Film Review: 'Kidnapping Freddy Heineken'

★★☆☆☆
Take care to not place too much hope into the misery-inducing yet somehow star-studded caper Kidnapping Freddy Heineken (2015). It's a head-scratcher of a flick if only for the fact that viewers will spend the duration of the film wondering what precisely caused Anthony Hopkins to sign on as the titular character. Based on actual events, this incarnation gives way to a shoddy production rather than quality storytelling. There's wasted potential here, but is there any saving grace? It's 1982 in Amsterdam. A group of best friends - also business partners - find themselves at the end of their rope. Their finances have been drained on their start-up company in light of a recession.

Film Review: 'I Used to Live Here'

★★★☆☆
There's often an unfortunate tug-of-war going on beneath the surface of films made primarily with a social agenda in mind and by those who care deeply about the subject. Taking 2013's No Fixed Abode as an example, its cause - highlighting issues surrounding homelessness - was an admirable one, but poor execution and fundamental narrative shortcomings hampered its impact. Indeed, Oren Moverman's Richard Gere-starring Time Out of Mind (2014) was far more successful in its comparable insights. By that token, I Used to Live Here (2015), a film produced by a community affected by teenage suicides, could have suffered from similar problems. Such concerns were unfounded.

Film Review: 'The Decent One'

★★★☆☆
Even as far as Nazis go, Heinrich Luitpold Himmler was a monumentally unattractive person. With his pencil neck, his weak watery eyes, his Touché Turtle expression of prissy blandness, a less convincing example of Hitler's theories of racial superiority would be difficult to find. That this apparently feeble specimen could wreak such obscene and widespread damage, causing the death of millions of people is a staggering fact. The question for the documentarian might not be how do we understand such a thing, but is there anything there really to understand? Vanessa Lapa's documentary The Decent One (2014) exploits a wealth of documentation to reconstruct Himmler’s private life from the inside out.

Film Review: 'Blade Runner'

★★★★★
Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) begins with a dazzling but hellish vision of a megalopolis shrouded in smog so thick that the sun has disappeared from the sky. Is it day or is it night? Giant towers of industry belch fire and pyramid-like structures sit like thrones over an urban landscape of monstrous magnitude. It is a seminal moment for modern sci-fi cinema because nothing so majestically awful had ever been committed to the screen. Here is a depiction of urban planning not as an outlandish cinematic imagining, but closer to a devastating environmental prophecy of things to come if we don't get our act together. It has been said that Los Angeles is a city in search of a centre.

Film Review: 'Altman'

★★★☆☆
The central victory of Ron Mann's fond portrait of the maverick American filmmaker Robert Altman is how personal he manages to make it. For a documentary about a director with such a strong authorial voice, it seems only fitting that Altman (2014) is largely narrated by the man himself through various interviews and recordings. In concert with these are words from his widow, Kathryn, and two sons, Robert and Stephen, who worked with their father for years. They're laid over a wealth of archival material - from film clips, to home videos and public appearances - that paint a unique and insightful picture of a fascinating man and career.

Blu-ray Review: 'Wooden Crosses'

★★★★☆
Upon its initial release in 1932, Raymond Bernard's early-sound war film, Wooden Crosses was hailed as one of the masterpieces of cinema. Since then, it has largely been overlooked in wider discussion of the genre which is a shame, and hopefully something that a new blu-ray release as part of Eureka's continually interesting Masters of Cinema Collection can help to rectify. Often overshadowed by All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) it is a film equally committed to channelling the horror of the trenches during the First World War making use of a variety of visual techniques to imbue its humane but simple narrative with deeper poetry.

DVD Review: 'Interstellar'

★★★☆☆
Christopher Nolan continues to demand viewers to stretch their minds as well as their attention spans in his recent addition to an already impressive oeuvre with Interstellar (2014). It is a film that poses to its viewers the simple question, "how do you survive in a world that demands your eradication?" What appears as a deceptively simple quest into space soon quickly evolves into a meditation on the consequences of survival as well as the limits of love. This scientifically-driven drama is dense, sometimes derivative but never dull. Like Inception (2010), Nolan continues to experiment with the cinematic intersection of crises of faith and high-concept visual pleasure.

DVD Review: 'Darling'

★★★☆☆
John Schlesinger's Darling (1965), reissued this week for 50th anniversary celebrations, is at once a time capsule peice and an oddly prescient fable about vacuous, ephemeral celebrity which remains tartly relevant in 2015. It is perhaps best remembered as the film that crowned the imperial phase of Julie Christie's career with an Oscar, part of a golden run encompassing Billy Liar (1963), Doctor Zhivagho (1967) and Don't Look Now (1973), and lasted right up until Shampoo and Nashville (1975). In retrospect, it's difficult to fathom why the award came for her portrayal of the one-note Diana Scott in this slightly confused film rather than for her spectacular performance in, say, The Go-Between (1971).

Interview: Director Eskil Vogt on debut feature 'Blind'

"You sound metallic, like I'm talking to a robot" states director Eskil Vogt, referring to the poor reception on the line to Oslo. Nevertheless he is enthusiastic to press on, an admirable attitude considering the UK release of his new film Blind (2014) comes over a year since its premiere at Sundance, where he won an award for his screenplay. Since then it has appeared in festivals all over the world, picking up accolades and praise in equal measure along the way for this intimate drama following Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen), a woman coping with losing her sight, who gradually allows her insecurities and fantasies to manifest themselves as she isolates herself from the world outside. "It's quite boring" Vogt says of his inspiration for the film.

Film Review: 'Wild Tales'

★★★☆☆
Damián Szifron's Wild Tales (2014) is a ferociously dark, hilarious ride that doesn't just mock the corruption and social injustices of modern day Argentina, but also deeply relishes the resort to vigilante violence. His six vignettes' over-the-top bursts of bloodthirsty mayhem, quirky characters and O. Henry-like twists of fate in a cheerfully colourful palette, feel familiar; and no wonder, as this film was produced (and obviously influenced) by Pedro Almodóvar. These slice-of-life tales are only tangentially related in terms of plot, but share the recurrent theme of the breakdown of civilisation, of the underdog citizen relentlessly victimized by the wealthy and powerful.

Film Review: 'The SpongeBob Movie'

★★★☆☆
Over a decade on from its first big screen outing, enduringly popular cartoon character Spongebob SquarePants returns to cinemas. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015) is a prequel to the previous film and sees SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) and his friends on the trail of the person behind the theft of their Krabby Patty secret formula, somehow connected to the film's narrator, Burger Beard The Pirate (Antonio Banderas). In an era saturated by computer animation, it is refreshing to see directors Mike Mitchell (Shrek Forever After) and Paul Tibbitt (a writer for the original series) not only stick to hand drawn animation for the majority of the film, but also keep the anarchic feel of the TV show.

Film Review: 'Sixteen'

★★★★☆
Rob Brown's Sixteen (2013) is a beautifully realised debut that breathes new life into British cinema's obsession with urban thrillers, fashioning a refreshingly gentle tale of redemption in a city frequently painted as the last refuge of the lost and the destitute. Tribal drums punctuate the film's inner-city veneer like an echo of Jumah's (Roger Jean Nsengiyumva) violent past. A former child soldier from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jumah is utterly determined to put aside his traumatic history and make something of himself. However, when Jumah witnesses a murder he finds himself under the watchful eye of the community's self-appointed governor.

Film Review: 'The Signal'

★★☆☆☆
In 2011, first-time director William Eubank constructed a replica of the International Space Station in a driveway, out of odds-and-ends, and within it staged a flawed but ambitious science fiction saga called Love. For his next trick, he has crafted another low-budget sci-fi yarn that is just as visually admirable, but even more problematic overall. The Signal (2014) seeks to augment a tight, two-handed chamber piece with American indie sensibility, not to mention a found footage-style detour. Where Love's reach for profundity provided reason enough for viewers to look past some of its more clunky aspects, this sophomore feature suffers from failing to provide such audacious cover fire.

Film Review: 'Seventh Son'

★★☆☆☆
Fantasy epic Seventh Son (2014) had potential to be a somewhat unique film in a genre abundant with echoing plot arcs and medieval-like worlds, but the amalgamation of different cinematic influences director Sergey Bodrov used to illustrate his story is overwhelmingly distracting. Exhaustingly exuberant acting from almost the entire cast, poorly written dialogue, and cheesy comical CGI effects all add to the feeling of seemingly never ending torture the film subjects its audience to. Although the film tries to follow the young adult heartthrob hero Tom Ward (Ben Barnes, perhaps best known for his role as Prince Caspian in The Chronicles of Narnia), it's hard to pull away from Jeff Bridges fantastic Master Gregory.

Film Review: 'Robot Overlords'

★★☆☆☆
At a point in Jon Wright's Robot Overlords (2014), Robin Smythe - the film's human Big Bad played by Ben Kingsley - asks "You know what 'chav' stands for? Council house and violent." It's delivered in an unsure northern accent that straddles the uneasy border between old foes Lancashire and Yorkshire (particularly odd given that he's from Salford). It's a strange socialrealist beat to put in Robot Overlords, which is otherwise a Children's Film Foundation lark with sometimes impressive special effects and super-sized ambitions on a modest budget. Robots from outer space have taken over our planet. The paranoid androids have also taken the liberty of attaching electronic devices to the necks of the populous.

Film Review: 'The Gunman'

★★☆☆☆
With The Gunman (2015), Sean Penn becomes the latest inductee into that club slowly being filled by older gentlemen with a particular set of skills. Pierre Morel was a key figure in the meteoric rise of the 'geriaction' genre with his explosive Taken (2008), not only launching Liam Neeson's own brand of ass-kicking but transforming the subgenre from camp silliness to exploitation gold. It's now seven years later and a raft of imitators have tried their hands with varying success, while the Taken series has itself suffered from diminishing returns. If this latest staid entry into the canon is anything to go by, few lessons have been learned in recent times.

Film Review: 'Get Hard'

★★☆☆☆
This sophomoric culture-clash comedy stars two comedy actors at different points on the career spectrum. Kevin Hart, a stand-up whose barrage of studio comedies have been huge financial successes, shares the screen with Will Ferrell, still a draw despite a string of recent critical misses. The latter plays a businessman James King, due to be incarcerated for tax evasion, who enlists Hart's character Darnell to prepare him for prison life. Having written broad but clever comedies Idiocracy (2006) and Tropic Thunder (2008), it's disappointing to see debutant director Etan Cohen deliver a film which relies so heavily on lazy stereotypes.

Film Review: 'The Face of an Angel'

★★★☆☆
Michael Winterbottom's latest feature, The Face of an Angel (2014), explores the intersection of beauty, youth, sex and violent crime. Inspired by Amanda Knox's alleged murder of British student Meredith Kercher in Italy, Winterbottom offers a perceptive, but at times plodding, take on the media's sensationalised coverage of her trial. Thomas Lang (Daniel Bruhl) arrives in Italy to research and write his next film. He meets Simone Ford (Kate Beckinsale), a journalist who been following the trial of American student Jessica Fuller, imprisoned for the murder of her flatmate Elizabeth Pryce (Sai Bennett). Thomas hopes to adapt Simone's book on the case. "Make it fiction," she urges him.

Film Review: 'Dior and I'

★★★☆☆
Intimacy infuses documentarian Frédéric Tcheng's Dior and I (2014). His second film at the helm situates itself in the centre of a veritable institution in the world of fashion: the haute couture house of Christian Dior. In the film, Dior is not only a name, it is living iconography. Dior and I unravels quite sumptuously, if not quietly, to reveal a brand that may be built on a reputation but thrives on the visions and dedication of the people who work within it. There are no mere cogs here; the wheel of Dior rolls through its quotidian activities under the firm guidance of its newest creative director, Raf Simons - the focus of the film - whose modern inclinations seek to push the Dior brand into fresh territory.

Film Review: 'Cinderella'

★★★☆☆
Courage and kindness (and perhaps a little magic for good measure) are the cornerstones of Kenneth Branagh's sweet retelling of Cinderella (2015), a benevolent yet paradoxically cravenness reimagining of Charles Perrault's classic fairytale. A live-action Disney production starring Cate Blanchett, Lily James and Richard Madden, its safe to assume there are no evil stepsisters getting their eyes pecked out by birds here, yet there does remain something rather vexing about the easily digestible perpetuation or archaic gender norms in this enjoyably blithe, yet problematic celebration of beauty and hetronormative behaviour. The iconic Disney ident seamlessly flows straight into Cinderella's storybook exposition.

Film Review: 'Blind'

★★★★☆
Arriving on UK screens a year after its Berlin bow, Blind (2014) - the debut feature from Norwegian screenwriter turned director Eskil Vogt - imbues cognitive visualisation and the mechanics of storytelling to achieve what many have tired and failed to do - successfully insinuate what life without vision might be like. Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) turned blind in her thirties. As soon as her husband leaves the house to go to work, Ingrid sits at the window and imagines the world outside. Determined to maintain her ability to recollect images from her past, she constructs narratives for her memories to inhabit. It's within these imaginative fabrications that she introduces us to Einar (Marius Kolbenstvedt).

DVD Review: 'Traps'

★★★★☆
After her staggering visual and philosophical odyssey, The Fruit of Paradise (1970), Vera Chytilová found herself serving a lengthy ban from filmmaking in Czechoslovakia. Shackled by the clamp-downs of the Soviet regime, when she did finally return to feature filmmaking after seven years in the cold, she was forced to reject much of the formal abandon that had characterised her early masterpieces. Despite this, from The Apple Game (1977) onwards she continued to make cinema that challenged and provoked with equal verve. Even as late as the 1990s, the sexagenarian Chytilová continued to play with subversive themes, not least 1998's Traps.

DVD Review: 'The Tales of Hoffmann'

★★★★☆
The technicolor mastery of the films of Powell and Pressburger is legendary. It is a hallmark of their oeuvre, a signpost of their significance. Add to that a mastery of technical, dramatic film construction and you find yourself in the presence of twentieth century icons. Such is the nature that surrounds this directorial duo who rose to prominence in the forties and fifties. Following hot on the heels of Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948), they adapted The Tales of Hoffman (1951), based on Jacques Offenbach's fantastical opera. Building on the musical and fantastical themes of these earlier films, it arrived in an era that can be noted for its high output of musical films.

Blu-ray Review: 'Rollerball'

★★★★☆
Dystopias are usually set in a tweaked present rather than a distant future. 1984 is simply 1948, the year of its composition, writ backwards. And so it is with Norman Jewison's Rollerball (1975), a gloriously entertaining dystopian thriller, set in the futuristic seventies. Nation states have been abolished and the world is run by massive corporations, which have segregated society into ruling Execs and everybody else. Discontent is allowed cathartic outlet with the spectacle of a violent gladiatorial sport Rollerball, in which teams of skaters and motorcyclists fight their way around a rink for possession of a heavy metal ball with which they then score.

DVD Review: 'Paddington'

★★★★☆
Recently crowned the highest grossing non-Hollywood family film ever made, Paddington (2014) is the little British film adaptation that could; a family-friendly ode to family and friends that defied the odds and shushed the naysayers with aplomb. Admittedly the director is unlikely candidate Paul King - who previously flexed his directorial muscles with TV's surreal The Mighty Boosh and zany feature comedy Bunny and the Bull (2009). Shepherding the film onto the big screen was Harry Potter wiz David Hayman, and the result is a solid and unrelentingly heart-warming comedy that both works hard for, and absolutely deserves, its many accolades.

Blu-ray Review: 'The Other'

★★☆☆☆
Identical twins are a staple of the horror genre pantry, a corporeal conduit in which to explore the dichotomy between good and evil. Frequently presenting an image of innocence alongside a capricious, often deadly parallel, the audience is forced to look beyond the superficial for deeper understanding. In the eerie, yet tepid psychological horror The Other (1972), based on the bestseller by actor Tom Tryon, the presence of twins allows director Robert Mulligan the perfect outlet in which to identify and exorcise the darkness that dwells within all of us. Played by real-life twins Chris and Martin Udvarnoky, Holland and Niles become absorbed in a mystical 'game' they learn from their grandma.

Blu-ray Review: 'Network'

★★★★★
"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" So screams deranged anchorman Howard Beale. However, it’s a different kind of rage which infuses Sidney Lumet's Network (1976) - a crystalline, precise, witty, world-weary and utterly heartfelt rage, making the film one of the best works of satire committed to the screen. Winning a posthumous Oscar for his role, Peter Finch plays a longtime newsman on the United Broadcasting Station News, a channel suffering an apparently endless decline in ratings. Fired in the latest round of cost cutting measures, he uses his penultimate broadcast to declare that he is going to commit suicide live on television.

DVD Review: 'La Maison de la Radio'

★★☆☆☆
Nicolas Philibert is best known for his endearing and award-winning documentary about a rural community school, Etre et Avoir (2002). His latest, Maison de la Radio (2013), shares a certain sense of parochial charm with that earlier film, even if it is certainly a far more minor work. Being the fly on a wall in a close-knit classroom - or the enclosure of an ageing orang-utan in a Paris zoo as in Nenette (2010) - was able to provide insight and observational lyricism that similar treatment of a radio centre cannot quite muster. A patchwork portrait, it's a day in the life of the eponymous doughnut shaped building that homes the various stations and programmes of France's public radio network.

DVD Review: 'The Homesman'

★★★★☆
The Homesman (2014) is a rare and genuine entry into the Western film canon. It's lyrical. It's heartfelt. It's gruesome. Most importantly, it endows humanity to its cast of characters who are found bearing the brunt of a gritty life on the frontier of North America. Adapted from the Glendon Swarthout novel of the same name, this film marks Tommy Lee Jones' fourth outing as director and his third Western. Despite his firm directorial hand, its concerns are with the weight of grief and persevering nature of women in duress. After a particularly harsh winter in the Nebraska Territory, independent spinster Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank) finds herself tasked with the transport of three mentally and spiritually broken wives back to Iowa.

DVD Review: 'Attila Marcel'

★★☆☆☆
Sylvain Chomet's feature-length foray into live action, Attila Marcel (2013) sees him making stylistic nods to the auteurs of his homeland - think Tati, Jeunet and Gondry - while maintaining his own sense of whimsical tenacity that has become a hallmark of his trade. Chomet has made a name for himself in constructing animated worlds that hearken back to the glory days of cartoonish delight. Indeed, his previous works, The Triplets of Belleville (2003) and The Illusionist (2010), have been praised for their surreal charms and comforting qualities. But while Attila Marcel is altogether a saccharine diversion, it fumbles with tone and direction.

HRWFF 2015: 'Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd' review

★★★★★
Montreal-based Patricio Henriquez's compassionate film Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd (2014), follows the stories of three Uyghurs unlawfully imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay. East Turkestan has been annexed to China on and off for the last three centuries and was named 'Xinjiang' (new frontier) in the nineteenth century. China has repressed the Uyghurs for decades and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) was established in 1993 to fight for the rights of their people. In the late 1990s, many activists, and ordinary citizens fearing persecution, fled across the borders into Afghanistan and Pakistan in an attempt to rebuild their lives there.

HRWFF 2015: 'No Land's Song' review

★★★★★
Ayat Najafi's enthralling doc No Land's Song (2014) is about his sister Sara's attempts to stage a concert in Tehran featuring female soloists. Following the Islamic revolution of 1979 female singers were banned from performing solo in public, unless to an exclusively female audience. Iran has a history of iconic female singers, such as Qamar al- Molouk Vaziri, Delkash and Googoosh. Now their recordings are only available on the black market. Sara - a composer - and her friends feel keenly the loss of the female voice in Iran. Sara decide to plan a public concert of Persian music with singers Parvin Namazi and Sayeh Sodeyfi.

Interview: Marjane Satrapi on new film 'The Voices'

"Earl Grey is my favourite tea," says Marjane Satrapi as she stuffs a handful of teabags into a large Thermos sat on the table before her. We're sat in a London hotel room to chat about her new film, the Ryan Reynolds-starring black serial killer comedy The Voices (2014), but British audiences are likely to have heard little from her since co-directing the adaptation of her own comic book, Persepolis, back in 2007. Her subsequent films, Chicken with Plums and The Gang of Jotas, haven't received releases in the UK - "what happened? Explain to me!" She's just snuck a crafty cigarette out of the open window and with her tea she's able to get comfortable. This is arguably the first time she's moved out of her comfort zone cinematically, adapting someone else's script.

Film Review: 'The Voices'

★★★★☆
Ryan Reynolds is something of a revelation in Marjane Satrapi's twisted black comedy The Voices (2014). In his defence, he's often to be found doing solid work in shaky environs, but this is a performance of exceptional nuance in a role that undeniably warrants his A-game. In her graphic novel Persepolis there's an exchange in which the young Satrapi comes to understand the value of laughter in holding back the tears. This notion is taken to new extremes in her assured handling of Michael R. Perry's blacklisted screenplay which twists giggles from psychosis and murder, in a world constructed of coping mechanisms. It's a heightened and super-stylised world from the opening moments.

Film Review: 'The Tale of Princess Kaguya'

★★★☆☆
There was much discussion over the past year about the winding down of beloved Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli with its two founding fathers, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, hanging up their pencils. Both found fitting if unspectacular ways to bow out; first Miyazaki with the soaring The Wind Rises (2013) and now Takahata with the evocative fable The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Kaguyahime no monogatari, 2013). A melancholic swansong, it blends the director's prior occupations and provides a perfect canvas for a final visual flourish. Taking watercolours as inspiration, the aesthetic is impressionistic and painterly with a fluidity that imbues the piece with an intrinsic magic.

Film Review: 'Mommy'

★★★★★
Prodigious Canadian director Xavier Dolan returned to Cannes last year with his most accomplished film to date, the marvellously cinematic spectacle Mommy (2014), which now arrives on British screens. Set in Canada in 2015, where laws have been changed to make it easier for parents to institutionalise their problem children, Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is one such case. Like a young Jamie Oliver on amphetamines, Steve is diagnosed with ADHD and is a boisterous, aggravating, self-destructive, amusing and occasionally dangerous teenager. Expelled from a home due to a particularly nasty arson attack which saw another inmate severely burned, Steve is taken home by mother Diane (Anne Dorval).
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