Category Archives: Film

Sharks, Bond and Cousteau: Diving Deep on Film

THE Father of Diving’, Jacques Cousteau, is the subject of Jerome Salle’s biopic The Odyssey – out in cinemas now.

It is a film well worth watching if only to remind us that Cousteau was the Neil Armstrong of the oceans who cared more for self-publicity than protecting the world’s oceans from man’s destructive influence (an issue his son Philippe was far more passionate about).

As Salle’s film highlights, Cousteau was no stranger to the big-screen having won a Palme d’Or for his underwater documentary The Silent World (1956). Handsome and self-confident, he was as comfortable with a microphone in his hand as he was on board Calypso arranging dives.

So, with Cousteau’s return to our cinematic consciousness, it is a fitting time to reflect on the theme of diving in films over the years.

Just this past month, Netflix released environment-focused documentary Chasing Coral. The film takes cameras deep in our oceans to shine a light on the tragic effect climate change is having on coral life (an issue touched upon towards the end of The Odyssey when Philippe takes his wife to the waters he learnt to dive in as a child, only to be horrified by the depletion of the coral).

Images of colourful and diverse marine beauty are juxtaposed against the spreading desolation of coral life – enough to fuel anyone’s outrage. It is the type of filmmaking I imagine Cousteau (late to conservation) would be driving if he (and Philippe) were still alive.

Chasing Coral’s striking message also takes the viewer back to Courtney Barnett’s lines in her harrowing song Kim’s Caravan: ‘The Great Barrier reef it ain’t so great anymore/ It’s been raped beyond belief, the dredgers treat it like a whore.’

More underwater tragedy was on display last year in Juan Reina’s documentary Diving Into the Unknown. This told the redemptive story of a group of Finnish drivers. After losing two of their teammates in caves 130 metres below the surface, the survivors return to embark upon an illegal and hazardous dive to recover their bodies.

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As well as painting a fascinating portrait of hardened and stoic Scandinavian males, Diving Into the Unknown captures the risks taken by these brave explorers. The resources of cinematographer Tuukka Kovasiipi were also pushed to the limit as he attempted to capture the beauty of these tight and labyrinthic underwater caves through GoPro cameras.

Diving, with all its associated dangers, has long been a feature of horror films. Steven Spielberg’s iconic killer-shark film Jaws (1975) scared people out of the water. Yet one of its most frightening scenes is shark-less. When Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) dives to find Ben Gardner’s boat, a ghostly white and decaying head appears out of the murky darkness – a moment of terror that is arguably Jaws’ finest.

In 1989, a few filmmakers looking for a change of scenery from space-based science-fiction horror decided to go underwater. This aquatic setting offered many of the same scare and tension-friendly attributes as space – darkness, the unknown and an unlikely rescue. With this, divers in big clunky equipment, not too dissimilar visually from spacesuits, were up against the same type of alien creatures movie characters had been running from in space.

Among these films was George P Cosmatos’ Leviathan, which borrowed from the mutating alien plot of John Carpenter’s The Thing, but failed to recreate the same paranoia-filled tension. Likewise, Sean Cunningham’s amusing creature feature Deepstar Six and, most lasting, James Cameron’s The Abyss.

Ten years later, star-studded movie Sphere saw diving and science-fiction horror cross paths once again – albeit with disappointing effect. With its failure, in-water horror edged away from science-fiction and back towards shark flicks.

Low-budget films like Open Water (2004) and The Reef (2010) saw idyllic holiday settings turned into nightmarish survival situations. Holidaying divers are left isolated in the middle of the ocean while night comes and ominous fins circle.

Meanwhile, Dark Tide (2012) and 47 Metres Down (in cinemas now) see thrill-seeking divers jump into shark-infested waters with terrifying consequences.

Sharks are not the only worry for diving couple Sam (Jessica Alba) and Jared (Paul Walker), in rightfully ridiculed movie Into the Blue (2005). The couple have to contend with a violent drug lord as they dive for $6billion worth of treasure. Deep sea treasure is also on the agenda for Ben (Matthew McConaughey) and Tess (Kate Hudson) in equally dismissed romance-comedy Fools Gold (2008).

More thoughtful comedy is served up in Wes Anderson’s The Life of Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Starring Bill Murray and Cate Blanchet, Anderson pays homage to Cousteau in his typically eccentric style.

Speaking of style, the world’s most famous spy James Bond goes diving to combat the baddies in Thunderball (1965) and License to Kill (1989). Thunderball’s opening title sequence sees a silhouetted feminine figure swimming away from a harpoon-wielding diver, while Tom Jones belts out the theme song.

Heroes of a different kind have also donned diving gear on the big-screen. George Tillman’s Men of Honour (2000) tells the true life story of Carl Brashear – an African American diver looking to overcome discrimination and adversity in the United States Navy.

The film’s most memorable scene, however, takes place outside of the water. Brashear (Cuba Gooding Jnr), dressed in full diving gear and burdened with a tragic injury, attempts to prove competency by walking 12 steps across a courtroom.

Less memorable is 2012’s box-office flop Big Miracle. Greenpeace volunteer Rachel (Drew Barrymore) secretly dives below the ice to get close to the whales that are perilously trapped.

It would be a remiss not to mention Disney’s 1954 ground-breaking film 20,000 Leagues Under the Ocean – based on the book by Jules Verne (which gets a sighting in The Odyssey). Abroad the Nautilus, our diving team famously battle against a giant squid.

In this science- fiction classic, James Mason shines as inventor Captain Nemo. His name inspired the title of Disney’s 2003 animated film Finding Nemo where young fish Nemo is taken from the ocean – and his father – by a screen-engulfing human diver. The goggles the diver leaves behind provide a vital clue for Marlin and Dory to track down Nemo.

A recent favourite is The Shallows (2016) where surfer Nancy (Blake Lively) has a frightening encounter with a Great White. Nancy’s swimming and diving skills become her greatest weapon against her gigantic nemesis.

Indeed, sharks are a big theme in The Odyssey as Cousteau’s divers search the shark infested waters of the Persian Gulf in pursuit of oil. In one beautiful – but frightening scene – the fearless Philippe is circled by sharks but continues to film despite the protestations of his fellow divers.

As The Odyssey proves, our fascination with the oceans of the world – and what lurks within – remains unsated. It will continue to supply film directors with a rich vein of cinematic themes, especially as the fragility of the planet’s marine life (belatedly acknowledged by Jacques Cousteau) becomes increasingly evident.

Thank you for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also read: 15 Rounds With The Real Rocky – The Bleeder (DVD Review)

Weekend Watching: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (Film Review)

Dude, That Song Really Tied the Film Together: Songs That Make Movies

15 Rounds With The Real Rocky – The Bleeder (DVD Review)

5 STARS

IN 1975, boxing underdog Chuck Wepner went 15 rounds with the great Muhammad Ali. The fortitude shown by Wepner, nicknamed ‘the bleeder’ for his tendency to get cut during fights, in this brutal bout provided the inspiration for little-known actor Sylvester Stallone to write box-office knockout Rocky.

The rest is history for Sly and Ali. But what happened to Wepner, the real life Rocky? Director Phillippe Falardeau (The Good Lie) tells the boxer’s fascinating, whirlwind story in The Bleederavailable on DVD and Blu-ray from August 21.

We join Wepner, played by Liev Schreiber (Donovan and Spotlight), as a relatively unknown fighter and liquor salesman in the city of Bayonne, New Jersey. After Ali upsets George Foreman in The Rumble in the Jungle, Wepner is surprisingly (for race reasons) picked out by promoter Don King for a showdown with the new Heavyweight Champion of the World.

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It is a fight that changes Wepner’s life – but not all for the better. His humble surroundings make way for nightclubs, beautiful young women, fur coats and – most concerning – cocaine. Just a mere mention of this lifestyle is enough to drive away straight-talking and no-nonsense wife Phyliss (Elisabeth Moss). Her absence leaves Wepner to fumble around in the dark with his newfound folk hero status.

This fumbling, although tinged with tragedy, takes some amusing turns. Among them, we see a coked-up Wepner audition to be in Rocky II – Morgan Spector looks and sounds the part as a young Stallone.

Wepner also agrees to box a grizzly bear and take part in a cross-promotion wrestling match with WWF – and Princess Bride – legend Andre the Giant. The latter encounter feels particularly relevant given this month’s upcoming circus-like mega-fight between Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather and the UFC’s Connor McGregor.

Despite Wepner’s troubles, The Bleeder is an upbeat, charming and refreshingly light watch. As a result, Falardeau’s film is not comparable with Martin Scorsese’s relentless and aggression-fuelled study of boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull (1980), or the inspirational, sports-driven uphill battle of Stallone’s Rocky.

The Bleeder, which shows Wepner’s monumental moment against Ali early in the film, is more concerned with the fighter’s life after his moment of glory. This is reflected in Falardeau’s allusions to Anthony Quinn’s desperate and exploited character, Louis ‘Mountain’ Rivera, in Requiem for Heavyweight (1962).

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Falardeau gives the film a personal tone by utilising documentary-style camerawork, narration and stock footage. Most effective is Schreiber’s well-measured leading performance as Wepner. He captures an affability and commonality to Wepner that never leaves him, even when his ego-inflates.

The impressive supporting cast is also worth mentioning, particularly those playing the tough women in Wepner’s life. Moss and Naomi Watts, who plays a barmaid named Linda, turn in fine performances and go toe-to-toe with in-form Schreiber in every scene.

Wepner – now 78 years old – will surely raise a smile if he hears the rumours that Rocky may be gearing up for a return bout with Russian nemesis Ivan Drago in the upcoming Creed sequel. At least his legacy has finally been cemented by The Bleeder, the fulfilling (and hugely watchable) story of the real life Rocky.

The Bleeder is available on Blu-ray and DVD on August 21. Click here to order your copy. 

Thank you for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also read: Weekend Watching: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (Film Review)

Dude, That Song Really Tied the Film Together: Songs That Make Movies

‘Meaningful, Surreal and Ethereal’ – Director David Lowery Talks A Ghost Story

The Bleeder – 4/5

Liev Schreiber – Chuck Wepner

Elisabeth Moss – Phyliss

Naomi Watts – Linda

Ron Perlman – Al Braverman

Morgan Spector – Stallone

Pooch Hall – Muhammad Ali

Thank You for Six Months of Prestridge²

Prestridgesquared.com has just turned six months. It has proved an enjoyable debut as we have immersed ourselves in the best film, theatre and live music that the country has to offer.

We have reviewed the latest films, attended numerous Q&As with eminent directors and watched some of the best theatre – both in the west end and fringe – and listened to great live music. It has been a privilege and a joy. We hope you like what we are trying to do – write with knowledge and where possible with wit.

It has given us immense enjoyment to absorb ourselves in the arts and tell you how we see it – on occasion warts and all.

Below we give you our favourite 10 reviews so far. You may well beg to differ. If so, please let us know.

In the months ahead, we intend to  continue reviewing the best of the arts scene – in London and when possible elsewhere across the country.

We love what we do. We hope you do too.

James and Jeff Prestridge

James’ 5 Picks: Kristen Stewart: Back from the Twilight

Glorious Gloria – A Killer of a Play (Theatre Review)

Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

Late Company – The Destructive After Shocks of School Bullyng (Theatre Review)

Q&A with Raw director Julia Ducournau

Jeff’s 5 Picks: Grief and Isolation in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea

Full Metal Jacket Q&A with Producer Jan Harlan

The Levelling – Family Turmoil Amid the Floods (Film Review)

An Arthur Miller Gem – Incident at Vichy (Theatre Review)

All Our Children – Children. Our Wonderful Children (Theatre Review)

 

 

Weekend Watching: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (Film Review)

5 STARS

‘THIS was in Texas’  is the opening message of director David Lowery’s beautifully told film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013). Lowery pays tribute to the Texas landscape with majestic visuals that befit his pensive and elegant approach to storytelling.

Set in the 1970s, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a well-executed blend of tragic love story and creeping thriller. Ruth (Rooney Mara) and Bob (Casey Affleck) are a love-struck couple that get into trouble after committing an armed robbery. When Ruth, who is pregnant with their child, accidentally shoots police officer Patrick (Ben Foster), Bob shoulders the blame and is subsequently sent to jail.

As the years pass, Bob continues to send deeply affectionate letters to Ruth from jail. That is until he escapes prison and goes on the run from the police. Patrick, now recovered, is the cop on Bob’s trail, but, worryingly, there are others with crueler intentions attempting to track down Bob.

Like Lowery’s latest film A Ghost Story (in cinemas now), Ain’t Them Bodies Saints makes for entrancing viewing with quiet, thoughtful and lingering images. Lowery and cinematographer Bradford Young pay particular attention to the beauty of rural Texas with its clear blue skies and golden wheat fields (by the way Texas is also the backdrop to A Ghost Story). Under this golden-lit tinge, slow-moving camera and lens flares, the film has a wonderful dreamy quality.

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This is particularly on show in scenes that cut between Bob and Ruth as they read each other’s letters and think back to their loving past. Film editors Craig McKay and Jane Rizzo create a sense of closeness which works as an extension of the instant on-screen chemistry Affleck and Mara have in the film’s opening scenes. These intimate moments between Ruth and Bob – together or apart – provide some of the film’s most striking elements and speak wonderfully about their connection.

Daniel Hart’s folksy music, with strings and claps, underscores this mesmeric aesthetic and at times lend this reflective film an urgency. Lowery does keep numerous plates spinning throughout, all of which take unexpected turns. But they all pay off with an emotional punch.

When moments of violence arrive they are handled with a deft –but still gritty and real – touch. In other words, there is substance to Lowery’s style as well as an excellent cast, which features shinning performances from Mara, Affleck and Foster.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a perfect film to watch this weekend if you fancy curling up on the sofa. Of course, if you are out and about, I suggest you find time to check out Lowery’s brilliant A Ghost Story.

Having watched both in the last week, I am fast becoming a big Lowery fan. He offers a welcome change of pace and depth to American cinema.

Naturally, it does not hurt that he has two outstanding performers in Affleck and Mara to lean on. But Lowery is going places.  Mark my words. Watch his movies.

Thanks for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also read: Dude, That Song Really Tied the Film Together: Songs That Make Movies

‘Meaningful, Surreal and Ethereal’ – Director David Lowery Talks A Ghost Story

Arresting and Transfixing Cinema – A Discussion of Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints – 4/5

Rooney Mara – Ruth Guthrie

Casey Affleck – Bob Muldoon

Ben Foster – Patrick Wheeler

Keith Carradine – Skeritt

Nate Parke – Sweetie

Dude, That Song Really Tied the Film Together: Songs That Make Movies

THE Big Lebowski’s Dude wisely said that a rug can really tie a room together. Well I believe the same applies to music and films. In other words, a great song – or piece of music – can really tie a film together.

Today (August 11) A Ghost Story drifts into cinemas with its poignant ponderings, breath-taking imagery and absorbing performances from Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. Yet, at the centre of this unique cinematic experience  is one of the beautiful ‘rugs’ I have come across – Dark Room’s song I Get Overwhelmed.

Contemplative and affecting, I Get Overwhelmed perfectly fits A Ghost Story’s tone and appears in different incarnations throughout the film. The impact of the song got me thinking about my own favourites in films. The type of tunes that, if removed or substituted out, would leave a noticeable void and – possibly even – knock the entire film off-kilter.

The first film I thought of – still fresh in my mind from multiple viewings – is La La Land (2016). With its odes to old school Hollywood musicals such as Singin’ in the Rain (a film that would not be out of place on this list), music is at the heart of director Damien Chazelle’s vibrant and dazzling film. But it is the song City of Stars that acts as the film’s beating pulse.

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We first hear the faint sounds of City of Stars when Mia (Emma Stone) and Seb (Ryan Gosling) are walking through the movie studio lot together. As the two connect, we can hear their love song beginning to formulate, perhaps in Seb’s head.  This is, after all, a film about love inspiring art.

Once their ‘date’ is over, Seb walks out on the pier and under romantic purple moonlight sings City of Stars for the first time. The song appears throughout the film whether it is to signal cohesion and love (as Seb and Mia sit at the piano and sing it together) or tension– as a sped up version faintly plays during the dinner argument scene. The music comes to an jolting end with some cruel words from Seb.

Speaking of Chazelle, his relentless and fierce 2014 film Whiplash is driven by Don Ellis’ jazz tune of the same name. The sharp sounds and up-tempo nature of Whiplash – the song – create the ideal atmosphere for creatively foul-mouthed jazz instructor Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons) to torture his students in rehearsal.

Rocky Balboa puts his body through torture in preparation for fights with Apollo Creed. Those iconic Rocky training montages, which I am sure have motivated many of us to finally get up and go for a run,  are fuelled by the building trumpets of Bill Conti’s Gonna Fly Now. Conti’s inspirational piece of music plays as Rocky runs through the streets of Philadelphia and, to triumphantly complete the uphill struggle, up the stairs of the Museum of Art.

Big money franchises – such as Rocky –are often accompanied by a signifying piece of music. The one that still strikes a chord with me, multiple movies later, is Star Wars’ Binary Sunset by the great John Williams.

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Whenever I hear Binary Sunset – in whatever manifestation – it brings me back to that mythic image of Luke Skywalker looking out at the horizon of double suns in A New Hope. This Star Wars theme carries Luke’s image of wonder, hope and endless opportunity across the entire franchise.

Denis Villeneuve’s enchanting and genre-defying alien invasion film Arrival (2016) is bookended by one of the most moving songs I have experienced in a cinema. Max Richter’s soul-piercing song On Nature of Daylight drives home the emotional depth of the film, particularly when those beautiful violins come in at the two minute mark.

In a film about the power of language and human achievement, it feels fitting that such a powerful – and wordless – piece of music ties together the film’s circular narrative.

I view On Nature of Daylight on a level to that of  Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra which opens Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey (1968). Strauss matches the awe-inspiring and timeless visuals of Kubrick in a way that few could.

From Kubrick’s spectacular visuals to the crude animation of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999). Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone cheekily start the movie with an innocent sounding song about small town America, which parodies Belle’s Song from the opening of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Mountain Town, with its playful lines, is a great entry point to South Park’s clever commentary before the swear words start flooding in.

On a more romantic note, I always welcome being swept away by the delicate sounds of Moon River in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). The film opens with the song as Holly (Audrey Hepburn), dressed in classy clothes and pastry in hand, peers at jewellery through the Tiffany’s window.

This contrasts with later on when Holly sits out on the window ledge with a guitar and sings Moon River in full. We – and George (Paul Varjak) who is watching from above – witness this charming, intimate and natural scene with dreamer Holly who has a more stripped back appearance than the opening scene.

Moon River also appears in the final scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. When Holly finds her cat in the pouring rain the sad strings playing suddenly transform into Moon River.  It is a euphoric moment mirrored by the surging music which culminates in Holly and George embracing in a passionate kiss.

Perhaps my favourite is the simplest. Just like City of Stars in La La Land, Hans Zimmer’s You’re So Cool gives a recognisable sound to leading couple Clarence (Christian Slater) and Alabama (Patricia Arquette) in True Romance (1999).

You’re So Cool, with its soothing wooden xylophone sounds, seamlessly speaks to the innocence and clarity of Clarence and Alabama’s love, amid the violence and chaos surrounding them.

My list could be longer but maybe I will leave the rest for a sequel.

Be sure to check out A Ghost Story and Dark Room’s wondrous song this weekend or in the next few days. Sublime.

What is your favourite irreplaceable movie song? Do let us know in the comments.

Also read: ‘Meaningful, Surreal and Ethereal’ – Director David Lowery Talks A Ghost Story

Arresting and Transfixing Cinema – A Discussion of Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals

Lost In Headphones: Many A Movie Moment

‘Meaningful, Surreal and Ethereal’ – Director David Lowery Talks A Ghost Story

DAVID Lowery’s latest film, A Ghost Story, is a quietly spellbinding and poetic study of time, grief and legacy. Yet the film explores these themes through the rather unexpected figure of a bed sheet wearing ghost.

‘It’s ok to laugh’, the film’s well-spoken and clear-thinking director assured the audience at a Curzon Soho screening of the film last Thursday (August 3). Lowery continued: ‘I knew the image [of a bed sheet ghost] itself was funny. That’s one of the reasons I liked it because it was very funny, but also very naïve, childlike and sad.’

This idea, Lowery revealed, had been floating around his head for many years. It was only last spring, at the end of filming Disney’s Pete’s Dragon – a different project in every imaginable way – that he finally decided to pull the trigger.

After writing the first draft in one sitting – albeit a mere 30 page script – Lowery had to find two actors willing to take on such an audacious and abstract high-concept.  He turned to Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara who he had previously worked with in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013).

As Lowery told the audience, their reactions were welcoming but contrastingly measured. He said: ‘I texted Casey and said: “Hey I’m going to make a weird movie this summer. Do you want to be in it? You have to play a ghost.” And I sent him a picture of the costume a little while later.

‘Maybe he would say otherwise, but I don’t think he read the script until he got to town. I think he was just down to make something.

‘With Rooney, she did read the script and we had some conversations about it. But again, she trusted me. She didn’t necessarily think it would end up being feature length. She thought it might be a short.’

In A Ghost Story, Mara and Affleck play a young couple living together in a small Texas home. When Affleck’s character dies in a car accident, he returns home as a ghost to watch over his grief-stricken girlfriend.  From then on, the film expands out – although staying in the same place – to tackle deeper perceptions of human existence that go beyond the individual.

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Still the relationship between Mara and Affleck’s characters, wonderfully grounded in an authentic early scene of them kissing tenderly in bed, remains an emotional anchor of the film.

Lowery commented on the two: ‘One of the reasons I asked them to do it was because we already know each other and trust each other. So there’s that built in working relationship. The other reason is that they are great together on-screen. I realised that on my first movie [Ain’t Them Bodies Saints]. It wasn’t meant to be as romantic as it wound up being. They have an amazing chemistry together.

‘In this film, knowing that one of the characters is going to die and be covered in a sheet within the first 10 minutes of the movie, I wanted to make sure we made the most of the initial screen-time they had together. And I knew that with the two of them you would really get a sense of their relationship because they do have such great chemistry together.’

He continued: ‘They get along really well together and have a lot of fun together on-screen. I think they genuinely care for one another. I would love to make a movie with the two of them where one of them doesn’t die or go to jail, because I would love to watch that relationship develop.’

Mara and Affleck are not the only trusted Lowery forces behind this project. Daniel Hart, who has done the music for every Lowery film, plays a particularly pivotal role in A Ghost Story.

Lowery explained: ‘I always share the script with him very early. In this case, it was kind of reverse. While we were doing the score for Pete’s Dragon, he played a song for me called I Get Overwhelmed [Dark Rooms] and I was literally overwhelmed by it.

‘I got very obsessed with it and wrote it into the script.  And it became a key component of the story, the crux of their relationship in many ways. That song had the tone and feel that I wanted the movie to have. So from there, Daniel used that as the bedrock of the entire score. So every piece of music you hear in the movie is based on some part of that song.’

This remarkably moving piece of music perfectly fits the film’s poignant meditations. But this reflective tone would have been broken had Lowery included scenes of Affleck racing around the house as an energetic ghost trying to escape the house.

Fortunately, as Lowery explained, they decided a more gentle hand was needed. He said: ‘Gradually we realised less is more. If he just turned his head very slowly that was all we needed. And once we figured that out the tone started to emerge.

‘We had that perfect blend. You do laugh but then it turns into something else. It has a gracefulness and elegance that goes beyond the initial childlike humour and becomes something far more meaningful, surreal and ethereal.’

With this approach, A Ghost Story becomes a quiet and contemplative experience. Even when the car accident occurs, the camera slowly pulls around to show a rather mundane aftermath. The result is something that feels more striking than actually seeing the incident.

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Likewise, Lowery’s thoughtful filmmaking – reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (2011) – sees him go from the cosmic image of a galaxy of stars and planets to a few strands of hair hanging from Mara’s head. As a result, we are left for extended – and at times silent – periods to ponder the simple, yet rich images on-screen.

In a month when audiences will flock to see the expansive CGI vision of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the crudity of the Emoji Movie and the fast-paced stylised violence of Atomic Blonde, Lowery believes A Ghost Story offers a welcome change of pace.

He said: ‘I like that as an audience member. When I go to see a movie that allows me time to think, when I’m not worried about when the next cut will occur. I don’t have to think about what is going to happen next. I can just exist in a moment and regard an image for a given period of time.

‘That is really valuable to me. I haven’t made a movie prior to this where I have been able to indulge in that, but I was excited by the possibilities present in this movie.’

Of all these understated moments, the most memorable sees Mara’s grief stricken character sitting on the floor to eat a pie. Lowery’s camera stays still and fixed on her as she fervently stabs away at the pastry, before rushing to the toilet to be ill.

Lowery gave his insight to the scene, saying: ‘We [me and Rooney] talked about it in advance, why that pie scene was there and what I wanted out of it. We talked a lot about the grieving process and bereavement. And wanting to do justice to that and not just being manipulative or using grief in an exploitative way.

‘Then we shot it and we didn’t talk about it much. She knew what it was there for and why it was included in the movie. She knew what she had to do and we all understood the weight that scene would have if it worked. The hope was to get it in one take so she wouldn’t have to eat too much. It was all in one take.’

He continued: ‘We all knew it would be an important scene and it would be talked about if we pulled it off. I find that doing the things that are that simple are really challenging because there is a tendency to get fussy about everything and micromanage.

‘Being that simple and restrained was really challenging but also really refreshing. It’s probably my favourite of any scene I have ever directed. Just because there wasn’t much that I had to do, but also because it worked. I just had to stand back.’

Lowery is clearly proud of his work on A Ghost Story –  and he has every right to be. Next up for him is a film called The Old Man and the Gun, starring Robert Redford and, once again, Casey Affleck.

Although Lowery seemed excited by this film paying homage to Redford, he is all too aware his work on A Ghost Story might not be topped. He said: ‘I like having this movie as a high bar for myself personally because it reminds me how important it is to do things that really matter to me. To be personal and sincere in what I do.

‘I’m really happy and proud of it. It’s the one movie I’ve made that I feel I can keep watching  and enjoy as an audience member as well as having made it. It’s a nice signifier for me and a memento.’

A Ghost Story will enrapture and enchant many cinema goers. Wondrous, penetrating and lasting – a film even the most obstinate viewer should take a chance on and experience. It sucks you in and once you are in you will not want to get out.

A Ghost Story arrives in cinemas on 11 August

Thank you for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also read: Williams – Shining Light on a Formula One Legend (Film Review)

Netflix Originals All Stars, No Substance – The Circle and To The Bone (Film Reviews)

Frames of Beauty: A Kristen Stewart and Olivier Assayas Collaboration

 

 

Arresting and Transfixing Cinema – A Discussion of Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals

WARNING: THIS DISCUSSION OF NOCTURNAL ANIMALS CONTAINS SPOILERS

TOM Ford’s adaptation of Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan is a compelling and transfixing cinematic experience. Masterfully edited by Joan Sobel, Nocturnal Animals slickly tells three interwoven stories: present, past and fictional.

The centre point is Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), an affluent gallery owner disenchanted with her work. To add to her woes, trouble is brewing in her marriage to struggling businessman Hutton (Armie Hammer).

Ford reflects this in an early breakfast scene. Just as revealingly as the one-side nature of their interaction, the two stand on either end of Ford’s frame – a distance we later learn might be unbridgeable.

Already in a vulnerable state, Susan receives the manuscript of a novel written by distant ex-husband (they haven’t spoken in 19 years) Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). Dedicated to Susan and titled Nocturnal Animals – after a name he used to call her – the novel is a chilling story of violence and anguish.

As Susan reads, Sheffield’s book is played out on-screen to haunting effect. We watch as Tony Hasting (Gyllenhaal once again) and family – wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and daughter India (Ellie Bamber) – are attacked while driving down a remote road in the middle of the night.

With no cell service available, the Hastings are left at the mercy of this predatory gang  – led by a hyena-like Ray (a chilling Aaron Taylor-Johnson). The sequence is incredibly affecting (Susan’s reaction confirms this) and adds an unsettling sense of inevitability to the horrific outcome.

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After being separated from Laura and India, Tony discovers the next morning that they have been raped and murdered. Distraught, he turns to dogged Officer Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) for justice – and eventually vigilante revenge.

Susan is moved by the book’s contents and contacts Sheffield to meet up. At this point, we start seeing flashbacks of their relationship which reveal that their past has provided the inspiration for Sheffield’s Nocturnal Animals.

Parallels

With this, the parallels between Sheffield’s book and his past with Susan become apparent. Sheffield and Tony are both victims of the  ruthless and cold-hearted action of nocturnal animals.

For Sheffield, he has been left broken-hearted by – in the words of Susan’s mother – a more ‘strong-willed’ individual. Just as Sheffield was  ‘weak’, his fictional self, Tony, is helpless in saving his wife and daughter from the tortures they suffer.

Tellingly, the parallels between Tony and Sheffield are made clearer by the fact they are both played by Gyllenhaal. Yet, Adams only plays Susan, not a character in Sheffield’s book. That is because Susan represents more than one figure in Sheffield’s fiction.

Part of Susan – Sheffield’s ‘first crush’ and woman he thought he’d married – is shown in Laura (Fisher’s redheaded beauty and resemblance to Adams comes in handy). Tony loses her cruelly along with daughter India – who could represent the child we learn Susan aborted after sparking her affair with Hutton.

The other, darker part of Susan lies in Ray. They both operate in the dark and fulfil their primal pleasures, like animals, at the expense of others.

Editing and cuts

THESE parallels are brilliantly reinforced by the film’s editing. To knit together three strands of story is easier done in a novel than a film, but Sobel manages it in a way that maintains coherence – and enthrallingly enhances the many allusions at play.

Shudders and gunshots carry over cuts, bleeding from fiction into reality. In one moment, Ford and Sobel cut from Tony – sitting in a motel bath the morning after the horrendous incident – to Susan in a luxurious bath pondering Sheffield’s work. It is a striking contrast between the agony Sheffield has felt and the comfort of Susan’s existence.

Pain and excess

MANY frames of the film are spent observing the deep psychological and visceral impact that reading Sheffield’s work is having on Susan. Like most directors, Ford cannot help but utilise one of cinema’s most effective weapons: eyes, Amy Adams’ eyes. They radiate a sadness and pain that makes every reaction shot absorbing.

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Of course, these reactions happen while Susan slinks around her lavish mansion, which itself tells a revealing story of upper-class materialism and the hollowness that often follows. The extravagance of Susan’s home takes us back to the film’s first images.

As part of Susan’s gallery opening, we see obese naked women dancing with US flags and pom-poms while glitter rains down. It is prolonged image of junk culture, pleasure fulfilment and American excess – a vision that a panting Susan is clearly disturbed by. Perhaps this is because she is engrained in this materialistic culture, albeit at the very top.

Red

ANOTHER  link between Susan and this hedonistic culture is that the naked women wear a similar red lipstick to her. Susan later wipes off this make-up on her way to meet Tony, a gesture which shows she wants to leave this decadent life behind.

Undoubtedly, red is an important colour in the film. The dead bodies of Laura and India are found on a bright red sofa – a stark reminder of the one Sheffield and Susan sit on when they meet in New York.

Red is also one of the striking and definitive colours that background Susan throughout the film. The reds, blacks and whites which engulf her surroundings at points of the film bring a sense of artificiality to her world. That falseness is contrasted with the gritty Texas wilderness of Sheffield’s fiction which in many ways is more real than Susan’s existence.

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Art

SHEFFIELD’S writing is raw with human emotion and inner, truthful pain. It is powerful enough  to challenge Susan’s perception of herself and the things around her. Suddenly, she notice the surrounding artwork – the bull with the arrows, the revenge poster and the execution painting.

The fantasy of Susan’s reality is fading as Sheffield’s book forces her to look at the pain she caused. To mirror this, the suave James Bond-ish music that accompanied Susan early in the film is gradually replaced by more contemplative and sorrowful strings.

Endings

NOCTURNAL Animals gives us an ending that combines retribution and loss: the bitter-sweet killing of Ray by Tony and his accidental suicide, followed by Susan sitting in an expensive bar waiting for Sheffield to show up (he never does).

Tony and Sheffield have got their revenge, but at what cost? While it is death for Tony, it could just be a part of Sheffield that has died with writing his book. Even still, their blows have a fatal impact on Ray – and in a different way – Susan.

The image of Susan sitting alone in the expensive restaurant implies she is doomed to stay alone in this vapid, self-indulgent world. It reminds me of what Carlos (Michael Sheen) had told her earlier in the film: ‘Our world is a lot less painful than the real world.’ Maybe that it true, but as Susan has realised, their world is more empty.

Whether or not you see something different in Nocturnal Animals, I hope we can agree on one key fact. Namely that Nocturnal Animals is an arresting film with powerful performances from Adams, Gyllenhaal and Shannon.

I got even more out of it second time  around – possibly one of the most underappreciated films of 2016. Give it a go – first-time or second-time around. Read the book too – if you can spare the time.

 Nocturnal Animals is available on DVD and Sky Cinema

 Thank you for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also read: Williams – Shining Light on a Formula One Legend (Film Review)

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Amy Adams – Susan Morrow

Jake Gyllenhaal – Tony Hastings/Edward Sheffield

Michael Shannon – Bobby Andes

Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Ray Marcus

Isla Fisher – Laura Hastings

Ellie Bamber – India Hastings

Armie Hammer – Huton Morrow

Michael Sheen – Carlos

Williams – Shining Light on a Formula One Legend (Film Review)

5 STARS

YOU do not have to be a petrolhead to enjoy Morgan Matthews’s moving documentary about Formula One legend Sir Frank Williams.

Far from it. This tight documentary, called simply Williams, provides an illuminating insight into the world of the 75 year old who battled his way to the top of his sport against all odds. In particular, fighting back from an horrific car accident 31 years ago which initially left him clinging onto life and then a wheelchair bound tetraplegic with no use of his hands.

It sometimes does not make for pretty watching as Matthews exposes Williams’ devotion to a sport which resulted in his Williams team winning seven drivers’ championships between 1979 and 1997 – plus nine constructors’ championships and 113 individual Grand Prix wins. A team that employed Formula One greats Alan Jones (a hard drinking and fun loving Aussie), Nelson Piquet (a sexy Brazilian who lived the life of a jet setting playboy), Nigel Mansell (an awkward Brummie), Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve.

It is warts and all as Matthews portrays a  dysfunctional Williams family which to this day remains fractured – primarily as a result of daughter Claire getting Williams’ vote to lead the Formula One team in 2012, a decision that left eldest son Jonathan devastated. It is a family feud which still upsets both Claire and Jonathan to this day.

Williams comes across as single minded (just look at his eyes)  and often cold and steely which is hardly surprising. Family holidays were eschewed, leaving wife Virginia (‘Ginny’) Berry to take the three children – Claire, Jonathan and Jaime – on their summer holidays.

In his prime Williams was super fit – a more than competent half marathon runner who liked to run around every grand prix course that his team competed at. He was also a philanderer, something which Virginia accepted with a grace and tolerance other wives would not have shown (she sacrificed her first marriage in pursuit of Williams).  Sadly, Virginia, who nursed Frank through his terrible injuries (lesser individuals would not have survived)  died from cancer four years ago.

But it is his inability – or maybe lack of desire – to show emotion that Matthews so effectively draws out from his interviews with the great man.

As Williams openly admits, he rarely sheds tears, saving them for momentous moments such as at the funeral of his great swashbuckling friend Piers Courage who lost his life competing in the 1970 Dutch Grand Prix (the aftermath of the accident makes for shocking watching as do some of the other clips of horrific grand prix fires). Love is a word that he rarely uses.

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Matthews draws extensively on Virginia’s candid memoir – A Different Kind of Life, first published in 1991 but now reprinted – which to this day stands as one of the greatest books ever written about Formula One (more warts and all). There is one moment towards the end of the documentary when Claire invites Frank around to her house and reads him an  extract from Virginia’s book (a book he has never read). It will probably reduce you to tears even if Frank failed to shed one – although for one moment he looked on the verge.

Matthews also uses tapes of conversations between Pamela Cockerill (who helped write the book) and Virginia to reveal more light on the complex man that Williams was and the sacrifices (financial as well as personal) Virginia made in order for her husband to succeed at the very top of his sport. A documentary highlight is Virginia accepting the Constructors’ trophy on behalf of her husband at Brands Hatch in July 1986 with Mansell and Piquet (not squabbling) watching on.

The documentary includes some marvellous contributions from Jamie Berry (Virginia’s brother) who comes across as a loving and devoted sibling and Sir Patrick Head who joined Williams in 1977 and catapulted the Williams team to success (the film highlights the aerodynamic changes that helped put Jones et al on the podium). Daughter Claire also comes across as a phenomenal individual, striving to succeed in a sport where the role of women is both marginalised and highly sexualised.

If you were nit-picking you could argue that the documentary lacks meaningful contributions from Prost and Hill as well as former Formula One grandee Bernie Ecclestone. Ayrton Senna’s death in 1994 at Imola is also skirted over – with Williams and Head subsequently cleared of the great driver’s manslaughter.

The fact that Matthews’s documentary was ‘approved’ by Formula One officials as well as the Williams’ family – a fact confirmed in a post-film question and answer session with Claire Williams, Mathews and Felipe Massa – says a lot about the sport and its paranoia.

But despite all the obstacles (Williams probably being the biggest one of all), Matthews (X+Y, Beautiful Young Minds, Britain in a Day) has triumphed – as Williams has done for most of his life

Indeed, Sir Francis Owen Garbett Williams is still team principal at Williams and seemingly will never let go until he takes his last breath. ‘It is challenging. It is exciting . I just love it’, he has said of his sport. ‘There’s nothing else I’d even think of doing.’

A great informative documentary befitting of one of this country’s ‘greats’. A racing success.

 Thank you for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also read: Netflix Originals All Stars, No Substance – The Circle and To The Bone (Film Reviews)

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Death is the Bond – The Death of Louis XIV and A Man Called Ove

Williams – 4/5

Director: Morgan Matthews

 

Netflix Originals All Stars, No Substance – The Circle and To The Bone (Film Reviews)

YOU may have noticed Netflix have branched out from riveting documentaries and binge-worthy series to produce films starring big Hollywood names like Tom Hanks, Lily Collins and Emma Watson.

I was relatively unaware (I did see Ellen Page star in Tallulah at London’s Sundance last year) of this production line until recently when plans to see Dunkirk (click here for our review) fell through and I turned to the streaming site to quench my film thirst. The Netflix conveyor belt, it seems, is moving at an incredible, star-studded pace.

Many of its releases are highly ambitious as I discovered when watching two of their recently released original films – To The Bone and The Circle. Bravely, but not without fault, these films deal with pressing issues within modern society.

First-time director Marti Noxon takes on the daunting and delicate subject of eating disorders in To the Bone.

Lily Collins (Rule Don’t Apply) plays Ellen, a 20-year-old talented artist living with anorexia. Despite dismissively claiming to be in control of the situation, Ellen’s skeletal frame tells the haunting truth: she needs beat this illness fast or she risks a premature death.

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Ellen’s dysfunctional family are all too aware of this and, after exhausting options elsewhere, opt for an unconventional programme set out by Dr Beckham (a woefully simplistic character played by Keanu Reeves). Under this guidance, Ellen is presented with alternative outlooks on her situation – including a romantic one presented by whimsical brit Luke (Alex Sharp) – and must decide whether to take the path to recovery.

A quick Google search shows that To the Bone is under heavy fire for its portrayal of eating disorders. Like recent Netflix series 13 Reasons Why (which deals with teen suicide), critics believe the film could do more harm than good, especially among younger viewers.

As a viewer with little understanding of the complexities of anorexia, I cannot say this film did much to enlighten me. But my issues with the film lie elsewhere. Primarily because To the Bone hits all the teen-tragedy tropes I find slightly grating – antiseptic lighting, faux-edgy humour and the seemingly obligatory romance.

Where Noxon does have success is in conveying the alienating effects such disorders can have on both the victim – and those around them.

We see this as the film opens with the blurry image of two deathly thin figures walking down a hospital corridor. They look like aliens out of a Spielberg film, an image that is reinforced later on with a line from Anne Sexton’s poem Courage:  ‘Then they called you cry baby / or poor or fatty or crazy / and made you into an alien.’

There is certainly empathy for all involved, particularly half-sister Kelly (Liana Liberato), who delivers one of the film’s most affecting moments at a family group therapy session. Collins, who lost a considerable amount of weight for the role, also comes out as one of the film’s few triumphs. She gives a courageous, dedicated and believable central performance. Unfortunately, it is one worthy of a more focused and candid film.

Privacy-concerned thriller The Circle tells the story of Mae (Emma Watson), a young woman whose life changes drastically when she gets a job at the world’s largest tech company (The Circle).

Mae has to quickly come to terms with her new fast-paced, closely scrutinised and highly-sociable working environment – a far cry from her old office cubicle and broken down car. The change in pace is mirrored in zippy dialogue and cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s fast moving camera.

The Circle, which has obvious echoes of Apple and Google, is run by casually dressed and scruffy bearded Steve Job-type Bailey (Tom Hanks). He has ambitions to cover the world in his SeeChange micro-data processing cameras which will effectively end privacy.

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The pros of such a change, he claims, will mean people are held accountable for their actions. With that, an end to tyranny worldwide and the promise of ‘freedom’ for all . Or, as one character later embarrassingly discovers, there is a chance it will show the world your parents in mid-coitus.

Mae’s growing suspicion of The Circle’s rapidly expanding and all-seeing vision of the future is shared more acutely by Ty (John Boyega), a mysterious co-worker, and Mercer (Boyhood’s Ellar Coltrane), an old family friend. Yet an incident outside of work, captured by a SeeChange camera, pulls Mae deeper into the company with Truman Show-like consequences.

By this point, The Circle has already overextended its heavy handed message. Most painfully so when one of the film’s most pivotal scenes dies a death on stage – literally. It, like most of the film, is over-bearingly and clumsily executed.

A real shame, especially since the premise feels all too plausible in our technology obsessed and dependent times. Just last week a US tech firm implanted employees with microchips.

Had the script, based on Dave Eggers’ novel, been tightened, we could have had a potent and immersive experience such as Alex Garland’s riveting Ex-Machina (2014) or Wally Pfister’s absorbing Transcendence (2014).

Not even the affability of Tom Hank and Emma Watson can save The Circle. SeeChange? I suggest you turn a blind eye to both of these Netflix films or watch with low expectations to avoid overwhelming disappointment.

Thank you for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also read: Frames of Beauty: A Kristen Stewart and Olivier Assayas Collaboration

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Land of Mine – Outshines Dunkirk in Matters of War

 

 

Death is the Bond – The Death of Louis XIV and A Man Called Ove

The Death of Louis XIV – 1 STAR

DEATH is the theme that bonds films The Death of Louis XIV and A Man Called Ove. Both are worth watching although their approaches to the issue of death are diametrically opposed.

The Death of Louis XIV lives up to its title as it tracks the last days of Louis XIV, a King who reigned in France for 72 years and died just four days before his 77th birthday. He was often referred to as the Sun King (le Roi Soleil) although he loved nothing more than a good old war and a spot of hunting.

Written and directed by Albert Serra, it draws a superb performance from John-Pierre Leaud (The 400 Blows, Stolen Kisses) as the bewigged King (and what a wig it is) who takes to his bed at the Palace of Versailles as gangrene takes grip of his body.

Leaud is utterly convincing, jesting initially with his doctors but soon calling out for water in the middle of the night (water that must be delivered in a crystal glass) and refusing to eat more than a mouthful of food as he grapples with his terrible illness that creeps up his left leg and beyond, turning it a stomach churning black.

There is one moment when the camera focuses on the King’s creased face. It shows his left cheek switching ever so slightly. It is a remarkable piece of cinematography – as well as acting from Leaud. His frailty is never more exposed.

In the half light of his bedroom, the King is surrounded by a phalanx of fawning physicians and crackpots who do their best to arrest the disease’s advance. But they are more incompetent than accomplished, often more interested in scoring points against each other than helping the ailing King.

At the centre of it all is Guy Crescent-Fagon, the King’s head physician who quite rightly on this evidence lost his position after the King’s death. He is joined by a posse of doctors from the Sorbonne and a Marseilles based quack who believes the answer to combating the King’s illness lies in copious amounts of bull’s sperm. His arrest follows shortly afterwards as the sperm fails to do its magic.

It is all rather intense but captivating at the same time. There is a sublime moment when the future Louis XV, a mere five years old and the King’s great-grandson, visits him and is told to be a ‘peaceful’ ruler. The hypocrisy of it all. There is also the horror of watching an autopsy being performed on the King and various body parts extracted from inside his chest – miles of black pudding like intestine, his heart and spleen. Thank goodness, the lobotomy was postponed for another day.

At one hour 55 minutes, The Death of Louis XIV is a little too long (if you know what I mean) for my liking.  But it is worth persevering for Leaud’s fine performance alone.

A Man Called Ove – 

5 STARS

A Man Called Ove is based on the successful  2012 novel of the same title (Fredrik Backman). It stars Ross Lasgaard (a Kurt Wallender in a previous life) as the curmudgeonly Ove who spends most of his spare time when not at work haranguing his fellow residents for a multitude of offences – dropping cigarette butts and leaving bicycles unattended. He even despises the local moggie.

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When he loses his long standing job, Ove decides to fulfil a promise that he made to himself when he lost his wife – to take his own life so that he can be with her again.

A series of botched suicides follow – moments I did not enjoy one iota (hideous) but which are used as triggers to give the viewer an insight into his past life. So we are filled in about the death of his parents, his social awkwardness, his love of Saabs (inherited from his father),  how he first met his wife Sonja and how ill fortune impacts on her not once but twice.

The arrival of disorganised and pregnant neighbour Parvenah (a delightful Bahars Pars) is the catalyst for change. Ove is pulled out of his insular world. He child sits, agrees to teach Iranian Parvenah how to drive and even takes in the cat he previously would shoo away. He also makes his peace with those he had previously fallen out with – as well as agrees to allow the manager of a local shop (a gay muslim) to stay with him.

What starts as a slightly awkward film ends up being something of a Swedish gem (hats off to director Hannes Holm).  Heart-warming, life affirming and an advert for inclusiveness over insularity.

I will leave you to guess whether rejuvenated Ove gets his wish in the end to be reunited with his beloved Sonja (a sparkling, joyous Ida Engvoll – Nobody Owns Me).

Thank you for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also read: Land of Mine – Outshines Dunkirk in Matters of War

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 THE DEATH OF LOUIS XIV – 3/5

Director: Albert Serra

Louis XIV: John-Pierre Leaud

A MAN CALLED OVE – 3.5/5

Director: Hannes Holm

Ove: Ross Lasgaard

Parvenah: Bahars Pars

Sonja: Ida Engvoll