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A low-budget British horror that does what it says on the tin, but also manages to do it very well. The script is appalling and the cast struggle with cliched dialogue, but there are some fair to good actors here. Jessica Barden can do no wrong, while William Ash and Louis Emmerick are quite capable and even Roxanne Pallett manages an adequate performance. I did not know Elliot James Langridge before this but he can certainly emote. His character has a limited range of reactions, mostly miserable or lost, but when he is good he is very good. The weakest link is the sister, not due to poor acting but simply not a credible role. As we find out, her claustrophobic protection of her brother is accompanied by a personality that cannot look after herself.
The plot is slight - young man joins group of cannibals in Manchester after catching the eye of a young woman - but it bowls along merrily and has the feel of a more substantial piece. Ordinarily, to say a film seems longer than its run time would be an insult, but in this case it is a tribute to the pacing. Most of the action looks to take place in real locations rather than film sets, although the cheapness shows a few times - an industrial stone floor looks more like vinyl, for example - but the grime, squalor, poverty, deprivation and occasional bright lights of Manchester add atmosphere and authenticity.
There is no attempt to burden us with backstory, other than one incident in the childhood of the main character, which some might find unfulfilling but I didn't mind. We are seeing a snapshot, a few days in the lives of our hosts, not the grand sweep of history. How many of us question the background of everyone we meet?
Effects are a mixed bag. Some deliciously graphic butchery is mixed with pointless injury detail. If someone has the skill and the restraint to fillet and carve an entire leg, why would they inflict random diagonal cuts to the torso? These do not look like stab wounds so much as naff 1960s injuries that would have been at home in Peter Cushing portmanteau stories about crypt keepers or asylum managers.
Nudity too is inconsistent. Despite much of the story taking place in a seedy massage parlour (don't look for cameos by international sports stars with calf sprains), the presentation is actually surprisingly coy until a topless cabaret artist introduces a scene featuring a group of people writhing naked and drenched in blood. It is as if the film were composed of elements made by entirely different studios, then stitched together without editing: one crew to make the horror sequences, one to do the erotic one, one to capture seedier areas of Manchester (which is almost a character in itself).
The film would never challenge at the Oscars but it is a solid effort and deserves to be seen. Do not be put off by the lack of big names, although Barden is growing in stature (figuratively) with every film. She is far from statuesque but her deadpan face can portray big feelings with barely a twitch as she fills the screen with bland nihilism. Worth a watch.
Who Were These People?
After watching Daphne I looked at the IMDb page for further information, convinced I must have missed something. The cast list includes many people I could not place, many of them with names rather than 'Bystander' or 'Pedestrian'. Who were they? Even after much thought there were many who remained mysterious, but I really didn't care. Geraldine James and Tom Vaughan-Lawlor were the only actors I recognised (although I know Ruth Bradley from Grabbers and Guilt, I just didn't see her in this) and both seemed to sleepwalk through their parts. I gained no insight into James' character, having to guess that the film was supposed to track Daphne's awkward response to and eventual acceptance of her mother's illness.
Vaughan-Lawlor similarly showed no depth to his role. Reading a book we firm our own image of the characters but a film should present us with a fully-rounded version, not simply an actor reading the lines for the first time. What was his relationship with his wife and children? What was his relationship with Daphne? Was he a cheese pusher? Was he Daphne's manager, or was that someone else who bossed her around? Do chefs with long hair let it hang free in a kitchen?
A takeaway delivery rider was concerned when Daphne underpaid but left the good anyway. Later he was overjoyed at being given a tip, even though it would have been partly swallowed up by her debt. Another character seemed to be a regular partner because he supplied cocaine, but how often? Daphne turned down one potential lover because he wanted a photo to show his mates, but picked up another with apparently even less to offer. She clearly didn't enjoy the sex so why bother, or why not invest some emancipation and take control?
The central enigma was Daphne herself. We saw her reading a book by a Slovenian philosopher, and quoted Freud, but we saw no reflection of this apparent intelligence or education. We heard that her friends wanted to see her, but she chose to stay at home alone instead. What didn't help was that it was impossible to tell, apart from an ill-advised visit to work, when she was under the influence of drink or drugs. What did she get from David that she pursued him after telling him repeatedly to get lost? We have no idea because we see nothing in her behaviour to indicate a change to routine.
An educated man recently told me that a book or film should show us the most exciting time of its central character's life or give a very good reason why less interesting times are worthy of the effort. This film failed. Either they showed us the dullest days by accident, or they couldn't be bothered explaining why we would prefer them to ones where something happened.
Multum in Parvo
Long-running TV shows can sometimes run out of money and ideas but this episode, a season finale, shows what can be done on a budget and with a little effort.
I can only assume Hugo Speer did this as a favour. They could not have paid his market price, surely? He is one of two old characters returned to investigate a death on the estate of an MP building a power base in Parliament, supported by his own Lady Macbeth. Cal MacAninch is another great actor who does not need these small roles but brings quality to whatever he does.
The two senior officers highlight the cartoonish nature of Inspector Mallory, and there is a (conscious?) lack of imagination to the killer's methods. Working out the bad 'un is part of the fun and far from difficult in this episode, but there are enough moments of comedy, pathos, tragedy and surprise to keep us entertained. Despite the repetition, 45 minutes barely contains all within and it is a worthy season closer, leaving us anticipating the next outing.
Another unnecessarily complex plot where the set-up outweighs the story itself. Too many incidental characters introduced with insufficient time to work out who is who, and the usual string of surprises and extreme coincidences. No spoilers, but a hugely cliched realisation from Father Brown involving times. While it is true that not many people owned watches or mobile devices with satellite clocks in them, I somehow doubt that a high proportion of murder cases hinged on a breakthrough involving a casual comment about the time.
The setting is evocative, the regular characters warm and well-loved, but the show is running out of ideas and the limited budget allows only so much variety. The very idea that a fashion show that attracts an audience smaller than the team organising it is preposterous. They would get better results touring the private homes of the audience, giving personalised presentations.
Trying to introduce the caharacters, give them history, include a killing, then have the police and priest investigating separately, AND include a romantic meander for Bunty and an opportunity for Mrs McCarthy to show off her shorthand skills in the space of forty-five minutes is an effort too far.
With the dubious ethics of bystanders removing evidence from a crime scene, combined with the bumbling police inspector leaping to conclusions, it is a miracle any criminals are ever caught in Kembleford.
A difficulty of long-running stories set in a small world is that there are only so many crimes, murders, missing heiresses and multinational plots that a small community can host, whether it is Kembleford, Midsomer, or Cabot Cove. For some reason, the writers think a globetrotting thief of priceless but useless items would return, time and again, to a Gloucestershire village to renew his friendship with the parish priest. In turn, Father Brown sets aside his usual judgment of lawbreakers in order to fete the thief as a celebrity.
The tongue-in-cheek aspects of the joke taken too far are there in the character names: Hercule Flambeau, Marianne Delacroix, even a petty thief called Filchett (Filch it? Clever, or childish?). Two genteel international bandits come together in Kembleford, bringing two irreplaceable religious artefacts in order to do battle over who is more skilled, drawing in a museum willing to display a cheap fake item and trailing the Capo of an Italian crime family in their wake. Father Brown sits calmly at the centre of it all, making occasional efforts to dissuade the thieves from their vocations but allowing allowing all the crooks to escape justice on the basis that they will face a greater judgment later.
Sorry, the logic of allowing crime to continue unchecked, causing untold misery on Earth because it will be dealt with in Heaven is a shabby one and too crass for a show like this. We willingly suspend our disbelief; we do not lose contact with reality.
I enjoy Father Brown, but its charm lies partly in its human scale - local stories of local people. These attempts to shoehorn worldwide themes into parochial life just don't work for me.
Father Brown: The River Corrupted (2020)
Twists and Red Herrings
A surprisingly complex story to fit into 45 minutes. Father Brown never seems to consider the possibility that the main suspect might be guilty, but almost every other guest becomes a possibility at some point.
There are some contrivances, of course - coincidences and lucky guesses - but the plot is entertaining and the characters are vaguely likeable. Even Inspector Mallory avoids the worst pantomime characteristics in this episode.
The return of an occasional character might stop it being the best introduction to this series, but the writing and acting are good enough to keep it entertaining.
Complex But Neat
An episode with a number of stories interwoven but a satisfying conclusion. A large number of characters means each subplot only has a short time in the light, but long enough to show relevance and be discounted.
Bunty is in trouble and Father Brown must call in favours from Sergeant Goodfellow and even Inspector Mallory to prove her innocence and save her from the gallows. The action shifts between an affluent country house and an austere courtroom, and we are kept guessing to the very end.
As ever, tiny clues are spotted instantly by our sleuth, while huge plot holes are completely sidestepped (why risk moving a body when it is within staggering distance of where the alleged bashing took place?), but we do not watch for a rigorous Sherlock Holmes intellectual workout; we watch for a pleasant diversion and this episode provides it.
Father Brown: The Queen Bee (2020)
Not One of the Best
Although not a regular viewer of this series I have enjoyed the episodes I have seen, but this was one of the weaker efforts. Attempts at comedy (a solicitor in a wardrobe) fell flat and a number of plot lines were either unexplained or overexplained. A coded message was solved in seconds despite a few false starts and with a breathtaking grasp of the cypher by all present. A swarm of bees was introduced at a funeral as if it were relevant but not followed up. Two characters were stung by bees for no reason, including one wearing a beekeeper's bee-proof suit, and the killer carried a bee-smoker and wore the bee-suit but was instantly recognised by the victim. Why would you wear a cumbersome disguise and carry a prop that would leave a smell on you if you intend to kill the only witness? I initially thought the smoker was to cover the smell of cigarettes - it possibly was - but if this was mentioned I missed it and there were cigarettes in the room anyway.
A shame because the show gives opportunities to actors on both trajectories and is pleasant, harmless fun. I hope this was a rare lapse rather than an indication that the writers have become stale.
Slick but Shallow
A well-made and glossy chiller, the film has no feeling of being anchored in reality. A talented and attractive woman comes into the orbit of a talented but isolated young man. He has a distorted view of women's sexual availability, gleaned from internet experiences, and someone does as a result.
The settings and photography are cold. There is a human emptiness that is of the moment but unfulfilling. I am not asking for every story to be a parable or a morality tale, but neither do I believe the world is made up of purely of those who kill and those who lie for them.
I do not understand Amanda Plummer's role. Was she a friend of a friend, shoehorned in to appeal to distributors? What investigation did she do? What happened before Piet met Klara? Did she have no friends to notice what she was doing? What of the professor who introduced them? Klara appears to have written much of their project; no traces? What of the parcels? Piet made few attempts to avoid touching the packing tape or printer labels. Why would an isolated individual like Piet have a sociable friend like Alex?
Klara' family must have suspected foul play (dead people do not dismember themselves), so why choose an investigator with no evident skills? The illegal migrant would become known to authorities whatever she said; why implicate herself as accessory to murder?
Overall the film feels like a half-thought out idea for a plot rather than a choate work. A few ideas are tossed in to cover discrepancies ("I have some money from a company I sold last year"), but there is no sense of who the characters are when they are off-screen, no reference points to explain their motives. A sushi delivery in the middle of the night is a bizarre red herring, while there is no explanation for why Piet would own enough cardboard boxes and packing tape to dispose of the body, or why he would have a parcel trolley sitting around.
If the intention was to make me feel uneasy it succeeded, but so would a Miss World pageant or the dissection of a small mammal. I expect more from a film than an unexplained and inexplicable evening in the company of a loner.
The Levelling (2016)
Clover, a veterinary student returns to the family farm following a bereavement in the family. Her father is struggling with grief over far more than this latest loss, having given up a military career to take over the farm decades earlier.
Death stalks the story as Clover's relationship with her father, mother, brother and even family dogs is explored. I almost had a feeling of in amongst the action, learning about real people through meeting them and picking up pieces of the jigsaw from each in turn. The story is so convincing that I could imagine it being filmed sequentially, with the actors learning plot twists just as we do.
Watching critically, there were perhaps two occasions when characters reacted in ways I had not expected, but I realised that they were correct and it was my anticipation that was wrong. Every revelation was something long known about but ignored or repressed. The jolt of parts falling into place was tangible; not just Clover but Aubrey and James too made discoveries about themselves and others around them.
There was minimal theatricality. Characters came and went with no introductions or explanations. Helen's character was a tiny joy, a gem of a part. The weakest character was the vicar arranging the funeral. I understand why it was necessary, but I would expect her to lead parishioners to their own conclusions, not trot out some amateur psychology. Her limited screen time would have had to be much longer to accommodate that.
Death, mud, decay, rain and stoic acceptance of tragedy run as constant themes. Images of hares play the role performed by background music in lesser films, with one swimming, then sinking lifelessly, only for the closing shot to be a hare running in the inevitable rain. No easy answers in this film, but an astonishingly brave exercise in respecting the audience to fill gaps rather than having the script explain everything.
I would be interested to know whether Hope Dickson Leach had the idea already and the real flood was a fortuitous coincidence, whether it was a hastily put together (probably largely improvised) story in response to the damage, or some other combination of theme and natural circumstance.
This film trades on every crass cliche available: clearly corrupt police, cowardly French, heroic Americans, entire communities ignoring or turning their backs on persistent anti-social behaviour. This requires the local municipality to be both a tiny village and a moderate-sized town, none of the teenagers to have parents or siblings, all the adults to be isolated and vulnerable, and mobile phones to be conspicuous in every scene but never even looked at for evidence by the police.
There appear to be ideas of some local resistance - a burly man who invokes silence as he walks past, a neighbour willing to talk to Bernard, an English teacher whose only role seems to be to explain why an elderly Frenchman has a few words of English - but these simply disappear as arbitrarily as they appear.
The script is written without a thought to real life: a police officer shows photographs of youths and asks "Have you seen these young people?". He gets an unhelpful reply, to which he says "Come on! It is only a week since you assaulted one of them". Why ask, then? Even the assault was alleged to have taken place while several youths were filming an elderly man being tormented by other young people, yet not one had a still or video of the man assaulting anybody?
The man is seemingly able to dig graves for two people in one night, but leave the ground perfectly flat and looking undisturbed. The youths take time to uproot garden plants but leave a classic car untouched on several occasions. The protagonist has his car shipped to France but no obvious furniture. He moves into an isolated farmhouse before he has anything but the suitcases he and his wife carry, rather than book into a hotel until they can make the house secure and habitable.
I had the feeling of a film created by imagining a few killings and then throwing random conversations in between. The leader of the gang is first to die but, rather than take stock and rethink their behaviour, progressively weaker youths go to meet their deaths too. The justifications the protagonist offers his wife are reminiscent of Death Wish - the victims are subhuman and deserve no better. There is no redemptive element to this film at all. Even the English lead actor feigns a US accent, presumably with a view to sales territory. Fail at every level.
Ibiza: The Silent Movie (2019)
Not as Clever as it Thinks
An attempt to tell the history of Ibiza from its first colonisation to the present day. It comes off as an extended music video that they forgot to add music to. Real ancient history is ditched in favour of a tourist-friendly tale, and it is sometimes difficult to understand what the film is trying to say, particularly around World War Two and the Spanish Civil War. The role of fascist rulers in the evolution of club culture is mentioned in passing but left me wanting more.
The film returns repeatedly to the indigenous residents, with clips of them using ancient agricultural methods, but is never explored. Local people are interviewed for less than one minute, despite the fact they have been there far longer than the night clubs. Apart from salt and olive oil, I still have no idea what the locals lived on before tourism.
In silent movie style, the commentary is restricted to a few caption boards. For some reason, the makers left yawning time gaps between these, even when up to three three formed one complete sentence. The result was that a group of words often had no real meaning until the next group appeared, by which time the first group, without context, was largely forgotten.
Someone had clearly made an effort to find old and new footage, plus clips from other films about the island, but they did not follow a narrative path. Many interesting stories were touched on but immediately abandoned in favour of more dance scenes. What was the result of the destruction of Phoenecian artifacts by builders? Did Raoul Haussmann discover more, or were we to think he faked them? To what extent did former senior Nazis find refuge there?
I watched to the end, but only as one would 'listen' to music in lifts. It was more interesting than staring at a wall, but I cannot say I learned very much. I have a few things I will now research myself, but even short answers to my questions would have elevated this film into something more. Ibiza, the island, was simply a McGuffin to frame a film about the evolution of dance music and club culture, and a shallow explanation at that.
Girls with Balls (2018)
A film that was never intended to challenge for the Oscars and manages to squeeze a few boring bits into a 77-minute runtime, but is still great fun. It is hard to think of a cliché they haven't crammed in: blood flying, slo-mo, irrational character behaviour, baddies lifted clean off their feet by minor blows, an isolated hotel, even a driver getting lost on a road with no turn-offs, the list is seemingly endless. The film, though, keeps the viewer entertained and the violence, although repetitive, is stylish, the blood is copious. Young women in peril, psychotic rural throwbacks, volleyball, what's not to like? Give it a go. Wait out the slow beginning and revel in the carnage that is then unleashed.
Don't Kill It (2016)
I expected to see Dolph Lundgren's name as writer and director, so absurd is his role. With no other discerniblectalent on show, I still suspect he was given big star prerogative to change the script as he saw fit.
Riddled with ludicrous plot holes, poorly edited and woefully scripted, the film could easily pass for one churned out in 1982 to meet the demands of home video viewing. Does anybody seriously still believe that a blast from a shotgun would lift a victim from their feet and propel them two metres backwards? Was the budget so tight that a meeting of the entire town, without the killer but with police reinforcements from elsewhere, would only add up to about twenty people? In a town described as extremely Christian, would even fewer people would look to the church for guidance than went to the public meeting to swear?
Sorry, this was absolutely rubbish.
The Paedophile Next Door (2014)
Opportunity Underused is Opportunity Missed
Steve Humphries' documentary on sex offending against children is a brave attempt to take a different look at the issue, but ultimately fails by lacking focus and not connecting disparate threads.
He has access to some promising Human Resources - victims, a self-confessed non-practicing paedophile, an academic who 'lost' her job by challenging the orthodoxy - but squanders them by raising more questions than he provides answers to.
Dr Sarah Goode claimed to have lost her job, but it was never made clear exactly why. We imagine there is another perspective on the matter but it is never explored. She says there is a spectrum of male sexuality, from those exclusively attracted to adults at one end to those exclusively attracted to children at the other. She argues that we stand to learn most by talking to those in the middle. A simple analogy would be to suggest we can learn how to prevent armed robbery by speaking to those who would keep a supply of money they found in the street. Dr Goode's analysis is further undermined by her definition of paedophilia as a male sexual behaviour, ignoring female offenders completely.
Similarly 'Eddie' says he is sexually attracted to children but would never act on it. This interview could easily have been anonymous and voiced by an actor, as it frequently would be by mainstream documentary makers, but Humphries identifies Eddie and shows him speaking openly. This does nothing to keep any child safer but exposes Eddie to huge risks from vigilantes who do not discriminate. The voiceover at the end tells us Eddie went into a European residential programme. Perhaps an exploration of that programme would have been enlightening?
The 2000 News of the World campaign to identify paedophiles is covered but again without any kind of ethical analysis. It fails to mention, for example, the paediatrician hounded from her home by a mob, or the wrongful identification of innocent people. It does, however, suggest that paedophiles driven from their homes then 'go underground' and are lost to police monitoring, despite the fact that many of the moves were under police protection.
I do not expect every documentary to provide comprehensive solutions to the difficulties it highlights, but I feel we should be given an opportunity to consider what they might look like. Humphries tells us that he has learnt how 'damaging and widespread paedophilia is' but has not shared that with us in any meaningful sense. At the most superficial level, his victims are shown in almost idyllic rural settings and comfortable surroundings, not in the deprived areas many of them will typically live. He speaks of finding new ways to protect children, and only currently speaking to paedophiles after they have offended, but only teases us with the way these things are being addressed. He speaks of the cycle of abuse, how many victims become offenders, but not what we can learn from those who defy this cycle.
Steve Humphries packs plenty into a short playing time, but does so by avoiding depth and analysis. Paedophilia is a brave topic to tackle. Sadly this is not the ground-breaking treatment it warrants.
ITV News (1999)
Delivers as Advertised
ITV News presents up to date news.
This review is politically motivated. IMDb have started to allow reviews on TV programmes the reviewer has not seen, or has seen only the first episode of a series. Reporting these reviews is pointless. Moderators are apparently unable to verify that the reviewer has not seen the full series despite comments like "A great start", "I am looking forward to the next episode" and "Can't wait to see what happens".
On that basis, I allege that ITV News is fixated on Brexit, despite it being a word that did not exist in 1955 and will cease to have any contemporary relevance in another 60 years.
Stealing Cars (2015)
Could Have Been So Good
The twist and the action in the last ten or fifteen minutes give a taste of how truly memorable this film could have been, but the eighty minutes of set-up show how lazy and delusional filmmakers can be. There is an overt reference to A Bronx Tale but far too much harking back to The Breakfast Club and similar, with unlikeable characters in unrealistic situations. Billy would never have got away with the rambling smart-arse speechmaking on show here, but would have been told to sit down and STFU (at best) or, more likely, punched in the mouth.
The distinction between the gangs is underplayed unless it is critical to a plot point, at which time it feels forced. The kindly sheriff, damaged nurse and bullying guard stereotypes rely on one actor in each role, and we are expected to believe they work almost around the clock and with no support. There is no suggestion that education extends beyond reading one book, sport involves more than knocking one character to the ground repeatedly, or rehabilitation extends beyond polishing the boss's car. The annual building project is as believable as finding Elvis on the moon.
Most of the film is made up of red herrings and blind alleys, with very occasional flashbacks that confuse rather than illuminate. Even after seeing the twist I am not convinced I fully understood what they were trying to say but by that stage I was making up my own story.
The end is forced melodrama but need not have been. There was a great film here struggling to get out.
Gone Too Far (2013)
I watched to the end, so it is not bad enough to be unbearable but it is certainly nothing special. The film never seems to decide who its audience is: London streetwise gang members or fresh off the boat migrants. The approach is largely childlike and, apart from some strong language and misplaced violence and drug use, could have been a family treat. The fight scenes are incongruous and throwaway, and any attempt at addressing romantic relationships is primary school playground level.
Attempts to contrast Yemi's Peckham life with Ikudayisi's Nigerian background are flimsy, and it is hard to imagine two brothers /half-brothers reaching the age they do while knowing so little about each other. In fact, it is the newcomer Iku who seems to know their mother better. It is impossible to conceive that Yemi speaks no Yoruba, considering how often his mother lapses into it. The understanding most characters have of African / Caribbean / British aspects of their heritage is frankly offensive. People seem to drift through the single day with no sense of purpose, shifting from an Indian shop to a Chinese restaurant, in and out of a pirate radio station, play areas, residential streets, the library (why did two characters find themselves inside?). The representation of a teenage PCSO wannabe is tasteless.
The film is a time passer. I would not sit down to watch it, but it was on and it held my attention, just, for its duration. I am not proud to have watched it; the boundary between innocent 1970s humour and blunt racism is always too close for real comfort, but if you happen to catch it you are unlikely to throw down your remote control and leave the room in disgust.
En las estrellas (2018)
Close Enough That You Can Almost Smell The Love
I had no idea what to expect from this Spanish film when I found it on Netflix, but I am delighted to have done so. After a shaky start it slowly, gradually reels the viewer in and rewards us with a story of lost romance and father-son love. Victor, the filmmaker father, is one of life's likeable losers. His glory days are behind him but he clings to the dream of a final masterwork to seal his creative career. Ingmar, the son, idolises his father while simultaneously disliking his descent into drink and melancholy. The deceased Angela holds enduring power over both their lives. We are carried along with the Quixotic quest for the film classic that will change everything, despite seeing bleak hopelessness closing in on them.
There are elements of other great works here: some sets are reminiscent of Dogville; the sci-fi is a homage to First Men in the Moon, or even A Grand Day Out; the reverence for early cinema recalls Spirit of the Beehive or Cinema Paradiso. There are fun tricks with perspective, a joke about a diary in robot language "which, of course, the writer could read", and gentle slapstick in wordplay between Victor and a street homeless man, Victor and his sister, Victor and the truth. Ingmar hits on a novel means to escape school, and is spellbinding in a way few child actors can be. Some of the animation feels as if it was borrowed from a much bigger budget production.
For all its good points, Up Among The Stars falls just short of true greatness, although only in small ways. Maybe it won't change your life, but it will certainly make your day.
El apóstata (2015)
Although the main theme of the film is religious apostasy, it is nowhere near as deep and solemn as that might imply. Free-thinking philosophy student Gonzalo has decided he wants to leave the Catholic Church for various reasons, some religious, some more profane. He starts the process in the correct way but becomes caught in a Catch-22 / The Trial / Schrödinger's cat world, with no clear way out. Worse, his decision brings him into conflict with his mother, who has carefully maintained the fiction that he is academically successful, while his intelligence will not allow him to give the exam answers that will confer his qualification after years of knockbacks. Alongside this run parallel stories of romance and an uplifting relationship with a boy he tutors.
I notice that the lead actor was responsible for the original idea, and wonder how much of his real history he has plundered. This could help explain the slightly unconvincing way that women seem irresistibly drawn to him. There are a few other flaws and undeveloped ideas, such as a scene that stops abruptly before he wakes with a start in the back of a car, leaving a vague thought that perhaps what went before was a dream. His tutee's mother is not happy that he lends the child a dictionary, saying he should make do with the one supplied by his school, but is later delighted when Gonzalo gives him a new dictionary of his own. We can overlook these things and take comfort that our protagonist was not made into a 'slacker' cliché.
At eighty minutes, the film does not outstay its welcome and seldom drags despite its leisurely pace. There is little to dislike, unless you find the religious aspect challenging. Gonzalo's mother is the only unsympathetic character, but we can understand her motives even if we disagree.
Overall, an easy film to enjoy and a low-key ending that nonetheless invites a quiet cheer under our breath and lets us walk away happy.
Despite having spent much of the film frustrated at the technique used, I found myself unable to turn away and powerfully affected by the end. Shot with static cameras and long takes, sometimes with nothing happening on screen, the film makes us reluctant voyeurs in the same way that passers-by neither intervene nor quite ignore any drama in a public place. The effect is close to found footage from CCTV, with the action taking place in the background or even completely out of shot. The truth is that this could be happening anywhere in the world, right in front of us, and we would not necessarily know. The bullies have refined their tactics and each knows his role within the overall plan. The targets are slowly but surely trapped in a nightmare where bystanders are seeing everything and nothing. There is a scene where the victims ask for support from coffee shop staff but are unable to express their fears in a way that invites help. I would predict that most of us would be as reluctant as the baristas to call the police, or as unsympathetic as the tram workers who catch the children travelling without tickets.
Although filmed in Sweden and featuring older children, Play has overtones of the James Bulger case in UK, with the group developing rules almost independently of its members. Even the victims become complicit, calling back a child who attempts to escape, evoking ideas of Stockholm syndrome and horrific wartime collaborations.
The final scene adds nothing to the story apart from reversing ethnicities, but by then the impact has been felt. The story is frighteningly believable and compelling viewing.
The Marker (2017)
Not an Easy Watch
Phrases like 'slow-burning' and 'low key' cannot begin to give a true idea of this film. It is far from perfect, feeling longer than its actual running time, but rewards those with the patience. It is a story of redemption, consciously set in a gritty world of prostitution and sexual abuse, crime and corruption, that will be alien to most but defines the lives of too many.
Sadly, many of the characters are not fully realised. We have little sense of how anybody came to be where they are at the opening of the tale. The protagonist, Marley, is the only person with a backstory, but is played so flatly that it is difficult to like him despite his efforts to do 'the right thing'. Frederick Schmidt is capable of better.
I was also a little disappointed at the cop-outs. The ghost of Ana is given responsibility for some of Marley's actions. Although she is clearly a driver, it is he who has agency and should be portrayed as such. This shying away from the uncomfortable is reinforced by a theme of the film: the idea that men are waiting around for children in care to reach their sixteenth birthday is a myth, one that I cannot square with the rest of the story. Are we to believe that people who force women into sex, murder them, conspire with social services to access vulnerable children, and deal in drugs and financial corruption would somehow draw the line because of an arbitrary date? The organised abuse of teenagers in many parts of UK was no secret when this film was made.
If I sound harsh, please forgive me. I have watched this film twice now, and gained something each time. Perhaps the faults make the good parts stand out more. Whatever, an insightful and hard hitting film worthy of attention.
À perdre la raison (2012)
The film sets out its stall very early, so we know within the first few minutes what we are about to see, but I spent ninety minutes in denial, hoping against all expectation that something would happen to change the course of the story.
The male characters are predictable without being cartoonish, but the female parts are outstanding. The Moroccan grandmother exemplifies the way the grandfather has been able to develop a God complex, critical of North African patriarchy while practicing it himself. It is the children's mother (Emilie Dequenne), though, who gives the most extraordinary performance. She is utterly compelling and places us, however unwillingly, into the position of the oppressed and abused. I am rarely a fan of child actors but Jade and Sohane could have been in a fly-on-the-wall documentary, so natural did they appear.
The end had a sense of horrific inevitability handled with the sympathetic discretion of Elvira Madigan, with the soundtrack adding to that comparison.
Staggeringly heartfelt, disturbing and painfully real. Truly devastating.
Just when you thought British sitcom couldn't get any worse, ...
I don't know who thought this would be funny or clever, but it is neither. It is hard to feel any empathy for a single character: the stupid and ineffectual father-to-be who has done nothing to prepare for the imminent birth, the pregnant woman who acts like the worst stereotype, the gay father who is not as staid as fathers usually are, the ex-wife who is standing for election, the neighbour who builds a pagoda naked and cuts off his thumb, ... I could not believe any of them would exist, nor why the writers thought I might.
It is a horror story cliché that characters do the opposite of what they should, but at least there is an element of twisted logic. Here there is nothing. In the midst of a crisis, the lead actor locks himself in the bathroom, but allows two others to join him. Was he trying to escape the situation or share it more widely? Needing a vehicle to transport two people to hospital, they try to use a severed thumb to start a two-seater car while a camper van sits idle a few metres away.
The actor whose previous glory was arguing with a chicken about eating pork must be regretting this disastrous attempt to further her career. The more established cast have no excuse, though, for this pointless exercise.
Cardboard Gangsters (2017)
Could Have Been Worse
Not a great film by any stretch, but it was entertaining enough to keep my attention. Some of the characters were one-dimensional but the anti-hero, his mother and his girlfriend were sympathetic depictions of people trapped by history and circumstances. The scenes between Jay and Angela, when she confronted him over his dealing and when he later confessed to a crime, were particularly good. It would have been more involving if we had seen some character development rather than a brief glimpse of some children who then suddenly become adults with ideas to break into the big time, either through music or drug dealing.
There were some big liberties taken with background: the drug use and death of a father, the CD of dance music a character has, the decision of a young man to join the family business with no obvious talent. We have to believe three people can turn up at an airport in Ireland and fly to Spain with no tickets or preparation, and a destructive sexual relationship does not ring true. We got that the estate was rough and did not need children doing wheelies in the street continually to remind us.
The biggest issue for me though, watching at home, was the appalling sound quality. Dialogue, in a thick Irish accent, was often too quiet but would be replaced suddenly with very loud and intrusive music. Subtitles only added to the mess: "a sensitive man" was rendered as "a sensible plan", and it was way off in several other places.
Overall, worth five stars for keeping me interested enough to see it through. I won't spoil the ending, but it was never going to be a happy one.