Posts Tagged ‘Review’

Fingernails (2023)

Dir; Christos Nikou | Cast: Jessie Buckley, Riz Ahmed, James Allen White | Drama

Jessie Buckley and Riz Ahmed are the stars of this ponderous futuristic drama from Greek director Christos Nikou who tries to nail down that ephemeral thing called love.

Chemistry-wise Anna (Buckley) and Amir (Ahmed) hit the jackpot with 100% when taking a test to prove their viability as a love match. There’s only one problem – Buckley already has a positive score with her long term partner Ryan (James Allen White), although their relationship has now lost its spark.

Fingernails is certainly intriguing premise-wise but suffers the same airless inertia that dogged Nikou’s first feature Apples – although that film swept the board on the international film festival circuit with its inventive and whimsical look at amnesia.

Nikou, who co-wrote the screenplay, at least succeeds in demonstrating that AI and computer testing are not infallible and that human chemistry and its wonders still rest in the ether. And that’s the positive takeaway, along with two more enjoyable performances from Buckley and Ahmed. @MeredithTaylor

In select cinemas, and streaming globally on Apple TV+, from November 3rd

The Fan (1949)

Dir: Otto Preminger | US Drama

Towards the end of his journeyman years at Fox, having recently completed Ernst Lubitsch’s final film, ‘That Lady in Ermine’ (1948); Otto Preminger next remade one his illustrious predecessor’s silent hits with strange results.

Although fluidly photographed by his collaborator on ‘Laura’, Joseph LaShelle, he later admitted that it was “one of the few pictures I already disliked while making it” and rather than a droll comedy of manners it bizarrely resembles a Victorian film noir in which characters occasionally come out with familiar Wildean epigrams (a sense compounded by the postwar framing story, from which it flashes back in the style of the forties).

Martita Hunt is menacing rather than comical during her fleeting appearances as the Duchess of Berwick; while Madeleine Carroll in what proved her final screen appearance as Mrs Erlynne is far from the glacial blonde we remember from her thirties films. @RichardChatten

The Terror (2021)

When it comes to TV drama this surreal and sinister epic is a real corker with its gripping plot lines and creeping sense of dread all handsomely shot in Northern Canada.

Of course Ridley Scott put his money behind it, and it shows with a sterling British cast – shame that Ciaran Hands drops out in the early episodes, leaving Jared Harris and Tobias Menzies at the helm of The Terror with its crew inspired by a real life Royal Naval expedition.

Tobias Menzies as James Fitzjames – The Terror _ Season 1, Episode 3 – Photo AMC


Nive Nielsen as Lady Silence – The Terror _ Season 1, Episode 3 – Photo Credit: Aidan Monaghan/AMC


Based on Canadian writer Dan Simmons’ best-selling novel it follows the fated mission led by three captains, Sir John Franklin (Hinds) Francis Crozier (Harris) and James Fitzjames (Menzies), who venture out into to explore the Arctic’s fabled treacherous Northwest Passage in 1847, but instead discover a monstrous polar bear-like predator, a cunning and vicious Gothic horror that stalks the ships in a desperate game of survival. The men reach out in desperation to a mysterious Inuit woman Lady Silence (played by Greenlander Nive Nielsen) who may or may not be the key to the horrifying and macabre death toll.

As morale amongst the men deteriorates and rations putrify, a terror of a different kind rears its head in the shape of Cornelius Hickey a self-seeking villainous member of the crew who causes a seething mutiny amongst the men as, one by one, they are picked off in a terrifying ordeal that invariably ends in death as they battle the elements, the supernatural and eventually – their own crew-members,

Stunning to look at and compelling throughout, the standout performances comes from the three captains and their medic Paul Ready as a doc with a really human touch who falls for Lady Silence’s luminous charms. Even without the monster this is a compelling and memorable drama series.

Following its run on BBC Two, The Terror is on Blu-ray, DVD and digital debut on 3 May 2021.

Epicentro (2020)

Dir.: Hubert Sauper; Documentary with Leonelis ArangoSalas, Annielys Pelladito Zaldivar, Janet Pena Semunat, Hans Helmut Ludwig, Oona Castilla Chaplin; Austria/France 2020, 108 min.

This new documentary portrait of Cuba from Oscar nominated Hubert Sauper explores the post-Castro era pairing everyday life with an essay on the power and myth-making in cinema. Through his conversation with children, a sex worker and an actress, he shows a Cuba still dependent on tourism, even though some of the values are contrary to the revolutionary movement of “26th of July”.

Ten year-old Leonelis Arango Salas is the star of the show: she explained the 1902 “Tafft Agreement”, which gave the USA the use of the naval base of Guantanamo (!), one of over 900 military bases worldwide, where the American flag is raised, including the Moon. She also elaborates on the sinking of the battleship USS Maine by the Spanish – in reality, the ship sunk because of an explosion in the boiler room but the US used the incident to shoot reels of film showing their soldiers killing Spanish troops who had occupied Cuba for centuries. The boy also shows us the sinking of the ‘Maine’, restaged in a bath tub with lots of cigar smoke. Theodore Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders”, soldiers who fought on behalf of USA in the Cuban War of Independence, were very much ‘Trojan’ horses only interested in replacing the Spanish. And the cinema covered the myth: Media Tycoon Randolph Hearts (on whom the hero of Citizen Kane was modelled) wrote to Roosevelt: “You furnish the war, we furnish the information”.

A sex worker is, not surprisingly extremely disillusioned, regales us with the revelation that all US presidents look the same, be it T. Roosevelt or Trump: “Faces of people who like war and wealth.” Tourists come here for sex, men or women: “Gringas come here looking for black dicks”. And in her own experience, sex workers are just like slave: “I am a piece of meat, when they say do it doggy-style, I go “wow wow”. But she still wants to go to Disneyland and meet Brad Pitt.

In one of the few modern malls, Leonelis and her friends admire a pencil, costing over 2000 US dollars. Her hospital worker grandmother earns just four dollars a week. Even with Sauper’s help, they cannot calculate how long she would have to work to buy this simple writing instrument. Hans Helmut Ludwig, a middle aged tourist from Bavaria, visits a ballet school where he claims the free tuition is very professional. He compares Cuba today with a theatre set: tourists come to participate in a parallel universe full of illusions which will soon disappear. A utopia, never realised.

A street fight between a young girl and her mother is a brutal spectacle. Later we see mother and daughter watching Chaplin in The Great Dictator. “This is my grandfather” the girl tells Sauper. “You are Hitler’s granddaughter?” The girl can not stop giggling: “I am Charlie’s granddaughter”. Her mother, Oona Castilla Chaplin looks calm and collected as she accompanies her daughter and friends on the guitar,.

Epicentro is about reality and film, utopia and dystopia, and the American dream, with its “corrupted ideals and success forged in lies”. Like Robert Altman’s’ Buffalo Bill and the Indians, the truth is not welcome, particularly during the 200 year celebrations. Sauper hits hard, as he did in We Come as Friends when the Sudanese people complain “even the Moon belongs to the white man”. Maintaining a freewheeling and detached approach during his conversations on home-grown politics, the message is clear: Havana is anything but its translation: Heaven. AS


Arctic (2018) **

Writer-Dir: Joe Penna | Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smaradottir | Drama | 93’

A macho Mads Mikkelsen is marooned in Arctic nothingness in Joe Penna’s dialogue free survival saga. You could almost call ARCTIC a road movie, but there isn’t a road to speak of. And this is not really a two hander either because the woman Mads tries to save – when her own aircraft crashes trying rescue him – is just a concussed and grunting victim he feels duty bound to take with him on his mission to reach safety in the snowy wilderness of craggy peaks and perilous caverns.

Moving mountains to get her to hospital is an experience as gruelling for Mads as it since for us viewers, if you haven’t already drifted off in the opening stages. If you do remain awake, there is no backstory or attempt at characterisation to make you care whether either of the travellers makes it home. Barren of landscape and of narrative, ARCTIC follows Mads as he moves in a slow circle, due to his poor map-reading skills, after etching an enormous SOS in the snow. The only brief moment of drama is derived from seeing a Polar bear deprived of his dinner when our hero hides in a cave.  Meanwhile Mads develops clever ways of catching and eating raw fish, a sight almost as unpalatable as Joseph Trapanese’s screeching score. 

Even Stakhanov would be proud of the work Mads puts in, and his perseverance in getting the injured woman out of danger as he drags her up hill and down dale without a by your leave, and certainly no encouragement from his human bundle. Yet he never gives up hope until the final showdown where he sets off a flare which is totally ignored, leaving him to trudge on tirelessly through the elements. Mikkelsen’s grunting performance has a strange humour to it, matched only by the moment when he catches sight of an artic flower and then rapidly disappears through a pothole. Marvellous stuff. MT


Everybody Knows (2018) ***

Dir: Asghar Farhadi | Cast: Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Barbara Lennie, Ricardo Darin | Drama

Penelope Cruz is the star turn of the off kilter drama. Returning to Spain from Argentina with her two teenagers, Laura is back to celebrate her sister’s Irene’s wedding. Husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darin) soon follows, and she also reconnects with an old boyfriend (Bardem) as events take a less sunny turn.

Farhadi (A Separation) directs from a script written in Farsi and translated into Spanish, which he learnt phonetically.Tepid as a psychological thriller with a telenovela-esque twist, the film’s strength and most of its attraction lies in the three dynamic central performances and the picturesque 16th century setting in the town of Torrelaguna (Madrid) which is very much a character in itself, gloriously brought to life in Jose Luis Alcaine’s zinging images. Everybody Knows provides fascinating insight into traditional Spanish country life, exposing deep fault-lines of internecine resentment, provincial pettiness and mean-spirited grudges.

The plot revolves round a secret “everybody knows” (except Laura herself) about former flame Paco (Bardem) who was devastated when she left. The whole affair seems connected to a local kidnapping that took place years previously, revealed in some newspaper cuttings that just happen to be left around in Irene’s bedroom. Soon, menacing letters start to arrive demanding money, and threatening Irene not to contact the police. This unpleasantness also lays bare a long-standing dispute between Laura’s curmudgeonly father and Paco going back years.

Laura’s absence has kept all this at bay but now it comes into full focus, re-opening old family wounds that had never really healed. Strangely nobody seems to acknowledge or discuss the perpetrators of the original kidnapping, and although this slight plothole is glossed ovrr by the polished performances of the strong cast, still remains a nagging question mark in our minds.

This is a mildly intriguing drama that rolls on despite its narrative flaws which are significantly diminished by the undeniable slickness of Farhadi’s confident direction and complemented by the lead trio in brilliant form. MT


Touch Me Not (2018) Berlinale 2018 | Winner Golden Bear

Dir.: Adina Pintilie; Cast: Laura Benson, Tomas Lemarquis, Christian Bayerlein, Grit Uhlemann, Adina Pintilie, Hanna Hoffman, Seani Love, Irmena Chichikova; Romania/Germany/France/Bulgaria/Czech Republic, 2018, 123 min.

Written, directed and edited by first time feature filmmaker Adina Pintilie, this surprise winner of the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival has split critics and audiences alike. The key to the mis/understanding of this fictional sex-based documentary may lie in Pintilie’s own background. At 38, she is the director of the Bucharest International Experimental Film Festival (BIEFF). Her award-winning short films fall into the category of “Fine Art” documentaries.

In this unique film the focus is Laura Benson and her exploration, through sexual therapy, of her deep-held anger and frustration. Pintilie does away with the fourth wall, participating both behind and in front of camera. The colour white dominates giving the feature a documentary feel, only disrupted by the soundtrack which destroys the illusion of realism, although the naturalistic performances make us feel like voyeurs in a candid and highly intimate sexual interaction. This is an uncomfortable film to watch. Many may find the degree of physical and emotional oversharing deeply off-putting, 

Laura visits a tattooed male prostitute who undresses for her and later masturbates. Laura looks on in barely disguised lust, and later smells his sperm in the bed. Then Laura meets Hanna Hoffman, a transsexual prostitute who also doubles up as Sex-Therapist. Hanna playfully romps on the bed, talking about her breasts who are named Lilo and Gusti, the former being the more sensitive one. She also fondles her penis through a pair of Y-fronts. Hanna is also involved in music and appreciates Brahms, like Laura’s hospitalised father. In a clinic two mwn who feel let down by their bodies: Christian Bayerlain, who suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and is visited by Tudor (Lemarquis), who has been completely hairless since the age of 13, due to Alopecia Universalis. Tudor (if I had a choice, I would choose not to have hair, because it’s just another form of disguise”) is still in love with his ex-girl-friend (Chichikova), whom he sometimes stalks at night.

Ironically, Christian’s penis is one of the parts of his body which functions perfectly, and he is keen on sex, because before it makes him feel more than just “a brain, floating around with no body”. After meeting an other sex-therapist (Love), who brings out in predilection for strong physical interactions, suddenly asks the director to change places with her. Pintilie acquiesces, admitting “that this a tough place to be in. I feel lots of fear, of being looked at, judged. When you screamed with anger, I knew the feeling very well.” To which Laura answers “Did I scream for you?”.

The only criticism here is a rather superfluous scene in a sex club where some of the participants meet. Otherwise Pintilie stays the course in this permanently questioning roleplay of transference and projection: like an orthodox Freudian, she claims sex to be the the centre of our lives. Sex being influenced by our hopes and denials –  foremost, of our past, parental and otherwise. There is no escape, and Pintilie is brave enough to join the fray in a film that teeters of the brink of but never oversteps the mark. Where the demarcation lines of documentary and fiction are, is never revealed. But the director, with the help of DoP George Chiper-Lillemark – who punctiliously clinical images give the impression of ongoing scientific research in some futuristic laboratory – succeeds in bringing in bringing Laura’s odyssey to a successful, surprising and moving conclusion. AS


Stranger By The Lake (2013) L’Inconnu Du Lac | DVD release

Director: Alain Guiraudie

Cast: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d’Assumcao, Jerome Chapatte

100min  French with subtitles   Thriller

1374946_10151927858522387_889948991_nAlain Guiraudie’s STRANGER BY THE LAKE is one of the year that has really made a lasting impression. Disturbing and utterly absorbing right up until its enigmatic showdown, it may at first appear to have little to offer mainstream audiences. But what develops is a gripping psychodrama with naturalistic performances that just feels ‘real’.  Stranger is set in a naturist cruising spot for gay men by a lakeside in southern France. Stripping off on arrival, they swim and bond with each other; occasionally indulging in explicit sex in the lush vegetation nearby. Guiraudie has captured the sensuality of these torrid encounters enhanced by the natural ambient sounds of nature and sparky, realistic dialogue and simple narrative structure.  The lakeside setting provides an ideal ‘stage’ for the sinister events that gradually emerge.

Handsomely-built but hard-edged Michel (Christophe Paou)  is a regular to the hedonistic idyll; parking in the clearing, he swims each day and cruises for casual pick-ups. Is he a homosexual predator or a homophobe exacting revenge on his fellow men for their putative sins of the flesh.? Guiraudie ramps up the tension by making us rely on body language and only patchy dialogue, leaving us intrigued to know what’s going on. Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) is attracted to Michel like a moth to a flame. An easy-going and pleasant-looking gay, Franck is open and honest; emotionally quite vulnerable.  As Michel has a regular hook-up, Franck strikes up a chatty friendship with Henri (Patrick D’Assumcao), a portly straight guy who is newly single and depressed at spending the August holidays alone.  Henri appears dismissive but also fascinated by the cruising activity on the beach. While Franck enjoys the beauty of the sunset one evening, he witnesses Michel drowning a boyfriend, after horseplay in the lake. Rather than quelling Franck’s desire for Michel, the murder seems to enhance his sexual attraction. Guiraudie captures this essence of danger that spikes when strong attraction overrides the rational brain.  In the quite calm of the lakeside, a simmering and palpable tension builds  from Franck ‘s attraction to Michel’s sexual allure.  Michel is clearly tricky; dangerous, but he fancies him to the point where seduction blocks out reason: offering the ultimate in escapism and the thrill of the unknown.

Guiraudie’s wanted to create a drama that evoked the strong emotion of falling in love passionately, not just having casual sex. His drama is thrilling; leavened by quirky almost humorous moments that prey upon the subconscious. The characters just happen to be gay rather than heterosexual and the sex feels natural and totally without sensationalism, just as any encounter may feel, irrespective of the sexual persuasion it entails.  The police inspector remarks are the casual disregard that the gay community by the lakeside seem to feel for one another. The overall tone is one of intensity and the undercurrent as unsettling as the individuals involved, but the everyday conversations they indulge add intelligent and thought-provoking texture to the story.  The cast all give performances that feel spontaneous and believable. By turns provocative and sinister,  STRANGER meditates on the nature of sexuality, solitude and the power of seduction


The Lakeside setting feels like a jungle where animals prowl around quietly, engaging  in atavistic power-play: some hoping to conquer, some hoping to be conquered, some simply enjoying the ritual. Enigmatic, amusing and mesmerising to watch, STRANGER BY THE LAKE will remain with you long after the sun has set. MT



The Zero Theorum (2013) Venice 2013

Director: Terry Gilliam

Cast: Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, David Thewlis, Melanie Thierry, Matt Damon, Lucas Hodges

107min   Fantasy Drama   UK

Terry Gilliam is back with a psychedelic mish-mash of mysogyny and male musings: THE ZERO THEORUM is a mathematical formula that seeks to determine whether life has meaning, as seen through the eyes of Christophe Waltz’s middle-aged geek in a dystopian town of the future. Waltz is both perplexed and benign in the role as he’s badgered to settle down and marry by Melanie Thierry’s blonde piece of fluff who taunts him to commit in various states of undress (a typical male fantasy from the warped mind of a commitment-phobe). Gilliam’s fantasy drama explores the nightmare of online, corporate Hell so just hope that we never get there.  Despite some creative flourishes in the Art department THE ZERO THEORUM is puerile, repetitive and overlong.  An acquired taste that will divide audiences: I’d give it a miss unless you love his films. MT


Thanks for Sharing (2013) ***


CAST: Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim Robbins, Joely Richardson, Patrick Fugit

112min   US Romcom

Following on from Steve McQueen’s Shame, this is not the first time sex addiction has been explored in contemporary cinema. However, although Stuart Blumberg’s Thanks for Sharing is not quite as intense or dark as the former  – tackling the subject matter in a far more jovial manner; the The Kids Are All Right writer offers a picture equally as poignant with his directorial debut.

We follow three friends who meet at 12-step meetings to help combat their unhealthy addictions to sex. At the heart of our story is Adam (Mark Ruffalo) who is five years ‘sober’ and now feeling ready to meet women again and attempt to strike up a relationship. However when he meets Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow) he falls in love, but struggles to overcome his previous habits. He seeks help from his mentor Mike (Tim Robbins), who has problems of his own, as his drug-addicted son (Patrick Fugit) has just shown up out of the blue. To complete the cycle, Adam himself is also a mentor, but to a young man named Neil (Josh Gad), who is desperately seeking help, as his sexual deviance has landed him in trouble on several occasions. We intertwine between these three corresponding lives, and see how each individual relies heavily on the next to get through this challenging treatment.

Thanks for Sharing treads the line between comedy and drama masterfully, portraying sex addiction sincerely, giving it the gravitas it deserves and considering it as a genuine disease. However the often frivolous nature to the film allows for us to see the humorous elements too, easing us into understanding and appreciating the true severity of the condition. That said, Blumberg can be accused of being overly lighthearted at points, particularly at the start when introduced to Neil. He is the comedic figure of the piece, providing the film with the vast majority of its witty one liners – but he is actually a sexual predator with a dangerously perverse outlook on life, and the sexual abuse he carries out is inappropriately depicted as humorous. Though jokes are a necessity within Thanks for Sharing, sometimes they are implemented in the wrong places.

TFS #17 copy

Nonetheless, the story is structured ingeniously, as we weave in and out of our lead characters’ lives effortlessly, each individual story being substantially told. We care enough about each and every character and their own personal journeys, enough so that at the end we are intrigued to see how each one will conclude. Blumberg must be commended for this, as many ensemble pieces fall at this very hurdle. Much of why we are so empathetic to the characters is as a result of the screenplay, with each role crafted beautifully and the dynamics between each varying relationship perfectly judged. There are several themes at play too, such as romance, friendship, addiction and family matters – and these are all dealt with well, with every plot-point being given enough screen-time for us to invest emotionally in each one.

Thanks for Sharing is a picture that could so easily be underwhelming, dealing with various themes we have seen done to death in Hollywood – yet this avoids cliches. It may be overly melodramatic at times, yet Blumberg manages to steer away from ever feeling mawkish or over-indulgent in the slightest. He may have crafted a reputation for himself as a valuable screenwriter, but now it seems that he is equally as adept at directing, with a bright future certainly beckoning. STEFAN PAPE

THANKS FOR SHARING IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 4TH OCTOBER 2013 at Vue Cinemas, Odeon Cinemas Cineworld and Shortwave Bermondsey



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