Monday, 28 July 2014

Review: Rapture (1965)

An international co-production made on location along the gloriously photogenic Brittany coastline, Rapture (1965) is one of the most sadly neglected studio movies of the 1960s, which is perhaps down to its peculiar plot and its inability to be pigeon holed in any particular genre. Atmospheric, haunting and given a strikingly beautiful aesthetic by cinematographer Marcel Grignon, Rapture tells the unusual story of 15 year old teenager, Agnes, played with wondrous perfection by Patricia Gozzi.

Raised on an isolated farm by her strict and overbearing father (Melvyn Douglas), Agnes is as short on friends as she is maturity. Finding comfort in her dolls and with her ever flourishing childhood imagination, as she develops physically, her mental development struggles to keep up. After building a scarecrow on the farmland, with whom she shares her secrets, Agnes is delighted, when one evening, the scarecrow disappears, but a real-life gentleman appears in his place, wearing his clothes. Unbeknown to her, the seductive stranger, played by Dean Stockwell is a wanted criminal on the run from the law and seeking shelter. Agnes’s imagination goes into overdrive as she believes the fugitive is the living incarnation of the scarecrow. Instantly besotted, Agnes’s feelings spiral out of control as her burgeoning sexuality draws her closer towards the criminal.

Stunningly captured in black and white, the film plays heavily on the themes of childhood innocence and vulnerability, making this a perfect companion piece for Bryan Forbes’s equally compelling Whistle Down the Wind (1961). Rapture brings the melodrama in abundance but the beguiling performances and stunning visuals make it impossible to tear your eyes away. Gozzi puts in a powerful performance in the difficult role of Agnes. Whilst we never get a clear understanding of her developmental skills as inexplicable as they may be, a lot is pointed towards isolation and social or perhaps anti-social conditioning? Highly emotive, Gozzi’s nuanced and energetic performance is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, which makes one wonder why this treasure has remained buried for so long.

Modernist in its approach, director John Guillermin, occasionally heightens events by filming them from the frenzied and heightened perspective of the teenage protagonist before bringing us back to the disbelief of her fellow characters. The film is romantic in its approach to imagery, making you fall deeply in love with contours of Brittany’s coastlines via sumptuous and ambitious crane shots but Guillermin wants his audience to know who this film belongs to as he frames the whole shebang with a bout of crazed panic on London’s city streets as the teenager finally gets a glimpse of the world beyond the farm gates. Love interest Dean Stockwell oozes charisma as the scarecrow come-to-life, bringing matinee idol looks and compassion to an otherwise awkwardly complex and predatory character.

Beguiling and glorious, this dark fairy tale captures both the joy and danger of childhood imagination. Packed with powerful performances, outstanding imagery and a perfectly complimentary score by Georges Delerue. Rapture is a unique treasure from the vaults of forgotten cinema, that certainly makes you wonder what else they’ve forgotten about.

Rapture is presented for the first time on home video in the UK in a new high-definition restoration, released in a stunning blu-ray presentation as part of a Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition on 28 July 2014.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Review: Prisoners of War (Hatufim) Season 2

Written and directed by Gideon Raff, Prisoners of War, after much campaigning and an online #BringBackHatufim campaign, finally returns to the UK for a hotly anticipated second season. Prior to shooting the outstanding first series the script was acquired by the writers of 24, Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa who worked alongside Raff on the US adaptation, Homeland. The original series, set in 2008, depicts the lives of three Israeli Defence Force reservists, who were captured seventeen years ago during service on a secret mission with their unit in Lebanon.

To society and their families they are heralded as heroes and endless campaigns are set up, highlighting a demand for their return. The series begins when Uri Zach and Nimrod Klein finally return home to their families, whilst the third captive Amiel Ben-Horin comes home in a coffin adding to the distress of sibling, Yael played perceptively by Adi Ezroni. Uri (Shai Golan) bears the physical scars of his captivity and his girlfriend Nurit Halevi-Zach (Mili Avital) has moved on during his absence and married his brother Yaki (Mickey Leon). The couple also have a teenage son, Asaf and the family are initially forced to keep these major changes under wraps by an IDF psychologist until further notice. Nurit is wracked with guilt and when the truth is revealed, it leads to major complications.

Fellow captive, Nimrod Klein (Yoram Toledano) struggles in relating to his wife Talia (Yael Abecassis) who has devoted her life to fighting for her husband’s release. She, like her husband now struggles with a sense of purpose. Further complications arise when he is reunited with rebellious teenage daughter Dana (Yael Eitan) and teenage son Hatzav (Guy Selnik) who was born during his captivity. The dead soldier’s sister, Yael (Adi Ezroni) struggles to cope with her loss. The soldiers’ experience of captivity is gradually revealed through a series of disturbing flashbacks. As well as being the subject of public scrutiny the former captives now have to contend with the national hero status being thrust upon them via Israeli media. Their release raises the suspicions of Haim Cohen (Gal Zaid), an IDF psychologist convinced that there is more to the characters than meets the eye. He leads an investigation into Nimrod and Uri and enlists the help of IDF employee Iris (Sandy Bar) who develops a relationship with Uri in order to establish exactly what the former captives are hiding.

Season 2, begins only days after the first season’s finale and proceeds to unravel the shocking twist that it left us with. It’s imperative the nature of these twists is revealed or any indication of where the series is heading is given as the beauty of the series is in the gentle unwrapping of its tightly packed surprises. The season begins with the introduction of some new characters. Jonathan Uziel plays Yinon Meiri (pictured above), a man on a mission, whose father was murdered by terrorists when they burst into his school in Metula when he was a child. Also introduced are a small yet powerful Syrian community that shed some light on the flip side of the POW’s captivity.

This series, like the first is a slow-burner, less of a high-octane thriller and more of a cerebral, psychological drama. Devoid of the explosion count policy employed by its US progeny. POW works as a modern circumstantial drama, with the emphasis being on reintegration and relationships, all set beautifully against a backdrop of tumultuous politics and a contemporary Israeli landscape. For an international audience this makes for an intriguing glimpse of Israeli culture, humanising a society that the media largely portray as unfortunate statistics.

Such is the preciseness of Raff’s writing, the plot gradually becomes clear through the gentle dissipation of the dense cloud of paranoia that was formed throughout the first series. Prisoners of War’s success is down to it’s gentle pacing, the sensitive handling of the subject matter and the phenomenal cast. There is a constant battle between past and present for all of the characters involved. The former captives bring great intensity and anxiety to their roles. It’s hard to think of any other series that brings with it such intense and involving realism. Homeland most definitely doesn’t.

Secrets are long kept from the viewer which adds to a forceful impact upon their reveal. Unspoiled by commercialism and studio demands, the series is a mass of unrestricted creativity and remarkable talent and that shows in the series’ intricately sensitive composition. Prisoners of War is an absolute triumph made of tension and suspense. It’s a compassionate study of what happens to people over seventeen years, not just those held in captivity and it offers a rarely seen and incredibly interesting glimpse of contemporary Israel.

Packed with fine performances from all involved. It’s interesting to see the captives and their partners develop their roles and relationships together but most intriguing of all is further development of Yael, the bereaved sister of third captive Amiel, who is given the most emotive challenge of the series. The complexities of her character are handled beautifully by the ever watchable Adi Ezroni, who has the capacity to be the series’ biggest breakout star. Thankfully, the show’s creator has confirmed his intentions to write a third season, which cannot come quickly enough. Prisoners of War is drama in its purest and most creative form and is, in the figurative sense, much more explosive than its US counterpart.

UK DVD of Season 2 is released on July 28th 2014 Also available is the boxset of season 1&2

Friday, 25 July 2014

Noah (2014)

While perhaps not his greatest film to date, Noah (2014) still showcases the infinite talents of acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky and has plenty to offer with breathtaking visuals, fine performances and, following in the tradition of the Aronofsky's scores, a remarkable soundtrack from Clint Mansell. A great film for families and fans of epic, lengthy and gloriously ambitious adventure tales. Best enjoyed on surround sound with the volume cranked to full blast, so that when the rain finally comes you will already feel wet with anticipation.

Noah is out on VOD on 28th July from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. 

Monday, 14 July 2014

Review: Under The Skin (2013)

Under the Skin (2013)

Ten years since his sophomore feature Birth (2004) was released to a lacklustre reception, director Jonathan Glazer, who showed great promise with Sexy Beast (2000), is back with an altogether delicious monster of a movie. Scarlett Johansson plays against all conceivable type as a nameless creature who travels around Glasgow in a white van, scoping out men with her predatory and objective gaze and, after picking them up, she takes them back to a run down property and has her wicked way with them. As simple as the premise may sound, Under the Skin (2013) an adaptation of the marvellous novel by Michel Faber, is anything but simple as the narrative is simply non existent thanks to the director’s unique and experimental vision.

Initially the audience is cast under the glare of a blazing spotlight and what follows continues to be an utterly hypnotic amalgam of breathtaking sound and vision. The extraordinary score by Mica Levis enters the ear canal with the voracity of a swarm of curious insects. A hint of Johansson’s husky tones hits the ear canal as the spotlights morph before your eyes into a giant retina. A transformative role for lead actress, Johansson who, as alluring as her protagonist may be, operates stoically, emanating the curiosity of an unfeeling vessel, not too dissimilar from David Bowie’s performance in The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976). Her performance is captivating. Her femininity provides some warmth, in the wake of the deadly chill she so dastardly creates. The film as a whole is one beautifully paced mystery, from start to finish the questions of intention and motive are removed from the picture, leaving viewers to create their own interpretation of what the hell is going on even if they’ve read the book. If you like a film to answer its own questions, look away, this is not for you. There is no resolution here.

Filmed from the perspective of the mysterious protagonist, Glazer captures the true essence of an unsuspecting public through use of hidden cameras, thankfully Johansson remained largely unrecognisable in both her British accent and her dark fright wig so the reactions from the public were real and perfectly unfiltered. Extras were not cast, they were just regular people who had no idea that they were being filmed. The juxtaposition of an alien look at human life and the raw reality of an unsuspecting public creates a bizarre sci-fi sub-level from which you are asked to watch the film. In creating this unique perspective the audience become somewhat disassociated from their own race, forcibly joining the lead in her alien observations.

Under the Skin will no doubt divide audience opinion but nobody can deny the true originality on offer here. Glazer’s mash up of the hyper-real and oblique extra terrestrial creates an altogether unique and bewitchingly stylistic sci-fi experience. Whilst the initial introduction recalls Kubrick’s 2001: a Space Odyssey (1968), yet with a gentle bat of an eyelid, there is a significant shift towards the unfamiliar and darkly uncomfortable. Like a beautiful nightmare from which you cannot wake, Glazer’s vision is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, but once you have seen it, it will follow you around forever.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2013)

With his trademark colour palette and an ambitiously farcical plot Wes Anderson returns with The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), the tale of hotel concierge, Gustave. H played by Ralph Fiennes, who employs a bizarre level of celebrity at the titular hotel. When one of the wealthy female guests, whom Gustave has “serviced” in more ways than one, is killed under mysterious circumstances, the concierge becomes the number one suspect, particularly after a valuable painting from the victim’s collection is bequeathed to him. After being framed for her murder, Gustave steals the painting and mayhem is unleashed on the picturesque mountain range. With the victim’s family in hot pursuit, the concierge, with the help of a young lobby boy, must race against time to protect his inheritance and prove his innocence.

A gloriously entertaining amalgam of comedy, romance, prison drama and murder mystery, the film’s genre is almost indistinguishable, making it one of Anderson’s most original and unique offerings. The expeditious dialogue harks back to the exuberance of slapstick and Ealing Classics and it is delivered with delicious grace from Ralph Fiennes in an iconic and perfectly poised performance. An incredible ensemble cast provide gloriously entertaining subplots, all paced with a joyous and frenetic energy.

There's so much to enjoy from each character however brief their appearance may be. Tilda Swinton makes a wonderfully comic murder victim as Madame D, and Tony Revolori shows great ambition both as a young actor and as Zero, the Lobby Boy, Gustave’s eager protégé. Cameos come as thick and fast as the snow that caps the mountain tops. Some (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton) serve only to whet the appetite for re-viewings of Wes Anderson’s back catalogue and others provide the groundwork for characters so intriguing that they act as a precursor for their own grand story. Both Harvey Keitel and Willem Dafoe bring huge character to minimal screen time, which is perhaps one of the elements that makes the film so captivating. It could literally go off in any direction, it’s so precise and detailed in its composition that every scenario is as involving as the other.

The sets are perfectly grandiose and as ever, in all of Anderson’s work, they are animated wildly with an incredible array of clashing colours and intricately measured symmetry. The interiors are breathtaking in both size and design and full of unique character. The ever changing external landscape is captured in a style reminiscent of the imaginative stop-motion technique applied in Fantastic Mr Fox (2009), particularly the chase scene through the snow, which purposefully looks haphazardly produced, making the low budget aesthetic hilarious in its incongruity.

Traditionally, Alexandre Desplat’s score is equal in inventiveness to the visuals, adding perfect doses of both emotion and jollity to match the pace of events as they continue to accelerate. The story of Gustav. H is framed, or rather bookended by Jude Law as a curious young writer and the soothing tones of F. Murray Abraham as the aged Zero, provide the perfect spoken word narrative. The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the year’s greatest. It’s packed with so much flavour, that you can practically taste it. Like the delicious looking Mendel’s cakes, Anderson’s greatest film to date is a mouthwateringly stylish and addictive sweet treat that has been meticulously decorated. You will want to feast on its greatness again and again.

Available on DVD and Blu-ray now.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Review: Exhibition (2013)

Joanna Hogg’s previous films, Unrelated (2007) and Archipelago (2010) firmly cemented the director’s name as a leading figure in new British cinema. Her nuanced approach to character driven narrative and an almost voyeuristic directorial flair, has seen the director achieve auteur status and even seen her signature stiff-upper-lip, middle-class Britishness alluded to in the work of others, including Alex Walker’s remarkable debut, Fossil (2014). Her latest film, Exhibition (2014), sees the director reigning in the action to create an insular portrayal of a stagnant marriage and repressed artistry.

Viv Albertine, iconic front woman of punk band The Slits, stars as artist D, who along with her husband, H (Liam Gillick) decide to sell the London home that they have lived in for twenty years. As they prepare to move on, anxieties surface both in the couple’s marriage and in D’s creative ability. The home has seemingly consumed parts of their history, psyche and marriage and functioned as a container for their lives together. Will the couple be able to cope without the luxurious confines of the structure, or will the foundations, that keep them together, crumble to pieces?

Hogg’s style will undoubtedly alienate fans of the mainstream. Her every move is considerably non-conformist. When you expect the camera to shift, it lingers for longer than you feel comfortable. D’s over exposure magnifies her every imperfection. Her boredom and frustration can all be felt via the inhabited space and the relentless exterior noise. Short on dialogue, Exhibition manages to say more about the couple in their tense moments of silence and the discomfiture of a bedroom scene is depicted the morning after, via an exterior shot and the riotous clashing and banging of scaffolding pipes.

Moments of serenity are constantly disrupted by city noise. The moving of furniture, an overhead plane, sirens, traffic and vacuum cleaners. There is no peace or comfort in the marriage or home, as still as it may appear and, after 20 years, the house is feeling it too. D so content in her solitude finds it hard to communicate in the environment, particularly with the vulturous estate agents. She’s constantly distracted. Every crack, creak or crevice becomes a curiosity and she’s captured feline like, mimicking the shapes of the architecture. As the home is pulled towards a new buyer, she explores it from every angle, attempting to shed fresh perspective on the property, in the hope that it will offer her some creative and romantic resolution.

Hogg’s framing and use of natural, available light elevates the film into a different league. The composition is impeccable with reflections and street lights utilised to generate depth and dimension. Each scene is utterly absorbing. There is an element of discomfort also as Hogg places the viewer, as in Archipelago, at the head of the table as the uninvited guest at an awkward dinner party, or crouched at the foot of the bed as the couple “enjoy” a bout of mundane marital sex. The aforementioned providing one of the films most humorous and agonising scenes. After receiving an internal phone call to “come upstairs”, D is next shown, laying lifeless and naked on a bed. As H tries to move things forward, she remains static and nonpartisan, and has all the sexual allure of Christmas ham. Again, in juxtaposition and devoid of dialogue, D’s feelings are expressed subsequently, as H’s forced declaration of love is matched with the image of D laid holding a rock in the garden.

Exhibition is high art, formed from grand designs and manipulated with the archetypal tradition of marriage. With sparse architecture and a screenplay largely absent of discourse, it’s a credit to Hogg’s artistry that she is able to tell such an intensely personal story. Presented here is a unique perspective on the alien lifestyle of an artist. It’s a raw, painful and often amusing character study that is almost explicit in its dissection. Viv Albertine, makes a great protagonist and Hogg provides valuable insight on the internal and external nature of D’s character which is perhaps a reflection of the director's own. When D leaves the house and heads into central London, she literally flourishes, sheds her marital cocoon and springs to life. This is set against a lavish and delicious backdrop of the capital, shrouded in golden light and rich heritage. As brief as the footage is, this glimpse of the city captures D’s remarkably astute confidence and London’s structural elegance, a definite rival to Holy Motors’ (2012) Paris. Hogg has proved that she can more than deliver from within claustrophobic confinements. This perfectly cultivated scene provides significant understanding of the director’s overwhelming potential, should the walls she works so perfectly within, be knocked down.

Visit Curzon to watch Exhibition now. 

Friday, 6 June 2014

Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets (2014)

Far from an overnight success, Pulp originally formed in 1978, yet only achieved any major recognition in the 90s with their unique brand of indie disco that included big hits such as Common People, Disco 2000 and Sorted for Es and Wizz. They became a staple of the Britpop movement, selling over 10 million albums worldwide yet always remained faithful to the place of their humble beginning, Sheffield. Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets (2014) documents the story of the band as they prepare, during their 2012 comeback, for their final hometown show. Director, Florian Habicht brings together live footage and interviews with the band and a handful of Sheffield’s most loyal and intriguing fans to shed some pragmatic light on the phenomena. Stories are told against the backdrop of a bustling market entrance, a dilapidated warehouse and a city of industry crushed by Thatcher’s regime. Captured in full northern grit, this Sheffield is a crumbling, forgotten city full of salt of the earth types and pop heroes - who aren’t too successful they can’t change their own car tyre - demonstrated expertly by charismatic frontman, Jarvis Cocker during the film’s introduction. Common People, the band’s career defining hit is the first live performance and as the song approaches it’s peak, the sound gently fades, and is then continued by a local harmony group. Habicht’s film is very much about the people that inspired Pulp’s music, the Common People themselves.

Sycophancy doesn’t exist in this city or in the confines of this film, instead what’s documented here is a celebration of the band’s solid foundations and the very root of their lyrical inspiration. Habitcht’s voice of authority occasionally emerges from beyond the camera to direct or question his non-media-trained subjects. Two children, listening to Pulp for the first time, dish out some valuable parental advice and reveal what it’s like to grow up in the North and decaying landscape aside, it’s surprisingly far from grim. The director’s enthusiasm and excitement for his subjects can be heard in his New Zealand Kiwi twang. The non-investigative approach to documenting the band’s story draws out some optimistic and inspiring stories from those who wander the city’s market place. The soundbites are often hilarious when they miss the mark. Habitcht has a great knack for choosing valuable and raw subjects and handles them with great respect and affection. You couldn’t make these people up, unless you were maybe Ken Loach or Mike Leigh.

Archive footage of the band’s earlier live performances give some scope to their journey. Keyboardist Candida Doyle tells of the days when times were so hard that they created their stage regalia using kitchen foil and attempted (and failed) to make their own dry ice, only a plateful at that. Pulp’s back catalogue warms the nostalgic cockles, as it is drip fed throughout and during some mesmerising concert footage that serves to remind how captivating a performer Jarvis Cocker can be. Cover versions from Sheffield Harmony and a heartwarming rendition of Help The Aged in a cafe, demonstrate the rewarding influence the band’s success have had on the community. One would perhaps expect a Pulp documentary to focus on Cocker and give insight to the man behind the performer but this documentary is not the platform for such. Instead the focus is spread evenly, ensuring that all band members get equal recognition for their part.

The Pulp film tells a heartwarming and commendably humble story of a band and the city that inspired their music. Pulp are a band of the people and like its many of the remarkable subjects documented here, they have no heirs, graces or delusions of grandeur. The band’s incredible live performances speak for themselves and without the blowing of proverbial trumpets. Subtle suggestions reflect Pulp’s largely unspoken phenomenon as Jarvis emerges, 10 million albums and a sell out comeback tour under his belt, through a thick cloud of properly formed dry ice, into the film’s neatly framed conclusion and to the cacophonous roar of a proud hometown singing wholeheartedly as Common People reaches its peak. This isn’t just a film about a band, it’s Sheffield’s story and Pulp, with a little help from Habicht, have the repertoire and capacity to tell it.

By Leigh Clark, also published on Cinevue