Saturday, 27 December 2014

Review: We Are the Best!

Year: 2013 (2014 U.K Theatrical release)
Director: Lukas Moodysson
Screenplay: Lukas Moodysson
Starring: Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Liv LeMoyne

Synopsis is here


Lukas Moodysson broke this blogger's heart 12 years ago, with his brutally engrossing coming of age drama: Lilya 4-ever (2002). This was a film with such little compromise, that it's taken me over a decade to gain the courage to even place it near the top of my re-watch pile. It's the type of film that you need to be in a "good" place for, before you consider watching.

Moodysson has kept busy with very particular, left field offerings, but his latest entry; We Are the Best, appears to be his most accessible since Lilya 4-ever. Despite having the same unyielding temperament with similar dispassionate settings, Moodysson is clearly coming in this coming of age story (based on a graphic novel by his wife Coco), with a lighter, more joyous attitude.

At first there doesn't seem to be too much to We Are the Best. Three teenage girls from Stockholm look to form a punk band, despite holding limited knowledge of their instruments and forming with little more than their outsider status. Moodysson has never really been one for intricate plots, but as a filmmaker who considers himself a feminist, he really knows how to get a hold of his young female characters. What we notice about We Are the Best is Moodsson joyfully using these outcasts illustrate female unity as well as touch about the director's own feelings on religion and politics.

The 1982 setting is perfect for a film which is looking at how we observe particular subjects now. A group of women who are; like so many girls their age, gaining interest in boys, media and drinking. Yet the characters indulgence for left leaning socio-political punk and the conversations and overall acceptance of the Hedvig; the Christian lead guitarist, as well their bonding despite their differences, speaks volumes about what Moodysson find important within the coming of age sub-genre.

The sight of seeing these girls form a friendship because of their music and despite what others feel about them is genuinely heartening to the soul. The three leads are all so enjoyable in their roles, that we quickly realise that much like so much Punk music, the music itself isn't the most important aspect, it's the togetherness. When the grown-ups just don't understand, it's always been the rambunctious of your peers that will get you through. Moodysson has made a film to happily remind us.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Review: Cold in July

Year: 2014
Director: Jim Mickle
Screenplay: Jim Mickle, Nick Damici
Starring: Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, Vinessa Shaw

Synopsis is here:

After reading a few of Joe R Landsdale short stories, I've found him to be an entertaining writer who manages to capture a reader's imagination quickly with his snappy potboilers. Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man's Back, for instance, is a sharp sci-fi balanced with a somber heartache, which manages a considerable sense of scope, yet can be finished before the end of your train journey. Jim Mickle is a filmmaker whose filmography capture an unusual blend of American gothic and playful genre switching that is warmly welcomed for a film viewer such as myself.

I found it no surprise that Mickle's film version of Landsdale's novel; Cold in July, shows that the writers' material and the director's style of storytelling and thematic focal points provide a good foil for each other.

From the start of the film, I found myself gripped. Our mild mannered protagonist; Richard shoots a young trespassing burglar and find himself struggling with the moral concerns of taking a man's life. We sink further down the rabbit hole as we discover that the thief's father; Ben (an intensely stoic Sam Shepard), is out on parole and is looking for vengeance towards the man who killed his son. We soon find out that the cops haven't been as honest with the situation as they could have been what could have been a clear cut case, becomes a twisted noir, which brings both Richard together in ways they wouldn't have thought of when they found each other.

What looks to be a straight forward film about survival and revenge, soon bends into something different entirely. Mickle's film starts of as a Cape Fear style thriller by way of John Carpenter before morphing into a History of Violence tinged noir, in which the murky sins of the family slowly creeping into the present lives of the characters we follow. Micheal C Hall's awkward and frightened family man, may feel slightly one note at times, it's clear that he's enjoying being able to play a character who is clearly out of his element. Watching his face has the twisted sense of honour is revealed by both Ben and his P.I cohort Jim (a spirited Don Johnson) is quite a picture.

The chilly, stark backwoods of Mickle's Stake Land (2010) and We Are What We Are (2013) are replaced with a highly stylised, sun baked Texas, which, despite its rich, saturated colours feels no less dark than the films that came before it. What first appears as a clean cut man troubled by the moral quandary that comes with murder, descends into something much murkier when he finds his life inhabited by characters who have dealt with death before. We expect clarity from the situation at first, but Mickle is a filmmaker who enjoys clouding the ethics of the people we watch. He wants everyone to feel a little dirty.

The 80's setting and references work well with the story and never distract from it. It never feels like fancy nostalgia. Nor does it feel like it should be altered. Meanwhile Mickle's genre blending here, feels much like Stake Land, which happily moved between gothic and road movie with a quietly observed sense of satisfaction. Mickle once again easily shows how assured he is a director as Cold in July easily slips and shifts in tone, brings in dark humour and a cold sense of dread, and never feels jarring.

It is a shame that Vinessa Shaw's solid (although slightly shrewish) wife is pushed to the side, making sure the film is unable to truly create some complex family and gender dynamics. However, as a pulpy, contorted thriller about masculinity, fatherhood and just how far some are willing to stride into the darkness. Cold in July is one of most fascinating genre pieces of the year.




Saturday, 6 December 2014

Review: Edge of Tomorrow (A.K.A LIVE DIE REPEAT, A.K.A All You Need is Kill)

Year: 2014
Director: Doug Liman
Screenplay: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton

Synopsis is here:


Despite seemingly being marketed by a group of drunks recovering from a 7 day bender (why all the name changes, guys?), and the profit margins being more delicate than a Sony studio password, Edge of Tomorrow is a relatively fun sci-fi actioner. One that reminds you that Tom Cruise (aged 52), is still the engaging A-list movie star he was before we found out about his great battle with thetans. Hell, I'm beginning to think his belief in Scientology is part of the reason he's been able to pick interesting sci-fi projects. I wouldn't be surprised if the presence of Cruise may have switched people off Edge of Tomorrow. Yet Cruise's personal charm is one of the reasons the film works. The other (greater) reason is Emily Blunt.

Blunt, whose Rita character shows the type of urgency which has been greatly missed from female roles in the likes of Godzilla or The Amazing Spiderman 2, once again displays her amazing capability to bounce off her Male counterparts. The reversal of roles here allows Blunt to blossom even more so than she did in similar high concept features such as The Adjustment Bureau (2011), however the nature of Edge of Tomorrow's material seemingly gives a lot of the emotional resonance back to Cruise in his role of cowardly PR man cum action solider.

I do wonder what the late Roger Ebert would have felt about Edge of Tomorrow. As a critic whose interest in video games was in the minus figures, he would have been faced with a film that is heavily drenched in video game aesthetic. The source material (A Japanese novel by Hiroshi Sakurazaka) is said to have borrowed heavily of the play, die, and continue aspect of video games, as does this film. Here, I found it hard not to think I was not still playing COD: Advanced Warfare as even though neither game, nor film were looking over each other's solider, the similarities in the battle suits I found quite remarkable. The film's play on the concept of "spawning" and repeating until you get it right, isn't that original (see Source Code (2011), Looper (2012), SO many classic sci-fi stories), however Liman's storytelling direction of the material is refreshing. Edge of Tomorrow never feels like the template blockbusters the comic book films are starting to feel like, while it's commentary on how this muscle memory element impacts the protagonist has a certain perceptiveness to it.

Doug Liman is in his element here. Jumper (2008) is a mere faded memory here as the punchy action sequences carry weight while the cast interplay hold a playful blockbuster chemistry that enjoyable to watch. Edge of Tomorrow may not shoehorn itself into the classic hall of Hollywood blockbusters, its good fun but nothing too out of the ordinary. However, as a piece of light sci-fi action fare, I found it a film that deserves to find a good home audience in the future. Here's hoping the replay value goes past the high concept.