Review: Son of Saul (dir. László Nemes)

SonofSaulCannes

Writing a review of Son of Saul is no easy task. First and foremost it must be said that this is, for me , one of the must see films of 2016. However it must also be stated that is in no way an enjoyable or easy watch.

The film depicts two days in the life of Saul Auslander, a Hungarian prisoner working as a member of the Sonderkommando. These men not only have to endure living in one of the Nazi camps but have the task of staffing the camps, helping in the process of  genocide by carrying out the menial tasks for their overlords. The herding of prisoners, the searching and destruction of their clothes and the burning of their bodies all fall to them.

Saul is in a living hell, a place where the screams and fruitless thuds on gas chamber doors haunt the camp and souls of all the Sonderkommando. After witnessing the death of a young Jewish boy, Saul sets about attempting to bury the corpse and find a rabbi in order to give the boy a ‘proper’ funeral and attempt to restore some dignity.

Throughout the film we are on Saul’s shoulder, the camera following him through all the horror and devastation that surrounds him. We as the audience are the muted conscience. Witnessing everything as Saul does but unable to tell him to stop or fight. Saul himself is an emotionless vessel. Worn down by staffing the camps, for what we assume to be,  a period of time he has no emotion left. This is understandable, this is his coping mechanism. In fact it is until the film’s climax where the emotionless expression cracks.

While we spend our time on Saul’s shoulder the audience is protected to some extent. Most of what is surrounding Saul is blurred out, no events are hidden rather inference takes the lead. I have to say inference is the viewer’s friend as if we were to watch this film directly through the eyes of Saul  it would not be unable to escape and 18 classification here in the UK.

In regard to the certification I feel a 15 certification is appropriate and important. This classification will allow a slightly younger audience see this film. It allows them to see the horror of that period. To see the worst of humanity and to see how humanity survives in the worst of circumstances.

This is not just a historical piece. This film also has an inescapable relevance.

When we consider events in Syria and the displacement of so many people it is clear that humanity is still capable of despicable acts. Given the reaction to the migrant crisis in certain quarters it is clear that we still have a long way to go.

I have no issue in recommending Son of Saul. It is a harrowing experience. It is not easy to watch at points. This however is a film that needs to be watched.

It needs to be watched in order to remind us of the past and to make us intentional about our future.

Son of Saul is in cinemas from 29th April 

 

 

 

Review: Demolition (dir. Jean Marc-Vallée)

demolition

Davis (Jake Gyllenhaal), a successful investment banker, struggles after losing his wife in a tragic car crash. Despite pressure from his father-in-law, Phil (Chris Cooper), to pull it together, Davis continues to unravel. What starts as a complaint letter to a vending machine company turns into a series of letters revealing startling personal admissions. Davis’ letters catch the attention of customer service rep, Karen (Naomi Watts), and, amidst emotional and financial burdens of her own, the two form an unlikely connection. With the help of Karen and her son Chris (Judah Lewis), Davis starts to rebuild, beginning with the demolition of the life he once knew.

Jake Gyllenhaal continues his wander down the alternative/indie cinema track with this study of PTSD, loss and healing. I found this film to be enjoyable in parts but overall it is a film unsure of what it wants to be.

The film suffers from two plot lines pulling for equal attention. On one hand you have the tale of a tragic loss and the consequential falling apart of a man dealing with the repercussions of the loss of his wife. Running alongside this is the other story of the relationship between Davis and Karen as they help to heal each other form their loss and loneliness.

The film however never picks which of these elements is the main thread and that for me was problematic. Both are worthy tales, both have their interesting plot points but the lack of direction for the viewer in which of these is the film’s primary focus was an issue.

This is not to say that the film is not interesting or entertaining. Gyllenhaal gives another great performance and is one of the best out there. One sequence where he dances down the street, while wearing headphones, is particularly entertaining. The film also despite its subject has a lovely sense of humour which is helpful given the issues raised.

Demolition is an interesting idea for a film and certainly could be viewed alongside films such as Take Shelter in terms of its depiction of mental health issues. It is a film that if more focused would be more memorable but as a potential alternative to Captain America: Civil War (also released this weekend) it would certainly be worth a look.

Demolition is on general release from 29th April.

Thank to MovieHouse for screening access.

 

Belfast Film Festival 2016 Review : Green Room (dir. Jermey Saulnier)

Green-Roon

If you’ve read anything about Green Room you would probably be quite surprised to see a review on a blog under the moniker of Films and Faith.

This is the beauty of film festivals. The opportunity to see something outside of the norm. Outside the comfort zone. Incidentally if you are looking for a cinematic comfort zone Green Room is certainly not the film for you. I’m not normally one for gore inflected thriller/shocker but the promise of Patrick Stewart as the head of a neo-Nazi gang was too good to pass up.

Green Room  is the follow-up to 2013 film from Jeremy Saunier Blue Ruin (currently available on Netflix if you want to check that out) set firmly in the revenge thriller genre . To follow this up with a film like Green Room indicates that Saunier has a love and great knowledge of genre and he has no intention of letting up.

Unsigned punk band the ‘Ain’t Rights’ are booked to play an impromptu gig at a seedy bar in the middle of nowhere frequented by a neo-Nazi gang. When they accidentally witness  a murder the band find themselves in a fight for survival and look to escape from  the maniacal grasp of gang lead leader, played with ice cool menace by PAtrick Stewart.

I don’t want to say much more as to go into detail of incidents and deaths (of which there are many) would give too much away. Suffice to say I sat in my seat for 90 mins all sense on high alert and feeling the tension on-screen. The audience joined in with appropriate noises of disgust and awe making the film one of the most enjoyable audience experiences I’ve had in a while.

This is a film that has you on the edge of your seat from early on. Once the characters are defined and the setting complete the fun begins and it doesn’t let up until the final few minutes when all is resolved and daylight breaks through.

It may shock readers when I say I really enjoyed Green Room. I winced, I fidgeted, I tried (at points) had my fingers in my ears as a defence mechanism but I had a really great cinema experience.

Certainly Green Room will be too much for some, one couple in front of me had enough around the hour mark, but if you can stomach it Green Room will not disappoint.

Green Room is on general release from 13 May

 

Belfast Film Festival 2016 review : Closet Monster (dir. Stephen Dunn)

locandina

 

Closet Monster is a coming of age tale, with a dash of body horror and a talking hamster (voiced by Isabella Rosselini). That alone should give an indication of the originality of this film.

Oscar (Connor Jessup) is attempting to escape his dead beat town, discovering his sexuality and attempting to deal with the damage caused by the breakdown of his parent’s marriage. This Molotov cocktail of emotion and hormones is from the film’s early exchanges only set to end one way.

After witnessing a hate crime, at an early age, the struggle Oscar feels is partly brought on by his father who, although loving towards his son, advises him to get rid of his floppy long hair in case someone mistakes him as gay. The lasting impressions of this throw away comment and the event surrounding it have a profound and lasting effect on Oscar and the physical churning of his guts at various points provided a few interesting body horror moments that I was genuinely surprised and impressed by.

In his attempts to escape his town Oscar will also escape his father who as the film progresses becomes more monstrous is also an excellent depiction of families. The early moments of the film show a child in awe of his Dad but as he grows older Oscar is more aware of the flaws of his father.

Closet Monster is not a perfect film. The coming out of Oscar, while interesting, is never fully formed. The father son conflict we expect from this event never quite arrives. Plenty of build is given to allow this expected confrontation but it never quite lands bar a couple of brief encounters.

Aaron Abrahams in his role as Oscar’s father is clearly struggling with what he is learning about his son but this is never fully dealt with on screen. The monster we expect never fully arrives. Oscar sees himself as the monster of this piece and his internal wrestling is interesting to a point but it always felt as if he needed further antagonism from his father to fully flesh this out.

A great electronic soundtrack really helps to enhance party sequences and sexual encounters.

This voyage of discovery is interesting and impressive when compared to some of its cinematic kin. It is however not as fully formed and developed as it could be and this is what (for me) stops this film from being great.

Review: My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

my-big-fat-greek-wedding-2_banner

In 2002 my wife and I were dating and as was our weekly custom we would stock up on cinema snacks and head off into 90 mins of rom com. We saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding during this time and we laughed, several times in fact. Characters were enjoyable, the story worked (as well as any rom com story does), the outsider being rejected and then  welcomed into the bosom of the overbearing family was a story that had  heart and made us smile. It has continued to do when we catch the film on TV and has held its charm. So we sat down last night in our local cinema, popcorn in hand and looked forward to what we hope would be a happy reunion.

Sadly it wasn’t to be. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 has none of the original’s quality.

The tag line on the poster tells you really all you need to know.

‘People change. Greeks don’t’ 

To be more accurate it should read

‘People change. Sadly this lot haven’t’

Everyone in this film is still stuck attempting the same gags from 14 years ago. No one in the entire family has moved on the only notable exception being that Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) now have a teenage daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris). I felt a lot of sympathy for Paris as she looks at her family with great embarrassment, disdain and despair  as the audience do. This family that charmed and amused me are now in 2016 loud, boorish and irritating on a massive scale.

We get to experience another family wedding as it is revealed that Toula’s parents were never officially married and the only other plot of note is the whether or not Paris stays close to home or goes away for college. Other than that there are only half-hearted attempts at humour and every character looks wearied by this enforced reunion. I only laughed twice and for a film billed as a comedy this simply is not good enough.

I left the cinema pondering if my sense of humour has changed but if the original film still works  and garners laughter (certainly more than twice) then it can’t be me.

A poor story, insufficient laughter and the lack of necessity for this sequel (did anyone wonder what happened to these characters after the original?)  made this a rather pointless and wasted trip to the cinema.

Review: Zootropolis

zootropolis

Amidst the hype and publicity machine of Batman v Superman, Disney have been relatively gentile in their  publicity of new film Zootropolis (otherwise known as Zootopia in the States). Having seen a trailer prior to a screening of Kung Fu Panda 3, my 7 year old turned to me and declared ‘We HAVE to go and see that!’. How could I refuse??

Zootropolis os the story of Judy Hopps the first ever bunny police officer determined to change the world and make Zootropolis a better place. Zootroplois is a world in which all animal life has evolved to into a civilised society where prey and predator live harmoniously side by side. Hopps soon discovers not all is as it seems as some citizens have gone missing and returned to their ‘savage’ state. To solve the case Hopps must team up with the most unlikely of allies Nick Wilde the crafty fox.

I can’t begin to express how much joy Zootropolis gave me. This wonderful societal allegory made me smile from minute one and I’m still grinning ear to ear as I type. It is a timely film. In a world where hate and fear can be the dominating narrative, Zootropolis aims to be the cinematic antidote. Wonderfully poignant and with a great sense of humour the film never drops its pace, never loses its humour and stays on message throughout.

The film has within it plenty to enjoy for kids and adults alike, a Breaking Bad gag towards the end, lots of little incidental nods to other Disney films and so much going on in the background that repeated viewing may be essential.

The message of Zootropolis is not subtle but it is welcomed.Every animal plays their part and every animal’s skill is celebrated. Sloth’s processing vehicle licensing paperwork a particular highlight.

Hope remains that society will overcome stereotypes, judgemental attitudes and prejudice. Society can progress, move forward and evolve. Zootropolis may just be the blueprint we have been waiting for.

After the dirge and bleakness of Batman v Superman, Zootropolis was a great cinematic palette cleanser.

 

 

 

Review – Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

batman-vs-superman-posters

I said in my last post that I was excited. I was ready for the ultimate showdown. I wanted man vs god. I wanted comic book excitement. I at the very least wanted to be entertained. What I got was one of the most frustrating cinema experiences I have had in a long time.

This is a mess, a film with an incoherent structure, plot, and in Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor one of the most irritating characters of recent times.

Fearing the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the man of steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs. With Batman and Superman fighting each other, a new threat, Doomsday, is created by Lex Luthor. It’s up to Superman and Batman to set aside their differences along with Wonder Woman to stop Lex Luthor and Doomsday from destroying Metropolis.

Sounds like a simple enough plan for a film right?  Those who endured Man of Steel all reacted  in a similar way to Affleck’s Bruce Wayne (who is without question the most miserable Batman we have ever encountered). The reckless destruction of Metropolis did make us question what good Superman was doing and to be fair this was an interesting opening to the film. Almost as if director Zack Snyder wished to give us a cinematic right to reply for his previous endeavours. However once this slows down all plot, logic and reason disappear.

We are left with shots from CNN and the views of various media heads on who Superman is, what good he does or doesn’t do all while he’s off up a mountain with the spirit of his dead Dad for a reason I’m still not sure of!

Meanwhile Jesse Eisenberg is twitching  around like a philosophy student on a Red Bull high form an all night library session. Reciting to the viewer everything he’s ever learnt in class about the nature of God. Somehow he develops something close to a plot to make our two heroes fight each other for something.

There are inexplicable dream sequences, which may point to future film intentions. There is an erratic score. The 3D is headache inducing awful and unnecessary.   There is a good 30 minutes plus of CGI third act incoherent battling. Gal Gadot appears as Wonder Woman appears, which is refreshing, but at the same time not I’m not 100% sure why she was in Metropolis in the first place and she has very little to do or say really.

Ultimately this will film will make a bucket after bucket of cash. My keyboard bashing frustrations will not stop this juggernaut I realise that. My only hope is that a critical lambasting from all corners of the globe may make executives think twice about advancing with this DC universe too hastily.

Captain America – Civil War is next on the superhero cinematic production line and to be fair while Marvel movies can suffer from dullness at times but they at least make sense!

Superhero  fatigue is a reality now. Batman v Superman did absolutely nothing to change that.

 

*Thanks to MovieHouse for screening access