Our Little Sister – Cannes 2015

Director: Kore-eda Hirokazu
Stars: Ayase Haruka, Nagasawa Masami, Kaho, Hirose Suzu
* * * * (out of 5)

Not every viewer will go straight from the ballistic bravura of Mad Max: Fury Road to Kore-eda’s latest delicate domestic melodrama, and yet such a stark contrast is unnecessary to slip into and appreciate Our Little Sister’s warm, understated intimacy. Adapted from Akimi Yoshida’s manga comic series, it follows three twenty-something sisters, estranged from their mother yet still living together in the former family home, who effectively adopt their teenage half-sister when their mutual father dies.

The languid passing of time, often framed against seasonal events – plum gathering, summer fireworks – belies the cumulative emotional impact as each woman gradually reveals the emotional ramifications of parental abandonment (the sisters’ mother walked out when her husband had an affair) and their own conflicting dynamics in the improvised family structure. All four actresses are superb and Kore-eda’s subtle, shifting camerawork and an elegant piano-led score suggest the imperceptible changes at play.

There’s no sex, violence, profanity and barely an angry word is spoken, but for those attuned to Kore-eda’s gently insistent rhythms, still ample reward. Occasionally perhaps a little too sedate, and without the immediate emotional punch of After Life or Like Father, Like Son, this is still a kind, wise and utterly beguiling movie, one that moves into your heart and stays there.

Tale of Tales – Cannes 2015 / IGN

Photo: Cannes Film Festival

Director: Matteo Garrone
Stars: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones
* * * 1/2 (out of 5)

So many recent cinematic fantasy tales are defanged to protect their mass appeal, that when a genuinely adult fable appears, the effect is disconcerting. Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales, based on three stories from 17th century Italian poet Giambattista Basile’s Pentamerone, doesn’t just harken back to the seductive, dark power of original fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault or Hans Christian Andersen; it also reconnects to the movies’ not-so-distant past, where the likes of Neil Jordan’s Company of Wolves, or more recently, Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, proudly get their freak on. “Happily ever after” is not the endgame here. And no kids’ fast food tie-ins are going to be inspired by Salma Hayek tucking into the giant, bloody heart of a sea monster.

The trio of barely overlapping parallel stories take in a queen’s desperate attempts to conceive a child – hence Hayek’s unhappy meal – and a pair of deluded kings, one libidinous monarch (Vincent Cassel) beguiled by the siren song of an elderly crone, the other (Toby Jones) more concerned with his pet giant flea than his own daughter. In each one, a heart’s desire is delivered with a painful sting. And while the stories themselves have a twist in the tail, the delivery is straight and true – there’s no Shrek-like self-awareness here. When Garrone ventures into the woods, unlike the Stephen Sondheim meta-musical and its recent movie adaptation, he isn’t goofing around (though of course Sondheim has serious stuff to say too).

It’s interesting too that Garrone’s focus often drifts to the women in his stories – Hayek’s warped maternal love in one, mirrored by the tragic repercussions on Jones’s daughter Violette (Bebe Cave) who is sacrificed in marriage to an ogre. And rather than home in on Cassel’s lechery in the third tale, the emotional potency comes from when one of the two elderly sisters is magicked into a lissome beauty (Stacy Martin) and how the obsession with youth destroys her abandoned sister (Shirely Henderson). Themes of metamorphosis and transformation recur, usually with fraught consequences.

A world away from his previous, more social-realist Cannes prizewinners Gomorrah and Reality, Garrone’s achievement here is to create fully formed fantasy kingdoms of fantastical monsters and magical curses. The largely practical effects and striking baroque locations from Tuscany to Sicily, give the film a tactile, substantive quality that many CGI-heavy lightweight fantasies lack. Visually it’s a sumptuous feast, from Dimitri Capuani’s production design to Massimo Cantini Parrini’s extravagantly lavish costumes. There’s also a touch of the Fellini grotesques in the background casting – and superb make-up on the more conventionally attractive leads.

The constant shuttling between tales certainly keeps the action moving, but occasionally the shift in tone, from bawdy gags to gory violence, jars. Hayek is in a tremulous psychodrama, while Cassel appears to have come straight from a stage pantomime – you expect a reciprocal chorus of, “Oh no she doesn’t!” after his every hammy line. Unsurprisingly it’s the tale and the actors most successfully blending the humour and horror that works best, Toby Jones and newcomer Bebe Cave emerging as perhaps surprise stars of the show.

If there’s one other drawback, it’s that modern audiences, so familiar with the contemporary tweaks and revisions overlaid on ancient fables, might get a little restless with the traditional, A to B to C tale telling. Though Garrone does tap into something primal, sometimes he also plods into the pedestrian, rarely achieving the true wonder of, say, Pan’s Labyrinth. The final image, though, is a stunner and pulls you back around to the idea that ultimately Tale of Tales is an admirable high-wire act of daring and imagination.


Grimm-like, grim and gorgeous, Tale of Tales is a fine reminder that fairy tales weren’t always only, you know, for kids. Splitting the film into three concurrent stories makes for uneven and sometimes predictable diversions but at its best, the film conjures up the true dark art of fables able to stand the test of time.

To read the original review at IGN.com click here: Tale of Tales IGN review

Spooks: The Greater Good review / IGN


“MI-5 – not 9-to-5” was the nifty tagline appended to BBC spy series Spooks when it emerged in 2002. It served notice that this wasn’t going to be a routine show, and, like the US’s 24, ushered in a rougher, more morally compromised type of post-911 spy drama.

Over 10 years the show, centred around the UK’s domestic security intelligence agency (as opposed to MI-6’s international branch), quickly gained a reputation for fast-paced, slick yet gritty storylines, populated by a revolving cast of conflicted characters who, in what became the show’s trademark, were regularly and unceremoniously bumped off – as established in its second-ever episode, when a supposed lead, played by a rising British TV actress, was thrust face-first into a deep-fat fryer.

Since then, numerous cast members including David Oyelowo (Selma’s Martin Luther King) and The Hobbit’s Richard Armitage met untimely, often gruesome ends. It became the series’ USP, one that, without giving away specifics, they gleefully continue in the movie adaptation. I guess every national institution should observe its traditions.

Spooks fans will no doubt be glad this isn’t a complete makeover that junks everything but the brand name. Series mainstay Harry Pearce (Peter Firth), Head of Counter-terrorism, returns, though he’s quickly blamed and forced to resign when major terrorist suspect Adem Qasim (Elyes Gabel) is sprung from MI-5 custody.

Harry disappears, so the agency calls in his former protégé Will Holloway (Kit Harington) to track him down. Harry decommissioned Will some three years prior, and also had a hand in the shady death of his father, another former MI-5 agent, which gives Will added motivation to find him. When he does, however, Harry reveals that someone within the agency deliberately freed Qasim and he needs Will’s help to prevent the traitor destroying MI-5 itself.

Armed with a neat if familiar set-up and its ruthless reputation, then, Spooks: The Greater Good looks to expand its cinematic horizons. Director Bharat Nalluri, who helmed the first and last-ever TV episodes (and was once touted to direct undercover thriller The Tourist) and his crew are clearly conscious of both their competitors and the pitfalls of TV shows failing to step up on the big screen. But, despite their best intentions, they’re faced with an immediate dilemma: if you can’t match the star power or bang-for-buck spectacle of Bond or Bourne, how do you get their audiences to defect over to you?

One solution might have been to delve deeper undercover, burrowing into character and ramping up the internal tensions: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy without the nicotine-stained ‘70s trappings. Yet Firth aside, and then mainly because of Harry’s world-weary history, everyone else isn’t so much a spook as a ghostly cipher. The supporting cast, Jennifer Ehle, Homeland’s David Harewood and returning TV alumni Tim McInnerny, Lara Pulver and Hugh Simon are all fine but given little with which to work. Good luck naming one trait about any of them outside their main narrative function.

Then there’s the leading man quandary. Harington is decent enough in Game of Thrones, bolstered by multiple plotlines and a standout ensemble cast. Here, having to shoulder the bulk of the streamlined action, he’s stymied by an identikit lead role (brooding rebel with daddy issues) that only encourages us to view him as this season’s good-looking, athletic young Brit, swept along by the success of the huge fantasy epic he’s a part of, but woefully exposed in the open. Call it The Bloom Identity. And while he’s probably a stronger actor than Orlando B., he needs a better showcase than this one.

Besides, Spooks the movie won’t relinquish its action credentials and while they’re spatially coherent and decently paced, the sequences simply aren’t as adrenalizing as its best modern rivals (say, Casino Royale’s parkour scene or The Bourne Supremacy’s car chase). When it embraces its own more modest London locations – hello Brixton! – and more intimate confrontations, a taut intensity suddenly shifts into focus.

“The closest thing I have to a friend is someone who thinks I ruined his life,” Harry laments at one point. And the theme of how pursuing the greater good causes untold personal collateral damage is resonant. But ultimately Spooks is stranded too often in no man’s land: not lavishly explosive enough to satisfy action junkies, too sketchily developed to engage those after a more emotional investment. Perhaps reconciling the two with this particular scale and resources is a mission impossible.

The Verdict

Competent, watchable and the slick/gritty aesthetics and ethically murky dilemmas from the TV series are honoured. But contrary to the original series tagline, this MI-5 is a bit too 9-to-5: far too routine and neither big nor smart enough to justify its big screen incarnation, particularly set against such fierce competition. It’s hard to picture the international audience for an ongoing franchise.
Spooks: The Greater Good on Movies


To read the original article on IGN.com click here: Spooks: The Greater Good review

The Woman in Black: Angel of Death

The number of good, or at least successful, horror films that don’t have a sequel is about as long as the list of satisfied clients recommending the Michael Myers Babysitters Agency. So in 2012, when The Woman in Black, adapted from Susan Hill’s popular 1983 novel (and subsequent long-running West End play), became the biggest British horror hit of the past 20 years, a new chapter from the revamped Hammer Films was pretty much nailed on.

Horror sequels, perhaps more than most franchises, are generally the epitome of a quick cash-in. Even the classics – The Exorcist, Halloween, The Ring – regularly falter at the first follow-up, regurgitating the same old formula, minus the innovation. Credit Angel of Death, then, for at least trying to ring some changes on the original, even if ultimately its dependence on the now-known mythology and familiar tropes of its source material drag it kicking and screaming back to Black.

We don’t get another Victorian gothic drama, then, with star Daniel Radcliffe replaced by another Hogwarts classmate. Instead we open during the Blitz, 1941, as a bunch of young children leave bombed-out London town for the, heh-heh-heh, safety of the countryside. Unfortunately the vengeful spirit of Jennet Humfrye, the wronged suicide whose own son died, is still lurking about. At Eel Marsh House, you don’t need the German Luftwaffe to be in danger from things that go bump in the night.

Two teachers accompany the kids. Strict disciplinarian Mrs. Hogg (Helen McCrory) and the younger, kinder Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox). It’s Eve who tries to connect with vulnerable young orphan Edward, and who first gets suspicious when Edward starts to exhibit trance-like behaviour; and when grisly things start happening to the other children. Eve, with the help of dashing and locally stationed RAF pilot Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine), must fight back against their implacable ghostly foe.

For all the film’s admirable production qualities – George Steel’s images give the ever-present mist a creepy tactile quality and Jacqueline Abrahams’ production design on the dilapidated Eel Marsh House makes the Bates Motel look like the Beverly Wilshire – there’s something overly studied and box-ticked at play here. Screenwriter Jon Croker knows enough to ensure that both protagonists, Eve and Harry, need some unresolved past traumas that tie into the main storyline. He dutifully includes them but then proceeds – Eve’s tortured visions aside – to have characters tell each other their painful secrets, more than show them. It’s prose, all right, but there’s no poetry.

Those irritating LOUDJUMPSCARES, a feature of almost every modern horror flick generally having little to do with the actual plot, turn up on schedule every 10 minutes. And just once, it would be refreshing to see a ghost story where the door hinges were well oiled, the pipe work didn’t wheeze like an asthmatic and every kid’s plaything didn’t resemble a dog’s chew toy. Even the Angel of Death subtitle feels redundant. It’s a little like making a Jason Vorhees sequel called Friday 13th: Maniac with a Hockey Mask and Machete. Tell us something we don’t know, already.

Director Tom Harper (The Scouting Book for Boys, TV series Peaky Blinders) is one of the more promising young British helmers around, but it’s as if he knows that we already know the mysteries in store. One can feel him straining to keep things fresh, the camera constantly creeping in and around the old dark house. But the story, indeed the entire franchise has already been mortgaged to a property we’ve already seen condemned. There’s only so many renovations one can do.

It’s a shame because, if you get rid of the actual Woman in Black, there’s some promising material here. A tale set in WWII, a time where blackouts were mandatory, where death was ever-present and minds could snap at any time under the psychic strain, is fertile ground for horror. The best scenes here use these specifics: a fake airplane landing field location; a gruesome use for a gas mask; the repressed guilt of survivors. But inevitably, back to the house and its black widow we go, and it’s business as usual.

Earlier this year The Babadook showed how to transform a haunted house into something fresh and genuinely disturbing. And newcomer Phoebe Fox’s fine, tremulous performance suggests an actress who could dive into the depths of unfiltered grief. What we get here is a film that, despite its watery climax, paddles in the shallows, content to give us more easy Woman thrills, without really examining the horror of what makes us human.

The Verdict

By no means a disaster, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death’s very adequateness is its own cautionary tale. The need to keep a franchise breathing but stable, cuts off the new possibilities to make it come thrillingly alive.


Horror sequel that fails to match its predecessor in terms of scares.

+Impressive production elements
+Strong performance by Phoebe Fox

– Overfamiliar haunted house tropes
– Formulaic scares
– Wasted potential of intriguing new premise

The Woman in Black: Angel of Death reviewed by Leigh Singer for IGN.com http://uk.ign.com/articles/2014/12/18/the-woman-in-black-angel-of-death-review See the published article on IGN.com


Silver Linings Playbook. American Hustle. Two of the most acclaimed US movies of recent years, both starring two of the hottest actors around – Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, both Oscar-nominated for each film, with Lawrence winning for Playbook. So when a third movie headlining America’s dream team is mysteriously delayed for two years (Serena was actually shot before American Hustle), something is definitely amiss. Crueller critics were gleefully anticipating a full-blown fiasco but Serena will disappoint them as well as most everybody else, failing even to be an epic failure. Instead it’s just slight and rather silly. Read more

Monsters: Dark Continent

Taking the Alien franchise as your starting point is a bold but risky move. Not so much the concept of aliens themselves – though as with Monsters, Gareth Edwards’ 2010 breakout original, the ETs-on-earth provide backdrop – but the idea of reinventing your series each time out.

Ridley Scott’s Alien is a sci-fi-horror hybrid, effectively a haunted-house-in-space. James Cameron’s Aliens armed and adrenalized the concept to make a sci-fi-action/war epic. It was an inspired change of pace that honoured yet expanded on a classic to produce not just a sequel but an equal. Read more

It Follows

Sex and death: a staple of scary movies forever, from eroticized vampire feeding frenzies through to Cronenbergian body horror (Shivers, Rabid) and slasher movies’ promiscuous teens. You don’t need to have studied Freud to view the endless Friday the 13ths and Halloweens, with their knives, axes and chainsaws thrusting at and penetrating nubile young girls (and the occasional guy) as frustrated phallic revenge. Film studies tutors get off on these readings the way Jason Vorhees does when watching a new batch of dumbass campers arrive at Crystal Lake. Read more

The Mule

There’s “black comedy” – a sense of humour shot through with the darkness some folk simply can’t laugh at. And then there’s The Mule, a crackerjack new Australian crime thriller, which might also be referred to as a “brown comedy”; it’s dark, alright, but its particular shade is more associated with toilet humour – or, at least, the stuff that goes in the toilet. Wait, come back… “Sh*t happens?” is truly a, er, logline that sounds like a gimmick. But fundamentally, that’s what this film is about – whether a naïve stooge who’s ingested twenty condoms full of heroin can outlast the police who are holding him for seven days on suspicion of drug smuggling by not, shall we say, producing the evidence. Read more

The Two Faces of January

Unlike many acclaimed novelists, the movies have done pretty well by Patricia Highsmith. Following Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1951 adaptation of her debut thriller Strangers on a Train, Highsmith’s most infamous anti-hero, Tom Ripley, has schemed through several high-class screen outings – Plein Soleil (1960), The American Friend (1977) and the late Anthony Minghella’s excellent The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), the first film to truly showcase Matt Damon’s range as vulnerable, needy yet ruthless sociopath. Read more

Blue Ruin

There comes a time in your life when you finally, sadly, have to admit: you are not, and will never be, Liam Neeson. That if something precious is Taken from you, you simply don’t have the particular set of skills to get it back or get payback. Your amateur efforts will likely make you a nightmare to people like, well, yourself actually. Read more

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