Skip to content

The Clan

September 17, 2016

The Clan (2016)
Director: Pablo Trapero
Actors: Guillermo Francella, Peter Lanzani, Lili Popovich

efb0c595-68eb-4e25-b512-30d5877f61ea_300.jpg (300×185)

To see full review, please follow this link:  (September 2016)




September 10, 2016

Dheepan (2015)
Director: Jacques Audiard
Actors: Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Kalieaswari Srinavasan, Claudine Vinasithamby

dheepan.jpg (300×169)

Synopsis: An ex-Tamil soldier (Anthonythasan Jesuthasan) takes on the fake identity of “Dheepan” in the dying embers of the Sri Lankan civil war. Together with a fake, surrogate family, he migrates to France, where he winds up working as a caretaker in a dangerous Parisian banlieue; the sights and sounds there finding echoes in his traumatic Sri Lankan past.

Review: Jacques Audiard’s Palme d’Or winning Dheepan packs a real punch and, if nothing else, showcases Audiard’s skills as one of the most stylish cinematic storytellers on the planet, but for my taste at least, its increasing lurch into thriller mode in its final act – and jettisoning of its previously rich social commentary – felt a misstep and anti-climactic.

The opening half of the film is nigh on perfect though; an exhibition of superior storytelling as Audiard in a brisk but lucid way takes us right into the story and emotional particulars of how his three Sri Lankan protagonists were forced to fake their flight to France by posing as a family unit. There’s a wonderful elliptical cut to signify the bittersweet pathos of migration as we move from the traumatic and fraught opening stretches in Sri Lanka to a seemingly upbeat neon vista in Paris, only for the camera to focus in on a more banal truth – that Dheepan is flogging some naff, cheap luminous toys on some insalubrious corner of Paris.

It’s Dheepan and his surrogate family’s plight in Paris which is at the core of what is so right – but then ultimately unsatisfying – about Dheepan‘s narrative destination. It’s a very evocative initial journey, communicating the confusion and helplessness as Dheepan’s family somehow earn their way to a dilapidated banlieue on the outskirts of Paris through nervous meetings with the authorities and a mish-mash of exchanges in their native Sri Lankan tongue, French and the relatively neutral English. A particularly impressive scene is when the ‘daughter’, Illayaal, goes to school and is thrust into an overwhelming Special Ed class on her first day.

The balance between social commentary and genre (there are some unbelievably gripping and suspenseful sequences) is well managed by Audiard at first. By the last thirty minutes however, nearly everything has become subservient – including Illayaal’s childhood travails – to a more thriller/gangster denouement as Dheepan increasingly engages with his dangerous banlieue as if he were back in combat ‘Tamil Tiger’ mode. Though an interesting idea in hinting at the legacy of wartime trauma and perhaps critiquing the shallowness of inner-city criminal gangs, it feels too scripted and arbitrary, from the moment Dheepan starts inexplicably challenging the hoodlums in the area who threaten his ‘family’ onward. It’s still a watchable, classy film, but in Audiard’s rush to entertain, he sells out the more fertile, plaintive territory of his subject matter. (September 2016)


September 4, 2016

Disorder (2015)
Director: Alice Winocour
Actors: Matthias Schoenaerts, Diane Kruger, Paul Hamy

schoenaerts+disorder+3.png (400×228)

Synopsis: Army veteran, Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts), is suffering from PTSD. He is recruited as a security guard for the wife of a wealthy Lebanese businessman, and the task soon becomes much more problematic than he might have expected….

Review: I recently wrote about the value of female directors – especially those with a superior mastery of ambience and aesthetic – and Alice Winocour’s Disorder is a classic case in point. On paper, this might seem a prototypical – even slight – genre proposition, but Winocour mines the sentiment of her main character’s condition (and the full spectrum of her medium) for a mesmeric exposition of immersive, thriller storytelling.

In a sense, the ‘disorder’ of the film’s title is not its narrative but its protagonist – hulking army private, Vincent, who is temporarily discharged from the military after displaying symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many films have made a theme of the impact of PTSD on the homefront – Susanne Bier’s Brødre, Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder, and Richard Jobson’s underrated Wayland’s Song. Winocour’s effort is by far the best though, and her ingenuity is laid bare in the unnerving opening scene: a group of soldiers running on a military training exercise, only for a jarring electronic sound design to heighten just as the frame focuses in on Vincent’s increasingly fraught features.

In fact, it’s probably the first-half of the film, where Winocour aligns her camera and aesthetic right by the very presence and psychology of Vincent that is the most effective. We see everything through his paranoid, heightened perspective. There are some mesmeric tracking shots stalking Vincent’s hulking shoulders as he processes his new job as security guard in a palatial house belonging to a shady Lebanese millionaire. And there is a masterpiece of thriller filmmaking in an increasingly tense, long wordless sequence as he follows a suspicious character around the house during the millionaire’s evening soirée.

The movie does devolve into a more conventional genre piece in its second half, although the shift from the suggestive opening to the pulpier second-half has a shuddering piece of filmmaking as its literal about-turn. As well as being a triumph for Winocour’s inventive, aesthetic take on the thriller genre, it’s also a marvellous piece of rugged, undemonstrative acting from Matthias Schoenaerts as the wired and traumatised Vincent. It’s a cracking return to form for him, and it will be interesting to see if there’s more mileage in a continuing Winocour-Schoenarts double-act; I, for one, would be the first in line to see a follow-up. (September 2016)

Top 10 Contemporary Female Directors

August 31, 2016

sarah-doc.png (268×188)

Issues of gender inequality are becoming ever more prevalent in the film industry. First there was the famous pay discrepancy highlighted by Jennifer Lawrence last year. And in recent weeks, two of our own writers have shone a light on other, subtler areas of cultural discrimination. Is there a sly patriarchal condescension in rebooting male franchises with all-female casts? And why are male method actors venerated more than female ones?

You can add to that long list the issue of female directors….

To read the remainder of the article, please click on this link:

(August 2016)


August 29, 2016

Amy (2015)
Director: Asif Kapadia

look1.jpg (325×214)

Synopsis: The music and life of British singer, Amy Winehouse.

Review: It would be hard to entirely mess up a documentary portrait of Amy Winehouse. The raw material is so rich and purely sensational: the stratospheric rise to fame, the sheer brilliance of her voice and music, the force of her personality, the lurid sagas of her personal life and battles with addiction, and the tragic end-game of her demise. Asif Kapadia mines this subject matter and narrative arc competently enough – although in some respects, it’s almost a director-proof proposition as long as there is access to enough archive material – and in many ways, he has crafted a docu-portrait very similar in tone to his Senna from four years previous.

Considering the obsessive and intrusive media interest in Winehouse’s life, particularly in its final few years, it shouldn’t be a surprise at the sheer quantity of material available to Kapadia, but what is interesting is just how much documentary footage Winehouse and her entourage recorded themselves – even in the days before mobile phone technology was completely invasive. This footage moves naturally enough from fairly light, jovial scenes of a young Winehouse kicking her career off with her friend and manager, Nick Shymansky, through to more sordid scenes of domestic squalor and her destructive relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil and her struggles with alcohol and drugs.

Essentially a great whistlestop tour through the life and very phenomenon of Amy Winehouse, the film succeeds in making two very salient points about its subject. First, how she was by-product of useless parenting (not just the frequently demonised father Mitch, but even her mother, Janis, who makes frank admissions of her failures – particularly when not addressing Winehouse’s bulimia when it first manifested itself in her teenage years.) The flawed parenting and vested interests of her various managers and recording company meant there wasn’t enough unequivocal intervention when Winehouse’s failing health clearly warranted it: Mitch’s assertion that as a twenty-something woman, Winehouse was ultimately responsible for her own decisions, doesn’t cut much sway – irrespective of age, a true loved-one would always intervene when a friend or family member needed it. Also, the documentary hints at Winehouse being more a force of nature, almost an unconstructed energy, rather than someone perhaps innately sage and interesting (though her take-down of the interviewer reverently analysing Dido lyrics is priceless!) If Winehouse had stayed alive she would invariably have matured, but irrespective, we still have the voice and songs born out of her rawness and volatility. (September 2016)


August 28, 2016

Macbeth (2015)
Director: Justin Kurzel
Actors: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine

294430_062.jpg (320×240)

Synopsis: Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), a fierce but initially loyal warrior in the Scottish army, is tempted to the kill the king after strange predictions by three witches….

Review: If further evidence was needed of Justin Kurzel’s credentials as one of the most promising filmmakers on the planet, then his Macbeth (Shakespeare adaptations are notoriously cinema-proof propositions) is another accomplished case in point.

To negate the ‘familiarity’ of the Shakespearean conventions, Kurzel has really gone to town – in a good way – on the visual elements to the story. Fashioning an aesthetic which is both highly stylised (the cinematography is sensualised through lots of slo-mo and steadicam zooms) and naturalistic (the mise en scène is designed to affect how a feudal land might look and feel), Kurzel crafts a rich feast of a film. Talking about feasts, Kurzel crafts some mesmeric set pieces – the seminal banquet scene is particularly atmospheric, and almost each staging post of the Macbeth story is imagined in an ingenious and visually distinctive way.

Amid a host of excellent touches, Kurzel’s only minor misstep – and it’s probably only an off-shoot of his naturalistic proclivity – is that the theatricality of Shakespeare’s masterful language and poetry gets diluted. Also, although it’s a colossal visual and emotional performance by Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth, she understandably struggles to manage the cadence of Shakespeare’s verse which means some of her character’s key early monologues are not capitalised on as much as they might have been.

There are novel interpretive touches by Kurzel though. Opening on an ambiguous funeral scene (Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s infant child?) is an interesting, sly attempt to hint at the emotional chasm which might make their descent into violent ambition that much more comprehensible (Kurzel also has the same child accompanying the phantom witches round to emphasise that subtext). Duncan’s death scene is also clever: having Macbeth actually lie calmly in wait after he slays the king, almost goading Malcolm to flee (and thus be implicated), creates a feeling that Macbeth becomes assertive in the immediate aftermath of the seminal murder rather than later in the piece when he warns Lady Macbeth to “be innocent of the knowledge”.

That’s now two films in a row (after his exemplary Snowtown) where Kurzel has managed to conjure an air of pure evil – you might even tag him the “new Polanski”, although that doesn’t really give Kurzel’s originality enough credit. All eyes will be peeled on what this talented director does next. (August 2016)

The Magnificent Seven

August 20, 2016

The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Director: John Sturges
Actors: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Horst Buchholz

CA6E3FNWQAI7GWN.jpg:small (340×165)

Synopsis: A Mexican town, frequently ravaged by bandits, sends three of its farmers across the border into the States to recruit a group of men to come back and rid them of those bandits.

Review: With Antoine Fuqua’s reboot fast approaching our cinema screens this Autumn, it felt opportune to revisit the original version of The Magnificent Seven – to unpick its true worth away from its enduring, pop-culturally iconic status.

The first thing that screams out to the viewer is Elmer Bernstein’s bombastic, inimitable score – playing over the opening images and credits of the film. Not only is Bernstein’s score one of the most distinctive in the history of cinema, but the broad, literal way that it acts as commentary to the action and emotions of the story stands as emblem for a film that has a straightforward, no-nonsense, old-school charm.

Talking about old-school charm, probably the most enjoyable aspect of the film is watching the now legendary names (Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Charles Bronson) get introduced to the story in ‘Ocean’s Eleven’-style recruitment vignettes. Coburn and McQueen’s codas are the highlights – especially McQueen’s, where with a suitably cool, laconic resignation, he accepts the Mexicans taunting him about his only other option, “working in a grocery store”, just after he’s lost most of his money gambling in a saloon.

One can see why Hollywood might look to revisit this story though. Beyond the obvious (the clear commercial gain in rebooting a popular “brand name” from old Hollywood), there is plenty of room for improvement as a piece of social commentary, more can be done with the characterisations, and also the visceral, action elements could be ramped up a notch. That said, what this version has going for it are the glorious qualities of Panavision and Technicolor. It’s a sumptuous film to look at – freeze an image and you would have a gorgeous oil painting – and Fuqua and co will be hard-pushed to manufacture a more taut sequence than the near-wordless middle-stretch where three of the men daringly head off to intercept some of the bandits’ horses while the Mexican’s raucous village fair is happening. (August 2016)