Review: The Closer We Get

Director: Karen Guthrie
Screenplay by: Karen Guthrie
Starring: Ann Guthrie, Ian Guthrie, Karen Guthrie
Country: UK, Ethiopia
Running Time: 87 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘m very much a family man at heart. I obviously care greatly for my wife and kids (although I spend far too much time watching, reading and writing about films when I could be spending more time with them), but I’m also quite close to my extended family. I see my parents regularly and although my wife’s family and the rest of mine live further afield (mostly in different countries), we find time to visit them whenever possible and are always more than happy to see them. This may sound common and I’m sure it is, but many people grow distant from their family and know little about their aunts, uncles and cousins as they grow older. These days, more and more families are broken up too, fractured or made more complicated at least by divorce. Director Karen Guthrie’s family have an unusual history in which they seem to be simultaneously distant and close and she explores this in her documentary The Closer We Get.

Karen’s parents, Ann and Ian, fell in love, got married and rushed out four children in five years. Family life seemed pretty normal at first, but when the children were still young, Ian began to travel to Ethiopia to work (or volunteer, I missed that detail). This seemed admirable as the country needed support, but he would spend very long periods of time there, only returning once or twice a year for holidays, when he would often just take Ann away somewhere exotic. He just couldn’t seem to settle at home. This seeming lack of interest in family life, on top of a shocking revelation that I won’t reveal here, caused the couple to split, leaving the children with Ann.

In more recent years however, Ann suffered a devastating stroke which left her unable to care for herself. So her grown up children came back home to look after her. In an unexpected twist though, Ian also returned, after 15 years of divorce, to lend his support. Karen, who had been documenting aspects of her family life before the stroke, uses her probably vast amount of footage to craft a film that tries to find out just what happened between her parents and explore the unique dynamic now present in their family home.

Would you like to know more…?

DVD Review: Stalker

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay by: Arkadiy Strugatskiy, Boris Strugatskiy, Andrei Tarkovsky (uncredited)
Based on a Novel by: Arkadiy Strugatskiy, Boris Strugatskiy
Starring: Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy, Anatoliy Solonitsyn, Nikolay Grinko, Alisa Freyndlikh
Country: Soviet Union
Running Time: 155 min
Year: 1979
BBFC Certificate: PG


My trip through the work of art-house/world cinema heavyweight Andrei Tarkovsky continues with Stalker, from 1979. Like Solaris, this is one of his films I was simultaneously most looking forward to and most wary of. It’s highly regarded (as are all of his films) which got me interested, on top of the sci-fi focus, but it also sounded like it might be the slowest moving and most bleak title of his oeuvre. So, although I had no doubt that I wanted to watch and review the film, I was a bit hesitant to put it on once I’d received the screener. As is too often the case these days (due to having two young children) I was far too tired to take on such a heavy film and ended up watching it in two parts, but I made it through though and managed to appreciate the extraordinary work Tarkovsky had done.

Stalker is set some time in the future when a large area of the country (presumably somewhere in The Soviet Union) has been cordoned off with barbed wire and armed defences. Known only as The Zone, this area is off-limits to everyone and believed to be highly dangerous. Gifted individuals known as Stalkers have special abilities to be able to navigate it though, to take people to what is special about The Zone, The Room. The Room is believed to be a place that can make true the inner most desire of those who enter. Our protagonist is an unnamed Stalker (Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy), who has been hired to guide The Writer (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) and The Professor (Nikolay Grinko) to The Room. As they make the long, treacherous journey out of the city and across The Zone, the three of them argue about the meaning of their lives and the importance of faith, among other things, culminating in a dilemma as they reach the threshold of The Room.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Cry of the City

Director: Robert Siodmak
Screenplay: Richard Murphy
Based on a Novel by: Henry Edward Helseth
Starring: Victor Mature, Richard Conte, Fred Clark, Berry Kroeger, Shelley Winters
Country: USA
Running Time: 95 min
Year: 1948
BBFC Certificate: 12


After moaning about a lack of film noir releases in the UK a couple of months ago, I’m now being spoilt by a wealth of them. I even passed on the chance to review a couple Arrow are releasing soon (largely because I already own them on DVD though). The latest noir offering to take a spin my Blu-Ray player is Richard Siodmak’s 1948 film, Cry of the City. The director was one of the many German directors who fled the country when the Nazis came into power in the mid-thirties. After living with Billy Wilder in Paris for a few years and making films there, he left for America in 1940. There he grew to become one of the most famous film noir directors during the genre’s heyday, responsible for classic titles such as The Spiral Staircase, The Killers and Criss Cross. Cry of the City wasn’t as successful as those at the time, but these days its reputation has grown, so I was keen to check it out.

Cry of the City opens to show us Martin Rome (Richard Conte) at death’s door in a hospital. As his family hold a tearful vigil by his bedside, two policemen – Candella (Victor Mature) and Collin (Fred Clark), and a lawyer – Niles (Berry Kroeger) are skulking around, wishing to speak to him before he dies. For one, he died in a shoot out with the police which ended in the death of one officer, but also Niles wants to get him to confess to a crime his client is due to go to the chair for, the DiGrazia murder. Rome manages to survive the night and is transferred to a prison hospital, where Candella and Niles continue to hassle him to get answers. Rome keeps his mouth shut, but is concerned for the safety of his innocent girlfriend, Teena (Debra Paget), so breaks out of the hospital to try and get her to safety, whilst getting to the bottom of the DiGrazia case. There’s little chance for a happy ending for Rome though as the driven Candella closes in on him and his life-threatening wounds aren’t given chance to heal on the run.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: The In-Laws – Criterion Collection

Director: Arthur Hiller
Screenplay: Andrew Bergman
Starring: Peter Falk, Alan Arkin, Richard Libertini, Ed Begley Jr., James Hong, David Paymer
Country: USA
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1979
BBFC Certificate: PG


This was a blind watch for me. I didn’t know anything about the film before the press release was sent. I’d heard of, but not seen, the remake and didn’t realise that was based on another film film anyway. Criterion can generally be trusted to release quality titles though and the cast was appealing, so I took a gamble which I’m happy to say paid off.

The In-Laws is a comedy about two father-in-laws to be; uptight Jewish dentist Sheldon Kornpett (Alan Arkin) and crazy Italian American criminal/government agent Vince Ricardo (Peter Falk). The film opens with a daring open air robbery of some federal reserve plates (stamps used to print money), which soon make their way into the hands of heist mastermind Vince, who rushes straight from the scene to have dinner with the parents of his son’s fiancée. Here, Vince’s wild mood changes and crazy stories about giant, baby-carrying flies don’t impress potential in-law Sheldon, who wants to call the wedding off. His daughter talks him out of it, but the next morning Vince shows up at Sheldon’s surgery asking for a favour. He wants him to break into his own safe and bring him the contents. Sheldon is somehow talked into it and from then on his life is thrown into a ridiculous spiral of chaos, taking the duo all the way to South America where Vince plans to sell the plates to a crazed general. Vince claims he’s a CIA agent and this is all part of an elaborate plan to bring the general down, but Sheldon (and the audience) aren’t convinced.

Would you like to know more…?

Review: Suicide Squad

suicide-squad-posterDirector: David Ayer (Fury, End of Watch, Harsh Times, Street Kings)
Writer: David Ayer
Producers: Richard Suckle, Charles Roven
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Jai Courtney, Viola Davis, Jay Hernandez, Joel Kinnaman
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 123 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

 


I want to start off this “review” of Suicide Squad, the third film in Warner Bros’ new attempt at building a universe out of DC comics characters to rival what Marvel is doing with their cinematic universe, by apologizing for the somewhat lax approach I am about to take to writing this. Rather than putting in a decent amount of time and effort towards proper format and review structure, with an introduction, middle, and conclusion, I’m instead going to take a more stream-of-consciousness style dig into my feelings on David Ayer’s botched, studio-meddled disaster of a product. This is mostly because I don’t feel like giving the energy that comes with a more legitimate review to this piece of trash, but also because something a lot more messy, chaotic, and poorly constructed actually feels like a proper fit for a movie that can be described as all of those things. If David Ayer and Warner Bros can blow upwards of $200 million on this shambolic production without thinking twice about the fans (of the comics, of movies in general, or really of life at large) blowing their hard-earned cash to see it, then why should any of us actually give them more of our valuable time than is necessary? It doesn’t seem right. Then again, nothing about what’s happened here does.

Suicide Squad is unquestionably one of the worst films of not only this year, but of at least this decade so far. Man of Steel was a complete bomb, and Batman v Superman somehow lowered the bar even further than that, yet I honestly don’t think Ayer was able to measure up to that basement level standard. Warner Bros keeps dropping the ball monumentally with each one of these DC movies, making it seem like there’s no way that it could possibly get worse, then are apparently determined to prove just how wrong that is. I truly fear for the state of Wonder Woman (which at the moment actually seems promising) if this is what we’ve been given so far, as no company has been this consistent at delivering absolute garbage to this extreme. While Batman v Superman was an overstuffed disaster, its biggest offense was mostly that it was unbearably dull. Suicide Squad is just as bland, despite how hard it tries to give itself a sense of energy that didn’t exist in that previous effort, and despite the fact that it’s actually half an hour shorter, yet somehow feels just as long, if not more so. Adding on to that, though, it is also a total fucking mess from top to bottom. I truly can not think of a movie that I’ve seen that was so blatantly torn to shreds in post-production in the editing room, to a point where it feels like no single scene belongs in the same movie as any other one, and that no one working on the film even realized they were working on the same one as all of these other people involved. Ayer clearly has no control as a writer or director, the cast feel like they are worlds apart from one another in every way, and the studio clearly cut the film to hell trying to salvage whatever they could out of the mess that he gave them. They weren’t successful.

Would you like to know more…?

Review: Sid & Nancy

Director: Alex Cox
Screenplay: Alex Cox, Abbe Wool
Starring: Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, David Hayman, Andrew Schofield
Country: UK
Running Time: 109 min
Year: 1986
BBFC Certificate: 18


I‘m not a huge punk fan. The original movement came and went a few years before I was born and later punk iterations never did much for me. However, The Clash’s London Calling album has long been one of my all time favourites and when I was a teenager I also got a lot of play out of my CD copy of the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks. It was and still is a powerful album, full of youthful exuberance and fiery anger at the damaged establishment, which spoke to me back when I was a youngster. I never really looked into the history of the band though. Although I’ve long been a music lover, I’ve rarely paid much interest in the private lives of the artists involved. I tend to let the lyrics and music do the talking and leave the rest a mystery. Some of the Sex Pistols’ history is unavoidable though and I was aware of their troubled and brief existence, even if I didn’t know all the details.

My love of the band’s sole studio album helped pique my interest in reviewing this 30th Anniversary re-release of Sid & Nancy then, along with an interest in its director, Alex Cox, who wrote and directed the rather excellent punk movie Repo Man. Sid & Nancy dramatises the relationship between the Sex Pistols’ bass player Sid Vicious (played by Gary Oldman) and sometime prostitute Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb). The two met in early 1977 and quickly formed a very destructive relationship, based largely around heroin. Nancy was already a user before she met Sid and it’s reported (and suggested in the film) that she introduced him to the drug. The two grew heavily dependent on one another, as well as the drugs, and their lives inevitably both came to tragic ends. In October 1978, Nancy was found dead with a single stab wound to her abdomen in the bathroom of the infamous Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan, with Sid laid in a drug induced stupor on the bed across the room. After being arrested for Nancy’s murder, Sid died of a heroin overdose a few months later. The film opens with the discovery of Nancy’s body by the police and flashes back to their first meeting to tell the story of their brief time together.

Would you like to know more…?

Fantasia 2016 Review: Realive

When screenwriters turn towards directing their own features, the case is often that they can make their talkiest screenplay into a film. This is not necessary a bad thing at all, especially considering the case of Mateo Gil’s new science fiction tale, Realive (aka Proyecto Lazaro). Here is a film which asks a lot of astute science fiction questions around death and resurrection as our twenty-first century medical science advances towards growing organs, rejuvenating the body with stem cells, and cryogenically preserving the dead or the dying in the hopes that they may be attended to in the future. The corporation at the heart of the film’s Lazarus Project has a witty tagline that demonstrates some of the nuanced qualities of the screenplay, “Immortality is only a question of time.”

You are probably familiar with Gil’s work if you have watched any of Alejandro Amenabar’s cerebral but scary films, from Tesis to Abres Los Ojos (remade with Tom Cruise as Vanilla Sky) to Oscar nominated The Sea Inside and the criminally underrated sword and sandals flick on mathematics and religion, Agora. Gil is to Amenabar as Alex Garland is to Danny Boyle. And the adroit, glossy and verbal Realive is certainly Gil’s Ex Machina.

Structured in three layers, the film examines the case of Marc Jarvis, the first man to have his body pulled out of Cryo and re-constructed to the point where he can be paraded out in front of investors to further justify private company funding for perhaps the immortality of the human race. Much of the film is set in 2086, and involves the medical processes, and complications, in rehabilitating Marc’s body while acclimatizing his mind to 70 years of progress. Marc’s nurse explains (and demonstrates) that attitudes on sex and relationships have significantly changed in the 7 decades he was absent, and the film teases us with demonstrations on the way the internet is now fully audio-visual, and offhand mentions that nobody gives a shit about pulling oil out of the ground for energy or raw materials. Oh, and t-shirts have no neck-bands on the anymore.

Because the film is as much about the humanity as it is about the science, a second, quite significant, layer of the films structure spends a fair amount of time with Marc in 2016. He deals with the fallout of being diagnosed with cancer in his mid thirties, and the tough decision with his fiancee, here, exceptionally played by Game of Thrones‘ red wedding bride, Oona Chaplin, to commit suicide to preserve his body in the best possible shape for the slim hope that the freezing process will work, and that the company will last long enough until such a time comes to resurrect and heal the disease. The emotional crux of the matter, handled with lots of time and energy in the film, are potentially months of lost last days in Marc’s voluntary and pre-mature death. Upon his awakening, there is the anxiety that everyone he has ever had any ties will may be gone. Marc makes jokes over wine to his friends when he announces the decision, “I’ll be sure to fuck all your grandkids!” But, the levity is a cover.

There are several strata of anxiety on display here, both big picture and on an individual level. Science of course, does not work perfectly, nor free of the unexpected, and being an early test subject, Marc suffers immensly in his new body. Fans of Showtime’s exceptional medical inquiry show, The Knick, or those who may remember a certain scene from Alien: Resurrection will have a field day with how Realive understands that science, in execution, is a messy process of trial and error and far more disappointment than elation. Success is just failing not as badly. There is a classical mix of hubris and fear that has driven scientific speculation in popular art for centuries. A more daring step by Gil however is to make Marc neither the hero type, nor one who necessarily rises to the occasion of his own trail. This puts him in line with the characters of Ridley Scott’s vastly misunderstood Prometheus, where the so-called heroes were kind of shallow fuck-ups, with little self awareness of their own limitations.

Would you like to know more…?

Fantasia 2016 Review: Shelley

A classy, atmospheric take on the hysteria of new parenthood, Ali Abbasi’s Shelley wears its influences boldly on its sleeve (and right there in the title), only the Frankenstein’s monster here is a baby born by way of our modern medical miracles.

Louise and Kaspar are a thirty-something couple well along in their successful twenty-first century careers. They have chosen to live in the pleasant isolation of a picturesque lake (pregnant with islands) in the Danish countryside. Enabled by their wealth and privilege, they grow their own food and even forgo using electricity for the sake of simpler, slower living.

The only thing missing from their life is that they cannot biologically have children. When a young Romanian housekeeper, Elena, arrives on their dime and quickly bonds over wine and intimate conversation, Louise appeals to her to act as a surrogate mother. The delicacy of such an interaction is not lost here, and some of the films best work takes place in the psychological set-up between two very different women.

I have no doubts these kinds of proposals happen in real life and perhaps they go professionally and smoothly as they possibly can. When they happen in the movies, any astute viewer knows things will not go anywhere near according to plan. The offer to Elena is thus: instead of her working for them for two or three years in Denmark, they will give her enough money to afford to return to her own young son (and extended family) with enough money to buy an apartment in Romania and make a step up in her current family lifestyle. Elena would need to lend her womb for nine months or so to one of Louise’s frozen eggs thereby artificially inseminated by Kaspar’s seed, and carry a child to term for them.

The director establishes the misty lake countryside early in the picture (blessedly bringing back the slow zoom!) perhaps to evoke the insular isolation where Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley hung out for the summer in 1816 with Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and a few others whereby she conceived her iconic novel on the modern Prometheus. She effectively realizes Elena and Louise, the former, a practical minded but open girl and somewhat experienced mother who quietly scoffs at Louise’s license towards spiritual healers, crystals and other new-age paraphernalia.

Elena’s patience begins to be seriously tested as Louise starts to take over responsibility for her body as the baby grows. A glass of wine or snuck cigarette, a rash or even Elena’s weight sizzle with conflict, and the tension between whether or not to go to doctor is palpable. Who owns what in this transaction of bodies and life?

Louise’s perceived anxieties over new motherhood in someone else’s body starts to push the tone towards a favourite cross-cultural, upscale freak-out film of mine in recent times, Magic Magic. However, in a bid that fails to address so many consequences of this first and second act build, the writer-director seems to say, to hell with the consequences, I’m going to pack another film in the final act. Now I like that other film, in fact, I’d love to see another hour of that other film, but really, I question the motives and intent to not deal with what is so elegantly set up in the initial core thesis of the film.

Would you like to know more…?

DVD Review: Solaris

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay by: Fridrikh Gorenshteyn, Andrei Tarkovsky
Based on a Novel by: Stanislaw Lem
Starring: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet
Country: Soviet Union
Running Time: 160 min
Year: 1972
BBFC Certificate: 12


The next port of call in my journey through the work of Andrei Tarkovsky takes me to Solaris. It’s probably the director’s most well known and popular film, but at the same time it seems to be his most divisive. Some critics have cited this as the film where Tarkovsky’s style began to get too philosophical and slow for its own good, with a couple claiming the philosophies lean towards the cod end of the spectrum. It’s views like these that made me a little apprehensive about watching the film (and reviewing it for that matter). However, I’m determined to work through all of his films being re-released and would like an opinion on them, even if it’s a negative one, so the other night I found myself sitting down in front of the projector to check Solaris out.

The film sees psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) sent to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. It is believed the crew has gone insane and he is sent to confirm and find out why, possibly destroying the station afterwards if it is irredeemable. Once on the station, he finds that one of the crew members has committed suicide and the other two seem emotionally unstable. The problem on board soon becomes apparent when a woman appears in Kris’ quarters who seems to be his recently deceased wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk). This isn’t a mere ghost or dreamed memory though, she’s physically there in the station with him and the others can see her too. This embodiment of his wife doesn’t share Hari’s memories though, or at least not more than a few fractions to make her seem like Kris’ wife. She isn’t a mere shell either – although not human, she has her own thoughts and feelings, which Kris’ fellow crew members give little regard to. They refer to her and the other ‘guests’ on board as things they should cut up and analyse, even when Hari is in the room with them.

Kris realises this isn’t his wife straight away of course and initially tries to dispose of her, tricking her into a rocket and firing her off the station. However, another version soon appears so he realises he can’t get rid of this painful memory and instead learns to embrace it, mentally and physically. He grows too attached though and neglects his duties on the station, instead suggesting he stay on Solaris with Hari (3.0) forever.

Would you like to know more…?