Archive for the ‘ FILMS 2012 ’ Category

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Great Expectations

GreatExpectations2012Poster

 

This new adaptation of the Dickens classic by Mike Newell is a worthy update which heightens the relevance and longevity of the novel. It sticks closer to the original novel than the definitive previous film outing by David Lean way back in 1946 whilst its ending is far more ambiguous and less upbeat in keeping with the literary version. Not attempting to replicate the Lean version also lends it a contemporary feel and individuality which is also very much to its credit.

The story-for anyone  unfamiliar with it- centres around a young man Pip –played as a grown up by Jeremy Irvine and his real life younger brother Toby as a young boy-  who as a child helps an escaped convict and later finds himself in receipt of a lifestyle far removed from his social strata as a lowly blacksmith. His ideas concerning an upwardly mobile move are encouraged by an early introduction into the lofty circles of Miss Havisham portrayed here by Helena Bonham Carter in a role she has probably been rehearsing for throughout her career. An anonymous benefactor provides for Pip to move to London and fulfil his ambitions of becoming a gentleman by taking care of all his bills, lodgings and a generous allowance which will afford him the lifestyle he craves.

All is not as it seems however and dark forces are gathering to conspire against his easy entry into the world of the gentility. He is also to be thwarted in his attempts at attaining the love of his life, the imperious and haughty Estella ( Holliday Grainger).

This version of Great Expectations is extremely well made with some exquisitely and cleverly shot scenes and falls together more than coherently retelling the tale without ever dragging. The performances are well executed with Robbie Coltrane and Helena Bonham Carter playing Robbie Coltrane and Helena Bonham Carter!

Actually both turn in great performances but it is safe to say neither are stretching themselves so well suited to their roles are they. Ralph Fiennes also puts in an appearance as the escaped convict and later benefactor Magwitch. Definitely one of the more enduring works of the Dickens canon its relevance still rings true and transfers itself to this new screen version in a way which should appeal to a modern day audience.

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YOU WILL BE MY SON (TU SERAS MON FILS)

You Will Be My Son (Tu Seras Mon Fils)

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This film by Gilles Legrand focuses on the internal dynamic struggle between a controlling father Paul de Marseul – Niels Arestrup (A Prophet, A Beat My Heart Skipped )- and his son Martin- Lorant Deutsch- who, in his father’s estimation, never quite measures up in any capacity. It is an emotionally involved film which allows room for sympathy for each character involved aside from the controlling and manipulative Paul who seems intent on using people as props in his own twisted game of life.

The tale revolves around Paul a wealthy owner of a prestigious vineyard and chateau and his desire to find his true heir. It is obvious from the outset that he does not consider his son Martin worthy of this title and uses every opportunity to thwart his ambitions whilst diminishing his efforts, confidence and observations. Sometimes these putdowns are subtle but more often than not they are overt and are observed clearly by any bystanders. He even casts aspersions on Martin’s virility by questioning why he and his wife Alice-Anne Marivin- have, as yet, not provided him with a grandson.

The dynamic is further exacerbated with the arrival of Phillippe- Nicolas Bridet- the son of Paul’s dying manager who is outwardly suave, stylish, charming and most importantly has a nose for wine thus possessing all the qualities he wrongly thinks Martin does not. Immediately Paul starts grooming Philippe to replace his terminally ill  father before embarking on a scheme to also replace him as his own son by means of legal adoption thus effectively disinheriting Martin. It is obviously an action which unsettles everyone not least Martin and Philippe’s father who feel as if they are being replaced like a new pair of shoes.

The relationship between Paul and Martin inevitably breaks down and Paul’s controlling nature precipitates drastic action by several of those who are affected by his callous and soul destroying actions. When his retribution is delivered it arrives from an unexpected source and in an unlikely fashion which is both fitting and a little tragically comic given the circumstances which surround it.

You Will Be My Son is a thoroughly absorbing and engaging film and features extremely strong performances from all involved. The knots of resentment eating away at Martin as Paul constantly derides him are brilliantly enacted without always being verbalised. Likewise Paul’s offhand manner of treating everyone around him is well executed by Arestrup.  It is of course set in beautiful surroundings in the South of France and the cinematography captures this exquisitely almost to the point you can smell the grapes. An extremely worthwhile film and although the story won’t warm your heart on a winter’s day the scenery certainly will.

THE HUNT

 

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This film by Thomas Vinterberg and starring Mads Mikkelsen-most recognisable for his role as Bond villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale- may be set in the build up to and around Christmas but it contains little of the festive cheer or feel-good sentiment usually associated with this season. This however does not diminish its poignancy or its relevance in the wake of the recent allegations concerning Jimmy Savile’s proclivities and the fall out which then ensued including a media storm whipped up into frenzy and series of false accusations levelled at innocent parties by gossip on Twitter and fed fuel by the unlikely source of an avenging wimpy silver haired angel, Philip Schofield. It does however manage because of- rather than despite the lack of- any discernible over sentimentality to emerge as one of the best and most moving films of the year.

Lucas-Mikkelsen- is a recently divorced teacher who having lost his job has taken on a position at a local nursery in the interim. Keeping himself to himself he is engaged in a constant custody battle over his son but befriends his neighbours and in particular their daughter Klara. Whilst her parents seem to be engaged in never ending battles and her teen brother taunts her Klara feels as ostracised from her surroundings as Lucas and as such forms an attachment to him. It is a normal adult/child relationship and he accompanies her to nursery where their bond strengthens and he provides her with the attention she feels she is lacking elsewhere but Klara misreads these signs.

To his credit Lucas is aware of this attachment and when he feels Klara’s actions are becoming inappropriate he rebukes her explaining that certain emotions should only be expressed with family members. Confused and feeling rejected Klara then informs the head teacher- and Lucas’s boss- that Lucas has sexually abused her. Initially wary of believing the claims she eventually relents and calls in someone to investigate further.

What follows is an extremely uncomfortable scene in which after Klara admits nothing actually ever happened and Lucas is innocent sees the two adults questioning her only then to put words into her mouth and construct a story which ensures they are covering their own backs rather than attempting to get at the truth. At the end of the interview Klara is more confused than ever and doesn’t have the ability or knowledge of how to extricate from a situation which is now out of her control. Meanwhile Lucas is suspended from his job and a police investigation follows whilst he finds himself at the centre of a storm and set of snowballing circumstances he likewise has no control over.

What follows is a life spiralling out of control with the whole town turning against Lucas as the word spreads and several other children allegedly also make claims of abuse. The viewer is never in any doubt concerning Lucas’s innocence however and the allegations against him whilst all consistent in their telling also contain the one consistent fatal flaw which should exonerate him. Meanwhile the two central characters at the centre of this maelstrom, Lucas and Klara, are both equally confused, dismayed and horrified at the situation they have found themselves entrenched in. Klara makes several attempts to state she was wrong in her allegations but no-one seems to be listening as it suits their chosen agenda to carry on thinking the worst.

The Hunt is an astounding film which tugs on emotional strings you never knew you had whilst at the same time eliciting shame that in the same circumstances you may too automatically assume the worst and make rash judgments without knowing the facts or caring for the truth. It is extremely relevant to recent events –the children who also make up stories about Lucas bear more than an accidental passing resemblance to the recent trial by Twitter in this country naming an allegedly innocent man- and shows a community whose primary concern is not deriving the truth but instead more interested in covering their own hides and showing the right amount of moral indignation and sense of righteousness considered right in these situations.

Mikkelsn gives a standout performance which is a million miles away from his Bond role and at the films conclusion the events which have recently clouded his life are still in place and a sense of disillusion and confusion still reign supreme in his psyche. It may not be a film to warm the cockles of your heart but it is certainly one which will awaken your senses and hopefully ensure that making swift judgments without being in receipt of the full facts can be just as damaging as the acts they are perhaps being accused of. It is another outstanding contribution to Danish drama which has been galvanised by the TV series The Killing and like its televisual counterpart a certain sense of doubt remains at its conclusion.

 

 

THE MASTER

The Master

 

After the critical and commercial success of There Will Be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson returns after a five year hiatus with the eagerly anticipated The Master. In the interim Anderson has found himself the subject of great acclaim hailing him as the great American director and the one everyone else has to observe and follow. Whilst this may be true and he does an outstanding job on this film, which never slips below being visually captivating and stunning, much of the narrative flow seems to have taken a back seat in order for Anderson to create a work which is easy to admire but a little harder to love or even, at times , understand. In essence although he manages to coax great performances out of his two leading stars- Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix- and capture some amazing scenes the sum of parts is greater than the whole and may leave audiences feeling perplexed.

The tale revolves around a cult referred only to as ‘The Cause’- apparently not Scientology- who set out to convert, indoctrinate and recruit lost souls. Stumbling on the former naval veteran and now sexually obsessed, heavy drinking, low end criminal stowaway Freddy Quell- Phoenix- on his yacht, cult leader Lancaster Dodd-Hoffman-recognises the very character he feels the need to ‘save’ and recruits him into ‘The Cause’ putting him through his paces whilst attempting to weaken his resolve.

Immediately there is resistance to this random newcomer, who is obviously also a loose cannon particularly from Dodd’s wife and son, both who recognise his involvement could lead to trouble. What follows are various scenes of confrontation and one  memorable moment in the desert when Dodd encourages Quell to ride a motorcycle towards an object in the distance and Quell simply keeps on riding out of sight and Dodd’s  clutches. This is not the end of Quell’s involvement with the cult however as Dodd comes to him in a vision and encourages him to follow him to England and he duly follows these instructions and this is where the movie ends.

The Master is certainly a powerful film and is bound to be in the running for several Oscar nominations- Phoenix and Hoffman in their many confrontational moments feel as if they are slugging it out for the heavy weight ‘Best Actor’ prize already- and it is a quite astounding film. Somehow it never actually manages to draw the audience in and there is a feeling that technical skill- the cinematography and lighting are amazing throughout-l has eradicated much of the emotional content of the narrative. It is bit of a hard slog-verging on drudgery at times- but, in this, it is also refreshing to have a film which doesn’t tie everything up quite as neatly as we are used to in Hollywood films of this stature.

All in all its grandness is The Master’s major flaw but at the same time it is its main saving grace. For this dichotomy alone- as well as the Oscar worthy performances and cinematography- it is still worth seeing. Just don’t expect to say you enjoyed it.

SKYFALL

Skyfall

 

The James Bond franchise has long been associated with a hefty amount of product placement and in the adverts preceding his latest outing –the Sam Mendes directed Skyfall- he himself becomes the product placed in the sales pitch, selling everything from beer, watches, cars and make up. It seems at one point as if you have seen most of the movie before it has even begun. Of course the best publicity the film has had yet was the pre-release claims that this twenty third outing for Bond is the best ever and to be honest I would agree that yes it possibly is.

It certainly trashes 2008’s unfocussed and virtually plot free ‘Quantum of Solace’ and even eclipses Craig’s first outing ‘Casino Royale’ which seemed to invigorate the flailing brand- Pierce Brosnan and Timothy Dalton never made too much impact and Roger Moore was always a bit of a joke-  dragging it into the modern age whilst adding a bit of much needed depth to a character which had previously been unexplored in favour of big action sequences, car chases and exploding pens.

The action kicks off in usual style with the tail end of another mission but this time Bond doesn’t fare too well taking a bullet in the name of duty and under M’s-Judi Dench again in the role of his superior- directive. Presumed dead he is, in fact, on an island paradise drinking beer-cue product placement- and shots in his new role as dead man. An apparent terrorist strike in London on MI6 with M in particular being the main target shakes him back into shape and he rises from the not so dead to defend and protect the woman who ordered the firing of the bullet which almost killed him.

What then ensues is a mission to Thailand and an encounter with Mr Silva- Javier Bardem as one of the most convincing, memorable and authentic Bond villains ever- who is a disenchanted ex-operative who M had previously retired for being disloyal and unreliable in the field of duty. It seems Silva is not prepared to forgive and forget and has his sights set firmly on MI6 and M in particular. With the action then decamping to London- in a bunker no less- Bond then kidnaps M and takes her to his desolate childhood home in a very bleak Scotland.

The final confrontation takes place here and it is a refreshing change from the exotic locations of most other Bond finales. In fact the placing of most of the action in London and then Scotland is something which lends this film a sense of realism, authenticity and gravitas. Along the way the famous Aston Martin from ‘Goldfinger’ –another one of the franchises best offerings- makes a re-appearance endowing the proceedings with a sense of history as well as providing one of the films wittier exchanges between Bond and M. The relationship between these two is another factor taking the film to a higher level as it is deeply complex one with so many contradictions and loyalties always coming into force but the natural chemistry and understanding between the two still manages to win through whatever.

‘Skyfall’ is then probably the best Bond film in recent memory-the early ones are discounted somewhat as despite their brilliance they are over familiar and seem more like curio pieces of a bygone era- and boasting the best plot, villain and performances in decades. Daniel Craig, Judi Dench and Javier Bardem give amazingly strong performances and Ralph Fiennes as the new man to be feared in MI6 is also on fine form. Ben Whishaw gives a spot on shot as the new Q playing him as an uber-intelligent geek who is terrified even of flying. We also receive our first introduction to a new Moneypenny-Naomie Harris- but that doesn’t feature until later on in the film and I am sure it will be picked up on in future outings. As far as blockbusters go this film is definitely the best of the year but it is so much more than that as it stands on its own merits as simply a great film. Just don’t be conned by the adverts!

THE SHINING

The Shining

 

Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of a Stephen King Novel has, in the thirty two years since its initial release become a bona fide classic in the horror movie/psychological thriller genre. This is despite it being initially rubbished at the time by both the critics and King himself,  both of whom have since re-appraised the film and their original misgivings now lauding it as a seminal work and superior prototype of many substandard works which followed in its suspenseful and spooky wake. This new edition features twenty eight minutes of previously unseen-in Britain at least- footage and is due to be released on October 31st to coincide with the spook fest Halloween.

Featuring a stand out performance by Jack Nicholson-probably his last truly great role as after this he just borrowed various facets of his character for any subsequent interpretations- who at the time had the franchise on disturbed, crazy man performances following his recent success in ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’. His turn as Jack Torrance relies on unsettling the audience from the off and the signs of an inherent madness are apparent even from the interview scene where he applies for the role of caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, which closes down during the winter season due to the secluded nature of its geography preventing anyone from reaching the location when the weather gets particularly bad.

The portents of doom are there from the very opening sequence as the camera pans in over a vast expanse eventually closing in on the hotel where the subsequent drama is about to unfold. Despite its spaciousness the Overlook is simultaneously claustrophobic due to being so far removed from civilization and at Jack’s interview he is informed that a previous caretaker-Charles ( alternatively Delbert, later in the film) Grady got ‘cabin fever’ and ran amok, eventually brutally slaying his family and storing their bodies in an empty room before blowing his brains out. Despite his protestations that no such thing will happen to him Nicholson’s eyes tell a different story and we are immediately aware that something bad is going to unravel.

Moving into the hotel with his wife Wendy –Shelley Duvall, who takes gormless to a whole new level- and his son Danny-Danny Lloyd- who is in possession of a telepathic gift which he communicates through an invisible friend named Tony, Jack plans on writing a novel in his free time. Danny’s supernatural  gift however is shared by the hotel’s head chef Dick Hallorann- Scatman Crothers- who in a private conversation with Danny forges a bond and refers to this ability to communicate without talking as ‘shining’.

Once alone in the hotel the family embark on a normal family routine but very quickly things begin to deteriorate due to Jack’s frustrations at not being able to arrive at anything substantial in his literary endeavours. This manifests itself in his inward retreat into himself and a markedly noticeable externally aggressive and hostile reaction to Wendy and Danny. What follows is the deterioration of a human psyche as Jack battles with what is real and what is imagined. It is never clear whether his visions are the product of an encroaching madness or whether the hotel is powered by supernatural demons.

Eventually though an encounter with Delbert (Charles) Grady in the Golden Ballroom which is populated by glamorous spirits attending a ghostly ball he is instructed to ‘correct’ his wife and child. He is also told that Danny is attempting to communicate with Hallorann telepathically to enlist his help in their plight and that this must be curtailed at all costs.

Armed with this information Jack then embarks on a spree of violence on his wife and child culminating in one of cinema’s most famous scenes wherein he hacks away at a locked bathroom door with an axe only to break through with the immortal line ‘Here’s Johnny!’. This line is so entrenched in cinematic history that although it is still as chilling its over-familiarity also imbues it with comedic value whilst Nicholson’s delivery of it lies somewhere between the two. The climax of the film then takes place outside in the snow covered hotel maze and anyone who has seen the film before knows that it doesn’t end well for everyone involved.

The extra twenty eight minutes of footage in this updated version of the film will be immediately apparent to devotees of the film and do nothing to detract from its power whilst adding something to some of the many loose ends in the narrative. The missing scenes mainly involve action which happens outside of the confines of the hotel but this does not diminish from the sense of isolated claustrophobia. It also does not make the film feel overextended and it is still as concise and well formed as previously never losing its intensity throughout.

It is however a pleasure to see a film which has been devalued by DVD and repeated television screenings on a full sized cinema screen where the vast expanse of the set and the space surrounding the hotel are apparent and contribute greatly to the chilly atmosphere. It is worth seeing for this reason alone but there are so many other reasons for making this an invaluable cinema outing.

The new version of ‘The Shining is released at cinemas nationwide on October 31st.

GINGER AND ROSA

Ginger and Rosa

 

 This coming of age drama by Sally Potter detailing the relationship between two teenage best friends, Ginger and Rosa, captures by skilful evocativeness and clever detailing the changing attitudes of the early sixties and places wide eyed optimism and idealism against the ravages of reality and austerity of the post war generation who wanted a better world but found that it was not as easily achieved as they at first believed. The two central performances by Elle Fanning –Ginger- and Alice Englert –Rosa- are impressive and the film explores the changes in their relationship as they approach adulthood and the ways in which those changes threaten to destroy the bond which at one point seemed impenetrable.

Set against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 the two teenagers concerned about their future attend CND meetings and take part in ‘Ban the Bomb’ demonstrations. Supported by a network surrounding adults most specifically Roland –Ginger’s father who is so modern and wayward in his thinking that he has dispensed with such petit bourgeois epithets such as Father or Dad in favour of first name familiarity and pretentious bohemianism- and her mother’s politically active friends- portrayed by such luminaries as Annette Bening and Timothy Spall -their beliefs are given credence. Ginger’s mother-Christina Hendricks- however emerges as the seemingly weak, unstable figure who has sacrificed her own life in favour of supporting her husband and caring for her child. It becomes clear that all is not well in the marriage however as Roland has a penchant for using his position as a lecturer for seducing his impressionable young female students and gradually his attentions wander towards his daughter’s friend Rosa.

An affair then follows and relations between the two girls become strained and matters are not helped when Ginger leaves home to live with her father and finds herself in a strange position of having her best friend adopting the role of her father’s mistress and new companion. Roland emerges as the villain of the piece and having been a conscientious objector in the World War 2 propagates idealistic beliefs on pacifism whilst not recognising his own cowardice in relationships close to home. He is cast a selfish human being who far from caring about others is only ever intent on saving his own skin and spouts rhetoric such as ‘mindless obedience is the killer’ which although having some gravitas emerges as a mere excuse when uttered from his lips.

Eventually Ginger- always the more sensitive of the two girls- is unable to cope anymore and matters come to a head when it is revealed that the situation is more serious than anyone had believed before. It is then that all the surrounding adults realise they have put too much pressure on the young to grow up quickly and have been so busy sorting out their own problems and insecurities whilst neglecting their duties as parents and guiding forces.

The period detailing of this film manages to capture perfectly the black and white austerity of the era it is depicting. Although it is in colour the humdrum existence of its characters is obvious and the styling is spot on. The CND leader with his curly hair-signifying encroaching freedom- moustache and sheepskin jacket show a new liberation and energy about to emerge as this is the decade which shortly after the Cuban Crisis had died down was about to be kicked into gear by the Beatles with the swinging sixties  soon to follow.

It is a film which is light on laughs and  the dialogue is often stilted and strained though this is indicative of an era when people were encouraged to put up and shut up and not encouraged to rock the boat. It is also confusing as to why so many American actors were drafted in –with some accents not quite hitting the mark- to capture what is so obviously an English era. It is still an impressive film however and if  thought provoking existential angst is your thing then this comes highly recommended.

Ginger and Rosa is at the Filmhouse, Lothian Road from October 19th