Film Review

Review: Where Do We Go Now? (Nadine Labaki)

It’s great to see more female actors moving behind the camera, since they so often bring a fresh and distinctive vision. That’s decidedly true of Lebanese director Nadine Labaki, who impressed with Caramel, revolving around a Beirut hairdressing salon, and with her latest project emerges as a potentially major filmmaker. The action in her ambitious follow-up moves to a mountain village where a character played by Labaki runs the sun-drenched local café – a friendly meeting place for the town’s mixed population of Muslims and Christians. The second symbol of convivial relations is the impromptu outdoor TV the villagers come together to view on a nearby hillside (the signal in the village being too weak). But happy days are threatened when news arrives of a sectarian clash elsewhere. As tensions increase and the men become fractious, their wives and mothers unite to mount a series of outlandish schemes to distract them from thoughts of violence. One of their more outrageous tricks is the importation of touring Ukrainian strippers. Labaki has made something absolutely bold and unique with this tragi-comedy. Using local villagers in many roles, the film has tremendous energy and is filled with humour (and even the odd musical…

June 21, 2012
Film Review

Review: A Royal Affair (Nikolaj Arcel, Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander)

The Scandinavian film industry has been reborn over the last decade on the back of contemporary stories, from Lars von Trier’s idiosyncratic projects to various genre tales. This handsome, vigorously dramatic production from von Trier’s production company, Zentropa Films, marks a move towards the kind of lavishly staged, true-life historical tales the Brits and French have previously marked out as a speciality. It shows the Danes are more than up to the task. Denmark’s biggest star, Mads Mikkelsen, is blessed with a meaty role as Dr Struensee, a free-thinking German who is hired as royal physician for insane young King Christian VII (Mikkel Følsgaard) just as Enlightenment ideas begin to challenge the old order. In the King’s beautiful young English-born bride, Queen Caroline (Alicia Vikander), he finds a powerful intellectual ally. Together they manage to manipulate the King into pushing through progressive legislation. But with so much at stake, how long before they acknowledge their dangerous mutual attraction? The great achievement of director Nikolaj Arcel and screenwriter Rasmus Heisterberg (whose several prior collaborations include the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) is to satisfactorily unite the romantic, dramatic and political elements into a single cohesive unit where all parts…

June 21, 2012
Film Review

Review: Bel Ami (Robert Pattinson, Christina Ricci, Kristin Scott Thomas)

Sumptuous, sensual and scandalous, Bel Amitries oh-so-hard to make an anti-hero out of Twilightheartthrob Robert Pattinson. In this latest adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 novel, veteran theatre directors Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod make their feature film debuts in stylish, if emotionally lacklustre, fashion.  “Bel Ami” is the nickname of lowly soldier Georges Duroy (Pattinson), who arrives in Paris, penniless, only to be taken under the wing of an older army buddy Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister). Put on staff at a newspaper and introduced into high society, Georges sets about boosting his status by seducing influential wives. The sweet Clotilde (Christina Ricci) and undersexed Mme Rousset (Kristin Scott Thomas) are eager diversions, but it is the intellectual firebrand Madeline (Uma Thurman) who proves the real prize. This brilliant trio of actresses light up the screen, if only they weren’t overshadowed by Pattinson’s relatively feeble performance. Indeed, this is the perfect film to cure someone of an obsession with “RPatz”. Though he clearly relishes Georges’ Machiavellian antics, he lacks the dramatic depth to pull it off. Endless close ups don’t help, but gorgeous production design and those wonderful women rescue Bel Amiin more… Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from…

May 31, 2012
Film Review

Review: Cafe de Flore (Vanessa Paradis, Jean-Marc Vallée)

The English phrase “overegging the pudding” describes perfectly Café de Flore, a French Canadian dish egged with so many scraps of material (dream sequences, flashes back and forward, parallel plots, visual metaphors) that for a long time it’s hard to see how it all adds up. When all becomes more clear it’s hard to care. For 90 of the total 120 minutes two story threads remain frustratingly unconnected. In present-day Montreal, a 40-year-old professional DJ (Kevin Parent) seems blissfully happy with his new young wife while his two young daughters and dumped first wife stew in resentment. Meanwhile in 1969 Paris an uglied-up Vanesssa Paradis plays a single mother struggling to raise a Down Syndrome boy who eventually becomes attached, limpet-like, to a girl with the same condition. Unlike Jean-Marc Vallée’s spirited coming-of-age saga, C.R.A.Z.Y., this film shows the writer-director getting lost in his own ambition and losing focus. Although the central theme – the cost of deep love – eventually accrues some weight, by then it’s all a bit late. Fractured narratives are all-the-go thanks in part to the influence of Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, but Café de Floredemonstrates that pulling off this kind of complexity is…Continue reading Get unlimited…

May 8, 2012
Film Review

Review: Delicacy (Audrey Tautou)

Some of the best French dramas often fail to be released here, yet we get an annual influx of the nation’s romantic comedies regardless of their quality. Delicacyis not one of the worst but neither is it particularly successful. The ubiquitous Audrey Tautou plays young widow Natalie, an office worker whose insensitive, married boss continually pesters her for a date. One day, having shrugged off the lizard’s latest advance, she impulsively kisses a shocked male subordinate, Markus, on the lips (completely unbelievably) and then refuses to take responsibility for her actions. That might have led to a productively sharp comedy about sexual harassment; not only the black and white areas but also the grey zones where a woman can, with one action, be a victim who fights back, and with the next, an offender. But co-directors David and Stephane Foenkinos (adapting the former’s novel) instead play cute, shying away from ironic observation and relying too heavily on charm. At least François Damiens brings genuine likeability to Markus. Tautou’s saucer-eyes command attention, as always, but her alarmingly scrawny figure sends a peculiar message – especially as Natalie’s two male admirers repeatedly ignore her curvy female co-workers and best friend. Continue reading Get unlimited…

May 8, 2012
Film Review

Review: A Dangerous Method (Fassbender, Mortensen)

This film sounds like a dream come true. A biopic of Carl Jung and his friendship with mentor Sigmund Freud, starring Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen, and directed by auteur David Cronenberg, the anticipation for A Dangerous Methodhas been nothing short of ecstatic. Indeed when Fassbender and Mortensen come together as the masters of psychoanalysis, their discourse and increasingly heated debate is utterly electric. So why do we experience so little? Instead Cronenberg and screenwriter Christopher Hampton (adapting his own play, The Talking Cure) centre the film on Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), an admittedly fascinating Russian upon whom Jung experiments with Freud’s “talking cure” before she studies to become an authority on the emerging discipline herself. The film becomes an intellectual love triangle of sorts, as Spielrein’s sexual relationship with Jung is one cause of a rift that develops between he and Freud.   Set between 1904 and 1934, the film is a beautifully detailed and impressive period piece. Cronenberg may be (in)famous for his gore, but it seems austerity suits him very well. If only he’d opted to step away from Spielrein’s sexual hysteria and sink us further into the fascinating minds of Jung… Continue reading Get unlimited digital…

March 28, 2012
Film Review

Review: A Separation (Leila Hatami, Asghar Farhadi)

The private disintegration of a marriage becomes a very public affair in Asghar Farhadi’s flawless domestic portrait. The film opens with a palpable long take of wife and husband, Simin (Leila Hatami) and Nader (Peyman Moaadi) making their cases for divorce (for and against respectively): Simin wants to emigrate from Iran to give their daughter (Sarina Farhadi) a better life, while Nader refuses to shirk his obligation to care for his Alzheimic father. Farhadi then teases out the consequences of their impasse into a complex and far-reaching web of human foible and tragedy that entangles the housekeeper (Sareh Bayat) Nader is forced to hire once Simin moves out. While Moaadi shoulders the drama with a superbly stoic and layered performance, which is beautifully countered by Bayat’s captivating conviction, it is young Sarina Farhadi (the director’s daughter) who shines from the side lines. Her closing scene will skewer your heart. Indeed, impeccable acting, writing and direction make A Separationa must see film, and one entirely deserving of all its international acclaim. Winning a Golden Globe and nominated for an Oscar, such accolades should help audiences take a chance on Farhadi’s keenly Iranian, yet ultimately universal tale of… Continue reading Get unlimited…

February 29, 2012
Film Review

Review: My Week With Marilyn (Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Dougrey Scott)

Michelle Williams is beguiling as screen siren Marilyn Monroe in this true story of an on-set dalliance. Indeed, while movies about making movies mightn’t always hold the widest appeal, going behind the scenes with the dazzling charm and manifold insecurities of Monroe makes for quite the seductive combination. My Week With Marilynis based on the memoir of Colin Clark (sensitively played by Eddie Redmayne), a toff university graduate and diehard film fan who inveigles his way into the role of third assistant director on the set of Sir Laurence Olivier’s (a scene stealing, sibilant Kenneth Branagh) The Prince and the Showgirl(1957). Monroe arrives in London to much pomp and ceremony, escorted by her new husband Arthur Miller (Dougrey Scott) and acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) only to dissolve into a quaking little girl lost at Sir Laurence’s increasingly exasperated direction. What follows feels a lot like the male version of Carey Mulligan’s turn in An Education. Clark and the starlet share a romance as he transforms from breathless fan to ardent protector in this light and nostalgic coming-of-age tale with a Hollywood twist.  “Should I be her?” Monroe breathily enquires. And… Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $4…

February 23, 2012
Film Review

Review: Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave)

Theatre and opera directors have been staging modern-dress productions of the classics for decades. Filmmakers were slow to follow, probably due to the naturalistic tendency so often assumed to be inherent to the medium. But since Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Julietand Richard Loncraine’s Richard III(set in the Fascist 1930s) perhaps that’s started to change. For his directorial film debut Ralph Fiennes has transposed the least often performed Shakespearean tragedy from Roman times to present-day Europe, a decision that mostly makes perfect sense. This is, after all, a story of a leader whose overweening pride alienates him from the people he is meant to serve – and there’s no shortage of current candidates for that description. Indeed modern resonances crop up everywhere you look, from the Iraq war (the scenes of ferocious urban combat) and the 1990s Balkan wars (helped by the film’s being shot in and around Belgrade) to the post-GFC civil disobedience seen recently in Greece and Spain. Fiennes, who previously played the title role in a celebrated London theatre, makes a suitably haughty and intense Coriolanus, while Vanessa Redgrave is in terrific form as the general’s influential mother.   Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $4 per…

February 23, 2012
Film Review

Review: The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)

Movies fêted amid the hothouse atmosphere of a film festival often disappoint when seen in the cooler environment of a commercial release. Not so with this glorious, black-and-white comic tribute to silent cinema. After dazzling viewers at Cannes last year, when it seemed to come straight out of nowhere, it turns out to be an inventive and deliriously entertaining charmer that instead of going for knowing send-up or ironic pastiche, expresses genuine love and appreciation for early Hollywood. French writer-director Michel Hazanavicius was previously known for OSS 117, a low-brow espionage spoof popular enough in France to produce a sequel, but The Artistmanages to be both broadly accessible and sophisticated in its understanding of cinema. It’s helped enormously by the freshness of its two stars, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, who respectively play silent matinee idol George Valentin, and Peppy Miller, the dancing flapper girl who adores him before a reversal of fortune sees them swapping places in the public’s affection (the theme of the talkies killing off the silent era fondly echoing the classic musical Singin’ In The Rain). There’s no dialogue, of course, but there is a gorgeous score – and a cute… Continue reading Get unlimited digital…

February 1, 2012
Film Review

Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (Elizabeth Olsen; Hugh Dancy)

Powerful, palpable and downright haunting, Martha Marcy May Marleneis a staggering cinematic achievement. It is the feature debut of writer-director Sean Durkin as well as the unveiling of a striking new onscreen talent in Elizabeth Olsen. Why the alliterative title? You’ll find out, as this taut psychological thriller works its way under your skin and into your nightmares. Olsen is sensational in her “eponymous” role as a young woman who escapes from a cult led by the sinewy and sinister Patrick (a routinely brilliant John Hawkes). Fleeing into the concerned and confused arms of her estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her fiancé (Hugh Dancy), Martha recuperates in the lap of luxury, only to be terrorised by her memories, and maybe even her surroundings. Durkin mixes fear, memory and delusion into a heady concoction that he spins out into a gorgeously slow and enthralling mosaic. Jody Lee Lipes’ beautifully unsettling cinematography and the eerie elisions between past and present underscore Olsen’s captivating portrayal of a frayed but erstwhile searching psyche. Durkin curiously sidesteps moralising the cult, instead opting to lock his audience in with the fractured mind of his heroine. Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from $4 per month…

February 1, 2012
Film Review

Review: The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar; Antonio Banderas)

Like fellow Spaniard Luis Buñuel, Pedro Almodóvar has developed a sense of style so unique his films occupy an idiosyncratic genre all of their own. In his later films that invariably means campy, over-the-top plots played utterly straight amid an orgy of sumptuous design. On one level his latest, adapted from a novel by France’s Thierry Jonquet, is a luridly macabre melodrama with enough outlandish plot developments to fuel three separate movies. But on another level it offers up a fascinating meditation on beauty, sexual obsession and the putative male desire to mould, gaze upon and own the female body. It begins with a skin surgeon (Antonio Banderas) who keeps a beautiful woman (Elena Anaya) as a compliant prisoner in his palatial home. How she came to be there is a long shaggy dog story that unfolds with a farcically complicated series of twists and flashbacks. These include a scene where the surgeon’s half-brother arrives on his doorstep wearing a tiger costume as if this is perfectly normal behaviour. Georges Franju’s 1960 classic horror Eyes Without a Faceis an obvious touchstone but the new film is more ridiculous than horrific. Yet despite this – the Almodóvar paradox? – the result is oddly…Continue reading Get unlimited…

January 9, 2012
Film Review

Review: Melancholia (Kirsten Dunst; Charlotte Gainsbourg; Alexander Skarsgard; Lars von Trier)

The gravitational force of depression is devastatingly and magnificently explored in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. By dividing his focus between the fates of two sisters, Von Trier explores the inner melancholic demons that plague Justine (Kirsten Dunst) on her wedding day, and the manifold fear Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) holds towards the strange, eponymous planet that appears to be bearing down on Earth.  Von Trier also manages to outdo the jaw-dropping beauty of Antichrist’s operatic opening, with Melancholia’s first frames unfolding in an utterly stunning, ultra-slow motion sequence. Dunst and Gainsbough are simply glorious on screen. Their effortless performances are masterfully supported by an enviable ensemble, which includes luminaries Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt, a wantonly underused Alexander Skarsgård, and an uncharacteristically effete Kiefer Sutherland. Audiences will no doubt pick their favourite of the film’s two parts, with Justine’s wedding feeling like a distilled, perfected version of Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married, while Claire’s angst builds towards the film’s transcendent climax.  There is nothing subtle about the metaphors at work here, especially as von Trier steeps his film in Wagner’s epic tones. But depression as apocalypse is both a horrifying and beautiful sight to see,… Continue reading Get unlimited digital access from…

December 15, 2011