Category Archives: Film Reviews

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

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

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)

Continuity – A Craicing Irish Play from Moynihan’s Pen

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

Kristen Stewart’s Solo Masterclass – Personal Shopper (DVD Review)

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

Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill – Staggeringly Wonderful (Theatre Review)

Frames of Beauty: A Kristen Stewart and Olivier Assayas Collaboration

 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

Land of Mine – Outshines Dunkirk in Matters of War

Dunkirk – 3/5 – 1 STAR

ALTHOUGH Dunkirk is winning all the summer cinematic plaudits, Land of Mine is more than its equal.

Both films have the Second World War as their theme. But while Dunkirk looks at an event that is a key part of British war time history – the evacuation of troops from the beaches at Dunkirk as part of Operation Dynamo – Land of Mine covers a less known subject. It is based on the clearing of mines laid by the German army along the Danish coast by German prisoners of war. They are German lambs to the slaughter – and lambs they were with many being no more than boys.

The films could not be more different. Dunkirk makes for a stunning visual experience as Spitfires and Stukas slug it out over the Channel, boats are routinely sunk (by German torpedoes) and soldiers (sitting ducks) are strafed awaiting their evacuation. An armada of private boats come to the rescue with Mr Dawson (Sir Mark Rylance) and his pleasure boat to the fore.

The film is littered with cinematic talent – Tom Hardy (Farrier, a brave Spitfire pilot), Sir Kenneth Branagh (a fictional Commander Bolton but based on the very real pier master James Campbell Clouston) and Cillian Murphy (a traumatised soldier rescued from the sea by Mr Dawson). Even Harry Styles (One Direction) makes his acting debut as Alex, a soldier who eventually (and with a lot of luck along the way) gets rescued by Mr Dawson. An accomplished debut – and not one musical note sung in anger.

Dunkirk is classic Christopher Nolan (Inception, Memento and Interstellar). It is three films in one, each with an individual timeline within the framework of the evacuation. It is what Imax is made for. It’s like a ride on the Blackpool Big Dipper and I am sure Nolan will receive a hatful of awards as a result. Rightly so.

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But it is not without fault. The film cuts between the three themes which can jar (others argue it helps drive the film’s momentum).

Also, although the viewer feels as if they are right there in Farrier’s cockpit as he engages in a string of dog fights over the Channel, it is difficult to build empathy with any of the characters (Styles’ Alex included). The film does not give us that opportunity. We are not allowed to get inside any of the characters with maybe the exception of Rylance’s Dawson, the stand-out performance of the film.

It also feels as if the horror of war is underplayed. Yes, we see troops strafed on the pier and the beaches but there is little bloody aftermath to remind us that war is horrific.

Land of Mine – 5 STARS

In contrast, Land of Mine pans out like a horror movie as it follows a unit of young German prisoners of war given the task in 1945 of clearing the thousands of mines left by their army to prevent an Allied invasion from the sea.

They are overseen by Sargent Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moller) who we see in the opening sequences of the film viscously assault a prisoner of war in a long line of marching prisoners who has the temerity to be carrying a Danish flag. He is beaten black and blue. It is a moment more visceral than anything that Dunkirk has to offer.

The 12 youngsters are billeted in a shed next to a farm lived in by a mother and daughter. With little training behind them, no food on offer and Rasmussen constantly snarling at them, the twelve spend most of their time lying on their fronts painstakingly removing the detonators from mines they find buried in the sand.

There are no mine detectors to assist them. Just sticks which they prod into the sand to find the mines, a helmet (about as protective as a condom with a hole in it) and their wits. Life and a high probability of death or awful maiming.

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It all makes for harrowing viewing (I turned away on many an occasion fearing the worst) as the unit’s numbers are whittled down in devastating fashion. One maiming will stick in my mind for a long time to come. More bloody, more realistic than anything Nolan’s sanitised Dunkirk has to offer.

Yet Land of Mine is more than a gruesome watch. Slowly, we see Rasmussen shake off his demons (a result of his own war time experience) and build a relationship with the boys under his command. He plays football with them and steals food so they do not starve (much to the anger of his superior, a vile Captain Ebbe Jensen – Mikel Boe Folsgaard – who seeks retribution).

We also see some of the boys’ characters emerge, especially Sebastian Schumann (Louis Hofmann) who against the odds builds a bond with Rasmussen – as well as a wooden contraption designed to ensure both mines do not go undetected and the boys get a little more protection.

There are setbacks along the way, most notably one involving Rasmussen’s devoted collie and the other based around the mother’s daughter, but ultimately the Sargent shows that he is nothing but a honourable and compassionate man.

Land of Mine, directed by Martin Zandvliet, is an important addition to the library of war cinema. It sheds light on a war time story that few people outside Denmark are aware of.

Would we today allow prisoners of war to be used in this way? Of course not. It is as despicable as the fate that awaited Japanese prisoners of war, as lovers of David Lean’s 1957 classic The Bridge Over The River Kwai know all too well.

Patriotic though I am and as much as I was enthralled by Hardy’s piloting skills and Rylance’s quiet command of the Moonstone, I would choose Land of Mine over Dunkirk every time. War cannot be dumbed down. Land of Mine shows it as it really was, bloody warts and all.

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

Also read: Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill – Staggeringly Wonderful (Theatre Review)

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Hair-Raising Australian Horror – Hounds of Love (Film Review)

LAND OF MINE – 5/5

Director: Martin Zandvliet

Sargent Carl Rasmussen: Roland Moller

Captain Ebbe Jensen: Mikel Folsgaard

Sebastian Schumann: Louis Hofmann

DUNKIRK – 3/5

Director: Christopher Nolan

Farrier: Tom Hardy

Mr Dawson: Sir Christopher Rylance

Commander Bolton: Sir Kenneth Branagh

Alex: Harry Styles

Hair-Raising Australian Horror – Hounds of Love (Film Review)

5 STARS

Hounds of Love is out in cinemas on July 28

HOT on the trail of Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Julia Ducournau (Raw), Ben Young is the latest talent to cut his directorial teeth in fine fashion with an inventive and hair-raising horror film.

His debut feature, Hounds of Love, is set to the backdrop of a sweaty (not snowy) Christmas in 1987 Perth, Australia.

Schoolgirl Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) is taking her parents’ separation hard and, after a row with her mother (Susie Porter), sneaks out of the house late at night to attend a party.

Dolled up and alone, Vicki makes prime prey for psychopathic couple, Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John (Stephen Curry), who trawl the suburban streets in search of vulnerable teens.

As the title suggests, these are savage predators. They lure Vicki to their home (and part-time dungeon) before sadistically chaining her to the bed. Bloodied tissues and bent coat hangers littered on the floor act as chilling indicators of what may be in store for the teen.

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As signs of friction between Evelyn and John begin to show, Vicki is left in a desperate – and unlikely – race against time to escape her captors’ clutches.

Young has plenty of tricks up his sleeve to hold the viewers interest and, when necessary, crank up the seat-gripping tension. Perhaps the most effective of these is a snail-paced crawling camera paired with slow motion.

The film opens on this note, as we see lingering, sexualised close-ups of schoolgirls playing netball (later on we will see close-ups of Vicki’s terrified and tortured eyes). Young then reveals we are watching through the creepy voyeurist eyes of the psychopathic couple laying in wait.

It’s an unsettling sequence which sets the tone for the cold-blooded action still to come.

When we move into the horror house, Young utilises the tight layout and open doors to show there’s no room to hide. We are often left watching Vicki from one room to another, just out of our reach, only adding to the hopelessness of her situation.

This layout also allows the camera to slowly drift around, at times stretching out the suspense to great effect.

All of this tension is underlined by Dan Luscombe’s eerie and pulsing 80’s synth score. Likewise, the soothing sounds of Cat Stevens’ Lady D’Arbanville and The Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin cannot escape the disturbing context given to them.

With a captivating central performance from Booth that delves into issues of cyclical abuse, Hounds of Love has depth beyond its surface scares.

For that, Young deserves acclaim alongside Peele and Ducournau. Hounds of Love is a brilliant showcase of the horror genre. Clever and impactful.

One for the hounds of cinema to dig their claws into – and feel sated.

 

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

Also read: Q&A with Raw director Julia Ducournau  

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Hounds of Love – 4/5

Dire and Scre: Ben Young

Cast: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry, Susie Porter, Damien de Montemas, Harrison Gilbertson

Music: Dan Luscombe

Cinematography: Michael McDermott

The Midwife (Sage Femme) – A Delightful Amuse Bouche of a Film

5 STARS

THE Midwife is a delightful hors d’ouevre of a film. It is both gentle and amusing although some will argue that it lacks a certain gravitas. More amuse bouche but appetising all the same.

Directed by Martin Provost (Violette, Seraphine), it features Catherine Frot (Marguerite, Haute Cuisine) as a calm professional midwife whose somewhat mundane life is suddenly turned upside down by the arrival of the mistress of her late father, a sassy (and still sexy) Catherine Deneuve (Belle de Jour, Indochine, Standing Tall. et al).

Midwife Claire Breton, a single mother, is calmness personified and runs her life with military like precision. A non-drinker, she cycles to work where she works the night shift. When she is not working or sleeping, she quietly tends to her allotment alongside the River Seine. She is more interested in vegetables than men. Work, no play.

But this ordered state of affairs is disrupted by Deneuve’s Beatrice Sobolevski. She is a force of nature who has more vices than virtues – the antithesis of Claire. She loves her men, cigarettes, wine and red meat – preferably all at the same time. She also enjoys gambling even if she does not have the means to fund it.

Claire is initially hostile but slowly and surely Beatrice wins her over. The connection is made stronger by the fact that Beatrice has a brain tumour which must be operated on, resulting in Claire asserting her authority over her father’s former lover. She helps nurse Beatrice while not missing any opportunity to enforce her moral code on her former nemesis.

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As the relationship builds, Claire mellows, helped by the arrival of the perky and self-assured Paul Baron (Olivier Gourmet) in the adjoining allotment. Although she initially resists his offer of potatoes, the free spirited truck driver is nothing but persistent. Frolicking ensues – in Claire’s shed. Gentle to begin with, a little more robust (and amusing to observe) as time goes on.

The remaining part of the film’s jigsaw is Claire’s son Simon (Quentin Dolmaire), an accomplished swimmer like his grandfather was. He is having serious doubts about continuing with his training to become a doctor (not helped by the fact that his girlfriend is pregnant).

Claire keeps Beatrice well away from him but as the ice maiden of a midwife melts she lets down her guard. When Simon and Beatrice meet, the occasion is a magic moment as their love of a man now departed from this world bonds them.

Apart from the relationships between midwife, drop out son, truck driver and mistress, there is a sub-plot – the imminent closure of Claire’s maternity unit. It is a department she has devoted her life to, as evidenced when a young mother gives birth and informs her she was delivered by Claire 28 years previously.

Will she move to the new sparkling hospital with all the latest medical gizmos? Or is it time to reassess?

The film is littered with stellar performances. As expected, Frot and Deneuve deliver in garden spades. Frot is all frowns and worry lines while Deneuve exudes a combination of mischief and sex.

Yet it is Gourmet (Central Station, Le Fils) who surprisingly sparkles the most. His Baron – a male version of Beatrice – is all smiles, cheek and naughtiness who likes a tipple (and a rumble and tumble in Claire’s shed). A winning performance.

As a story, The Midwife is somewhat contrived. But if you want cheering up and would like to see a triumvirate of cinematic talent in one sitting, this is a film for you. Yes, lightweight. But nourishing all the same.

See it now – or wait for it to come out on DVD and consume with a glass of Viognier at your side.

One final thought: what actually happened to Beatrice at the end? Maybe only the River Seine knows. Or maybe not.

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

Also read: The Bravehearts of Raqqa – City of Ghosts (Film Review)

Kristen Stewart’s Solo Masterclass – Personal Shopper (DVD Review)

Utterly Beguiled: The Tale Of Two Films

Chest-Pounding Action – War For The Planet Of The Apes (Film Review)

The Midwife – 4/5

Martin Provost: Director

Catherine Deneuve: Beatrice Sobolevski

Catherine Frot: Claire Breton

Olivier Gourmet: Paul Baron

Quentin Dolmaire: Simon

The Bravehearts of Raqqa – City of Ghosts (Film Review)

5 STARS

CITY OF Ghosts is an extraordinary documentary that should be watched by anyone alarmed by the rise – and continued threat – of Isis. In other words, by everyone.

Directed by Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land, 2015), it centres on the good people of Raqqa in Syria as they rally against the Bashar al-Assad regime in response to the Arab Spring of late 2010.

Initially overjoyed by the prospect of a people’s uprising across the Middle East – and in particular against Assad – their rejoicing is soon quelled as the regime’s troops fire indiscriminately on protesters.

Worse is to follow as amid the chaos Isis and its army of jihadists take control of Raqqa and impose a regime even more hideous than Assad’s.

The documentary focuses on the work of a group called ‘Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently’, a small band of extremely brave people determined to shine a light on the horror that unfolds as Isis tightens its grip on the city situated close to the Euphrates (a shot of a heron standing against the backdrop of the river acts as a poignant counterpoint to the unfolding horror).

Having fled to Germany or Turkey, these individuals use social media – and informants within Raqqa (braver than brave) – to tell the world the truth about what is happening to the City they love. Not just about the regular beheadings, crucifixions and executions (issues that Heineman does not shirk from showing) but the food and water shortages that make surviving in the City a living hell – and make a mockery of Isis’s claim (perpetuated by social media propaganda) that life in Raqqa is all honey and no sting.

The group do this in constant fear of their lives. They are issued with regular death threats and pictures are posted on the internet indicating that Isis knows where their ‘safe houses’ are located.  Protection from the German police is declined.

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Harrowingly, the documentary shows one of RBSS’s founders – Hamoud-al-Mousa – sitting in a barren apartment somewhere in Germany and watching a video of his father’s execution at the hands of Isis. An execution designed to strike fear into Hamoud and every member of RBSS.

Hamoud’s response is extraordinary. ‘I watch the video a lot. It gives me strength,’ he says. His brother Ahmad Mohammed was also murdered at the hands of Isis as were other RBSS members – including Ibrahim Abdul Qader and Al-Moutaz Bellah Ibrahim – and Naji Jerf, a Syrian journalist who inspired RBSS members to carry on with their work. And carry on they do to this day.

The documentary is at its best when it shows a Raqqa citizen defiantly spray-painting a wall at night – ‘death to Isis’. There is also a video recording of a masked informant within Raqqa updating RBSS on what is going on within the City. Such reports trigger an annoyed Isis into ripping down the City’s satellites in an attempt to stifle any independent news coming out of the City.

In amongst all the scratchy phone calls, posting of video material smuggled out of Raqqa and endless smoking in soulless rooms, there is the occasional lighter moment. Playful snowball fights (in Germany), joyous dancing and emotional airport reunions. Set against this, they take part in a counter-rally against German Nationalists calling for immigrants to leave. Nationalists who are unable to distinguish between the likes of RBSS and those terrorists who drove a truck through a Berlin Christmas market in late 2016, killing a dozen people.

RBSS’s work has been widely acclaimed as the documentary acknowledges. It shows RBSS member Abdalaziz Alhamza graciously – and modestly – receiving the International  Press Freedom Award in 2015 from the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York. Wrapped in a Syrian flag, he receives the accolade before a room of individuals dressed in black ties and flowing gowns. A far cry from the horrors of Raqqa.

Heineman has come up trumps (no pun intended) with this documentary. But the real heroes of this must-see piece of work are the citizen journalists of  RBSS (past and present) who to this day continue to ‘fight’  for Raqqa’s freedom.

A freedom that maybe they will soon win as Isis comes under attack in Raqqa from the Syrian army and other forces loyal to Assad. Or maybe not. One tyranny replaced by another. Evil replaced by evil.

Watch this documentary. If you are on twitter, I urge you to follow @Raqqa_SL

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

Also read: Kristen Stewart’s Solo Masterclass – Personal Shopper (DVD Review)

Utterly Beguiled: The Tale Of Two Films

Lost In Headphones: Many A Movie Moment

Kristen Stewart’s Solo Masterclass – Personal Shopper (DVD Review)

5 STARS

FOLLOWING the critical success of 2014’s Clouds of Sils Maria, it was inevitable that acclaimed director Olivier Assayas and actress sensation Kristen Stewart would reunite at some stage.

They have for Personal Shopper, a classy film (now released on DVD) that unexpectedly tackles our perception of the supernatural.

The outcome is an intelligent, absorbing and genre-defining story. Stewart, without Juliette Binoche (Maria Enders in Clouds of Sils Maria) as her foil, takes up almost every frame. She responds with a sublime solo lead performance which lends humanity and credibility to Assayas’ divergent exploration of the invisible.

Stewart plays Maureen, a personal shopper working for an aloof celebrity – Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten) –  in Paris. Despite feeling disillusioned by her  job, she remains tied to the city by the hope her recently deceased twin brother will make contact from the afterlife. Tellingly, Maureen cuts an alienated figure drifting through blurry, Parisian streets on her scooter.

Already on-edge, a series of anonymous text messages deepens Maureen’s personal turmoil which soon threatens to bleed into her professional life. Is it her brother Lewis somehow sending the texts or is it a more sinister figure? Just as importantly, what is their motive?

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Despite the film opening with a view of  a spooky-looking gated house, Personal Shopper does not follow the path of morality-based American horror. Instead, Assayas takes a meditative approach which contemplates our relationship with the supernatural through the arts and technology.

At one point, Maureen rides the train and –  with headphones on – watches YouTube videos about 20th Century Swedish abstract artist Hilma af Klint. It is surprisingly engrossing to watch, but also speaks perfectly to the film’s non-binary investigation of the invisible.

As well as the supernatural, Personal Shopper is about Maureen’s personal and inner-looking journey. Although wishing to connect with her deceased brother, she is also forced to confront deeper, hidden emotions within herself. With this, elements of psychological study creep in which are not too far from Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) starring Natalie Portman.

Maureen’s introspective questioning intensifies when the mysterious text messages begin. These are moments when the film could lose its audience, but Stewart helps hold and – impressively – heighten the intrigue.

Even sitting on a train reacting to texts, she has an electric and highly engaging on-screen presence. But Assayas also appreciates her enthralling physical acting in more open spaces through long tracking sequences.

In keeping with the film’s use of drained colours, Maureen is often seen in baggy sweaters and little makeup. This works to heighten the allure when she is around Kyra’s sparkling and expensive dresses.

The film’s most brilliant scene arrives as Maureen daringly tries on one of Kyra’s outfits. She does this while Assayas devilishly plays Marlene Dietrich’s twinkly sounding tune Das Hobellied. Unbeknown to most non-German speaking audiences, the song – which would not feel out of place in a Disney animation – is all about death. Fittingly so, Maureen’s aura transfoms, Cinderella-like, from one of vulnerability to sensual strength. With powerful acting and directing on show, it amounts to pitch perfect mise en scene.

Assayas deserves credit for getting the most out of Stewart’s qualities. In some ways, it reminds me of the way Hitchcock used James Stewart’s everyday accessibility to explore darker themes in films such as Vertigo and Rear Window.

Kristen Stewart has a sincere relatability and magnetism. It worked effortlessly to counter Maria Enders’ stubborn pride in Clouds of Sils Maria (expertly played by Binoche). And now gives Assayas the opportunity to delve into  the easily derided subject of the supernatural in Personal Shopper.

Personal Shopper is one of the best films in recent years. Stewart’s performance, comprising a mix of emotional complexity, nuance and weight, is on a par with Amy Adams in Arrival and Portman in Black Swan. Captivating cinema.

Bravo Stewart and Assayas. We can only hope you work together again so that we can celebrate a triple success.

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

Also read: Kristen Stewart: Back from the Twilight

Personal Shopper Q&A with Director Olivier Assayas

Utterly Beguiled: The Tale Of Two Films

Lost In Headphones: Many A Movie Moment