Directed and co-written by Robin Campillo (The Class, 2008) and Brigitte Tijou (Riviera, 2005), this quite original piece deals with the returning dead in a way not often seen. The film concentrates on event s through the eyes of the local s of a small town in central France. The opening scenes are of events surrounding the returning as they are being outlined by the Mayor (Victor Garrivier, French Kiss, 1995) of the town as he briefs officials.
It turns out that the returned all came back in roughly a 2 hour window one day. Looking to the dead in detail society quickly sets about learning how to deal with the returned. It seems that those who returned were all dead less than 10 years and present no outwardly physical signs of having been dead. It quickly becomes apparent that the returned are lacking a certain “fire”. One of the officials states that they will never be able to use initiative and should not be given positions of authority, regardless of their previous functions in life.
What we see as the movie progresses is how society copes with these Returned. There are both the larger macro issues of how to house and rehabilitate them. the movie smartly deals with many of the issues we often glance over in such productions, what happens to the dead in the world of the living, can they get their property or old jobs back? How are they fitting in socially and are they being welcomed back by everybody? The central or unifying part of the movie is the city council and how they are dealing with the situation. This is a clever device as it allows us to be told the story exactly as Camillo wants us to hear it, it also allows us an introduction to key characters and how they interact between themselves and the returned.
With this device we see the Mayor coming to terms with the return of his elderly wife. Where the return is generally trouble free there is the issue of here wondering at night. This brings us on to “Mathieu” an architect working in a firm who previously had some significant responsibilities. It is now seen that his abilities are seriously restricted. This is discovered when the psychologist assigned to the returned has a discussion with one of the guards. The returned do not sleep. It seems that they also have no ability to make memories and essentially their communications skills are based on what they had when alive and situational memories which allows them to appear as if they are having on-going conversations.
Things may not be as they seem. The doctors and scientists observing the returned notice certain physical characteristics which allow the returned to be tracked. This tracking leads to some interesting discoveries. What do they do at night? What are the returned planning? Do they feel welcome? Where does all of this lead?
This is not a zombie movie in the traditional sense and there are probably some who would say that the returned are not zombies, whatever! They are re-animated corpses, they are zombies. Not having the movie focused on the usual plot-line of zombies trying to kill the human population is a refreshing change as it allows the many other aspects which are normally over-looked.
This movie is not perfect. It moves at a steady “European” pace which some might feel is slow (which I think, works) rather than the fast disaster movie action which we are used to with zombie films. This movie concentrates more on the rational and even emotional implications of the return rather than the traditional emergency response approach. The subsequent TV series which was released about 10 years after the movie is significantly different to the film while staying loyal to the original concept of the returned. I liked this movie, possibly because I had read about it and seen the TV series previously so I had an idea of what to expect. I quite liked it. It is a very interesting variation on an well-tried concept. It is interesting that in the 10 years since its release subsequent zombie movies have not overly tried to repeat this format, rather sticking with the traditional blood-fest approach.
If you claim to be a Sci-fi or Horror fan you need to watch this, if however you are a fan of mindless violence and body party being ripped off/digested then you need to go back to Master Romero’s works.
Some war movies depend on epic vistas, massive armies and battle scenes that would test the best CGI people, while others are somewhat more down beat, tight and personal, Beaufort is one of them. From the opening acts we see people trying to make the best out of a bad situation. Joseph Cedar’s 2007 work does not come across as a war glorification or justification piece, it is a story about some young men and women in a war setting. Based on the novel by Ron Leshman, Cedar wrote the screen play. It is smartly done, after 18 years of ensuring Hezbollah did not blow up the fort, it is now their last act to be done. Before they can leave the fort and destroy it, they must first actually safely leave the fort. This is not as easy as it seems as they are in effect the rear-guard of the Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon. There is also the added issue of the road-side explosives which will prevent them from leaving.
Young officer Commander (Lieutenant) Liraz (Oshri Cohen , Lebanon, 2009) is the person in charge. While his troops respect him there is still tension, not least of all from the visiting senior officers who do not seem to consider or understand their situation. 18 years previously Israeli forces took Mount Beaufort, as much out of bravado as anything else, faced with the crusader fort now in their hands they had to keep it, what we see are the last troops preparing to leave. To leave they must make the road safe and that is the responsibility of bomb disposal expert Ziv (Ohad Knoller, Yossi and Jagger, 2002). The tension between the bomb disposal officer and the troops mirrors the overall tension – they want to get out, but get out alive.
The setting contrasts the decrepit and often claustrophobic nature of the camp. Inside we see tunnels, corners, sparse but effective rooms and resources which contrast with the picturesque beauty of their mountain setting. In deed we hear that the ancient castle is a type of “No-man’s land” where an easy peace exists, as much out of a sense of reverence and history for the place as well as anything else. The Camp often takes on the air of a space-craft with the long angled tunnels or corridors it almost a cross between a 25th century space ship and a WWI trench. It is an ensemble piece crafted to bring together a world of different people all trying to survive their common situation but each in their own way. It is a war movie but not one which requires constant bloody action to keep us engaged, as I mentioned this is more about the people, much like Das Boot (Wolfgang Peterson, 1981), indeed we see some of the same claustrophobia and witness some of the tension between the ordinary officers and the political or staff officers.
As the film moves to its logical conclusion we are kept from achieving that end until Cedar says so, it is a full story and if you are not familiar with the works of Joseph Cedar, this is a good place to start. To his credit the movie side-steps the mine field that is the real political situation which gives place to the movie. This is not a political movie in a small ‘p’ sense of the word, the Arab, Israeli situation is kept to a minimum, however we are shown some of the many ways the larger conflict has impacted the young soldiers. Death hangs over everybody on the mountain, we are left in no illusions about that, a fact that adds to the tension of what we see, at any stage any of the troops can die. Life is at the disposal of others, either those bombing them or their senior leadership.
This film looks to the old idea of the eyes being the windows to the soul, something which pre-scores evolution. Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt, Seven Psychopaths, 2012) is a post-doctorate researcher fascinated with the human eye. He is enthralled by eyes both from the perspective of the aesthetic ( he has a collection of hundreds of photographs he has taken of people’s faces and particularly their eyes) and their evolutionary importance; something which he is convinced science has over-looked. In to this mix comes a young woman who he meets at a party (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Juliette, Juliette, 2013) who he becomes smitten with. Not knowing who she is, he tries to find her, only to “discover her” from a series of numbers as he bought a lottery ticket at 11.11 on the 11th on a road where the number 11 bus passes etc. He follows the clues and eventually meets her.
In parallel to this he also acquires a new first year lab research student, who he initially dismisses as another air-head whose work he will pass if she just stays away from the lab, however it soon becomes apparent that she does actually know something about the work he is doing. From here on Ian’s life seems to move in Parallel, just as him home life is progressing so too are his professional efforts. The team are looking a genetic marker that will change the way we look at evolution, however it is a long-shot and likely to take years. Just as his career is looking to the long view, his relationship is proceeding quickly.
Then one fateful day, news comes through that they have found a candidate animal which has the gene but no eyes – exactly what is needed. Now they should be able to genetically build an eye in to this animal, a genetically perfect one. His joy here is quickly removed as Sophie is killed in an accident. Here is perhaps the weakest moment for in the midst of his grief he turns to his assistant and they begin a relationship which immediately jumps 7 years to where there are married and about to have their first child. There was perhaps just a little too much speed there.
Married and now with a young son, all is good until one day they get a call asking them to attend a clinic with their son as he might be showing indicators of autism. They bring the child to be tested only to realise that the test is not for autism but some kind of memory test. Memory of a past life. The researcher believes the child may have the memories of somebody who died previously. The trouble is, this is not a million miles from Ian’s own research. This gets him asking questions.
Although always seeing himself as a rational scientist, his objective belief system starts to take a beating. Using his knowledge of the human eyes together with his database access, they quickly see a pattern emerging. Something that should not have happened. Different people around the world, such as his dead former girl-friend, Sofi share certain characteristics, but none of these people are ever alive at the same time.
In many ways this film is like “Upstream Color” (Shane Carruth, 2013) both movies are for us to work at. We are brought along but not given too much help. In ?Upstream Color we are given almost no help, here there is enough to keep us from having to struggle too much, while at the same time have us wanting more.
This is a smartly directly movie, which does not strain itself beyond its capabilities, it is very watchable and a lot less taxing than Upstream Color.
This is the story of a young 15 year old boy growing up in the working-class north of England in the late sixties. The hero, Billy Casper (David Bradley, All quiet On the Western Front, 1979) is having a hard time of it growing up, being bullied both at home and school. What we see is a young man trying to get by in his own way. Billy is no angel, he’s not above swiping milk from the delivery float. His family background is nothing to write home about, his father having left them many years previously, his older half-brother verbally abuses him and his mother sees him as a lost cause.
While on his meandering wonders one day he robs a kestrel chick. This triggers something. As he is too young for the library, he robs a book on Falconry and sets about learning what he can. His life is driven by a desire not to end-up down the mines like so many before him. Slowly as he rears the chick a bond takes hold and Billy start to come out of himself. There may be a purpose in life. His schoolwork starts to improve as his outlook improves.
The dour nature of life as portrayed can be seen in the “football” scene when his P.E. teacher (Brian Glover, The company of Wolves, 1984) is trying to instil some interest in the lads as against the day dreaming of world cups and football glory. We see him as one of those petty angry adults which seem to fill the lives of young people as they try to find their way about in life.
Things however take a turn when he is told to put a bet on certain horses. Billy unfortunately thinks the horses will lose and so buys food for himself and Kes. The horses win and Jud is extremely angry at losing him money. He exacts revenge in the most cruel way, hurting Billy where it hurts most.
Like many Ken Loach films it is not necessarily an easy film to watch initially. That said I was around the same age or younger than the hero of the peace when I first saw this movie. Back in the days of 1 TV land, I had to watch what my parents were watching and they wanted to watch this. Thankfully.
It showed me that cinema does not have to be all happy-clappy to be good. Life can be hard and it is not always just mindless entertainment. However this is not an overly bleak film, Glover’s P.E. teacher and Billy himself and his attitude provides some witty and humorous dialogue.
This is one of Loach’s earliest films after cutting his teeth on BBC radio plays and as with much of the output to follow over the years, it is his view of a grinding realism. There is a message here like with so much else of his work. There are a number of messages, from the individual’s perspective to the view of how society treats people. We are shown more than a few examples of how Billy and others are essentially victims of a society which seems to have other things on its mind. Looking at the cinematography it is cold and harsh, the scenes are grey and overcast much of the time.
Alfred Hitchcock once said that the sign of a good movie is one where you can watch the film without volume and still follow it. You can certainly do that here. This is not a fun film, it is not a rip-roaring comedy, it is a look at a bleak life which somehow does not turn you off, indeed it manages to affect you. This is genuinely one of the 10 best and possibly most influential British films over any time period. This is a gritty piece of neo-realism.
Set in Ireland it is the story of three perpetual losers, who despite their many schemes are still as broke as ever and find themselves driving the length of the island trying to pull of that One scam which will set them up. Events kick off in Belfast where the guys, looking for a few pounds, agree to interfere with a greyhound race, in return for a greyhound to them from a local bookie, the kind of bookie (Sean McGinley, Republic of Doyle, 2010) who you do not want to owe money to and things go downhill from there. Directed by Paddy Breathnach (I went Down, 1997) and staring Allen Leech (The Imitation Game, 2014), who is nominally the brains of the outfit, Ciaran Nolan (dead Men Walking, 2008) the superstitious and unlucky unfortunate who at least tries to do something; and of course “Cerebral Paulsy” the grass smoking, brain fried one of the three constantly catching up.
Having been sold a pig-in-poke as it were, the dog they were given is useless and not capable of doing any good. This of course provides a whole set of challenges for the boys. Their luck might be changing though. They have been noticed by others. The wealthy widow of a former dog owner has a dog that can do what is needed, she gives them the dog, as a means to destroy their not so friendly bookie.
They enter the dog I a race only to find it did not even leave the box at the start. As if their day could not get any worse, the bookie finds them, kidnaps them and lets it be known that he finds them personally responsible for the race they nobbled and demands £50,000 from them. Not having this, they need to produce it fast. They head south to the Republic to try the dog but to no avail. About to give up, they sell the dog to travellers (Pat Short, Garage 2007) where they quickly realise the dog is actually guite good, it is just that he does not chase plastic hares, only real ones.
They guys decide to rob back the dog. Needless to say this does not exactly go as planned and a night of mayhem ensues. The rest of the film is about the three boys making their way south to the coursing fares and in the process trying to raise cash to enter the dog in the necessary races while at the same time avoiding Belfast bookies and various travellers.
Eventually as they get set-up at the Clonmel Coursing festival, their bookie and the travellers are also there and all want their share of the guys. The dog proceeds to win its races and of course draw the attention of said folks. Ultimately the boys are trapped in to a corner which Scud manages negotiate themselves out of. The negotiations work for them, and the film closes with us seeing how the guys are finally seeing some success.
What Breathnach manages to do is not only to pull together the story by Pearse Elliot (Shrooms) who he wrote with a number of times, but managed to do it so well. There are a number of set-piece situational gags, some excellent one liners and even a couple of continuing character jokes. The movie works well, some of the gags are sign-posted but that possibly adds to the enjoyment as we have a certain sense of expectation. It might be tempting to compare this movie to others such as RocknRolla (Guy Ritchie, 2008). On the surface they are both drama comedies but are very different styles, Dog is more of a series of well stitched together sketches while with RocknRolla the humour flows differently, bit excellent comedies, but both very different comedies both is style and nature. Man About Dog needs to be viewed as an Irish comedy and with the associated style.
This 1947 British classic was directed by Carol Reed (The Third Man, 1949) and starred James Mason (the Desert Rats, 1953). The story is based on the book by F.L. Green. The movie is about the impact on the lives of all those around Johnny McQueen (Mason). The film is set in a Northern Irish city, pick one of the two…and revolves around McQueen as he tries to survive a botched raid. The movie does not explicitly name any organisation just the “Organisation” . McQueen is a leading figure in the Organisation and having been lying low for about six months following his prison escape he has been ordered to execute a raid to raise funds. The film is set against the background of post-war Britain.
The remains of the war are all around and rationing is still in place. The scene is dark and broody, the movie has a classic British Noir feel. The shadows are there and contain menace. Is his heart in it? From what we can gather, he is a changed man since his time in prison, so much so that one of his team asks if he should be on the raid. We learn that McQueen is a person of some worth in Republican circles. The raid fails. McQueen injured and already on the run, must find safety on the streets of the city. As he scrambles for help he must hide in those corners, the snug of a crowded bar, air-shelter, where ever he can. All the time there is one person looking to help him, Kathleen ( Kathleen Ryan, Captain Boycott, 1947) the woman in whose house he has been hiding. She has fallen in love with him and will go to any lengths to protect him.
Often for a movie to work it needs to work on a number of levels dealing with the characters, the environment and the story itself. Adam & Paul is one of those movies. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Frank, 2014). The screenplay is by Mark O’Halloran ( Garage, 2007) who also plays the part of Adam alongside the late Tom Murphy (Man about Dog, 2009) who played Paul. Broadly speaking Adam & Paul is a comedy following two drop-out drug-addicts. On another level it is about following our two eponymous heroes on their journey through typical days in the lives of our two friends.
The two are life-long friends, whose decline in life is mirrored in each. Adam, is the slightly smarter of the two with Paul often looking to him for a form of leadership. The film follows the two as the wake in field on a mattress only to find that Adam is glued to the mattress. Having resolved this difficulty , they proceed to stock up on their drug supply only to have a run-in that requires their immediate exit. This more or less sets the scene for the day as they meander through Dublin, escaping dogs, meeting old friends, who it turns out are not happy with A&P as they missed the Month’s Mind of a friend earlier that morning. The guys are made to know just how unwelcome they are. In the course of the meeting one of the girls let’s slip that there will be a reception in the memory of their old friend, to which they are not invited. A lack of invitation will not stop them from attending.
Through-out the day Paul has a series of mishaps, from injuring his leg with a moped, to hurting his arm in an attempted smash and grab. The day is punctuated with misadventures and attempts to steal the funds they need for their drugs. As the day progresses, they head over to the apartment of an old friend, one they have been told to stay away from . When they arrive the door is open but thetre is nobody at home. Showing that there is really no honesty between thieves, the guys are ready to steal from her when they hear a baby crying, this stops them and when their friend returns.
This takes us up to about half way through the film and so far so good in relation to our two friends. Carefully written we have had the luxury of being observers, but they carefully shot scene of them mugging a young man with down-syndrome shows us that their actions are not as amusing and “harmless2 as first thought. They later meet-up with Crank who is not pleased that the story is around that he owes them money. He gets them to keep lookout as he and another get up to no good in a local garage, Adam & Paul, needless to say mess this up and do not notice the police arriving, Crank & Co. are arrested.
Without giving a blow by blow account of their travails, the two, having found a dumped TV decided to try and sell it. With the help of another guys, they go to a housing project to sell it to a particular person, the sale falls through and as they are leaving they pass the apartment of one of their dealers which is being raided by vigilantes. Moving past the two hangout in the common area outside the project. As they do the attacking vigilantes destroy the drug-dealer’s home throwing his belongings , including his drugs out onto the ground below where the two guys are cooling their heels. As they are two bags of the dealer’s drugs land near them. Christmas!
Adam & Paul leave to enjoy their new found luck. We next see them early morning on the beach as Paul wakes up only to discover his friend dead, having over-dosed. Paul takes his drugs and leaves.
What might be seen at first glance as a comedy of errors relating to a day in the life of two feckless idiots, might also be seen as a carefully scripted work showing that these two are not as harmless as they seem, death, injury, mistrust and pain follow them. By the end of the movie our view of the two is changed completely and far less forgiving than what it was at first.
I’ve been lucky enough to cross paths with Mark O’Halloran, he’s a person serious about his craft and it shows.
My Brother The Devil was written and directed by relative newcomer; Sally El Hosani, although having been involved in the film and TV business this was her first leading activity in a movie, it is to here credit that the end result is an excellent product which deserves to stand tall among other films and movies being produced today. The film revolves around two brothers, the sons of Egyptian immigrants who a growing up on the estates of inner-city London. Older Brother Rashid (James Floyd, The Infidel, 2010) is one of the cool guys who runs with the local gangs, while his younger brother , Mo, (Fady Elsayed, Sixteen, 2013)looks up to his brother with a sense of wonderment and wants to follow in his footsteps. Rashid on the other hand does not want his brother following him, he wants better for his brother.
We see both sons as they look to find their respective places in society. Just as Rashid is trying to get out of the gang related life he is living, as he does this, we see just how little respect these people have for the individual as they happily drag in young Mo to run drugs and other errands . this happens as Rashid is moving away from the gangs and as he does so, meets Sayyid (SaΪd Taghmaoui, The Kite Runner, 2007) with whom, after some initial struggles, Rashid and Sayyid begin a relationship, which ultimately strains the relationship between both brothers. While younger Mo is looking to find his way in life he struggles between the gangs, his more innocent teen friends and his older brother who now has the dark shadow of his sexuality hanging over him.
Both brothers must find their way in life, both must overcome the challenges ahead of them, but more importantly they begin to realise that their chances are better together. There is some subtly direction, the cool gang members are perhaps not as cool as they might seem, are they just the usual “corner-boys”, nothing to live up to or as in the case of Rashid, actually something to grow out of.
This is a debut film, made on a budget with a cast that is only partially professional, if I was inclined to do so, I would find issue with this film and some of the actors in a few places, but the acting from the main characters is all excellent, the story is one which catches us, grabs us by the neck and does not let go until the end. Some people have discussed the impact of Islamic fundamentalism, while other have decried the “toughness2 of the local gang members, there is no Islamic message here, it is simply a story of two boys growing up in their own culture. The brothers just happen to be from an Egyptian background, as and for the gang members not being overly hard; well it is Hackney not LA, what we see are kids growing up trying to be hard, a different thing. The movie has been compared to My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and I can see that, it might also stand comparison to Beautiful Thing (1996).
This is not a depressing film, rather it is engaging, sharply photographed and lean form a story telling perspective seek out the DVD or see if your service streams it.
Directed by David McKenzie (Hallem Foe, 2007), Starred Up could easy have been a failed ego-trip, instead it is a carefully crafted study of the violence and pressures on on inmate and how the effect those around him. The main protagonist (I’m not sure if you can say Hero) is a young man Eric Love (Jack O’Connell 2008), still in his teens, who has been “Starred-Up”, essentially he has been transferred from juvenile prison to the adult regime. This we quickly learn is because of his temper and propensity for violence. Immediately there are two comparisons to be made here; initially Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet (2009) where we see outsider Malik El Djebena (Tahir Rahim) settle in to prison life and learn how to exist and even grow (in his way) by learning how to deal with the gangs and hierarchy in the prison. Both prisons deal with adapting to life “on the inside” as do many more. One film which goes beyond that is Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson (2008) with Tom Hardy (Warrior, 2011) where we see prison life through the story of Britain’s hardest and most disruptive prisoner.
Young Eric is full of attitude and has more than enough fellow inmates to knock the spirit out of him, Once he is in his cell, his first act is to put together the necessary ingredients for a home-made shank and hide them about his cell. Given his background he has unfortunately come to the attention of the Deputy Governor (Sam Spruell, The Hurt Locker, 2008), a man, who can best be described as not a very good example of a Prison Service employee, corrupt and violent he has it in for the young lad. Despite all of this against him, there is a ray of light, or two.
Pretty soon we Eric come under the protection of another prisoner, who it turns out has a level of respect and authority in the prison, that prisoner is the lieutenant for the prisoner kingpin and also happens to be Eric’s father; Neville Love (Ben Mendelsohn, The Place behind The Pines, 2012) who has a difficult relationship with his son, not least of all because of his absence in his son’s life, but also in trying to protect him and the tension inherent in the situation. Eric is sent to group counseling which starts-off with the usual conflict and fighting, but only for the intervention of his father and counselor Baumer, is he allowed to continue. The two strike up a friendship which ultimately leads to Baumer’s dismissal due to his coming up against the Deputy Governor.
The movie progresses to the inevitable show-down through Eric finding his place in the pecking-order and not particularly liking it. While he is willing to play by the general rules, he cannot and will not accept personal treats and affronts, from anybody this ultimately leads to him making enemies who would prefer to see him dead. His enemies eventually attempt to make a move, which he is able to see off to a degree. There is a tension which is constructed well and manages to maintain a degree of “reality”.
Normally a movie of this sort might not grab me, but the feedback was such that I thought I would try it and I am glad I did. All of the cast put in performances which should be good for their careers. The characterisation is excellent, with us following those we are meant to and striving to see them succeed. This is not a prison movie, it is a road movie set in a prison.
I could give a blow-by-blow account of the various turns and developments which ultimately bring the film to its climax, instead I would suggest sit back and enjoy, one of the best British films of recent years. There are quite literally no punches pulled here, it is violent and graphically so in places but not gratuitously. The impact on O’Connell’s career can be seen through his following roles, it is immediate and justified.
Written and directed by Peter and Michael Spierig, the team behind Daybreakers (2010). Time travel has been conquered, at least to a limited extent based on a time zero in the early 1980’s. From this time limited travel over a period of 53 years is possible. However the time travel take its toll on those who travel, slowly degrading them physically and mentally. The number of jumps in time is regulated and overseen. The time travel itself is secret and limited to 12 agents in the Temporal Bureau, the travel is controlled and monitored, with strict rules about missions and and deviations from missions. The impact of travel is carefully monitored. Noah Taylor (Lawless, 2012) plays the part of Mr. Robinson, the shadowy figure who seems to interweave the lives of our protagonists, his role and influence becoming clearer as the story progresses.
The Story opens with an agent (Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight, 2013) trying to stop a bomber detonating his latest effort when the arrest goes wrong and the agent is blown-up and nearly killed, such are his injuries that his have needs to be reconstructed. The reconstruction allows him time to get ready for his last case, the travel back to hunt for the “Fizzle “ bomber, a serial bomber whose works have been escalating to the extent that in March 1975 he killed almost 10,000 people in New York.
Our agent recovers and returns to the time as a barman, he he meets a woman a single mother (Sarah Snook Sleeping Beauty, 2011), with a fascinating story, one she says cannot be beaten. The story details her unique life from the day she was dropped off in an orphanage and the various struggles she had fitting in (her younger self played by Freya Stafford) right up to her adult life and the challenges she has faced. We see how these challenges have quite literally shaped her. The agent listens and actually offers her a a chance to make do a wrong, a chance she finds unbelievable, she takes him up on the offer. He lets slip a little detail of her life, how did he know this, he explains it away, but we are warned.
Pretty soon, it becomes obvious that things are not as they seem. This is a thriller, one where suspense is not a dirty word. I am tempted to say there are a number of twists to this move with plot developments coming left, right and center, but that would be to do the film a dis-service. This plot is one of the most well thought-out I’ve come across in years, there are not twists in the plot so much as well directed curves which ultimately lead us to the climax.
I cannot say too much because to say anything risks giving away an excellent plot. This is a film where all of the aspects must come together for it to work. The script is tight, remarkably so, the cinematography is aligned perfectly to the plot developments, with the subtle stylization for the different time periods. Movies with twists are often just average movies where a writer or producer etc. decides something else is needed. Here there is nothing else needed. This is a carefully plotted story which brings you along .
If you are the type to run about in and out to the kitchen making coffee or pop corn during a movie, then this one is not for you. Once you turn on this film you need to sit down and watch it through. This is a story with no space fillers or padding. It is brilliantly executed. A lot cold be said to analyze this film and the subject of time travelling paradoxes, but that would ruin the experience of the movie. That said it would be no harm to understand the concepts of the paradoxes.
From 1997, the film is set in the dying days of the old Soviet “empire” in what was then Czechoslovakia. It is about 15 years since I first saw this film and it still brings a smile. Directed by Jan Svĕrák (Dark Blue World, 2001) and staring his brother Zdenek SvĕráK. It was written by Zdenek and Pavel Taussig. Our hero is Louka (Jan SvĕráK, Empties 2007). Louka used to be a cellist with the Czechoslovak Symphony Orchestra but was removed for reasons falling somewhere between deliberate and mistake, this was in the days of bureaucratic decisions being made by the technocrats regardless of the effects. Light-hearted and warm it tackles the events of the time in a manner which might just bring your finger to your eye to wipe away something…nudge nudge. You will laugh.
Being unemployed, our confirmed bachelor, must have an income. He manages this by performing at weddings and funerals. He also supports himself by painting tombstones. In with all of this is his relationship with his on/off girlfriend. Between performances which to say the least, he has no interest in, he talks with his friend the gravedigger. It is here that he learns of a way to make some money fast; marry a Russian bride so she gets her visa out of Russia. Sounds like it could be done, so he agrees.
The arrangements are made and before long, Louka is married to his Russian bride. At this stage we could say they lived happily ever after, but then there would be no film, in fact things go down-hill at an appreciable rate. His Russian bride has her heart elsewhere, namely with her boyfriend I West Germany. Before long she leaves Louka and heads to Germany leaving her son, Kolya behind. Kolya goes to live with his grand-mother for a while but she dies and the authorities decide the child must live with his step-father; Louka
After some resistance, from all side, Louka and Kolya begin to settle down together with room being made in his dingy garret flat. The fact that neither of them speaks the other’s language doesn’t help either. As they progress slowly coming to terms with each other, fate throws another spanner in to the works, Kolya contracts meningitis which requires specific medication for him. This all brings the situation for the two into focus with the authorities. Louka is threatened with prison.
As the world is about to come tumbling down around him, events in the outside world gather pace and the old regime is swept away by the Velvet Revolution. This together with the events in Germany, Kolya’s mother is able to be reunited with him. Things end well for Louka also, he and his girlfriend soon have a new family member to care for.
This is an easy going film, looking at life from the point of view of somebody who despite having things go against him, is determined to get on with things. There are some great moments of simple verbal and situational comedy scattered in here, which make it a cut above the rest. Dig it up, watch it and feel better about life.
A south Korean movie, directed by Bong Joon-ho (The Host 2006) based on the screen play by Kelly Masterson (Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, 2007) and Bong Joon-ho. The world has been destroyed by attempts to stop global warming which have gone totally wrong. Faced with the growing threat of global warming, an experimental new approach was developed, which entailed seeding the upper atmosphere with a chemical (CW7) to overcome the effects of global warming.
One of the first things you notice about this film is the cast. I have to admit, it is probably not the cast I would have picked, but that said, I would have been wrong. The casting works well and I wouldn’t change any of them. Behind the scenes, there is some discussion about The Weinstein Company taking out about 20 minutes of the film to suit western viewers. The movie is based on a French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige”.
The film opens in the train, but with a narration giving us the history of the efforts to stop global warming which ultimately resulted in the destruction of civilisation by virtue of the CW7 working too well and forcing the world in to an ice age. We quickly learn that those on the train have been on it for 17 years, entirely self-contained. Life is dystopian for many and carefully managed and controlled overall. The train itself is a huge affair purposefully built by an eccentric transport mogul who had no confidence in the CW7 solution so he built a special train which linked in to the world’s rail transport system and provided a place of refuge for the select few, constantly travelling around the world, never stopping.
Never stopping has a price. In order to keep the train moving the passengers are carefully ordered. First class, standard and economy. We learn about the workings of the train and its society from the huddled masses in economy. As bad as conditions are, we are told they are “the lucky ones” as they got on the train and are still alive. For seventeen years these people have been in the windowless back carriages at the tail of the train. Things are not good. People are huddled in to any corner they can find. The background is explained to us through the eyes of those trapped in the back. There have been up-risings in the past, all of which have failed. One of the key aspects of the uprisings is getting out to the armoured carriages in to the next carriages on the train. The people are fed a stable diet of protein pars to keep them alive. The protein bars are provided by the “Train” We also notice that although these third class passengers are in rags there is a fully uniformed security force and also train crew.
Chris Evans (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014) plays the part of Curtis, he is the leader of the would-be rebellion. He must decide when to act and how to. Key to their plan is rescuing Namgoong Minsu (Kang-ho Song, The Host, 2013) who is the security expert who designed the security systems for the train, keeping the carriages separate. The only problem is that he is a drug addled prisoner in the train’s prison carriage. Curtis together with his Lieutenants; Edgar, his second in command (Jamie Bell, Man on a Ledge, 2012)) sporting a strangely passible Irish accent who is the no-patience action man; and Gilliam, the older sage, respected by all and carrying the wounds of previous encounters. Discipline is savage, beatings are regular and extreme, often involving loss of limbs. Other rebellions have failed, they have looked at why and hopefully have a plan to overcome these issues. In to the mix of this we see the “overlords” using these third-class passengers as nothing more than a resource to be taken from.
At one scene we see one person taken t the front of the train to provide musical entertainment for the upper classes. We later see him and others who have been taken, their minds’ washed to be compliant and subservient. Meanwhile children are being taken to the front and nobody knows why.
Authority on the train is in the person of Minister Monroe (Thilda Swinton, Adaptation, 2002) who is the voice of authority, endlessly engaging in a passive aggressive dominance over those in third class. Eventually when they notice that the guards on the carriage actually have no ammunition in their weapons, the passengers rise-up. Using weapons and tools they made, they make their attack, first to the jail carriage where they rescue the security expert and his girlfriend. Using their skills they move forward first past the prison carriage, then they take the food and water carriages, revealing some of the nasty truths involved in life on the train. After a series of often bloody battles, against firstly the guards, then axe yielding black clad figures to then more armed guard and some very nasty people along the way. Eventually they make their way forward, glimpsing along the way how the rest of the upper-class passengers live. Ultimately they arrive at the Front, and meet Mr Wilford (Ed Harris, the Way Back 2010). Here talking with Wilford they rebels get an idea of just how perverted life has become on the train.
We are told as the film progresses that the key to survival is balance. There is plenty of food (for the privileged) the key is balancing the demands with supply at the right times and seasons. This even stretches to the punishment of the third class passengers, it is calculated that 74% must die. We have become used to video games producing tie-in movies, however this is a movie which almost feels like a video game despite not having one at its origin. Each Carriage is essentially a new level with new associated challenges for the rebels to overcome.
This movie could have been too busy, with so much cramped in to so tight a space, both physically and emotionally, but the characterisation works, Evans’ Curtis is very underplayed, what we know of him comes from revealing moments as the movie progresses, to ultimately a character we have confidence in as a leader. Swinton’s Monroe is a nasty piece of work showing nothing but disdain for the passengers through her passive aggressive control. We see just how lose control is later on as she is used to lead the rebels through the train. Those upper class people they pass are largely disgusted by what they see, interrupting their on-going lives. The food shortages present further back are not seen here.
The only obvious weakness that presents itself, is a slight continuity issue; where having established that the guards are out of ammunition we later see a full use of ammunition as the rebellion gathers pace, perhaps it is rationed to certain areas. The other slight weakness is the issue of blockages on the line, is it only now that these are causing problems, are they normal with the rebellion deflecting away from essential management of them?
When we eventually meet Wilford, having already gotten a background on him we see a person who is immediately comparable to “Christof” the show’s producer and “God-like” character. We see the same calm omnipotence here. There Characters are perhaps a little too similar, given the respective plots. Very smartly we are shown not just his power but also how fragile it all is, perhaps his character is more comparable to The Wizard from The Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan). His power is based on what people think of him. Minister Monroe’s character shows us how the train’s front has almost taken on a mystical, even religious aspect, with Wilford being almost worshipped.
That said, this is an excellent movie with an excellent cast, Evans, gives one of his best roles, Swinton is almost unrecognisable, Bell and Hurt support magnificently. It should be pointed out that even additional supporting cast duties are taken up by well-known character-actors more than capable of supplying what is needed.
In the last scenes we see a polar bear; does this signify freedom, danger or the sub-text that the bear looks fed and, if it is fed, there is life of some sort, where there is life; there is hope. As viewers, Bong, quite deliberately allowed us to get to know those people surviving at the back of the train and what they have to endure, are we allowed to hope for their future.
In the interests of full disclosure, Alan Turing has been a hero of mine ever since college. This movie focuses primarily on the events surrounding Project Ultra and the breaking of the Enigma machine code. This film can be watched in isolation without knowing much about the great man, but knowing anything about him greatly adds to the movie. Alan Turing was not an easy man to work with due to his character, but by all accounts a person who could be worked with, once you got to know him.
The subject of this film was a state secret until the 1970’s and it was not until the 1980s and 1990s that his work here was fully appreciated. The title of the movie is taken from one of his pre-war papers on machine intelligence. I should at this stage point out that Alan Turing is regarded as one of the founding fathers of Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, Computing, bio-mathematics and is credited with building the first machine that we today would consider a computer. His untimely death at the age of 41 has left the world wondering what more could he have achieved.
The cast is first-class and lead by Benedict Cumberbatch (August Osage County, 2013), who plays a powerful Turing, even down to the cheekbones. Cumberbatch through his Sherlock has proven to be an actor capable of pulling off the most complex characterisations. The difficulty with Turing is that he is a real person, with mannerisms remembered by people so no room for movement. This is also seen in how the movie treats history itself.
Credit must be given to the Director Morten Tyldum (Head Hunters 2012) and writers Andrew Hodges (the book) and Graham Moore (screenplay) for managing even if only by reference to place other factors in to the movie. We see the work of the Polish Scientist of the 1920s in breaking an earlier version being used as inspiration. Even to the end we can see posters and sketches on his wall at home which relate to the pioneering work he did on the mathematical theory of embryology.
Keira Knightly (London Boulevard, 2010) give a bravura performance of the hard put-upon Joan Clarke, the only woman in the group – who had to be kept secret and apart from the rest of the all-male group. Indeed the movie also handles well the undercurrent of prejudices and morals which prevailed at that time. She manages to play perfectly against his character, the two of them working well together. Charles Dance (Game of Thrones, 2011-2015 plays the part of Commander Denniston, the officer in charge of Bletchley Park and the person who has to fight against Turing. The humour of the situation is seen in one of the run-ins Turing and Denniston have; asked who was the Commander’s commanding officer, Denniston replies “Churchill”, Turing promptly contacts him to argue his case.
Matthew Goode plays Hugh Alexander, the man who was originally to lead the decryption efforts, but was replaced by Turing, here we see the personalities at work and how they can come together. The use of Mark Strong (Robin Hood, 2010) as the MI6 officer overseeing the activities is an interesting dramatic trick as it allows us to place the Ultra efforts within the overall theatre of war. There are emotional scenes when the team realise they cannot warn potential victims of what they found, because it would give away their secret, this has been an interesting ethics question for many years and nicely and succinctly done here.
We know the story, so there is no need to go through the plot. The story of Turing’s personal life is largely told through flashbacks and flash-forwards to when he is being investigated. If I have a tiny criticism it is how they try to make out that the arrest originated from the police wondering what he had to hide, given his blank (deliberately emptied) war record, was he another of those Communist spies? This movie showed the scientific and technical brilliance of Turing, giving the audience just enough of the technical knowledge necessary (judging by the age profile of the cinema audience where I saw it, I suspect most of the audience was already very familiar with the technicalities).
Overall an affecting movie which despite what might be considered by some (not me) to be a rather boring subject matter, you will be swept up in the progress of the film, you will get to know the characters and you will wait to see the machine working.
The campaign to pardon Turing and have him take his place in history has been active for many years, this hopefully will go some way to giving the great man the recognition he deserves.
A good, fast-flowing movie that cleverly gives the audience a look at these historic events and people without flooding us with technicality. This shows the top-secret work of a small group of people, perhaps never really expected to succeed, and certainly not achieve what they did. Excellent movie. 8/10
Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini, Enough Said, 2013), runs a neighbourhood bar, which he used to own until about 10 years previous, when the Chechen mob took it from him. He is aided in running the bar with his cousin Bob ( Tom Hardy, Locke, 2014) who is calm quiet individual, who might be taken for being slow of the mark, but may not be a quiet as he seems. The bar is a mob “drop” bar where once selected for a given night, is the drop point for mob bookies through the city. One particular night, with no special drops, the bar is raided and about $5K stolen. As a result of a head injury to one of the staff, an ambulance is called and so the police. Bob let’s slip that one of the robbers had a broken watch, this turns out to be a vital clue. The detective, Torres (John Ortiz, Fast and Furious, 2006) who is assigned the case turns out to be a regular mass goer in the same church as Bob. Being a detective, he has noticed Bob never takes Communion, he asks Bob about this, but gets no answer, is there something deep and dark in Bob’s past?
As he is dealing with the fall-out from the robbery, he comes across an abandoned and injured puppy in a woman’s rubbish bin, through rescuing the puppy, he gets to know the woman in question, with a delicate fledgling relationship begins. Before it can develop, things take a negative turn. It turns out the puppy was owned by a local thug, Eric Deeds, (Blood Ties, 2013) who also happens to be the ex-boyfriend of the woman in question, Nadia (Noomi Rapace, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, 2009). Deeds has been recently released from prison/psychiatric hospital and is widely believed to have cold-bloodily killed a former gang leader and general all-round nasty thug some years ago, this belief has given Deeds a reputation he is happy to live up to.
It soon becomes clear that there was something more behind the robbery, Bob tries to steer a straight line, surviving by keeping his head down, minding his own business and doing nothing to annoy the Chechens.
At first glance we see parallels to the character Hardy played in Lawless (2012) in both cases we see a man getting on with life, quiet and thoughtful, a thinker. Hardy is to be acknowledged as playing two similar roles but managing to give completely different characters; Forrest was confident and sure is what he was doing, he did not speak because he did not need to. Bob on the other hand comes across as a man not so sure of himself, even taking on the “Responsibility” of the puppy is a matter of concern for him.
AS the plot develops and pressure starts to mount, we learn there is to be an added complication; the bar is to be the drop bar for the mob on Super-bowl night, the biggest money night of the year. Will it be robbed again? One of the original thieves was found and executed with the money returned. However our friend Deeds is involved somehow. As the situation develops, Bob takes precautions to first and foremost protect himself. The night of the big match arrives, and things get complicated, caught up between Deeds, Nadia who is forced there by the more and more deranged Deeds needs to be protected and against all of this is the underlying threat to his dog, which he is not taking lightly. The night unfolds with nothing going to plan. Secrets are revealed, and justice meted out, but to whom.
Hardy is the star of the show, once again transforming himself to the role, Gandolfini plays to his type (excellently, as was his way).
It is a firm 3 star show, nothing overly wrong with it, a lot right with it, but just missing that little extra to make it stand out. Also the role of Detective Torres role comes across as under played. Yes the detective put “two and two “ together to realise the secret of an old mystery and yes he develops a relationship with Hardy but it seems almost like an add-on, maybe suffering a little in editing. There is a certain something missing for some of the film, but noting serious.
Atmospheric and well set, it will keep you entertained. Written by David Lehane (Mystic River, 2003) we can see how Lehane again is able to use the edginess of the situation to move along the story and give a sense of menace to the background which does not need to be overly stated.
One might ask if this movie is an entertainment production or something meant to resemble an art work. Directed by Steven Knight, it is quite different to his last directorial effort (Redemption 2013) but still retains that sense of movement and edge. Starring Tom Hardy (Lawless 2012) as the eponymous “Locke”.
Set on the road to his destination, we are given a movie of Tom Hardy behind the wheel dealing with the consequences of his actions. It opens as he is juggling a number of phone calls to his home, work and contacts. Whatever is going on, he seems to be turning his back on a number of responsibilities, both at home and at work. We quickly learn that there is a major construction job underway with what turns out to be the biggest concrete pouring in Europe due in the coming hours, he should be supervising it, instead he is leaving it to one of his men. We see that he is also bailing on his son, not watching the big-match with him.
Locke has made decisions and now he needs to deal with them, he needs to live with them. he is about to have child, but the mother is not his wife. What we see is a man “on the edge”, possibly both figuratively, as much of the film is him trying to control his life and events surrounding him, while at the same time shot completely in the car, with only occasional changes of view to allow the viewer to survive, we watch him correct a mistake, one which cannot really be dealt with in isolation. The use of the car and the phone show how events, though seemingly not connected are often impacted by each other, purely because of the slightest connection, the slightest common denominator, Locke.
If you’ve seen Hardy in works such as Lawless (John Hillcoat, 2012) or Bronson (Nicholas Winding Refn, 2008) or even the current Peaky Blinders on TV which was created by Steven Knight you will know he is a very physical actor, he is also an actor who has learned to use his body, his face, to control the character, to communicate the message and emotion of the scene. There is a scene in Peaky Blinders where new recruits to the criminal enterprise are being briefed, one makes a joke he should not have, Hardy disciplines him by seriously injuring the person standing next to him and them giving a sermon on discipline, you could feel the menace.
From the calls we learn that Locke, is not just some employee, he should be central ot the work being carried out on the site, we hear from his instructions that he knows what he is talking about, indeed it is this very knowledge and the advice he is giving to his junior that tell us just how much he should not be in the car to London right now. Without ever leaving the front seat he brings us in to his life. We could argue that the car is a metaphor, some kind. He and his life are going somewhere at speed, it is not somewhere that he planned to go, but it is something he must do. Just as in life he is trapped by his decisions, so too is he in the car, he is stuck behind the wheel, controlling the journey, on the phone trying to control life.
We can compare this film to recent efforts such as All is Lost (J.C. Chandor, 2013) or Buried (Rodrigo Cortés, I’d go with Buried. This film has been described as a “Dramatic thriller” or just a “thriller”. We might say it is neither, perhaps more one-man melodrama, but personally I would describe it as a thriller, in so far there is an ending, we don’t know what it is but we are along with Locke to see what it is. The use of the car is an interesting tool because it allows Knight to give us an ever changing back-drop, one against which he can display the mental tribulations he is going through. The phone conversations not only tell the story but also allow for his reaction, they are also the story.
This is not a movie about doing the right or wrong thing, this is a movie about consequences, having done wrong, he is now trying to do right. What is more shocking is that to one of his interlocutors on the phone, he is “the last person in the world” who would have been expected to do what he did. We see his integrity trying to fight through. Yes he did wrong, “only once” but the once is the key part, what comes before that once, means nothing, what comes after are the consequences. One might also suggest the building site he is leaving at a critical time is analogous to his family, again he is leaving them to be elsewhere. He talks about foundations of the building and projects he has worked on, his family also needs foundations and he may have undermined those foundations.
I recently gave an opinion on “Under The Skin”, this is also something similar, both movies are tightly focused on one person, every other person or conversation is there to add to the vision of what we see concerning that key character. Both are possibly in alien lands, with little introduction or understanding of them, we the viewer is required to learn as we progress and to judge, are these good or bad people (if you can call Scarlett Johansson’s character a person). We do however get a glimpse of the influences behind the man with his discussions with his late father. This mental exercise, carried-on out loud for us again shows how he is trying to do the right thing and balancing his moral compass through his experiences with his own father.
It is only fair to credit Haris Zambarloukos (Thor, God of Thunder, 2011) who is generally regarded as one of the top practitioners of his art. It cannot be east to work to create a movie scape which keeps us for the best part of 90minutes when you have only one subject. Zambarloukos does this, his focus on hardy, not just from the front but also side on are perfect, as to are outr glimpses of the world go by, whether it is industrial plants or even the row of lights trailing in to the past.
This is a movie for adults, in so far as the content and style will not keep kids or people with an attention span less than 5 minutes.
Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast , 2000), is not one of the world’s most prolific directors, but what he does produce is always noteworthy and of merit, even if it requires you to work with him. Under the Skin is such a movie. One of the first things to make itself obvious in the film is the use of light and colours, either the extreme whiteness (and also black) of her environment, an area without seems or borders, we see only light, or in the scenes of what we take as her lair, we see a dark void absent any obvious light source, or surfaces. The opening sequence takes us from the sterile bright white of an alien environment (or consciousness, we don’t know) to the dull, dreary urban motorway scenes of our aliens (we take the bike rider as being another alien) driving around mainly urban Scotland. While the picture painted by her travelling is not one of joy and happiness but rather a cold searching. The atmosphere, the scenery and even some of the people encountered along the way, are not the type that you would put on a “Visit Scotland” poster, they are real and ordinary with nothing much to sell them.
How long she is on the planet we don’t know, but she is able to drive a Transit van and communicate in flawless English (for what little dialogue there is in the movie). Scarlett Johansson (Her, 2013), play what is a challenging role brilliantly, her acting is visual, with little chance to add to scenes through dialogue. She seems “comfortable in her skin” or so to speak, yet she spends her days driving around looking for people who will not be noticed missing too quickly. As we see her driving it becomes obvious she’s is driving for a reason, she is hunting. Like a spider, she lures her victims to her, first chatting to them to get them in to her van and then into her “lair”. Her lair is a dark void, in the same sense of the white scenes were of a white void, with no obvious dimensions which swallows up her victims.
The film is almost silent, with any dialogue sparse and only as needed, at least 70% to 80% of the movie is non-dialogue. After the usual initial small talk we see her with her victims, back in the “eternal void” while we think we are used to the void, we see that there is more to it. Her mail victims never reach or connect with her, indeed as they approach her, they are subsumed into an liquid, best described as akin to embryonic fluid. She walks over it as if it is solid, it is only as her later that the realise that the liquid is a storage area, not visible from above, but from within. We are not told if this is her natural environment or some type of psychological analogue of what is happening. One thing you will notice is the cold emotionless performance by Johansson. We observe her from an emotional distance, we’re along for the ride, but not part of the experience. If you are looking for an action packed shoot-em-up, go look somewhere else, If you are looking for a lost Kubrick, then it will suit you perfectly. We are only allowed to observe this movie, always kept at a safe distance. As the movie progresses we get the feeling she is less familiar with her surroundings, or at least less comfortable, indeed the scene in the woods shows just how alien she is, literally and figuratively.
The dialogue, where it happens is clipped and pared back to the bare minimum, only used for what is needed. Indeed one of the movies pivotal parts is where here latest victim is descending in to the liquid and sees another older victim, now disfigured by his time in the liquid. Rather than recoil, the new victim makes his way to the other and without words they reach out and touch. The connection to the other, whoever they are is preferable to isolation.
One cannot help but wonder if the dark area and fluid, and even the bright white scene are her natural environment, the place where she is calm and safe, a place of isolation. Whereas out and about on Earth she is surrounded by dimensions, noises, colours, sounds and tastes etc. This environment is alien to her, just as her’s is to us. We also notice the difference in styles of person, the talking youths eager for her company, these are ordinary people, using ordinary lines, but still against her silence.
In some senses it reminds of (Upstream Colour (Carruth, 2013), the visuals are a significant part of the story, even surpassing the dialogue. We are also left to discover the movie as it progresses, working out the clues and interpretations as we move along. Aliens (in Earth based movies) generally fall into one of two categories, the big nasty evils one who want to destroy us, or the cute one, usually lost or homesick, Here we might have a mixture of both, or do we. We have a creature which looks like is will do no harm, but we know the skin she inhabits is not her own and like a spider, the males she beguiles are lured to her lair and trapped.
It is hinted by visuals that she is not alone and that there are other aliens, but this is never confirmed, such is the movie. This is not a movie to fill a wet Saturday evening, no you watch this only if you are willing to work at it and take in all it has to deliver.
This is a work which has been well assembled, superbly acted by Johansson with cinematography which not only compliments the acting but is a necessary part of the story, of the work. Not the easiest movie to watch, but not the worst by any measure, indeed it is one which rewards the effort.
Written and directed by John Michael Mc Donagh, this is the second of a loosely based trilogy. The subject matter is not connected, rather locations associated with McDonagh’s background. The first installment was “The Guard” (2011). Described as a black comedy, it might be better described Dark thriller with a touch of dark humour thrown in.
Although described as “dark” this is a very entertaining movie, which from the start drags in the viewer and keeps us alongside to the very end. Brendan Gleeson’s character is that of Father James, the local parish priest in a small rural parish in Sligo. Boarding the coast, there are some fantastic backdrops (having spent two years living in the area, I can say the scenery is every bit as photographed for the film. Fr. James we learn came to the Priesthood later in life, after his wife died. As with any normal person, he has his daemons, he is open about his hard drinking ways in the past, now he controls his life and habits. As “normal” as he is, the villagers, his parish, are what can best be described as an “odd bunch”.
The film opens in confession, here we learn that one of his parishioners was abuse as a child by a priest. In the parishioner’s quest for vengeance, he has decided to kill a priest, not just any priest, but a good priest, someone people will notice. He is told he has just over a week to live, they even make an appointment for the following Sunday on the beach. We are not clear if he actually knows who his killer is. Following a discussion with his less than helpful Bishop (David McSavage), the Bishop feels that the confession was not valid, as absolution was not present and so he should report the issue.
Instead Fr. James uses the week to put his house in order and try find a way to stop what is going to happen. In to the mix comes his adult daughter (Kelly Reilly, Sherlock Homes, 2009), recovering from a suicide attempt. We see through her that his relationship with her has been strained over time and in deed still shows some stress marks but they know they have something to work out and so do. They treat each other as adults.
Over the coming days, we see Fr. James deal with his parishioners, the wife beaten by her lover, the lover who has no remorse and even the cuckolded husband, who is quite happy for his wife to have an affair, as it takes the pressure off him and basically they can get on with life. As part of his ministering to his flock he visits an old American writer who is living in a remote area accessible only by boat. While bringing the old writer his messages, he makes a request for a gun (Walter PPK). After some banter Fr. James says he will try and see what he can do. In the course of the next day he pays a visit to the local Police Inspector, to borrow a gun. The inspector is at home, with a male prostitute. Fr. James is not fazed by this or the prostitute’s behaviour. The prostitute is played by Owen Sharpe, I mention this because of his recent role in “’71” playing the young IRA killer, a completely different role, both done well.
As the week goes on, he has to deal with his curate, Fr. Leary (David Wilmot, Vikings 2013) who is not exactly the caring type, more concerned with image rather than substance. Fr. James is rather blunt in his opinion of him as a priest. Indeed one of the defining characteristics of Fr. James is his bluntness. When we see him with the financier on the edge of arrest (Dylan Moran, Black Books, 2000) who is trying to put things right (in his own way). Fr. Leary fawns to Moran’s character, while Fr. James just basically sees through the acts and gets down to business naming a figure and looking for the check.
As the week goes on, we start to see things taking a chilling turn, with his local church being burnt down and even his pet dog killed, we are not told who is responsible for these acts. We see the tensions mount to breaking point, while we also see moments of clam and belief, no more so that the French couple of holiday who were involved in a car crash, the husband is killed, while the wife escapes unhurt, we see in her a person of Faith and in so doing also see his Faith, it is real to him.
He has no airs and graces, when one of the village odd-balls, Milo Herlihy (Killian Scott, Love/Hate 2010-2014) sees Fr. James in church to ask for his advice regarding women; the conversation turns surreal. He basically has urges, possibly to violence , to control these urges he has decided to join the army, which he is convinced is full of psychopaths anyway and so should be a natural home for himself, Fr. James attempts to bring him back to reality by suggesting he read certain magazines, only to have milo say he has already tried them. What we see is a man casting no judgements and genuinely trying to help. His chats with the atheist (and cynical ) doctor, (Aidan Gillen, Love/Hate 2010-2013) also give us an insight to his view on life and his outlook on things in general, while at the same time not forcing a believe or rationalisation on the other person.
In dealing with his parishioners and even his daughter (and by extension himself) we do see a “good Priest”. Fr. James’s character is no Saint, he has his flaws and weaknesses like any person. He is essentially a person who is trying to help is parishioners without overstepping. However the various scenarios thrown up by the locals work at both levels, firstly allowing for a local and immediate (personal response) but also causing us to see the reaction of a kind and compassionate man, even if one who does not suffer fools to gladly.
Among all of the local community there is one who stands out, the altar boy, Mícheál (Mícheál Óg Lane, the Guard, 2011) he stands out for one reason, essentially he has reprised his role in The Guard, as a comic foil for Gleeson. This time it is a little more subtle but equally as good.
This movie shifts to a climax which can only end one of two ways, Fr. James alive or dead. A good man alive or dead. What we saw was a week in the life of a small parish, all seemingly tranquil and calm while below the surface there is violence, loneliness, suffering and pain and only one man has an idea as to what extent the people of the village are suffering in their various ways, just as he is dealing with his own daemons.
It is felt Gleeson might get an Oscar nomination for this role, he deserves it
This is perhaps one of the more under-appreciated movies out there. Originally made in 1995 as a HBO TV movie, it has since gone on to win a cult DVD following since its release. The movie is set against the background of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which parallels the case as in runs over a period of about 7 years. The movie is based on true events, the extent to which is always up to question. People are dying, children are being murdered and the police are getting nowhere. One junior forensic detective , Viktor Burakow (Stephen Rea, V for Vendetta, 2005) believes they have a serial killer. He takes his opinion to his Superior, Col. Fetisov (Donald Sutherland, Space Cowboys, 2000) who although reluctant to believe Burakow, reports the possibility to the local Communist party officials over-looking the work of the police. They are emphatic that there are no serial killers in Russia. End of discussion. It may have been the end of the discussion, but not the murders. The murders sting out over a number of years. In the early years of the investigation Burakov’s biggest hurdle was the Communist party who would not admit to such crimes in Mother Russia. The local officials ordered the rounding up of others who they saw as degenerates and likely suspects. Non had anything to do with the murders, more dead-ends, more time wasted. Burakow never gives up the search, often on his own and against the wishes of the Party. Josh Ackland (firelight, 1997) is the stalwart party official holding things back, loyal to the end.
As the murders progress and Burakow’s progress and resources continue to be limited, we get to know the murderer, Jeffrey DeMunn, The Shawshank Redemption, 1994) and what is driving him. What holds Burakow up against the others is his willingness to continuously challenge the system in order to have the resources necessary to do his job. His relationship with Fetisov, though friendly and professional most of the time is often fraught with tension. Fetisov is the person who has to deal with the party officials in Moscow and locally. Despite his continually limiting Burakov and calming him down, he actually has his back. Over the years when all seems lost, Burakov out of the blue gets his resources, he even gets promoted and has staff assigned. Fetisov, who, although often locks horns with Burakov over his demands ultimately supports him all along the way. What Fetisov brings to the affair is his ability to manage the situation. As the Soviet Union fell apart, he knew which vacuums to step in to and how to control the situation working it to provide the support Burakov needs. It is telling that the support is not just in terms or resources but also directly to Burakov. He is Fetisov’s man, he is the person to lead the investigation . Lead it he does, with little or no equipment he struggles but never gives up, however long it takes Burakov will keep hunting with whatever tools he has available As this happens we are conscious of the years and victims passing through his hands, through dogged police work, forensics and finally having access to the experts and testing he needed, the team slowly begin to make progress. As the investigation progresses and they zero in on their suspect, they need to get to know and understand him.
To this end Burakov manages to persuade his superiors to allow him bring in a phsyco-analist in the form of Dr. Alexander Bukhanovsky (Max von Sydow, Minoroty Report, 2002) who profiles the suspect and helps to track him. Bukhanovsky’s report on the profile of the killer, gives Burakov the insight he needs. Old fashioned police work allows them to progress. Burakov eventually has authorisation to put men in areas likely be attractive to the killer, it works. Once they have their suspect, they need the evidence to convict him, the need to know if he is sane enough to stand trial. The murderer, Chikatilo, is a cool calm character who has not given them much to go on. Bukhanovsky must work his magic, talking with their murder suspect, getting to know him and what drives him. They eventually manage to get our murderer to reveal, the bodies of many of his victims. This is a thriller to an extent, it is also a police procedural, but it is more than these, it is a good solid drama expertly crafted; written and directed by Chris Gerolmo (Certain Prey, 2011). From the very start we are introduced to Burakov as a person, we are encouraged to feel his frustration and smile when we see how Fetisov has been toying with him. Indeed the person who we thought would be another one of those party functionaries, turn out to be Burakov’s biggest supporter, even when their backs are to the wall. Fetisov, effectively “takes the heat” for Burakov, despite what the junior officer thinks. What makes this film stand out is the drama, not just the drama of capturing the suspect but the drama and effects of the changing environment, from denial and party politics to acceptance and doors being opened to ensure what needs to be done can be done.
Gerolmo gives us a glimpse of the conditions people were living and working under, while at the same time giving a vision of a society possibly changing for the better, people like Burakov would be allowed to do their jobs. Stephen Rea is under-stated and calm throughout, his character is painstaking and methodical, not one to go out on a limb, unless there was a good reason why and a high chance of success. Von Sydow’s Bukhanovsky gives us the intellectual science that was needed to finally put the pieces together. DeMann’s murder is a master-class in control, he play the part of the serial killer exactly giving vision to the analysis the detectives are painting, as the analysis deepens, the detectives get closer to their man, understanding him, anticipating him. Buy it or stream it, you will not be disappointed in this film. Just sit-back and let it bring you along. Appreciate the acting and the script. The pace never lags, and even in the darkness there are moments of light with the script and relationship between Burakov and Fetisov. A solid 8/10. Possibly 9
I was struggling on how to open, then I realised: this is classic Christopher Nolan (Inception, 2010). Nolan has written and directed this movie and it shows. If you want an adventure movie like Armageddon (A.J. Frost, 1998), then go see what else is available. On the other hand, if you enjoyed Inception or Memento (2000), then you will enjoy this. The movie is set somewhere in the near-future, though when we are left to guess. We are looking at a society which realised it is on the edge of the abyss and needed to act. There are too many people on the Earth and resources are running out. As the movie runs we begin to learn vital snippets of information, like both the India and US space missions went down at the same time. We quickly notice too that the house is not the usual mobile and tablet picture we have become used to. Our hero , Cooper (Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club, 2013) We learn is a farmer, he is working the family farm. Living on the edge of town , he lives with this Father-in-law, (John Lithgow, Dexter 2009) We learn that “Coop’s” wife died of cancer and he is bringing up Tom (Timothée Chalamet, Clown, 2008) who at 15 is looking to his future, and Murph, his 10 year old daughter who is trying to find her way in the world, a bit like her father.
I say this because, they are both technical, very technical. We learn that Coop is a former NASA pilot, from a time when NASA was preparing for flight into the Solar System. Early on we see he is haunted by dreams of a crash and we wonder if he has left NASA due to an accident. This is quickly put aside as we put together the pieces. Many of his neighbours have had to sell-up, their wheat has died, and we are once again seeing a dust-bowl hinterland. They grow corn and are surviving, they have “plenty of corn”. Murph believes she has a ghost in her room because books are falling off the shelf and Coop’s module of the lunar Lander mysteriously fell from the book –case and broke. At a parent teacher conference we learn that Tom has been designated a “Farmer” he is not smart enough for University and the University is limited in the places it can take. Once again we hear talk of limitations, rationing. What really upsets Coop (his reaction gets his daughter suspended for a month) is the news that his old text books are now banned because they have now been rewritten and the Lunar landings and the Apollo missions are being written as great hoaxes to bankrupt the Soviet Union. It seems the human race has turned its back on technological growth and development, only what is essential is being done. All resources are being diverted to food production. Humanity is about surviving.
Against all of this Murph’s hauntings are continuing, after on episode, Coop thinks he has a clue, coordinates. Together with Murph, he head to there. Arriving at the location at night, they are…well they end up deep in a famous mountain. When this happens, they movie was still taking shape, and I have to say Close Encounters of third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) flashed by me at one stage. We quickly learn after some great lines that they are in what is left of NASA. NASA is now a secret government organisation which many people think has been shut down. Resources are needed else where. We learn also that there is no need for armies, they have been done away with (later we learn that it is likely that one of the last functions of the world’s armies was to kill the starving. It is said in passing how starving populations were wiped out. There are too many humans.
Now, this is where the movie is a step above the rest, the one-liners and MCconaughey’s ability to deliver them – as well as others. The script is very sharp. NASA is being led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine, The Dark Night, 2008) who working with his daughter, Dr. Brand, (Anne Hathaway, The Devil Wears Prada, 2006) and a small team of others; is working to seed possible new worlds made available through the appearance of a wormhole near Saturn. It is believed “They” put it there but nobody knows who “They” are. There are about a dozen worlds in systems past the wormhole that may support life. About 10 years ago a group of missions went through the wormhole , each carrying one person , each tasked to send back data and report if life is possible. Most of the signals were negative or have been lost, there are three alternatives; t. Professor Brand, shows Cope around the labs, the Corn is starting to die now also , just like the potato blight in Ireland and then the wheat.
I should point that at this stage my blood-pressure rose slightly, was Nolan/Brand referring to the Famines of 1847 or has there been a new Irish Potato Famine caused by blight, actually there might have been – but okay, all our spuds could die in the morning, we would survive here as A) biodiversity, B) imports. But here’s the rub, this is a Nolan movie, we are expected to think. Already the UN and others is nervous of our overdependence on rice in parts of the world (it is also an environmental nasty) and are trying to replace it with potatoes, which are healthier, and more environmentally friendly. The danger is removing one risk and replacing it with another, we still have not solved blight. I mention this because it seems the blight has been extensive enough globally to have an environmental impact on CO2 levels.
We learn now that the Earth only has a generation or two left before “we all suffocate”. Those that don’t starve will suffocate.
The Coop agrees to go on the missions, along with Dr. Brand and two other. Also along is TARS a cubide robot with various intelligence and human interaction settings. We quickly realise that because of Relativity; Special and General the team may not come back and if they do, because of the wormhole, it will be many years into the future. Murph is heart-broken and does not say good-bye to her dad. Quickly the mission is set and we have take-off. No time is wasted showing us any training. The team are launched and begin their journey to the wormhole, where we learn again resources are scarce, and one of the planets is nearer the wormhole and so time-dilation.
What now follows is an desperate search for a usable planet, back home decades have past, Murph (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, 2012) is as old as her father was now when he left, she is working on the NASA team trying to crack the effects of time on a gravitational formula that could enable the launch of a ship big enough to host a population sufficient to sustain life on another planet until Earth is back in balance. The breakthrough may not be possible, Murph makes a discovery. Murph’s discovery is all the more important, because of the declining situation on Earth. Through her return home and the dust filled desolation we see that the situation is growing dire. The family is holding on but barely. The adult, married Tom (Casey Afflek, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, 2013) is struggling. The family is feeling the impact on their health of all the dust. The Slow decline to anarchy is reminiscent of Children of Men (2006)
Looking for the lost missions, they search to see if any of them have survived, one has. It is the original leader of the effort, Dr. Mann (Matt Damon, The Zero Theorem, 2013). Is it possible to launch “Plan A” and provide a home, or “Plan B” – use the frozen embryos to populate a new colony?. At just about no stage do things go as planned. Time is running out, as are all other resources, all options are risks. Eventually they have one last plan. McConaughey, when all was lost, finds TARS again, together they solve a puzzle, the one of Murph’s ghost, there may be a chance after all.
This is a smart movie, a little knowledge of Relativity might be possible – check my earlier blog on the subject from last month – go to Part III if you are in a hurry, and the conclusion is really rushed . This is also a long movie and to be honest it felt it once or twice. Is this an excellent, Top Ten movie, maybe not, is it a very good movie, yes. It reward you along the way. The direction is sharp, the viewer is drawn into the movie, by being drip fed the backstory while at the same time being shown the challenge ahead. This is one of those rare science-fiction movies where the fiction is secondary to the science and to the human impact of what is on-going. The ensemble nature of the cast, ensure they are the focus. Okay, yes, there are parallels to be drawn to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick, 1968) even down to how TARS (Bill Irwin) reminds us of HAL from 2001. That said, I’d rather travel with TARS.
Great cast, great performances, from all. I’ve tried not to give too many of the plot developments. Enjoy.
There are very few movies which have contributed to the creation of a genre, M is one of these. We see in this movie a nascent Noir setting, we see a dark psychological thriller. Lang’s M (1931) is one of those rare movies which has influenced those coming after it. We see tones of the shadows, the underworld and the police, the fear of society in John Fords, Oscar winning “The Informer” staring Victor McLaglen from 1935.
Once we begin to watch this movie we see the stylisation, indeed do we see shades of F.W. Marnau’s 1922 Nosferatu. The limitation of camera’s and sets in the earlier years certainly helped with the stylisation, we in effect see theatrics on camera, this is not a bad thing. The movie is about contrasts, as we will discuss a little later. From the very start with the children’s games, the shadow on the Police notice etc. this is a movie which is visual, it is the camera more than the script that tells the story. Of course we have to remember, people such as Lang worked their apprenticeships in silent cinema and it shows, positively. Alfred Hitchcock once said you should be able to follow a movie without its dialogue, this is certainly the case here.
Camera play and tome give us power and fear, the camera conveys the mood of the scene, the home ideal, the police offices or even the criminal gangs. We see our villain Hans Beckert is first a shadow, when we see him as a person he is at his weakest, the power is in the shadow, not the light. The camera angles also play into the effects of the cinematography, whether it is the high sweeping shot of the children playing or the shot of Lohmann at his desk in the smoky room with the map to his back (he is a man of power). Just as I mentioned the almost theatrical approach by Marnau in the 20’s I can’t help but wonder if Lang’s use of the shadow and darkness influenced Brava or Argento in their delivery of the Itallian Giallo horror genre. The street scenes such as young Elise Beckmann (Inga Landgut) plays contrast with the scenes of her mother preparing dinner at home. Her playing ball and reading the police notice show the underlying danger, against this her mother goes about her business preparing dinner in the bright, clean and homely apartment. All is not perfect even before she notices her daughter missing, the horror of the murders pays a visit by way of the tension it is causing. The calmness of home is shattered when it becomes clear what has happened, again the contrasts.
Lorre’s Beckert is troubled, he seems to be fighting the evil inside him, a fight he has lost. This film is about the struggle between light and dark, whether it be the dark places within us, the dark shadows of our environment or even the darker aspects of the society we live in. We see the chaleenge of society to police itself and protect itself. As we mentioned M is a first of its kind movie, we see what is to become a psychological thriller, again mirrored in The Informer.
The movie is almost an intrusion into the lives of others. We see the mother innocently preparing dinner in her home safe bright warm and friendly in contrast to the dark shadows and tension of the streets. Frau Beckmann(ellenm Widmann) has an almost silent role except to scream her anguish in the search for her child and indeed the mourning for her. The camera helps the story.
There is fear and despair on the streets. Any man who does not fit in as expected is immediately a suspect, condemmed as the murderer. The Minister orders an immediate arrest. The police deploy the most up to date “scientific” methods to find him. Their efforts begin to have an impact on the ordinary criminals of the city, indeed given this and their own moral outrage, they too begin to look for Beckert. As we see this we also notice the importance of the time, whether it is the need for immediate results or the thieves with their stolen watches, time is ticking, people are dying. As the police work to track him using a mix of “modern” science and old-fashioned policing we see the parallel search by the criminal underworld get under way searching out the evil in their city, an evil far below even their standards, this is an unacceptable evil. The search is organised in grids around the city.
True to form, Lang has Beckert recognised, not by sight but by sound, it is a blind beggar that recognises him from a tune whistled. Another Beggar marks him with an “M” so he can be followed, It is the criminals not the police that eventually find and capture him. He is followed in to an office block as it closes, the criminals take it over as if it were a bank about to be robbed. He is eventually caught. Such is the stylisation of the camerawork that we can see and notice the angular presentation of these scenes inside the symmetrical, ordered office building. He is, as we said, captured and taken to a place where he can be tried by his peers. The police are one step behind but trick “Papa” Lohmann (Otto Wernicke) into revealing where Beckert is to be brought.
When we see Beckert brough to the crowed cellar, he is brought before a tribunal of the city’s criminal class. They are intent in justice at least seeming to be done and even give him a defence lawyer. We see in this scene Beckert’s attempt to plead for his life, he sees himself as much a victim of his illness as the others. There is the semblance of justice, but we all know his life is forfeit. Before he can be finally judged and sentenced by his “peers”, the police, acting on the information they got out of Lohmann, raid the cellar and capture Beckert.
Again the contrast continues; when next we see Beckert he is being brought before a court of Justice. The dark, shadowy rough and curved setting of the cellar is set against the bright, ordered, “square” scene of the court house. Once again the silent-movie pedigree comes through, we never hear the judges speak, the action is purely in the camera-work. The mother’s mourning is all we see, despite him, Beckert, being guilty and for execution her child will not be brought back.
As mentioned, there is a sense of neorealism about this picture, Lang is at pains to show the film through the eyes of ordinary people, not through a “star”. Looking at the film through today’s eyes, we can perhaps understand Beckert’s possible illness, not agree or use it as an excuse for his actions, but we can identify it, the question is, how would his character have been perceived by the audience of the time; his attempts to plea for clemency fall on deaf ears, he must be removed from civil society (whatever that is).
We are perhaps tempted to see this movie through the eyes of history and look for the indicators of the Nazi shadow about to engulf Germany and Europe. We need to remember both Lang and Lorre, fled Nazi Germany. We see society as Lang saw it, made up of powerful and week, good and bad, innocent and guilty, sometimes a mixture of all. We see a struggle between good and bad, both internally and externally within society, both with in groups and between groups or classes. Perhaps this is the type of division which cause the vacuum in Germany at that time, I don’t know. We see what is essentially a filmed stage drama, which has lost none of its appeal and horror over the years.