Monthly Archives: November 2014

Night Moves

Night Moves film posterSynopsis

Joe (Jesse Eisenberg), Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) are planning to blow up a dam as an act of eco-rebellion to save nature. *** SPOILER ALERT!: they do this deed but someone is killed further down the lake as a result.  They drift apart, conscience bothers them and there is a murder. ***


This is a terrifying film which shows the effect of conscience on the doers of a well meaning but lethally botched deed.  For me, this could be an excellent pilot film for a series showing how the effects of conscience corrode Joe’s mind.  It could be more gripping than The Fugitive in that the running, in this case, is from the ordeals of a bad conscience and the denouement could be the paranoid disintegration of a mind in an ordeal of signs of threat, or possible threat.  It explores the degeneration of misguided idealism into simple terrorism.  The recriminations amongst the perpetrators kill any initial moral certainty.  Reichardt made Meek’s Cut Off, another film about failed trust, and here Joe slowly and convincingly descends into murderous self protection.  The entire film seems to be shot in a gloomy dusk or dawn, as if daylight is almost unbearable for the conscience.  Harmon is self possessed and competent, and keeps his cool even when before the deed he is recognized by a waiter who is an ex-con.  Dena keeps her cool under the suspicious interrogations of the seller of fertilizer, knowing that this crucial circumstantial evidence of a purchase of the stuff used for explosives could damn them all.  As with any such tightly knit conspiracy, all outsiders are considered as innocent fools or potential enemies and this conspiratoralism already corrupts their relationships, as if trust gives way to the vigilante logic of group survival.  Dena’s feelings for Josh are mixed with her remorse and there are terrible consequences.  The conscience-stricken slow panic accentuates the suspicion about their motives in the first place.

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Posted by on November 15, 2014 in Film Reviews, Independent films


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The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner film posterSynopsis

From the novel by James Dashner. It’s about Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) who is transported via an underground cage to a grassy area surrounded by the high concrete walls of a maze, patrolled by electro spiders.  Thomas joins a group of teens led by Gally (Will Poulter) who prefers to stay enclosed by the maze, but Thomas wants to escape.  A young woman (Kaya Scodelario) joins them, and there are disputes, but eventually Thomas and his pals battle the maze.  Will they learn the secret of the world outside the maze?


This is yet another dystopian fantasy.  No matter when it was written, it looks like an imitation of The Hunger Games and it appeals to the teen market.   These are all up and coming stars.  I’m surprized that Emma Watson wasn’t involved.  They have the right catwalk faces and physiques like work-outs for outdoors leadership skills.  If this looks like a teen Lord of the Flies, then it is, with Thomas playing the Ralph role and Gally playing Jack.  It’s also a clunking reminder of the Village, so who is the enemy – out there in the maze or within themselves?  There is the usual type of music which climaxes in the blue light of fake night time.  It’s like an amateur film maker catching the meritocratic dog fight for physical strength and moral rectitude.  Most of the characters talk in obligatory 21st century Hollywoodese.  They can be cloned from Lost or any other box set of the past few years.  Dramatic poses are of course enhanced by fashion model clothes (especially when dirty) and chic teen psychobabble.  You don’t have to wait long for a dramatic turning point to sort out the heroes from the hangers-on among these failed audition contenders for the next Harry Potter.  These actors seem to be sizing themselves up for a lucrative UN career, ambassadors for African Aid surrounded by grateful Africans.  The final scene sets us up for the next of what is undoubtedly a trilogy.  I’ll stick with Hunger Games  for all its faults.  Maze Runner looks good, but is otherwise terrible, even The Giver and Divergence have the edge over this.

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Posted by on November 14, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Ida film posterSynopsis

A young nun Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a 17 year old novitate.  Before reccceivng her holy orders she is asked to leave tne convent and visit her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza) who tells Ida she was born Jewish and her parents were murdered during the Holocaust.  They journey to find out the details of this war time event.  Wanda gets drunk and spends a night in jail (she is a Public Prosecutor who could inflict the death penalty in the early 50s).  They confront the perpetrators. Wanda tries to introduce Ida to alcohol, sex, and jazz.  Ida meets a jazz player (Dawid Ogrodnik) for whom she has sexual feelings.  Does Ida take her vows in the end?  What happens to Wanda?


This is set in the early 60s in Communist Poland during the deep freeze of a winter and the Cold War.  Ida lived an innocent life in the convent.  The scene of the statue in the snow is a classical pose for a painting of the religious life.  There is the same lifeless austerity already seen in the asylum in Camille Claudel 1915.  The nuns are as statuesque as their convent.  Wanda is a hard drinking and smoking cynic who likes a good time and taunts the complacency of Ida’s untested austerity.  Wanda is a beacon of hedonism, all compulsive movements and furious cigarette smoking.  Ida by contrast is a study in imperturbable stillness, all the more unsettling for its apparent stoicism.  She does not feel the need to defend the religious life against Wanda’s cynicism  They both visit the farm stolen from their family, where weaselly-faced peasants defend their ill gotten gained cottage in a wintry landscape so raw you can feel it scrape your flesh.  They have initially got the wrong man but the murderer is the usual mixture of snivelling justification and conscience-evasion, taking final refuge in self-serving inscrutability.  The murderer unearths their remains, transformed by the black and white of the film into a sort of priordial ritual.  Given the enormity of what he and the others did to the Jewish victims, Ida and Wanda’s calm refusal to even hint at absolution is dignified.  This is a journey into Poland’s terrible past as well as its grey present day (1962).  There is a symmetry from the religious imagery from the start of the film (after Ida has renounced the prospect of married life) to the end where Ida walks back to the convent as if on pilgrimage.  In the nascent pop culture of Communist Poland the ballroom scenes are quaintly innocent in that anti-puritannical daring, bordering unintentionally on a David Lynch parody of a jazz band in a grey poverty-primitive culture.  The black and white compositions of the film are superb, the countryside is practically an Arctic wilderness as if Brueghel-esque grotesque lurked in the woods.  Domestic interiors seem more picked out in detail than in a colour film.  Faces can be almost superfluous to a scene dominated, for example, by a high wall. Superb.


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Camille Claudel 1915

Camille Claudel 1915 film posterSynopsis

It’s 1915 and Camille Claudel (Juliette Binoche) is in an as asylum run by nuns near Avignon.  Her family have confined her, they are worried about her mental condition.  Camille is intensely irritated by her fellow inmates.  She was Rodin’s lover and muse and she thinks he tried to take her studio from her.  She waits for her brother Paul Claudel to arrive.  On his way to see her, Paul talks about the state of his soul with a priest (Emmanuel Kaufmann ).  He visits his sister, but does he offer her hope?


Dumont’s film broods a lot.  There are long scenes where the camera is at a distance from which it can easily escape if it needs to, and who can blame it?  Binoche is good as the twitchy paranoid artist who is living in an asylum hell that makes a trappist monastery look like a funfair.  The asylum scenes had me looking for the artist at his easel in a corner,  they look like invitations to painting and meditation.  The trip over the lunar rocks of windswept Provence are the promise of a sensual respite from the fossilized gloom and terrifying monotony of the asylum.  Camille insists on cooking her own food, paranoiacally convinced that a cook would poison her.  The laboriously starched linens, harsh stones, and stoical slowness of illness are a Stations of the Cross in some purgatorial neglect.  Practically every image in the film hints at some religious metaphor.  Camille’s cold fish of a brother Paul is a Catholic visionary poet whose self righteousness allows no recognition of the suffering of others.  He can turn out clever lapidary phrases and arguments about the state of his soul but his spiritual pride is insufferably egotistic in its self renunciation.  None of this is romantic stereotyping of the artist, there is nothing glamorous about Camille’s mental state, it is mean and pedestrian.  Are we supposed to feel extra sympathy because she is an artist rather than an ‘ordinary person’?  I felt uneasy about the use of real mental patients and I wonder whether Binoche is distancing herself from them as she mocks their attempts at acting in the film, is she portraying simple honesty about what separates her from them or is it acting as such?  I’m not sure which.  This is Camille a few decades on from her 1880s relationship with Rodin, played by Bruno Nytten’s 1988 film with Gerard Depardieu as Rodin and Isabelle Adjani as Camille.




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Posted by on November 12, 2014 in Film Reviews, Independent films


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'71 film posterSynopsis

Scripted by Gary Burke and directed by Yann Demange.  It’s about Gary (Jack O’Connell ) who is a Parachute Regiment lad from Derby who has been sent to Belfast in 1971.  He and his fellow soldiers are to assist the Royal Ulster Constabulary in a house to house search off the Falls Road.  In the confrontation with Catholics, he and his comrades are separated from their unit.  One is killed and Gary flees his tormentors.  He is sheltered by Eamon (Richard Dorner) in the Divis flats.  The IRA want to kill Gary and the British security agents and army want to save him…


Starring Jack O’Connell who was in the equally brutal Starred Up, he brings the same mixture of violence and vulnerability to the part.  He is confused and uneducated so is easily patronized and brutalized by the army who risk his life.  “Rich cunts commanding thick cunts to kill poor cunts” in the words of Eamon the doctor, who rescues him. This is the UK in 1971 but it looks primeval and savage.  The sodium lamps impart painterly reds and golds to the slums and pubs.  The derelict street scenes at night are like a stone age encampment of brutalist cement, eerily signposted with lamp posts like sentinels over a killing ground.  In the daytime confrontation women bang dustbin lids on the pavement, an IRA boy walks past a street statue of the Virgin Mary, and this all exacerbates the fighting’s tribally totemic power.  Early in the film, the perimeter between Catholic and Protestant seems clear enough but when the violence starts, for about twenty minutes, the film pumps with real time sweat and adrenalin as Gary is running for his life.  He narrowly avoids death when a pub explodes and then there’s the same deafened exhaustion and pain we saw in The Piano Player.  The boundary between friend and enemy mingles like the corrupting cold, and the rain before the enshadowed complications of double and secret agents, as if there should be gratified relief when an enemy is easily identifiable.  These secret agents, Captain Browning (Sean Harris), Haggerty (Martin McCann), and Sean (Barry Keoghan) are perfect retro seventies specimens:  rat-like hair, weasely moustaches, and ferrety gaunt faces that sneak through the concrete wilderness like the moral outcasts they assuredly are.  By comparison Lt. Armitage (Sam Reid) is merely posh, and eventually decent, and clearly on Gary’s side.   Superb.

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Posted by on November 5, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Gone Girl

Gone Girl film posterSynopsis

Starring Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne, a magazine writer married to Nick (Ben Affleck).  They’ve lost their New York jobs and have returned to Missouri.  Nick runs a bar with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon).  Amy is missing, Nick gives televised appeals for information about Amy.  There is growing suspicion that Nick murdered his wife.  We get flashbacks from Amy’s diary and it all starts to look like Nick might be guilty of her murder.  Has Amy framed Nick or is he guilty?  The rest would be a spoiler…


Based on Gillian Flynn’s best seller Gone Girl, this depicts a supposedly enviable marriage that could have been hell.  There is the usual list of reliables: the corny police officer (Kim Dickens as Rhonda Boney) who always seems in step with the suspect offering envy-deflecting nostrums, the strong family member offering loyalty, the neighbours swayed by witlessly opportunistic hysteria, the hard eyed police officer convinced of the suspect’s guilt, and then there’s the pained confusion of the parents. Amy was the star in her mother’s fantasy book.  Amy and her husband are writers, so are no strangers to image manipulation.  We wait for some irrevocable control loss to wipe away the icy patina of smug perfectionism (“so cute I could punch us in the face”), and it’s chic delusions of unearned liberal attitudes.  It’s a domestic scene waiting for comeuppance and unfortunately it’s quite misogynistic as well but to spell it out would be a spoiler.  Its middle class couple fail where the lovable “redneck” couple of Labor Day succeed.  Labor Day‘s couple are artlessly sentimental but Nick and Amy are all cold artiface, a bit like Revolutionary Road meets Rosemary’s Baby (without the pram and the devil).  Rosamund Pike is by turns a magnetic centre of attention and is then gaze-victimized.  The public’s prurience is a swivel-eyed vicariousness of sadistic cultivation.  Nick’s emotional performance before the cameras, fascinates as you try to look at him through through the neighbours’ eyes, trying to discern the fire boundary as the artiface of dissimulation is skilfully poised in a balancing act of  sincerity. The later plot plays out cleverly but there are implausible holes in it which its elegance cannot cover up.  Very watchable, but some critics think it’s misogynistic.


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Posted by on November 3, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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