Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The World's End Review

Director: Edgar Wright

Writers: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg

Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Rosamund Pike, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, David Bradley

Synopsis: Gary King (Pegg) assembles his childhood friends to reattempt an epic pub crawl in their hometown. However, upon getting there they discover the town has been taken over by aliens and the only way to go unnoticed is to carry on their crawl until they reach The World’s End.

Topping Spaced must have had Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost full of trepidation to begin with. With their innate comic sensibilities, however, that worry didn’t last long once The Good Companions came up with Shaun of the Dead. The success of Shaun – from commercial, critical and global appreciation – then made the prospect of a second film quite daunting. Hot Fuzz, as it came to be, was not as wonderful as Shaun of the Dead or Spaced but it made for an entertaining two hours, with a final 30 minutes that was plain ace. So, for the end of their much loved “Blood and Ice Cream”/“Cornetto” trilogy the last instalment means a lot. It’s then a shame that even with some Old Familiar jokes and our best British buddy icons – Pegg and Frost – together again with Wright that The World’s End is not a satisfying end to such a beloved set of films.

One of the main issues with Hot Fuzz lacking Shaun’s certifiable appeal was seeing Pegg go from daft yet doting figure in the First Post of the trilogy film to a stern and slightly cold figure in the next. The World’s End sees him play a weird combination of the two; Gary King is, for the most part, asinine and irksome. Aspects of his back story explain some of these characteristic and help to humanism him past the annoying qualities, but he’ll never be the character you admire the most. He labels himself “The King” but in his friend’s and audience’s eyes he’s just the Famous Cock of the bunch, strutting his stuff, ignorant towards others. Frost’s Andrew is similarly tough to love at the start but soon (after he’s had a few pints) steals the show, just like the Trusty Servant he always is as the comic support. Rosamund Pike as the love interest is token and dull, whilst the Mermaid-esque “Marmalade Sandwich” are far more fun and interesting. The remaining players, mainly Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan serve to aid exposition and occasional narrative momentum but fail to give the ensemble the same soul that the Spaced crew mustered.

The constant comparison to the trio’s previous work is hard to let slide, especially with a barrage of cameos and occasional in-jokes we’ve come to know over the years. They are always lovely reminders as to how far the cast and crew have all come, and to highlight the fan base they’ve built up. The World’s End is a Beehive of the Cornetto trilogy actors and contemporary comic stars, popping up to please you past the narrative and dialogue. Some actors are missed (Peter Serafinowicz and Jessica Hynes went unspotted), leaving you with the feeling that it’s not all said and done. This may be deemed the final chapter in the Cornetto trilogy but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. Expecting some sort of bow from the lot of them once the credits start rolling, this is not a heartfelt goodbye/trilogy sign-off from Pegg, Wright and Frost and the curiosity as to why leaves a damper on it all. Overall it’s hard to tell what tonality Pegg and Wright (as the writers) are after; it’s like the film’s Two Headed Dog image, one’s attention on one thing and one’s on something else.

Without the trio’s names on the billing/in someone else’s hands, this film would be a write-off. It’s a mark of the team’s brilliance that they have made such an abnormal film without a studio or test-audience’s involvement – a testament to what they mean to British entertainment, working only with each other. The plot never really lulls once it gets going but it takes a slow 30 minutes for drinks and fun to be had. The pub crawl plot is a brilliantly inventive narrative – linear with countless opportunities for side-stepping and disequilibrium. The town invasion story is where the chaos really ensues but the basic premise is used in conjunction with aliens terrifically.

After Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and the upcoming Antman, Wright has mastered his fight choreography with The World’s End sporting some excellent fight sequences. One moment sees Gary attempting to fend off a hoard of the townspeople whilst trying not to spill his pint. It’s a fantastic piece of physical humour – you can tell all of what’s going through King’s Head to keep that pint full as Pegg has become a masterful comic actor; Buster Keaton would have been proud. With many a Hole in the Wall/window, fires, and blood/ink splatters when fights really erupt, it’s a fun and exciting ride when it wants to be. Sadly, it builds and builds to a crescendo that neither satisfies nor leaves any great moments in its wake. What we do benefit from is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of the aforementioned Cornetto at the end – the best gag saved till last.

With the town invasion aside that harks back to Shaun’s thematic as well as Hot Fuzz’s eerie rural village focus, it certainly feels like part of the trilogy. However, the humour and characters are disappointingly average in relation to what’s come before. With the jokes about the Starbucks effect on pubs, Frost once he’s had a few, and a handful of guests that put a smile on your face, The World’s End keeps you entertained and chuckling, but never thrilled and in stitches. Much like a night of drinking, it seems to get better as more alcohol becomes consumed but may induce a sickly feeling for the bound-to-be-disappointed fans who were awaiting a triumphant finish to the Blood and Ice Cream films.

Also posted on LiveForFilms

Now You See Me Review

Director: Louis Leterrier

Writers: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Mélanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Michael Kelly, Common

Synopsis: Four trained illusionists perform three big performances wherein they pull off heists. With its illegality they are instantly tracked by the FBI but due to their trained trickery they are harder to catch than the FBI had imagined.

You may think there is a limit to a magician’s abilities, yet seeing those limits shrugged to one side by those performers consistently interests us. Now You See Me doesn’t so much shrug but shoo away most levels of believability when showing illusionists eliminating limitations. It’s ridiculous at points, levelled out by its core theme – magic – that parades it as just a fun ride.

With its tongue firmly in its cheek, the magic/heist thriller is not the psychological sleeper hit like The Prestige or even The Illusionist but lighthearted and, at points, very entertaining. Combining two subjects tricky to depict without garnering sighs or snickers from the audience, Now You See Me manages to mesh together the magician and heist sub-genres with glossy finesse. There are clichés and stumbling blocks in the script but for the most part it's a savvy screenplay brought to life by an excellent cast.

Bar Isla Fisher, Dave Franco and Common you have some heavy weights making up the ensemble - Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson to older screen legends such as Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. Not all give their best performances and actors like Eisenberg and Harrelson seem stuck on autopilot for parts not wonderfully written. With so many in the cast, however, you're always able to find a handful of fascinating faces.

Joining the ranks of the familiar Hollywood bunch is French actress Mélanie Laurent (best known for Inglorious Basterds) whose beauty lights up the screen, whilst also adding a mysterious foreign allure to the proceedings. Laurent being the only love interest in the film (with Fisher’s character relatively wooden for such a part) becomes quite a central figure, alongside Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo may not be the top billed name on the poster but this is unquestionably his film – and rightly so. Ruffalo has been consistently great in the majority of his films (even ghost rom-com Just Like Heaven is an interest watch with him in the lead), commonly strapped with the supporting role. Here he pilots the film more or less; the magicians are leading the chase yet it’s Ruffalo’s agent Rhodes that we predominantly follow, hot on the Four Horsemen’s heels. He’s surrounded by deception, attempting to stay on top of matters whilst stumbling over red herrings, a plot device that could be decimated by a lesser actor, but not by the Zodiac and Avengers Assemble star.

With the large cast the film meanders from time to time, but for some characters the parts are well written (Ruffalo, Caine, Freeman and Laurent) and the plot-line thrilling. Following so many players has its pros and cons yet the interesting pro is on another viewing you’ll notice something different or watch events in another light. It’s a clever aspect of the film, and the marketing whereby Now You See Me could achieve a second life on DVD/Blu-ray/VOD.

Also posted on LiveForFilms

The Accused [Anklaget] Review

Director: Jacob Thuesen

Writer: Kim Fupz Aakeson

Starring: Troels Lyby, Sofie Gråbøl, Paw Henriksen, Louise Mieritz, Søren Malling

Synopsis: Henrik (Lyby) lives a normal life with his wife (Gråbøl) and daughter yet when the latter accuses him of sexual abuse his world shatters around him. Everyone begins to question his innocence, to a point where even Henrik wonders about it all.

Following hot on the heels of recent Nordic hits such as A Hijacking and The Hunt, Accused hasn’t the power or poignancy to better the Vinterburg greats, but it’s still a moving and dramatic addition to the catalogue.

Having The Hunt’s shadow hanging unforgettably over it, Accused will struggle to seem fresh. Even with the film premiering back in 2005 the DVD release works as an accompanying piece to the Vinterburg film. As it stands – in absence of The Hunt’s hype – it’s a memorable movie, just slightly out of league with what Mikkelsen and Vinterburg accomplished. Accused does, however, explore its psychological basis in such an interesting way that you feverishly await the conclusion.

Troels Lyby as Henrik begins as an innocent, average man; he quickly changes once his daughter tells an apparent lie about sexual abuse. Much like The Hunt it’s the evolution of this lie and its effect that draws you in. To clarify how Accused is not a carbon-copy of the Mads Mikkelsen thriller, the question of innocence is never as clear-cut as The Hunt. Lyby plays the part frighteningly well – unreadable to a degree where absolute anything could be revealed.

As a character piece it’s wonderful, with a brief turn from Søren Malling as Henrik’s lawyer, strangely unconcerned about what the abuse claims means to his working relationship with Henrik. His brief but important role capitalises on the film’s underlying message that this type of story is scarily common.

It’s not a film to competently address the issues of child molestation – as Henrik is predominantly shown as the victim of a “lie” – yet it incontestably depicts the distress of the subject. Further to that, the blue-tinged look of the film adds to the melancholy aspect of it all, and draws attention to the Nordic Noir style, fast becoming an exciting and unmissable genre.
Also posted on LiveForFilms

The Long Riders Blu-Ray Restoration Review

Director: Walter Hill

Writers: Bill Bryden, Steven Smith, Stacy Keach, James Keach

Starring: David Carradine, Keith Carradine, Robert Carradine, Stacy Keach, James Keach, Randy Quaid, Dennis Quaid

Synopsis: Following the Youngers, the Jameses and the Millers – all notorious outlaws back in the Old West, who raided and stole from banks across the country.

The Western film craze was said to have ended with Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, though there was still one director adamant at making his own. Walter Hill – whose work before The Long Riders foamed at the mouth with motifs reminiscent of quintessential Westerns – always needed to add to the genre. The Long Riders may not be a masterpiece yet it’s grounded in appreciation and understanding of the specific style, constructed fantastically well.

Being released in 1980 it was a striking and off-beat project in amongst the buddy movies, spoofs and slasher movies. However, the other Western from that year, Heaven’s Gate, became one of the biggest box-office bombs of all time, leaving The Long Riders on treacherous ground. Without looking at its abilities to thrill, Hill’s Western is poetic and beautiful. It can still amp up the action to a spectacular degree though it feels more like an elegiac hark-back to what was once the most popular genre at the multiplex.

There are a lot of truisms of the Western brazenly scattered throughout; Hill clearly loves to show and pastiche his muses. Cinephiles will notice the slow-motion shots in the chaos of gun fights, a reminder of Peckinpah, some Arthur Penn and, most importantly, Akira Kurosawa. As Hill notes in the “Slow Motion: Walter Hill on Sam Pekinpah” featurette, the effect was used to extend a certain nightmarish quality of the brutality. In this he succeeds, just one element in a bountiful display of care and craft that has gone into the direction of the film.

Hoping to really capture believability in his biopic of the gang of brothers, Hill cast actual acting siblings (the Carradines, the Quaids and the Keaches). This creates an undeniable chemistry and bond on screen, enabling empathy often absent in these types of films. Having the Carradines sharing the lead characters with the Keaches, is far more interesting than if the Keach brothers had written the script with heavy focus on Jesse and Frank James. It’s a selfless move on their part to portray the band of outlaws and not only the most famous of the group. In fact, the James brothers are the least interesting to watch on screen (not a criticism of the acting), with each Younger having far more fascinating traits and relationships.

Cole Younger, played by David Carradine, is in an on-and-off-again relationship with a town whore played by Pamela Reed. Reed is wonderful, picking up on the headstrong, tough characteristic of the Western prostitute and having fun with the Benedict/Beatrix battle of wits with Cole. Never focused on too heavily, or causally represented, this is a core theme of the film – the group’s link with domesticity and women. Cole and Reed’s Belle are at the forefront of this arc, promoting the multifaceted nature of the script.

The downside to the film is how the story eventually dithers over a conclusion. Jesse James is always the prime suspect in the chase between the Pinkerton agency and the outlaws, though the writers continually find a way to balance out this attention until the end. The Ford brothers eventually are granted their spotlight, poorly initiated into the chronicle, especially in comparison to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Much like the Western genre, the film ends with a whimper and not a bang, sadly.

Looking and sounding superb, The Long Riders is a well-deserved Bluray transfer. Ry Cooder’s score melodically moves us through the years of the Youngers and Jameses whilst Ric Waite’s cinematography stunning snapshots it all. It begins looking as though it may have aged, but once the first 30 minutes pass (also getting the half hour of heavy exposition out of the way), it’s invigorating.

Extras: Outlaw Brothers: The Making of The Long Riders with Walter Hill, James Keach and Robert Carradine (60 mins) – very detailed overview of the film from a contemporary standpoint
The Northfield Minnesota Riad: Anatomy of a Scene with Walter Hill, James Keach and Robert Carradine (15 mins) – pretty great to see how some of the amazing stunt work was achieved.
Slow Motion: Walter Hill on Sam Pekinpah (5 mins) – even with such a short run time this is nicely eye-opening and instructive.

Also posted on Flickering Myth

The Iceman Review

                                                                 Director: Ariel Vromen

Writers: Morgan Land, Ariel Vromen

Starring: Michael Shannon, Wiona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, David Schwimmer, Robert Davi, James Franco, Stephen Dorff

Synopsis: Chronicling the life of Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski (Shannon), a near-emotionless contract killer for the mob.

Just before he becomes a global superstar with Man of Steel, there is still opportunity to see Michael Shannon doing what he does best – troubled, embittered characters in independent films. Growing ever-more popular since his Oscar-nominated role in Revolutionary Road, it’s still refreshing to see Shannon take on smaller roles in what are essentially cult films. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, Bad Lieutenant and Take Shelter (one of the best films of recent memory) have all been minute films in comparison to what will be the next Superman movie, and all promote Shannon’s great talent. The Iceman feels slightly bigger (with an all-star cast and 40s-80s expensive set, props and costume design) but is contained in its meditative portrayal of one of America’s most prolific hired hitmen.

A fan of Michal Shannon is a fan of rather slow and sometimes solemn cinema. For those looking for a contemporary action-packed, bloody gangster film, The Iceman won’t completely satisfy. The events that unravel are frequently paired with gory violence and gun-shots but this isn’t a modern Goodfellas. Instead, Ariel Vromen has made a gloomy, dramatised biopic of an unreadable man. Kuklinski is a quiet sort whose purpose and drive in life is never completely detailed. In following a mysterious figure for 100 minutes there has to be something intriguing to warrant interest. It was similar with Mesrine, and like the French criminal film it is only the lead actor who manages to keep you from nodding off. Mesrine’s Vincent Cassell is, in many ways, a European version of Shannon who acts with his eyes and with very little expression, yet still conveys a wealth of emotion by some strange happenstance. Both warrant your attention in nearly everything they do but they cannot continually act within stand-out films. This is the case for The Iceman which is good, but not great.

Performances are terrific all round (though David Schwimmer playing a gangster is jarring even with nine years passing since Friends) and it’s usually very aesthetically pleasing. None of these factors, however, can ever save a film from a dull screenplay. The Iceman’s life is an intriguing one but it’s missing something electric and poignant. The end tries to surmise the man’s life in a powerful way, yet fails somewhat by the modestly mundane proceeding 95 minutes.

For fans of Michael Shannon it is worth watching; as he ages through the film you can see Shannon’s performance evolving progressively, advertising his innate acting skills. Ray Liotta joining him (adding another mob-man to his character catalogue) and further support from an unrecognisable Chris Evans give the film some interesting scenes. Nevertheless, on the whole, the film is insubstantial in its exploration of Kuklinski’s life leaving it only as an average piece of entertainment.

Also posted on Flickering Myth 

The Liability Review

Director: Craig Viveiros

Writer: John Wrathall

Starring: Tim Roth, Jack O’Connell, Peter Mullan, Talulah Riley 

Synopsis: In order to pay the damage on his step-dad’s car, Adam (O’Connell) agrees to drive a mysterious gangster (Roth) around for 24 hours. During the day he’s privy to new, exciting, haunting, and tough experiences until they all dangerously collide.

British crime films are all-too-common since the success of Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. Many have gone in the opposite direction of the Guy Ritchie crime-caper and set a deeply dark tone as a trend. However, occasionally there are refreshing examples of macabre humour, nicely reminiscent of Ritchie’s 1998 classic. Whilst The Liability will not become a new favourite it contains an hour of decent action and witty dialogue. Sadly, it falls flat with a messy last half hour as it tries to stretch itself too far with genre-play.

Starting off as an ostensibly average crime comedy, The Liability moulds itself into a quaint buddy movie once Tim Roth enters into it. From his entrance until the introduction of Talulah Riley’s character, there is an excellent series of quips exchanged between Roth and Jack O’Connell. Roth’s Roy is steeped in mystery and remains as such through 99% of the film (a trait that needn’t be criticised) so having his opposite alongside of him – yapping away at every given moment, and querying the ins and outs of the profession – works wonders for the plot and character development.

Things take a sharp turn for the worst when a seemingly dormant plot line comes to the forefront of the story. It first involves Talulah Riley’s character stumbling upon Roy and Adam’s crime scene and finding herself with a key piece of evidence. It’s just after her getaway with the evidence that the film wanders into Americana (a diner with a neon-lit car park, a score pathetically similar to Drive, and milkshake and Ray Ban sunglasses iconography) and destroys the vibe so well-crafted up until now.

It gets no better, and despite some beautiful cinematography within these American-inspired scenes, it acquires an awkward ambience overall. One giant, in-your-face set piece may have seemed like a good idea on paper but it does no justice to the small, smart film it started off as. By the end it brings itself back to earth but the damage is already done, especially with a last shot that will make your eyes roll right back into your skull. 

The prominent cast members – Tim Roth and Peter Mullan – continue to own their respective scenes but upcoming star Jack O’Connell does a brilliant job of stealing occasional moments from them. The 22 year-old actor, who rose to fame with Skins and Harry Brown, has no emotionally draining scenes in the film, but leaves a definite impression on it overall. If The Liability lacks tonal fluidity, it certainly reinforces the cast’s ability to lead and support in every sense.


Also posted on LiveForFilms

Cannes 2013: Last Days on Mars Review

Director: Ruairi Robinson

Writer: Clive Dawson

Starring: Liev Schreiber, Romola Garai, Elias Koteas, Olivia Williams, Johnny Harris

Synopsis: A research team in their last few hours on Mars discover a deadly enemy that soon dangerously jeopardizes their lives.

Since Ridley Scott’s Alien many space exploration films have focused on perils and perdition in lonely atmospheres. Ruairi Robinson’s first feature, Last Days on Mars, is one such film clearly influenced by Scott and other works such as Event Horizon and Sunshine. It does not offer much more than what has come before it yet is an extremely impressive debut that hits all the right notes for fans of the sub-genre.

Centred on Mars explorers with a few hours left until returning to Earth, the first half of Last Days on Mars is a measured analysis of an alien terrain shot and crafted through CGI beautifully. The second half then amps up the pace once the crew become infected – still well-shot but certainly less artistic. The style that swaps from a measured character and landscape study to a fast-paced horror/thriller is not so jarring, thanks to Robinson’s clear direction and an expectation from this type of story.

How Robinson constructs the film is incredibly mature and knowing; he clearly understands genre and the parameters of CGI and practical filmmaking. For what would imaginably be a CGI-heavy and clichéd Hollywood version, Robinson’s independent production has allowed a more solemn and realistic (and therefore more frightening) take on astronauts and aliens.

The lead astronaut is Liev Schreiber, brilliant throughout though somewhat overshadowing actors like Elias Koteas and Olivia Williams, regrettably. This could alter Schreiber’s career and provide him with less supporting roles, and perhaps more leading material, as he’s a great hero to follow. He stands out as the least passé character of the group, instilling some originality.

Some parts may seem predictable and there are examples of stock characters, yet they are truisms of the genre that cannot always be side-stepped. For what Robinson is hoping to achieve (an accomplished, entertaining entry into the sci-fi horror genre) he should not be faulted; his mise-en-scène is impeccable, creating a-near flawless ambience. It is, in sum, a smartly-written, elegantly executed genre-piece. It may not inject much new blood into the catalogue of space-exploration horror but it will deservedly find its audience.

Last Days on Mars was competing in the Director's Fortnight Selection at Cannes 2013. Also published in Nisimazine Cannes 2013 (page 23)

A Conversation on Canadian Cinema

While the big studios of Western filmmaking are usually associated with America, more and more filmmakers flock to Canada. In the biggest cities – Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver – an increasing amount of films are being shot in and around the Canadian epicentres. With all the success the three big cities have had with industry business it does not affect the filmmakers born and raised in Canada. On the contrary, the work of contemporary Canadian filmmakers has gone against the fierce American tide and is always unique and personal. This year’s 66th Cannes Film Festival brings two Québécois directors (Sébastien Pilote and Chloé Robichaud) and one Saskatonian (Jefferson Moneo), all with work inherently native.

For years Canadian cinema has been criticised for not embracing its culture and roots. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz starred American-born actors, The Statement in 2003 was lead by Michael Caine and a film like Porky’s is unrecognisable as a Canadian product. Some directors are clearly interested in venturing out but this year’s group of Canadian directors at Cannes are wonderfully in favour of their homeland for shooting. Robichaud stated, “I wanted my first feature to be set in my hometown. I wanted to show that landscape – it’s part of what I see every day” Moneo and Pilote added to this impulse with the former saying “I’ve zero interesting in filming in a city or in America.” Additionally, Pilote supplied his thoughts about the advantages of his country’s film industry - “I was at Sundance at one point and standing beside an American filmmaker [and] I felt like a king because our country has such easy access to funding (even if it’s not always easy to get it). It’s a public investment in Canada (as it’s from taxes) but in America it’s all private and you have to pay it back or else you lose your house!”

During one Canadian talent panel talk at Cannes all three directors discussed and highlighted their shared experiences with community filmmaking and funding. They all praised the financial support available whilst also mentioning the difficulties. Robichaud talked about the “struggle getting financed”; the young filmmaker also shed light on the independent side of things whereby she used her own money when funding might have been too tough to acquire. In spite of occasional problems, Moneo recognised the benefits of Canadian funding. He asserted that, “Financing is difficult in Canada but I go to film school in America and it’s lot more difficult for them than it is for us. We know where we need to go to get a film funded but down there it’s all private investment so they’ve got to put a lot more effort into trying to track down funding than we do. We’re definitely looking at a smaller piece of pie.”

Canada may be a much larger country than the USA but its film industry is far smaller. The aforementioned pie cannot feed all of the young new Canadian filmmakers as America’s often can. Not able to produce as many features, shorts and programmes as the US, Canada has therefore continually struggled with getting a wide audience. So close to a country famed with releasing thousands of box-office successes, Canada is still slightly overshadowed by its US neighbour. Despite this, however, every year Canadian cinema brings forth a new and well-received gem. As Sébastien Pilote was keen to point out, “For three years we’ve been at the Oscars for Best Foreign language film [War Witch, Monsieur Lazhar, Incendies] which is amazing for us being such a small province [Quebec]. So it’s an amazing time for Canadian cinema right now.” This string of critical triumph is not just limited to awards ceremonies either, and festivals all over the world are supportive of the country’s work. Cannes is one such festival, with this year bringing back Pilote, Robichaud and Moneo from previous years there, as well as several other shorts directors. Taking a trip to the Canadian pavilion in the International Village you are among not just two or three visitors, but scores of guests and talent.

At the 66th Festival de Cannes the Canadian work aims to highlight the bountiful landscape and artists. All wanted to show their hometowns in their new films. Robichaud and Pilote within the Quebec region offer French-speaking dramas, straight-forward with their presentation of their homeland. Moneo, on the other hand, wants to shake impressions up as he ruminates that “people often think of rural Canada as this beautiful, pastoral landscape yet I’ve always thought of it as very strange and the people (even though my family’s there) very odd...[There’s] a slight mystery in that landscape that’s fun to shoot and fun to explore.” Showing or subverting the land of their country will doubtlessly aid Canada’s commercial and critical push forward – showing people the various environments for education and entertainment. In the end, the three directors (and more) are doing so exceptionally well with their respective films, extending the path Canadian cinema is taking to reach out to a huge audience.

Published in Nisimazine Cannes 2013 (page 37)

Cannes 2013: Borgman Review

Director/Writer: Alex van Warmerdam

Starring: Jan Bijvoet, Hadewych Minis, Jeroen Perceval, Alex van Warmerdam

Synopsis: A mysterious figure works his way into the home of a middle-class family, corrupting their seemingly perfect life and developing unaccountable disequilibrium.

Throwing you into its barmy world from the get-go, Borgman is devilishly playful in its 113 minute runtime. Van Warmerdam concocts a scenario that feels like a combination of Coens black comedy, Jodorowsky-esque mysticism and Buñuelian farce. The latter comparison is perhaps the most palpable, with a dining room scene brazenly influenced by The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

Also like Buñuel, surrealism runs throughout. We start off following a trio of armed civilians (one being a priest) head into the woods, shooting beneath the ground. Under the shed leaves and tree roots lies Borgman, a skinny bearded man who escapes by tunnelling under the woodlands. The opening renders these eclectic images and ideas that work in grabbing your attention unfalteringly.

It continues as such, as Borgman infiltrates a bourgeoisie home and begins to manipulate the family. One way this happens is through a demonic breed of inception (DiCaprio’s Cobb hasn’t the skill that Borgman does), as Borgman sits atop the sleeping mother feeding thoughts of domestic violence into her dreams until she begins to fear her husband. This is just one element of the narrative’s implosive destruction, ideologically fascinating and artistically invigorating (especially given that Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare must have proved as some inspiration). What’s more, the mise-en-scène is infused with intricate details, sometimes missed on a first viewing and dotted around to enjoy on multiple viewings.

One other reason to re-watch the film is in hope to understand the overall raison d'être. The motivations are never explained and the audience is never given a reasonable conclusion. Some may hate the incompleteness, walking out confused and irritated. However, even as the end does seem flat and unfinished (even within its ambiguous parameters) Borgman is incredibly rich in its confoundedness. Searching for meaning is just as enjoyable as the basic linear narrative itself. It entertains to such a degree you yearn for an extra hour.

Jan Bijvoet in the lead holds the film on his shoulders with an impeccable energy. The character’s orchestration of unrest could provide the springboard for an over-the-top performance yet Bijvoet is graceful in his dance of destruction. It’s a subtle performance, almost silent as the family around scream and shout in their confusion. Hilariously, as the family become jitterier, Borgman composes himself to a gentlemanly demeanour – an image that illuminates the peculiarity perfectly.

Alex van Warmerdam warped mind is terrific fun, with Borgman revelling in its inanity. So much lies beneath the surface of the film and like the wife character that has her mind mutated by the eponymous anti-hero, the audience is at the mercy of the director and protagonist’s mischief.

Borgman was competing in the Official Competition selection at Cannes 2013. Also posted on LiveForFilms