My review of The Happy Prince – a dramatisation of Oscar Wilde’s last few years from Rupert Everett is at Filmink and below. . .
Rupert Everett takes centre stage in a role he was born to play, in this lustrous dramatisation of the last days of Oscar Wilde. Everett scripted and stars in his directorial debut, and clearly has much invested in it. He’s certainly had preparation for the role, having played the poet and playwright in the 2012 British play, The Judas Kiss. Happily for him, and the audience, The Happy Prince doesn’t disappoint.
The film focuses on Wilde’s exiled life in France and Italy after serving a prison term for ‘gross indecency’; a charge brought about by the Marquess of Queensberry, the father of Wilde’s paramour Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas (Colin Morgan). Wilde never fully recovered from his time in prison, either physically or emotionally; his poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol, written after his release, calls attention to the grim sights witnessed and heard of, while incarcerated.
Capturing a dream-like state of memories and regrets, the film begins with the words of the titular Happy Prince, a fable Wilde wrote for children, and in Everett’s film displays the contradictions and unjustness of late 19th Century European life.
Wilde reads from the tale to his two young sons, later kept apart from him by estranged wife Constance (played with a sorrowful, almost ghostly, distance by Emily Watson), and we see a hazy and melancholy vision of London’s street life. The line, “there is no mystery so great as suffering”, serves as an introduction to both the film and the creator’s tormented state of mind.
Wilde, using the alias Sebastian Melmoth, taken from the lead character of Melmoth the Wanderer, a novel by his great-uncle Charles Maturin, wanders through a squalid hand-to-mouth, or drink and drugs to mouth, existence in Paris and Naples. Everett brilliantly displays the pain that Wilde suffered, with constantly animated features shifting from radiant smile to anguished grimace.
The pain is only added to by the mysteries of love. Still besotted with Bosie, despite his dependence on the father who betrayed him to the prehistoric laws of Victorian England, the two spend time together in Naples. It all ends abruptly when Bosie’s family, as well as Constance, who had been sending Wilde a little money, threaten to stop the allowance if the relationship continues.
At the crux of the film is the trio of Wilde, Bosie, and Robert Ross (Edwin Thomas), a friend and lover, and later the agent who cared for Wilde’s literary estate. The jealousies and rivalries between the dashing, vain and ultimately unforgiving Bosie and the loyal and kind Ross are dramatically brought out, particularly at a chaotic dinner drinks meeting between the three in France.
An imagining of Wilde’s dying dreams are the real point of reference at work; the film is literally an account of his last three years, so the events that are factually accurate are entwined with the personal moods and feelings that he may have thought of on his death bed in Paris. This darkly romantic vision is a world away from the entertaining storyteller of a thousand legends, but it is one that it is inextricably linked. Everett does justice to both man and story.
The fantastic Icelandic film Woman at War is over at Filmink and below. . .
A joyous and warm-hearted comedy drama taking on essential contemporary issues such as ecological activism, modern motherhood and community identities, Woman at War is a captivating examination of a bruised world in need of repair. Somehow managing to find optimism and positivity in a script focusing on climate change and societal chaos, the film has a fairy tale like quality about it; an effect only enhanced by a Nordic absurdity and surreal camera play.
Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), a woman in her forties, has declared war on the aluminium industry at work near her home town. An eco-warrior hell-bent on shutting down power supplies, she employs military style tactics and a steely determination. Putting everything at risk to curtail the damage being done to her Icelandic homeland and the world at large, she wages a one woman war to put a stop to the unrestricted threat of big business and manufacturing.
Halla’s endeavours lead to her fellow townsfolk wondering just who is behind the shocking power outages. Known only by her alias of ‘The Woman of the Mountain’, she goes from stealthy saboteur moves by night, to teaching local choir classes by day. Her cover is complete, and no one suspects a thing.
Aided by remote farmer Sveinbjörn (Jóhann Sigurðarson) – who may or may not be her cousin – she takes to the remote country, watching out for drones, helicopters and all the powers of the state as they focus their attention on what they believe to be an overseas terrorist threat.
But just as she is about to launch her biggest operation yet, a surprise letter arrives informing her that her four-year-old application to adopt an impoverished child has been successful.
Effectively forcing her to choose between her fight against unfettered capitalism and a lost little girl in need, Halla must show all of her courage to conquer a crisis on all fronts. She also needs to win the trust of her twin sister Asa, a yoga instructor (also played by Geirharðsdóttir) with her sights set on a meditative retreat in India.
Featuring a superb lead performance from Geirharðsdóttir, Woman at War is a startlingly original piece, mixing up Icelandic humour and weirdness with grave dilemmas currently being faced all over the world.
Erlingsson creates an attractive picture cinematically, showcasing the striking sights of Iceland’s countryside in a fashion that certainly won’t do their tourism industry any harm. He also decides on using a whimsical take for the film’s score by bringing the brass band and trio of traditional singers onto the screen, occasionally sharing a knowing glance or nod with Halla as she goes about her own personal business of saving the world. A strange and beautiful film, this is an Icelandic delight to savour.
My review of the haunting micro-budget indie Feral is over at FM and below…
An eye-opening study of a side of New York rarely shown on screen, Andrew Wonder’s Feral is a haunting story that forces a confrontation with the realities of homelessness.
With a subterranean, underworld setting echoing themes in films as diverse as feature documentary Dark Days (2o00) and recent Jordan Peele hit Us (2019), Feral is an examination of stark loneliness and the masks everyone wears to deal with reality. Bringing a focused gaze towards the dangers homeless people face every day, the film is at once unsettling and impossible to ignore.
These dangers are not limited to being out on the streets. Serious problems in the entire infrastructure of aiming to help homeless people are addressed with a fixed eye. The additional abuse problems that homeless women contend with – even when off the street – are displayed too. Whether as part of government bodies or religious charitable organisations, for homeless women there are always sexual predators looking to take advantage of the most vulnerable.
The film tells the story of Yazmine (powerfully played by Annapurna Sriram), a young woman living in the vast network of tunnels underneath Manhattan. Left on her own from the age of 16, following her mother’s deportation, Yazmine exists from day to day. Navigating her way through the underground tunnels of Manhattan, she emerges to attempt to find food and sustenance wherever and however she can.
The film never backs away from the harsh truths of what surviving on the streets means. For Yazmine, it sometimes involves picking up guys in order to get away from the freezing New York winter nights. A complex and moving scene shows her meeting up with a sensitive musician (Kevin Hoffman), and enjoying a drunkenly romantic evening as young New Yorkers. However, the great distance between their two internal worlds can’t be bridged.
Other encounters show how the kindness of strangers can be misguided. This is the case with the elderly lady who invites Yazmine into her home and offers her food and drink and talks to her about her past in the city. The two dance together in a beautifully realised capturing of movement and feeling. The outcome of the lady’s best intentions is far less uplifting.
Ultimately Yazmine’s journey is a mysterious and lonely one. She is able to don different guises and play various roles as a key to survival; we are left with the impression that after performing for so long, surviving is the defining factor in who she is. It’s an incredible showcase for Annapurna Sriram, an actor bound to gain a lot of attention from this role.
Feral covers a complicated and serious issue. It’s clear that with a strong creative vision and a talented cast, films on a micro-budget can make a memorable impression.
Playing as part of the French Film Festival here in Australia, At War (En Guerre) is reviewed by moi over at Filmink.
“In today’s ever-changing world it is not always easy to remain consistent. One day I could be a bird, the next a pocket-sized calculator. The opportunities stretching out before us do not stop or have any discernible boundaries. The chance for things to change remains ever-present.”
So sayeth the tree, stuck into the ground, by its ever-strengthening roots.
Review of Sarah Jacobson’s 1993 short over at Filmink and below.
A wild mix of fired-up feminist rallying and pitch black humour, this early ‘90s short from influential filmmaker Jacobson still packs as much of a punch as it did back in Riot Grrrl’s hey-day.
The ground-breaking underground film cost an estimated $1600, and has a grainy sliced-up look perfect for its gritty subject matter. Featuring ultimately serious comment and inquiry into patriarchal society (along with gruesome laughs amidst some decidedly non-professional acting) that is as relevant now as it was then, the 27min film is far more than merely a museum piece or passing curiosity.
To reinforce the darker dreams of the film, the grungy soundtrack features a song from the notorious cult leader Charles Manson. That piece plus tracks from ‘90s punk rockers Heavens to Betsy and underground stalwarts Gas Huffer merge sound and vision for a short, sharp shock to the senses.
This was Jacobson’s debut in a career tragically cut short by illness that also included the feature Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore (1996), which will screen with I Was a Teenage Serial Killer at the inaugural Paracinema Fest.
A memorable intro to her work, the film shows how a lasting statement can be made with a purely indie DIY approach to filmmaking.
Smartly funny You Might Be the Killer reviewed over at Filmink.
Taking its cues – and one of its stars – from meta-slasher comedies such as the Scream films and Cabin in the Woods, this is a clever and entertaining indie-flick perfectly suited to the geekier end of the horror-comedy spectrum. Offering a sideways take on the summer camp style of horror film – a mini-genre all of its own – the film scores highly for sardonic laughs and horror fan reference points.
Fran Kranz (Cabin in the Woods) stars as camp councillor Sam, a guy with a serious blackout and memory loss problem. He wakes up in the great outdoors, which soon become not so great as he discovers corpse after corpse. Luckily for him, he has a phone to connect with best friend and horror movie expert Chuck (Alyson Hannigan). Chuck runs through the various possibilities with Sam, including the fact that, yep, he might be the killer…
With lots of entertainingly envisaged death scenes and a few jump scares, this movie certainly has the requisite nods to the glory (and gory) days of summer camp slashers. But more than that, it has plenty of witty lines examining the state of play of that particular type of film. The tropes of cursed masks, lost loves and of course the ‘final girl’ are all closely looked at by Chuck – who just happens to be working at a comic book and video store – and calmly delivered to a bloody and near-psychotic Sam.
What initially sounds like an uninspiring premise scores highly for laughs and sheer entertainment. Simmons gets the tone just right, with a succinct and always funny script offering lots of scope for the performers to get the best out of it. Good support to the main duo comes from Brittany S. Hall as Sam’s romantic interest Imani and Jenna Harvey’s sweet natured Jamie. A repeated joke involving Steve ‘the Kayak King’ (Bryan Price) is also far funnier than it probably has any right to be.
On the surface, You Might Be the Killer takes simple ideas, jokes and scares and builds on them to create a highly accomplished horror-comedy. A top treat for any horror fan, the film is sharp, snappy and executed with a killer touch.
My review of the beautifully moving Lean on Pete is over at Filmink and below.
Andrew Haigh’s poetic vision of growing-up poor and neglected is a haunting and deeply moving look at a side of American life rarely given such detailed attention.
The film is a slow-burn of intense emotional upheaval, and brings a studied approach to its subject that makes the impact of the experience even more rewarding.
Going for careful and deliberate dramatics, rather than overplayed fireworks, the story is reserved, contemplative and, ultimately, heart-rending.
Featuring a powerful central performance from Charlie Plummer as the 15 year old Charley, Lean on Pete is a coming-of-age story delivered in the most compassionate of tones.
Charley, a likeable innocent, is tasked with survival on a daily basis. His father Ray (Travis Fimmel) loves his son, but is not exactly reliable. He has a habit of going from job to job and shacking up with new partners – including the married Lynn (Amy Seimitz) – as and when it happens.
As we are introduced to father and son – and Haigh deliberately allows us a semi-documentary view of their hand-to-mouth lifestyle – we see the ramshackle rooms, missed meals and unhealthy living arrangements that make up their life. It’s not played specifically for sympathy – although that is there in abundance – it is more about showing the reality of young Charley’s existence.
This reality makes the discovery of a local horse track and the appearance of irascible trainer Del (Steve Buscemi) more of a bright note in Charley’s disjointed life than it otherwise might have been. The cantankerous old Del shows the boy how to work the stables and get the horses ready for racing.
It’s here that the eponymous horse Lean on Pete connects with Charley. The relationship between ageing animal and young human is showcased beautifully and simple scenes of the two walking back and forth with the boy intoning softly about whatever’s on his mind is quietly emotive.
Chloë Sevigny also has a role as a jockey who candidly warns Charley about getting too close to Pete. Both she and Del see the horses as little more than tools to make use of. When they become too old and too slow, they are cast aside and replaced. For them there is no other connection to make. Not so for the adolescent in need of a friend.
Plummer is on screen for nearly the entire two-hour feature, and manages to hold the episodic story together with his brilliant portrayal of youth in search of answers. It is his character and the cruel effects of impoverished despair that lend an epic struggle to the plot. This, plus the fantastically shot views of the American countryside help to put everything into clear perspective. The film offers a memorable viewpoint of a world seldom shown in such heightened and vivid colour.
“What’s your superpower?”
“Your superpower. What is it?”
“Oh. Well, if I concentrate really *really* hard I can create an even more intense level of personal discomfort. What’s yours?”
“I have the power to make the news both horrible *and* distressing. Every time a new nightmare.”
“Neat. Let’s have a cup of dreams.”
My review of WW1 drama Journey’s End is over at FilmINK and below.
The sheer horror of the first World War is captured in sobering detail in this quietly moving adaptation of a powerfully emotive play of the same name. First performed in 1928, just ten years after the end of the war, R.C. Sherriff’s drama brought the reality of the anxiety and claustrophobia of trench warfare to theatre-goers.
This film is the fourth cinematic outing for the story. Directed with intensity by Saul Dibb (The Duchess) and featuring a collection of memorable performances, Journey’s End is the story of a contingent of British soldiers in France waiting for a German attack.
The young and inexperienced officer Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) is keen to see the war for himself. He also wants to meet up with former school house-master and potential brother-in-law Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin), a leader with rapidly diminishing coping skills and a perspective overwhelmed by anger and alcohol.
Raleigh is soon introduced to the other members of the group, including the wise and peacefully dejected former school teacher Osbourne (Paul Bettany) and the no-nonsense plain speaking Trotter (Stephen Graham). Some brief moments of gallows humour are also provided by the less than 3 hat culinary offerings from the trench cook Private Mason (Toby Jones).
While the jumping off point for the story is undoubtedly Raleigh’s swift education in the ways of the war, and the blood, mud and scent of death that accompany it, it is as the film moves on to the unbearable wait for the attack that it really comes into its own. The mental unravelling of Stanhope is agonising to watch. Claflin does an excellent job in creating this eminently believable character of a man as close as can be to absolute breaking point.
The injustices of how soldiers were contemptuously treated as little more than statistics by the ruling elite is also strongly focused on. While the soldiers dine on tinned fruit and tea with bits of onion in it, the generals are served formal dinners and fine wine. Food and drink becomes an obsession with the men, as the torturous wait goes on with little to alleviate it but more alcohol.
The timeless story of conflict and assessing the value of life and death is shown in all its power. Asking all sorts of questions of nationality and patriotism 100 years after the culmination of World War One, Journey’s End provides a stark retelling of the grim truth of that most senseless of conflicts.