Elles

Elles-DVDThis French/Polish erotic drama centers around an investigative journalist writing an article on student prostitution for Elle magazine.

Juliette Binoche coldly portrays Anne: mother, housewife and work-obsessed journalist. In this “day-in-the-life-of” she is nearing the completion of her piece focusing on two university students working as part-time prostitutes to help pay their way through school. As she goes about her daily routine, preparing a meal for her husband’s boss that evening and putting the finishing touches on her article, she continually flashes back to her interview sessions with the girls.

Both are from vastly different backgrounds. Lola is French middle-class with a loving family, Alicja (Joanna Kulig, who was actually featured on the cover of Polish Elle mag this year) is a Polish immigrant with nothing to fall back on but her body for currency. As they tell their tales of various encounters with clients with seeming indifference we are treated to often explicit reenactments, perhaps occurring in Anne’s imagination. At first she is taken back by how nonchalant these young girls are about selling themselves to married men twice their age, but slowly she comes around to their world-view and begins to question her own values and morals.

The roles and stories of the prostitutes are partially based on the testimonies of legitimate hookers director Malgorzata Szumowska met and interviewed as background for the film. Her fantastic visual use of mirrors in various scenes perfectly illustrates the double life/split personality employed by all the characters within.

Overall, the film is fairly slow-paced and uneventful but it’s Binoche who holds it all together with her usual finesse; witnessing her character of Anne gradually slip into sexual erraticism and emotional turmoil is indeed a trip worth taking.

Recommended viewing for fans of heavy arthouse fare à la Michael Haneke.

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Henry and June

Henry_and_June

Based on the works and diaries of French author Anais Nin, this film is a stylized look at the relationship of Nin and American writer Henry Miller. We are whisked away to Paris 1931 where Nin and Miller are about to embark on a torrid love affair involving not only their bodies but their intellects as well. The film is about Nin’s exploration of her own sexuality, of her discoveries and of her love for both Miller and her husband Hugo as well as her feelings towards Miller’s muse – his wife June.

An obvious labour of love from Director Kaufman who also wrote and produced the film, this movie looks beautiful but at times seems a little too clean – the odd cockroach not withstanding. Miller’s poverty barely shows, he’s always clean, the streets are clean, the beds are clean, hell everything looks good. Of course, I guess it is a love story, we hardly want to see the skidmarks do we? Still there is a lack of grit, a lack of the desperation that Miller was feeling while he tried to get his words down – or maybe that’s just me as a fan of his work asking for something Kaufman wasn’t looking for.

A little long perhaps at over two hours but then it is such a languid movie that I guess it couldn’t really be any other way. Solid performances from Fred Ward as Henry Miller and the gorgeous Maria De Medeiros as Anais Nin with Uma Therman sleepwalking through her role as June Miller and Richard E Grant (Hugo) being, well, Richard E Grant really.

This is beautifully done, it is sensual, erotic, intelligent if occasionally a little too slick and an ideal movie to share with your partner but it still left me thinking that there was much more to the story, that there were areas not quite explored. To be honest I was a little disappointed with the movie but I think that is my problem not yours. I was coming into this with Henry Miller’s words in my head not Anais Nin’s. Once I settled into the era and took my blinkers off, I found myself being drawn into their world. Perhaps that is the real reason that Kaufman made a two hour film, to give us luddites a chance to enter.

There’s nothing wrong here, it all looks good, it feels right but for a movie about the souls of two great writers I was left not really knowing anymore about them than when I started. But for all its faults Maria De Medeiros can park her notebook on my bedside table anytime she wants!

PS – despite the cover mentioning DVD extras there was nothing on the disc. But then who needs the production notes anyway?

*Edition reviews is now out of print from Umbrella Entertainment.

Bully

Bully

ORDER DVD

Larry Clark’s films are known for their often controversial subject matter involving young kids and their experimentations with drugs, sex and violence. Bully has a healthy blend of all three subjects only this film takes it all a step further…

Based on the real life events of a group of middle class kids in Florida, Bully tells the tragic story of two friends Bobby and Marty. Bobby is dominant and controlling and often beats Marty, running him down at any moment he can. Enter Lisa, a girl with all the usual strings attached: she falls in love with Marty, gets pregnant and then starts to bitch about his friend (although she has every right to considering he keeps raping her). Lisa comes up with the idea that the only way to solve everyone’s problems is to kill Bobby…

I haven’t read the book Bully: A True Tale of High School Revenge that the film is adapted from, so I am sure that some of the characters’ traits have been embellished for dramatic effect such as Bobby’s fascination with gay porn and his obsessive compulsive actions, although maybe not . In the cast and crew extras someone does mention that the real Lisa commented that the actual murder was not planned like the movie depicts.

Bully definitely holds up to repeated viewing, I‘ve probably seen it about six or seven times as I watched it a lot when it first came out . The murder sequence in Bully is probably the most realistic re-enactment of a murder I’ve seen. The discordance of it all was profoundly effective in drawing you in, my heart still pounds every time I watch it and I always get a queasy stomach. The kids were just so unorganized, not even aware of what they were doing (some thought they were merely giving Kent the bash). It’s one of the most gut wrenching scenes I have ever watched because it is just a complete visceral mess. The kid must have taken forever to die, he pleads with his friends to stop and they just run around stabbing him, some laugh, some cry and some just stare blankly. You have to think these are just your average kids going nowhere, doing nothing but how did it come to this? How could they rationalize murdering someone and not even think of the consequences? If you take nothing from Bully you can’t deny its interesting portrayal of the workings of the teenage mind. Big name actors and glamorization aside, it’s a pretty realistic depiction of drug fucked hedonistic teens. From the clothes to the music Clark has an amazing ability to portray wayward teens in an authentic visual and psychological manner.

If you haven’t seen Bully I’d highly recommend you do.

Special Features:

The Siren Visual release of Bully features cast and crew interviews with Brad Renfro, Nick Stahl, Rachel Miner, Michael Pitt, Bijou Phillips (who is horrifically trashy and so amazing in her role) and Larry Clark; these interview shorts offer some interesting titbits. There’s also a trailer.

  • Director: Larry Clark (USA, 2001)
  • Studio: Siren Visual
  • Runtime: 108 minutes

Valhalla Rising

Valhalla-Rising-DVD-Madman

Valhalla Rising is the story of ‘One Eye’ a mute Scandinavian slave who frees himself from captivity in Scotland. Accompanied by the boy who bought him his slop, ‘One Eye’ ends up in tow with Crusaders making their way to the Holy Land to reclaim it ‘in the name of Christ’.

I’ll start with the good points. Valhalla Rising does have integrity to its story, though not the most exciting, it does stick to its fable closely and doesn’t deviate for the sake of thrills.

The score for the film is probably my favourite thing about it, although barely noticeable it accents the movie well and does not in any way overshadow the film. At times it would have been nice to have some more powerful and engaging music than what is delivered, but overall it plays its part well.

The backdrops of the film are quite nice to look at, and coming from a New Zealander, trust me when I say that the scenery is represented quite stunningly, and various wide shots of the landscapes show this off very well.

The movie drags for the first half of the film (well, just a bit over if we are to be honest), and I will admit it is a bit hard to sit through, but if you do manage this the film does deliver a relatively decent piece of cinema near the end. Although not decent enough to stimulate most who have suffered the first half of the film.

Sadly, the story may be an interesting premise, but its bought to the table relatively early in the film, and lasts for at least the full first half of the film before anything else really happens. And once something else happens . . . a lot of ‘not much’ happens within it. It doesn’t help that throughout the entirety of the film we must be shown One Eye staring, either at something or into the distance, enough times to make a drinking game out of it.

Unfortunately, as eager as I was to see this film, it has more than its fair share of downsides. The film plays along a very somber and overly melodramatic tone for the majority of it, with scenes of extended wonderment that lead to nothing more than a scene transition (I’m not even joking). Some of the characters sport voices that don’t seem to fit anywhere, not the landscape, nor their surrounding characters.

More so, even the star power and acting ability I have come to associate with the star Mads Mikkelsen seems to be lost on this feature. Admittedly he plays his part well, being able to convey his character without the use of the spoken word, and even with his facial features limited by having only one eye. Exceptionally he delivers each of his ‘lines’ with very little tools at his disposal, and does it well. Sadly, they don’t seem to amount to much more import than small moments within the greater tale.

Some archaic blood effects and transition effects also harm this film and give it a sense of illegitimacy that it would have retained with using no CG blood effects or transitions.

If you’ve been oggling this film though, I would suggest maybe renting a copy first or borrowing one off a friend before spending the full price for the film.

Although a relatively good film, Valhalla Rising suffers from some set backs that prevent it from becoming a great film and in turn giving it a lite 5/10 in my books.

Extras:

Features present are an audio commentary with Director Nicolas Winding Refn, and Journalist Alan Jones; A ‘making of’ featurette’, and a theatrical trailer. None of which are particularly impressive, however their inclusion does give this film a bit more credence when it comes to consumer service than even some big budget films (Avatar’s first blu-ray release for example).

The special features are quite impressive, at least for a movie that isn’t a blockbuster and one that some would not have even heard of.

Review by Nortallica

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Tyrannosaur

When I heard that Paddy Considine was working on his directorial debut, I immediately hoped it’d be in the tradition of those other fine British actor-turned-writer/directors, Gary Oldman and Tim Roth. Both took one brief spin in the director’s chair, with Nil by Mouth and The War Zone respectively, and managed to turn out two of the hardest hitting slices of kitchen sink realism I’ve had the (dis)pleasure to encounter. Needless to say my expectations were high going into this one.

Set on a rundown Northern council estate, Tyrannosaur tells the story of Joseph, an aging violence-prone alchoholic who is attempting to pull out of a lifelong downward spiral. In the midst of a final booze-fueled rampage he crosses paths with Hannah, a devout Christian woman who runs the local charity shop. They soon strike up an awkward sort of friendship and as Joseph finds himself pulled deeper into Hannah’s world, he discovers that the grass is not necessarily always greener on the other side.

First off, I’m glad to confirm that my high hopes were not in vain. Mr. Considine’s first feature easily earns its rank among the aforementioned actor/directors offerings. Tyrannosaur seethes with violence and human essence. The first ten minutes alone are so soaked with rage you almost need a breather. Considine executes an unflinching examination of the everyday often hidden realities of society: an existence plagued by poverty, spousal abuse, alcoholism and hopelessness.

The cast is made up of many familiar faces. The role of Joseph is played by another actor/director, Peter Mullan (Boy AThe Red Riding TrilogyMy Name Is Joe) and he is no less than stunning, bringing an air of authenticity to the part that could only have been matched by Ray Winstone himself. Olivia Colman (Green WingPeep Show) as Hannah is quite a surprise and far removed from her Britcom origins. Initially I was curious as to how she’d take on such a role but her transition from comedic actress to battered housewife / conflicted Christian is seamless. The other recognisable mug is Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-LuckyVera Drake, Red Riding) who all too realistically portrays Hannah’s reprobate husband.

Perhaps one could say do we really need another depressing foray into the lives of the battered and broken? Isn’t there enough hardship in the world without wanting to make/watch films about it? But that’s precisely the point: holding up a mirror and showing the human animal as it truly is. Personally I find ten times more worth in films of this ilk than any such Hollywood fantasy and I hope Considine goes on to create many more bleak masterpieces.

EXTRAS:

Extras include commentary with Paddy and the producer, the short film (Dog Altogether) the feature evolved from and the theatrical trailer.

Tyrannosaur is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment

Submarine [Blu-ray]

submarineRichard Ayoade is a British comic actor best known for his work in TV series such as Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and, most prominently, as supernerd “Moss” in The IT Crowd. However, he has also a strong sideline in directing music videos for the likes of Kasabian, Arctic Monkeys and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a path that culminated in his directorial debut, Submarine.

The story of Submarine is that of narrator Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a 15-year-old Welsh schoolboy with all the usual teenage problems. He does not have any close friends, has never had a girlfriend and to top it all off, his parents are having marital difficulties. His mother’s old flame, self-proclaimed New Age guru Graham T. Purvis (Paddy Considine, sporting a spectacular mullet) has moved in next door and sparks interest in his mother (Sally Hawkins) and little resistance from his passive father (a wonderfully laconic Noah Taylor).

Oliver’s world is thrown into chaos when he falls hard for the cynical Jordana (Yasmin Paige) and must deal with a combination of disbelief from his parents and pressure from his classmates. Not to mention trying to make sense of his own feelings and how to handle the complexities of relationships.

Plotwise, there is not much new here. This is a bog standard coming-of-age tale in many ways, but it is the details that elevate it. The performances are excellent across the board, with newcomers Roberts and Paige displaying terrifically measured choices, communicating more in the silences than they do with words. The adult characters are all quirky to the point of near-cartoonish and lend a sense of whimsy to a film that skirts some dark territory like infidelity and cancer.

But the real star of the piece is the surprisingly assured visual style of Ayoade. In the commentary track he name-drops references like Le Samourai and Taxi Driver which may not be the expected influences, but the measured compositions and occasional rapid-fire montages show an accomplished style in that tradition.

Submarine is a deft, clever and enoyable film. While it may be neither affecting nor laugh-out-loud funny enough to touch true greatness, it is a thoroughly entertaining movie and an extremely promising debut for Ayoade.

The Blu-Ray has plenty of extras on board, including the full video of Graham T. Purvis’ “Through The Prism” self-help video, but the most entertaining is a pair of film festival Q & A sessions. Richard Ayoade proves himself hilariously deadpan and these sessions are funnier than the movie itself.

EXTRAS:

  • Trailers
  • Cast and Crew Q & A
  • Test Shoot
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Extended Scenes
  • Music Video
  • “Through the Prism” with Graham T. Purvis
  • Interviews
  • Commentary with director Richard Ayoade, author Joe Dunthorne and Director of Photography Erik Wilson

Submarine is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Madman Entertainment.

Drive

DriveIt’s not often a film completely blows me away but Drive managed the rare feat of doing just that. I went in with fairly high expectations being a big fan of director Nicolas Winding Refn. Refn’s film not only met my expectations but totally exceeded them. Film awards are something that don’t really interest me but I can see why Drive took out the prize for Best Director at Cannes and the film is definitely deserving of such an accolade. Tense, well acted, entertaining and a visual feast for the eyes, Drive has given the action/crime genre a new lease on life.

Drive is the tale of a nameless stunt driver (Ryan Gosling) who moonlights as a getaway driver by night. The driver befriends his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son Benicio (Kaden Leos). Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns after a stint in prison and is forced into committing an armed robbery of a pawn shop. Once the driver discovers the thugs have been threatening Irene and Benicio he offers his services as a getaway driver. The robbery doesn’t go to plan and the driver is thrown right into the chaos of the aftermath. Fairly familiar story right? In fact Drive’s story is almost so familiar that a lesser director would’ve turned this into a forgettable film that slipped under everyone’s radar. Stunning cinematography throughout with some nice touches like the opening chase scene being shot only from inside the car. Gosling gives a solid performance (reminiscent of 70s era Eastwood or Steve Mcqueen) as does the rest of the cast. Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston was a highlight for me and Ron Perlman played the unlikable character of Nino with glee.

It was interesting how Refn handled the primarily American genre. Drive combines Refn’s hard hitting raw aesthetic of his Pusher Trilogy with elements of the gritty modern noir vehicles produced in the US during the late 70s and early 80s. If you’re a fan of Walter Hill or Michael Mann’s early work you’ll be right at home with this one. It is of course easy to compare this film to Hill’s 1978 masterpiece The Driver especially with their similar storylines, characters and rapid fire intense pacing. Drive also tips its hat to Mann’s best flick Thief especially in its cinematography and choice of soundtrack. Like Thief and The Driver, the film tastefully mixes elements of past and present melding them into a stylish reinvention. Thankfully Refn doesn’t lay a tired self reflexive “homage” on us and Drive stands on its own as a film that is aware of genre history refining its elements for the modern era.

For me this is something that’s been long overdue as the usual action fare these days is just hollow and lacking substance. Flashy, big budget and disposable sums it up. Big explosions, car crashes but zero characterization and nothing engaging. Night of the Juggler, The Driver and Thief are fine examples of the gritty, hard-nosed character driven American action films that just aren’t made these days. The subtly of these films made the action and violence – when it did happen – more explosive and hard hitting unlike the wall to wall overload of The Transporter and its ilk. These flicks had a more authentic realism about them and thematically were a lot darker. I think Drive is a film that has really raised the bar and we’ll see its influence in a lot of upcoming films just like the post-Pulp Fiction releases during the 90s.

Drive is a visually impressive and captivating film that will appeal to quite a broad audience; there’s enough action, tension and splatter to keep those after visceral thrills happy. Drive is also exquisitely shot and is a very different film from the the usual action and crime fare which will appeal to the art-house crowd. Most importantly it’s a damn entertaining film with a great cast.

Easily one of the year’s best films for me and in my opinion Nicolas Winding Refn’s best work to date. Drive is destined to become a cult classic and is a welcome return of the dark and gritty American crime film. Essential viewing.

 Drive is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Vendetta Films.

Terri

Terri-DVD-2011The teen/high school/coming-of-age film has to be one of the most universal genres. It doesn’t matter if its Jim Stark (Rebel Without A Cause) or Napoleon Dynamite, films of this type elicit nostalgia, make you reminiscence and most people identify with the misfits, loners, the burgeoning sex drive or the eternal teenage struggle to be understood by the parental unit. Terri is a lot more Indie than most coming-of-age films but is refreshingly different in its approach and as quoted by the Arizona Republic on the back of the DVD cover “ is almost an anti teen-coming-of-age movie”.

Terri is an obese, sensitive high school outcast who lives with and cares for his decrepit pilled-out Uncle. He wears pajamas and never arrives at school on time. One day Terri is summoned to meet with the vice principal, Mr Fitzgerald (played the wonderfully funny John C. Reily), only instead of scalding him he takes Terri under his wing. Fitzgerald dedicates each morning to a particular outcast/troubled kid as it turns out he was somewhat of a monster himself in high-school and knows what they are going through. Through this arrangement Terri befriends some fellow members of Mr Fitzgerald’s “Good Hearts” club (a rebellious loner and a promiscuous blonde) and begins to come out of his shell.

I really have no criticisms of the film, I’m nit-picking here so I’m not biased but some might find that the relationship between Terri and Mr Fitzgerald is really fleshed out but the relationships with his new misfits friends is kind of abrupt… but then isn’t everything in high-school? One minute you’re friends with someone then your not, one minute you have a crush on Johnny then it’s Jimmy.

Terri has none of the normal trappings of an Indie film such as a low-budget; it also has a great script and is superbly acted and filmed. It really comes down to whether or not you like stories that don’t really go anywhere, are not fast paced and are in a sense existential. The humor is very subtle so if you’re looking for a comedy this won’t fulfill your needs. If you like films that take their time and are a reflection of real life then add this to the top of your to view list. You’ll find no fairytale endings, cartoon characters, cautionary tales or dramatic life-changes within the characters here but despite this the film is not bleak at all… it’s just realistic.

Sadly there’s no extras of any substance on this release. I would have enjoyed listening to a commentary with the director or writer and interviews with the cast. I’ve never seen Jacob Wysocki in anything before but he can really hold his own next to the brilliant comedy of John C. Reilly. He’s got a lot of upcoming films in 2012 so he seems like a person to keep an eye on.

Extras:
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Madman Trailers

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment. 

Bedevilled

Bedevilled-DVD

When high-powered businesswoman Hae-won is forced to take leave from her job due to being unwillingly involved in an attempted murder case, she decides on the isolated Moo Do island where she once spent a childhood holiday as her vacation spot. Once she arrives she is reunited with her old friend Bok-nam who, Hae-won soon discovers, has been saddled with the unenviable position of community punching bag.

The small backwards population consists of a handful of old women and three men, one of whom is a catatonic grandfather. While the old women debase Bok-nam verbally, the men (her husband and his brother) break her down physically and mentally. After a failed attempt to escape the island with her daughter results in the child’s death, Bok-nam finally snaps, engaging in a frenzied slaughter spree that will dispose of her tormentors once and for all.

Bedevilled is certainly one of the more bleak and harrowing films I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of witnessing this past year. It forces the viewer to experience the lifetime of degradation Bok-nam has been subjected to by beginning slowly and gradually building its momentum until just when you feel you can’t take any more it explodes into a cathartic orgy of violence.

The film also functions as a character study of two very different women: Hae-won being the upper-class city gal thrown headfirst into an atmosphere of violence and control, and Bok-nam the beaten-down backwoods gal who knows no different. Certain aspects of this bring to mind Dennis Yu’s HK shocker The Beasts and visually one also can’t help but be reminded of The Isle.

With its unsettling themes of sexual violence, child abuse & rampant misogyny, Bedevilled is obviously not a film for everyone but if you’re a fan of boundary-pushing or indeed, South Korean, cinema in the vein of I Saw The DevilThe Isle, or Oldboy, this will undoubtedly be up your alley.

Extras:

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Trailer
  • TV Spot

Available on DVD  and Blu-Ray from Madman Entertainment.

 

Dogtooth

DogtoothdvdDogtooth is a truly unique Greek film that observes the inner workings of an dysfunctional family unit in which the three children (two girls and a boy), now in their early twenties, have been completely denied access to – and contamination by – the outside world.

The family live in an luxurious, yet isolated, country estate where the children have been homeschooled, and had their minds sculpted to fit their father’s bizarre ideals. They are taught facts such as the word for vagina is keyboard, a zombie is a small yellow flower, a salt shaker is called a telephone; they believe their mother is able to give birth to a dog and that cats eat the flesh of children.

Their day-to-day schedule consists of competing against one another in various athletic activities in return for stickers, playing games like “who will wake up first” with a bottle of chloroform or “who can hold their finger under the hot tap the longest”, and throwing items over the surrounding wall to their missing/dead older brother.

The only outsider to enter into their world is Christina, a security guard from the factory where Father works, Christina is paid to provide the son with sexual relief. When Christina trades Older Daughter two videotapes (Rocky and Jaws) for some oral sex, their meticulously constructed universe begins to disintegrate.

I have to say, I’ve never seen anything quite like Dogtooth. Like the father in the film, director Giorgos Lanthimos has created an utterly surreal world that is simultaneously disturbing and absurdly humorous. Where else could graphic scenes of incest and cat mutilation coexist alongside spastic Flashdance -inspired performances and hilarious recitations of Rocky dialog?!

Overall though, the main feeling conveyed is one of sadness. Aside from sporadic outbursts of rage the children act mildly robotic, speaking in monotonous short sentences, and seem generally disconnected emotionally. They live in lavish surroundings yet are unable to properly flourish. Incarcerated in Eden.

Visually one can’t help but be reminded of Michael Haneke’s work; obsessively long takes, methodically framed static shots, a clinically modern aesthetic. It’s hard to say if there’s a message beneath all this irrationality, though various interpretations are possible; perhaps a metaphor for Greece’s totalitarian government or a nod to the numerous incest / imprisonment cases surfacing in recent years (Fritzl, Mongelli, Moe, Alvarez)… either way, this is one unsettling Greek film you don’t want to miss, right up there with Singapore Sling.

Extras:

  • Deleted scenes
  • Theatrical trailer

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.