Posts Tagged ‘drama’

ALC_poster

Director: Alan Rickman

Writers: Jeremy Brock, Alison Deegan, Alan Rickman

Country: UK

Runtime: 117 mins

Cast: Kate Winslet (Sabine De Barra), Stanley Tucci (Philippe, Duc D’Orleans), Jennifer Ehle (Madame De Montespan), Alan Rickman (King Louise XIV), Helen McCrory (Madame De Notre), Matthias Schoenaerts (André Le Notre )

A stylish but undemanding period romance

Let me say right away that I think I may have enjoyed this period drama rather more than it deserved to be liked. Directed by Alan Rickman, A Little Chaos has some genuinely good qualities. The sets and costumes are lavish, the cinematography is beautiful, and there is some top class acting. Notably, Kate Winslet is in her element playing a woman striving for independence in a man’s world, smart but not overconfident.

As Sabine De Barra, a landscape gardener, she secures a position – in the face of male competition – to lead the construction of the grand gardens at the Palace of Versailles. The man who appoints her is André Le Notre (Matthias Schoenaerts), the head gardener to King Louis XIV. At Sabine’s first interview, however, André is not impressed by the lack of order in her designs, telling her: “In my world anarchy is by royal command and even chaos must adhere to budget”. However, upon reconsideration he decides that she can provide the kind of original eye that the gardens need.

His decision marks him out as a man of sensitivity and, unsurprisingly, an attraction develops between him and Sabine. But in time-honoured fashion there are barriers to any romance. She is widowed and with a secret that is hinted at by the visions she has of a young girl dressed in white; he is in a loveless marriage to a woman who thinks nothing of paying men for sex but who will not tolerate him forming outside attachments. Madame Le Notre (Helen McCrory) also has the ear of the Queen, so is able to exert control over her husband.

Sitting above all the courtly intrigue is the King himself, adroitly played by Alan Rickman who alternates between being fearsomely imperious and quirkily amusing. Will Sabine’s idiosyncratic vision meet his exacting requirements? And in the face of adversity will the gardens even be completed on time?

The film’s central weakness is its essentially Mills and Boon-ish plot, coupled with a certain lack of pacing. It’s pretty undemanding stuff, but may well find an audience for those who enjoy a straightforward old-fashioned romantic tale.

Rating: 6/10.

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Nightcrawlerfilm

Director: Dan Gilroy

Writer: Dan Gilroy

Country: USA

Runtime: 117 mins

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Joe Paxton

Jake Gyllenhaal excels as a psychopathic news cameraman working his way up the ladder of power

Dan Gilroy’s superb first directorial effort, Nightcrawler, is the gripping story of a ruthless nobody-turned-freelance-cameraman who works his way up the ladder by taking risks and transgressing moral boundaries. But really, Nightcrawler is more than this. It is a dark satire on the kind of Randian objectivist philosophy, which champions the pursuit of individual self-interest within a system of laissez-faire capitalism. Gilroy shows how this kind of world corrupts everybody who comes into contact with it.

The film begins with a gaunt, straggly-haired, Louis “Lou” Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), trying to scrape a living by stealing copper wire and other metallic items in order to sell to a scrap yard. But Bloom is not just an ordinary guy ducking-and-diving to make his way through hard times. He is a psychopath. In the opening scene, whilst Bloom is trespassing in order to cut a section of wire fence, he is challenged by a security guard. Bloom attacks the guard and steals the chunky watch he is wearing. As later events transpire Bloom’s character never changes. The only sense in which he learns is by digesting information from the internet that he then uses to his advantage in his interactions with others. It is the people around Gyllenhaal who change, becoming more compromised and corrupted as he manipulates them (although the news environment itself is already the ideal environment for such manipulation to occur).

Bloom discovers a way to escape from his world of petty crime when, whilst driving down the Los Angeles freeway, he encounters a news crew filming a bloody crash scene. Buttonholing one of the cameramen, Joe (Joe Paxton), he learns that they are a freelance outfit selling to whichever station pays the most.  Bloom steals a bicycle and takes it to a used goods store, where he swaps it for a camcorder and a police band radio. From this point onwards he starts muscling in at accident and crime scenes, racing to beat other crews to get the first pictures.

After selling some footage to Nina (Rene Russo), the head of a local newsroom, she gives him advice about the kind of footage they are seeking, which is predominantly white victims in the suburbs being hurt at the hands of the poor or ethnic minorities. She sums up the spirit of what they air as “a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut”.

Bloom recruits a homeless Asian guy, Rick (Riz Ahmed), as a low-paid intern, whose job is “to listen to the emergency radio, learn the police codes, help navigate and watch the car”. Like a ghoulish version of his namesake in Ulysses, Bloom stalks the city streets with Rick seeking death and injury. With an eye as to what makes a good shot, he begins to rearrange crime and accident scenes for his own benefit, and to intrude on private property. His relationships with others are entirely economic transactions. One moment Bloom is threatening Rick with the sack for spilling petrol on the paintwork of his car, but the next moment he is dishing out praise and the prospect of promotion in order to overcome Rick’s moral qualms about their actions. Bloom starts a relationship with Nina, but this is entirely premised on the value of the footage he is able to collect and the possibility he might take it to another station.

It is a tribute to the screen presence and acting skills of Gyllenhaal, as well as to Gilroy’s excellent screenplay, that the audience (this viewer, at least) is able to maintain interest in a character as unsympathetic as Bloom. One of the characteristics of psychopaths, of course, is that they are often charming. Gyllenhaal captures this in the exchanges where, with a half-smile on his face and burning intensity in his eyes, he lavishes praise and flattery on others. I would not be surprised to see Gyllenhaal in the shortlist for the Oscars. Rene Russo (married to writer/director Dan Gilroy) also turns in a good performance as Nina, who by turns seems repelled and attracted by Bloom’s usurping of her power in both their personal and professional relationships. Riz Ahmed does a splendid job of portraying the plight of Rick, who has been taken off the streets by Bloom, but who could end up back there at any moment. He knows that what they are doing is wrong, but is desperate not to be homeless again. Rick is more dependent on Bloom than anyone else, but he is also the only person to show any moral qualms. Despite the various bullshit motivational speeches that Bloom makes, Rick’s liquid eyes constantly alternate between hope and fear. I wouldn’t mind betting that Ahmed could find himself in the Oscar stakes for best supporting actor.

In one sense, Dan Gilroy is treading similar ground to films like Wall Street and The Wolf of Wall Street. However, whereas those films placed considerable emphasis on the lifestyle excess that accompanies professional success, Nightcrawler is a much more ascetic affair. Bloom is a loner, who continues to live in a modest apartment even as his success spirals. His sole motivation is to be good at what he does and to climb the ladders of power. Other people are there to be used in whatever way will help achieve his goals. Unlike, say, the character of Bud Fox in Wall Street, there is absolutely no capacity for empathy or redemption. The consequences of this behaviour are shown to chilling effect.

I was also impressed by the musical soundtrack to the film. This is very unobtrusive, but all the more effective for it in a less-is-more kind of way. There are many sequences where there is no background music, but then when it appears it comes in fairly quietly and then builds, so that an atmosphere is created almost without you noticing the music.

Rating: 10/10

Correction: In an earlier version I wrote “aesthetic”, when I meant to say “ascetic”.

AGWHAN_poster

Director: Ana Lily Amirpour

Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour

Country: Iran / USA

Runtime: 99 min

Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh, Dominic Rains

Judging by the feedback of the London Film Festival audience for A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, there is a pretty good chance that this first full feature by Ana Lily Amirpour is going to become a cult classic. The story concerns a female vampire (“the girl”) who wanders the streets of an imagined Iranian town, Bad City. Her appearance is striking: she wears a chador open at the front to reveal a striped T-shirt, and her blank, uncomprehending eyes are ringed with dark mascara. In an early scene we get a glimpse of her fearsome power when she kills Saeed (Dominic Rains), a frighteningly thuggish pimp/drug dealer.

Subsequently, the film follows her developing relationship with a young man, Arash (Arash Marandi), who previously had his luxury car stolen by Saeed as payment for his father’s drug debts. There is a sense that both of them are lost. Arash is a typical young man, trying to forge an identity for himself, but being muscled aside by bigger, more confident men whilst trying to attract girls at a party. The girl encounters him whilst he is lost in the city at night, high on ecstasy. We do not know anything about her past or where she has come from, and she herself seems confused by her own existence. Strangely, though, although she does kill again, she seems only to kill those whose lives she judges to have little or no value.

Although I enjoyed A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, it is somewhat flawed. On the positive side, much of the imagery and cinematography is beautiful. Sheila Vand is utterly captivating as the girl. The first 15 minutes or so are really quite enthralling, with a clearly-identified “good guy” (Arash) coming into conflict with an obvious scary villain (Saeed). However, having established Saeed as a seriously frightening bad guy, he then gets bumped off. The girl, who is also a deeply sinister presence to begin with later becomes a much softer and likeable presence. What starts out as a horror-drama gradually develops into a kind of comedy romance. The change was a little confusing for this viewer, at least.

After Saeed’s death the film drifts along a little, and there are some longeurs, but somehow it gets by on charm. Part of the charm comes from Vand’s lost and lonely vampire, who I just wanted to give a big hug, but much of it comes from Arash’s pet cat. Yes, you heard that right – a cat. Just as some suggested that Inside Llewyn Davis was an ironic comment on Blake Snyder’s screenwriting classic “Save The Cat”, writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour seems to have unironically implemented the entire cat concept in this film. It does make for enjoyable viewing, but ultimately I wondered if perhaps I had enjoyed the film rather more than it really deserved.

Rating: 6/10

Shown at the 2014 BFI London Film Festival

Strangeronthethirdfloor

Director: Boris Ingster

Writer: Frank Partos

Country: USA

Runtime: 64 mins

Cast: Peter Lorre, John McGuire, Margaret Tallichet, Charles D. Warde, Elisha Cook Jr.

A noteworthy B-movie that is widely credited as being the first true “film noir”

I have always enjoyed old black-and-white Hollywood movies, even those that aren’t terribly good, and it is always a pleasure to discover pictures that I wasn’t previously aware of. Stranger on the Third Floor is a noteworthy, and rather good, B-movie that is now widely credited as being the first true “film noir”.

The film begins with reporter Michael Ward (John McGuire) preparing to testify in the trial of Joe Briggs (Elisha Cook Jr.), who has been accused of murdering a coffee shop proprietor. Ward’s fiance, Jane (Margaret Tallichet), is extremely fretful that Briggs might be innocent, and when he is found guilty Jane’s distress puts something of a strain on her relationship with Ward. Returning home from the trial, Ward notices an odd-looking stranger (Peter Lorre) on the steps of his lodgings. Later, he discovers the stranger inside the building and challenges him, but the man runs away. Aware that he can’t hear the usual snoring from the annoying busybody next door, Ward first begins to worry that he might be dead. Then he falls asleep and dreams that he is being accused of the man’s murder.

Upon waking, he goes into his neighbour’s room and discovers that he has indeed been murdered. Ward’s first inclination is to run, but Jane persuades him to go to the police because the victim was killed in the same way as the coffee shop proprietor, and this connection could get the verdict against Briggs overturned. However, Ward then finds himself suspected and the stranger is nowhere to be found.

Stranger on the Third Floor is a good illustration of how story and plot are not the same thing. The plot here is remarkably simple and not enough to sustain the film by itself. However, the viewer’s interest is sustained principally through Ward’s paranoid interior monologue and the splendid noirish cinematography. The camerawork and lighting was courtesy of Nicholas Musuraca, who had already worked on a hundred films by this time, and went on to shoot the celebrated 1947 Gothic thriller Cat People. Other important contributors were Vernon L. Walker for special effects, and Van Nest Polglase for art direction. The highlight of the film is Ward’s dream sequence, which features various distorted perspectives, including huge courtroom interiors, and imposing shadows.

Top billing for the film was given to Peter Lorre, although he is only onscreen for a relatively short period of time. His performance is essentially a reprise of the child killer in Fritz Lang’s classic M. However, he once again gives an impressive demonstration of how easily he can switch between menacing and kindly (in one sequence, he raises our fears by ordering raw burgers in a restaurant, but then it turns out that he wants to feed a stray dog; shortly after this act of compassion he then menaces Jane).

The dramatic finale, when it comes, is perhaps over a little too quickly. I felt that the suspense could have been extended a little further. However, for a B-movie this is definitely above par. Although Stranger on the Third Floor received rather mixed reviews upon release I think this film deserves a rather more positive reevaluation.

Review: 7/10

Shown as part of the BFI’s Peter Lorre season, September 2014.

Nothing_Bad_Can_Happen_poster

Germany 2013 (billed as Tore Tanzt)

Director: Katrin Gebbe

Screenplay: Katrin Gebbe

110 minutes

This extraordinary feature film debut by director Katrin Gebbe is one of the most uncompromising examinations of evil that I have ever seen. In fact, “evil”  may not even be the right word to use here, because it is a word that tends to be used as an explanation in its own right, a word that pathologises individuals and prevents us from considering the social contexts within which disturbing behaviour can arise. By contrast, Nothing Bad Can Happen – whilst not providing the audience with any pat answers – places a particular set of events under a spotlight and forces us to consider some difficult questions.

The story begins with a group of Jesus Freaks, young people who blend Christianity and punk rock. Among them is Tore (Julius Feldmeier), whose blond locks and blue eyes imbue him with a truly angelic appearance. Whilst driving home from Tore’s baptism, the Jesus Freaks encounter Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak), whose pickup truck won’t start. They gather round and pray over the bonnet of his vehicle, after which the engine kicks into life. Benno asks about their group and later turns up at one of their punk gatherings, where he witnesses Tore having an epileptic seizure. He takes Tore to his family’s summer dwelling, a small shack on an allotment. Tore is invited to stay with the family – consisting of Benno’s partner Astrid (Annika Kuhl) and her two children from a previous relationship, Dennis (Til-Niklas Theinert) and Sanny (Swantje Kohlhof). As there is not enough room in the wooden hut, Tore sleeps in a tent.

Although he is gently questioning of Tore’s Christianity, suggesting that religion is for those who cannot handle responsibility for their own lives, Benno is initially charming. But little by little a darker side is revealed. At a barbecue, Benno jokingly jabs a pair of tongs towards Tore’s face. During a gathering for Sanny’s fifteenth birthday, Benno punches Tore,  but then apologises for what he says is uncharacteristic behaviour. However, Benno’s abuse then becomes even more serious.

Throughout it all, Tore shows no inclination to leave of his own accord nor to fight back (earlier in the film one of the other Jesus Freaks makes a speech about turning the other cheek). He interprets his situation as a test set by God, although later – after a spell in hospital – he feels that God has abandoned him. Should we admire Tore’s religiosity or is he hopelessly naive? Are Benno, Astrid, and the children the closest thing that Tore has to a real family, or is he simply unable to take responsibility for his own life, as Benno originally suggested? But whatever we think about Tore, the treatment he receives is truly awful.

Water appears recurrently at significant moments in the film. Tore is baptised in the sea; there is a near-sexual encounter in a swimming pool; an episode of animal abuse involves water; and at one point Tom – filthy and stinking – is hosed down by Benno, only Sanny takes the hose and makes a game of it. At various points the music (by Johannes Lehniger and Peter Folk) rumbles and gurgles, like a large object sinking into deep water.

**SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ONWARDS**

Disturbingly, Astrid goes from being a mere observer of Tore’s suffering to being actively complicit in its cause. She and Benno occasionally appear surprised, appalled even, by their own behaviour, but then go on to perpetrate worse. Likewise, Dieter and Cora (Uwe Dag Berlin and Nadine Boske) are occasional visitors who begin by expressing concern for Tore, but end up also participating in his suffering.  I’m sure I could not have been the only audience member thinking of real-life cases such as Fred and Rosemary West (and, in fact, Nothing Bad Can Happen is based on true events in Germany). But moreover, watching ordinary people  become involved in horrific events brings to mind the rise of the Nazis, not to mention more recent events such as Abu-Ghraib.

At the end of the film Tore is badly beaten and mutilated, and Benno, Astrid, Dieter and Cora wrap him in a blanket and drive him out to the country. Here, Benno drops the blood-soaked young man in a copse. Benno asks him where his God is now, to which Tore raises a hand to his chest and whispers “Here”. Apparently unable to cope with this demonstration of faith, Benno kicks Tore, whose body rolls down a slope and – the opposing bookend to the baptism at the beginning – comes to a rest in water with plant matter wreathed Christ-like around his head.

Back at the allotment, Sanny and Dennis manage to escape and the final shot is of them walking hand-in-hand down the road. When the final credits appear, instead of scrolling upwards in the conventional manner, they scroll downwards leaving us with the feeling of a descent into hell.

Director Katrin Gebbe has stated that, following a showing at Cannes, the film “had boos and cheers, escapees and long standing ovations”. I cannot for the life of me think why anyone would boo this movie. Certainly, the events it depicts are shocking in the extreme and Gebbe refuses to make moral judgments on behalf of the audience. Nor is there much that can be considered uplifting, unless you feel that Tore’s refusal to fight back is inspirational rather than naive. But surely these aspects are characteristic of a mature work of art that refuses to patronise its audience? In any event, although this is not an easy watch (I occasionally found myself curling my fists as I squirmed in discomfort) I consider that this is one of the stand-out movies of the year so far, underpinned by a strong script, strong direction, fine music and cinematography, and with a memorable performance by Julius Feldmeier as Tore.

tom-at-the-farm (1)

Canada / France 2013

Director: Xavier Dolan

Screenplay: Xavier Dolan / Michel Marc Bouchard. Based on the play by Michel Marc Bouchard.

 

Written and directed by Xavier Dolan, who also plays the lead role, this is a psychological thriller of a superior kind. Tom, who lives in Montreal, is distraught over the death of his boyfriend, Guillaume. He drives out to the countryside to stay with Guillaume’s mother, Agathe (Lise Roy), prior to attending the funeral. Agathe doesn’t realise that Tom was more than just a friend of Guillaume’s and is expecting a girlfriend to turn up. Whilst at the house, and later at the funeral, Tom is bullied by Guillaume’s brother Francis (Pierre Yves-Cardinal), who tells him to make up a story in front of Agathe about a girl called Sarah, who was a co-worker of Guillaume. Tom is to pretend that Sarah was Guillaume’s girlfriend, and is to pass on a message from Sarah to Agathe.

On the way back from the funeral Tom tries to make his escape, driving away from the farmhouse whilst cursing Guillaume’s “redneck” brother. But a way down the road he stops and then turns back. We think perhaps he is concerned about Agathe or needs his luggage, but in fact he is drawn to the dark and dangerous figure of Francis. Before long Tom is working on the farm, but increasingly bruised from the attentions of the sociopathic loner Francis, who has secrets of his own (Francis’s outsider status is emphasised at one point by his wearing a jacket with the American flag and “USA” depicted on it – something that no Canadian I have ever known would ever do).

To some degree Tom at the Farm has a thematic similarity to Stranger by the Lake, released in the same year. That film was described by some critics as Hitchcockian, a comparison that I must confess escaped me entirely. It was also notable for its fairly explicit depiction of gay male sexual activity. There are no such displays of sexuality in Tom at the Farm, which is closer to being a thriller that just happens to have a gay man as its lead character (although his sexuality is not irrelevant to the story). Moreover, this is a film that I think can justifiably be called Hitchcockian, what with its farmhouse setting, a chase scene in a cornfield, its dark secrets and motivations, and even a couple of flashes of black humour. From a four-time director who was just 24 when Tom at the Farm was released, this is a major achievement.

Rating: 10/10

Double_indemnity

Long before television’s Columbo familiarised us with the detective yarn where the killer is revealed at the beginning, Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler gave us the early reveal in their seminal film-noir Double Indemnity. These two great writers had a famously fractious relationship throughout the process of adapting James M. Cain’s novella, but the end result was a dark, beautifully-paced movie full of whip-sharp dialogue. The story concerns insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) who, during a routine call to the house of Mr Dietrichson, instead encounters his wife Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) and promptly falls for her.

Phyllis has a plan to insure her husband and then arrange for his “accidental” death. It turns out that Neff, whilst considering the ways in which clients might try to commit insurance fraud, has gotten to wondering how he could pull off the perfect fraud himself. The two of them appear to be a match made in heaven (or hell). As an insurance expert, Neff knows that accidental death on a train is almost unheard of, and insurance payouts from such rare causes are twice the usual amount – the double indemnity of the title. He cooks up a plan to knock off the old man on a train but, of course, no sooner is the deed done than problems arise.

It is clear from the outset that the plan has gone badly wrong. Most of the scenes are flashbacks, but the present-time beginning of the film shows a wounded Neff making a voice recording of the whole story, including his confession to murder, for his boss Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). The intrigue in the tale is in discovering just what went wrong and the wonderfully tight plotting does this brilliantly.

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The characterisation sets the tone for many a noir film to follow. MacMurray’s Neff is tall, handsome, and confident, but turns out to be a complete sap at the mercy of Stanwyck’s femme fatale. Much play is made of the ankle bracelet worn by Phyllis Dietrichson, which is clearly meant to indicate that this is not just a blond but a sleazy one. Almost as soon as Neff encounters her (wrapped in a towel initially) he starts making moves. For all of about two minutes she puts up some token resistance, telling him “There’s a speed limit in this state Mr. Neff. Forty-five miles an hour”. He says “How fast was I going, officer?” and she tells him “I’d say about ninety”.

The use of shadow, a classic tool of the noir film-maker, is also used to emphasise the sleaze element. In one scene we see Phyllis sitting on a couch whilst she talks to Neff. Her face is in shadow but the side lamp ensures that we are aware of the shape of her breasts through her tight white sweater. Light and shadow is also used elsewhere to great effect. In various of the office scenes the light coming through the venetian blinds throws shadow lines on the walls and floors, an effect copied in many subsequent noir movies.

As well as being an outstanding movie, Double Indemnity is also notable for one curiosity: Raymond Chandler makes his only known film appearance – for about one or two seconds – in one of the early scenes.

Rating: 10/10

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Director: Ted Kotcheff

Australia/USA 1971 (restored 2009)

114 minutes

The primatologist Frans de Waal has written critically of “veneer theory”, the idea that human morality is just a thin layer over an amoral or immoral core. The 1971 cult film Wake in Fright, now restored and showing in some London cinemas, addresses a similar idea – if you take a cultured man out of his familiar civilised environment and place him in a much rougher place, how long will he last? The answer, apparently, is not very long.

The film opens with a slow 360-degrees panning shot of the Australian outback, demonstrating just what an extraordinarily huge wilderness this part of the world is. In the tiny town of Tiboonda schoolteacher John Grant (Gary Bond) is packing up for the Christmas holidays. Grant describes himself as a slave of the education system and means this literally. In order to get a job he has had to deposit a thousand dollar bond, and must then agree to be sent wherever the education department sends him until he has paid back the bond. Grant plans to catch the train back to Sydney to meet his girlfriend, but has to make an overnight stop at Bundanyabba (the “Yabba”), another outback town. Grant himself is a handsome man with a cut-glass accent; there is a touch of the Peter O’Toole about him. At a bar Grant meets the local policeman, Jock Crawford (Chips Rafferty), who gets Grant drunk and introduces him to the bar’s popular pastime, in which people bet large sums on the outcome of two tossed coins. After some initial wins, Grant sees an opportunity to win enough to pay back his bond. Of course, he loses all the money he has and finds himself unable to get back to Sydney.

Grant is initially taken in by Tim (Al Thomas) and then by “Doc” Tydon (Donald Pleasence). He falls into drinking with them and their male friends, and before long he is joyously engaged in a kangaroo hunt, whooping and hollering as their car careens through the outback in pursuit of the animals. When sober, however, Grant knows that he has to get out. For the men of the Yabba, who have no obvious way out, it seems that alcohol is how they get by. Their bonding is real enough, but based on immature behaviour and fuelled by booze, and the women’s role presumably is to clear up after them. To be fair, there are only three women who feature at all in Wake in Fright. There is Grant’s hotel receptionist (Maggie Dence), who seems to spend all her time sitting in front of a fan and dripping water onto her skin in a manner that seems quite erotic, although she herself appears permanently bored. There is also Tim’s wife (Sylvia Kay), who clearly is sexually frustrated. The third woman is Grant’s girlfriend (Nancy Knudsen), who only appears in his daydreams – emerging from the surf – and in the photograph he carries with him (where she his holding a surfboard). These images of water, of course, are in stark contrast to the stiflingly hot and dry environment in which Grant finds himself.

Ultimately, whilst this is not a horror movie as such, Grant’s incarceration in the Yabba is so oppressive as to be horrific. Gary Bond turns in a convincing performance as John Grant, alternating between civilised calm, drunken blokishness, and desperation. Aside from Bond, the stand-out performance here is Donald Pleasence as the educated but alcoholic Doc Tydon. Tydon, you realise, is the man that Grant could become if he stays in the Yabba.

Rating: 10/10

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Mexico 2012

Dir: Raúl Fuentes

100 mins

Watching Everybody’s got somebody…not me I could not help making comparisons with last year’s Blue is the Warmest Colour. Both stories concern a young woman, still at school, who becomes romantically involved with an older woman. However, the two films take a very different perspective on their respective relationships. In Blue is the Warmest Colour, the narrative focus is on the younger woman leaving school and her friends behind, and navigating the cultured world of her artist lover. When the relationship goes wrong, her lack of maturity means that she struggles the most to deal with the situation.

Everybody’s got somebody…not me depicts almost the opposite situation.  Andrea Portal plays Alejandra, the beautiful dark-haired publisher who is in a secret relationship with younger blond Maria (Naian Daeva). In the opening scenes we see the two engaged in some passionate night-time fumbling in Alejandra’s car and then, a few hours later, waking up in Alejandra’s apartment.  Here we see the first hint of trouble to come, as Alejandra asks free-spirited Maria not to smoke indoors. Some time later the two women are at a jazz bar, where sensible Alejandra takes some persuading to forget the rules (if indeed they are rules) and to dance in front of the stage. One of the happiest and most tender moments occurs when the two are putting on make-up together and Alejandra shows Maria the best way to do it.

It is not until perhaps a third of the way into the film that we discover how these two women came to meet. This is told in flashback. and in these scenes it becomes apparent that the younger woman is controlling the pace at which the relationship develops. In another reversal of Blue is the Warmest Colour it is the older woman who is asked to navigate the social world of the younger, and fails to do so (to some extent, is unwilling to do so). We see that the cracks in their relationship have existed from the very start. Alejandra’s penchant for quoting philosophy and poetry, initially charming, becomes condescending. Alejandra also seems the more vulnerable of the two. She is prone to jealous outbursts when Maria is speaking on the phone (which, like a typical teenager, she does regularly) and when she encounters friends in person.

In fact, Alejandra emerges as a somewhat ambiguous character. In one scene, we see her waiting for Maria outside of the latter’s school. When Maria emerges, she does not look like the young woman we first saw. With her hair tied back, and wearing a school uniform that includes a check skirt and white knee-length stockings,  she looks very much a girl rather than a woman, and we start to wonder about the nature of Alejandra’s desire. There are shades of Lolita here. At one point another lesbian tells Alejandra that she “loves sweet-talking young girls about Foucault”, which is probably quite close to the truth. However, behind all Alejandra’s jealousy and condescending behaviour, when she is hurt she seems truly hurt. We start to suspect that she always prefers much younger women but, at the same time, can never make a relationship last because she doesn’t know how to exist in their world. In case this all sounds too stereotypically tragic, the ups and downs are played with a deft touch and there are also several very funny moments too.

The performances of both lead actors are quite outstanding and enhanced by strong direction and cinematography. At various points we get close-ups of the women’s faces in which the emotions expressed appear entirely natural and believable. The film is shot in black and white and there is a great visual style throughout. In the opening scene the camera is positioned in the back seat as Alejandra drives through town. We see the back of her head in focus, but all we see outside the window are a series of unfocused lights passing by. There is another contrast with Blue is the Warmest Colour in the lovemaking scenes. In that film, the camera drew back for the love scenes, which lasted for a long time, whereas elsewhere close-ups were predominant. In Everybody’s Got Somebody…Not Me close-ups are maintained for the love scenes, which are also fairly brief and not explicit. Arguably, this approach seems less voyeuristic; that is certainly my opinion, though no doubt everyone will have their own view.

Elsewhere there seemed to be shades of Wes Anderson in the cinematography. Several scenes involved the use of symmetry, with one character appearing centre frame with other people appearing in identical positions to the left and right. There were also scenes using geometrical arrangements of objects or linear perspective. Perhaps the most striking was a scene in a near-empty cinema. We see the aisles receding into the distance, with one couple positioned on our left near the front, a single individual a row or two back on the right, and Maria and Alejandra embracing passionately in the centre of a row nearer to the back.

According to the programme notes that were provided at the British Film Institute, where this is being shown as part of its Flare (LGBT) season, the film is Raúl Fuentes’ directorial debut for a feature-length movie. That being the case, it surely heralds the arrival of a fine new talent into the world of movies.

Rating: 9/10

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Director: Scott Waugh

Running Time: 130 minutes

Based on a computer game, Need for Speed is of course entirely preposterous, but none the less enjoyable for that. Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul plays Toby Marshall, a garage owner and participant in illegal road races. After he serves time for a crime he did not commit, he is determined to expose the true culprit, his old college rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). In order to do so (although it is never clear exactly how this will help), he must take part in the De Leon road race organised by “The Monarch”, some sort of video jockey played by Michael Keaton. The race itself has a £2 million prize for the winner, although quite how The Monarch has not attracted the attention of the law for organising an illegal race is also a question left unanswered. But never mind – the key thing is that Toby has only 45 hours to drive across several states in order to participate.

Any road trip worth its salt has to be made by a mismatched couple, of course, at which point enters Julia (Imogen Poots). She is a posh-speaking English rose who Toby initially disdains, until he discovers that she has petrol running through her veins. The two of them head south at breakneck speed, with the police in pursuit (as movie law dictates), not to mention Dino’s henchmen.

In essence, Need for Speed is a series of races and chases stitched together by a plot that barely makes sense, and populated by comic book characters with V8 engines for brains. The whole thing is ridiculous, and for the first twenty minutes or so I thought I had made a mistake. However, once we got past the point where Toby is released from prison the film really started to take off for me and I was able to relax and enjoy it. In fact, it is fair to say that the more ludicrous things get, and the wilder the action, the more the film succeeds as a piece of pure popcorn entertainment.

Rating: 7/10