Calvary

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 an 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. This is dark in its subject matter but the cinematography and sharp lines place this movie in the first league.

It is felt Gleeson might get an Oscar nomination for this role, he deserves it

9/10

Kingsman: The Secret Service

While Mark Millar (Kick Ass, 2010) and Dave Gibbons (Watchmen, 2009) gave us the original comic book, Jane Goldman (Stardust, 2007) and Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, 2011) gave us the screenplay for this movie. Vaughn also directed it.

This is an homage rather than a rip-off of the James Bond franchise. This is not just a cheap parody, it stands up as a spy-movie in its own right. As we know from James Bond, the world is full of secret evil organisations all vying for world domination but what we have here is a highly secret group of good guys who ensure the world’s governments can act. That said one might also comment on it being a parody of the poor guy/gal does good movie, whether My fair Lady (1964) or Pretty Woman, (1990).

About 17 years ago a young agent on the verge of completing his training was killed in action. He was Killed because agent Harry Hart, better known by his service codename “Galahad” (Colin Firth, The Railway Man, 2013) missed a trap. Now today that agent’s son is in a some trouble at home. Many years ago the agent’s widow was given a medal with a number on it and told to ring the number if there was an issue. Today in a police cell, the son, Eggsy (Taron Egerton, Testament of Youth, 2014) rings the number and almost immediately things happen. Now rescued Galahad suggest that the young Eggsy joins their organisation, he agrees.   The issue here however is , Eggsy’s social class, he is working class, most of the other agents are members of the aristocracy, for reasons best explained in the film.

All of this goes on against the background of mysterious dealings and missing people all somehow associated with billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson, Django Unchained, 2012), as the movie moves along both groups learn more about each other, the Kingsman agents striving to foil Valentine. Eggsy begins his training with his fellow intake, only to fail at the last hurdle, however as with any of these films that becomes a minor technicality and our hero goes on to save the day. The humour both through the situations and the script itself, with Galahad and Valentine musing about old “fun” spy movies.

The plot will not win any prizes for originality, but who cares. One of the reasons the film works is its speed, there is not a scene in the movie which should not be there, there is absolutely no padding. The support cast is first class, indeed we have Mark Strong (The Imitation Game, 2014) playing a “Q” type character, generally managing the secret agents as and their training progresses. I am still getting used to Strong playing good guys., while Sir Michael Caine (Interstellar, 2014) take the role of the head of Kingsman.

One other person who should be mentioned is Mark Hamill (Star Wars: Episode IV – a New Hope, 1977) who has the opening scene as Professor James Arnold, managing to set the tone for the film to come.Egerton, gives an excellent performance as the young man making the transition from drifting youngster to a highly trained agent. I could discuss the plot, but in reality the plot is secondary, we know from the start how the movie is going to go, the entertainment is in how they go to where they end-up. This is a smart movie which stands on its own as well as a parody of previous productions. I walked away wanting to check if there is material for a sequel, hopefully. It works as a spy-movie, a comedy and general all-round entertainment.

Another **** movie.

Kes

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.

Odd Man Out

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.

This is a classic crime thriller, given the republican/political edge. What is certainly noteworthy is the attention to detail employed by Reed. He manages to side step the larger political issue to concentrate on the person aspects of the situation, whether it be through the dynamic with McQueen and his gang members, the police, the women or even Fr. Tom (W.G. Fay, London Town, 1946). The hunt builds to the violent climax. All the time during the hunt we are conflicted, however abhorrent his background, we are constantly drawn to McQueen and his plight, will he escape, will he survive? What makes this film is the characterisation, Mason is supported by what was largely the members of the Abbey Theatre, the Irish National Theatre, and before you say “so what” we need to remember the Abbey provided such cast members as Cyril Cusack who played gang member Pat and Dan O’Herlihy (Fail Safe, 1964) being fellow gang member “Nolan”. Other cast members included legendary William Hartnell who went on to be the first to play the historic role of The Doctor in Dr. Who ©

We follow McQueen has he slowly and painfully descends to the final showdown with the police. Can a good man do evil, what drives him, can an evil man do good?

My Brother The Devil

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.

Starred Up

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.

**** movie

Roseanna’s Grave


Ah yes. This was the movie that convinced me that Jean Reno (Empire of the Wolves, 2005)is one of Europe’s best actors. Equally as comfortable in high-octane action roles as he is in comedic roles such as this. Classed as an America film, it was directed by English man Paul Weiland (City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, 1994). This is not the most important movie of the 20th century and does not overly challenge us with deep insights into the human condition but it does entertain. You will laugh (deliberately), possibly cry but certainly enjoy this movie. This is another one of those “under the radar” movies which deserves to be remembered, watched and appreciated.

For Roseanna is a bitter-sweet comedy, set in a small Northern Italian town. Our Hero, Marcello, Loves his wife and will do anything for her, theirs is a happy marriage, which unfortunately has been touched by more than its fair share of sadness. After the loss of their only daughter some years earlier, they are now faced with the news that, Roseanna (Mercedes Ruehl, Doubt, 2013) is dying, her heart can give out at any time. Marcello who adores his wife, will do anything for her. The only problem is that he has to do anything. There is one very serious issue. More than anything Roseanna wants to be buried in the same graveyard as her daughter and there are only three graves left. The graveyard is full, there is no room for expansion.
There are a couple of options to solve this, firstly buy the land next to the cemetery and expand. This of course is the obvious solution, except for one issue. The owner of the land knows exactly how important the sale is to Marcello and point blankly refuses to sell the land; many years ago was in love with Roseanna, but she had only eyes for Marcello, decades later he still burns a torch for her and refuses to allow Marcello a final happiness, he still regards him as his love rival.
Added to this is Marcello’s one man mission to save everybody in the village. Not from any altruistic love for humanity but rather to ensure there is a grave left for his wife. This mission obviously causes some great comedic moments which also manage to add to the emotion of the total production.

So, faced with caring for his dying wife, ensuring the town-folk don’t die and trying to get the land for the cemetery, Marcello is under pressure. So much so that Roseanna decides he needs help and so enlists her sister Cecilia (Polly Walker, John Carter, 2012) to not only help around their bar, but also to “take care” of Marcello once she is gone. Marcello is having none of it.Marcello is running himself into the ground trying to make life as easy as possible for his wife, while saving the locals from their various dangers, often to the amusement of the villagers.
As Marcello struggles to find a solution for his ailing wife, there are multiple challenges thrown their way, with Marcello and Roseanna deftly overcoming them and never losing sight of the future. As with all good movies, there is a twist near the end, one which perfectly compliments the overall production and finishes the movie off nicely.
A good movie can be like a good meal, made of simple, but perfect ingredients, well produced with care, the end product is unassuming but excellent. That’s what this movie is like. Ask anybody to name a few Jean Reno movies and the usual selection will appear, but look to his credits and you’ll notice a number of films you may not recognise, the vast majority of them excellent, this first among them.