The Red Turtle (2016)

Reader advisory: this review contains spoilers. If in doubt, do not read beyond the warning midway.

The Red Turtle is a milestone in the history of Studio Ghibli, Japan’s most famous animation studio, in that it marks their first international co-production. Helming The Red Turtle is Dutch director Michael Dudok de Wit, a name I was previously unfamiliar with. Looking up his other work, it’s clear there’s obvious precedent to the rather timeless themes of The Red Turtle in his Oscar-nominated short film, Father and Daughter. While there’s no denying the hugely impressive animation work of The Red Turtle, and the near-universal appeal of its almost parable-like narrative, there was something just that little bit not quite right about the film to completely, truly captivate me.

A man is near-drowning in a storm, and washes up on the shore of a deserted island. He finds creatures and sustenance but resolves to try to make his way home. His attempts are thwarted by a giant turtle that keeps breaking his raft. The man lashes out in anger at the turtle, frustrated that he’s trapped. Later, a woman emerges from the sea. The couple lives out their lives on the island, through good times and bad, growing old together.

While I’m not entirely sure I found The Red Turtle to be wholly satisfying experience, there’s no denying the absolutely stunning beauty of its animation. The opening sequence is really arresting, the enormity of the sea raging around the tiny body of the man is quite riveting and effective. On the island itself, the richness of the environment is rendered believable without ever becoming reliant on photo-realism. The humans are animated very simply, and it’s phenomenal to see the depth of emotion expressed in such simple character design, particularly as the film is dialogue-free and completely reliant on the strength of its animation to get the audience on-side. Assisting this is a very sweet score from French composer Laurent Perez del Mar.

So why, then, did this beautifully-realised, seemingly universal story leave me cold? It’s hard to explain without detailing too much of the plot, but, in short, my own take on how the narrative played out relied a little too much on the exploitation of both nature and the feminine in order to tell its ‘universal’ story of a – default male – human. Now, I am well aware that this stems from my interpretation of the film. This is not by any means necessarily there in the film, but, just as so many others seem to have been totally enamoured by it, I can’t deny my own response. So, with a warning for spoilers – here’s what I saw in the story that left me confused and uncomfortable. The man is enraged by the turtle, and strikes out at it – seemingly killing it. The suggestion is that the turtle reincarnates as the woman. The man and the woman live their lives together, having a child, growing old, and eventually succumbing to time – when the woman returns to the sea as a turtle.

Now, forgive me if I’m being a bit too SJW here, but I just can’t find myself won over by a narrative which sees a man’s journey to not being a short-sighted, self-preserving destructive force requiring a woman who he has essentially just quite cruelly killed to hold his hand and teach him how not to be horrible. The only satisfying interpretation of what I watched was that nature in fact confined him to the island by providing the companionship of the woman, but honestly that just doesn’t fly in the context of the film. It could be I’m missing some subtlety or metaphor in the narrative. It could be that I got too hung up on the man’s cruelty early on to adequately read the rest of it. Perhaps it says more about me that the manner of the man’s forgiveness and rehabilitation over-shadows the essential kindness of nature as depicted in the film.

Despite my relative discomfort with the film’s narrative, I would still absolutely recommend The Red Turtle. It’s a visual feast, and it is an effective story, taken at face value. Taken more deeply, it’s certainly going to make you ponder, positively or negatively, the nature of humanity and the potential humanity of nature.

The Red Turtle is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Studiocanal.

Mayhem Film Festival 2017 releases full line-up

We’re heading straight into the UK horror festival season and Nottingham’s mighty Mayhem has just revealed its full line-up for its 13th edition of the festival. Taking place 12-15th October at the gorgeous Broadway cinema in the heart of Nottingham, the festival doesn’t just take on horror, but also, sci-fi, thrillers and cult classics.

There are some wonderful highlights in this year’s line-up, not least of all their specially produced Zeppelin v Pterodactyls, a live reading of an unproduced Hammer script. They’ve also got UK premieres (included the latest from Dick Maas, Prey), special guests (including Dick Maas himself!), and two incredible classic screenings, Suspiria and Friday the 13th Part 3 3D on Friday 13th Oct!

See below for the full line-up as well as that all important ticket info:

Early Bird passes will remain on sale at the discounted price of £65 until 10AM on Tuesday 12 September at which time individual tickets, day passes and full festival passes at the regular price of £75 will be made available. The live stage reading of Hammer Films Zeppelin v Pterodactyls is made possible with thanks to Hammer Films and CATH (Cinema and Television History) Research Centre at DeMontfort University. For more information, please visit www.mayhemfilmfestival.com 

THURSDAY 12 OCTOBER

7.30PM DOUBLE DATE + Special Guests

Dir. Benjamin Barfoot, 2017 (UK) with Danny Morgan & Michael Socha

10PM M.F.A.

Dir. Natalia Leite, 2017 (US) with Francesca Eastwood & Clifton Collins Jr.

 

FRIDAY 13 OCTOBER

3.30PM BITCH

Dir. Marianna Palka, 2017 (US) with Jaime King & Jason Ritter

5.30PM 68 KILL

Dir. Trent Haaga, 2017 (US) with Matthew Gray Gubler & AnnaLynne McCord

7.30PM HABIT + Special Guests Simeon Halligan, Rachel Richardson-Jones & Elliot Langridge

Dir. Simeon Halligan, 2017 (UK) with Elliot Langridge & Jessica Barden

10PM FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III: 3D

Dir. Steve Miner, 1982 (US) with Dana Kimmell & Tracie Savage

 

SATURDAY 14 OCTOBER 

12PM TAG

Dir. Sion Sono, 2015 (JAP) with Reina Triendl & Mariko Shinoda

1.45PM A DAY – UK PREMIERE

Dir. Sun-ho Cho, 2017 (ROK) with Myung-min Kim & Eun-hyung Jo

3.30PM MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND

Dir. Ana Asensio, 2017 (US) with Ana Asensio & Natasha Romanova

6PM MAYHEM SHORT FILM SHOWCASE

Dir. Various, 2017 (International)

8.30PM PREY + Special Guest Dick Maas

Dir. Dick Maas, 2016 (NL) with Mark Frost & Sophie Van Winden

11PM SUSPIRIA The CultFilms Tour of SUSPIRIA-4k (shown in 2k)

Dir. Dario Argento, 1977 (ITA) with Jessica Harper & Stefania Casini

 

SUNDAY 15 OCTOBER

12PM TOP KNOT DETECTIVE

Dirs. Aaron McCann & Dominic Pearce, 2017 (AUS/JAP) with Toshi Okuzaki & Mayu Iwasaki

1.45PM RIFT

Dir. Erlingur Thoroddsen, 2017 (ICE) with Björn Stefánsson & Sigurður Þór Óskarsson

4PM The Flinterrogation Hosted by author David Flint

5PM ZEPPELIN V PTERODACTYLS – A live stage reading of a legendary lost Hammer production

7.45PM MAYHEM

Dir. Joe Lynch, 2017 (US) with Steven Yeun & Samara Weaving

9.30PM DEAD SHACK

Dir. Peter Ricq, 2017 (CAN) with Lizzie Boys & Cameron Andres

 

The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971)

Shameless have been spoiling us lately with Blu-ray releases of gialli in their catalogue, previously released as DVD only. The latest is another of Sergio Martino’s distinctive gialli, The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, which not only marks his first foray into the giallo, but his first collaboration with the iconic Edwige Fenech. While Bava and Argento might most readily spring to mind as the earliest and finest purveyors of black-gloved killers, Martino puts his own stamp on the sub-genre with a dreamy (or rather nightmarish) approach and more than a fair share of nudity.

Politician’s wife Julie Wardh (Edwige Fenech) is haunted by her violent past relationship with a man named Jean (Ivan Rassimov) when she starts receiving cryptic messages, seemingly from him, while women all over the city are being viciously murdered by an unknown assailant. Fearing for her life and finding little comfort from her husband (Alberto de Mendoza), Julie turns instead to handsome George (George Hilton), cousin of her best friend Carol (Cristina Airoldi). As the murders increase and the threats intensify, Julie’s grasp of reality begins to crumble, and those around her struggle to help.

One of the delightful things about watching The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh is just how distinctively a Sergio Martino film it is. This is an incredibly stylish film, and it’s fair to say that, as often the case with gialli, that takes precedence over the substance of the film. The plot is thin, to say the least, and serves as a simple basis for the unravelling of a woman’s mind, the unearthing of her secrets and a lot – a lot – of nudity. Early on the formula seems simple – a woman is killed, Julie gets a note, Julie gets naked, a woman gets killed, Julie gets a note…Julie gets naked. This seems to, well, intensify, once she’s embarked on an affair with George, and honestly, I wondered when the murdering was going to start again. Thankfully, it did, and the plot at least continues apace toward something of a twisted ending. I’m particularly glad not to have, say, read the Wikipedia page for the film prior to seeing it, given that entirely ruins the entire plot, as the final reveals of the film unfold in an immensely satisfying way.

Fenech is, naturally, the star of the show here, but she’s ably supported by some very familiar faces of Italian genre cinema, with Hilton, Rassimov and de Mendoza making up her triumvirate of men. The soundtrack, too, is pure giallo, and it’s with some joy that I’ve been introduced to a composer I was previously entirely unfamiliar with, namely Nora Orlandi. Her score is perhaps subtle compared to the more familiar sounds of the subgenre, but nevertheless memorable. There are lengthy set pieces – both for murders and lovers – but I think by far my favourite segment of the film was the closing third, set in Sitges, which seemed to be an entire set-piece unto itself. Any misgivings I had about the earlier parts of the film were swiftly undone. If there’s still perhaps one thing lacking from the film that I would have liked to have seen more of, it would be a more thorough exploration of the titular vice – an apparent sexual quirk of our female lead which is only touched upon in flashback.

This release from Shameless features lengthy interviews with Martino and Fenech, which is the sort of extra feature I’m always pleased to see. All in all then it’s wonderful to see a milestone of the giallo get the HD treatment, and this release from Shameless is a must-have, whether encountering the film for the first time, or revisiting it as an old favourite.

The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh is out now on Blu-ray and DVD from Shameless Films.

Fritz Lang’s Der Müde Tod (1921)

I do claim to be quite the fan of silent German cinema, but truth be told I’ve barely scratched the surface, even when it comes to real masters of the time. Even so, I was very excited when Eureka announced their restoration and release of Der Müde Tod, also known as Destiny, an early outing from Fritz Lang, who’d arguably go on to be one of, if not the most famous director from the period. The film is a curious melodrama, wherein a young woman (Lil Dagover) confronts Death (Bernhard Goetzke), who has taken her fiancé (Walter Janssen) from her. Death is sympathetic, and weaves three romantic tragedies for her – set in Persia, Quattrocento Venice and ancient China – with the promise that if she can save the life of just one of the lovers from these stories, he’ll return her fiancé to the world of the living.

Der Müde Tod really is quite a remarkable film. What surprised me most was how outright funny it was – as much as I love silent German cinema I can’t say it’s often that these films make me really laugh. Despite the film’s overall tone being relatively sombre, the tales woven by Death, particularly the final story set in ancient China, have a real playfulness to them. The greatest joy, for me, of this was getting to see Lil Dagover play more than just a damsel in distress, and particularly playing the almost heroic – and hilarious – Tiao Tsien in the third chapter.

As one might expect from a film of this era, there’s a wonderful use of expressionist imagery throughout, although to me it never seems to be a, strictly speaking, ‘German Expressionist Film’. That said, there are a number of powerhouses behind the scenes in addition to Lang, namely in the form of production designers Hermann Warm and Walter Röhrig, best known, I imagine, for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, among many, many other wonderful Expressionist films. There are some quite breath-taking moments of camera trickery involved, too, such as when death summons and vanishes a baby in his hands. The other marker of its era is the near-delightfully out-of-date depictions of other cultures – Persia and Ancient China in particular – that, if put on screen like this today would cause outcry of the first degree.

Ultimately with a film such as this, if you’re easily bored by silent cinema, then I’m not sure it’s likely to appeal or particularly hold your attention. That said, I can’t help but feel that this is a film that requires a few viewings to get to the meat of what’s being said. The film certainly features visual and narrative elements that places it alongside other arguably anti-authoritarian films of the time, such as Caligari. The mere fact that Death himself is ‘weary’ (as per the title), and presented as sympathetic rather than malicious or frightening, speaks to the cultural context in which this film was made. A particular moment that stuck out to me sees the young woman beg a group of sick, elderly villagers to offer up their own life to save that of her fiancé, and their response is overwhelmingly negative – “Not a day! Not an hour! Not a single breath!”

The accompanying booklet that comes with Eureka’s release of the film features a wealth of fascinating writing, not least of all an essay by Philip Kemp about the film, which features some rather delightful trivia about the film as well as an in-depth history of its release. The set also features a full audio commentary by Tim Lucas and a video essay about the film. All in all, this release is well worth getting if you’re already a fan of Fritz Lang or of German filmmaking of this period, if not, then it’s not likely to win you over, and nor will it serve as an especially easy way into these films. For me, the release of the film is an absolute delight.

Der Müde Tod is available now in dual format DVD and Blu-ray, as part of Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema series.

Neruda (Pablo Larraín, 2016)

I confess to knowing very little about either the films of Pablo Larraín nor the poetry or politics, of Pablo Neruda. I daresay a little more knowledge of either might have increased my engagement with and enjoyment of Neruda, one two biopics made by Larraín released in 2016. I saw Jackie earlier this year, and felt rather swept away by it, but I can’t really say the same in the case of Neruda, although it’s an interesting construction of an almost unbelievable character.

In the film Neruda we join the titular poet (Luis Gnecco) in 1948, as a senator for the Communist Party in Chile. The Chilean President González Videla (Alfredo Castro) outlaws Communism, and forces the decadent Neruda into hiding, along with his wife, artist Delia del Carril (Mercedes Morán). Set on the case of keeping track of, but not necessarily capturing, Neruda is policeman Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal), who narrates the film. As the cat-and-mouse game ensues, the line between Neruda and Peluchonneau becomes thinner, the two men dependent upon each other for continued – or potential – infamy.

Much like Jackie, Neruda is not a traditional biopic, and instead takes a look at a brief snapshot of the subject’s life. While Jackie was particularly focused on a moment in the First Lady’s life, it was also particularly hazy and dream-like. That sense of dreaminess is manifest ten-fold in Neruda, with the year in the poet-politican’s life seeming more a fictional representation of what could have been than any attempt to reflect true, hard-and-fast facts. And for that I think the film is to be praised, in some ways, it is indeed enjoyably meandering. However, for the most part, I found my attention meandering too, and even thought the film has moments of humour, and moments of intrigue, it otherwise lacked any real engagement with its characters, for me. Now, whether that’s due to my complete ignorance in all things Neruda, I’m not sure, but considering Peluchonneau is a semi-fictionalised creation, I found his character to be much more engaging than that of Neruda (was that the point?).

The most interesting aspect of the film to me was by far its form, which boasts a degree of pleasing artifice befitting its narrative. The use of light is striking, with an abundance of heavy flaring and glare (and not in a JJ Abrams sort of way), stark backlighting is an important contributor to the film’s dream-like quality. Meanwhile, the use of obvious back-projection during driving scenes becomes increasingly pronounced as the film goes on, a subtle support to the film’s general unravelling and tangling of the two characters, particularly Peluchonneau.

For me this was a film more about Peluchonneau than it was about Neruda, but I’m not confident enough to say that that’s not in fact a reflection on Neruda himself. It feels like a film I should re-watch, now that I have an ever-so slightly better understand of who Neruda was. Before seeing the film I didn’t even know that he was a politician, never mind someone who was on the run from the government he was once a part of. The film certainly isn’t an accurate introduction to the man in terms of historical fact, and neither does it aim to be so, but it does give a sense of the character: a champagne socialist in the truest form, it seems. More than anything, though, the film seems to use Neruda as a means to meditate on reputation and on art, and in that sense it’s very successful.

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (S. S. Rajamouli, 2017)

Consider this review to be from the perspective of a total newcomer to the franchise, the filmmaker, the stars and the industry. While Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is not the first big-budget Indian film I’ve ever seen, it’s been many years since I’ve seen any, and I’m almost certain I’ve never seen a South Indian production. Just to really underline my uninformed standpoint seeing this film, I’ve not even seen 2015’s Baahubali: The Beginning. Despite being a direct continuation of that film, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion was nevertheless relatively easy to follow, though no doubt there were narrative intricacies and details that flew right over my head at the time of watching.

So why am I even attempting to write this review? Because even with minimal context the film is supremely freakin’ awesome, that’s why. It’s quite possibly everything I ever wanted from a historical fantasy epic action film wonderfully melded with arch melodrama. There is not a single subtle thing about this film, and it’s all the more magnificent for that fact.

Continuing from the end of the first film, Kattappa (Sathyaraj) narrates the tale of how Amarendra Baahubali (Prabhas) has defeated a vast army and is in line to become king of Mahishmati, while his brother Bhallaladeva (Rana Dagubatti) will be his commander-in-chief, as declared by the Queen Mother Sivagami (Ramya Krishnan). Baahubali and loyal guard Kattapa journey throughout the kingdom to assess the state and feelings of the people, and on this journey, Baahubali meets and falls in love with Devasena (Anushka Shetty), princess of Kuntala kingdom. Back home, treacherous Bhallaladeva, and his father Bijjaladeva (Nasser) conspire to make Devasena the Queen Mother’s choice for Bhalladeva’s bride. Returning home with Devasena, Baahubali learns of this treachery and chooses his love for Devasena over the throne. So Bhallaladeva is made king, and from there the continued decline of Mahishmati kingdom is told, through to the fate of Devasena and Baahubali’s son, Mahendra Baahubali – to whom Kattappa is telling this tale. The final part of the film rejoins the characters from the first, who, 25 years later, have freed an imprisoned Devasena and descend on Mahishmati kingdom to reclaim the throne from the tyrannical Bhallaladeva.

Alright, that’s the very short version of the plot synopsis. There are intricacies upon betrayals upon twists upon ‘who’s this, now?’ moments a-plenty (moreso if you’ve not seen the first film, naturally). I didn’t find the film particularly hard to follow, despite my limited prior knowledge of the characters. Even had the plot been more difficult to follow, I’m not sure I’d have minded much, because the story is entirely arch-melodrama, and a catalyst for spectacular action scenes. This is a near-three hour film, and yet it flies by in what feels like barely two – admittedly, maybe the mid-way intermission helped with this. The action starts from the very beginning, almost immediately launching into a spectacular introductory scene for Amarendra, wherein he soothes a rampant elephant. From therein it seems like every action sequence out does the last, leading into a climactic battle sequence which completely ups the ante into almost unbelievably giddy heights – I must have been gasping and laughing my way through the last 30 minutes of the film.

The action is wonderfully testosterone-filled, and I think it’s been accurately described as a ‘pornography of masculinity’ by some writers. I think what, for me, saves it is how damn beefcake-y it all is. There’s an inherent element of camp to proceedings that makes the more problematic elements of the story seem less important. (I should note here I’ve read that there are far more problematic sequences in the first Baahubali, but having not seen that one I don’t really feel I can). There are female heroes in this film too, but primary amongst those, Devasena, is soon enough wooed by Amarendra and thus becomes a more traditional – if strong-willed – princess character. However, I think the women of the film (not that there are many) at least get to be important and strong in a non-warrior capacity too, even if they are ultimately subservient, under-mined or manipulated.

It’s not just the action in the film that’s over-played and spectacular, of course. One of my favourite things about the film was the amount of wind being blown through various characters’ hair, even in sequences clearly taking place indoors. Coupled with telenovela levels of dramatic turns to camera and wide-eyed shock, the film is nearly exhaustingly dramatic. This isn’t a Bollywood production, but that’s not to say that music doesn’t play a large role – there are two or three explicit song-and-dance numbers (which are great, particularly one semi-fantasy sequence on a swan-boat-aircraft…seriously), but the soundtrack throughout features chorus-style songs which narrate and comment on the plot. The music is big and bold, just like the film, and is quite a significant part of the overall impact.

The performances in the film are impressive, physically, and there’s a certain endearing quality to lead actor Prabhas, who doesn’t seem to really be able to act, aside from looking a bit like a puppy – and he’s really quite hench, obviously. Shetty is wonderful as both young and older Devasena, and Bhallaladeva is a great hammy villain – though Dagubatti doesn’t chew the scenery as much as Nasser as his father, who puts panto villains to shame. These players all inhabit what is naturally a very CGI world, but it’s convincing. The film features a delightful disclaimer that action featuring animals made use of CGI and puppets, and frankly I’d rather see slightly dodgy CGI animals than worry that real animals were put anywhere near such remarkable scenarios. While some of the digital work is shonky, and the wirework is not always the smoothest, the action nevertheless is breath-taking.

All in all, diving headfirst into Baahubali 2: The Conclusion was absolutely a decision I’m glad to have made, and I can only imagine how much more entertaining the film is in the franchise’s context. If you’re a fan of superhero cinema, martial arts epics, or just wildly entertaining films, then I strongly recommend seeking out Baahubali 2: The Conclusion when it’s available to you – though maybe give the first film a watch beforehand.

A brief response to ‘Post-Horror’

I’m as guilty as anyone for bemoaning the ‘same-old shit’ of certain subgenres of horror films. In fact, I’m fairly sure I’ve bemoaned such a thing on this very website (or at least in its previous, Brutal as Hell, guise). I’ve come to realise, however, that if there’s one thing more tiresome than yet another babe lost in the woods or frat boy tied to a chair, it’s the dismissal of the horror genre by people who seemingly know nothing about it except for examples they themselves deem to be exceptional. Many a term has been used, from well-established notions such as terror, or the Gothic, through to made-up crap like Deathwave – yeah, remember that?

Today, The Guardian critic Steve Rose has thrown another contender into the ring, suggesting that, in the wake of films such as It Comes At Night and A Ghost Story, “what could be emerging here is a new sub-genre. Let’s call it ‘post-horror’.”

You know what, Steve? Let’s not.

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The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Considering the calibre of the career that followed, it sometimes seems easy to overlook the sheer magnitude of Dario Argento’s game-changing debut as director. If Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace lay the ground-work, it’s Argento’s debut that knocks it out the park. Lifting the best of Bava and infusing it with his own, career-making penchant for beautifully staged acts of violence, Argento’s film is rounded off with a
powerful central performance from Tony Musante and a memorable Ennio Morricone score.

To describe, in short, the plot of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, risks describing the plot of countless other films that have followed. A man witnesses an attack and, believing his memories to hold the key to a series of brutal murders, investigates. There’s the template, the prototype, the giallo-by-numbers outline that so many other films after would follow (including Argento’s own). Specifically, here, it’s struggling writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) who witnesses a seemingly brutal but non-fatal attack on a woman, Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi), in an art gallery. Now a key witness to what might be an attempted murder by a serial killer, he’s restricted from travelling back to the USA with his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall). Instead, as more women turn up dead, Sam finds himself drawn into the investigation as he desperately tries to recall a missing detail from that night.

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Review: The Shepherd (El Pastor) (2016)

Festival hit The Shepherd is a drama in the art-house mould that has received critical plaudits and yet has left me leaving quite cold. I suspect The Shepherd might make for a more interesting watch in a cinema setting, but watching it at home I mostly found myself very, very bored.

The titular shepherd, Anselmo (Miguel Martín) goes about his simple, daily routine of making breakfast for himself and his dog Pillo, tending to his sheep, visiting his local bar, and reading. He is visited by two property developers interested in the area, and they offer to buy up his land. Anselmo refuses, much to the annoyance of his neighbours who are willing to sell. And so an increasingly hostile stand-off begins, as greed turns seemingly normal men irrational, and Anselmo must decide how much intimidation he’ll take.

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Review: A Dark Song (2016)

There is some really wonderful horror cinema coming out of Ireland at the moment, and it’s so pleasing to see genre works getting support from its film board. From Isolation through Wake Wood, The Canal, Citadel and Without Name, the range of horror filmmaking coming from Ireland is truly impressive. I think easily my favourite of this recent wave of films from the Emerald Isle is, appropriately, the Irish-Welsh co-production A Dark Song, a searing feature debut from writer-director Liam Gavin. Taking what might be the ritualistic set-piece from a number of different sub-genres and expanding it to be the main focus of the film, A Dark Song is an incredible meditation on life, death, morality and human nature.

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Review: Free Fire (2016)

I don’t always get on much with Ben Wheatley’s films. Though I adore Sightseers, I found both Kill List and A Field in England underwhelming, and High Rise to be a mess, albeit an enjoyable one. Approaching Free Fire, then, I had an open mind but a sense of knowing what I might expect my own response to be, and it was indeed so. While I enjoyed the film well enough, it left me unsatisfied and wanting rather a lot more from it.

Free Fire is quick to establish its main players, and it does so effectively – a deal broker, Justine (Brie Larson) has organised a weapons deal between Irishman Chris (Cillian Murphy) and South African Vernon (Sharlto Copley). They’re assisted by loyal Frank (Michael Smiley) and suave Ord (Armie Hammer), while the muscle-for-hire, Stevo (Sam Riley) and Harry (Jack Reynor), are too hot-headed for their own good, leading to a tense deal heading southward, and what might then be the climax of another crime film becomes the main bulk of Free Fire: a shoot-out between all parties involved, where loyalties are tested as much as the human body’s resilience to bullet wounds.

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Review: Elle (2016)

 

Some mild spoilers within.

I had an interesting discussion about Paul Verhoeven’s Elle with a fellow member of the cinema audience recently, and the most striking thing to me that she said – more striking than her conclusion that film was definitely misogynist – was that when she chose to come to see it she knew that Isabelle Huppert wouldn’t be in anything that sick. Now, my favourite Isabelle Huppert role is in The Piano Teacher, so I must say I was expecting the exact opposite, I suspect, of my fellow movie-goer, and I was not disappointed in that regard. It seemed my fellow audience member had taken the film at its most superficial, and I suspect she’s never seen The Piano Teacher, either. There was a great deal of nuance and restraint to the sickness in Elle, and it is that which elevates it to a film which is hugely enjoyable – and yes, very funny – without incurring the wrath I usually have reserved for lazier attempts at rape-revenge films.

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