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: 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

 

 

 

 

Film of the Year 2015: Inside Out

Inside Out

So the time has come to declare my favourite film of 2015 and it may come as little surprise that the nod goes to Inside Out.

Not since Wall-E have I been so charmed and enchanted by a Pixar film. The thought and intelligence, the humour, the emotional toll, the multiple layers of thought. This journey into the emotions in all of us truly is a wonder.

The journey into the mind of a child growing up made me not only think of how my daughters are developing but also how am I doing as a parent to them. Am I doing things right to ensure they are well balanced?

Am I (as someone who is not a risk taker at all) encouraging them to not let fear have control? Am I encouraging them into joy? Am I similar to the Dad whose head is full of anger?

Nothing in 2015  has been as smart as Inside Out and nothing in the cinema has impressed me more. I laughed, I got misty eyed and I will watch it over and over again!

Inside Out will, without question,  win Best Animation Oscar but it SHOULD be a contender if not winner of Best Picture at the Oscars 2016.

Favourite films of 2015

There will be a post to declare my favourite film of 2015 in the next few days. These however are some of my favourites from what has been a decent cinematic year.

What have you watched and enjoyed this year?

Do you agree/disagree with these picks?

 

Review: Macbeth

macbeth

Michael Fassbender is always a draw to the cinema for me. He improves any film he is in by at least 25%. Macbeth was therefore already a must see for me. It is without any hesitation that I say it should be must see for everyone.

Macbeth, is (as we all remember from GCSE / O Level English Literature classes) a Thane of Scotland given a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.

Fassbender dazzles in the lead role depicting the descent into paranoia and madness quite brilliantly. Marion Cotillard is equally compelling as Lady Macbeth although her role, vital in the text, is somewhat watered down. This does not seem to hold her back though as her intensity matches Fassbender’s brilliantly and they form a memorable on-screen partnership that will surely go on to set the standard for future productions.

As always with the works of Shakespeare I did spend the first period of the film getting my brain to adapt to the language but I was so engrossed in what I was seeing that my eyes rarely left the screen.

This is one of the most intense films of 2015. The cinematography that makes it impossible to look away from the screen. The opening battle sequence, for example, is something that will live long in the memory. The switch from full force to slow-motion is dazzling and shows not the intensity of battle but the vicious nature of war in a different time.

Also given the nature of my blog I loved watching Fassbender and Cotillard dip in and out of the light shining from the crosses etched into the side of the church in the film’s early sections. Their swaying back and forth from shadow to light as they wrestle with their consciences and debate their actions was for me a lovely touch.

It goes without saying that I recommend this film but to go one step further I body declare ‘All hail Macbeth!’

Review: The Martian

martian-gallery3-gallery-image

The summer of 2015 will not live long in the memory (film wise). However as the leaves begin to turn and the nights draw in, those responsible for the release date scehduling have already given us a cinematic gem in the early days of Autumn.

The Martian (dir. Ridley Scott) is the tale of Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) stranded on Mars and presumed dead following a storm and the evacuation of his crew mates. This story of the human survival instinct combines the great elements of Castaway (dir. Robert Zemeckis) and Moon (dir. Duncan Jones) to bring what will surely be seen as a return to form for director Ridley Scott.

Matt Damon is brilliant as Watney. Charming, funny, heart wrenching he really is the total package.

The film is also very self-aware in its tone with what could be considered moments of ‘nudge wink’ dialogue that almost adds a B-movie quality to proceedings in a very endearing manner.

This is probably where the Martian excels when inevitably compared with the recent space epic, Interstellar (dir. Christopher Nolan).

One of the problems with Interstellar was that it always felt as if it took itself too seriously. The Martian avoids this trope. While the science is always present, it often takes a back seat to the humanity of the story, and to its credit the science is never too confusing or off-putting. The rescue mission, while ridiculous in part, is never completely unbelievable. This is the charm of The Martian there are no glaring distractions you simply enjoy the ride from start to finish.

The key to The Martian is the heartfelt desire to see Watney make it home against all odds. We route for his character from minute one until the film ends. We laugh, we feel his pain (emotional and physical) and we want to see him beat the odds.

The Martian is not a science fiction tale it is a tale of the strength of determination that happens to take place on Mars.

I wholeheartedly enjoyed The Martian and will have no hesitation in returning to Mars to do it all over again.

The Martian is released UK wide tomorrow (30th September).

Thanks to MovieHouse for the advance screening access. 

Mid term report : 5 of the best from 2015

Ok so it’s that time of year the mid term report for film goers. What have been the stand out films and what has disappointed me the most.

Firstly the rules. 

Some critics see the film year as beginning once the Oscar for best film is handed out. I however have opted for the bog standard 12 month calendar starting in January and based on UK release dates.

Firstly though lets get the big disappointment out of the way.

Mad Max : Fury Road

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-lovely-day

This has been a slightly ‘controversial choice’ as the amount of 5 and 4 star reviews exist in great numbers for me however it was all hype and no substance. In coherent at times and two hours of a chase is a bit much to have to endure. My full review gives more detail but I wasn’t impressed as many have been and while I didn’t hate the film I felt the hype somewhat neutered the haile return of the action film.

Ok so that’s the disappointment out of the way. Six months of cinema going so I’m picking out six highlights.

5. Fast & Furious 7 

fast-and-furious_100425270_m

I know what your thinking. How can I not like Mad Max and vouch for this, A-Team for the boy racer generation, never ending series. Well let me explain. Yes it has very little substance but it is aware of it’s own stupidity. The outrageous stunts had the screening I was in laughing and gasping in awe. The Fast & Furious series is not attempting to be some artistic metaphorical wonder but it is aware of what works for its audience. The film may be daft in the extreme but the enjoyment I took away from seeing it was a highlight of the year so far.

4. Ex Machina

file_124528_0_exmachinaposterlarge

A future classic Ex Machina was a definite highlight of the year. Intelligent sci-fi that left you with more questions than answers. What does it mean to be human? As our desire for the most up to date tech grows will we ever reach the point of creating AI on this scale? One to watch repeatedly and still be left with questions always leaving the viewer on the edge. Ex Machina is a definite candidate for film of the year.

3. Whiplash

Whiplash-5547.cr2

 Walking out of Whiplash I was exhausted but wanted to go straight back in. This film ha d a relentless pace from the first minute and JK Simmons gave one of the performances of the year. Another firm favourite the film raised lot of post viewing discussion around the best methods of bringing out talent and the nature nurture debate raged for a while. A previous blog on Whiplash can be found here.

2. The Look of Silence

Unknown

In my review of the Look of Silence I described it as ‘difficult but essential viewing’. I still hold that view and many of the challenging sequences from this beautifully chilling documentary have stayed with me long after the projector stopped. Seek out The Look of Silence  and you will experience one of the finest documentaries made on the last 10 years.

1. Selma

selma-poster

Selma SHOULD have won best picture at the Oscars. I’m not the only one who thinks that right? Well made, well acted, well directed and with a story retold at a very appropriate time in our current history it should have won. Sadly it wasn’t to be be but it’s impact on me as a viewer has been sustained and it’s effect on my own attitude towards politics and social justice have taken a seismic shift from disillusionment to action. Selma really was everything I want from a cinematic experience and to date the best of cinema in 2015.

So these are some of my favourite cinema moments from 2015 so far what do you think? Do  you agree or disagree? Let me know.

Review – Terminator : Genisys

terminator_genisys_emilia_clarke_poster_wallpaper

When John Connor (Jason Clarke), leader of the human resistance, sends Sgt. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) and safeguard the future, an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline. Now, Sgt. Reese finds himself in a new and unfamiliar version of the past and has an unexpected new mission: To reset the future…

Let’s be honest whether it’s the protection of Sarah Connor, the protection of John Connor or the destruction of Skynet over the years we’ve been here before with the Terminator franchise. Sometimes more successfully than others and in it was felt very comfortable being back with old familiar characters (albeit with new faces) and to once again indulge in the chase through time that Terminator films do so well.

Arnie was back and at his robotic best and Emilia Clarke gave a good performance for me as Sarah Connor who for me is the icon of the entire franchise. There were some great high spots throughout the film the standard Terminator chase sequences and  some decent CGI effects but Terminator : Genisys can be summed up in one word problematic.

The stand out problem of he film is the fact that the major plot twist has been given away in a trailer. This is not the fault of the director however if you have sen that particular trailer going in the film holds no major shock at all.

Also problematic is the time travel. While admirable attempts to explain the effect of time travel and its impact on the past and the future, it feels at points, that this particular element of the story could snap under the strain. It was difficult to fully grasp the impact on the future and the final scene of the film appears to make no sense and is simply a half handed attempt to tie up all the loose ends.

However with the problems there are plenty of moments to enjoy and Genisys is worth a cinema trip even for pure nostalgia. I did smile early on travelling back to 1984 allows the film to recreate some of this great scenes from the original Terminator.

Genisys is flawed but in comparison to previous sequels Rise of the Machines & Terminator :Salvation it is a big improvement.

The joke among the podcast crew on Banterflix was that there have only ever been two Terminator films made. I think now that may require an edit. There are at least two and a half.