With an extra dose of attitude and energy, this Irish comedy-drama hits us like a punch in the nose, launching at full speed and never letting up. It's a funny and edgy portrait of three generations of a family stuck in a cycle of criminality and ignorance. While writer Alastair Siddons and director Adam Smith kind of lose the plot along the way, at least they aren't interested in preaching at us. Instead they create a group of unforgettable characters in a seriously messy situation.
The leader of the family is the patriarch Colby (Brendan Gleeson), who rules the community of caravans with a macho smirk and ignores the law as if it's still the good old days. His son Chad (Michael Fassbender) never learned to read, but wants his children (Georgie Smith and Kacie Anderson) to go to school. Colby thinks that's ridiculous, preferring to educate the kids by taking them along on badly planned robberies. Chad's wife Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal) wants out of this situation even more than Chad does, and she's increasingly annoyed that Colby is putting their children in danger. Will Chad have the nerve to stand up to his imperious dad?
Miraculously, the actors underplay these larger-than-life characters, creating eerily realistic, charming people whose clashes are a direct result of the changing world around them. Fassbender and Gleeson bring terrific detail to their roles and then spark off each other with such power that we don't know quite where to look. It's utterly riveting, drawing out personal grit along with darker themes. And it's not surprising that other characters are less fleshed-out. Marshal is most impressive in the scenes in which the seriously tough Kelly locks horns with Colby. And a couple of side characters register nicely: Rory Kinnear as a beleaguered cop trying to get the drop on this gang and Sean Harris as a mentally unstable family member.
Continue reading: Trespass Against Us Review
Audiences looking for a French historical costume drama should look elsewhere, but those who enjoy British period comedies will love it. With a pointed dash of history and politics, this is a silly movie about social status, and it's so well written and played that only cynics won't have a lot of fun with it. Thankfully, the talent both in front of and behind the camera keep the focus on the lively characters, which makes it engaging on a deeper level than expected.
The fictional story is set around real events in 1682 France, as King Louis XIV (Alan Rickman) was planning to move his court from Paris to Versailles, a vast palace still under construction. The final project there is the expansive garden, which landscaper Andre (Matthias Schoenaerts) has to complete on deadline and under budget. And everyone is shocked when he hires the little-known Sabine (Kate Winslet) to build an outdoor ballroom and fountain. But he has been smitten with her skill and passion for gardening, and there's also a gently gurgling romantic spark between them as well. The problem is that his high-society wife (Helen McCrory) notices this and sets out to sabotage Sabine's work.
There's not much here that's historically accurate, from the frankly outrageous costumes to the English filming locations and dialogue that buzzes with specifically British humour. But it's so breezy and snappy that all we can do is sit back and enjoy it for what it is. Those who do so may even find some underlying resonance in the discussions of order and chaos in landscape design, as well as the way honesty is like a blast of fresh air in a world constrained by status. Indeed, the film's most memorable scene is a gorgeously written and played chance encounter between Sabine and the King in which they initially don't know who the other is.
Continue reading: A Little Chaos Review
Photographer-turned-filmmaker Anton Corbijn continues to show striking maturity with only his third movie (after Control and The American). Based on the John Le Carre novel, this thriller avoids cliches to become a brilliantly tense spy drama. It also offers Philip Seymour Hoffman another terrific posthumous performance, one of his best ever, as a quietly tenacious man who refuses to get caught up in the hype.
Set in Hamburg, the story centres on Gunther (Hoffman), the exhausted leader of a top-secret anti-terrorist unit who has gathered around him a loyal team (including Nina Hoss, Daniel Bruhl and Vicky Krieps). When they spot an unknown Chechen in town, they identify him as Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin) but aren't sure what he's up to. Gunther thinks that following him is the best course of action, as he may lead them to much bigger fish. And they're further intrigued when he contacts a lawyer (Rachel McAdams) and a powerful banker (Willem Dafoe). But the local police and German security forces want to arrest Issa and interrogate him, even though this will stop Gunther from taking down a potentially much bigger operation, and even though it looks like Issa isn't a terrorist at all. Only a US embassy attache (Robin Wright) shares Gunther's long-game approach, but can they delay the gung-ho cops?
While the central plot slowly cranks up some powerful suspense, it's the dramatic and thematic elements of the film that truly get under the skin, mainly thanks to Hoffman's world-weary performance as a man whose eyes miss nothing. And he's beginning to wish he could just close them and pretend all of this doesn't exist. Every conversation he has sparks with jagged insinuation, driving the entire film deeper as an exploration of the dangers of self-proclaimed "good guys" with too much military power, especially when they're paranoid. This is augmented by several personal layers of plot-threads, including Issa's own compelling mystery, beautifully played by a gifted cast that's great at saying one thing and meaning another.
Continue reading: A Most Wanted Man Review
By trying to include an entire acclaimed novel on-screen, first-time filmmaker Biyi Bandele waters down momentous real-life events. The film is fascinating enough to hold our attention as it traces the first decade of Nigeria's independence, but the human drama at the centre never feels like much more than a soap opera.
The story starts in 1960 Lagos, as Nigeria proudly declares independence and looks to a bright future as Africa's largest, most prosperous nation. At the centre are twin sisters educated in America and Britain: Olanna (Thandie Newton) decides against working in the government, travelling north to teach at university; Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) moves east to manage their father's business. But it's their love lives that define them. Olanna falls for colleague Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), whose Mama (Onyeka Onwenu) treats her as if she's a witch. Meanwhile, Kainene has a passionate affair with married Englishman Richard (Joseph Mawle). And both of their relationship struggles are echoed in Nigeria's violent birth pangs.
The film is punctuated with newsreel footage from the period, which adds to the authentic production design. The 1960s are recreated on-screen with an attention to detail from the bustling village streets to the stylish Mad Men-like sophistication of upper-class sitting rooms. Indeed, the focus is on the contrast between locals caught in ethnic and religious traditions and the foreign-educated progressive thinkers. So it's no wonder that the country experiences a series of violent coups, ethnic cleansing and a hideous civil war.
Continue reading: Half Of A Yellow Sun Review
Wright was a Rolling Stone reporter who somehow got himself embedded in the First Recon Marine unit that was frequently at the very point of the entire American military machine rolling into Iraq in 2003. In the capable hands of Simon and Burns, his story of these turbo-trained alpha-male hunter-killers becomes something unlike most any other film project about the war. It opens in the sands of Kuwait, with the platoons tussling in the sand like overgrown boys, primed with teeth-bared intensity to launch themselves at Saddam's forces; only, in the manner of Jarhead, that great battle never quite seems to come.
Continue reading: Generation Kill Review
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