Bold and intelligent, this dark drama is a challenging portrait of the making of an authoritarian dictator. A blending of fact and fiction, this award-winning film has a remarkably visual sensibility thanks to actor-turned-director Brady Corbet and his intense cast. It's a bit relentless in its murky atmosphere, but there are flashes of genius all the way through.
The story opens in 1918 Paris, where an American diplomat (Game of Thrones' Liam Cunningham) is knee-deep in negotiations that will lead to the Treaty of Versailles. His wife (The Artist's Berenice Bejo) and pre-teen son Prescott (Tom Sweet) are rattling around their country house waiting for him to come home, and there's also a loyal maid (Yolande Moreau) and an observant nanny (Stacy Martin). But Prescott is a handful, refusing to cut his hair and challenging everyone around him by throwing a series of epic tantrums. With his father busy with work, his mother is so lonely that she turns to family friend Charles (Robert Pattinson) for company. And it doesn't help that the maid indulges Prescott's every whim, leaving the nanny unable to control him.
Where all of this goes is elusive and complex, hinting at a variety of secret activities happening just out of reach. Since everything is depicted through Prescott's immature perspective, the film's plot feels suggestive and seemingly irrational, and yet there's a driving sense of logic to it as well. And by mixing in newsreel footage to root everything into this pivotal point of history, Corbet offers haunting echoes of the young lives of populist tyrants like Hitler and Mussolini (and maybe Donald Trump). All of this allows the cast to dig deeply into their roles, offering a glimpse beneath the surface at every step. At the centre, the remarkable young Sweet is fierce and also fragile, eerily likeable even as he behaves so monstrously. Meanwhile, Bejo's helpless sensitivity is cleverly contrasted with Cunningham's distance.
Continue reading: The Childhood Of A Leader Review
Loose and impressionistic, this beautifully shot film traces the career of a DJ who pioneered garage music in France. It's not an easy film to engage with, since the characters and situations remain stubbornly undefined by the atmospheric filmmaking. But fans of the music will find the movie mesmerising as director Mia Hansen-Love cleverly recreates the clubbing culture.
The central figure is Paul Vallee (Felix de Givry), who with his buddy Stan (Hugo Conzelmann) forms a DJ duo called Cheers in the early 1990s, adding a "French touch" to the garage sound and developing a friendly rivalry with their pals Thomas and Guy-Man (Vincent Lacoste and Arnaud Azoulay), better known as Daft Punk. Despite gaining success in France, around Europe and even in America, Paul struggles to make a decent living, mainly because all of his money disappears into his drug habit. So he constantly turns to his mother (Arsinee Khanjian) for help. But the real problem for him is loneliness, as his relationships with a series of girlfriends (including Greta Gerwig and Pauline Etienne) fade away. And nearly 20 years years later, he still feels like he hasn't grown up.
The film is assembled with artistry, capturing the period and settings with an earthy realism while the musical beats churn through every scene. And the actors deliver naturalistic performances that draw out a variety of intriguing themes. So it's deeply frustrating that the film's uneven structure develops so little momentum. De Givry is superb as Paul, but there's nothing about him that becomes terribly interesting apart from his musical innovations. He seems to just drift along, never steering his life in any particular direction, neglecting his relationships to concentrate on the music. Oddly, even his cocaine habit seems to barely impact him, apart from the realisation much later on that the world has moved on without him.
Continue reading: Eden Review
Maria Enders is an ageing actress whose best known role was that of Sigrid in the 20 year old play 'Maloja Snake'. The play centres on the relationship between two women - the young and manipulative Sigrid and her older boss Helena, who eventually commits suicide under Sigrid's destructive influence. Enders is now being scouted again for a revival of the production, though this time in the role of Helena. She is reluctant to take on the project, but does so with the encouragement of her trusted young assistant Valentine. Soon she meets a rising starlet named Jo-Ann Ellis who is to play the new Sigrid, but Maria finds her rude and as destructive as her forthcoming character. Soon the pressure and uncomfortable similarities to herself she sees in Jo-Ann get too much for Maria, who's already overcome with grief following her divorce and the death of a friend. Plus, she starts to feel like she could be losing Valentine, who's beginning to think there's something unhealthy about Maria's reliance on her.
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An intriguing Chinese box of a movie, this slightly too-clever drama unpicks the layers of identity that are concealed behind the image of a celebrity. It's so knowing that it can't help but find revelatory meaning here and there, and the performances are raw and fascinating. There's also spectacular scenery and some darkly swelling emotions. But the themes are pushed a bit too hard, and the plot is enigmatic and oddly unresolved.
At the centre is Maria (Juliette Binoche), a famous actress who is aware that as she ages she's entering a new phase in her career. She's headed with her personal assistant Val (Kristen Steward) to a special event in Sils-Maria, Switzerland, to honour Wilhelm, the director who made Maria a star. But Wilhelm dies just before they arrive, so the event turns into a memorial instead. At the funeral, theatre director Klaus (Lars Eidinger) approaches Maria about starring in a new version of Wilhelm's iconic play Maloja Snake, which refers to an unusual cloud formation in this Alpine region. But this time Maria would play the older woman, while rising-star Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz) takes the ingenue role that sparked Maria's career. While Jo-Ann catches headlines for her bad-girl antics, Maria asks Val to help her get a grip on the alien older character she will be playing.
The story spirals out from here with swirling angles of meaning, as the play within the film becomes entangled with the contrasting public and private lives of the celebrities. Thankfully, even though everything is very pointed, the actors deliver remarkably off-handed performances that are very easy to identify with, revealing their characters' private thoughts and insecurities. There is of course also a further meta-level to all of this, as Jo-Ann's paparazzi-baiting lifestyle echoes experiences Stewart herself has had.
Continue reading: Clouds Of Sils Maria Review
With unnerving subtlety, this acclaimed Swedish drama takes a startlingly honest look at the underlying fragility of family connections. Pivoting around a split-second of panic, the film mixes earthy honesty and wrenching emotions to explore the pressure of gender roles. It's strikingly well-shot and played with unusual openness by a solid cast. And it's such a razor sharp depiction that it can't help but chill the audience to the bone.
The events unfold in the French Alps, as a Swedish family enjoys a skiing holiday amid spectacular mountain peaks and freshly fallen snow. Then one morning while having breakfast on an outdoor terrace enjoying the view, a controlled avalanche surges far too close for comfort. When the snowy powder settles, it becomes clear that the parents had very different reactions in that moment of fear: Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) dropped everything and ran, while Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) tried to protect their children Vera and Harry (real siblings Clara and Vincent Wettergren). Suddenly there's a fissure in their relationship, and neither Tomas nor Ebba can cope with the implications, privately beginning to wonder whether their marriage can survive the rest of the week.
Filmmaker Ostlund (Play) explores this heart-stopping event with remarkable complexity, continually shifting the audience's sympathies. Should Tomas be written off for a moment of blind panic? Can Ebba trust him to be there for her and the children when they need him? And as the plot develops, things only become stickier. First, the kids begin acting out as they sense their world is starting to shake. Then Tomas and Ebba turn to their friends (Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius and Karin Myernberg Faber) for advice and support, but only find that things are crumbling further. On the other hand, perhaps if they can find a way to be open with each other there may be some hope yet.
Continue reading: Force Majeure Review
Writer-director Noah Baumbach once again taps into a specific point in life with astute observational skill, even if the plot feels oddly forced. The vividly defined characters continually surprise with their awkward honesty, although this comedy-drama suffers from the contrived plotting of Greenberg (2010) rather than the free-spirited joy of Frances Ha (2012). Still, people on the cusp of middle age will find it hilariously, and worryingly, resonant.
In their early 40s, Josh and Cornelia (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) feel like everyone is judging them for not having children. And Josh has the additional pressure that his filmmaking career has stalled: he has nothing to show for eight years spent on his latest documentary. Then they meet 25-year-old aspiring filmmaker Jamie (Adam Driver) and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried), who inspire them to recapture their youthful interests in art and culture. Even their sex life begins to perk up. And Jamie encourages Josh to make progress on his movie, just as Jamie gets his own project underway, consulting with Cornelia's well-established filmmaker dad (Charles Grodin). But is this trans-generational friendship appropriate?
The fact that they even wonder that gives away Baumbach's own perspective, especially as he fills the film with witty contrasts that work a little too hard to make the point. For example, Josh collects CDs and DVDs while Jamie collects LPs and VHS tapes. Continual touches like this add lots of clever observational humour, although they also make everything feel a bit cartoonish and over-constructed. Plus of course the nagging sense that there's a right and wrong way these kinds of things should play out. Thankfully the dialogue is fiendishly smart, delivered to perfection by the gifted cast. And it helps that each of the actors are willing to be fairly unlikeable in his or her role, although Stiller is sometimes sent over the top with Josh's inexplicably harsh reactions to everyone around him.
Continue reading: While We're Young Review
After going missing for two years, Martha (Olsen) phones her sister Lucy (Paulson) for help, then goes to stay with Lucy and her husband Ted (Dancy) in a lakeside house. Martha says she's been living with a boyfriend, but actually she was in a cult-like commune with her friend Zoe (Krause), working a farm under the leadership of the charismatic Patrick (Hawkes). Renamed Marcy May, she was coaxed into sharing everything there, including her body, and now she's not quite sure what's real and what isn't. And also whether she actually got away.
Continue reading: Martha Marcy May Marlene Review
In a grand castle located in the beautiful countryside, Justine and Michael have married. They enter their reception to cheers and applause and everyone agrees that Justine has never looked happier or more beautiful. The newlyweds enjoy their new marital status and the company of their guests, which include Justine's sister Claire and her husband, John, who organised and paid for the entire wedding.
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After an opening scene in which 13-year-old Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) and her friend Evie (Nikki Reed, the writer) suck gas from a can of compressed air, laugh hysterically, and slap each other senseless, Thirteen flashes back to four months earlier, in order that we can get an idea of how Tracy got this way. Tracy's family situation is nothing spectacular, what with a distant father who only occasionally pays child support and a flaky mom (Holly Hunter) who scrapes by as a hairdresser and keeps letting Brady, her former cokehead boyfriend (Jeremy Sisto), sleep over. Her life seems pretty dull and irritating, so when Tracy ditches her nerdy friends to suck up to Evie, the lead Heather in the school's hottest clique, it makes an adolescent kind of sense. But when that friendship quickly morphs into an unending stream of shoplifting and drinking, Tracy also starts lashing out at her mother and pretty much everyone else around her, except Evie, who has essentially moved herself into Tracy's bedroom.
Continue reading: Thirteen Review
A frank and unnerving depiction of the peer-pressure slippery slope scaled by kids hungry for cool cache in the callous caste system of teenage social politics, "Thirteen" is a movie that rings startlingly true, thanks in no small part to co-writer Nikki Reed -- currently 15 years of age -- whose own experiences in a Los Angeles junior high served as fodder for the plot.
Told largely from the amorphous perspective of 7th grader Tracy (the compellingly natural, pubescently lovely Evan Rachel Wood), the film is a grippingly reckless joyride through impetuous shoplifting, impulsive piercings, improvised inebriation and rushed sexuality by a promising, once-ingenuous young girl who has yet to form a real sense of self.
Dying to buddy up to Evie, her school's early-blooming queen bad-girl who is lusted after by all the boys (and played by the prematurely sultry Reed herself), Tracy progressively throws caution, schoolwork, self-respect, loyalty, a close bond with her mother (Holly Hunter) and all her misgivings to the wind. A blank slate eager to be drawn upon, she falls deeply under the influence of this girl whose lifestyle of borderline depravity is itself a precarious experiment in ego-fulfillment and a byproduct of an unhinged upbringing.
Continue reading: Thirteen Review
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