sat 25/05/2024

Film Reviews

Bel Ami

Matt Wolf

Many a redoubtable British theatre talent has stumbled at the altar of cinema before, which is another way of saying that Bel Ami is hardly the first film to suggest that not every heavyweight of the London and international stage - in this case two such titans in Cheek By Jowl supremos Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod  - is to the celluloid manner born.

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Cleanskin

Adam Sweeting

Hats off to independent British writer/producer/director Hadi Hajaig, who has doggedly piloted his thriller Cleanskin to the screen and picked up distribution support from Warner Bros in the process. Hajaig was never going to be splashing around in a Bourne- or Bond-sized budget, but he has played up the flick's British roots with pungent use of some prime London locations.

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The Decoy Bride

Emma Simmonds

With its near-simultaneous cinema and DVD release ringing alarm bells to rival Big Ben, The Decoy Bride takes talent and stuffs it into a GM turkey of a film. This insincere romantic comedy from director Sheree Folkson is replete with wobbly accents, head-slapping clichés, cardboard characters, preposterous plot developments, all flanked by a distractingly dire TV movie score.

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Blank City

Graham Fuller

Céline Danhier’s Blank City is a useful but slightly frustrating primer on the grass-roots No Wave cinema movement that blossomed in New York’s East Village and Lower East Side in the post-punk era of the late Seventies and early Eighties.

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Michael

Fisun Güner

Michael is a work of fiction, but it is also clearly an amalgam of real-life events. For first-time Austrian director Markus Schleinzer (former casting director for Michael Haneke, whose influence you may detect), the subject must have particular resonance: in this story of a child abduction by a lone paedophile, it’s unavoidable that we think of Josef Fritzl and Wolfgang Priklopil, as well as Belgian child-killer Marc Dutroux.

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This Means War

Matt Wolf

Forget the action movie trappings of the aggressively titled This Means War: the latest film from the enigmatically named McG has a plot that Noel Coward might well have loved. Whether Sir Noel would have approved of the witless dialogue and the decidedly coy sexual politics is another thing altogether, though he doubtless would have admired the three stars' physiques.

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Carancho

Demetrios Matheou

In the UK we call them ambulance-chasers, those personal injury lawyers who prey on the victims of accidents, encouraging them to seek compensation, in return for a tidy fee. The Argentines, as the title of Pablo Trapero’s new film suggests, have their own word for this mucky breed – vultures.

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If Not Us, Who?

Tom Birchenough

The Red Army Faction was Germany's key revolutionary force for a decade from the late 1960s onwards, and its story, especially the characters of Ulrike Meinhof and Andreas Baader, has proved highly attractive to the country's filmmakers. Uli Edel’s 2008 The Baader Meinhof Complex told the key political story in lengthy detail through to its end in 1977 when four of its key members (in the official version) committed suicide in prison.

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The Adopted

Emma Dibdin

Following her nuanced turn last year in Mike Mills’ quietly wrenching Beginners, Mélanie Laurent makes her directorial debut with another dimly idiosyncratic tale of thirtysomethings finding love and facing grief. Alas, while Laurent and her co-writers Morgan Perez and Chris Deslandes initially set up some intriguing dynamics, they give way all too swiftly to predictable scenes and a crushingly saccharine third act that’s no less risible for being heartfelt.

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Matt Wolf

Travel, health permitting, knows few age barriers (if it did, there would be no Elderhostel), nor does charm, so there are two reasons up front why The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel fully deserves to win over the so-called "grey pound" market and much more besides. The story of a septet of British retirees abroad who need to leave home in order to learn any number of home truths, John Madden's film provides a welcome corrective to our youth-obsessed celluloid age without going to the...

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Rampart

Emma Simmonds

A bent cop movie with style, swagger and a sometimes questionable approach to characterisation, Oren Moverman’s latest at least gifts Woody Harrelson one of his best roles in years. Set against a backdrop of the Rampart police scandals of the late Nineties, it takes as its target one (fictional) Los Angeles law enforcer and his towering demons. Harrelson’s Dave Brown is an intelligent but difficult man, buckled into the straight-jacket of thuggery.

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Hadewijch

Graham Fuller

Hadewijch of Antwerp was a 13th-century mystic whose poetry had a formative influence on Dutch literature. Though influenced by the courtly love tradition, the subject of her poems was the love of God and the mysteries of the divine. She was probably not a nun but a beguine – a devout noblewoman in a self-denying contemplative order that carried out works of Christian charity. There is a suggestion in her letters that she may have been exiled from her sisters and yearned to rejoin them.

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The Woman in the Fifth

Tom Birchenough

Challenging the boundaries of reality and the way in which characters exist in and redefine their worlds has become something of a hallmark of director Pawel Pawlikowski. Considering his previous film My Summer of Love, one critic wrote of it as a study of worlds that “exist somewhere on the periphery of normality”.

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Emma Dibdin

Novelist Jonathan Safran Foer once described his approach to the writing process as “trying to stop making sense, and create something that just has an effect”. It’s an intention that’s easy to track in his sophomore novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which uses an idiosyncratic mix of prose, pictures and blank pages to spin its two narrative strands.

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Position Among the Stars

Tom Birchenough

Dutch director Leonard Retel Helmrich has spent a decade following the everyday lives of Indonesia’s Sjamsuddin family, a working-class clan with their roots in the countryside whose working lives have taken them into the hubbub of the country’s capital Jakarta. Position Among the Stars is the final work of a trilogy, its immediate subject the importance of granddaughter Tari going to college to receive the further education that will give her new opportunities.

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The Woman in Black

Emma Simmonds

In Susan Hill’s 1982 novel The Woman in Black, the protagonist Arthur Kipps concludes his narration with petulant certainty: “They asked for my story. I have told it. Enough.” With this film adaptation (an exercise in hair-raising horror, in contrast to the book’s chill grandeur and the play’s postmodern whimsy), director James Watkins clearly feels there is more to say and, though he often says it with style, it’s a film that sometimes lacks guts.

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