Friday, 22 April 2011

What War May Bring: Elegiac! Exuberant! Exhilarating!

Veteran French film maker Claude Lelouch's song to life, just loved it!

While Ces amours-là may be his latest offering, it could well be his first, as it lays and clarifies - while not being really autobiographical, Lelouch confesses that he made it with fragments of reality, of memories, of life he has either witnessed or been a protagonist, such as the kiss filmed in the last scene - the foundations of many of his films such as that 1966 classic Un Homme et Une Femme. What War May Bring is an homage not only to 50 years of making romantic films, but to cinema itself and, last but not least, to people's endurance to the harshness and tribulations of war.

A Fellinesque aura to it, Ces amours-là is a story across three generations of a family, with a war thrown into it. As such, it is not really a war film, but war plays a big part in it, those scenes being both spectacular, humorous in parts, but always with a very tender eye cast on them. It charts the turbulent story of Ilva Lemoine (Audrey Dana), daughter of an Italian porn actress and prostitute and a cinematographer killed in the trenches of WW1, a woman whose only sin was to fall too easily in love, and to survive, in a war torn Europe. We first see her in the dock accused of murder, her pianist turned attorney and Auschwitz survivor's (Laurent Couson) spirited defence leading to her acquittal.

We then see her with a law student (Raphaël), her first and last lover, while going to plead to a cabaret owner turned German officer (Samuel Labarthe) in the Paris of 1942 for the life of her stepfather (Dominique Pinon, of Micmacs, Alien: Resurrection, The City of Lost Children, Delicatessen), a projectionist at the Eden Palace who has been condemned to be shot the following day at dawn together with 19 others as a reprisal for the murder of two SS officers in a Metro station. What she did not know is, by doing so, she actually condemned him to death anyway, as the Resistance thought he had grassed on them after his miraculous release.

After the Allies enter into Paris, in a storyline reminiscent of the Truffaut of Jules et Jim, she fell for two American GIs, Bob (Jacky Ido), a black former boxer who saved the live of Jim Singer (Gilles Lemaire) as they were parachuted into Normandy. Jim is a rich boy, heir to the Singer fortune, turned war photographer. When working as a usherette in the cinema, she was confronted by a vindictive mob accusing her of being a collaborator, being saved in the subsequent melee by Bob and Jim. She attempts to rebuild her life, moving to America with Jim, but the guilt about Bob's death in the Eastern European front leads to its failure.

Ces amours-là ends as it began, two generations of the family, an elderly Ilva (veteran and marvellous actress Anouk Aimée) and her daughter, a brilliant lawyer herself, watching Ilva's son direct the first film score he has composed, the two strands of the family, music and the law being reproduced. If anything, the film could be criticized by glossing over the darker side of guilt.

Lelouch has been, is, the eternal optimist of French cinema, Ces amours-là is no exception. It is an exuberant, exhilarating and elegiac homage to the romance of cinema, to music, to our capacity to endure tragedy, with a Fellinesque touch to it. A very Gallic affair, indeed.

Director: Claude Lelouch
Writers: Claude Lelouch, Pierre Uytterhoeven
Cast: Audrey Dana, Dominique Pinon, Jacky Ido, Gilles Lemaire, Samuel Labarthe, Raphaël, Anouk Aimée,

DVD & Blu-ray to be released in the UK on May 2nd, 2011

To buy or order at Amazon please click HERE

Distributed by Revolver Entertainment

Zombie Undead: Don't eat while watching it!

A good one for the horror film fans, you won't be disappointed with Zombie Undead. Plenty of gore, an excellent sound track (original music by David Fellows and Kris Tearse, who also plays Jay), every scene ending in a cliff hanger, almost, even the rather nihilist inconclusive last one. The beginning of a British franchise? I hope not, it would eat into that soul wrenching open end...

A Caucasian looking man with a rucksack walks through a crowded street, it is mid morning. He nervously looks at a tower clock, leaves the rucksack on a commercial alley, then walks away. Seconds later, he detonates a bomb with his mobile phone. Later, a car rushes through deserted country lanes to a medical evacuation centre, on the back, Sarah (Ruth King) nurses his badly injured father, both just back from a holiday. Chaos reigns in the medical facility, injured people everywhere, overstretched medical staff, no beds available.

Sarah faints, to wake in a deserted building, soon to find out that all those injured people, now the undead dead, have become “things” with a penchant for human flesh and a funny way of walking. Was the terrorist bomb a biological weapon? She, and a few surviving humans, including the head doctor, try to escape the hermetically sealed building, as the medical centre has been quarantined, to see them, one by one, falling to the zombies (I wonder, if one becomes a zombie, why one's brain becomes so useless?).

Whilst one may wonder about this obsession with zombies (there have been a few recent releases of similarly themed movies, including a Japanese one sporting the undead, but with big tits!), just sit, relax (not too much), put your brain out of disbelieving gear, and have fun, as director Rhys Davies did by making it. The extras playing the zombies must have had a field day, almost suppressing their giggles, like the young woman laying in a corridor, supposedly dead, eyes open, while a zombie feasts in her entrails (if you observe this scene carefully, her eyelids can be seen fluttering).

Zombie Undead should have a health warning notice:

Do not watch this movie while eating. It may damage your health.

Director: Rhys Davies
Cast: Ruth King, Kris Tearse, Barry Thomas
Running time: 86 minutes
Cert: 15

Zombie Undead is out on selected cinemas in Britain today.

The DVD will be released on May 30th, 2011. There's no extra features in the DVD.

Distributed by Metrodome Distribution.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Ken Loach casts his eye on private security contractors in ROUTE IRISH

Ken Loach casts his eye, and his lens, on the murky world of private paramilitary Western security contractors in Iraq, and falls flat.

Fergus (Mark Womack), a former soldier and one of those contractors, back into his native Liverpool, finds fishy the explanation given to the death of his childhood friend and comrade in arms, Frankie (John Bishop), in the so-called Route Irish, the most dangerous road in the world, linking Baghdad airport with the Green Zone. The official view of Frankie’s death was that he was on the wrong place at the wrong time. This phrase proves to be key for the development of the story.In fact, his patrol was involved in the killing of a family and children driving in a taxi.

Route Irish hovers hesitantly between being cinema vérité and political thriller, and does not really succeed in either genre, being too contrived and flat to be a thriller, and taking too many nods to Hollywood-like action movies to be an exposé of the dark practices of former military people metamorphosed into private security firms. It has a nominal love interest between Fergus and Frankie's wife, Rachel (Andrea Lowe), which I felt it distracted from the line taken by the story.

The script play gives a disjointed feel to the film, on long parts it just plods its fragmented story line through, although the action sequences made me jump on my seat. I have often found that the most effective critical films do not overtly carry the politics on their T-shirts, which is my main objection to Route Irish. It does not add anything to either my intellectual or emotional understanding of the issues surrounding the use of private paramilitary contractors on Iraq – the characters being extremely unsympathetic, the performances being contrived and stiff, like if the actors were reading their lines from a script board rather than feeling them. I also felt that Route Irish came two years too late.

The final twist, linking to the beginning of the film, felt unplausible, debasing Route Irish from being a worthy exploration of the abuses and corruption of trigger happy security firms into just another Hollywood-like action thriller, and a rather anaemic at that.

The visuals are good, particularly the long loving shots of the River Mersey. However, there is nothing exceptional in them.

Whilst lacking the passion that gave earlier Ken Loach’s films their strength, Route Irish still casts a worthy eye on the murky world of private security contractors operating in Baghdad, and elsewhere, indeed, closing with an unexpected, although somewhat implausible, twist.

Director: Ken Loach
Cast: Mark Womack, John Bishop, Andrea Lowe

Route Irish is in selected cinemas now in Britain.

Trailer and still © Artificial Eye

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Barbarossa (Siege Lord) reviewed


Once there was a young girl who spoke like a man upon a time when she was not supposed to do so.


once upon a time there was a little girl who met her Prince Charming, and became empress.

This is not so much the story of a siege as that of Frederick I Hohenstaufen ‘Barbarossa’ (Red Beard), German Emperor, who, with the support of his young wife, Beatrice de Burgundy (Cécile Cassel), attempted to recreate Charlemagne’s empire. Subduing a rebellious Milan at any cost was essential for that purpose, as the rest of Northern Italy would then succumb to his authority, opening the opportunity to conquest Rome, and install his self-appointed Pope into the Vatican.

However, after the brutal siege and destruction of Milan, Barbarossa (Rutger Hauer) faced the formidable opposition of the Lombard League, who mastered an opposition force under the command of a certain Alberto da Giussano (Raz Degan), who managed to unite the disparate city states prevalent on that time, finally defeating the Emperor in the battle of Legnano, near Milan, in 1176.

This story forms the skeleton of the film. I do not know how historically accurate is (Wikipedia: ”A tradition, probably fabricated by 14th century Milanese chroniclers, attributes him the deed of forming the "Company of Death" that defended the Carroccio of the League at the Battle of Legnano.”), but it makes a jolly good and well crafted film that throw into the mix a bit of everything: heroism, love interest – not only between, Frederick and Beatrice, but also between Alberto and Leonora (played by Polish actress Kasia Smutniak), witchcraft, spectacular recreation of medieval combat, plenty of gore, and spectacular landscapes (it was filmed in Romania).

Careful attention has been taken to period detail, the cinematography (Fabio Cianchetti) rendering extremely well the beauty of the locations – with the judicious use of aerial shots, the interior and battle shots. Kudos to special effects here for the realistic depiction of the gore of close combat. The music is what can be expected from historical films such as this. Editing is very tight and sharp, adding to the tension of the story.

Barbarossa seems to be a kind of European Union production, as we see German, French, Polish, Italian and Romanian actors, with the support of the Italian government, and filmed on location in Romania.

Regrettably, the film has been dubbed into English. Whilst this has been competently done, surely something has been lost by not actually listening to the actors’ voices, their cadences, their intonation, their quirks. It seems to me that the British public has become over the past few years more and more complacent regarding subtitled films and, to some extent, more and more culturally phobic to any thing which is not British or American.

Barbarossa should not disappoint to those who like movies with a historical or war theme, sugared by a couple of love stories entwined in it, as it is a solidly well crafted film with spectacular landscape and battle scenes.

Director: Renzo Martinelli
Writers: Renzo Martinelli, Giorgio Schottler, Anna Samueli
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Raz Degan, F. Murray Abraham, Cécile Cassel, Kasia Smutniak, Federica Martinelli.
Original Music by Aldo De Scalzi and Pivio

DVD UK Release date: 4th April 2011
DVD RRP: £15.99
Running time: 133 minutes
Cert: 15

Still and trailer © Metrodome Distribution

Friday, 1 April 2011

Notes on Submarine

Or the world according to Oliver Tate.

A witty and sarcastic look at growing up in 70s Swansea, Submarine charters the vicissitudes of schoolboy Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) through the troubled waters of adolescence, wading in his objective to loose his virginity to Jordana Bevan (I just loved Yasmin Paige’s laid back performance: superb!) using the power of his mind, and scare away from his mother (a demure characterization by Sally Hawkins) her first suitor flapping his wings around her, Graham (an exquisite Paddy Considine), a man who runs courses on Mental and Physical Wellbeing. He also manages to cure his father, Lloyd (Noah Taylor), a marine biologist who is only happy to appear in public when talking about some rare fish species, a sharp contrast to the flamboyant Graham, all fireworks when preaching.

Richard Ayoade’s sussed out the 70s to the last nook in Submarine, with its sparse but dead pan humour in the dry dialogue (by Joe Dunthorne), with his good eye to detail and the kind of public personae adopted by so many "liberated" families of that time, and the hilarious yet warm eye posed on the cults that sprang out from between the cracks of society, all promising happiness on earth, and riches to the priests who run them.

A comic book structure, divided in chapters, with frozen close-ups of faces (I was almost expecting to see the bubbles coming out), slow motion staring looks, psychedelic colours, a rhythmic tempo of slow and fast action, typography, agile cinematography, dry dialogue, Alex Turner's songs, and sharp acting gives Submarine its comic sharpness, a witty yet warm look at life in the 60sa and 70s. Yet, it still manages to lift effectively the corners of the carpet, allowing us to take a peek under.

I just loved the hilly locations where it was shot, in Swansea and Barry 9in the Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, and those seaside crepuscular shots.

An excellent addition to the self-deprecating humour tradition of British comedy.

Official premiere

Director: Richard Ayoade
Writer: Joe Dunthorne
Cast: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins
Distributor: Optimum Releasing

Submarine is out on cinemas now.

Trailer and still © Optimum Releasing.