LAST AND FIRST MEN [2020]


As this film finishes, one feels that no words can justly convey the unsettling beauty this unique piece of art possesses. Directed by the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, it may have been considered unfinished at the time of his death but the editing work is seamless: you’d never guess it wasn’t considered a complete piece of art. Jóhann’s creative prowess obviously extends further than his music; it is a tragedy that we dill never see or hear anything from this man.

The score’s power is amplified exponentially by the very real shots of stone monuments that were built in what was Yugoslavia. The gradual, purposeful direction of the images and how they connect with the sound has been done with obvious care, resulting in a powerful experience.

It feels sadly fitting then that this in the film that Johann will be remembered for, and it is incredible. It is certainly not a conventional film, as rather than using an existing structure, Johann creates his own world, each stone monument studied using minimal camerawork and very slow use of zoom.

Literally a meditative experience, the pulse of the film feels reminiscent of the slight alteration of consciousness one can feel after a long period of meditation. Like most of his scores, a high quality subwoofer is essential to enjoy this as intended, including the physical sensations that are a result of his sonic exploration.

In some ways, this score is a departure from his well known scores, Arrival , Mandy and Sicario perhaps the most well known. As well as writing with Yair Elazar Glotman, the thick atmosphere rarely falls often due to the unexpected emotive string and choir sections who create an overwhelming atmosphere that at times feels desperate and lonely.

The grainy 16mm grainy black and white presentation of old monuments somehow looks futuristic and otherworldly, apt considering Tilda Swinton’s unwavering, emotionless narration of what the future of humanity looks like according to the novel of the same name.

It is an incredibly expansive sci-fi saga, yet Johann impressively strips it down to the bare essentials, doing it so well that you want to hear it again and/or immediately find the book to read yourself. His prose doesn’t waste a word.

His direction of the narration, music and images is executed with masterful rhythmic precision that becomes a powerful cinematic achievement and a testament to the creative mind that the man possessed.

Two years after his unexpected death, Last and First Men is, put simply, the perfection of minimalist artistic expression. Better yet, it is 70 minutes of quintessential Jóhann Jóhannsson.


French Film FESTIVAL: DEERSKIN (LE DAME) [2019]


Quentin Dupieux has never been one to shy away from absurdity, most of his work lavishly bathing in it as if there is nothing strange to be seen. This is the attitude that the film and it’s protagonist absorb: despite the consistent weirdness, both the film and characters never suggest that anything at all could be amiss.

Similar to many past Dupieux plots, Deerskin is far from meaty and is defiant in its ignorance of conventional cinema. Diving into the story from the confusing opening scene, Georges (Jean Dujardin) is compelled to drain his savings account to buy a deerskin jacket from an old man who seems happy to part with it. Despite being slightly short on the asking price, Georges is offered an old camera as a part of the deal.

It should come as no shock then that a man offering a camera with the sale of a deerskin jacket immediately establishes the foundation for an endlessly bizarre tale. The man describes the camera as digital, a modern piece of equipment, though its looks saying otherwise. Georges though is taken aback by the jacket, buying it without a second thought..

As soon as Georges is alone with the jacket, he begins to talk to it in an amusingly matter-of-fact way, as if it is a sane thing that any person may do. This is the first scene in which the deadpan nature of the film becomes very clear, and very funny. As the two converse, it becomes clear that the jacket, or Georges (or both?) has a single, simple wish: to be the only jacket left in the world. I’m sure there is some subtext behind this concept, but I am somehow equally sure that it is simply Dupieux creating his brand of weirdness.

The camera soon becomes an important part of this goal, though Georges doesn’t seem to know why he is filming. The delightfully dark, quirky humour takes a hard turn toward a darker road once violence becomes a key part of what he films. This very dark, humourous atmosphere increases as the film moves forward, but importantly, it never loses sight of its intentionally absurd nature.

Every scene, every line and every bloody, violent action are consistently depicted as mundane and uninteresting.

When Georges meets bartender Denise (Adèle Haenel) who asks about his work as a filmmaker after seeing his camera, they team up as she claims that editing film is a ‘hobby’ of hers. A quick yet amusing anecdote about her editing Pulp Fiction into chronological order is a perfect metaphor for how the film plays out after the two meet. The balance of power, of control, slowly shifts.

Obsessed with the jacket and its demands, the fact that Georges wife seems to be divorcing him, or at the very least has closed their joint account, is barely in his peripheral vision. The real world no longer interests him, as he must eliminate every jacket he can find.

Georges is soon out of money and spins tales to Denise about uncommunicative producers as he asks her for money to continue shooting. This is where the balance of power begins to slowly move, as despite her funding his confused film, he is far from thankful. The partnership weaves a complex web, leading to increasingly strange and dark results.

While Deerskin is certainly no exception to Dupieux’s past cinematic approach, in comparison to some of his work it initially feels a little tame. However, the execution of the often unnerving actions add increased punch. Unsurprisingly, this is amplified by Jean Dujardin’s performance as Georges, his deadpan expression oddly captivating as it contrasts starkly against his near-constant erratic behaviour. It is hard to believe this is the same man who played the lead in Polanski’s recent historical film.

At 74 minutes, the film flies by as the story begins from the opening moments, its sense of humour darkening with the rest of the film and the atmosphere this conjures equates to an experience that only Quentin Dupieux could create. Is there a meaning to its ending, or to the kid whose staring enrages Georges for no rational reason? While the answer to these and other similar questions is most probably an emphatic no, Deerskin will not disappoint fans of Dupieux. The director must be commended for not only remaining steadfast in his approach to film, but also for expanding on this style, adding depth to a seemingly arbitrary, irrational film.



HARPOON [2019]


 

Harpoon is director Rob Grant’s most conventional film of his decade-long career given his past experimental approach to film-making. Harpoon is hardly experimental and therefore much more accessible, though it retains the staunchly independent qualities that define his work. This latest effort possesses the barest of plots: the basic notion of survival when stranded at sea. The unique approach to this simple narrative renders the narrative meaningless. Anything more would complicate this very funny experience.

Why? He and co-writer Mike Kovac take this typically dramatic situation and flip it onto its head, morphing it into a black comedy, poking fun at this common basis for a story: remaining unpredictable as a result. It is clear that the film never takes itself seriously, which is made very obvious from the beginning: the opening moments feature a serious, violent altercation between close friends. As this is happening, a narrator casually lets us know what is happening and why. The tone of his voice is perfect, sounding uninterested and sometimes sarcastic. The contrast of his care-free narration and what is happening on screen couldn’t be bigger, added to this is that while hilarious, it creates a legitimate feeling of suspense.

After this opening sequence, the three friends set sail for what we are told is their favourite activity – whether this is fishing or simply being at sea is never addressed, cementing the absurdity of the entire situation they find themselves in when out at sea, the boat refuses to start when it’s time to head home. Richard (Christopher Gray), the boat’s owner, is far from the sharpest tool and assuming their trip would be short lived, provisions are low. The radio barely works. Making this situation a hilarious predicament is quite the achievement. 

No matter how serious the situation becomes, Grant masters the film’s comedic tone. His sarcastic narrator adds to the absurdity. Once they realise that they are a serious predicament, the film becomes increasingly void of any nuance. Most noticeable is their extreme overreactions to the situation they find themselves in. The comedy becomes increasingly dark as their actions gradually rise in intensity.


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Given the style of comedy, it is hard to see Grant expanding his audience with this film, and it doesn’t seem that he cares. This attitude to film-making is rare and should be commended: it is hard to think of many names who deliberately create films that won’t be box office hits. A thoroughly independent director, the lower budgets he operates five-beer1with don’t pose any obvious problems as what he sets out to achieve doesn’t require large names or large casts. Three low profile actors are more than enough for Harpoon to work its magic. It obviously isn’t for everyone, but the crowd it aims at, those with dark and twisted senses of humour, are guaranteed a fun 90 minutes. We need more directors like this, as the film proudly stands out as a film unlike any other.


Five beers out of a six pack.

5/6


 

BEASTIE BOYS STORY [2020]

Ignoring typical tropes of most documentaries, The Beastie Boys Story is refreshing in its presentation as it is delivered similar to a comedy show, being presented to a live audience. Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, the remaining members after the passing of MCA (Adam Yauch) to cancer in 2012, speed through almost three decades of Beastie Boys history.

While the documentary could have been twice as long given the impact of the band and the decades they remained together, Spike Jonze effectively directs the roller-coaster ride that the band rode from 1983 to 2009. From being high school kids, playing hooky and discovering new punk bands to becoming one of the most important bands in music, Jonze crams as much information as possible into its two-hour runtime, Mike D and Ad-Rock doing their best to cover as many important moments 

The central motif that never feels out of place are the many examples of how important the late Adam Yauch was to the band’s success. ‘An enigma’ who never took a break from exploring all that life had to offer, both musically and otherwise, he consistently surprised even his two best friends, one of many examples being when he bought himself a giant double bass and was instantly able to play it.

It should be briefly noted that these are very hard instruments to play!

The loving tributes are spread out evenly amongst the film as the two remaining emcees reflect on everything from when they first met to the last show they played. Their early success and subsequent dissapointment when it didn’t continue is explored, as well as how they matured as musicians and people, becoming comfortable with their own ideas and eventually deciding that they wouldn’t let anyone stop them from playing whatever they damn well pleased.

In the one direct tribute to their lost friend, Mike D talks glowingly of how much fun they were having in 2009, running around a grocery store in Tennessee filming their single ‘Too Many Rappers’ with fellow legend of the genre Nas, a single that remains a favourite of mine. 26 years after Adam first decided they should start a band, they were still having a blast. After this though he highlights the strange feeling of not knowing that a certain show that year was going to be their last at that time. Its a deep wound that obviously still pains him to this day.  

The emotion displayed speaks to the theme of friendship that runs through the film’s veins. The Beastie Boys were more than a band, they were best friends who spent more time with each other than with their families. Their bond and the fact that no member was ever replaced in 26 years can arguably supersede their musical accomplishments on display, though this depends largely on existing knowledge of the band.

Far from a simple tribute, Beastie Boys Story is a humorous, interesting and informative film. Spike Jones, who shot multiple videos for the band, holds back his characteristic creative flourishes to focus solely on the band’s bond. Very funny cameos by (obvious fans of the group) Steve Buscemi, Ben Stiller and comedian David Cross, who poke fun at the two mid-credits, are the proverbial cherry on top.

 

AUSSIE CLASSICS: CHOPPER [2000]

Originally written as a bite-sized review for THOMAS J: My Journey Through Film, aka digitalshortbread.com

If you haven’t seen Chopper, watch it.

A movie that will forever linger in your brain, it is also perhaps the quintessential Aussie film, a preservation of the ‘occa’ culture that is sadly suffering a slow death chiefly due to political reasons whose details that are best saved for another day.

‘Taking the piss’, insulting your mates for laughs over a barbeque, the almost dead notion of mateship between every person – friend or stranger, not to mention the very black humour that is the name of the game in this dramatised biopic, are all represented in this eccentric barrel of laughs. Of course though, there are much more demented themes on show, but even these somehow render Chopper the embodiment of our laid back culture and its unique sense of humour – perhaps most funniest when old Chop-Chop shoots a man, only to drive him to the hospital immedietely afterwards.

A noticeably beefed up Eric Bana plays the larger than life character in a career best performance. It wasn’t long before this that he was limited to Australian TV soaps. It is hard to see this fact given the almost scary depiction of a legitimate maniac.

It is worth repeating that this essential Australian cinema; if you haven’t seen it, I envy you: if only I could go all Men In Black on myself and wipe the memory of all the viewings so I could see it for a first time again myself. I remember where I was and who I was with when I first saw this. It’s that type of movie. Or perhaps my sense of humour is too demented for its own good.

Bana truly inhibits the character of Mark ‘Chopper’ Read, an often psychotic Australian vigilante and ‘legendary criminal’ who was responsible for an unknown amount of deaths. He claims the number is 19, but he was only tried for one attempted murder, a charge he beat before moving on to become a best-selling writer while in prison for other criminal activity. A best-seller, as he laughs, “who can’t even bloody spell”.

During his first venture into crime he would assault drug-dealers, the scourge of the earth in his opinion, often using torture to force more money out of them. Apparently he was fond of blowtorches and bolt-cutters. He took a step up when he decided take on the criminal underworld of Melbourne. Unsurprisingly, he went about this violently.

All up, the guy is what I’d call a bloody good bloke.

For a 94 minute film, Chopper has a truly (and literally) insane amount of action, blood, and thoroughly memorable scenes with quotes that will stick. There is no bloated, two hour-plus slog to be found here, this is efficient filmmaking done right and a direct result of this is that the violent impact is maximised.

We first visit Chopper in prison, where the humourous nature of the film is quickly established, despite the fact than an ear is removed from its owner not far from the beginning. But even this scene is quite funny in how the script has been written.

Soon the violent criminal underworld becomes the principle backdrop, Bana constantly on-screen. His immensely dramatised depiction of Mark Read, coupled with the true to life unpredictable and violent personality of the subject, is a big reason why this flick is so goddamned unrelenting yet hilarious.

Its impossible to know what this crazy bastard is going to do next, but you can be pretty sure that it will include some form of violence. But thanks to a top-notch screenplay, involving Chop’s wild mood swings that funnily enough could be described as violent themselves, quieter scenes possess the same intimidating-as-all-hell feeling. Even if you’re laughing.

Mark Read was one of a kind, and there is no doubt that the5.5 beer - no beer top film is too – how dramatised his personality is portrayed though is an unknown. One could compare Chopper to Winding Refn’s Bronson in some ways: the black humour, the violence, the notoriety of the subject. But even with this comparison, the differences outweigh the similarities. Chopper is arguably the best Australian film of decade (and no, Fury Road doesn’t count) and every cinephile should add it to their watchlist, if only to see Eric Bana play a part unlike anything else he has done. That and, well, as mentioned, it couldn’t be more Aussie in every conceivable way.

5 and a half beers out a sixer.

5.5/6


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THE PAINTED BIRD [2019]

Original review written for Cinemaaxis.com

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Not unlike Pasolini’s ‘The 120 Days of Sodom’, The Painted Bird film will be known by some as ‘that three hour child torture movie’, ‘child torture porn’, or a similar, basic summary along these lines. I hope I am wrong, but despite knowing what they were going into, last year’s Venice premier prompted several walkouts. True, the torrid and almost creative way in which the child protagonist is tormented by almost every person he meets is rather confronting and not for everyone.

The Painted Bird is a spiritual successor to 1985’s Come and See (indeed, the latter’s young protagonist Aleksey Kravchenko is cast here as a direct tribute) as it too follows an aimless, assumedly orphaned child (Petr Kotlár) in an unnamed part of Eastern Europe amidst WWII: ‘The Bloodlands’. Given this premise, director Václav Marhoul chose to use ‘Interslavic’, an amalgam of several Eastern European languages, effectively covering this vast area.

Like Come and See, we witness consistent horrid events from the point of view of a child, and among its many themes which an entire essay could cover, the innocence of the child finds him seeking refuge from people similar to those he has just escaped from. His childish innocence also finds him trying to help the few who haven’t harmed him, only to worsen their situation. Each of these are to forget. 

Additionally, being shot over the course of three years, the young protagonist visibly ages within the film, while psychologically his aging is a powerful comment on the development of personality being based largely on childhood experiences. This notion culminates in the film’s unforgettable final sequences. Other extensionalist themes weave their way into the film, especially the metamorphosis of ordinary civilians’ behaviour due to a war they want no part of. These civilians that Joska meets as he seeks shelter are suffering from poverty as well as a war that rages around them. Superstition becomes scarily illogical and is often is the cause of Joska being accused as the reason for their suffering. Why else would an outsider wander into their struggling village? It is a frightening depiction of war turning ordinary civilians into cruel people, many of whom are instantly judgemental of any person unknown to them. Joska is a personification of the feared outsider, the fact that he is a child increases the recurring thematic wallop of what living in The Bloodlands during the war did to people. Whether these people weren’t like this prior to the war remains an unanswered question of great importance.

As if all this weren’t enough, hammering the point home is that one of the very few people who show him pity isn’t a civilian, but a soldier. The act is so foreign to Joska that at first he struggles to understand what is happening.

The cinematography is intentionally shot in black and white using high contrast; picturesque landscape shots are beautiful yet harsh, creating two instances of contrast within single shots. It is quite a feat, and their placement relate to the film with masterful touch.

The beauty is in direct juxtaposition to what is happening on (and off) screen. The same can be said for Kotlár’s almost complete lack of facial expression despite what he is experiencing. Subsequently. the few times we do see a very subtle change on his face, it is amplified, and if such a change is a major, sudden deviance, the emotional result is immediate. It’s gut-wrenching, almost violent in nature.  Conversely, in an odd way the harshness of the aforementioned shots play against instances where Joska is able to escape a captor, which are arguably instances of beauty within a film void of anything resembling a true instance of it. The same can be said for the few who do not exploit him.

Make no mistake, this is more than a film. Confronting feels like a crude understatement as this is a deeply layered three hour nightmare of the type that refuses to leave you in peace. Important to understanding the film’s understated thematic elements is a basic understanding of what historian Timothy Synder referred to as The ‘Bloodlands’: a large area stretching from central Poland to eastern Russian, encompassing parts of Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic States. From 1933 to 1945, according to Snyder approximately 14 million people native to their countries lost their lives. Most were without a uniform and bore no emblem or allegiance to one side. While many of these deaths were at the hands Stalin and Hitler’s forces, more importantly, surviving non-combatants were also far from innocent. This last fact was obviously the main influences for the civilians’ behaviour and their treatment of Joska.

For a film of such minimalism, its capacity for heartbreak is undeniably powerful, which brings back to mind the masterful use of juxtaposition within a long, slow film. It is no surprise then that comparisons to Tarkovsky have been made, and not simply due to the similarities to Ivan’s Childhood.

He had a rare ability to subtly create unique, atmospheric films where the overused word ‘epic’ genuinely applied. A similar feeling is evident throughout The Painted Bird: its inexplicable atmosphere is heightened by sparse dialogue, a slow pace and no soundtrack to speak of. Endless iconic scenes of Tarkovsky films spring to mind when considering these qualities.

Obviously not for the squeamish, this searing portrait of living withinsix beer(1) the Bloodlands engraves a bright potential future for both Marhoul and the non-professional actor Petr Kotlár. Many will lambast the film, but given the background of the area it is based in, the blood it has seen, an awareness of this turns the film into a haunting, unforgettable experience of a childhood filled with terror and the consequences of this. Like most of Tarkovsky’s work, pondering on its psychological musings is difficult to avoid. However, despite the slow pace and horrific scenes, the ultimate difficulty is to look away.

An easy full six pack, and after sitting through this nightmare rendered terrifyingly real, you will definitely savour each drop.

6/6


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CAPONE [2020]


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After 2015’s cinematic disaster, it is hard to fathom why Josh Trank received funding not just for a major film, but one to star Tom Hardy in the titular role. At least 12 months ago, photos of Hardy in full make-up as an older Capone circulated the internet. and whether it was intentional or not, this backfired

Many, including myself, were waiting to see Hardy play another notorious criminal were left severely disappointed. especially after his efforts playing Charlie Bronson and both Kray twins. Expectations were high. Our wishes was fulfilled, but Capone is a film that is comical in the worst way: the man’s mental deterioration is funny, immensely so, a sentence that feels wrong as I write it. 

Ignoring the fact that Hardy doesn’t resemble Capone at all – the makeup a smidge over the top then – worse still is that to public knowledge, Capone’s voice doesn’t exist on tape. Hardy chews scenes effortlessly, his raspy, three packets a day smoker’s voice memorable and consistent with an effortless hint of the mans Italian/Brooklyn roots.

One has to wonder if this voice was his decision or Trank’s, as the biggest influence is for the most part based on a Bugs Bunny episode. This is not a joke.

Apart from Hardy, finding anything to comment on in a positive light is difficult. The unintentional comedic value: Al ‘smokes’ carrots, unable to differentiate it from a cigar, is a legitimately funny idea, as is a diaper-clad Al firing a gold-plated tommy gun. Neither are presented as comedic though, and to the knowledge of those close to Al in his final days, these scenes are entirely fictional.

The movie also suffers from the vast difference between his hallucinations and reality: in an early, extended scene reminiscent of The Overlook’s party taking place in Jack’s mind, here it is in his basement. He sing a version of a song that didn’t exist at the time, which given the above examples isn’t surprising, the most egregious (and a continued motif) narrative decision is to connect an important part of these delusions to reality. Worse still, it is hardly a small detail, yet its importance is barely emphasised, simply causing confusion.

Of course, ther entire idea is fictitious, rendering its jump from insanity into reality absurd, unrealistic and proof that Trank cannot write.

The LSD-like hallucinations make up a fair portion of the film, unsurprising given his brain’s deterioration, but Trank either doesn’t have the finesse to create any suspense as to whether a hallucination could potentially be reality, or the premise is one he never entertained. We’re only kept guessing when he yells at supposed enemies hiding in the woods that surround his backyard, but the constant surveillance he was under render these scenes a little pointless. His use of a shotgun while fishing could certainly be either, but its importance is fleeting.

The supporting casts’ performances are solid at best, only his wife giving a somewhat memorable display. However we can barely connect with her shallow depiction. in fact even any exploration of Al’s character is minimal. He is a criminal who losing his ability to function. It is unclear if this is to elicit pity, but regardless it is yet more incredibly lazy writing.

The screenplay? Confusing is understating affairs, containing so many untied loose ends it is best compared to a maze with no exit as several peripheral plotlines are left unexplored, unfinished, or simply confusing.


The concept that the film is about the guilt someone like Al may feel two beerat this stage of his life seems, until one realises, or rather, forgets, how bad the script is and that nothing is said to support this notion. 

Often covered in his own vomit and/or feces, the film feels like a cinematic hit job on the notorious gangster, only he is the one on the receiving end.

This is worth two beers out a sixer, its only strength being Hardy.


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AN OFFICER AND A SPY (J’ACCUSE) [2019]


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His best picture since The Pianist, The Officer and The Spy (or J’Accuse, its title in France) is Polanski’s third and arguably most accessible film since he began working in French seven years ago. Refreshingly, no opening titles announce that the film is based on true events, as once the name Alfred Dreyfus is heard in the first few minutes it becomes clear that this is indeed a true story based on unfortunate historical events.

This story of Dreyfus thrusts the viewer into the late 19th century: the use of natural light throughout is perhaps the biggest factor, amplifying the effect of horse drawn carts travelling down dirt roads and natural orange interiors. The spectacular wardrobe of the French military, as well as civilians, is the final touch in recreating the period with amazing reality.

A simple story of an innocent man being condemned because of his heritage is hardly unique. Its presentation however is delivered with the expertise one would expect from a director with six decades of experience. The story itself is well known but elements of suspense effortlessly blend into the screenplay, co-written by the author of the source novel and previous collaborator Robert Harris.

Following the dramatic opening in which Polanski’s long-time cinematographer Pawel Edelman uses the large open area to great effect, it is revealed that a high figure of the army’s intelligence wing is severely ill. The central character Georges Picquart (Jean Dudjardin) is asked to replace him despite no prior experience in this field. The true reason he is chosen is made clear via the effectively presented flashbacks in the first act.

Soon his new position allows him to witness the evidence against Dreyfus that subsequently led to the farce that was his trial. Importantly, he becomes aware of his peripheral involvement in the trial, leading him to question the methods used by the army he has been a part of for 25 years.

The film excels in the building of Picquart’s character, simultaneously and almost comically portraying the inherent corruption that breeds within intelligence agencies who show little to no transparency. The more Picquart learns, the further his character evolves while the reality of espionage put on display, a reality which of course remains relevant to this day.

Winning best picture and director at the ‘The French Oscars’ unsurprisingly caused a stir and multiple walkouts. Given Roman’s rather dim remarks that he chose this story feeling it aligned with his own as he maintains his innocence, this reaction to his win is far from surprising. His Jewish background doesn’t seem to have much, if any, bearing on his situation: a far cry from the hell that Alfred Dreyfus experienced.


Pushing this aside though, it is clear that J’Accuse is the work offive-beer1 an experienced filmmaker in top form: a masterful demonstration in how to create a believable historical piece. Regardless of one’s opinion of Polanski himself, his high skill in film-making has not decreased and cannot be denied.


Five beers out a six-pack.

The beer is back!!


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CORPUS CHRISTI (BOZE CIALO) [2019]

As always, thanks again to Courtney:

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The Polish nominee for this year’s Academy Awards is a poignant, emotional drama that follows Daniel, a young man who finds his spiritual self in Christianity while in a juvenile detention centre. The opening scene briefly shows his personality however, as he keeps watch when a guard leaves the room so one sorry inmate can be thrashed by several others. There is not a trace of regret on Daniel’s face. His crime that landed him in juvie initially remains unexplored.

After a mass, the transformation Daniel undertakes is strongly portrayed, his faith unwavering as he dreams of becoming a priest when released. When this time comes however, the priest of the centre repeats an answer to a question he has clearly heard several times from Daniel; given his criminal record, he cannot fulfil his wish to become a priest himself. Of course, this does not stop him from trying.

He is to catch a bus that is headed for a sawmill on the other side of the country, a place where many inmates are sent to work. The film is hesitant to reveal many facts, but this is to the film’s advantage. There is a subtle air of uncertainty and darkness surrounding him, the sawmill he briefly visits and the town he decides to visit. 

 

Soon after learning that the town had recently suffered a tragedy in which six young people were killed in a head on collision, he endeavours to help the families and friends of the victims, despite taking advantage of his fake position as the town’s priest.

Soon, the minister’s wife takes him to meet the minister himself, who is ill and assumes that Daniel is ‘Father ‘Thomasz’, who is to be his replacement. The minister’s wife offers him a bed for the night, but her facial expressions show her uncertainty and mistrust of the young ‘priest’. She isn’t entirely wrong as quick scene shows him pocketing money from the Church donations

He wakes the next morning to see the father very sick, and is asked by his wife to substitute temporarily for confession; his first challenge. He  looks at his phone for instructions while listening. Despite his inexperience, his words help those who talk to him. 


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In a clear allegory to the power of faith, Daniel’s confidence in delivering sermons grows. They are unconventional and untrained – occasionally they are downright theatrical, a vast difference to what the town is accustomed to. However, he is bringing the community together as the pews gradually begin to fill. He tries to heal the people of a broken town, to bring them hope and stability and to restore their faith.

Bartosz Bielenia as Daniel/Father Thomasz, in his first lead role, is magnetic; his is in most scenes, his eyes piercing and intense.

This rebirth of a criminal to what seems like a passionate man of God is foos for discussion. It throws forward interesting questions while deftly avoiding taking a side against or for religion. It offers scenes that show both sides of the coin, exploring the concept of faith. Daniel’s ability as a ‘father’ offers him opportunities to manipulate the towk folk for his own gain. Even if it is ultimately for a good cause, does he truly want to help people, or does he simply want to feel like a good person after a dark past? The other side of course is the power of faith that Daniel’s sermons ressurect. Given the story and subject matter, it isd a very balanced film.

The elephant in the room though is hard to ignore. Daniel is a criminal. Daniel rarely expresses emotion (unless during a sermon) rendering it impossible to know his true intentions. Is his willingness to dress as a priest and help those affected by the crash a ploy to avoid a hard, unrewarding life working at a sawmill? A way to avoid other ex-cons, a way feel important? How much money did he pocket from Church donations?

Or, is he honestly following his dream to become a priest? His emotion and passion for the chruch is clearly legitimate, but to what end? This uncertainty of his final goal, what he is planning, is never clear.

Whether you are religious, spiritually minded or not, this is a captivating, heavy drama that asks us pertinent and timely questions: what do we have faith in? And importantly, how strong is it? Can it be broken by a tragedy such as the one in this film?  

If you dislike religion, this is still a movie that needs to be seen given the balanced screenplay which never has any bias to one side: the concept of faith, and what could be considered a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but again it is never clear if he is a wolf.

Even if only to witness the captivating lead role, this is a film that must be seen.


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THE GENTLEMEN [2019]

As always, thanks again to Courtney:

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Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen signifies a return to the crime-laden and humourous style that originally established his career. Save for Matthew McConaughey’s criminal protagonist ‘Mickey’, who hails from the US in a very odd and out of place casting choice, this film is definitively British in every way. The classic UK-style of dry humour plays a big role, and the way the script is written and delivered maximises the potential it presents.

Mickey’s game is marijuana – truly massive quantities of it. He wants out though – in other words he wants to cash his cheque after years’ of hard work keeping the operation underground. This draws attention from many interested parties, all whose personalities contrast against each other gloriously and soon Mickey is forced to negotiate after a video hits the net that doesn’t cast his enterprise in a respectful way, to put it lightly. As Ritchie returns to what he knows best, it is quickly apparent that he is using his many years of experience to create a more polished and mature film that those that made his name.

The aforementioned eccentric, exaggerated characters litter the story on both sides, ranging from high ranking British officials to Asian gangs to other, low-key parties who have all taken an interest in Mickey’s business and they don’t intend to play fair. The man taking charge of the Asian contingent is hilariously known as ‘Dry-Eye’ (Henry Golding), an obvious reference to what one’s eyes feel like if smoking weed (or ‘bush’ as the Poms seem to call it). Another is known as ‘Phuc’ (James Wong), which prompts amusing discussions of how it is spelt versus how it is pronounced.

The Gentlemen

The rapid-fire, witty script is what powers the film for the most part: again,. quintessentially British with an incredible number of one-liners that never feel forced, principally because they are rooted in British slang and culture. Ritchie has created the tightest screenplay and script of his career, and as an artist, he quite rightly ignores current societal trends that yearn to not ‘offend’. It seems he can see them for what they truly are. His gleeful use of the almighty ‘c-word’ is consistent throughout, and its use alone will surely divide viewers, a sentiment I can’t quite understand given its a single word, and again a part of British slang.

Clearly then, this is a film that doesn’t understand, nor care, about ‘political correctness’.

An unexpected but pleasant surprise is Hugh Grant, complete with a Cockney accent. He excels in perhaps the biggest against-type role in recent history, playing a dodgy private detective who seems to have all the answers, and the confidence to back it up. He is easily the centre of all the scenes he is in, and subsequently the film itself due to the interesting way Ritchie lets the story unfold. Grant flirts with Mickey’s trusted friend/business adviser/’right-hand-man’ Ray (an appropriately understated Charlie Hunnam) after the fact, and that his documentation of the events as a screenplay adds further sauce into the saucepan along with the effortless flashbacks that are easily distinguishable given he and Hunnam’s interaction doesn’t leave the room it begins in.


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Grant soars in a role seemingly written for him and him only, flying far higher than McConaughey, who himself looks high on his own supply for the entire film. McConaughey hasn’t been the centre of a great film for a few years now and, despite being the focal point of the story, he is out-shined by all co-stars here. His autopilot mode is engaged and the film suffers as a result, but it does give bit players such as a boxing coach played by Colin Farrell, and especially his wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery) who easily holds her own amongst the men who are often pushing an image that exceeds their true personality, or abilities for that matter. She is the diamond in the the rough and probably possesses the most legitimate ‘take-no-shit’ attitude of any player in this farcical caper.

As for Grant, the future surely holds further exciting roles, and he undoubtedly deserves them as easily the best, most magnetic and memorable part of the entire film, more so than the story itself, which admittedly is a slight problem. As for Ritchie, he has made a very loud splash after a series of underwhelming films. Using experience and versatility to tell his story in a cleverly presented fashion, The Gentlemen is Guy Ritchie’s best film in years as his take-no-prisoners approach returns to the fore.


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