Friday, 19 May 2017

Le Cercle Rouge (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1970)

The Red Circle sees Alain Delon reunited again with Melville, as a man freshly out of jail taking on a diamond heist. The realisation is slow and collected, and this generates an impressive level of tension, despite some seriously tedious longueurs in the mechanical set pieces of getting from A to B, which is then let down for once and for all by the rushed denouement. The detail is great, as is the doing away with surplus dialogue and the overall laconicism, but you expect much more at the end.


Woman in Gold (Simon Curtis, 2015)

A fairly accurate retelling of the legal process of 7 years of an Austrian Jew to recover the art stolen from her family by the Nazis, with a panoply of star cameos, Woman in Gold should simply be more than it amounts to: all the dramatic content is ready-made, but flat direction leaves nothing that stays in the mind beyond seeing what an impressive city Vienna is and how daft Helen Mirren's stab at an Austrian accent is, alongside her reveries cast into the past. It doesn't do its theme any service at all, Maybe in the U.S. market, it's more emotive to have a ridiculously wealthy family stripped of its property, because it seems like rape to them, but elsewhere in the world and with regard to how the rest of  the holocaust occurred, it's pretty shallow.


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Swiss Army Man (Daniel Scheinert & Daniel Kwan, 2016)

Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe star in a kookfest where the former, a loser stranded on an island and about to commit suicide finds the latter, a corpse, washed up on the beach. The corpse then proves of great value to him in getting off the island through the jet-powered flatulence generated as it decomposes and numerous other mechanical uses to allow him to survive through the wilderness on the mainland. Along the way, the corpse begins talking to him and what we then have is effectively a buddy movie. Taking place in the sadsack lead's head.
To say it's whimsical and puerile is self-evident, like Michel Gondry in collaboration with the Farrelly brothers, but what really characterises it is that undying tendency in some U.S. independent cinema to slap together as much incongruous nonsense as possible in the starry-eyed belief that beautiful life lessons will be revealed. As befits the American mentality, it's very much another religion, and when the keen-eyed amongst you spot the brief cameo at the end of Shane Carruth, the director of the even more irritating and ridiculously lauded Upstream Colour, probably one of the most egregious films this reviewer has ever endured, it reaffirms the existence of a cult of weirdness for its own sake masquerading as the virtues of diversity.


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Stake Land (Jim Mickle, 2010)

The idea of a world in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse has now become, in effect, an established reality and all that filmmakers choosing to go down that path can achieve to validate the effort is to bring something new to the table. Yes, here the shambling flesh-eaters are referred to as vampires, but it's all pretty much the same thing, as is the motley band that try to survive through the post-civilisation landscape (the grizzled veteran, the naive narrator boy, the pregnant girl and the token black guy).
Two things do distinguish this from most other B-movies in the genre: more attention paid to quiet interludes and mood than usual, as if the director had aspirations to create the depth of The Road rather than just a standard rampage through biting hordes, and an explicit hatred of American Christian fundamentalists, who turn out to be far worse than the undead in their zeal to bring about punishment for mankind. So if there are some original ideas behind it, why adulterate them with such a tired formula? Is there really no other way to get commercial backing for them?


Monday, 15 May 2017

The Discovery (Charlie McDowell, 2017)

Robert Redford is a scientist who discovers another 'plane of existence' after death (he's really cranking out these existential roles now, presumably while he still can). This leads to a worldwide suicide epidemic as people decide to cash their chips with the knowledge that there is something out there. A few years later, his estranged neurologist son, a sceptic, goes to find out what he's doing in seclusion and discovers that the research has progressed to the point of establishing what there actually is in that plane.
As is so often the case with high-concept sci-fi like this, the initial premise, with its consequences on the reasoning of credulous people, is much more engrossing than what the execution actually turns out to be, which is a sort of Flatliners crossed with Another Earth. It commits the usual sin of thinking that the difficult scientific feasibility part is really just a secondary concern, whereas it's vital: without some rigour applied to that part of the story (there is not even a token attempt to explain the 'scientific undeniability' of Redford's initial findings), it just ends up as woolly as the fond imaginings of the people in it who are taken in by the dream of a continued existence.


Juste la fin du monde (Xavier Dolan, 2016)

A gay playwright returns to see his family in Quebec after an absence of 12 years, intending to tell them that he's dying. It's a fractious homecoming that doesn't last a day, with constant bickering and back-biting between them making productive communication arduous. But it is the lead character's diffidence that makes it quite impossible, and this is one of the most frustrating things about It's Only the End of the World. He simply does not take a stand, hardly speaking, staring off in reveries of the past when addressed and letting all the sniping wash over him. Considering that his sister is arrested in adolescence, his older brother is a self-important aggressive bully, his sister-in-law a mouse who can hardly get a sentence out and his dithering mother quite unable to control any of it, there isn't anyone at all to empathise with, which was surely not the intention.
Dolan clearly has an inkling of how to spot fractures in family relationships, but the way these are presented is overblown and clumsy, like the observations of a Martian, and disappointingly what you would expect of a director so young who also represents sexual and linguistic minorities and is obviously burdened by that fact. The top-rate cast, including Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel are reduced to working with caricatures of personae.
It won the Grand Prix at Cannes, which is one of those frequent cases where the jury wilfully awards something just for being hard work (and therefore not commercial), regardless of whether it actually manages to say anything.


Thursday, 11 May 2017

El Incidente (Isaac Ezban, 2014)

The ambition of Ezban's debut feature is commendable, and one hopes the realisation all the way through to the end will become more rigorously thought out with time. Essentially, two groups of people in Mexico become stuck in a kind of Sartrean hell where for one set there is no escape from a stairwell, for another likewise none from a highway that keeps returning them to the same place. The conceptualisation of what then piles up as junk over their trapped lives is quite gripping, functioning effectively as both oblique commentary of rampant, soulless consumerism and the futility of human endeavour, the attempt of the director to make the strands tie up at the end far less so, becoming truly muddled. But there is real promise in evidence here.