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Big Game Review


Grim

A missed opportunity, this European action romp begins with a terrific premise but never quite makes anything of it. Finnish writer-director Jalmari Helander certainly knows how to make a sharp, snappy action-comedy (see Rare Exports), but this script is badly compromised by simplistic plotting and gags that go for the easiest target every time. Which leaves the actors looking like they're standing around waiting for something interesting to happen. And it leaves the audience feeling badly let-down.

It opens as 13-year-old Oskari (Onni Tommila) is sent into the mountainous Finnish wilderness to prove his manhood by hunting down a stag all by himself. His father (Jorma Tommila) isn't hugely confident, but wishes him well. Meanwhile, preening terrorist Hazar (Mehmet Kirtulus) has just shot down Air Force One as it flew overhead. As the plane goes down, the US President (Samuel L. Jackson) boards his escape pod, and the first person he meets on the ground is a gob-smacked Oskari. Together, they set out to get to safety while escaping the tenacious thugs who are after the President. And officials at the Pentagon (including Jim Broadbent, Victor Garber and Felicity Huffman) are watching everything unfold by satellite, while the President's security chief (Ray Stevenson) leads the ground party.

The set-up is great, and offers plenty of scope for both over-the-top action sequences and Home Alone-style mayhem, but Helander never quite settles on a tone, perhaps because the 13-year-old hero demands a PG-13 sensibility that undermines any chance of proper black comedy. Yes, there's plenty of violent destruction, but it's cartoonish rather than clever, so the film feels silly rather than exhilarating. Jackson is clearly having a lot of fun as the annoyed President, adding some gravitas to his usual action-hero persona while delivering his requisite snarky one-liners. But Helander never quite finds anything new for him to do. And young Tommila looks far too serious all the way along.

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Filth Review


Essential

As another full-on Irvine Welsh adaptation Trainspotting did in 1996, this bracingly original movie puts a new filmmaker on the map. Not only is this a loud blast of both style and substance, but it refuses to water down its subject matter, taking us through a shockingly profane story in a way that's both visually inventive and emotionally resonant.

This is the story of Bruce (McAvoy), an Edinburgh detective who's determined to beat his colleagues to a promotion. He's also a relentless womaniser, sexist, racist and drug addict. And he'll do anything to get ahead, hiding the sordid details of his private life from his boss (Sessions) while undermining the other cops at any chance while pretending to be their friends. In quick succession, he gets young Ray (Bell) addicted to cocaine, flirts continually with Amanda (Poots), has a fling with the kinky wife (Dickie) of fellow officer Gus (Lewis), torments Peter (Elliott) about his sexuality, and takes Bladesey (Marsan) on a sex-tourism holiday while making obscene calls to his needy wife (Henderson). All of this happens while Bruce leads the investigation into a grisly murder.

McAvoy dives so far into this role that we barely recognise him in there. Bruce is so amoral that we are taken aback by each degrading moment. And yet McAvoy somehow manages to hold our sympathy due to the film's blackly hilarious tone and a startling undercurrent of real emotion. Even though he's a monster, we see his boyish fragility, especially in surreal sequences involving his therapist (Broadbent), which merge with his fantasies, hallucinations and nightmares. 

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Carlos Review


Good
Edited down from the five-and-a-half hour original version (which is also available), this nearly three-hour film still feels like an episodic TV series as it covers two decades in the life of the notorious terrorist. But it's expertly made and very well-acted, and some sequences are sharply involving.

When he enters the pro-Palestine terrorist cause in the early 1970s, Venezuelan-born Ilich Sanchez (Ramirez) takes the name "Carlos". For the next 20 years he's one of the most feared figures in Europe, organising attacks and then hiding out in Yemen, Syria and Sudan, or anywhere else he can find asylum.

From assassinations to bombings to hijackings, he earns his reputation for ruthlessness but also alienates his boss (Kaabour) by refusing to take orders.

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Black Death Review


Good
This medieval thriller is cleverly shot and edited to crank up quite a bit of tension, even as the over-the-top grisliness and wacky religious overtones make it nothing much more than a cheap thrill.

Osmund (Redmayne) is a young monk in 1384 England just as the plague is breaking out. The question is whether it's a curse from God or caused by evil in the world. Then the Bishop's envoy Ulric (Bean) arrives with news that an isolated village is somehow pestilence free. Drafting Osmund as a guide, the team heads off to confront what is no doubt pure evil, and indeed when they arrive they meet the village leader Langiva (van Houten), who has turned her back on the Church and created a creepy idyll.

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The Last Station Review


OK
A double love story based on real events from the life of Leo Tolstoy, this period film combines comedy and emotion in a way that's always entertaining, even if it sometimes feels camp and contrived.

Valentin (McAvoy) is a young Tolstoyan in 1910 assigned by the movement's leader Chertkov (Giamatti) to keep an eye on Leo Tolstoy (Plummer) and his sceptical wife Sofya (Mirren). But what Valentin finds is a lively, loving marriage that's strong enough to include opposing views. This isn't good enough for Chertkov, who moves to get Leo to change his will to leave everything to the movement. Which of course enrages Sofya. Meanwhile, Valentin is experiencing his first flush of love with a Tolstoyan commune resident (Condon).

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Beyond The Gates Review


Good
The enormity of what is depicted in Beyond the Gates is hard to even comprehend, but unlike many works of art about atrocity, the film makes a good faith effort to bring it across with a minimum of false drama. In the spring of 1994 in Rwanda, there are murmurings of trouble, but at the Ecole Technique Officielle, a European-run secondary school in Kigali where a number of UN peacekeepers are temporarily based, all seems peaceful. The kids go through their routines and lessons while the white staff remains mostly ignorant of the storm brewing outside, the school's oasis providing a mostly untrue sense of safety to those residing within. The warning signs are there of course, for audiences with the benefit of historical hindsight; the meaningful glares from a Hutu worker at the school, a Hutu politician who comes by to scope out the school and to ask leading questions about exactly how many UN soldiers are quartered there. Then the massacres begin.

Like in 2004's Hotel Rwanda, the bulk of Beyond the Gates is about the establishment of a safe zone within the homicidal abyss that the country so precipitously fell into. As Hutu militia roam the countryside -- drunk, mad with power, and waving bloody machetes like creatures from a nightmare -- and massacring any Tutsis they come across, the school becomes a haven for refugees, with the guns of the few blue-helmeted UN soldiers the only thing keeping the killers at bay. It is also about the lengths to which a number of good people will go to in order to save the lives of the innocent. John Hurt plays the school's resident priest, Father Christopher, with his customary blend of scratch-throated gravitas and self-deprecating wit. Hugh Dancy (somewhat flat here) co-stars as Joe Connor, a sort of Oxfam poster boy, the handsome and well-meaning European spending his gap year teaching in a third world school; like a more moral version of James McAvoy's doctor in The Last King of Scotland. Both are stunned into near-incomprehension by the butchery going on outside the gates, but act in extremely different ways. This is not a film that allows an audience the easy out of providing them a character who does the right thing and is rewarded for it.

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Russian Ark Review


OK
I don't know where to begin with a critique of Russian Ark. The most natural point is to mention that it's shot in one continuous take that lasts 90 minutes and includes hundreds -- maybe 1,000 or more -- actors. While Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov would have you believe this was a pioneering idea, Mike Figgis did this in Time Code two years earlier -- and he used four cameras, all running continuous photography and displayed in a split screen.

The real ambition in Russian Ark comes not from its technical challenges, but from its cast and setting. The film takes place entirely within the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg and comprises dozens of vignettes as the camera and its nameless narrator (Sergei Dontsov) flit from room to room on a journey through Russian history. The finale, which includes 300 pairs of dancers in a grand ballroom in the Hermitage, not to mention a full orchestra and countless spectators, is impressive to the point of being jaw-dropping. But the bulk of the film feels too much like filling time. Our hero (who bears a striking resemblance to Phyllis Diller) spends 20 minutes just figuring out what country he's in, and encounters with Catherine the Great, Anastasia, and other notable Russian luminaries are brief and cursory. (And where is Rasputin!?)

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