Friday, 31 January 2014

Don Jon (18) | Film Review

Don Jon, dir/scr. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, st. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Tony Danza, Julianne Moore, Rob Brown, Glenne Headly, Brie Larson

Don Jon purports to be a film about sex addiction, but whereas films like Shame drove the condition to almost unbearably realistic levels of awfulness, and Thanks For Sharing found a hope of sorts in the healing power of collective communion, Jason Gordon-Levitt's film (his first feature as director) merely finds contentment in happily confusing sex addiction with cartoony lad culture; Jon's not hooked on porn, he's obsessed with being a bellend. Weirdly determined to recycle the same key scenes with decreasing levels of wit or interest, we see Jon experience near-psychotic levels of road-rage in his big-dick/tiny-penis sports car, work out his scrawny body at his gym (that makes him look like the Russian kid on steroids that hit YouTube a while back), go clubbing with his equally degenerate 'boys', Bobby (Rob Brown) and Danny (Jeremy Luke), rate the women like the cattle they apparently are, take one of them home, have sex with them, wake up in the witching hour to crack one off to, and go to church the next morning for confession and absolution. Even the presence of Johansson, so eerily bewitching in Spike Jonze's acclaimed latest Her, isn't enough to break the seemingly endless cycle of tedium. Julianne Moore as Jon's fellow night-class student Esther provides a welcome diversion and injects a bit of class into the proceedings, but the film - ironically for a movie about masturbation - becomes blind to nuance or delicacy. It's an alarmingly extensive misfire that puts misogyny and egotism front and centre and seeks to make a running gag out of men being contemptuous to women and disrespectful to their own sex at the same time. Come the final throes, there is no sympathy for Jon, nor his 'condition'; he's just a massive wanker.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Spectacular Now (15) | Film Review

The Spectacular Now, dir. James Ponsoldt, scr. Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, based on The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp, st. Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Released at last year's Sundance Film Festival to widespread critical acclaim, The Spectacular Now treads a path similar to Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but minus the charm and humour that made a potential exercise in teen-dium watchable and moving, even. Actually, scratch that, a bit, because Woodley is rather wonderful here. Her second film after her head-turning role in Alexander Payne's The Descendants, her Aimee Finecky - thoughtful, shy, courteous, and one half of an implausible relationship that helms the story - is a textbook example of the power of reductive characterisation, a portrayal that's delicately reduced to its constituent elements. If only the film had been more about her than her narcissistic boyf. In truth, it's not really Teller's fault; his Sutter Keely, promptly turning us off from the off with his cockiness and casual misogyny, is just drawn that way, and there's much that's been written about his uncanny resemblance to a young John Cusack that surely would have translated into a more sympathetic character in a parallel universe. But what should be received as charm and endearing insouciance carries as irksome in the extreme. After breaking up with his girlfriend Cassidy (Larson), Sutter takes up with Aimee, seemingly with no other reason other than to reboundingly get into her pants and make his ex jealous. The delighted Aimee falls for his flimsy advances but somewhere during the film, and don't ask me where, this is suddenly genuinely reciprocated by Sutter who now seems to want a bona fide relationship. To round things off, there's some predictable home truthing when he realises his absent but pedestal-placed Dad is actually an arsehole and has been all along and maybe that's why Sutter pushes away everyone who's ever tried to... God, I can't even bring myself to finish typing the end of the sentence. I kept thinking of The Way Way Back, another film that chronicles furrowed adolescence, and one that tried half as hard and achieved twice as much.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis (15) | Film Review

Inside Llewyn Davis, dir/wr. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, st. Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, justin Timberlake, F, Murray Abraham, Adam Driver

The Coen Brothers latest takes on the 1960s New York folk music scene and uses its time of intense creativity as a backdrop against which to frame the story of the titular Llewyn Davis, a deadbeat musician, struggling to pay the rent and be taken seriously as an artist. On top of this, he's misplaced a cat belonging to friends of his whose couch he was crashing on, and Jean (Mulligan), the partner of another friend Jim (Timberlake) has just told him she's expecting his child after a one-off tryst. As is the case with most Coen Brothers movies, the format and subject matter is incredibly divisive. Their scenes are more like individually composed vignettes rather than the connective tissue that holds more traditional narratives together and as such, it can be difficult to sustain a semblance of a cogent through-line. That said, the Sixties folk music - O Brother, Where Art Thou?'s bluegrass direct descendent - provides the film with its numerous anchor points, and, importantly, the movie's much needed emotional tether, and they're notably sung live by the film's actors - notably the rendition of Please, Mr. Kennedy, one of Jim's money-making novelty songs that's memorably performed by the cash-strapped Llewyn and the multi-octaved Al Cody (Driver). Isaac is suitably hangdog as Llewyn, a man who carries on regardless of the odds stacked against him (not least the incessant sweary haranguing he suffers at the hands of Jean). The film says much about the ways in which we process disappointment and forge our own opportunities, but were it not for the music, the film nearly capsizes under the weight of its own melancholy.

Before Sunrise / Before Sunset / Before Midnight | Film Review

Before Sunrise / Before Sunset / Before Midnight, dir. Richard Linklater, wr. Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, st. Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

Linklater's latest - Boyhood - is currently making waves at this year's Sundance Film Festival but its genesis - an experimental technique whereby the film was shot over a period of twelve years in order to accurately capture its young protagonist's ascent from six to eighteen-year-old - can be seen in Linklater's Before trilogy. This romantic drama triptych, though I am loathe to label them as such, being as they are so much more than the categorization suggests, begins with Before Sunrise, released in 1995.

The film finds Jesse (Hawke, also to be found in Boyhood) and Céline (Delpy) meeting by chance on a train from Budapest to Vienna, whereupon on arrival, Jesse is to take a flight back to the US. In an impulsive move (one we rarely get the chance to initiate and almost certainly one we would lack the cojones to make even if the situation were to present itself), Jesse convinces Céline to get off with him and spend the entire night walking around the city until his departure the next morning. Pragmatically, the key to the film's success - and that of its successors - is to make the audience fall in love with the pair and consequently their relationship. Everything depends on it. That we do, slowly and gladly surrendering ourselves, is lies squarely at the feet of the disarmingly easy and passionately reactive chemistry between Hawke and Delpy. He's innately cute, charming and sure of himself, neatly side-stepping game-over Cruisian smugness, she's engaging, giggly and astute as she fires all manner of questions, suppositions and propositions at Jesse. She is of course, utterly beautiful too, although a lot of this resides in the way we see Jesse look at her, incredulous that such a find may be found unobtrusively absorbed in anonymous trains pootling around Europe.

As the minutes count down and the morning relentlessly approaches, the pair find it increasingly difficult to determine whether real contact has just been made, or whether their forced circumstances have lent an unrealistic romanticism to their time together. Indeed, their conversations, although eclectic in subject matter, never seem to run too deep, almost as if the pair are fearful of discovering or revealing neuroses that would derail the course of the finite time they have together. When they part in the morning, as we know they must, Linklater's desolate shots of a city waking up to a new day, the morning sun illuminating all those secret places where Jesse and Céline shared so much by moonlight, are truly heartbreaking. Was this an opportunity seized or missed? It's an open ending the likes and mysticism of which are regularly destroyed by sequels, but which Before Sunset, made and set nine years later in 2004, builds upon and enhances in a wonderful and surprisingly literary way.

In the second film, Jesse has written a book in which he recounted his night together with Céline, and unsurprisingly, the novel has made the bestseller list back home. As part of the requisite book tour, he stops off in Paris and meets Céline after a small signing in a local shop. For Linklater there are hard truths to confront; how can nine years of exposition be communicated in a way that won't completely wreck the allure of the first film? Hard truths for Jesse and Céline too; the last time we saw them, they agreed to meet up in six months at the very spot where they say goodbye. Did they? Again, the star-crossed lovers find themselves hemmed in by time. Jesse has a plane to catch back home in little over an hour. Again, the script - this time co-written by Hawke and Delpy themselves - is as mellifluous and resonant as ever. It's no mean feat to have two characters cram in this much musing on missed opportunity, personal ambition, political standing - not forgetting bags of Parisian-infused flirting - without the whole thing looking immensely contrived. And even when it threatens to, well no wonder they need to fit everything in.

Admittedly, some of the dreamlike, hypnotic qualities that defined Before Sunrise are absent here, but not without cause. This is the reality of having to deal with the morning after the transcendent night before, and the price the couple pay for potential commitment is a revealing and weighing of baggage. As the pair struggle to convince themselves of what they have, they reach Céline's apartment and the movie's most difficult moment; an aspiring songwriter, Jesse persuades her to sing one of her songs. She obliges and in doing so, reveals what she really thought of that night nine years ago. The problem is, as accomplished as Delpy is at singing (and it's more Hawke's reaction to the unfolding lyrics that sells the scene), it's the first real 'movie' moment of the story so far, though to be fair, filmed in a static front-on shot that's unfussy and direct.

So as bittersweet as Before Sunset is, compared to its predecessor, it truthfully reminds us that making anything work is always a battle, that we assume the couples we see walking around balmy European cities holding hands and cooing into each other's necks just had their good fortune fall into their laps with the minimum of effort or conflict. It's a true second act, the How It's Made to Before Sunset's main feature.

Anyone who knows anything about the fundamental rules of storytelling knows that Act Three is when the shit hits the fan. After the teasing mid-scene fade out that concluded the previous film, Before Midnight, which comes after another real-time nine year hiatus, shows us what Jesse and Céline have made of their lives and the consequences of their chance encounter eighteen years prior. The couple are in Greece having spent the Summer there with Hank, Jesse's teenage son from the wife he wedded between Sunrise and Sunset. Jesse and Céline have kids of their own now - impossibly adorable bilingual twins - but the weight of being apart from Hank (he lives with his Mother in Chicago, they live in Paris) lies uneasily with Jesse. Céline too is at an impasse in her life, uncertain in which direction to take her career. Be warned, this is what happens when you fall in love. The dialogue is as peppy and brilliantly observed as ever, but it's not until they check into a hotel - a bit of intended R&R as a present from their Greek friends - that near two decades' worth of neuroses and uncertainties emerge. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (being Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy), still look as radiant as ever, but as I can personally attest, there is no substitute for having the unravaged physique of a twenty-year-old. What's interesting isn't so much how Jesse and Céline have aged visually, but how experience and wisdom doesn't necessarily entail clarity in one's life. "Jump ahead, ten, twenty years, okay, and you're married." Jesse explains in Before Sunrise, trying to convince Céline to disembark the train with him. "Only your marriage doesn't have that same energy that it used to have, y'know? You start to blame your husband. You start to think about all those guys you've met in your life and what might have happened if you'd picked up with one of them, right? Well, I'm one of those guys." There are the promises we make, to ourselves, to others, and then there are the people we become. The sparring spunkiness too that Céline showed all those years ago has blossomed into resolute determination. Having found her soulmate and having borne his children, what now?

And so the couple fight. And what a fight. The AV Club included the scene in their Best Film Scenes of 2013. After the free-flowing open-range walk-and-talk of the first two films, it's something of a shock to see Jesse and Céline hermetically sealed inside the room, but it's also a potent reminder of how epic fights of this nature myopically unfold and how anger dissipates and reignites depending on tone or a simple choice of words. It's a depressing watch - especially after the warm glow and soft edges of the Nineties original - but the leads are as captivating as ever. Ultimately, the film series' primary device - the twenty-odd-year span - gifts the movies with a certain kind of truth. Yes, Delpy is in fact an accomplished musician, and Hawke was going through an uncomfortable separation from Uma Thurman around the time of Before Sunset, but following Jesse and Céline across two decades across two decades offers an authenticity that Ten Years Later title cards and all the CGI and makeup in the world can't touch. Despite Midnight's dream-dispelling, Linklater's films are still entirely meaningfully romantic and touching. They remind us why we do what we do, why we, like giddy children pedaling towards cliff edges, take such risks. "This is real life" Jesse tells Céline. "It's not perfect, but it's real." 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Knowing (PG) | Film Review

Knowing, dir. Alex Proyas, scr. Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White, story by Ryne Douglas Pearson, st. Nicholas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury

Before the glossy I, Robot, and the hypnotically surreal Dark City, Alex Proyas made the acclaimed and culty adaptation of the graphic novel The Crow with the late Brandon Lee, but there's nary a trace of that early film's visual flair here. Instead, what we get is a perfectly serviceable extended Twilight Zone episode in which astrophysicist John Koestler (Cage) discovers that a sheet of seemingly random numbers, entombed in a time capsule in 1959 and bequeathed to his son Caleb upon its exhumation 50 years later, may in fact be a code that predicts the precise details of global tragedies, up to and including the end of the world, like a particularly apocalyptic edition of the Radio Times. Again, using real-life catastrophes as a key plot device sometimes leaves an iron taste in the mouth, but there's a brave and rather potent kind of nihilism that runs through the fabric of Proyas' at times hysterical disaster movie. Cage reigns it in for the most part, and there are a few genuinely spooky set-pieces. But Rose Byrne as Diana, the oracle's daughter, plays the kind of spunkless in-peril heroine that's weary to watch, and there's a ropey coda that plays once the inevitable occurs at the film's close, that enrobes a neat resolution in simply horrid CGI.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

12 Years a Slave (15) | Film Review

12 Years a Slave, dir. Steve McQueen, scr. John Ridley, based on "Twelve Years a Slave" by Solomon Northup, st. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong'o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt

Director Steve McQueen's last feature, also starring Michael Fassbender, was Shame, a bleak descent into the painful and grimy world of sex addiction. Although a favourite with the critics, the subject matter was never destined to elevate the film's status much above Arthouse fare, nevermind promoting its eligibility as mainstream-award-worthy, as responsive as the Academy is to tales of singular-powerhouse-performed depictions of debilitating conditions.

But here, and hot on the heels of one of last year's favourites - the similarly themed Lincoln - we have McQueen's latest, a sublime and sprawling period piece that concerns the true story of Solomon Northup (Ejiofor), a talented musician, a free man living in New York, who is drugged, kidnapped, and shipped to New Orleans to begin his new life in bondage as 'Platt'. Ejiofor is hotly tipped to win an award for his portrayal of Solomon come the Oscars in March, as is the film itself, and it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if the stars aligned and it came to pass.

Sidestepping hyperbole, and after careful consideration, I suspect the primary reason 12 Years a Slave is such a compelling and consummate experience is due to the fact McQueen nails the Holy Trinity of components that ensure movie success; firstly, the story. Cinema is chock full of tales of heroic strivers making their way back home, but not only is Solomon's personal story true, grounding it in an awful, inescapable realism, but it's set within the appalling injustice of man-made circumstance. Many films enrobe their plots of segregation and persecution in a variety of allegorical disguises, but a film about slavery goes to the heart. Secondly, the many performances, contrasting in scale, are truly memorable. There's Benedict Cumberbatch as (comparatively) benevolent plantation owner William Ford, a man who imposes mandatory weekly gazeboed services every Sunday, and Michael Fassbender, whose Edwin Epps conversely uses the good book as divine proof of his obligation to impose his will over his property. Epps is a particularly detailed character, a man whose sexual obsession with one of his workers, Patsey (Nyong'o), seems to repulse him as much as it does his wife Mary (Paulson), who takes out her jealous rage on the young slave in increasingly brutal ways. Weaved amongst these larger roles are Paul Giamatti as the ironically named Theophilus Freeman - a slave dealer who in the ten minutes of screentime afforded to him, might possibly exhibit the greatest lack of humanity towards those whom he trades, and Paul Dano as Tibeats, one of Ford's overseers who inaugurates the plantation's newly arrived workforce by serenading them with a horrifically debasing rendition of Run, Nigger, Run. Thirdly, the film is as beautiful as the events onscreen are exhaustingly grim. The large, drooping willow trees that line the river that are gently buffeted by the evening New Orleans breeze; the burning embers of paper and ink whose last remnants blink out like extinguished stars; high dynamically ranged skies that remind one these are the very same skies under which the world still turns today - McQueen's litters his film with a vast array of intricately composed and indelible images.

But rising above all this is Chiwetel Ejiofor's mighty performance as Solomon. Torn between desperately clinging on to his own identity in order to keep his spirit and hope alive that he may one day be reunited with his wife and children, and assuming the assigned character of Platt so as to evade insubordinate beatings and something possibly worse were his captors to discover the true nature of their stolen property, Northup is man reduced to surviving. There is a bitter acknowledgement of a life of fineries previously enjoyed by Solomon in his former existence as a skilled violinist, that has now become the privilege of his captors, his abilities now put to use for his tormentors rather than his admirers. His breaking and resignation unfolds with a terrible sadness, with every possibility of liberty or escape for Solomon causing your heart to lift along with his. It is, by any standard, an historic performance of nuance and grace.

Ultimately, it takes Epps' hired Canadian carpenter Samuel Bass, played by a restrained and modest Brad Pitt, to speak what no one dares. "The law says you have a right to hold a nigger," he tells Epps. "But begging the law's pardon... it lies. Laws change. Social systems crumble. Universal truths are constant. It is a fact, it is a plain fact that what is true and right is true and right for all." There is a simple kind of poetry in John Ridley's screenplay that offers sobriety without being overly portentous, and under the keen eye of its director, Steve McQueen has taken universally difficult and unsettling subject matter and made a film that is lyrical and, critically, essential.  

I'm Here | Film Review

I'm Here, dir.wr. Spike Jonze, st. Andrew Garfield, Sienna Guillory

Before Her, Spike Jonze directed this similar tale of artificially intelligent love, a bewitching little short as a promotional piece for Absolut Vodka, but don't let that put you off. Loosely based on The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, I'm Here stars Garfield as Shel, a Macintosh-headed librarian whose only comfort seems to be his achromatic apartment to which he retires at the end of each working day to recharge himself. In this strange world in which robots and humans inexplicably live together, he meets Francesca (Guillory) - a newer model, a dreamer and something of a dab hand at crafting tissue paper animals. The pair fall in love, portrayed in true Jonzian style via the lightest of touches. Sonny Gerasimowicz's robot designs achieve unbelievably affecting results from the simple CG widening of eyes or narrowing of mouths. On top of which, Garfield and Guillory's casual voiceovers seem to be taken from offscreen outtakes during which the pair seem to be genuinely falling in love. Her employs a similar trick with the way in which Scarlett Johansson effortlessly embodies Samantha, alluringly upending our preconceptions about the way artificial life should behave and sound. Whilst the allegorical lesson is blunt, I'm Here's delivery is not. It is at once sincere, authentic, tremendously melancholic and joyously uplifting, and mandatory viewing for anyone who's ever returned to work with a song in their heart the day after meeting someone extraordinary.

You can watch the entire film below.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

You're Next (18) | Film review

You're Next, dir. Adam Wingard, wr. Simon Barrett, st. Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, A. J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg

If it doesn't quite breathe new life into the desperately flagging slasher-slash-home invasion genre, you've at least got to put it down to heroic defeat. The setup is tediously recognisable, as a large group of people, in this instance a family of inlaws and outlaws, descend upon a remote house in the country. It's not long however, before thumps are heard upstairs, doors ominously creak, and masked faces reflect in windows as they observe the unsuspecting. What is refreshing is to see one of the group's number - Erin (Vinson) - calmly keep her head when everyone else begins figuratively losing theirs. "I grew up on a survival camp" she calmly informs someone. Fair enough. It's a bold and brazen move and typical of the film's fairly successful nod towards inly-black comedy. Ditto the movie's device of revealing the killers and their motives in the second act. But after all the axing, stabbing, crossbowing, macheteing, garrotting, and smoothie blending, it's still the same old formula underneath. There's a great, terrifying atonal score from Mads Heldtberg that sounds like abandoned aircraft carriers rubbing hulls in a cemeterial shipyard, and Wingard makes the most of his modest budget, but like the house's shadowy yet empty corners that promise terrors, the creeps just aren't there.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

American Hustle (15) | Film Review

American Hustle, dir. David O. Russell, wr. Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell, st. Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Robert De Niro

A cracking period caper that has Russell bringing together his alumni from The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook to form one unstoppable supercast, American Hustle boasts a near-Scorsesian approach to film-making and storytelling. Based on the ABSCAM FBI sting operation in 1978 in which federal agents employed grifter Melvin Weinberg to entrap various corrupt public officials with their hand in the cookie jar, the film liberally borrows from history, sidestepping vigorous truth-telling ("Some of this actually happened" reads the introductory title card) in favour of something more dramatically malleable. Bale, bepaunched and comb-overed leads the ensemble as Irving Rosenfeld, Hustle's fictional version of Weinberg, who finds himself backed into a corner when he's made by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Cooper). DiMaso forces Irving, along with his literal partner-in-crime-cum-muse Sydney (Adams), into perpetrating an operation which DiMaso, ambitiously driven to the point of blindness, hopes will make his name. Ambition is, revealingly, the name of this elaborate game. All the characters - on both sides of the law - strive to aspire to something more. DiMaso's line manager's line manager Anthony Amado (Alessandro Nivola) repeatedly grants his increasingly outlandish requests to aid the operation out of a desire to bag a successful case, Mafia crime boss Victor Tellegio (an uncredited De Niro, brilliant for the first time in ages in a jewel of a role), we are told, preferred to leave his assassination victims in the street rather than buried in shallow graves as it sent more of a message to his opponents, and Rosalyn, Irving's volatile wife, just wants a contented life with her husband and young son. American Hustle arguably belongs to its women. Both Lawrence and Adams give performances of extraordinary range and dynamism. Adams' Sydney goes from manipulative con-fatale to woundedly distressed once things start to unravel, and in Rosalyn, Lawrence discovers a mobster's wife personna that rivals Lorraine Bracco's Karen Hill in Goodfellas, all glazed indifference one moment and addled firebrand the next. It's a delightfully batshit portrayal, and in many ways, the film's access point of endearing empathy. Credit too to Evelyne Noraz, whose makeup department employs subtle changes as the film progresses, gradually and skillfully seguing initially delicate and seductive applications into tired and deteriorated masks of excess sweat and over-saturation once things begin to go South for the characters. Russell has crafted a fairly traditional historical crime drama. All the directorial hallmarks and production elements are in place that have marked out other successful films of its genre, but its execution by an ensemble such as this lends it a distinctively contemporary and premium finish.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Midnight Express (18) | Film Review

Midnight Express, dir. Alan Parker, scr. Oliver Stone, based on Midnight Express by Billy Hayes & William Hoffer, st. Brad Davis, Randy Quaid, John Hurt, Paul L. Smith, Irene Miracle

Regardless of the film's notoriety for its portrayal of Turkey as a country that zealously turns its nose up at Human Rights and depicts its inhabitants as venal, corrupt, sadistic and generally unpleasant, Parker's Midnight Express nonetheless reaped rewards in the shape of Oscar wins both for Giorgio Moroder's Moog-tastic score and Stone's inflammatory screenplay that arguably holds primary culpability in sexing-up the appalling conditions depicted onscreen. The late Brad Davis stars as Billy Hayes, the American student who attempted to smuggle hashish out of Istanbul in 1970, was caught and detained at Sagmacilar prison, and subsequently escaped to Greece in 1975. Both Hayes and Stone have acknowledged the detrimental effect Midnight Express has had on Turkey and its inhabitants over the years, but in the intervening years since 1978, time has done much to illustrate how such events aren't restricted to Turkey alone, with a grand roll-call of Human Rights abuses having been recorded from all over the world. Neither does Midnight Express seem to be concerned with contextualizing the abject cruelty doled out to Hayes and his incarcerated cohorts. A few set-pieces and characters memorably resonate - Hurt's addict, cat-loving inmate Max, the pillar room sequence in which the prisoners shuffle clockwise around a vast stone column ("a good Turk always walks to the right") set deep within the asylum's Danteish catacombs - but Hayes' descent isn't as smoothly transitioned as it might be (not withstanding a vigorously impassioned turn from Davis), and the tormentors-in-chief aren't particularly drawn in much detail. All of which detracts from the sympathy we're supposed to feel for Hayes - that and the fact that such indignation is a little hard to swallow when you remember his crime was voluntarily and not as a result of any coercion.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Jeune & Jolie (18) | Film Review

Jeune & Jolie, dir/wr. Francois Ozon, st. Marine Vacth, Charlotte Rampling, Geraldine Pailhas, Frederic Pierrot

Parents Association members from schools across the country who mourn their children's contracting term of childhood and attend such wine and cheese evenings entitled The Perils Of The Internet or Is Your Child Sexually Active? would do well to avoid Ozon's latest, a frosty meander through the story of Isabelle's (Vacth) sexual - maybe 'wielding' is a better word than 'awakening'. After what may only be described as an underwhelming initial sexual experience while on holiday with her parents, the young Isabelle, possessing of a stature that belies her years, self-employs as an escort, after each encounter coming home and stashing her fee in a shoebox in her wardrobe. Her relationship with her Mother is strained, and virtually non-existent with her Stepfather, yet there's a faintly alarming intimacy that she shares with her younger brother that verges on the unhealthy. Little explanation is forthcoming however, either from Isabelle or Ozon. The film often startles in its resolute denial to engage with any kind of an argument or intention of getting inside Isabelle's head - the film's title, in fact, seems to unapologetically state all we need to know, explaining away the thornier issues with a simple description of our protagonist. Why not? it seems to unsettlingly ask. Ozon's film seems as detached as Isabelle herself, but there's also an honesty at work too in its commitment to portray instinctive behaviour that needs to reason to justify itself. The real question is whether teenage apathetic indifference is ever that interesting a watch.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

My Top Five Films Of 2013

5. Blue Is The Warmest Colour - acclaimed three-hour, emotionally explicit coming-of-age drama from Abdellatif Kechiche.

4. The Last Of Us - not strictly speaking a film, but nevertheless a heartbreakingly immersive video game from Naughty Dog that charts post-apocalyptic events from the perspective of two very different protagonists.

3. Gravity - Clooney and Bullock get lost in space in this one-act masterpiece from Alfonso Cuarón.

2. Stoker - Park Chan-wook's woozy and wickedly seductive psychological thriller with a career-best turn from Mia Wasikowska.

1. Her - Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his phone's OS. A rich and ruminative love story.