Films

Two Days and One Night

Year: 
2014
Director: 
Dardenne Brothers
Review: 
Critically acclaimed and my first exposure to the festival circuit darlings the Dardennes (eg Guardian 5 stars, Telegraph 4 stars), you would think 2D1N is a hard-hitting political attack on zero-hours contracts, redudundancy and the like. Well, yes and no. The set-up is simple: Marion Cotillard (not always convincing as a downtrodden Belgian factory worker) discovers her fellow employees have been given a choice between laying her off or foregoing their annual bonus. Cotillard and hubbie use the weekend before the crucial vote to talk to her fellow employees one by one to convince them to set aside 1000 euros to enable her to keep her job. As the meetings unfold and another doorbell is rung it starts to recall nothing so much as a Source Code about workplace politics. Running alongside this is Cotillard's unfolding mental illness that caused her to take leave of absence in the first place. The two come together in a rather unconvincing moment of crisis and resolution.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
Source Code, Groundhog Day, Eat Pray Love, Dogme, Peter Greenaway - it really becomes quite a strange mix of all of these, at once striving for complete realism (no music, shot in sequence etc), and also completely mannered in its structure. You'll walk out not quite sure what on earth has happened. And you'll marvel at the efficiency of the Belgian health service.

Finding Fela

Year: 
2014
Director: 
Alex Gibney
Review: 
Finding Fela is a documentary about the life and music of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. The original intention was to create a film about the making of the Broadway musical based on his life, and it shows, as creative directors of that event probably take up too much of the running time. But if you're no expert on Fela (and I'm not) then this is a pretty good place to start learning. There are interviews with family and band members, and plenty of documentary footage. The film also doesn't whitewash its subject, tackling some of the darker areas of his personality, as well as celebrating the triumphs. There are many parallels between Fela's life and James Brown's, so the fact they share the funk shouldn't be a surprise. No masterpiece then, but worth a couple of hours of your time.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
Friday night documentaries on BBC4. So most of this site's users then.
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The Woman

Year: 
2011
Director: 
Lucky McKee
Review: 
Since Martyrs I've been wary of what you might call 'extreme horror', and certainly I've had enough of seeing people trussed up and tortured. But the fact that I've been on a Jack Ketchum reading binge lately, and was interested to see how one of his novels (not one I've read) might translate to the screen, was enough to entice me. The set-up is intriguing: a controlling patriarch finds a feral woman in the woods, takes her home and imprisons her in an outhouse in order to 'civilise' her. His son colludes enthusiastically; his wife and two daughters not so enthusiastically. Yes, there's a lot of trussing-up and torture, but this is a film that hates men who subjugate women, which absolves it of accusations of torture porn. Sadly, it's botched dramatically, and curve balls in the third act don't really work, but even so there are some terrific performances in roles that really count, especially Polyanna McIntosh as 'the woman', a terrifying, wordless performance.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
The novels of Jack Ketchum, of course ('the woman' appears in two of his previous novels, which added to my enjoyment) as well as other more harder-edged horror films. There is a tremendous amount of gore and an abundance of taboo themes, but it's done well enough that it doesn't look like cheap exploitation. Trouble is, you can't help but feel it could have been done better.
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Guardians Of The Galaxy

Year: 
2014
Director: 
James Gunn
Review: 
So, sentient trees, talking raccoons and sexy green-skinned assassins fighting evil cosmic forces to save the universe? Nah, the real story here is the intergalactic journey of a mixtape. "Awesome Mix Vol. 1" belongs to Peter Quill, an boy abducted by aliens on the day his mother dies of cancer in 1988, and - along with his walkman - it's is the only tangible rememberance he has of her, and accompanies him everywhere as he grows up over the decades to become space outlaw "Starlord". Winningly, it's not a "cool" selection at all, but mostly bubblegum 70's soft-rock and soul, and most of the movie's emotional beats revolve around the songs, including the credit sequence with the grown-up Quill carrying out a heist to the tune of Redbone's "Come And Get Your Love". I won't spoil more of the songs, but by the time we've been through a spectacular, thrilling and genuinely hilarious adventure with these characters, the final music cues won't fail to bring smiles to Afterworders young & old.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
Star Wars, Ghostbusters or Men In Black, or any of the previous Marvel movies (though this is very much a space adventure rather than a superhero movie), and frankly anyone who wants cheering up (it's the funniest movie I've seen in ages that isn't an outright comedy). Warning - I'd imagine young kids won't have the faintest idea what's going on, though they'll probably enjoy the spectacle regardless, especially Rocket Raccoon and Groot the tree-creature.

Nebraska

Year: 
2013
Director: 
Alexander Payne
Review: 
This film had been on my list of films to see since the end of last year. Unfortunately I was out of the country when it hit the cinemas and it had gone by the time I returned. Still, it was worth the wait. Shot in Black and White this greatly adds appeal to the movie. Telling the story of an increasingly disoriented man who wrongly believes he has won $1,000,000 after he receives one of those marketing letters through the post. The film opens with him being picked up by the police wandering aimlessly by the side of the highway. His one son tries to persuade him that he hasn't won anything but to no avail. Almost to humour him he takes him on the long drive from Montana to Nebraska to collect his 'winnings'. Along the way they stay with family in the town of the old mans birth. Long lost acquaintances initially treat him with disdain until they realise he may be a millionaire. A great performance from Bruce Dern in the lead role but also brilliance from his long suffering wife.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
The Straight Story or As Good as it gets. A very enjoyable road movie but the most compelling thing is the cinematography. Frequent shots of the big skies of wide-open America with corn fields, grain silos interspersed with small town main streets at night. It is the America that we all picture from post war until the 70's when globalisation took over. Simply beguiling.

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

Year: 
2011
Director: 
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Review: 
This is a slow-motion chamber epic that creates an atmosphere that has more in common with literature than Michael Bay. Over a single night and morning we follow three key people - a Prosecutor, Policeman and Doctor - who journey into the Turkish countryside to investigate a murder. They are accompanied by the suspects who are trying to remember where they buried the body. The focus shifts subtly from the Policeman and his daily travails to the somewhat self-important Prosecutor, and finally to the doctor as the story unfolds. Things happen in an almost real-time realism rather than to a plotted storyline, so that developments seem to occur from the conversations and actions of the characters rather than anything written. There are revelations, and a stunning (though again entirely realistic) conclusion as the Doctor wrestles with the consequences of the actions of the others. It's not an easy watch, at nearly three hours long, but is a great film.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
Thoughtful, superbly acted drama. Stunning cinematography and those who feel that film can offer a window into other cultures and societies, including Turkish yoghurt and cheese. The references to Chekhov are clear, though that shouldn't put anybody off!
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Snowpiercer

Year: 
2014
Director: 
Joon-Ho Bong
Review: 
IMDB summarizes this film as "Set in a future where a failed climate-change experiment kills all life on the planet except for a lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, where a class system emerges" Sounds promising...well this is much better than that. Great performances from Chris Evans (no, not that one) and a madcap but brilliant Tilda Swinton and lots of action, some great fight sequences and a very interesting concept. I was a bit let down with the ending, but it didn't detract from its brilliance. This was the director's first English language film (he previously directed the Korean film "The Host" among others)...a very good next step in his career.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
Post apocalyptic movies with lots of action and a healthy supension of belief.

Begin Again

Year: 
2014
Director: 
John Carney
Review: 
Carney made Once in 2007, and has repeated the trick here - he has an amazing knack of being able to put across new music beautifully on film. Keira Knightly plays a singer in the shadow of her rock star boyfriend (surprisingly well played by Adam Levine) when a chance encounter with a down and out A&R man (Mark Ruffalo) leads her on to a life altering path. Apparently largely improvised, though I’m pleased to say you wouldn’t know it, Carney takes what could have been a cringe-worthy “let’s put on the show here” type story and fills it with just enough moments of truth and perception to make you buy the whole thing. The entire cast is excellent (though Catherine Keener is a little under-used), the songs are really good (most written or co-written by Gregg “New Radicals” Alexander), the NYC setting avoids most of the cliches other films set there usually succumb to and the film achieves it’s aim of putting a smile on your face. My cinema-going pleasant surprise of the year so far.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
Once, or those on the look out for something utterly charming as an antidote to "Transformers 59" or "Mrs Brown’s Boys - Da Cash-in”.
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Boyhood

Year: 
2014
Director: 
Richard Linklater
Review: 
Boyhood is an absolute gem of a movie. Filmed over 12 years, it paints the picture of Mason Evans's (played by the excellent Ellar Coltrane) life from the ages of 6 to 18. The obvious point to make is that we see see Mason, his divorced Mom and Dad (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke) and sister (Lorelei Linklater) age in real time, without the aid of make-up and prosthetics. That aside it's not a film where Linklater is making a big statement that THIS is the state of life in the USA and is all the stronger for that. It's a series of beautifully filmed sketches of moments that does illustrate what life is like for part of American society. It's not a "rite of passage" with a big event as a milestone, it's an observation on how we grow and change. People appear in our lives and then disappear. The whole of life is a passage and we evolve as we move through it. There's humour, there's sadness, there are moments of anxiety, there is growing older but above all there is love. Pure magic.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
There are many films about growing up, so I guess if you like Gregory's Girl or One Day or Parenthood you'd like this. There are limited parallels with Michael Apted's Seven Up sequence. It's meant for people who can enjoy films about human beings with all our graces and faults and how we interact, without a need for special effects or a high concept or escape from jeopardy. A film I know I'm going to want to see again because it's life affirming and joyous. If that appeals to you go. NOW!
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The Book Thief

Year: 
2013
Director: 
Brian Percival
Review: 
I'm surprised at how much praise has been lavished on this film, as I thought it was really dreadful, a sanitised Disney-fication of Nazi Germany of the very worst kind, with trite 21st century dialogue, the deployment of every dramatic cliche imaginable (replete with drawling gravel-voiced American voiceover in the trailer), that tugs at the heartstrings in the most cynical Hollywood fashion without ever really having anything profound to say. A story of the Holocaust scripted by someone who appears to have only a passing knowledge of the facts, and directed - God help us - by someone responsible for Downton Abbey, that highly realistic portrayal of upstairs downstairs Edwardiana. As The Guardian review described it most accurately, the film is 'smothered in feelgood tragi-sentimental slush'. Dreadful stuff, and particularly so for trivialising such a serious subject.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
101 Dalmatians.

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