Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? All About Them (2015)

What's it all about?
Micha (Félix Moati) and Charlotte (Sophie Verbeeck) have been together for several years, and while they've had a strong relationship, they're going through a tense period. This isn't helped when they both separately begin affairs with Charlotte's friend Melodie (Anaïs Demoustier).

Why haven't you seen it?
IMDB lists a late 2015 release date for this film in the UK, but that release must have been tiny, because even as a big fan of Anaïs Demoustier, I only discovered this film by accident when it popped up in my Amazon suggestions. It clearly didn't gain much momentum from what cinema release it had, as the DVD release followed a full 16 months later. Unless you're an even bigger Anaïs Demoustier fan than I am, you probably never realised this came out.

Why should you see it?
Romantic comedy is a tough genre to get right, and so frequently I find myself watching them and neither laughing nor able to root for the couple or couples at the film's centre. All About Them is not a pure rom-com, it balances elements of farce and typical rom-com moments with a strong streak of drama and a grounded approach to all of the relationships it depicts.

It is not at all difficult to relate to the idea of a couple who have been together for some time getting itchy feet in their relationship and being tempted to stray, despite the fact that they still love each other. It's even easier to relate when the temptation is Anaïs Demoustier. The three central performances all establish characters that you can believe in; a group of young professionals going through, in all likelihood, many of the same things the film's audience will be; changing relationships, changing work environments, uncertainty over what they really want. The film spends some time on this, making sure that we buy in to the situation and the people before introducing some more overtly farcical elements.

Of course, given that Melodie's two lovers live together, there is ample opportunity for her to be almost caught with Charlotte by Micha and vice versa. In one scene, Melodie takes her lunch break to go and see Charlotte, unaware that Micha has had the same thought, this leads to some nicely choreographed farce in their apartment, ending with a funny image of both her lovers waving Melodie goodbye; Charlotte from an upstairs window and Micha from the door, each without realising what the other is doing. This and other scenes like it are a lot of fun, but because the film has laid some realistic groundwork, there is some drama to them alongside the comedy. Typically for a French film, All About Them is pretty frank with its sexuality and, yes, it does – at least for a while – end up going exactly where you'd expect when Charlotte and Micha finally find out what the other has been up to.

The performances are strong enough that we are drawn to all three of the main characters and can see what draws each of them to each other, which complicates our sympathies and which relationship we find we want to root for (I suspect there will be a lot of different answers among different viewers). Most importantly, there is strong chemistry all round. One connection seems especially intense, both in the writing and the acting, and that actually leads to the film's only major problem: the ending doesn't work. For a while it seems as though writer director Jerome Bonnell is going in one direction, but at the last minute he changes the way things are headed, leaving us on a note that seems to emphasise, with little real substantive build up, the least likely relationship as the one that is supposed to last beyond the credits. It's a pity, as without the film's last two minutes or so, the ending would be entirely satisfying, if (from my reading) bittersweet.

On the whole, these 83 minutes may end up feeling soufflé light, but they're a fine showcase for the cast (especially the ever luminous Demoustier) and ground their more fanciful and farcical moments in strong characterisation and sympathetic performances. It would make for a nice change from Hollywood's typical rom-com fare if you want something a little bit different.

How can you see it?
The UK DVD seems to be your best option. As is often the case the French release is not English friendly.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

mother! By Darren Aronofsky

Reviewed By Linda Marric

The best way to describe the experience of seeing Darren Aronofsky mother! is like being forcibly thrown into a giant washing machine in which every cycle is as fast-paced and as raucous as its predecessor, and where you are tossed about, wrung out and hung to dry without ever having a say in what’s coming next. If this sounds like the kind of thing you might be into, then buckle up because you’re in for a hell of a ride.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? Blood and Bone (2009)

What's it all about?
A martial artist known only as Bone (Michael Jai White) gets out of prison and immediately gets himself into underground bare knuckle fighting. What he really wants is to take on a fighter who works for local gangster James (Eammon Walker), whose moll (Michelle Belegrin) Bone seems to have taken a dangerous interest in.

Why haven't you seen it?
Despite the fact that more and more films are bypassing cinemas there was until very recently, in many viewers minds, an implied seal of quality, that comes with a theatrical release and not with a direct to video film. Netflix and other streaming platforms with original content are addressing this perception, but even they aren't often doing it with action films. Unless you're into action cinema enough to dig into the direct to video part of the genre it's likely you never came across this film or many, many others.

Why should you see it?
I didn't mind The Bourne Supremacy at the time. I suspect I might still like it if I get round to rewatching it. It's that film's legacy that bothers me. I think we can trace the current awful state of most mainstream American action cinema back to Paul Greengrass' first take on the Matt Damon led franchise. With that film the trend for shakycam, fast cutting and close up shooting in fight sequences really began to take hold, and I still see far too much of it. For me, that style makes action meaningless. It destroys the choreography, messes up the geography of a scene and often makes it unclear exactly what is even happening from moment to moment. Happily, films like Blood and Bone and other direct to video titles have kept action movies alive.

This film suffers from none of the problems of shakycam action. The fights are, like most of the rest of the film, simply shot. The emphasis is put on showing us what Michael Jai White and the other accomplished martial artists he is paired with during the film can do. The speed comes from White's movement, the impact from the force of his punches and kicks, director Ben Ramsey and editor Dean Goodhill simply don't need to use cutting to force either rhythm or impact into those moments. The fights build well, with White easily despatching early opponents, but more challenged as the film goes on. A highlight comes in a mid film bout with Bob Sapp, who plays a huge fighter named Hammerman, but the best really is saved for last in the fight with Matt Mullins, which starts tentative but evolves into both a great fight and an interesting story moment.

The script is never the main point of these films, but Blood and Bone's simple writing is given a lift by a clutch of decent performances. Michael Jai White knows this is a great showcase for him and he grabs hold of what is a cliché part (noble martial artist fulfilling a promise) and invests it with great presence if not immense depth. Eammon Walker, who I first saw on Oz is an exceptional actor who has never really got a film role that shows what he can do. His character here isn't the most consistent – the moralising gangster of the first half who won't tolerate foul language is more interesting than the more standard writing of the second half – but Walker is great; all simmering ambition and rage. When Walker and White share scenes it makes you wish the screenplay was a bit better, because these two face off as well in dialogue as they do in their fight. Unfortunately the film's true 'Big Bad' is Julian Sands, who still can't act.

Whatever the shortcomings of the script, I don't mind them. Sure, it's thin and predictable, but I'll take that plus a series of hard hitting fights (one of them featuring a pre-Haywire Gina Carano) I can actually see rather than most of what Hollywood was churning out and calling action cinema at this time. Blood and Bone is a great jumping off point for exploring the world of DTV action movies, which can be surprisingly rewarding.

How can you see it?
There are UK, US and European DVD and Blu Ray release available. The UK edition has a few features, including a commentary.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Insyriated by Philippe Van Leeuw

Reviewed By Linda Marric

Belgian director Philippe Van Leeuw may not seem like the most obvious person to direct a film about the Syrian war, but then again the same could have been said about Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo and his seminal film about the the Algerian war of independence,  The Battle Of Algiers (1966), a film which remains to this day one of the most powerful features ever made on the subject.  Set inside a solitary apartment in a building in Damascus, Insyriated is certainly not for the fainted hearted, but remains nevertheless essential viewing for anyone wanting to make sense of the horrors taking place daily.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

The Vault By Dan Bush

Reviewed By Linda Marric

Directed by Dan Bush (The Signal, The Reconstruction of William Zero), The Vault is a fast-paced, violent and at times simply baffling heist movie with a twist. Mixing the supernatural with the usual heist narrative fodder, the film attempt a new approach to this tried and tested formula, but ultimately falls at the first hurdle by its inability to offer a compelling or coherent enough story.

James Franco, Taryn Manning and a whole host of brilliantly talented young Hollywood actors are  wasted on this deeply confused small budget production, which sadly for its makers can’t quite decide what it wants to be and ends up looking messy and rather confused.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? Keeping Rosy (2014)

What's it all about?
Charlotte (Maxine Peake) is laser focused on her career, but when she resigns from her job after failing to get a promotion she feels is due her she takes her frustrations out on her cleaner Maya, accidentally killing her. Disposing of the body, she discovers Maya's baby daughter in her car and decides to keep the child while covering her tracks.

Why haven't you seen it?
Like so many of these entries, this is another story of a low budget film getting a low key release and, unless you're deliberately seeking it out, being very prone to getting lost in the stacks of new discs on the shelves each week.

Moon Dogs By Philip John

Reviewed by Andy Zachariason

Every summer offers up a new crop of coming-of-age films. Audiences can sit down and travel down avenues of youth completely unrecognizable to them on the surface, but cut through emotionally because growing up is a universal story. It is perhaps the most overtly relatable genre that there is. The coming-of-age film, at its best, is less of a genre and more like a home movie showing you memories that you’d forgotten.