, and with it, what he hopes will be the complete eradication of the lingering threat of mutated human strains of both Dog Flu and Snout Fever.

As something of a symbolic gesture, Ayasabi decrees that the first dog to be re-located will be Spots, a handsome confident canine who just so happens to be the appointed guard dog of the Mayor’s own adopted son, Atari.

This, needless to say, does not go down too well with Atari who proceeds to somehow bravely fly a small one-seater plane across from the mainland to the waste island in a bid to rescue his beloved mutt.

Here he encounters one of the ragtag packs of hounds with whom he develops a strong and trusting bond, and together they set about attempting to locate Atari’s faithful best friend.

Meanwhile, back on the mainland, the pro-dog movement is painfully close to formulating an effective serum to combat these perilous doggy diseases, with a view to re-introducing the annexed dogs back into society. Yet it seems that the Mayor and his allies, with sinister motivations, will stop at nothing to shut them down.

But the Mayor hadn’t banked upon a small and very vocal minority of young Social Justice Warriors relentlessly pursuing him, determined to expose his crooked ways by lifting the blindfolds from the eyes of the hoodwinked masses and snapping them out of their docile subservience.

No matter which way you dress it up, Isle of Dogs, is a heavily political piece providing many layers of additional depth to this, literally, shaggy dog story.

And given that this is mainstream cinema, Anderson unsurprisingly adopts Hollywood’s de rigueur left-wing narrative, examining many of the issues that have become so highly relevant to the times in which we live.

Racial integration, environmental concerns, the prevalence of corruption within regimes, the blinkered dumbed-down nature of society, the growing political power and influence of the youth – particularly through technology, the championing of both the disadvantaged and minority groups, and through the film’s tightly-bound assortment of canine and human compadres, there is also a considerable tip of the hat towards the power of the collective, as they stand strong together against waves of unjust tyranny.

It’s all here.

There can perhaps be loose comparisons made – in tone at least – with Martin Rosen’s wonderful, oft-overlooked animated adaptation of the Richard Adams novel, Plague DogsVisually and stylistically-speaking, however, there are more obvious parallels to be made with Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman‘s more recent offering, Anomalisa

Anderson’s film, enhanced substantially by Alexandre Desplat’s strategically sympathetic score, positively oozes charm. And it’s thanks in no small part to an extremely fine set of vocal castings, with the likes of Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum – to name but a few – all breathing substantial life and vigour into this impressive animation. I really do lose count of the number of animated feature films that, for me at least, seem to fall so flat in this department.

A little morally and politically preachy Isle of Dogs may well be at times, but in fairness to the director, he never really labours the point, nor does he disappear in a cloud of self-generated ideological pretension.

Instead Anderson allows the film’s biggest assets – its considerable heart, comical interludes and jaw-dropping delicate beauty – to really shine through and be the star of the show.

An animated gem.

READY PLAYER ONE

Three and a half Star Rating

“…Ready Player One is a full-on, in-your-face, memory trip, white knuckle ride of a movie…” – Wayward Wolf.

It seems that there’s a growing sentiment amongst many people bemoaning the fact that the internet is no longer a place for pioneers, dreamers, and those who wished to share and exchange frank and uncensored thoughts and observations with like-minded (or not) others.

With increased corporate control, excessive government nannying and general intrudance from the far too easily offended, it has now become, in only a relatively short space of time, the biggest and most policed surveillance society the world has ever known. Albeit an essentially illusory, intangible one.

Such dark overtones are given at least a cursory nod or two throughout Steven Spielberg‘s latest, larger-than-life thrill-ride, Ready Player One.

Part real, part virtual and drawing upon cultural influences far too numerous to mention taken from here, there and abso-bloody-lutely everywhere, Ready Player One is a full-on, in-your-face, memory trip, white knuckle ride of a movie, with scarcely a moment taken to draw breath.

The opening race scene is in fact such a madcap maelstrom of activity that it could quite easily induce a mass sensory overload meltdown in the overly excitable.

Fortunately – for my own spinning brain – Spielberg gradually settles things down a little and the characters are permitted a tad more space to breathe and grow, and a coherent narrative slowly develops.

An Ohio existence in the year 2045 is a grim one, so much so that kids are all too eager to escape from it, plugging themselves instead into a Virtual Reality world called The Oasis. Its now deceased creator has challenged all players to complete this virtual world’s umpteen challenges, and in doing so, inherit his bequeathed fortune and ultimate control of The Oasis.

Cue untold carnage as players galore go head-to-head in the myriad challenges, and that’s before the big corporations have even begun poking their meddling unwanted noses into proceedings; the catalyst for a latter-day David and Goliath scenario to develop.

It all makes for an at times breath-taking spectacle, although such is my general disinterest in video games and fantasy worlds, I suspect that in any other director’s hands, I may well have abandoned Ready Player One in its relatively early stages.

Of course, it’s all subjective, but as ever, huge credit is probably due to the master of story telling himself, Steven Spielberg, whose direction once again seems to strike the perfect balance.

Ultimately the ‘take-home’ message seems to be that in these days of iPhone-wielding phone zombies and the very real issue of video game addiction, we all need to make extra effort to strike a healthy balance between the embracing of technology and the continuation of real human interaction and relationships.

That’s all well and good in theory, but I suspect that given the hugely immersive and overwhelmingly impressive virtual reality world conjured up in the likes of Ready Player One, reality is going to have to pull out some serious stops in the very near future, just to compete.

THE SQUARE

Three and a half Star Rating

“…The Square subtly lampoons and pricks the pomposity of the world of contemporary arts.” – Wayward Wolf.

Having lived in Sweden for a certain period of time I fully recognise the quietly unassuming nature of its humble, confrontation-shy people, for whom crowing about personal achievement is considered somewhat uncouth and unnecessary.

And having attended a college of the arts over-run with wannabe Marxists, I feel that I’m also relatively well placed to recognise insufferable bullshit too.

I have attended modules in which we have been encouraged to consider ways of talking about talking about the arts. And I have shuffled in bemused confusion around blue cotton sheets – strewn randomly in cow-filled Devonshire fields – each of which having been covered with bric-a-brac and obscure objects. And I have mused over said objects and their placement on said sheet, as I have been asked to do.

And I have thus questioned my sanity and what the flying fekk I am actually doing there in the first place, and how indeed it all came to this?

Not a million miles removed from this, Ruben Östlund’s satirical send-up of the art world, The Square, is a deviously comical film that makes a lot of societal assumptions, yet one that asks a lot of questions of its viewers too.

Christian (Claes Bang), is the chief curator of the X-Royal Contemporary Art Museum, preparing for the launch of its latest exhibit, The Square; an illuminated ‘safe space’ designed to represent an area in which our human rights, freedom of thought, speech and action are all absolutely sacrosanct.

Having had his mobile phone stolen one day in the streets of Stockholm, Christian traces the phone to a high rise building in something of a suspect neighbourhood. Here, he and a colleague gingerly distribute a number of stern worded leaflets to each and every apartment demanding the return of his mobile device, believing this ‘catch-all’ method to be the most effective one if he is to have any hope of its safe return.

Christian feels emboldened by his actions, but unfortunately for him, this will prove to be just one of a catalogue of poor decisions he will make, ultimately triggering a personal multi-layered existential crisis from which there is little hope of escape, especially given the innate Swedish guilt complex with which he – and the softly spoken Swedes in general – seem to be terminally afflicted.

Östlund’s film focuses on some of the current moral and ethical issues and dilemmas affecting the peoples of Europe, particularly in relation to European attitudes towards the integration and subsequent treatment of minorities, as well as examining the impact of sensationalism within the so often truly vacuous industry of marketing, and its widespread affect upon the psyche and herd mentality of populations.

All the while, The Square subtly and brilliantly lampoons and pricks the pomposity of the world of contemporary arts.

Be it Christian attempting to dismiss as unimportant a well-intentioned cleaner having accidentally hoovered up part of a new exhibit of piles of gravel strategically positioned around a room, or the reaction to a man imitating a chimpanzee causing untold carnage in the process as he jumps from table to table at a black tie ‘performance’ event, The Square is at times wickedly funny, pushing numerous boundaries and frequently bordering on the wholly inappropriate.

There are an awful lot of positives to focus upon. Indeed there’s an awful lot – full stop – to take from Östlund’s film. Arguably – in the name of clarity – perhaps a bit too much, in fact. But as entertaining and thought-provoking as The Square undoubtedly is, to the hyper critical, there’s also a bit of a sense of a lack of cohesion about the film’s numerous constituent acts and themes.

Regardless, it’s a fine piece, make no mistake about that, and a more than worthy follow up to Östlund’s indisputably wonderful, Force Majeure.

The Square provokes, challenges and entertains, much in the way good art – pretentious or otherwise – always really should.

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

Four Star Rating

“Who knew that the work of a hitman could be such an ethereal experience?” – Wayward Wolf.

Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here (YWNRH from hereon in), is a remarkable film based upon the Jonathan Ames book of the same name, chronicling the exploits of hired hitman, Joe (Joaquin Phoenix).

Through many a sequence of flashbacks we build up a picture of the tormented mind of this rather monosyllabic and withdrawn character. Be it through an upbringing of family abuse and violence or from the harrowing times that he spent in the military, Joe is clearly a man haunted by his past.

Back on Civvy Street, he takes care of his dementia-afflicted mother with the earnings from his work as ‘hired muscle’. On the instruction of those that require his services – frequently high profile or influential people – he is tasked with tracking down and rescuing missing girls from the unfortunate circumstances into which they have either been forced, or somehow now find themselves.

But the hiring of Joe’s ‘talents’ is very much a last resort.

Though apparently well paid for his services, he seems hell-bent on some sort of personal crusade to clean up the wrong-doings of society. Hammer in hand, his methods are crude and frequently brutal, but never less than effective.

YWNRH is a film that is at once both violent and beautiful, yet these two apparently disparate states somehow sit together well here, interwoven into one innovative and dream-like whole.

Who knew that the work of a hitman could be such an ethereal experience?

Stylistically speaking at least, YWNRH is a little reminiscent of Joseph Bull and Luke Seomore’s under-rated 2014 offering, Blood Cells, but it’s the over-riding parallels with Taxi Driver that are inescapable here. That said, never does Ramsay’s film ever feel derivative or in any way indebted to Martin Scorcese’s seminal 1970’s classic. A familiar narrative this may well be, but in Ramsay’s hands it feels fresh and original.

Whether it’s through capturing scenes of violence via the restricted view of an in-house CCTV security system, or deliberate directorial decisions to ignore an actual act of brutality in favour of immediately cutting to its blood-drenched aftermath instead, YWNRH feels like innovative, impactful film-making. And it’s Ramsay’s ability to switch so effectively between scenes of thought-provoking subtlety and pronounced graphic violence – and at times combining them both together – that makes the piece so genuinely affecting.

Joaquin Phoenix is perfectly cast as Ramsay’s scar-riddled brooding anti-hero. A man whose propensity for explosive violence would seem to be as much a cathartic process in reaction to the madness that plagues his mind, as it is a gut reaction to the appalling immoral injustices that he encounters regularly through his work.

If there has to be a slight criticism, it’s Phoenix’s at times almost unintelligible delivery given his character’s tendency to mumble his way through most scenes. Needless to say, taking a bullet to his cheek/mouth during one particular ‘work-related’ scuffle does little to alleviate this particular enunciation issue. It does however make one wonder whether anything crucial, narratively-speaking, gets missed during Joe’s occasional verbal exchanges. But this is but a minor gripe, and it’s very much the visual and the visceral that are King here.

Finally, a brief word for the man of the moment – sonically-speaking at least – Jonny Greenwood, who yet again nails his brief with a menacing and at times challenging soundtrack that on one level brings to mind some of the best of Cliff Martinez’s pounding analogue synth-driven work that so brilliantly accompanies the films of Danish Director, Nicolas Winding Refn.

Above everything, YWNRH is highly memorable cinema with Phoenix’s performance in particular searing itself indelibly into our minds, unlikely to be forgotten in any sort of hurry.

Fine, fine work from the Director of We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Ratcatcher. But that was only to be expected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: The Secret Life Of Pets

A film ‘brand’ used to relentlessly endorse Murdoch’s murky world of Sky TV propaganda is hardly the sort of thing that’s going to get the old juices flowing here at Wayward Wolf Towers. Add to that the fact that The Secret Life of Pets (TSLOP) is a Pixar animation – two words designed to activate either a ‘deep coma’ or ‘run for the hills’ mode within me – and let’s face it, the signs aren’t good.

I had the opportunity to swerve it and I didn’t. This viewing was my choice, due to an undeniable fact that TSLOP is the one and only modern, mainstream animation whose trailer actually made me laugh – and on this occasion, more than once.

Don’t get carried away now; it’s a film that ploughs through great swathes of beige averageness in order to get to the humour and the genuinely funny stuff could probably quite comfortably fit into a ten minute Youtube compilation video, but much in the same way that adult animated comedies like The Simpsons or Family Guy do, TSLOP unleashes its content in quick-fire fashion. After all, throw enough content out there and some of it’s bound to stick, and an audience will probably sit through most things so long as they don’t needlessly drag or show signs of terminal self-indulgence – or suck eggs, of course.

TSLOP is mercifully pretty much a drag-free zone and jollies along nicely for 90 minutes of your time, with a whole plethora of cute, animated pets from all walks of the animal kingdom, combining together in a sequence of scenarios that range from mildly amusing to laugh-out-loud funny on occasion, and as someone that almost never gets a taste of the Pixar treatment, the animation itself, it must be said, is massively impressive.

Of course, on one level TSLOP is not so much a film, more a cynical piece of mass-marketing aimed to sell, sell, sell. Kids naturally will love it and there will of course be an inferior sequel. That’s how these things are meant to work, and I see no reason why that won’t be the case here too.

Against all odds, and as much as I hate to admit it, TSLOP gets a sort of tepid thumbs up from this here animation cynic.