DVD Review: The Sacrifice

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay by: Andrei Tarkovsky
Starring: Erland Josephson, Susan Fleetwood, Allan Edwall, Guðrún Gísladóttir, Sven Wollter
Country: Sweden, UK, France
Running Time: 142 min
Year: 1986
BBFC Certificate: 12


I‘ve finally made it to the end of my Tarkovsky marathon (view all of my reviews here). I won’t say it was easy. Most of his films are rather long, slow moving and packed with philosophical ideas which largely went over my head. However, I have been consistently blown away by his talents as a director. He took command over some spectacular sequences which will be forever seared in my memory. None of the six films included in the marathon quite matched Andrei Rublev (which I’d seen previously, so didn’t request a screener to review) as my favourite Tarkovsky film. Ivan’s Childhood came close though and I thought highly of all of the films, even if a couple were tougher to get through than others.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, as I still haven’t given my thoughts on Andrei Tarkovsky’s final film, The Sacrifice (a.k.a. Offret or Sacrifice). It sees the elderly Alexander (Erland Josephson) spending time in his remote beach home with his young son, older daughter, wife, two friends and two maids. The group of them debate and bicker about various things until some shocking news is announced on the TV. Several warheads have been aimed towards Europe and the end of life on the planet (or possibly just Europe, it’s not clear) is inevitable. Alexander, his friends and family are all shocked and devastated of course, but it seems there might be one chance to save humanity and it’s in Alexander’s hands.

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Blu-Ray Review: Early Murnau – Five Films

Friedrich Wilheim Murnau is one of the most celebrated directors of the silent era. He’s most famous for Nosferatu and Sunrise, but was the mastermind behind several classic pieces of early cinema before his untimely death in 1931 at the age of 42. Although the two reviews I’ve previously posted of his films haven’t quite perched them on the high pedestal others have placed them (I gave Nosferatu 4 stars and Tabu 3), I still class myself as a fan of his work as I was blown away by Sunrise when I first saw it a couple of years ago. It fully deserves its status as one of the greatest films of all time. So when Eureka announced they were packaging five of his early films in a Blu-Ray set, I didn’t hesitate to take them up on the offer of reviewing it, particularly as it includes one of his most highly regarded works, Der Letzte Mann.

Included in the 3 Blu-Ray set are Schloß Vogelöd (1921 – a.k.a. The Haunted Castle), Phantom (1922), Die Finanzen des Großherzogs (1924 – a.k.a. The Grand Duke’s Finances), Der Letzte Mann (1924 – a.k.a. The Last Laugh) and Tartuffe (1925).

My thoughts on all titles included can be found below.

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Blu-Ray Review: Cat People

Director: Jacques Tourneur
Screenplay: DeWitt Bodeen
Starring: Simone Simon, Tom Conway, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph
Country: USA
Running Time: 73 min
Year: 1942
BBFC Certificate: PG


CCat People is a film I saw a long time ago and have vague fond memories of, so I was keen to check out The Criterion Collection’s UK Blu-Ray release. I thought it might also get me in the mood for the usual October horror movie celebrations we film bloggers like to partake in.

From the title, Cat People sounds pretty silly and trashy, and, by all accounts, it was originally intended to be a cheap crowd-pleasing fright-fest. RKO Pictures were in trouble after Citizen Kane proved an expensive commercial failure on release (which is surprising to hear now). So they hired writer Val Lewton as a new producer for the studio, strictly to make low budget horror movies to help recoup some cash. His first film was Cat People and, although he did keep it under budget as promised and it made a lot of money, he turned a potentially daft concept into something quite poetic, subtle and intelligent.

The film sees the beautiful Serbian fashion sketch artist Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon), now living in New York, meet and quickly fall in love with Oliver Reed (not the booze loving actor, but a character played by Kent Smith). The couple get married soon after, but cracks soon appear in their relationship as Irena refuses to consummate the marriage. She believes in an old legend from her home town about the ‘cat people’ – those who had turned to witchcraft, devil worshipping and other wicked sins through their slavery to the Mameluks, who were driven out by King John. John had these sinners killed, but some escaped to the mountains, to become cat people. Supposedly these half human, half feline creatures kill those that they kiss, so, believing she is one of their descendants, Irena is afraid of the consequences of taking her new husband to bed.

The waters are further muddied when Reed’s work colleague Alice (Jane Randolph) confesses her love to him and, aided by the cracks appearing in his new marriage, he reciprocates. As Irena begins to suspect something going on between the two, her jealousy unleashes a dark, possibly cat-like side.

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TIFF 2016 Review: Nocturnal Animals

 

If you are an honorable cinephile, right from the opening credit sequence of Nocturnal Animals, you will know you are in good hands. Hyper-glossy and daringly un-commercial in the same breath, it puts some fine Lynchian bonafides on the table early. Then the camera pulls back from this tone-setting overture to reveal that these seemingly context free images (which will remain unspoilt by me, but might prevent the film from playing in a multiplex near you) are very much present, and in fact are part of the gala launch of a Los Angeles art gallery.

The curator and architect of the exhibit (but, tellingly, not the artist) is Susan, played by Amy Adams in heavy make-up, and chunky jewelry. The deep lighting makes her red hair stand out like smoldering coals in the dark. Forget for the moment director Tom Ford’s penchant for enhancing surfaces, Adams delivers an understated inner-performance entirely with her eyes and posture. Mere seconds on screen and you can immediately deduce she is unhappy with the not only the exhibit but with her many if not most of her life choices.

Later that evening, Susan is abandoned to stew in her own juices by her husband (Armie Hammer) who is the kind of high-stakes businessman that is required for a cross-continental flight upon a moments notice. Nocturnal Animals is a film about we process our thoughts when alone, versus reacting in the company of others.

It is also a master-class in ‘show-don’t-tell’ filmmaking. A brief domestic conversation, prior to her husbands exit from the film, is practical and efficient. We learn that their glass and concrete mansion and designer lifestyle is on the verge of bankruptcy, but again, the body language and framing suggest that money, in and of itself, is the least of their problems, matrimonially.

The very same evening, Susan receives a package in the mail from her previous husband, whom she has not spoken to in nearly two decades. The manuscript of his soon-to-be published novel is included with a personal note thanking her for the inspiration (and life experience) provided finally write something significant. The book shares the name of the film, but the film is adapted from Austin Wright’s 1993 novel, “Tony and Susan.”

Tony is the name of the character in the book that Susan reads, a man whose family is threatened and jeopardized on a lonely West Texas highway by a gang of good ol’ boys led by an extraordinary effective, and completely unrecognizable Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who has come a distance from Kick-Ass and wins the Tom Hardy award for chameleon-like disappearance into a part.

It is exceptional that Ford has made a film about a woman that spends the bulk of the runtime sitting on her couch (or bed, or in the bath) reading a book, into one of the most compellingly ‘lean-in’ films of the year. Half of the runtime is devoted to the novel, which is anchored by a Zodiac or Nightcrawler calibre performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and a scene-stealing Michael Shannon as a cancer stricken Texas Sheriff who is both funny, and yet, simultaneously scared the absolute shit out of me. The remaining half is split equally between Susan’s languorous present, and flashbacks to her optimistic courtship with her first husband and youthful writer, Edward; also played by Gyllenhaal.

The cross-cutting and transitional matching shots (note a certain red couch, for instance) provide an invigorating road-map to what the movie is actually about. The editing in this film, the fimmaking in general, is among the best films of the year. And, it is in a genre, the psychological thriller, that is so radically absent, presently, that make this is a breath – a gale? perhaps a tempest – of gloomy air.

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Blu-Ray Review: Paths of Glory

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham, Jim Thompson
Based on a Novel by: Humphrey Cobb
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou
Country: USA
Running Time: 88 min
Year: 1957
BBFC Certificate: PG


Stanley Kubrick is considered one of the greatest directors of all time, but most discussions and plaudits these days tend to focus on his mid to late work. 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining for instance are regularly hailed as pinnacles of the sci-fi and horror genres respectively, as well as cropping up on general lists of the greatest films of all time, and rightly so, but I feel not enough attention is given to his 50’s output. His little-seen first feature, Fear and Desire (which I reviewed a few years ago) is no masterpiece and Kubrick was openly embarrassed about it once he grew more successful. His follow up, the film noir Killer’s Kiss, is a bit clunky, but shows promise in a couple of great set-pieces. However, after these shaky first steps, Kubrick knocked it out of the park with two incredibly sharp and assured films, The Killing and Paths of Glory. Neither made much of a commercial splash on release, but they gained enough critical acclaim for Kubrick to get attached to the big budget Spartacus, which was the beginning of the director’s rise to becoming a household name. These two late 50’s titles are well reviewed, but I don’t tend to see them crop up on as many ‘best of’ lists and neither have been packaged with the big Kubrick box sets that have been released (although this is a rights issue more than favouritism). Well, in early 2015, Arrow gave us a great Blu-Ray package containing The Killing alongside Killer’s Kiss and now Eureka have turned their attention towards Paths of Glory, delivering the wonderful Blu-Ray release it deserves.

Paths of Glory is based on a true story, set on the front line in France during World War I. A troop of soldiers are ordered to take a German position known as ‘the anthill’. It’s pretty much a suicide mission, which General Mireau (George Macready) is aware of, but his superior, General Georges Broulard (Adolphe Menjou), insists and dangles the carrot of a promotion if he carries it out. Mireau gives the order to the regiment’s Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), who is even more reluctant, but has no choice in the matter. When the day of the attack comes, the first wave out of the trenches takes heavy casualties and the second refuse to go over the top, so the mission is abandoned. Mireau is furious about this and orders each of the three companies involved to pick one soldier to be executed to make an example of the regiment. Dax is furious about this and, being an esteemed criminal defence lawyer before the war, he requests to defend the three soldiers in the court martial.

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TIFF 2016 Review: American Honey

 

Hero cookies to guest publisher, Ryan McNeil, for this review.
The original post of this article can be found at TheMatinee.ca

 

In America, when you have nothing else to sell for a living, you can always sell yourself. Your enthusiasm, your wits, your company, your gumption? All of it can be sold.

What happens when one sells it may vary.

American Honey is about one young woman and her desire for anything resembling a way out. When we meet Star (Sasha Lane), she is dumpster-diving behind a K-Mart to try to take care of two small children. While inside the shop, she encounters a group of late-teen/early-twenties boys and girls that seem to be high on life. One of them – Jake (Shia LaBeouf) – approaches her and asks if she wants to come with them and earn money.

Soon after we discover that the children she is caring for aren’t hers, so after they are nudged back towards their birth mother, Star is off on the road in search of opportunity.

Officially, the group is making their cash peddling magazine subscriptions. Unofficially, they are hustling for cash any which-way they can get it, and kicking it up to the queen bee of the group, Krystal (Riley Keough).
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TIFF 2016 Review: Buster’s Mal Heart

 

Hero cookies to guest publisher, Ryan McNeil, for this review.
The original post of this article can be found at TheMatinee.ca

 

One thing is for sure in the wake of Buster’s Mal Heart: I will never look at the people taking care of me late at night ever again. All of those cashiers, gas station attendants, hospital employees, hotel clerks? All of them now get painted with a very different brush.

It’s the early 90’s when we first meet “Buster” (Rami Malek); a hermit avoiding law enforcement in the woods. He is squatting in luxury cottages left vacant for warmer climates and telling anyone he encounters that the end is coming. Once upon a time, “Buster” was Jonah – a mid thirties husband and father who worked the night shift as a concierge at a middle-of-nowhere hotel.

One day he meets a mysterious stranger (DJ Qualls) looking for a room without ID or a credit card. He’s convinced that the end is nigh, and doesn’t want to become part of a system that’s about to come crashing down around him.

buster-mal-heart-feat

So how does the stranger affect Jonah and send him on a path of wandering? Well, that’s sort of a long story.

Director Sarah Adina Smith works wonderfully in concert with her star to tell a story that is becoming more and more apt with every passing year: how much is too much? While we live in an era where many who join the workforce seem averse to “paying their dues”, there’s “dues” and there’s “overtaxation”. Jonah is clearly overtaxed; already doing something to provide for others, and even then beings asked to do far more of it than he rightfully should.
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TIFF 2016 Review: The Bad Batch

 

Hero cookies to guest publisher, Ryan McNeil, for this review.
The original post of this article can be found at TheMatinee.ca

 

How do you know you’ve taken a wrong turn on your journey?

Maybe if you happen upon a preacher testifying on top of a giant boom box? What about an ex-con missing an arm and a leg? Perhaps a knife-wielding beast of a man, strewn with tattoos, who finds serenity drawing and painting to pass the time.

What about all of it in the same place? Yeah – definitely a sign you made a wrong turn back around Albuquerque.

The Bad Batch is a designation given to a class of criminal all interred before a great fall of civilization – they are caught, branded, and kicked into a massive, fenced-off wasteland with nothing but a jug of water. A bad-batcher named Arlynne (Suki Waterhouse) manages to walk straight into the path of a band of cannibals – a sort of tribe within The Bad Batch. She is captured, her right arm and right leg severed, cooked, and consumed…all inside of the film’s first fifteen minutes.

Eventually, short two limbs, she manages to escape the cannibals and is dropped at the gates of Comfort; a sort of post-apocalyptic cult compound. After she is taken in and given a prosthetic leg, she happens upon two more cannibals outside of Comfort’s gates. She kills the woman, and takes in the little girl.
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TIFF 2016 Review: The Girl With All The Gifts

 

Opening with the eponymous girl locked in a cell and counting upwards to a thousand, The Girl With All The Gifts may as well be ticking off the sheer number of zombie films that a fan of the genre is ‘forced’ to contend with in these days of “The Walking Dead”. In actuality, twelve year old Melanie is being gathered for daily school lessons, dressed prisoner’s duds while strapped to a wheelchair along with her classmates in neat rows, all equally restrained. Halfheartedly walking through a memorization exercise, a teacher (hint: not one of the good ones) mutters under her breath, “content is not really relevant, is it?” This is a thesis that screenwriter Mike Carey (adapting his own novel) and director Colm McCarthy clearly want to shatter into a million pieces. For indeed, the zombie movie has new places to go and new ideas to explore: Consider the The Girl With All The Gifts in stride with South Korea’s Train To Busan, argues that fast zombies (being all the rage) have evolved to the point where they are here stay, where a good filmmaker can have his protagonist and eat him too.

While I have not had the pleasure of watching the second season of BBC’s gangster drama “Peaky Blinders” nor the supernatural 2010 drama Outcast, it is very clear that McCarthy knows when to put something in the frame and when to leave it out. Rare is the movie in this genre that is not only patient in its world-building, but also handsome in its photography. (28 Weeks Later… springs to mind, and it shares a grace note or two with this film in the idea that social progress should be never be managed by the military.)

In The Girl With All The Gifts, The UK (perhaps the world also) has been infected with a fungus that elevates hunger beyond consciousness (read: zombies). Like in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, there are military enclaves that have survived and are actively working the problem while fences keeps the hordes at bay. Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) seems very close to a solution with a small group of children born after the plague that exhibit tendencies of both the ‘Hungries’ (read: zombies) and normal children. Certain smells in certain circumstances set the children off, preceded by dry heaving and ending in chomping with lower jaw (think Keira Knightly in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method).

The eager and innocent Melanie is the best and brightest of all the children. Clearly she is Caldwell’s Bub, only with kinder eyes and a keen vocabulary. Young Sennia Nanua is indeed the gift the movie gives to us. Her character represents our own better natures as human beings – being bright, confident and unfailingly considerate to others. Melanie is the hope that any parent might have for their own offspring and Nanua realizes all of this seemingly effortlessly as perhaps most capable child actor I have seen in years. This is telling, because not only has child acting come a long way in the past 3 decades, but Nanua spends a sizable portion of the film wearing a transparent Hannibal Lecter mask covering her blood stained face. Talk about artistic constraint! I cannot wait to see this girl grow up and star in, hopefully, dozens of films, the talent here is staggering.

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