My review of the haunting feature documentary film Three Identical Strangers is over at FilmInk and below.
The remarkable story of Three Identical Strangers presents an almost unbelievable tale of coincidence, family and scientific conduct. While it’s true that the compelling documentary has the age-old ‘nature vs nurture’ debate at its core, it also takes a wide-angled view of modern society in detail; bringing a clear focus to the world of media, advertising and science.
The film opens with a close-up of Robert Shafran, a man in his 50s, recounting his first day on campus at Community College as a 19 year old back in 1980. It was unusual, to say the least. Kids kept on coming up to him as if they knew him. Girls kissed him on the cheek. He was an all-round popular guy, not the kind of thing the slightly reserved Shafran would have expected at a new place where no one knew him.
Except they did know him, or at least someone who looked exactly like him. As it turned out Robert soon acquired some help from a fellow student named Michael Domnitz, who believed he had the answer. His best friend Eddy.
And from then on, it’s one explosive revelation after another, as the film takes in the fascinating story of Robert, Eddy, and a third identical brother, David. Told in a combination of narrative exposition to camera and recreated dramatic scenes, the film is a masterclass in how to tell a story that seems too strange to actually be true.
The film brilliantly takes the audience through what happened after the reunion of the three brothers and the media fame of the early 1980s that followed. Chat show appearances, a cameo in the Madonna starring Desperately Seeking Susan and a rock and roll New York lifestyle is all depicted energetically.
This first section of the film is jovial enough. The boys all seemed happy to be part of a triple set and loved living the high life of tabloid celebrity in the big city. They also tended to act in similar ways and have the same likes and preferences. Reality begins to set in after a while though, and things take a far darker twist.
Everything about the brothers is all captured in close-up and in sharp detail. Not only all of the similarities that they share, but also the differences. The expertly drawn film includes emotional accounts from everyone involved and has a journalistic thoroughness in going about every aspect of the background of how such an odd occurrence as this should happen. How did the boys get separated at the adoption stage, and why?
Director Wardle steers a film of emotional depth backwards and forwards on the central debate of whether an individual is shaped by upbringing and experience, or by genetic makeup. The film has a true crime detective story approach about it that maximises the tragic and alarming aspects of this deeply strange and ultimately perplexing story.
My review of The Insult is over at FilmInk and below…
The tension and resentments of opposing political and religious viewpoints are taken down to everyday street level in The Insult, an impressive overview of the political and religious arguments in Lebanon and the Middle East.
The film takes a petty argument between two men as its central starting point, an argument that becomes far greater and serves as a distillation of conflicts between Christians and Muslims, Lebanese and Palestinian, and pretty much everything in between.
The problems all start in Beirut, where Lebanese Christian garage owner Tony (Adel Karam) is watering his plants on his balcony garden. Some workmen, including the Palestinian refugee Yasser Salameh (Kamel El Basha), happen to be nearby on the road below. When some water drips down onto Yasser, he demands that the drain is fixed straight away. When he sees that it hasn’t been, he calls in his team to fix it properly.
Tony lives in the apartment with his pregnant wife Shirine (Rita Hayek) and does not want any work to be going on while she is there. The workmen are modifying the faulty guttering system on the building and claim every right to be there. Tony disagrees and smashes up the gutter in a fit of rage. Yasser calls him a ‘fucking prick’ (or words to that effect) to which Tony demands an official apology.
Yasser’s employers eventually manage to persuade him to go to Tony’s garage to apologise for the insult. But once he gets there, he finds a riled-up Tony listening to anti-Palestinian diatribe on his radio. Yasser grits his teeth and nearly gets the sorry out, but then Tony drops the verbal bombshell: “I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped you all out.” And in that line, all of the animosity and ill-feeing of decades between opposing states and religions is boiled down to its core. The film in effect then asks the question, how did it get to be so?
Ziad Doueiri, a former camera assistant who worked in the US on movies including Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, gets the escalating threat and feel of the courtroom drama down perfectly.
Nominated for and just missing out on a Best Foreign Language film at this year’s Oscars, The Insult is a gripping drama that offers plenty of food for thought. While there are more questions than answers, the audience is at least left with the sense that, for better or worse, real individuals with their own motivations, prejudices and private histories will make the decisions that create or destroy peace and understanding.
Shut out and shut in
Generate a new password
And let the wonder begin
This morning starts off with the rain
Blistering sun-light will arrive on the train
Gazing at the darkened arch
Murmuring with cogent intent
But thoughts remain clouded
Until eyes lock
Door opens an inch
Sunshine creeps in
Testing the ground
Review of low-budget horror/crime film The Basement over at Flickering Myth and below…
Taking elements from crime and horror movies such as Silence of the Lambs, Hostel and Saw and putting them all together in a sickly grim stew, at first look The Basement doesn’t appear to be doing anything too original. Horror fans have seen a setup of character gets abducted by a lone nut and tortured in different ways countless times. However, with strong performances from its two leads and a collection of disturbingly entertaining scenes plus a strong resolution, the low-budget flick is worth sticking with.
Focusing on the interplay between imprisoned wealthy rock guitarist Craig (Cayleb Long) and serial killer Bill Anderson (Jackson Davis), most of the film is set in the basement of the title, where the two perform their bizarre psycho-therapy session.
The film has a good line in bleak humour, thanks to Long’s skill at bringing in different characters from his past and playing them out to Craig, who in turn is forced to perform the part of Bill. The ongoing session is alternately funny and tragic, with a few moments of close-up gross out torture.
The other sections of the film fare less well. Mischa Barton, the best known name in this film, is good as Kelly, but has less time to develop her role as the wife of the missing Craig. She does well with the scenes she is in, however, and is part of the wider story that elevates the film over a purely simplified shock and horror plot. Her scenes with best friend Bianca (Bailey Anne Borders) in the high luxury of her LA mansion are nicely put together and contrast well with the horrors that her partner is undergoing in the basement.
While the film is noticeably low-budget, it is put together professionally and features some good cinematography and edits. The pace mostly switches from extended scenes in the basement back to Kelly and Bianca trying to decide what to do next. Effective music and sound design also work in amping up the tension bit by bit.
Overall, given the pretty common start off for the movie, it turns out to be a surprisingly decent film. While baring some surface similarities with the M. Night Shyamalan movie Split, it turns out to be a very different beast, and is more in keeping with crime and suspense tales rather than anything more fantastical. What we have with The Basement is a horror designed to shock and surprise. It passes the test.
Review of post-global virus thriller What Still Remains is over at Flickering Myth and below…
Oh, the apocalypse. Edging ever closer it seems, and in the thriller What Still Remains it’s there in all its grim glory. Desolate mountaintops and lonely valleys are captured in fine detail, bringing home a real sense of fragile isolation in this post-global virus world. The hunt for edible food, while also avoiding the scarred zombie-like ‘berserkers’ proves to be a quest in itself for anyone attempting to live more than five minutes.
Amidst this backdrop recently bereaved of her family Anna (Lulu Antariksa), has to decide how much she can trust Peter (Colin O’Donaghue), a tough warrior type who promises her safe passage to his community across the wilds.
Both Anna and the audience soon have their doubts, not least when Peter proves to be just a little too trigger happy. But he seems a far better bet than the survivors marauding around at every turn. Plus, he has nicer hair.
But in all seriousness, this gets to the heart of this moralistically ambitious film. It asks the question ‘who’s the most human?’, the good looking ones who speak properly and have all the right survival equipment, or the ones who howl and whistle and wear animal masks?
The two leads play against each other well enough, and there is a palpable sense that something horrible is just around the corner. And being a post-apocalyptic landscape, that is an entirely reasonable guess.
Also without giving too much away, there is also a good link between survivalist communities and cult religions of the kind that would undoubtedly spring up in such a situation. In this community Mimi Rogers’ character provides some icy tension of life in a home constantly under threat from outsiders.
All in all, the film provides a disturbing enough look at what could be in store for a badly messed up Earth. But with too much of the weight of humanity – and the film itself – specifically being carried by the lead, it doesn’t really have enough to go truly viral.
My review of French comedy C’est La Vie is over at FilmInk and below…
The high stress, anxiety and emotion of planning a wedding reception is explored in this French comedy of manners.
Nakache and Toledano’s (The Intouchables, Samba) film follows experienced caterer Max (Jean-Pierre Bacri) as he attempts to throw a lavish wedding reception for Helena and Pierre in a grand 17th century chateau. He has delivered hundreds of wedding receptions in the past, all without a problem. What could possibly go wrong?
Pretty much everything as it turns out. Max and his team have been tasked with creating an event that is ‘sober, chic and elegant’. But we wouldn’t be left with much of a story if that was the outcome. Instead, farcical moments keep coming thick and fast, as we go from one pratfall to another. Max’s face displays a fixed grin at times, with the tension of the night threatening to explode at any moment.
He constantly instructs the staff to ‘adapt’, even when there are power outages and the only way to stave off guests’ hunger is with pastries and sparkling water.
Although the film is humorous by nature, with elements of slapstick tied in, it also has a sensitive humanitarian value at its heart. The stories of the players allow for a good measure of social realism to tincture the laughs, with Vincent Macaigne’s nervous-breakdown recovering teacher, Alban Ivanov’s clueless cook and Jean-Pierre Rouve’s lost photographer all played with heartfelt compassion.
A key feature of the film is that all the characters are largely sympathetic. Even when they are lashing out at each other, there’s always a perceivable reason why. So, when the party entertainer James (Gilles Lellouche) and Max’s assistant Adele (Eye Hadira) are sniping at each other in ever more comic and snarky tones, we always know why and appreciate the characters of both.
The element of reality keeps even the more absurd comic scenes firmly grounded, with subtly deployed scripting and cinematography offering the audience an insight into the characters’ inner lives. Dramatic internal struggles are touched upon and artfully hinted at, and we are left with a story of believable people with realistic concerns and aims.
Ultimately though, it’s a roaring good comedy which does far more for French film than it does for the wedding reception industry, which looks like bloody hard work. Still, c’est la vie…
Hot squash always helps
Or perhaps cordial would be ideal
For a day looking out the window
Why are there no painkillers in the rainforest?
Because the Parrots Eat ’em All
No they don’t
They just fly away and chatter in colour
Why has the common cold not been cured yet?
Blame the wrestling master called Big Pharma
I remember Tunes and Lockets and that nice tasting
Cough mixture that made you feel slightly sozzled
Ruminate, meditate or detoxicate
Ambient chill music and tea
The future looks a little clearer
I can see it in the mirror
More hot squash needed, it says.