Sunday, 29 September 2013

Jagten, dir. Thomas Vinterberg, wr. Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg, st. Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Annika Wedderkopp

Vinterberg has dealt with the indelible mark borne by victims of abuse before (Submarino, Festen) but never with the allegation of abuse itself. Here, in his and Lindholm's astonishing and deeply unsettling screenplay, we find Lucas (Mikkelsen) a single nursery-care worker, a diligent and protective presence for the kids under his supervision, and a good friend and active community member. When one of the children with whom he is close, Klara, the daughter of his best friend Theo (Bo Larsen), unknowingly makes a clumsy advance on him, mistaking his fondness and attention for something alien and exciting, a sequence of events are set in motion, resolutely linear, with no possibility of reversal. The inhabitants of the small town near-unanimously and unapologetically turn on the wretched Lucas, his supposed crime too great a sin to warrant the chance of further rumination. The speed and depth to which he is ostracised is overwhelmingly painful to bear witness to, thanks to a credibly authentic performance from Mikkelsen, at once shocked, hurt, and then defiant at the sheer inequity and injury of the claim and the townsfolk who shun him. In a way, we are all guilty of the very behaviour that costs Lucas his reputation, for we live in an age when the mere association of a name with that most heinous of crimes is enough to conclude and condemn before a verdict has had time to be returned. In one particularly telling scene, a child counsellor brought in to interview Klara is seen to ask what sounds awfully like leading questions, and indeed even Klara's own mother, upon witnessing her daughter admitting she may have said "something foolish" that had got out of hand, dismisses her confession saying she's confused, and urging her to continue in her fraud. And when other children begin to make similar claims, it is alluded to that their own parents are unintentionally giving their children's assertions credence with well meant but misguided support and encouragement. These are people who have become victims of their own high vigilance. As Will Self recently suggested to author Louise Cooper on Question Time, why afford a disproportionate amount of time worrying about your children being victims of a terrorist attack: worry about them crossing the road. One would blame the Media but in Vinterberg's story, there's nary a scoop-sniffing reporter in sight; what is suggested is arguably much more terrifying - that the damage of wild and unfocused denunciation is done, and witch hunts are now, chillingly, self-sustaining.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Thanks For Sharing, dir. Stuart Blumberg, scr. Stuart Blumberg, Matt Winston, st. Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, Joely Richardson, Alecia Moore

It's a good time to talk about sex. The LFF is almost upon us with Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave reminding us of the success of 2011's ultra-bleak sex addiction drama Shame (also released is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's similarly themed directorial debut Don Jon), David Cameron wants to filter the Internet clean of smut, and Channel 4 is about to embark upon season of shows under the moniker The Campaign for Real Sex in which a series of intellectuals contribute to a mass debate on the subject of 21st century sexual mores. Enter Thanks For Sharing, the directorial debut from The Kids Are All Right writer Stuart Blumberg. 2010's comedy-drama picked up Golden Globe wins as well as a couple of Oscar nods thanks to its astute thematic detailing and winning ensemble performances, and Sharing continues in much the same vein. The film centers around Adam (Ruffalo), Mike (Robbins) and Neil (Gad), both patrons of the same Sex Addicts therapy group albeit at different stages of the 12-step program. Mike is Adam's sponsor and adopts a defensive 'do as I say, not as I do' position when his ex-addict son turns up on his doorstep, supposedly clean, and intending to turn over a new olive branch extension. Adam begins a tentative relationship with Phoebe (Paltrow), and discovers that try as he might, intimacy and trust don't want to play nice with his recovering debilitating condition, and Neil, new to the group, finds a kindred in fellow sponsee Dede (Moore), whilst yearning for the approval of his sponsor - Adam.

Blumberg's film reminds us how trust and loyalty is cumulatively earned, and how recovery, although maddeningly within reach, refuses to be rushed. In particular, the relationship between Mike and his son Danny (Patrick Fugit) is sensitively played out, with both Father and Son discovering with much disconcertion just how hard faith in the other is to come by. Similarly, Adam's relationship with Phoebe begins with her explaining how destructive her relationship with her addict ex was - not the kind of opening gambit that makes you want to admit to your own compulsion, especially with the kind of deviant stigma attached to Adam's particular ailment. Blumberg's protagonists are falterers and stumblers, yet their imperfections belie an honesty, a desperation to operate within accepted parameters. But the movie also highlights how the unafflicted view bearers of the condition - with instinctive and inherent distrust and suspicion. Thanks for Sharing may not quite achieve a perfect balance between light-hearted whimsy and the requisite gravitas of the usual Addiction Storylines, and Neil's storyline in particular bears the brunt of this awkward abrasive tonality, but the film's baseline levity proves its biggest draw. Ruffalo is as good as anything he's previously been in, a disturbingly compelling actor to watch, and Robbins - like a stateside Bill Nighy - can do warmingly avuncular or pointedly disquieting on a dime. Even Alecia Moore, or 'Pink' as she is commonly known, turns in a performance of surprising clarity and compassion. The film doesn't pretend to know how to diagnose, nor does it leave you reeling - Fassbender-style - with the utter disconsolation of the effects of this particular kind of enslavement, but instead, it offers that rare thing addiction movies seem to have forgotten to include: the aspiration of hope.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Blackfish, dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite, wr. Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Eli Despres, Tim Zimmermann, st. Kim Ashdown, Ken Balcomb, Samantha Berg, Dawn Brancheau

A slightly less universally palatable but equally powerful method of communicating Blackfish's message of Human imposition upon Nature might be Doug Stanhope's 2002 routine about ultimate closing acts. "You're not a killer whale trainer...", Stanhope says. "Because from my limited knowledge of marine biology, killer whales come out previously trained." While Cowperthwaite's film never goes so far as to agree with Stanhope's relabeling of 'trainers' as 'fuckwithers', it does nonetheless push the previous Seaworld Trainers' talking heads' remorse and guilt front and centre. The story charts the capture and installation of Tilikum, a large orca whale prized for his obesity that investors no doubt imagined would return them - quite literally - a bigger splash for their buck. Tilikum is systematically bullied by the other whales he's forced to share his tomb-like pen with - something the film claims has left him overcome with some kind of psychotic rage. Yet even after being responsible for the deaths of three people, Tilikum is still kept in captivity, wheeled out for performances and mined for his sperm. Like all enviro-warning documentaries, Blackfish is heavily subjective, but as The Newsroom takes great pains to remind us, sometimes there just aren't two sides to every story. Yet there is a conflict between Seaworld's audiences, whom I suspect just want to take their kids to see some big fish or the trainers themselves, who despite little or no specialist skills, 'fell into' the job, and the film's inferred desire to lay all complicity at everyone's door. But this is but a small matter, and ultimately, it is Seaworld itself who ends up getting both barrels. The film is hugely compelling though. The interviewees are engaging and often emotional, and the breadth of incriminating stock footage on display is horrifyingly candid. But maybe the saddest thing about Blackfish is not so much the plight of the animals themselves, but how the movie serves as a bitter reminder of humanity's incessant need to attribute everything with dollar value and, and as Dr. Ian Malcolm would say, "slap it on a plastic lunchbox". A recent Tom Toro cartoon shows kids seated around a campfire, some apocalyptic city ruins looming dimly in the background. An adult regales them with tales of times past. "Yes, the planet got destroyed..." he says. "But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders." Ain't that the truth.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Chasing Ice, dir. Jeff Orlowski, st. James Balog

Rather than using reams of data, endless stats and organigrams, environmental photographer James Balog, gifted with the most extraordinary eye for the kind of detailed breathlessness only found in the remotest of locations, decided to assemble a collective of creatives and technicians in order to document the visible and worrying retreat of glaciers and gradual decline of the icy Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Canada shorelines. The sheer scale of Balog's EIS (Extreme Ice Survey) project is overwhelming, battling as they must to anchor DSLR-containing, gale-, avalanche-, and -40 degree-proof boxes to cliff faces so they can capture their 8000-per-year image quota. Any layman who's ever used memory cards or iPhoto will know what a daunting task even the simple stuff can be. But for an environmentally alarmist documentary, Chasing Ice surprisingly soft-peddles the puritanical lecturing - and for good reason; the beautiful images Balog and his team capture, not of the stereotypical Apple-white designer bergs against azure skies, but grungier, unprocessed grey-blues of the natural ice, coupled with the visceral time-lapse of diminishing bluffs, speak a thousand Ted-Talk words. The future's grim indeed, but essential viewing such as this may yet gather critical public-consciousness mass in regards to the acceptance of irrefutable climate change.

Monday, 23 September 2013

House of Fools, dir/wr Andrei Konchalovsky, st. Julia Visotskaya, Sultan Islamov, Yevgeni Mironov

Review by Bryony Dawson

Described by some as ‘a war film that isn’t a war film’, House of Fools draws the unlikely but revealingly obvious comparison between war and life within a dingy, cut-off psychiatric hospital. The scene of a neglected battle-torn Russia is set by a chilling slideshow of cold, empty shots of abandoned factories, silent train tracks and moonlit roads, but very quickly we’re immersed in the unsettling world of the asylum. Once introduced to the most bizarre array of crazed characters through slanting camera angles and run-down, flickering strip-lighting, the film begins to feel like some kind of caricatured comedy, and throughout, it remains almost impossible to discern actors from the genuine mentally ill patients Konchalovsky mixes into the ensemble cast. It’s certainly true that there is plenty of black humour; the raging anarchistic woman with Mickey Mouse-style hair bunches, the frenzied homosexual stereotype who twirls and dances down derelict corridors, and of course the freckle-faced, accordion-playing Zhanna (Vysotskaya), whose performance is what makes the film so exceptional. Zhanna has an all-consuming obsession with the Canadian pop-rocker Bryan Adams, polishing his poster like a star-struck teenager every day. Intermittently throughout the film, the gloomy colour palate of greys and blues flips into a rosy vignetted haze of painfully cheesy pop video-esque daydream in which she fantasizes about being serenaded, during which her wide, child-like eyes glaze over and she breaks into goofy, infectious, lopsided smiles.

However, the over-riding sentiment of the film is one of bemusement, if not bitterness and dismay towards the concept of modern-day warfare. Parallels of bewilderment and disorientation are illustrated by enemy soldiers shown trading marijuana for ammunition, mistakenly firing at their own side; in one particularly poignant moment, a Russian general admits that had he not been told, he wouldn’t have been able to distinguish a body as that of an enemy Chechen rather than one of his own. House of Fools possesses a well-worn 'One Species’ message, however it is not presented with quite the same aesthetic by which we have come to recognise other films that deal with war's many numerous and disturbing facets. Despite being shown in an intensely undignified light, it’s the terrified, mesmerised and somehow innately understanding reactions of the mentally ill patients to the chaos around them that lends the film its perceptive glimpse of the face of raw humanity, and what ultimately makes House of Fools so profoundly moving.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Screencap Of The Week

Cape Fear, Martin Scorsese, 1991 @1hr15m19s 

The seemingly unstoppable Max Cady (Robert De Niro) waits and dares a trembling Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) to show himself following a bungled duffing-up. 

The beauty of the composition of this shot is in the simplicity of the reveal: our vantage point allows us to experience Bowden's full terror of Cady's looming presence. Of course it would be so easy for Cady to come forward a few steps and peer behind the dumpster; the fact he hangs back and taunts the hidden Bowden makes this one of the more unsettling moments in an already highly unnerving film.

Friday, 20 September 2013

What Richard Did, dir. Lenny Abrahamson, wr. Malcolm Campbell, st. Jack Reynor, Róisín Murphy, Lars Mikkelsen

Well you don't find out until a good way into this icy little Irish indie, loosely based on the novel Bad Day in Blackrock by Kevin Power, itself based in real-life events, and such retention of information and attention to the build-up and methodical layering of character and motivation is the key ingredient in Abrahamson's tale of tortuous guilt and split-second calamity. Richard Karlsen (Reynor, soon to be seen as Neo-LaBeouf in Transformers: Age Of Extinction) is a bright, conscientious teenager, loyal to his mates, and intent on filling the interim gap between school and university with beer and beach parties. Soon, Richard and another friend in the group, the shy-smiled, hazel-eyed Lara, are making eyes at each other, even though she's on the downward slope of another relationship with Connor (Sam Keeley). As Lara retains contact with Connor post-partnering, and Connor in turn continues to ingratiate himself within the group, Richard struggles to keep his jealousy and possessiveness in check until one night when it erupts in a swift moment of casual and unchecked violence. The narrative that subsequently unfolds doesn't concern itself with the broad brushstroke-style of year-spanning collateral fallout and subsequent atonement of sin we may be familiar with from watching Shawshank too many times, but rather the quiet and destructive way guilt corrodes and consumes from within. It's never clear whether the traumatized Richard acts out of a sense of over-privileged only-child syndromed entitlement or simply as a defense-mechanized response to an unbearable predicament, but the glacial pacing that serves the film up until the shocking moment in question only further heightens the realisation of the fragility and instability of one's own linear paths, mistaken as we are as thinking of them as unalterable, unidirectional. For such an unassuming film, bathed in soft greys, whites, greens and creams by cinematographer David Grennan, tenderly scored by Stephen Rennicks, and mightily performed by the largely young cast, What Richard Did resonates long after you close your eyes.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

In A World, dir/scr. Lake Bell, st. Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Demetri Martin, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Rob Corddry, Nick Offerman, Tig Notaro

Recipient of the Best Screenplay gong at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Lake Bell's writing and directorial debut is a disarmingly funny indie set in the world of voice-over work - the re-dubbing and looping for underperforming actors, yes, but also trailer narration of the Don LaFontaine kind, whose woofer-rumbling phrase "In a world..." has entered into the lexicon as a succinct aural ident for movie trailer openings. Bell plays Carol, daughter of Sam Soto (Melamed channeling Stephen Tobolowsky), the "king of voiceovers"and pretender to the the vacant LaFontaine throne, who suddenly finds herself homeless after her Dad decides his much younger girlfriend Jamie (Ross' student squeeze Alexandra Holden) would make a more exciting housemate than his daughter. Struggling to make it in a decidedly male-dominated world, Carol oscillates between cruising the lobby of her concierge sister Dani's (Watkins) hotel, dictaphone in hand, hoping to pick up accents and intonations from the multicultural guests, and knuckling down to some seriously tedious VO work at her pal Louis' (Martin) recording studio, voicing lame-o adverts or re-cockneyfying Eva Longoria. The beauty of In A World comes from its ability to breezily suggest and nudge towards the numerous plot developments without it feeling like the kind of rigid diversionless unidirectional railroad laid down by lesser bit bigger budgeted movies. For such a modest film, handsomely but economically realised, there's a ton of stuff going on. A threeway conflict between Carol, her Father, and rising VO artist Gustav Warner (Marino channeling a Baldwin) gives rise to a superb clash of ego and gender entitlement, whilst Louis' mumbling bumbling courtship of Carol is genuinely touching minus the propensity to over egg the gilded lily pudding with laugh-a-minute gags or touchy-retchy close-ups. But the true joy of In A World is the industry-reflective subject matter that prods and probes a technical artistry that hides in plain sight. Films about struggling actors are a dime-a-dozen, but through Bell, Carol's passion for a less floodlit skill and unbridled glee at slivers of increasing success in the field is rousingly contagious. 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Bling Ring, dir/wr. Sofia Coppola, based on "The Suspects Wore Louboutins" by Nancy Jo Sales, st. Israel Broussard, Katie Chang, Taissa Farmiga, Claire Julien, Georgia Rock, Emma Watson, Leslie Mann

It's hard to get a handle on The Bling Ring, Coppola's latest based on the delinquent gang that were responsible for a spate of celebrity-targeted burglaries in 2008. The film makes vague and unconvincing motions towards exploring the detrimental and unhealthy effect the pursuit of celebrity culture as a devotional pastime has on our youth, but the various home-invasion sequences that litter the movie offer little else other than the voyeuristic fetishising of rush-inducing kid-in-candystore petty thievery. The shy Marc Hall (Broussard) attends Indian Hill High School in CA and is almost immediately befriended by Rebecca Ahn (Chang), a fellow soul-mate fashionista. Their mutual obsession with various style-conscious socialites, models and actresses soon has the pair and their gang breaking into betreasured celebrity residences for a kind of Fun House-style mad dash, in which Prada handbags are filled with Brothers Grimm-ish jewels and spoils before they beat their hasty shadowy retreat against the twinkling LA skyline. Detractors of Coppola's style over substance modus operandi will feel smugly vindicated as The Bling Ring emerges as a series of vignettes that offer about as much narrative discourse as an episode of MTV Cribs, but the cast - including Watson as the air-headed butter-wouldn't-melt Nicki - give surprisingly persuasive portrayals of wayward teens celebrating superficiality as a viable and fulfilling lifestyle. But the film seems to champion the gang - little girls lost as they are - with the same limp indifference as it makes to condemn them, and ultimately, it's difficult to see what The Bling Ring is attempting to say. The subject matter is unquestionably compelling; Coppola's film, sadly, is not. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

About Time, dir/wr. Richard Curtis, st. Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander, Margot Robbie

On the face of it, About Time wears the title of "The New Richard Curtis Film" with sighing unconcern. It features Domhnall Gleeson, a transparently next-gen Hugh Grant as the protagonist Tim, the bedimpled Rachel McAdams as his transatlantic belle Mary, Lydia Wilson as another Curtisian free-spirited sister, and Bill Nighy as, well, Bill Nighy. Its gently whimsical tale of love found amongst the middle classes of London is a 100-tog's worth of womb-like familiarity, appropriately and unsubtly empathically musically signposted at regular intervals. Even its teaser poster boasts the text LOVE ACTUALLY and NOTTING HILL in near-identical point font lest you forget the interchangeability of Curtis' back catalogue. So what then makes About Time his most substantial film to date? Well to begin with, Curtis isn't so preoccupied with insular relationships; the film starts out as a lightweight, almost vapid tale of twenty-something lust but soon transcends into a surprisingly moving allegory concerning the prioritisation of fleeting time and its stubbornly, at times infuriatingly linear path. The gift that Tim's Father (Nighy) bestows upon his son the morning of his 21st birthday - the information that the men in the family have an unexplained ability to travel back and forth within their lifespans - is a device whose mechanics and operation is shrewdly sidelined in favour of its consequences; this isn't a film about time-travel and butterfly effects, it's a film about living despite the world. It's all tediously accessible of course - there's not much that's open to interpretation, however it's notably brutal in its emotional unfolding and its depiction of events that have, might have and must happen to us as we're manhandled through life. A Richard Curtis film that offers a little weight and complexity? Given his 24-year-long career, it's about time.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Olympus Has Fallen, dir. Antoine Fuqua, wr. Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt, st. Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Finley Jacobsen, Ashley Judd, Melissa Leo, Dylan McDermott, Radha Mitchell, Rick Yune

When the Korean Unification Front storm the White House and hold the POTUS and his staff hostage in his underground bunker, retired Special Forces and ex-Presidential aide Mike Banning (Butler) discovers that old habits die hard as he infiltrates the Swiss-cheesed building and takes out Playstation goons that re-spawn at regular intervals. Olympus Has Fallen very quickly descends into Air Force One-style "Foreigners Against the USA" jingoism but with none of the real sense of urgency or leading man charisma. Director Fuqua directs one hell of an opening salvo though, as the Koreans' meticulously orchestrated assault and infiltration unfolds with brutal relentlessness, but Butler is patently no John McClane or James Marshall and the film's clear-the-level-and-move-on structuring is tiring. The violence is unpalatably casually explicit at times for such a popcorn flick, and the immense body count unsettles - especially during the film's climactic rescue, when Banning and the President (Eckhart) stumble out of the White House - the last survivors - and josh with each other about insurance as the corpses of his staff litter his lawn.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Liberal Arts, dir/scr. Josh Radnor, st. Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, John Magaro, Elizabeth Reaser

The relentless forward momentum of maturity, those who are trying to resist it, those who are hungrily encouraging it, and those for whom such transitory times spark fear for the future and nostalgia for a former era: these central thematic motifs in writer/director/actor Josh Radnor's hugely enjoyable and unrepentantly sweet Liberal Arts are neatly and incisively observed with all the attention to detail of a college dissertation. College Admissions Officer Jesse Fischer (Radnor) is invited back to his old college by his old English professor Peter Holberg (Jenkins), a man for whom leaving the institute threatens Brooks Hatlen-levels of fear concerning his inability to operate in the outside world. Facing a similar crisis of age concern is Zibby, a Drama-majoring sophomore, whose ravenous appreciation for literature and music has left her unable to find an on-campus soul-mate. Upon meeting, Zibby and Jesse instantly connect over baroque music and books, but sixteen years her senior, Jesse has concerns about the relationship's longevity. Radnor's film re-spins the classic coming-of-age trope into a three-tiered observation, with Zibby, Josh, and Peter all having reached the same impasse of where there lives go next, albeit from three different - but equally compelling - vantage points. How honest and perceptive one finds the screenplay will depend very much on how profoundly one is stimulated by Beethoven and Blake, on whether the Arts move and stir your soul, but Liberal Arts isn't about the wonderment of "I-was-never-the-same-after-that-Summer" transience. Rather it speaks to those for whom chapter-turning comes unnaturally. That "all in the end is harvest" is a hard mantra to live by when you're uncertain what the impending next stage of life holds. Olsen is as interminably watchable as she was in the terrifyingly low-key Martha Marcy May Marlene and Red Lights, and Richard Jenkins and Allison Janney as Jesse's wearily vampy poetry professor Judith Fairfield, both give exceedingly nuanced and heartbreaking performances as characters looking down the barrel of their Autumnal years. Finally, there's a superb, near-unrecognisable turn from Zac Efron as Nat - a kind of beanie-toting campus sage who periodically pops up to dispense wisdom to the troubled Jesse. Like much of the film, it's one of many elements that sound terrible on the page, but transpires to be rather delightful on screen.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The East, dir. Zal Batmanglij, wr. Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling, st. Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson

Those that caught Batmanglij and Marling's sinewy sci/lo-fi Sound Of My Voice two years ago will be familiar with the intriguing narrational webs they are capable of weaving; The East takes the central premise of Sound Of My Voice - the infiltration of a cult-like collective - and expands it, losing none of the central conceit's fear and hypnotic sense of dread in the process. Marling, again in the dominant role front and center, plays Sarah Moss, an ex-Fed who now freelances for the spooky Sharon (Clarkson) - a CEO of a private intelligence firm that specialises in rooting out Big Business' undesirable oppositional anarchic activists and neutralising the threat. Moss assumes an undercover position with The East, an underground movement who organise and execute a series of 'jams' - eco-terrorist operations that seek to undermine and expose the evil-doing of multinationals. Timely arriving at a point when whistle-blowers' actions lie as exposed as an open sore, ready for inspection and judgment, The East needles, provokes and demands difficult answers that aren't easily forthcoming. Again, as in Voice, Batmanglij and Marling conjure a recognisable world seen through the heady fug of a particularly woozy post-flu perception; everything's a bit off, a little unbalanced, a touch eye-rubbingly hyper-real. From the anonymous and looming headquarters of Sharon's Hiller Brood firm, to the gothically-inclined burned-out wreck of The East leader Benji's (Skarsgård) hideout, there is a level of detail and decoration that is intricately, beautifully unsettling. Roman Vasyanov's cinematography lovingly hugs the shadowy hues of every dumpster lid and freight-train compartment, and Halli Cauthery and Harry Gregson-Williams' score is suitably claustrophobic, but this is, once again, the ever-watchable Marling's vehicle. As one might guess from an actor who casts herself as the first human to visit our Counter-Earth, the deity-like leader of an apocalyptic resistance, and then here as another potential enlightener, Marling isn't one for playing insignificant or inconsequential. Her roles are that of game-changers, revelators, and pivotal unearthers and indeed, she possesses the requisite gravitas and poise to command and persuade in such parts. The East isn't perfect and the last third in particular suffers from a sudden and unwelcome drop in pace, but it's a cracking meditation on boundaries, ethics and social communion that places high demands on its viewers, but richly rewards long after the credits have rolled.

World War Z, dir. Marc Forster, scr. Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, Damon Lindelof, story by Matthew Michael Carnahan, J. Michael Straczynski, based on World War Z by Max Brooks, st. Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox

If Simon Pegg thought he hated the kineticised zombies of Charlie Brookers Dead Set, what must he think of Marc Forster's tsunami-wave of undeads roaring after Brad Pitt's ex-UN grunger? "Not much" if he has much sense, for while the unstoppable advancing hordes that litter World War Z (a far cry from Max Brook's original source material) inhabit a certain primitive fear, there is little bite to them save for the superficial gnashing of teeth. Pitt plays Gerry Lane, an ex-field operative pulled back in just when he thought he was out for one last job - although in this case, given the impending doom, one last job it may very well turn out to be. Zombies are infecting the global population and Gerry and a handful of SWATs go on the hunt for Patient 0 in a globetrotting journey that sees them pursued in Philadelphia, cornered in South Korea and jumped in Jerusalem before ending up in the showdown location of showdown locations - Cardiff, Wales, and all the while, his wife Karin (The Killing's Mireille Enos) thanklessly hangs on the end of a satphone waiting for hubby to call. World War Z is polished and relentless in the way Summer Blockbusters ought to be, but underwritten characters, poorly conceived plotting and an absence of any discernible passion from the cast or creatives makes sitting through it less the white-knuckled ride it's meant to be and more the soporific bore it's not. I recommend you play the vastly superior The Last of Us instead.

Monday, 2 September 2013

What Maisie Knew, dir. Scott McGehee, David Siegel, wr. Nancy Doyne, Carroll Cartwright, based on What Maisie Knew by Henry James, st. Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Onata Aprile, Joanna Vanderham, Alexander Skarsgård

Those NSPCC Brian Eno-scored donation ads tend to paint abuse in broad strokes, yet where abuse becomes murky is charting where exactly along the line uninspiring parenting turns into full-on neglect. What Maisie Knew, based on Henry James century-plus-old source material, places the titular Maisie, a quietly perceptive six-year-old girl (played with incapacitating sweetness and grace by Onata Aprile) directly amongst her warring parents, a vortex of verbal bitchiness fought by art-dealer Beale (Coogan) and his rockstar girlfriend Susanna (Moore). The film's narrative unfolds, predictably rather sadly, from the perspective of their daughter, who bears witness to adults' cruelty and selfishness with not so much as a squeak. Well, there is a singular tear that'll have you Googling for information about UK adoption processes, but it's so modestly placed it'll break your heart. In places, What Maisie Knew recalls the equally fantastic but comparatively overwrought Kramer Vs. Kramer in its revelation of the machinations of adult disharmony and its perpetrators blindness to the effect it has on their own. Crucially, Beale and Susanna aren't monsters, just crappy parents. It would be easier to polarise them were they responsible for more visceral crimes, but the film deftly plays on the familiar tit-for-tat relationship breakdowns we see all around us. McGehee and Siegel keep things just this side of whimsical, a cinematic aesthetic that mirrors Maisie's naivety and innocence, and manages to offer a number of tellingly pointed scenes without leading or signposting. But this is Aprile's show, and her performance is stunning, not due to her precocious acting ability or copious experience, but as a recent interview shows, her ability to be herself - gentle, unassuming and unaffected by the inevitable onset of maturity and all the accountability it brings.