Valley of Love – Cannes 2015

VALLEY OF LOVE

Director: Guillaume Nicloix
Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Gérard Depardieu
Rating: * *

Watching two icons of French cinema, appearing for the first time together since Maurice Pialat’s Loulou (1980), exude their considerable charisma is the chief benefit of this shaggy, evasive, heat stricken look at guilt and grief. Huppert and Depardieu play Isabelle and Gérard, parallel version of themselves who fictionally married, split up long ago and whose estranged son Michael has committed suicide six months prior – though not before sending each a cryptic letter that he will reappear to them if they reunite and wait for him in Death Valley, Nevada. Read more

Inside Out – Cannes 2015 / IGN

INSIDE OUT (Cert. PG)
102 min
Director: Pete Docter
Stars: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader
Rating: * * * * *

A BEAUTIFUL MIND

Pixar’s fifteenth feature sees the animation superpower thinking and feeling its way back to their best. Coming after a worrying dip in form, including lacklustre, strategic sequels to merchandising cash cows Cars and Monsters Inc, the studio is back with one of its most daring and inventive films to date. Jump for Joy – and Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger – at Inside Out. Read more

Dheepan – Cannes 2015

DHEEPAN

109 min

Director: Jacques Audiard
Stars: Jesuthasan Antonythasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby
Rating: * * * ½

One of the many admirable qualities of Jacques Audiard’s filmography is his willingness to examine France’s multiculturalism – the Vietnamese piano teacher in The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Tahir Rahim’s French-Arab protagonist in A Prophet – and never more so than in his latest effort. To escape war-torn Sri Lanka, Tamil fighter Dheepan (Antonyhasan, himself a former Tamil Tiger turned acclaimed writer), a desperate local woman Yalini (Srinivasan) and a nine-year-old orphan (Vinasithamby) form an impromptu family and are shipped out to a Paris banlieue. Strangers to one another, family unity strains under the duress of impoverished assimilation into a foreign land. And gang activity within their powder keg tower block home threatens to bring a different, if achingly familiar, outbreak of warfare and violence. Read more

Dope – Cannes 2015 / IGN

DOPE (Cert. Tbc)
115 min
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Stars: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Zoe Kravitz
Rating: * * * (out of 5)

GEEKZ N THE HOOD

It’s hard out here – meaning volatile present-day Inglewood, Los Angeles – for a ‘90s hip-hop-obsessed black geek who’s into “white people shit” (Game of Thrones, TV On the Radio, Donald Glover) and obtaining good grades rather than hard drugs. High-schooler Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his two oddball buddies, fidgety scaredy-cat Jib (Tony Revolori) and laidback lesbian Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) are used to running the gauntlet of having their trainers stolen by jocks, or their bikes snatched by local street dealers. But when Malcolm’s backpack is used by a local dealer to stash a brick-load of MDMA and a gun, things really get wild, with warring gang factions out to get their gear back and the trio forced to use their brains to get the dope out on the street and themselves out of danger. Read more

Mountains May Depart – Cannes 2015

MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART
Director: Jia Zhang-ke
Stars: Zhao Tao, Zhang Yi, Liang Jin Dong
Rating: * * ½ (out of 5)

Chinese cinema’s foremost chronicler of its new world order goes further afield than ever before with a three-part story that takes in his familiar Northern province home turf of Kenyang in 1999 and 2014, before venturing into Australia 2025. It begins as a love triangle among three friends, with status-obsessed entrepreneur Zhang (Zhang Yi) and modest coal miner Liangzi (Liang Jin Dong) vying for peppy dance instructor Shen Tao (Jia’s regular leading lady and partner Zhao Tao). The present day sees the now separated Tao struggling to reconnect with her young son, Dollar (yep, Dollar), who now lives with his father and new wife. Eleven years later, Dollar now living in Australia, apparently having forgotten Mandarin and his mother entirely, gets involved with an ex-pat divorcee from Hong Kong. Read more

Sicario – Cannes 2015 / IGN

SICARIO (Cert. 15)
121 min
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin
Rating: * * * (out of 5)

THE HITMAN AND HER

“This is a land of wolves,” declares Benicio Del Toro’s lethal assassin in new thriller Sicario, neatly wrapping up the film’s cynical mission statement. Denis Villeneuve’s bleak, murky tale of bad guys and worse guys, sees an illegally operating CIA outfit trying to take down a Mexican drug cartel by any means necessary, with one relatively green FBI operative Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) plunged into the middle. If the crime-infested Tex/Mex border war zone is no country for old or young men, it’s a whole different ball game for a woman. Read more

Green Room – Cannes 2015 / IGN

GREEN ROOM
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Stars: Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, Alia Shawkat
Rating: * * * * 1/2

DEATH JAM

Punk audiences’ notoriety for brutal mosh pits and spitting at the bands onstage is nothing compared to the homicidal intent inflicted on a struggling young hard rock band by members of their psychotic neo-Nazi gig’s crowd in sledgehammer new siege thriller Green Room. Director Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to 2013’s much-admired slow burn revenge flick Blue Ruin, shares a colour-coded title and screw-tightening intensity; but what’s new here is the pedal-to-the-metal, adrenalized action. There’s also enough gore and guts to best most grindhouse movies. Blue or Green, Saulnier likes to decorate his sets in blood red.

The set-up is bluntly effective, as desperate four-piece the Ain’t Rights (bassist Pat (Anton Yelchin), guitarist Sam (Alia Shawkat), drummer Reece (Joe Cole) and lead screamer Tiger (Callam Turner)) reluctantly take a replacement gig in a backwoods Oregon venue run by white supremacists. In true punk spirit, they begin their set with Dead Kennedys cover ‘Nazi Punks F*** Off’, which, as you’d imagine, goes down a storm with their skinhead audience. But it’s when they inadvertently witness a young girl’s murder in the eponymous hospitality room, that events turn decidedly inhospitable. With the band barricaded inside, along with the girl’s surviving friend Amber (Poots), the bad guys summon their head honcho Darcy (Stewart), a ruthless drug lord who quickly resolves to cover up the scene and eliminate all witnesses to the crime. From then on in, it’s pure early (i.e. great) John Carpenter territory, punks vs. Nazis in what’s effectively Assault on – or technically, by – American History X.

In less assured hands Green Room could become a Z-grade B-movie. The frequency of gruesome practical special effects, as bellies, throats and heads, bellies are hacked, ripped out and blown apart, isn’t far off a splatter movie. But, Saulnier’s impeccable filmmaking craft aside, the big difference here between the Ain’t Rights and always wrong, chop-and-change slasher film teens is the level of character detail and investment. You care about these kids. We first meet them in a cornfield-crashed ramshackle tour bus, which they ingeniously salvage through siphoning fuel from cars. The crack young cast exude the camaraderie of endless hours on the road, as well as a genuine passion for their music. So when they realise the hopelessness of their fate, but try to fight back anyway, the stakes and tension sky rocket.

As with Blue Ruin, Saulnier makes smart use of his setting, with gaffer tape and even microphone feedback providing improvised defences. And for the final touch of class, there’s Patrick Stewart, relishing a rare villainous role, chilling in his implacable, quiet reasoning. Given the film’s claustrophobic intent, it’s understandable that Stewart gradually recedes from view but still disappointing.

In fact, after the relentlessness of what’s gone before, a strangely lax, subdued finale also feels like a missed opportunity, even though it allows Saulnier scope to further develop his themes – how people, and even animals, can be manipulated into extreme ideologies against their better nature. Fortunately, Poots’s Imogen, who gradually emerges as the movie’s MVP, is on hand to brutally dismiss too much introspection. Burdened with a feather mop/mullet hairdo that’s the scariest thing in the film, her impulsive, livewire presence is an unexpectedly cynical delight.

Verdict:
Smart, scary and with a spurting vein of blood-soaked black humour, Green Room is a romping, stomping, powerhouse grindhouse flick, an exhilarating throwback to midnight movies and an instant cult film in the making. If you’ve got the stomach for it – and some characters literally don’t come the end – feel very lucky, punk.

To read the original review at IGN.com click here: Green Room review – IGN.com

The Lobster – Cannes 2015 / IGN

THE LOBSTER
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Stars: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, John C. Reilly
Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

INSANITY CLAWS

That terrible, terrible seafood gag, “when I sea food, I eat it”, kind of applies to Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos’s savagely funny and ultimately tragic The Lobster. As with his previous, critically acclaimed films Dogtooth and Alps, Lanthimos can’t envisage a film scenario without preparing it to his own deadpan, surrealist recipe of identity crisis and twisted communication.

Here, in a totalitarian dystopia, singledom is outlawed. Anyone unattached is sent to The Hotel, where they’re given forty-five days to find a suitable – read: with matching trait or flaw – mate. If they can’t successfully pair up, they’re transformed into the animal of their choice. And in the meantime, hotel guests are sent out into The Woods, to hunt down a renegade group of Loners who have escaped the system.

Working for the first time in English with international stars, Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou eagerly get their claws this bigger surreal canvas, a world that Franz Kafka or Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali would relish. Instead of Un Chien Andalou, meet their Grecian crustacean.

Our potential lobster – smartly chosen for its hundred-year lifespan and lifelong fertility – is paunchy sad-sack David (Farrell), abandoned by his wife and promptly shipped off to the Hotel. Many of the film’s comic highlights come as he and the audience first experience the new rules of the game. David’s stay begins with having one hand shackled behind his back, so as to better understand the importance of two. Staff perform workshops demonstrating the necessity of coupledom – how, for instance, would a singleton perform a Heimlich manoeuvre on himself? And the officious Manager (a wonderfully droll Olivia Colman) cautions that even in animal form, species pairings must remain constant: a wolf and a penguin, for instance, cannot live together, because “that would be absurd.”

That line neatly encapsulates the film’s warped logic, seemingly ridiculous yet just grounded enough to reveal the assumptions and rituals of modern relationships and matchmaking. It’s a fine line to tread and, initially at least, the film is a brilliant tonal balancing act. As in Lanthimos’s previous films, the outrageous behaviour unleashed clashes against the actors’ flat, near-monotone line delivery, which in turn sparks against a dramatic, largely classical score. One moment you’re howling with laughter, the next with despair. And when a hapless guest’s suicide is described as leaving “blood and biscuits everywhere”, only you know which is which.

These unfortunate singletons are known only by their defining traits – Ben Whishaw’s Limping Man or John C. Reilly’s Lisping Man, whose choice of a parrot is mocked, given his speech impediment, for selecting one of the few animals who can talk. Bizarrely, the actors’ understated performances make the characters’ desperation and longing even more palpable. Just as the sterile formality of the Hotel – like a downmarket version of The Shining’s Overlook – only enhances the slow creep of oppressive dread.

When David does eventually make a run for it, however, and joins the forest-dwelling Loners, he finds that their steely leader (current Bond star Léa Seydoux) has only swapped one sort of fundamentalism for another. Here, couples are forbidden. Any physical or emotional intimacy is severely punished. The only dancing permissible is solo and – in a brilliant sight gag presumably inspired by those silent flash mobs – to electronic music. So when David starts to fall for a fellow Loner (Rachel Weisz, who’s been clinically narrating the story from the beginning), this former wannabe Lobster, though now seemingly free, may be inching ever closer to a boiling pot anyway.

There’s so much to admire here, from the performances (Farrell and Weisz are quietly heartbreaking), to the muted look of the lush, rural Irish locations, to the sheer inventiveness of the world, that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the script’s straining to constantly top its surrealist flourishes starts to crack its own lovingly constructed shell. An ending that fizzles out in metaphor and ambiguity feels, strangely, predictable.

The wacky factor and alienated tone may have put some off long before this point. But if you recognize the film’s true DNA, you’ll find that for all that Lanthimos’s Lobster looks, compared to most movies, an entirely different species, beneath the absurd surface, it’s fierce humour and plaintive desire for intimacy is something all-too human.

Verdict:
Dazzling in its sinister surrealism, wicked black comedy and touching pathos, The Lobster is a rare, dangerous beast, but one that its recognisable, excellent cast might just push towards a wider appreciation. If the tail end sinks a little, this is still a gourmet movie for everyone to feast on.

Rating:
8.5

To read the original article at IGN.com, click here: The Lobster review

The Sea of Trees – Cannes 2015

THE SEA OF TREES
Director: Gus Van Sant
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, Naomi Watts
Rating: * ½ (out of 5)

If a Gus Van Sant movie collapses alone in the woods, does anybody hear it fall? Not if the vociferous booing of an incredulous Cannes press audience drowns it out, that’s for sure. The first bona fide write-off of this year’s festival, this hokey tale spins around an American professor (Matthew McConaughey) who resolves to kill himself in Japan’s Aokigahara Forest at the foot of Mt. Fuji – a popular suicide spot, apparently – until he meets a dishevelled, wounded native (Ken Watanabe) and the two lost souls try to find their way out.

With true red-white-and-blue condescension, Watanabe’s character is nothing but a prop for our hero’s struggles, as the narrative flits between the woods and McConaughey’s troubled marriage to Naomi Watts (yet again suffering onscreen like a red-eyed trouper). If the forest survival struggle plods on, the homefront storyline wallows in the cheapest melodramatic tactics to yank our heartstrings, until finally both strands are clamped together with the cloying contrivance and fortune-cookie mysticism of a bad Lifetime Movie.

You don’t have to be a Van Sant snob, priding his more ornery work (Last Days, in which he tackled suicide; or Gerry’s two men lost in the wild) over more audience-friendly fare like Good Will Hunting or Milk, to recognise The Sea of Trees as self-indulgent hackwork. From Mason Bates’s maudlin, button-pushing score to Christopher Sparling’s trite script, in which a man bemoans not really knowing his wife because he can’t identify her favourite colour or season (and the pay-off for this must be seen to be believed), this is like a fan-fiction Nicholas Sparks rip-off, shocking both from a filmmaker of Van Sant’s calibre and a Cannes competitor. McConaughey works hard but it’s a vanity project in all the wrong ways and, to paraphrase his trademark, al’wrong, al’wrong, al’wrong.

Our Little Sister – Cannes 2015

OUR LITTLE SISTER (UMIMACHI DIARY)
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.

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