Carnage Review


Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the stage play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza is a scathing satire that deconstructs the distasteful nuances of the bourgeoisie. An awkward yet intelligent comedy, it caricatures middle-class America through its use of top performers at the head of their game.

Following a playground dispute between two 11 year-old boys that ends in the ‘disfigurement’ of one by a stick, the parents are brought together in an attempt to establish peace between both parties. What begins as a brief visit delivered with politeness through forced smiles, quickly descends into childlike verbal warfare and petty resentment.

Polanski has made no effort to redefine Reza’s play by altering settings or exploring the various avenues made possible through its transition to film. Instead, the focus remains on the integrity of the performances; a combination of sharp dialogue and impressive acting. Though perhaps the characters are a little too clichéd, this appears necessary for the conflicts of interests and cascading chaos that ensues when civility deteriorates.

A slow burner, the film’s opening tension is painful to watch, yet the pay off is definitely worth it. As inhibitions are lost – thanks predominately to the aid of a single malt – and integrity thrown out the window, the niggling criticisms that follow are hilarious. Christoph Waltze’s turn as a sardonic misogynist delivered in deadpan fashion is fantastic, whilst Jodie Foster’s part as the melodramatic victim constantly seeking recrimination is equally brilliant.

However, one cannot help but feel that Carnage is far better suited as a play. From its simple setting to archetypal characters, it retains an essence that seems to belong in the realm of theatre. Here, existentialist themes can be explored without being criticised for being overly pretentious, and the strong personalities appear more appropriate. The unrealistic circumstance in which the two couples find themselves at each other’s throats, though entertaining, doesn’t quite transfer to film.

By remaining faithful to the spatial and temporal reality of the theatre production, Polanski limits himself to a piece that is gratingly uncomfortable, but not always in a good way.

Taken from The Student, published Tue Feb 2nd 2012.

Las Acacias Review


Following its success at Cannes earlier this year, Las Acacias has gone on to impress film festival audiences the world round. For a directorial debut, Pablo Giorgelli creates an astonishing piece of cinema that isn’t afraid to break modern conventions.

The film follows Rubén (Germán de Silva), a truck driver who has spent many years travelling the lonely roads of South America. On one of these trips he agrees to take a woman, Jacinta (Hebe Duarte), from Paraguay to Buenos Aires as a favour for a friend. What he doesn’t realise is that Jacinta has also brought her five-month-old baby, Anahí (Nayra Calle Mamani) along with her.

As a man who has clearly spent a lot of time on his own, it is evident that Rubén is not overly impressed by his new companions. However, what ensues is a touching portrayal of a budding relationship that affords the piece an undeniable realism.

The overall performances of the cast are spellbinding. As a well known character actor, de Silva is pitch-perfect in his transformation from tired cynic to a lonely man in need of familial affection. As a first performance, Duarte upholds a natural believability that allows the viewer to truly accept her as the character she plays. This is no doubt helped by the incredible chemistry she shares with the young Mamani. It is hard to believe that the two are not really mother and daughter, as the bond between the pair is astonishing.

Although the film contains very little dialogue, the facial movements and expressions of the cast are sufficient to depict the exact feelings and desires of their characters. Giorgelli’s decision to keep conversation to a minimum is an audacious move, but one which undeniably works. It mirrors reality in the way strangers have a tendency to be quiet and defensive towards each other when they first meet, but who gradually relax as time goes by. As Rubén and Jacinta become increasingly comfortable in each others company, a warmth begins to develop and an obvious chemistry blossom.

The film’s cinematography is another point worthy to note. Predominately featuring two camera angles – either on de Silva or Duarte – there is a definite emphasis that all the attention of the film is focused on these two characters. As blurred images of desolate landscapes drift by in each scene, these two remain in focus. Both are clearly troubled by a past they would rather put behind them, and this is no less portrayed in the way the film is shot. Focusing on the present, it is as though outside the cab of the truck everything else ceases to exist. For the short time the three are together, that is all that matters.

No doubt the slow pace of the film will deter those in need of something more visually stimulating, its attention to detail and well thought out comparisons to real life, make it a fantastic debut. There is a certain charm found in Giorgelli’s piece that is rarely seen in conventional cinema; it allows the viewer to reflect on the lead characters circumstance and relate to it in a way that is not often possible in fiction.

Las Acacias will be screened at the Cameo from Dec 9th.

Taken from The Student, published online Wed Dec 7th 2011.

The Awakening Review


Nick Murphy’s debut feature film, The Awakening, contains all the ingredients for a successful horror, yet lacks the originality to make it a brilliant piece of cinema.

Set in the years following the First World War, Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is a scientific rationalist who seeks to dispel disillusions of the macabre. The result of fraudsters who pry on the emotionally unstable that have lost loved one’s during the war, she dissolves the myths surrounding the supernatural by revealing the hoaxes for what they really are. However, when a school master (Dominic West) invites her to a boy’s Prep school following recent fears of a ghost that has been haunting the pupil’s, her preconceptions are tested to breaking point as unexplained events start to unfold.

For a debut piece, Murphy clearly has a good grasp on the fundamental necessities of the horror genre. Successfully creating suspense through a combination of sound, setting and impressive acting performances, he uses the imagination rather than the grotesque to deliver a sufficient amount of shock.

As Hall’s first lead role, she is excellent in the way she portrays a sceptical character who is herself plagued by repressed memories and emotional torment, while West provides a suitable male counterpart and inevitable love interest.

Despite this, whilst the film manages to tick all the right boxes, it fails to offer something ostensibly new. Many of the scenes resemble parts of the work of more prolific directors, both in style and content and there is a definite feeling that we have seen it all before. Films such as Alejandro Amenábar’s English language debut The Others and Guillermo del Toro’s El Espinazo del Diablo (The Devil’s Backbone), feature many of the same ideas but manage to carry it off with considerably more success. Also, the twist in plot which arises in the closing moments seems somewhat contrived as there isn’t enough evidence given throughout the course of the film to justify the turn of events, thus leaving the viewer somewhat dubious about its conclusion.

As far as simple entertainment goes, this is a clear winner as it successfully blends horror and suspense, yet the hardened horror fan will inevitably leave feeling disappointed.

Taken from The Student, published online Sun Nov 20th 2011.

Tyrannosaur Review


Film is used as a medium to affect and entertain people in a multitude of ways. Away from the idealism of Hollywood, Paddy Considine’s directorial debut Tyrannosaur illustrates a gritty realism that captures the shocking reality of a fractured society.

Set in a rough, working-class area of Leeds, Joseph (Peter Mullan) is a monster of a man. Fuelled by violence as though it is an addiction, he is unable to restrain himself in situations when his temper gets the better of him. A convoluted mix of past regrets and lost dreams, he spends his life between the pub and the bookies, tormenting people along the way.

His life becomes intertwined with charity worker Hannah (Olivia Colman), whom he belittles for her cushy middle-class life and religious self-affirmation without knowing the truth of her situation. As it becomes clear that she is trapped in a relationship with an abusive husband (Eddie Marsan), an unconventional friendship forms between the two.

Tyrannosaur is a far cry from feel-good cinema. It takes a brutal look at a reality unseen by most of society. Mullan’s performance is terrific in the way he captures a man devoid of hope or purpose, who resorts to violence as a means of escapism, even though it ultimately adds little consolation. There is no disputing his chilling claim: “I’m not a nice human being.” Yet, what this film manages to do is create an empathy that shouldn’t be there. Glimpses of a softer side allow the viewer to believe that there is a nice man behind the mask; his clear affection for Hannah being evidence of this.

However, it is Colman’s performance that steals the show. Her combination of denial set against an inherent self-loathing in the face of her affliction, is incredibly powerful. As she turns to Joseph with no one else to help her: bruised, beaten and emotionally defeated, the result is undeniably moving.

Whilst Tyrannosaur is definitely not for the faint of heart, it is undoubtedly one of the most efficacious films released so far this year; you would be hard pressed to find a film more disturbing yet equally absorbing.

Taken from The Student, published Tue Oct 11th 2011.

Ninja Girl (Kunoichi) Review


Seiji Chiba is a well-known name within the world of budget action flicks. Focusing predominately on martial arts, he combines impressive choreography with farfetched plots, often adding elements of comedy for good measure. Following the success of his last film Alien Vs. Ninja, a science-fiction comedy that entertained due to its relatively ridiculous premise, it is a shame that his latest effort doesn’t manage to hit the mark.

It is easy to dismiss low-budget b-list films as a result of poor cameras and often uninspiring sets, yet this doesn’t do justice to what can often be highly enjoyable pieces of cinema. However, in the case of Ninja Girl, there are a number of deviations which the director has taken from his standard style that has resulted in the film losing elements of its integrity.

Centred around a feud between two warring clans, Iga and Kouga, the period piece is set up when a number of girls are revealed to have been kidnapped by two lower class ninjas. It is slowly unravelled that the two men are merely doing the dirty work for their superiors. Coming from a village with virtually no women, they have been forced to steal members of the opposite sex from neighbouring towns to allow for the continuation of their own people. Whilst the heads of the village are the only ones who get to enjoy the fruits of these crimes, the lower men are castrated at birth to prevent any sexual urges.

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Taken from Subtitled Online, published Fri Oct 7th 2011.

Matching Jack Review


The reality of cancer is a tender topic, especially when it concerns children. Nadia Tass’ latest film, Matching Jack, attempts to create a poignant drama that uses elements of comedy as light relief to what is otherwise a very depressing tale. Partly inspired by the true life experiences of co-writer Lynne Renew, whose own son suffered from leukaemia, it is an often bleak look at a tabooed subject we all too frequently refuse to think about.

Her first film since Amy, which was released in 2008, Tass has spent recent years working in American television and so thrusting herself back into the heart of drama, her latest project illustrates a bold move to re-establish herself on the Australian film circuit.

Focusing on young Jack (Tom Russell) who goes for a check up after getting frequent bouts of faintness, his parents learn that the problem lies in his having leukaemia. Transferred to a children’s ward, his mother and seemingly overly hard working father are naturally distraught as Jack remains oblivious to his illness. Once there, he meets a fellow sufferer Finn, (brilliantly played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, who recently starred in the remake of Swedish romantic horror film Let The Right One In), who reveals the truth of his condition and thus creates a devastating realisation for the young boy…

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Taken from Subtitled Online, published Tue Oct 4th 2011.

EIFF 2011 – Bleak Night (Pasuggun) Review


Bleak Night was screened on the 18th June 2011 at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Following its success at the 2010 Pusan International Film Festival, where it won the New Current Award, Bleak Night has impressed audiences worldwide with its gritty look at teenage relationships and the potential tragedy that can result when friendships fall apart. The debut film from Korean writer director Yoon Sung-hyun is even more notable given that it serves as his graduation project from the Korean Academy of Film Arts. Shot solely on a hand-held camera, its ability to capture the audience’s attention with its realistically grim portrayal of teenage angst is nothing short of commendable.

Set in a relatively humdrum suburb in South Korea, where there is little for youngsters to do, a middle aged father is desperately trying to get in contact with the friends of his deceased son following his apparent suicide.

After much effort tracking down the assorted teenagers, elements of the plot are slotted into place as memories are recounted in the form of flashbacks. Bit by bit the viewer is able to piece together a narrative which paints a picture of a troubled youth who was clearly discontented with life…

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Taken from Subtitled Online, published online Tue Sep 13th 2011.

The Guard Review


Since opening the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June, The Guard has taken Britain by storm. With a slick combination of black humour and a sharp witty script, it is brought to life by one of Brendan Gleeson’s best performances to date.

Set in Galway on the Irish west coast, garda Gerry Boyle (Gleeson) is an unorthodox policeman who drinks on the job, takes recreational drugs and has a certain penchant for prostitutes. Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle), a by-the-book FBI agent, arrives to coordinate an operation against a drug smuggling outfit working in the area. When he is paired with the world-wearied dog, what ensues is a buddy cop film that breaks all the usual conventions.

Gerry Boyle is one of those characters who stays with you long after the film has ended. With a relatively crass approach to life, expressed through memorable one-liners and a lack of care of others’ opinions, writer-director John Michael McDonagh provides a refreshing alternative to the fish out of water story.

The rapport shared between Boyle and Everett is often hilarious as the Ivy League FBI agent is astounded at the Irishman’s racism and seeming ignorance. An assumption that Everett is from the projects rather than his actual privileged background leads to a hilarious deadpan reaction from him. With lines such as: “I’m Irish, racism is part of my culture,” delivered in a whimsical and harmless way, this is an endearing comedy that offers something relatively unique.

Its only drawback lies in the cinematography, which, though good, seems somewhat lifeless in comparison to the strong script and brilliant acting performances. However, this is a minor let down to what is otherwise a highly enjoyable film. This is one of the best comedy thrillers for a long time with an arguably award-worthy performance from Gleeson.

Taken from The Student, published Tue Sep 13th 2011.


EIFF 2011 – Arrietty Review


An adaptation of the English novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton, Studio Ghibli’s latest effort sees a deviation from their tendency to keep founder Hayao Miyazaki at the helm. Instead, the film welcomes the directorial debut of Hiromasa Yonebayashi who previously worked as a key animator on some of the studio’s earlier projects. A faithful representation of the novel, but with a definitive Japanese edge courtesy of a script written by Miyazaki; it features something of a change from the usual surreal and far-fetched content of their previous endeavours. With other companies such as Disney Pixar favouring computer rendered images, there have been fears in recent years of the end of hand drawn animation, but Studio Ghibli once again prove that the old fashioned method is just as captivating now as it ever has been.

Set in a quaint suburb away from the busy streets of Tokyo, the film follows a headstrong girl named Arrietty (Mirai Shida) who is part of a family of tiny people living beneath the floorboards of an old country house. Spending her days trying to remain unseen for fear of what might happen were she to come into contact with a human, she is troubled by a burning desire to know whether or not there is anyone else out there like her.

Mainly venturing out only in the early hours of the night when everyone is asleep, she and her family search for food and other items which they are able to take away unnoticed and thus justify themselves as borrowers and not merely thieves or scavengers.

Their simple life changes at the arrival of a sickly boy Sho (Ryûnosuke Kamiki), who has escaped the city in an attempt to try and see an improvement in his health. Very quickly he spots Arrietty and through his kind loving nature begins trying to create some form of friendship with her.

Yonebayashi’s first feature is a beautiful film that is brimming with underlying themes concerning the loneliness of childhood and the ordeals that one goes through in order to achieve friendship and consolation. It manages to capture the magic of youth where the power of the imagination is used to allow for the possibility of the unreal; a trait that seems to disappear as one ages. With more than a passing parallel to our notion of fairies, who we are told as children exist but are merely very difficult to see, a charm is given to the film that is recognisable to both child and adult alike.

The forte of the film can clearly be seen in its attention to detail. It is evident that much thought has gone into the consideration of scale and how human objects appear relative to the borrowers. Being proportionate to humans, it is easy to forget that they are only a fraction of their size, but the way in which Yonebayashi allows them to interact with and make use of their surroundings is truly innovative. Here we see clothes pegs serving as hair clips, teapots as boats, and nails as ladders; even their cups of tea are poured out in one big water droplet. It is this scrutiny that allows the viewer to enjoy the minor and arguably unimportant moments of the film, which would normally be so easy to miss or ignore.

Once again the Ghibli team have managed to create a loveable animal character in the form of a rather chubby cat intent on capturing Arrietty and not too dissimilar to the cat bus that features in My Neighbour Totoro. Its rather feeble attempts of abduction add comic relief but as the story develops, it too, forms a strong bond with the young girl. The way that predators are portrayed is also worth noting as glowing red eyes suggest a dangerous creature that is best to be avoided, creating a clear divide between what is recognised as friend and foe.

The soundtrack comes from French-Bretonne singer and Harpist Cécile Corbel who was offered the job after sending a fan letter and CD to the studio outlining her appreciation of their films. The simplicity of the harp does well to add to the ethereal nature of the film, thus providing a suitable backdrop on which the plot can unfold.

The film’s only downfall can be found in its narrative structure. Whilst the premise of the film and its level of detail allows it to retain its enchantment, there seems to be little that one can sink their teeth into. The considerable lack of any major peril, though arguably understandable given its desire to appeal to a younger audience, remains somewhat disappointing. This is also found in the characters themselves who never seem to be explored quite thoroughly enough for them to properly evoke empathy on the part of the viewer.

There is no doubt that Arrietty illustrates a clear change from the different and often bizarre quirkiness that can found in Ghibli’s other recent work such as Ponyo and Howl’s Moving Castle. Fantastic creatures and magic have been replaced with much more conservative ideas, but it is this that adds most of the charm to the piece as it allows the viewer to consider the power of the imagination and the importance of friendship. There is no doubt then that despite this change in style, Studio Ghibli retains its mastery over the animated medium.

EIFF 2011 – By Day and By Night (De Día y de Noche) Review


This film was screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June 2011.

Alejandro Molina’s first feature film has received mixed reviews since it premièred at the Morelia Film Festival last year. A bleak tale filmed in subdued hues of grey and blue, it presents its own interpretation of a dystopian future; an idea which seems to have become something of a sub-genre within science fiction.

Set in the future, where overpopulation has placed a serious strain on planet Earth, the increase in the number of people has made it almost impossible for humans to be able to work and live comfortably within the limited space. Kept in the confines of an enclosed metropolis, people are warned of the dangers that lurk outside the city’s walls, their escape being an infeasible option.

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Taken from Subtitled Online, published online Mon Aug 8th 2011.