The Drop – There’s enough to play with

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The Drop (US/2014)

UK Release by 20th Century Fox – 14th November 2014

Directed by Michaël R. Roskam

Brief Synopsis: Everyone in the neighbourhood works together to make a living. The past can be haunting and the future must be sourced at any cost, law abiding or not. Bob Saginowski finds himself entangled right at the centre after a string of unfortunate events. 

There is an assuring sense of dread, morbid humour and a fine American setting for a simmering thriller: the deep of Brooklyn. This weighted tale from Dennis Lehane (we know the work must be formidable coming from the guy who wrote Mystic River and Gone, Baby Gone) is deliberately paced with a natural development of cause-effect. However, it can feel all too similar at times, and the plot can certainly dwindle depending on your viewpoint. I think the key to this film is that it is character driven, the dialogue is intriguing through its disparate layers of meaning, and that it has Tom Hardy approaching the material with absolute sensitivity and an extraordinarily convincing Brooklyn accent, especially for a born Londoner.

Although, it is not quite the memorable James Gandolfini performance I was hoping for, perhaps Hardy is too impressive; it is certainly exciting to see Hardy rise to similar heights as Gandolfini and even beyond. Whilst great actors pass, new generations continue to bring their organic insight to the field; there are more great stars in the making today (and certainly more actors lingering for the near future) than, I believe, there ever have been.

Directed by Michaël R. Roskam, in what is only his second feature, it is great to see more European sensibility come to the screen. The mood is tinged with uncooked sadness, but there is a contentment to be found in the Brooklyn low-life. Roskam directs with hope, he captures even the smallest acts and moments that give purpose to Hardy’s life. These moments creep up on us and draw to a riveting conclusion, but a conclusion that still has plenty of room left for reflection and doesn’t defy the depth of mystery under the veil of Hardy’s character, Bob.

3.5/5 stars

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Mr. Turner – Impressive, but not quite worth it

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Mr. Turner (UK/2014)

UK Release by Focus Features – 31st October 2014

Directed by Mike Leigh

Brief Synopsis: A portrait of J.M.W Turner’s life that chronicles various exploits and artistic endeavours. 

Scene by scene Mr. Turner is exquisite in portrait and admirable in context. However, this does not make it compelling, rather the steady pacing and acts are underwhelming in their progression and execution. The drama is not as thirsty as one feels it should be; the cog driving the machine seems to be missing. To be even more disparaging, it could come under the category of a bit messy and predictable. Whilst many elements of the filmmaking process (design, costume etc.) are flawless and no doubt award winning, the character of Mr. Turner does not express the emotional range, which I’d hoped for from an artist, to carry this great spectacle. The performance by Timothy Spall is clearly engrossing of certain behaviours but only adequate in whole.

This is not a critique of Turner’s works of art, which are glorious and formidable, it is a critique of the non-apparent flexibility and miscellany of occurrence that should be prevalent in a mans life. It is not an easy film to pull apart, for it is most likely very accurate indeed and Mike Leigh, of course, has the masters’ touch. Yet, at two and a half hours long, the virtuosity and steady pacing run to the end of the line. I struggle to find another way to express my dissatisfaction, it is perhaps just one of those films you expect to be wholly great, but turns out just to be good.

Timothy Spall as Mr. Turner is grumpy, methodical and plain rude. This is not surprising of an artist, who must have their ups and downs, yet it ends here; there is no further insight into the man, he doesn’t let us in and perhaps that is more powerful for this picture. But, what about the touching spirit that brings out those raw brush strokes? Where is the life of this man who finds such inspiration? This critique may be more suited to Turner himself than Leigh’s film; I obviously cannot know this fact. What I do know, is that film is fortunate enough to be accepted and advantageously allowed to explicitly dramatise into fiction, and therefore I want to see an altogether noteworthy and enthusing character up there on the screen.

Turner’s fellow artists (Haydon, Constable, Eastlake, Soane et al.) bring together the most prosperous and exciting scenes with great wit and thought on display. Mark Stanley as Clarkson Stanfield is particularly amusing in his perceptive mode of sheer aristocratic persuasion. The vibrant lifestyle of the artists is eminent, yet once we are back with Turner it is only desolate, solemn and sexually frustrated. The housemaid is the primary asset of Turner’s desires; she is submissive and disarmingly played by Sandy Foster. The rest of the supporting cast rightly deserves a nod and Lesley Manville is noticeably in full swing to continue her extensive work with Leigh.

The cinematography by Dick Pope can be breathtaking and masterful; in particular the shots of Turner walking the hills at dawn with his little sketchbook. If only there were more of these intimate sequences with nature, which so dearly express where Turner’s vision lies and which showcase the beauty of the United Kingdom. Admittedly, they must have been very time-consuming shots, the weather being as unpredictable as it often is in the UK! The framing and composition is indeed flawless, but it is not always as powerful as one should hope. There just isn’t the reticence of cinematic language I feel could have been reached. It is another impressive work by Leigh, but I am sure he could have sharpened his brushwork.

3/5 stars

Modris – It isn’t easy growing up, especially not in Latvia

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Modris (Latvia/2014)

UK Release: 13th November at Leeds International Film Festival (UK Theatrical TBC)

Directed by Juris Kursietis

Brief Synopsis: Modris is a normal 17 year-old teenager looking for reason and adventure; he has a girlfriend and goes out with a few friends. However, things are not well in the home and Modris soon allows certain habits to take demanding effect. This is when he comes head to head with the Latvian justice system and things take a sudden turn for the worse.

Modris is a character that many teenagers will be able to relate to; he feels as if the world is out to get him, and therefore, he may as well be passive and miserable, for acting miserable is at least still a conscious barrier to the unjust society that awaits. Kristers Piksa is gripping in his career debut depiction of Modris as the misguided youth searching for freedom.

The films principle concern is that of the Latvian justice system. It is no surprise then, and no spoiler, to say that the film explores the tragic effects of this voracious law and order on Modris and many of his peers. The emotional response to this film is a broad numbing followed by spouts of gasping. Juris Kursietis directs his first feature with wonderful manipulation; he puts Modris in reckless shots followed by tender spots; the audience is never quite sure which way Modris is swinging. Our variable hearts are suddenly given stakes as the justice system takes effect mid-way and there lies the power of the films construction: the fine balancing of our moral compass.

The supporting cast is also strong and essential to the aesthetic of banality and suffering of the human condition on display in this worn-out city, which looks more like a derelict compound from a game level in Call of Duty. It is this conviction of time and place that allows the honesty and unadulterated representation to leap off the screen and reel us back in with it. The stock is captured without any fancy camera angles or rigging devices, without compulsive cutting or over-worked set pieces; it is, as they say, cinema that lives and breathes (or cinematic realism). I can only recommend that one explore more independent cinema, the talent is insurmountable and Eastern European cinema is a live place to begin.

4/5 stars