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.
Review of A Prayer Before Dawn is over at FilmINK and below.
Based on the real-life accounts of boxer Billy Moore, A Prayer Before Dawn delivers a powerful message on the dangers of drugs – and more importantly… getting caught with them in the wrong place.
The place in question is Thailand, where Moore – portrayed with vigour and sensitivity by Joe Cole (Peaky Blinders) – has been working as a bodyguard in between boxing matches. He also spends time partaking in the smoking of local drug yaba, a crushing addiction that leads to him being busted and thrown behind bars.
Billy’s confusion in the prison is well brought out. The Thai spoken by guards and inmates is not subtitled, meaning the audience is in much the same position as Billy, relying on context and body language to discover what is being said. Luckily for us though, we don’t experience first hand the slaps and kicks.
The young Englishman’s rage at being imprisoned needs to have an outlet, and he begs to be allowed to train with the kickboxing team. His prowess is quickly recognised and a chance at survival and even release from prison hell is offered when he is allowed to compete in the inter-prison Muay Thai boxing tournament.
Billy is then packed off to another prison, where they swap subtitled stories of the grim deeds they did to end up there. Some of these conversations are delivered by real life ex-cons, so there is a provocative and alarming documentary quality about these scenes.
The fights themselves have a demonic circus atmosphere about them, with intensely maddening pipe music played over the speaker systems to accompany the blood and sweat. The close ups of whirling heads and flying fists (and feet) launch the spectator right into the heart of battle. It’s anything but a pretty sight.
The fights in the ring are gruelling enough, but the real challenge for the viewer is when the film details the violence in the prison itself. Painful and at points almost unwatchable, the film illustrates the suffering experienced by the prey of predators within a deeply flawed system.
Calling to mind something of the torment of ‘70s prison drama Midnight Express, but with the added confusion of blistering kickboxing bouts, A Prayer Before Dawnis a resolutely tough watch. But it’s also one that rewards, with the hope of redemption and rebirth.
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 new Brit flick Eaten by Lions is over at Flickering Myth and below:
Jason Wingard’s movie Eaten by Lions (written with David Isaac) is a sweetly funny movie with much to recommend about it. With its fast pace, likable characters and laugh per minute ratio, it scores highly in the entertainment stakes.
It also has the capacity to be emotionally engaging, which is a credit to the whole cast and writing team who bring the required personality to a story which always seems real and grounded, even in the most bizarre segments. It also keeps any cliched sitcom style elements at bay, and keeps a few surprises up its sleeve throughout the entire running time.
Following half-brothers Omar (Antonio Aakeel) and Pete (Jack Carroll) as they travel from Bradford to the bright lights of Blackpool to find Omar’s birth father, the film keeps their relationship at the forefront. The lead actors give tremendous, heartfelt performances, both amusing and warm. It is their interplay between each other and with the rest of the cast that propels the journey and the film onwards.
Johnny Vegas shows up in a hilarious role as Ray, a local hotel owner who lets the boys stay while they attempt to find out more. Tom Binns also brings plenty of laughs as a spaced out pier-side fortune-teller, who, with a little bit of mystic internet power, manages to let them know the address they need to visit.
When the boys visit Omar’s alleged blood relatives the main story really moves forward. The named father on the mysterious letter they found at their Gran’s is Malik Chaudhry (Nitin Ganatra ) but when they go to his house the response is not immediately overwhelmingly friendly. The facts soon become clear and the film continues on its lighthearted and often very funny way.
Matt North’s cinematography brings a vivid view of the seaside town of Blackpool, with a bright and clear look at the place. Music is used sparingly, but when it is it makes the right kind of impact – such as when one of the boys and their love interest goes on an unexpected joyride around the streets in the Choudhrys’s car, with music blaring out at top volume.
An entertaining film that is funny and heartwarming without being cheesy, Eaten by Lions is top fun for many different kinds of audiences.
Review of Volumes of Blood : Horror Stories is over at Flickering Myth. and… below…!!!
Anthology films are great in the horror genre. Offering up short, sharp bursts of grim entertainment without too much need for character development, plotting or any of that boring stuff, a collection of horror chapters can really set the scene for a fun – and possibly enjoyably scary – night in. As with this release, they can also show off a variety of different directorial and writing styles and inclinations. Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories allows six directors to present exactly what they can – and can’t – do.
The only rules that the group seem to have been given is that most of the stories are held together by the ongoing story of a couple being shown around a house by a mysterious estate agent. The first introductory segment is itself a film being watched in a movie theatre, which then becomes another story. So far, so meta. But in any case, every one of the other short stories seem to be associated with various rooms in the house that is being viewed. However, it should be warned that the linking formula in this release is fairly chaotic. The wild attempts at humour don’t always sit well with the gross out style segments, and often stories appear undeveloped and underwritten. Given the almost 2 hour running time, this leaves one feeling that some more productive editing and a better worked out central idea would have been useful.
Having said that, there are some stoner-esque laughs to be had with Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories. The writers seem to have a core viewer in mind and to play to the crowd, offering up some fairly dumb, unmemorable but occasionally funny entertainment.
For what it’s worth, the first story – the one showing in the cinema – Murder, Death, Kill is a gross out horror/comedy. It concerns a bungled robbery and introduces in gruesome style a recurring character; the killer Atticus Crowe. The film then abruptly cuts to a cinema, where the movie is revealed to be a remake of an underground horror classic. A couple of goof balls riff on modern cinema culture and the film proper starts off. As mentioned previously, the linking ‘plot’ is not all together clear and it gives the whole production a pretty messy feel. Still there is fun to be had with some of the stories, most notably Deathday Party, which has a premise of an older couple being rudely interrupted by their neighbours. It becomes the opportunity for some suburban slaying, and this at least is fairly amusing.
Some of the other films are also linked by references to holidays, such as Halloween and Christmas, but as remarked previously, there just isn’t a strong enough linking theme to the whole. That and the fact that it’s all a bit too ‘knowing’ – making disjointed jibes at horror film culture, while presiding over a sub-standard film isn’t the best way to go – are the main problems with this release. Everyone involved – and it’s a huge group of cast and crew – are clearly doing it for the love of horror films in general, but much as we might want to like it, sometimes that just isn’t enough. It finishes up by doing a good impression of an overstretched student film idea that ultimately outstays its welcome.
Review of Black Orpheus over at Flickering Myth and below…
Featuring an energetic burst of colour, vibrancy, music and dancing, Marcel Camus’ exhilarating take on the Ancient Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice is a pure joy to experience. Winner of the 1959 Academy Award for best foreign language feature as well as the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Black Orpheus (Orfeo Negro) was a huge success and created a surge in popularity for the Brazilian music style the Bossa nova. The film is filled with beautifully choreographed dance pieces and the whole picture is one of festivity and party. This enchanting energy translates wonderfully well to Blu-ray, with Criterion issuing a restored and enhanced release completely worthy of this dream of a film.
Focusing on the favelas of Rio and the upcoming famous carnaval, the film tells the story of Orfeo (Bruno Mello), a local bus driver and Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) who arrives in Rio on the run from a man who is pursuing her. Orfeo, also an accomplished singer/poet and something of a ladies man, falls for Eurydice immediately and vows to protect her. In the process, he risks the anger of his quick tempered fiancee Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira), a woman easily provoked and thankfully for Orfeo, also easily distracted. An even greater risk to the potential happiness of the two new lovebirds is the individual stalking Eurydice, portrayed in the film literally as Death himself. Any one who knows the original myth – and countless tragic love stories the world over – can be pretty sure this isn’t going to end too well.
But even with this figure of Death hanging around though, there is nothing remotely bleak about the picture. It is firmly optimistic, as even with the inevitability of death, life, and the dance always continues. Life affirming is a phrase seemingly created for such a film as this. Eminently beautiful and profound.
Criterion have put together a whole host of features for this release including:
New restored high definition digital transfer.
Optional English dubbed soundtrack
Archival interviews with Marcel Camus and Marpessa Dawn
New interviews with Brazilian cinema scholar Robert Stam, Jazz historian Gary Giddins and Brazilian author Ruy Castro
Looking for Black Orpheus documentary about the film’s cultural roots in Brazil and its continued relevance today.
Train to Busan is over at Flickering Myth and below…
Long distance train journeys are pretty frustrating at the best of times. Crap wi-fi coverage, uncomfortable seats if you can find one, undrinkable coffee; the list goes on and on. Let’s face it, adding a horde of marauding zombies could almost be seen as something of a relief from the unremitting tedium of staying awake for the last stretch…
Thankfully, Sang-ho Yeon’s Train to Busan shares none of the failings of regular cross country rail services. Serving up a classic horror concoction of non-stop action alongside socio-political allegory, the film manages to inject some fresh new life into a horror sub-genre that has recently become over-exposed and under-developed. This is a film that builds on its straightforward concept to incorporate smart humour, jump scares and apocalyptic horror. Unlike say, 2013’s Korean sci-fi train epic Snowpiercer, it is all done without any pretension to art-house sensibilities and keeps a clear head for the serious business of zombie mayhem. However, far from being just another throwaway infected flick, the film gradually draws its audience in to feeling genuine sympathy for (most) of the passengers on board and succeeds in crafting a high-octane adventure with something to say beyond the screaming.
Morbidly funny to begin with and gradually becoming more profound as it moves on, the film focuses on the passengers of the high-speed bullet train from Seoul to Busan as they attempt to stay alive. Among those on the train are the recently divorced Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) and his daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) who are desperate to reach Busan to see her mother. These two are joined by a small group of uninfected including the impressive Ma Dong-seok as a likable but quick-tempered man devoted to protecting his pregnant wife.
As the struggle for survival goes on, this group, also including a pair of young lovers and two elderly sisters, becomes split from another collection of characters who are also battling the infected in a different part of the train. This other group counts a ruthless unscrupulous businessman at its head, and the fight for moral judgments and doing what’s right on a human level is at the film’s heart.
It is really the young father’s internal quest to protect his daughter while struggling with his own problems that brings the film onto another level of enjoyment. A raw emotional underbelly becomes ever more exposed, until the audience experiences a heartfelt message to trust and love. It’s a difficult pitch to get right and one that could have stumbled if dealt with in a more po-faced manner, but happily Sang-ho Yeon gets it just right. Mixing up impressions from movies as diverse as The Raid, 28 Days Later and Night of the Living Dead, this is a beautifully crafted mix of horror and sociological morality play. All in all though, it is pure entertainment with a side-order of allegory. Go for the scares and stay for the ideas.
My review of the incredible Remainder by Omer Fast is over at Flickering Myth and below…
1. The faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information.
2. Something remembered from the past.
3. A potentially faltering and problematic thing with the capacity to occlude and confuse.
In Remainder, the feature film debut from Omer Fast, an intricately woven web of ideas and codes is constructed, both on-screen and off. The viewer is lured into a perplexing thriller that brings philosophical vision into a detailed run through of noir-ish themes and psychological horror plays. Adapted from Tom McCarthy’s cult novel, the movie shares the disturbing nature of films as diverse as Memento, Mulholland Drive, Pi and Spellbound.
Fast is an acclaimed visual artist well versed in the mind’s potential for playing tricks on an individual. Much of his work has focused on the subjective nature of reality, with video pieces asking questions of conventional storytelling and the erratic blurring of appearances. A picture never lies, we once learned. Fast has always been intrigued by showing how they frequently do, and providing insight into exactly how this can be.
In Remainder he uses a random event to explore how identity and reality is created. When an unnamed man (Tom Sturridge, Far From the Madding Crowd) is hit on the head by a falling object he awakens from a coma to find his memory erased and a compensation package for £8.5m. His lawyer instructs him that the money is his on the condition that he says nothing about the accident. This isn’t a problem; he recalls nothing. The only thing he can remember are tiny snapshots of images which he obsessively reconstructs into physical form, hoping to unlock further clues about his past life. As he delves deeper into the mystery surrounding him, he becomes embroiled in intrigue, suspense and immediate danger.
Remainder is a fascinating film, full of the real personal horror of losing one’s footing in the reality of life. Fundamentally it is concerned with trauma, an area that Sturridge brings out wonderfully well in his portrayal of the unknown protagonist. He manages to play the lead as a victim who is facing a profound internal struggle – while also imbuing him with a grim determination. There’s a strange sense of optimism in this, that the human spirit is so proud it will fight against debilitating events, looking for understanding and meaning.
The protagonist – an anti-hero really – is certainly not there to invite sympathy. At times he comes across as a rich kid spending his new found wealth on frivolous and speculative activities. There is method in his memory problems, though as he expends more and more effort – and cash – on bringing his memories back to life. In the reconstruction of various homes and property, Fast appears to be making a side comment on the gentrification of urban city areas (the film is based in London but the filming locations are as hared with the German capital Berlin).
Fast is also clearly concerned with the obsessions of film. There is more than a sense of Kubrick about Sturridge’s character; he tries to rebuild his memories with a huge team of assistants deliberating on exactly how to get the right sound, precise smells and accurate colour to the documenting of internal pictures. As well as his striking central performance, there is fine support from Cush Jumbo (The Good Wife), Ed Speleers (Downton Abbey) and Arsher Ali (Four Lions).
A remarkable movie, Remainder is a spectacular and mind-mangling trip.
Remainder is in UK Cinemas and on demand from June 24th.