Talking Movies

January 19, 2017

ADIFF 2017: 17 Films

Booking is now open for ADIFF 2017 at diff.ie, and here are 17 films that deserve your attention.free-fire-cillian-murphy-brie-larsen-armie-hammer

Free Fire

Directed by Ben Wheatley (2016, 90 mins)
It’s 1978. Justine (Brie Larson) has brokered a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley) and a gang led by Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Ord (Armie Hammer) who are selling them a stash of guns. Everything seems to be going smoothly at first, but when shots are fired in the handover all hell breaks loose and a heart stopping game of survival ensues. Moving from tense caper to explosive action, Ben Wheatley marries tight choreography with a witty script (co-written with his wife and regular editor Amy Jump). Inspired by films like Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, and demonstrating Wheatley’s increasing ability to attract indie stars, Free Fire is another stunner from one of today’s most exciting directors.
The Secret Scripture

Directed by Jim Sheridan (2016, 108 mins)

Based on Sebastian Barry’s acclaimed novel, Jim Sheridan’s first film set primarily in Ireland since The Boxer (1997) explores the life and history of Roseanne McNulty (Vanessa Redgrave), a woman confined to the Roscommon Mental Hospital for 50 years. As the institution is about to close, Dr. Grene (Eric Bana) is sent to see whether she’s fit to be released. He’s intrigued by Roseanne’s eccentricities and her fierce attachment to her Bible, in which she’s been keeping a diary since she was first admitted. As he delves into her past, Dr. Grene gets to know the younger Roseanne (played by Rooney Mara) and eventually learns the terrible truth about her confinement. Shot in the west of Ireland, The Secret Scripture mines  a familiar seam in depicting Ireland’s history.

 

The Salesman

Directed by Asghar Farhadi (2016, 125 mins, an Iran-France co-production, in Farsi with English subtitles)

After making his previous film (The Past) in France, Asghar Farhadi (A SeparationAbout Elly) returns to his native Tehran for this story about a couple forced out of their apartment due to dangerous works on a neighbour’s building. Emad and Rana move into a new flat in the centre of Tehran, where an incident linked to the previous tenant will dramatically change the young couple’s life. Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman plays an unexpected part in proceedings, as the nature of honour and violence are explored in typically metaphorical Iranian style.

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I Am Not Your Negro

Directed by Raoul Peck (2016, 95 mins)

Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, and with unprecedented access to James Baldwin’s original work,  Raoul Peck has completed the cinematic version of the book Baldwin never wrote – a radical narration about race in America that tracks the lives and assassinations of Baldwin’s friends, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. Whilst partly anchored in the struggle for equality in the ’50s and ’60s, I Am Not Your Negro sees Peck extrapolate from Baldwin’s actual work to make his own statements about what it means to be black in America today.

 

Personal Shopper

Directed by Olivier Assayas (2016, 110 mins)

Maureen is the personal shopper for a German model/designer who demands an endless supply of clothes be procured and delivered to her. But Maureen has just suffered a personal trauma: her beloved twin brother, Lewis, to whom she was intensely attached, has just died. She is also a medium, and attempts to communicate with Lewis while wandering around their cavernous childhood home in Paris, where he died. Gradually, mysterious things begin to occur. On paper that may not sound like much, but this is the second pairing of actress Kristen Stewart and writer/director Olivier Assayas after Clouds of Sils Maria.

 

Headshot

Directed by Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto (2016, 117 mins, in Indonesian with English subtitles)

When an unknown Indonesian film called The Raid premiered at JDIFF 2011 the Savoy was thunderous in welcoming the furious flying fists and lightning-fast feet of star Iko Uwais. Uwais is the hero of Headshot. A young man washes ashore, an amnesiac with a serious head injury. After being nursed back to health by a young doctor, violence ensues as Ishmael takes on the henchmen of a vengeful drug lord while piecing together his past as a remorseless killing machine. Directors Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel — a.k.a. The Mo Brothers — keep the action coming as Ishmael kicks, punches, ducks, and flips his way through the Indonesian underworld.

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Seymour: An Introduction

Directed by Ethan Hawke (2014, 81 mins)

“How should we live?” A question long asked by philosophers is one which Seymour Bernstein has been cultivating an answer to over 50 years of playing piano. Bernstein chose to forego a promising career as a concert pianist in order to teach, thus revealing his profound world-view, a breathtakingly clear-headed perspective on art and its essential value. Ethan Hawke, one of his greatest admirers, takes us into Bernstein’s world with this delicately crafted film offering a wise and charismatic reflection on art and life, and even punning on JD Salinger for its title.

 

In the Blood

Directed by Rasmus Heisterberg (2016, 104 mins, in Danish with English subtitles)
Summer in Copenhagen; a time of endless days and carefree nights. Simon goes to medical school with his best friend Knud. They party, drink and chase girls and wake up the next day only to do it all over again. But it is also a time of change amongst their group of friends. Whilst the others gravitate toward the safe haven of adulthood, Simon is not ready to let go of his airy adolescent life.
Alone in Berlin

Directed by Vincent Perez (2016, 103 mins)

Berlin, June 1940. While Nazi propaganda celebrates victory over France, Anna and Otto are grieving their son, who has been killed at the front. They had long believed in the ‘Führer’, but now they realise his promises are nothing but lies. They begin writing anti-Nazi postcards as a form of resistance. Putting their lives at risk, the couple played by Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson distribute these cards all over Berlin. But soon, as with Sophie Scholl, the authorities are onto them.

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The Rehearsal

Directed by Alison Maclean (2016, 102 mins)

Stanley, a naive first year drama student meets Isolde and begins a sweet, first love affair. Goaded by Hannah, Kerry Fox’s charismatic, domineering Head of Acting, Stanley uncovers a talent and ambition he didn’t know he had. When his group hits on a sex scandal that involves Isolde’s tennis prodigy sister as fertile material for their end-of-year show, Stanley finds himself profoundly torn.

 

Mindhorn

Directed by Sean Foley (2016, 89 mins)

When MI5 Special Operative Bruce Mindhorn was captured in the late 1980s, his eye was replaced by a super-advanced optical lie detector, which meant he could literally “see the truth.” He escaped and fled to the Isle of Man, to recuperate in the island’s temperate micro-climate, and today has become the best plain-clothes detective the island has ever seen. This cheeky and hilarious send up of television detective shows stars Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh and is directed by theatre wunderkind Sean Foley.

 

A Quiet Passion

Directed by Terence Davies (2016, 125 mins)

A Quiet Passion is Terence Davies’ new biopic of Emily Dickinson; her loves, her struggles, and her magnificent poetry. Shot in Belgium and Massachusetts, A Quiet Passion paints a sympathetic but far from idealistic portrait of one of 19th Century America’s greatest poets. Featuring a finely curated selection of her work read in voice-over by star Jennifer Ehle, this luminous biopic will appeal to existing Dickinson fans and perhaps create new ones at the same time.

Wolf Alice singer, Ellie Rowsell, live on stage at the Junction in Cambridge on 10 April 2015. Last date of the tour.

David Lynch – The Art Life

Directed by Jon Nguyen (2016, 93 mins)

David Lynch was once memorably described by his producer Mel Brooks as Jimmy Stewart fro Mars. Lynch takes us on an intimate journey through his idyllic upbringing in small town America to the dark streets of Philadelphia, to trace the events that shaped the career of one of cinema’s most distinctive directors. This portrait  gives audiences a better understanding of the man and the artist just as he prepares to welcome back the world to his greatest triumph Twin Peaks.

 

On the Road

Directed by Michael Winterbottom (2016, 121 mins)

Don’t worry, it’s not another sally at the unfilmable Kerouac classic. Michael Winterbottom joins London 90s throwback band Wolf Alice on the road, capturing 16 different gigs and daily life backstage. The resulting film documents the tour from the point of view of a new crew member and reveals the relentless, sometimes unglamorous side of playing live, night after night. But it also mesmerises, capturing the nuanced musicality of the full band, and the charisma of frontwoman Ellie Rowsell.

 

Berlin Syndrome

Directed by Cate Shortland (2017, 116 mins)

Holidaying in Berlin, Teresa Palmer’s Australian photojournalist Clare meets the charismatic Andi. There is an instant mutual attraction, and a night of passion ensues. But what initially appears to be the start of a romance suddenly takes an unexpected and sinister turn when Clare wakes the following morning to discover Andi has left for work and locked her in his apartment. An easy mistake to make, of course, except Andi has no intention of letting her go again in the latest German-set effort from Australian director Cate Shortland following Lore.

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Hounds of Love

Directed by Ben Young (2016, 108 mins)

Set in Perth in 1987 and inspired by real crimes, this feature debut from director Ben Young takes place in the aftermath of a murderous couple’s abduction of a teenager on a steamy summer evening. Though she’s a captive, 17 year-old Vicki Maloney isn’t powerless. Suspecting the many problems plaguing her captors, and attuned to marital issues following her own parents’ recent split, Vicki fights for her life by trying to expose the imbalances in their relationship.

 

Neruda

Directed by Pablo Larraín (2016, 108 mins, in in Spanish with English subtitles)

In Neruda Pablo Larraín (Jackie, No) weaves an engrossing meta-fictional fable around the 1948 manhunt for celebrated poet and politician Pablo Neruda (Luis Gnecco), who goes underground when Chile outlaws communism. He is pursued by an ambitious police inspector (Gael García Bernal), who is hoping to make a name for himself by capturing the famous fugitive. This period saw Neruda produce some of his most memorable work, even while he was constantly on the run.

November 19, 2014

Any Other Business: Part IX

What is one to do with thoughts that are far too long for Twitter but not nearly long enough for a proper blog post? Why round them up and turn them into a ninth portmanteau post on television of course!

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Celtic Noir

It seems I wasn’t hallucinating at the cinema a few weeks ago when I saw a teaser for An Bronntanas; in which a severed arm floated past with dead fish on a conveyor belt, a reveal I’d been expecting from the music and cinematography of the sequence; and immediately thought that was something that belonged in a Nordic Noir. TG4’s Deputy CEO, Pádhraic Ó Ciardha, says the series has broken new ground for the channel by establishing a new genre: Celtic Noir. “The direct audience feedback on social media, as well as in media commentary and reviews at home and abroad, confirms to us that An Bronntanas has hit the spot,” he said. “Regular viewers of our channel confirm that it delivers on their requirement for a súil eile approach to drama. Others remark on the innovative visual style and unique dramatic atmosphere – the Celtic Noir that has grabbed their attention in ways not unlike some recent Scandinavian TV crime drama”. TG4 has, as usual, gazumped RTE in showing the likes of Borgen and The Bridge, so it’s unsurprising that its audience noticed the family resemblance. Series Producer Ciarán Ó Cofaigh says, “We believe that we have delivered a drama series that can compete on a world stage. Personally, it is particularly satisfying to achieve this through the Irish language.” TG4 commissioned Fios Físe, a viewer panel solely comprising fluent Irish speakers, and found An Bronntanas being watched by over 60% of the panel, with approval ratings over 90%. Official TAM Ireland figures show the contemporary thriller has been seen by 340,000 people during the opening four episodes, making it one of TG4’s most popular original drama series ever. The show developed by Galway production company ROSG and Derry’s De Facto Films, cannily cast Cold Case star John Finn (famously unexpectedly fluent in Irish) alongside Dara Devaney (Na Cloigne), Owen McDonnell (Single Handed), Janusz Sheagall, and Charlotte Bradley; and added an impeccable sheen through cinematographer Cian de Buitléir capturing Connemara for director Tom Collins (Kings). The series finale of An Bronntanas airs tomorrow, Thursday 20th November, at 9.30pm on TG4. Check it out – its ambition stands in stark contrast to the drivel being perpetrated by RTE2 these days.

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Bright Lights, Tendentious Theses

I’ve been stewing in annoyance at Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds: A Tale of Three Cities for some months now; and perhaps it’s the fact that rival art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon has lately completed the second of two far superior BBC 4 shows (Art of China, The Art of Gothic) which has finally brought my ire with Dr James Fox’ series to the boil. Fox set out to show that the 20th Century had been shaped by events in three cities in three particular years: Vienna 1908, Paris 1928, New York 1951. So far, so interesting. Fox, however, frequently seemed to be less interested in presenting a coherent argument than in maintaining his snappy title’s cachet. Jack Kerouac, probably the worst case, was shoehorned into New York 1951 by dint of the fact that he wrote On the Road in 1951. On the Road was published in 1957. How can a work be influencing the zeitgeist if it’s not been published? It doesn’t matter when it was written. For all we know JD Salinger wrote the Great American Novel in 1985 but it’s lost in a steam-trunk in his old shed. But if it was published now it would be coming it devilishly high to talk about it as a critical intervention in the culture of Reagan’s America. Kerouac was the worst but by no means only example of Fox’s tendencies: Brando’s 1951 film performance in A Streetcar Named Desire was hailed, and the fact that he’d originated that part on Broadway in 1947 ignored; Lee Strasberg and his Method were hailed, and the fact that his pupil James Dean didn’t become a star till 1955 ignored; the Method was hailed in vague terms, but any in-depth analysis was eschewed – especially the cult-like tendencies of its adoption in America. The Sun Also Rises was too early for Paris 1928, so instead A Farewell to Arms was praised to the skies; despite being verily self-parody, and featuring a heroine rightly dismissed by Richard Yates in writing workshops. Gershwin’s An American in Paris was rendered more important in the scheme of things than Rhapsody in Blue because it fit Fox’s thesis; and to hell with any internal logic between shows as having bowed down to Schoenberg’s atonal serialism in the previous episode Gershwin’s melodicism was now equally valid – what is ‘modern’ is always wonderful, even if it contradicts what was ‘modern’ last Tuesday (which is no longer modern and therefore no longer valid). Fox is absorbing when he talks about art, but when he ventures into other fields he should take Andrew Graham-Dixon’s lead and, instead of creating titles that act as prisons, embrace wide-ranging titles that allow you to link between a few but carefully selected ideas in service of a convincing argument.

January 23, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coens return with their worst film since their mainstream disasters Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, and this time round they can’t say their vision was distorted by mainstream pressures.

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Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) performs a folksong at the Gaslight Cafe in 1961. Walking backstage he’s punched in the face, an unwelcome reminder of the Coens’ Gambit script. The effectively homeless Llewyn wakes up on the Gorfeins’ couch and leaves their flat in accidental possession of their cat. His next planned couch, that of occasional lover Jean (Carey Mulligan), has been promised to earnest GI singer Troy (Stark Sands). Worse still Jean is pregnant and, unsure of the paternity, wants to abort the baby. The needful money comes from Jean’s boyfriend Jim (Justin Timberlake) inviting Llewyn to join Al Cody (Adam Driver) as a session player on Jim’s novelty song ‘Please Mr Kennedy’. After Llewyn alienates everybody he knows he is reduced to sharing a car to Chicago with rude jazzman Roland Turner (John Goodman) and his valet Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund), in a quest to impress Chicagoan music impresario (F Murray Abraham). Can Llewyn finally get his voice heard?

You won’t care… Even if you’re still conscious after the tedium of the tedious road-trip, you won’t care because Llewyn is comprehensively as obnoxious a protagonist as you have ever seen. He’s an abrasive, unreasonable, uncaring, and only slightly talented egomaniacal dick. But he’s not compelling as a character, and he’s not even consistent. In a horrific scene he curses the inexplicably hospitable Gorfeins for wanting him to perform after dinner when he’s ‘a professional musician’. A few scenes later he performs to entertain the driving Johnny, even though he’s still ‘a professional musician’. A character this toxic infects everything… The crudity of dialogue is astonishing, and having Llewyn upbraided for his foul mouth doesn’t overcome it. The acting also decays: Mulligan shouts or snaps nearly all of her lines, snapping being one gradation below shouting with her, On the Road’s Hedlund’s appearance seems an unfunny in-joke, because he’s playing a meaner Dean Moriarty, and Goodman is on uncommitted auto-pilot.

I only love two Coen films, the most absurd ones: Raising ArizonaO Brother. I’ve long felt they were over-rated given their taste for crunching violence, blank characters, and a curious air of superiority, but this is a startling nadir. I can’t give you any reason to see Inside Llewyn Davis. Its full performances of minor folksongs can be bettered by throwing on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, a truer sense of that scene can be acquired by reading Dave Van Ronk’s memoir, a more insightful study of a failing artist featuring Adam Driver is Frances Ha, and a more compelling abrasive guy getting into shouting matches stars in Curb Your Enthusiasm. But I also can’t explain Inside Llewyn Davis’ existence. Singers need to perform to an audience, and Llewyn can’t properly connect with audiences, so his unrelenting monstrousness isn’t redeemed personally or artistically. If that’s the point, then… we all encounter enough jerks in life without needing films about them…

The Coen Brothers often give the impression they have a smirking contempt for their cipher characters, but this film shades over into contempt for their adoring audience in addition.

0/5

February 1, 2013

Top Performances of 2012

As the traditional complement to last week’s Top 10 Films, here are the Top Performances of 2012. The Golden Globes categories obviously inspired the absurdist split into drama and comedy of Best Supporting Actor. The refusal to isolate single winners is deliberate; regard the highlighted names as the top of the class, and the runners up being right behind them, and the also placed just behind them. They’re all superb performances.

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Best Supporting Actor (Drama)

John Hawkes (Martha Marcy May Marlene) His cult leader is as scary and charismatic as his Teardrop in Winter’s Bone, you believe this man could hold Martha in his thrall even as initial love-bombing degenerates into sexual abuse and criminal adventures.

Viggo Mortensen (A Dangerous Method, On the Road) His droll Freud is charismatic and delivers great put-downs but is deeply ambiguous; did he deliberately corrupt Jung? As genteel junky William Burroughs he was unexpectedly warm and sane.

Runners Up:

Matthew McConaughey (Killer Joe, Magic Mike) Wonderfully sleazy as Cabaret’s MC (sic), he erased his rom-coms with a revelatory Joe; icily calm, thawed by love, and psychotic.

Michael Fassbender (Prometheus, Haywire) His very precise turn as the dishonest android enlivened Prometheus, while his Haywire killer was very dashing.

Also Placed:

Sam Neill (The Hunter) Neill’s gravitas and underplayed emotional torment gave a weight to his dialogue scenes with Dafoe that underpinned Dafoe in the wilderness.

Trystan Gravelle (Stella Days) His teacher inspired Martin Sheen’s priest to defiance, but he also played the attraction to his landlady with great subtlety.

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Best Supporting Actor (Comedy)

Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) Miller, as flamboyant senior Patrick, displays startling range in portraying charismatic rebel after his troubled loner in We Need to Talk About Kevin. His turn is an exuberant joy that tramples clichés of gay characters in high-school movies.

Bradley Whitford (The Cabin in the Woods) Whitford as a military-industrial office drone organised absurd office gambling pools, snarled obscenities at video monitors, indulged in an unbelievably funny speakerphone prank, and rampaged hilariously thru great dialogue.

Runners Up:

Adam Brody (Damsels in Distress) His musings on decadence’s decline would get this nod, but Brody also makes his character a good soul given to self-aggrandising deception.

Liev Schreiber (Goon) He makes us care for his lousy hockey player who dutifully serves his team, and establishes a convincing bond with his challenger Scott.

James Ransone (Sinister) His Deputy, embarrassingly eager to assist the hero’s research and so get a book acknowledgment, single-handedly lightens a tense film.

Richard Ayoade (The Watch) His deadpan delivery of utter nonsense and total logic is hysterical, as he synchs with the filthy absurdity purveyed by Hill and Rogen.

Also Placed:

Alec Baldwin (To Rome with Love) Baldwin’s reality-bending interfering commentary on Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page’s burgeoning romance is Annie Hall-esque.

Edward Norton (Moonrise Kingdom) The Greatest Actor of His Generation (TM) is actually wonderful here as the kindly earnest scoutmaster unable to control his troops.

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Best Supporting Actress

Sarah Paulson (Martha Marcy May Marlene) She excellently layered Lucy’s relief at getting her missing sister Martha back, with guilt at perhaps having driven her away originally, and a mingled desperation and despair over the prospects of healing her psychic scars.

Sophie Nelisse (Monsieur Lazhar) As Alice, the traumatised but kind girl who most appreciates what M. Lazhar is trying to do for the class, this Quebecois Dakota Fanning gives a stunningly mature performance based on unspoken grief.

Shaleine Woodley (The Descendants) She displayed considerable spark as the troubled 17 year old banished to boarding school, who’s surprisingly effective at buttressing her father’s parenting of her younger sister even as she tells him home truths.

Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises) Hathaway essayed a great languorous voice, a wonderful slinky physicality, and a good chemistry with Batman, as well equal viciousness with quips and kicks, but her delightful presence was sorely underused.

Runners Up:

Helene Florent (Cafe de Flore) Her abandoned wife sinking into depression at the loss of her life-long partner gives the film its emotional weight.

Ellen Page (To Rome with Love) Page’s madly attractive actress gets a huge build-up from Greta Gerwig and lives up to it with gloriously shallow sophistication.

Megalyn Echikunwoke (Damsels in Distress) Echikunwoke madly milks her recurring line about ‘playboy operators’ and has an amazing character moment.

Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games) Banks is very funny delivering callous lines as talent scout Effie.

Also Placed:

Roisin Barron (Stitches) Barron’s verbally abrasive and physically abusive mean girl reminded me of Keira Knightley’s early swagger.

Kristin Scott Thomas (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) Her terrifying Press Secretary; reshuffling the P.M.’s Cabinet for him, verbally abusing her own children; stole the film.

Mae Whitman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) Whitman is hilariously narcissistic and garrulous as she dominates her unfortunate boyfriend.

Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus) A 75 year old assaults Jimmy Nesbitt and you feel concerned for him – Redgrave oft conjures up that ferocity as Fiennes’ mother.

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Best Actress

Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene, Liberal Arts) Olsen’s debut as cult member Martha was startlingly assured – naive victim and spiteful malefactor – and her thoughtful and witty Zibby was a comedic turn of great charm and depth.

Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games, Silver Linings Playbook) Imperious as Katniss: a great action heroine who combined a will of steel with being a surrogate mother. Her depressed Tiffany was quicksilver magic, flirty to angry in mere seconds.

Runners Up:

Keira Knightley (A Dangerous Method, Anna Karenina) Knightley excelled at Anna’s early empathy, but she was startlingly alien as the hysteric Sabina who recovers to a nuanced fragility.

Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) Watson is luminous as the sardonic senior who makes it her project to transform an isolated freshman into a fellow Rocky Horror  performer.

Also Placed:

Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man) Stone’s witty and very determined Gwen Stacy makes you realise how poorly used Dallas Bryce Howard was and how flat out poor Kirsten Dunst was.

Deborah Mailman (The Sapphires) Gail, the sister with an inflated opinion of herself and a sharp mouth, is a meaty part with a lot of zinging put-downs.

Lola Creton (Goodbye First Love) Creton’s arc from teenage suicidal despair to apparent and actual contentment was utterly convincing, especially in her unease around her lost love.

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Best Actor

Michael Fassbender (Shame) His remarkably raw performance made us sympathise with a sex-addict scared of being rumbled at work, but that panicked despair on his face had a flipside, the predatory smile when picking up women. Balancing both was sublime.

Runners Up:

Woody Harrelson (Rampart) This tour-de-force made us care for a repellent character. Yes, he was a jerk and a dirty cop, but desired to do the right thing as he saw it.

Willem Dafoe (The Hunter) Dafoe’s physical presence as he stalked the Tasmanian bush was equalled by his emotional integration into the family he lodged with.

Mohamed Said Fellag (Monsiuer Lazhar) Fellag’s strict but loving teacher knows how to help the class recover from trauma and, driven by his loss, defies orders not to.

Also Placed:

Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires) His drunken Irish soul man lifts the movie to comic heights it wouldn’t have hit, especially in his fractious relationship with Gail.

Muhammet Uzuner (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) Dr Cemal was a creation of immense humanity, his Stoic voiceover while the camera observed waving grass at night mesmerising.

Taner Birsel (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) Prosecutor Nusret was splendidly subtle, a man of equal empathy and diplomacy who slowly crumbles when deconstructed by Dr Cemal.

Honourable Mention:

Ralph Fiennes (Coriolanus) Fiennes was fierce as a man of exceptional courage and nobility who will not humble himself for ‘appearances’.

Christoph Waltz (Carnage) His compulsive starting of fires, followed by excusing himself to shout “Hello, Walter!” into his phone, was joyous.

October 12, 2012

On the Road

Acclaimed director Walter Salles tackles Jack Kerouac’s classic 1957 novel only to demonstrate directors shied away from it for 55 years for a good reason…

On the Road is a fiercely autobiographical work as all the ‘characters’ are barely disguised real people. Our hero, aspiring novelist Sal Paradise aka Jack Kerouac (Sam Riley), lives in Queens, NYC. In conservative 1947 his best friend is flamboyantly gay aspiring poet Carlo Marx aka Allen Ginsberg (Tom Sturridge). Into their bohemian scene roars Dean Moriarty aka Neal Cassady (Garrett Hedlund), a literary borstal boy with a 16 year old wife Mary Lou (Kristen Stewart). But hanging out with bebop trumpeters like Terrence Howard’s cameoing saxophonist cannot satisfy Dean’s wanderlust and so he drags Sal and company across America on a series of road-trips. Sal works as a picker in California, Dean gets romantically entangled with the icy Camille (Kirsten Dunst) in San Francisco, and both men hang out with the genteel junky Bull Lee aka William Burroughs (Viggo Mortensen) in the Deep South. But what drives Dean onwards?

Hedlund is not the Dean you’d imagine from the novel, but he improves on his inert Tron: Legacy hero even if he occasionally channels Tyler Durden to an embarrassing degree. Control star Riley is equally unlikely casting; especially in affecting a curiously wheezy American accent. Mortensen impresses most as an unexpected voice of common sense who accuses Dean of ‘compulsive psychosis’ and ‘psychopathic irresponsibility’. Poor Sturridge, doing a good Ginsberg, exemplifies this film’s failure. Compared to David Cross’ Ginsberg in I’m Not There Sturridge’s version is unbearably annoying – because Kerouac’s dialogue shorn of Kerouac’s dazzling and comic prose makes ‘Carlo’ appear incredibly self-important and self-involved. The fact that the hackneyed ‘mad ones’ riff is spoken as voiceover when Dean and Carlo are literally monkeying around hammers home the problem that it’s impossible to like these characters, or believe they’re talented (not least as Dean seems to take 18 months to read 1/5th of Swann’s Way.)

Jose Rivera’s script dashes thru the novel’s events without obvious purpose, and Salles’ direction veritably trumpets minor appearances by major actors (Steve Buscemi, Amy Adams, Elisabeth Moss). This film is simply soaked in sex, drugs and freeform jazz, yet is desperately dull. It never actually feels like fun on the road, and you groan when you realise the Mexican road-trip is still to come. Salles’ visually recreates an impressively detailed post-war America, but prioritises swivelling camera shots observing the Hudson roaring past along the road to another set of encounters rather than ever lingering in the car observing; so that he never conveys the hypnotic beauty of driving that drags these characters back for more.

Salles so fails to capture the spirit of the book that watching Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho might better serve cineastes unwilling to just read Kerouac’s original.

2/5

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