So here we go. The First Blog Post. A round-up of the new releases I saw at the cinema in May. It was a busy month.
Son of Saul. Hungarian director László Nemes’ debut feature is an uncompromising look into our titular protagonist and his experience in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. With the camera perpetually focused on Saul, a Jewish prisoner, the awful events he witnesses are often at the periphery of the frame, sometimes only heard or out of focus. This is such an excellent story telling device, concentrating the larger horror of the camps and the war in general (which we have seen plenty of on film already) into one man’s unsmiling face, as he tries to redeem himself. Brutal, as can only be expected, but absolutely beautiful with it.
Demolition. Jake Gyllenhaal gives a fine performance as a grieving man dealing with his said grief by smashing the shit out of inanimate objects and beginning a platonic (refreshingly) relationship with vending machine company customer service adviser (Naomi Watts). The film strays into Hollywood blandness and safety at times, but it never really gets overly sentimental or, for that matter, overly predictable. It isn’t in any way groundbreaking cinema, but, for the most part, entertaining, funny, and meaningful enough to warrant a watch.
Captain America: Civil War. Although I actually quite enjoyed Batman Vs Superman, Marvel are holding two very important things over DC currently – humour and patience. Even with the amount of superheroes involved, as well as the (very smoothly integrated) new characters Spider-Man and Black Panther, none felt under-used because they have been built up over time. The central theme, exploring the Avengers’ accountability for their sometimes reckless heroic tactics is actually a rather poignant one and is handled rather well. The fight scenes are excellently choreographed (physically and through their dialogue). And I was totally on Team Ironman.
Green Room. A rather brutal ninety minutes of cinema, involving Nazis, punks, Patrick Stewart, and lots of violence. The set up is simple – a punk band witness a murder at a white supremacist bar and the have to fight their way out before the same fate befalls them – but director Jeremy Saulnier crafts this into something remarkably intense. I would say that, especially given its short running time, it could have afforded a little more character development, particularly with two of the best characters, played excellently by Stewart and Imogen Poots. Minor quibbles when compared to the film’s overall enjoyment, though.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Although the title sounds like a stupid joke that somehow stuck, for the most part this adaption of Kim Barker’s memoir of her time as a journalist in Afghanistan is mostly handled well, with the humour and seriousness balanced nicely. Tina Fey was good casting, and Martin Freeman and Alfred Molina are the standout supporting performances. There was something certainly missing, something that didn’t quite work to elevate this from pretty good to great – in that its ambitious brief was not quite met – but it certainly made a commendable effort.
X-Men: Apocalypse. Another fun edition to one of the more consistently decent superhero film franchises. Parts of it were messy and corny, there was a lot of reliance on CGI, and it was not as solid a film as Civil War. However, some great performances from the usual suspects, as well as Oscar Isaac as super villain Apocalypse, and some particularly impressive scenes (the release of the world’s nukes and Quicksilver’s sweet dreams standout) make this plenty entertaining overall.
A Hologram for the King. Though no way near awful, and at times rather funny, this latest Tom Hanks led film is, ultimately, a forgettable affair. A slightly messy and unguided one, too. Even the opening in which Hanks speaks to camera, in what becomes a mock music video for Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads with houses and people disappearing in a puff of purple smoke, somehow becomes underwhelming. The conclusion to the hologram part of the story came suddenly and anti-climatically, before (what felt like) starting an almost fresh narrative for its last fifteen minutes or so.
Our Kind of Traitor. Another John le Carre novel adaptation, that is suitably tense and entertaining throughout. There were some good performances from good actors – Ewan McGregor, Naomie Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Damian Lewis – none of which played characters that felt completely safe to last the entire feature alive or on the same side you thought they were on at the beginning. On reflection, a few days after seeing the film, there was something quite muted about it – it was no Tinker, Tailor… – but it was solid enough.
Money Monster. Derby born, and Nottingham television workshop trained, Jack O’Connell continues his sharp rise to fame, starring alongside George Clooney (who, apparently, now supports Derby County) and Julia Roberts, under the direction of Jodie Foster. A good idea that handled its very relevant subject matter pretty well was perfectly entertaining while I was watching it. However, it didn’t quite get under the skin in the way that a great film should do, and its concept certainly could have done. I would have loved to have seen Sidney Lumet with this idea.
The Daughter. A really great Australian film. Beautifully shot, with some unique editing techniques that amalgamated the timelines slightly. The acting is superb, from well known Aussie/NZ imports Geoffrey Rush and Sam Neill, to lesser know actors such as Odessa Young and Ewen Leslie, giving it all a great chemistry. The sense of impending doom throughout was actually uncomfortable at times – but in the best possible way.
FILM OF THE MONTH: Son of Saul