Starred Up – A Revelation of Talents

Starred_Up

MOVIE REVIEW

Starred Up
Film4, Sigma Films et al, GB
106 Mins
UK Release: 21st March 2014

Director David Mackenzie
Producer Gillian Berrie
Screenwriter Jonathan Asser
Cinematographer Michael McDonough 
Cast Jack O’Connell, Rupert Friend, Ben Mendelsohn, Sam Spruell

It is raw, vicious and compelling, David Mackenzie has boiled up a British prison drama (our take on A Prophet) to please the tough skinned and humanist hunters, but also the subtle and complex. It is a sharp-toothed affair with the peak of human hostility on offer, yet Mackenzie brings his direction to, ultimately, what is a stirring and touching family drama, be it the cliché of a father-son relationship (interestingly, it is biological).

Mackenzie does not shy away from the jargon of high-risk convicts; the “c” word is used countless times alongside a myriad of crudeness and repulsive deeds. Whilst, this may sound off-putting for some, it is compulsory for the realist approach Mackenzie takes in order to effectively portray this nitty-gritty prison drama.

The film begins and our Starred Up teenager (19 years of age) Eric (played by the rising star Jack O’Connell) is stripped down and moved to his new cell. Immediately, we are immersed in the prison environment, which is to remain so claustrophobic for the entire rest of the movie. Mackenzie likes to linger, and his camera scrutinizes Eric, it penetrates his soul and then it unleashes the animal before our eyes. It soon becomes clear of Eric’s troubles and expertise, if you like, at his exertion of frolicking and literally pounding his opposition. What may sound excessive is in fact highly believable. The screenwriter, Jonathan Asser, draws on his experience as a therapist (similar to the character of Oliver played by Rupert Friend) to shape the immersive world. Yet, more importantly, the cast and the entire ensemble give superb performances that yearn for unfathomable insight from the audience. The question swiftly develops, do we sympathize with Eric, or is he simply a lost cause, as Governor Hayes (Sam Spruell) likes to believe?

The answer is that we wish to understand Eric’s behaviour and jaunt along with him; indeed his traumatic childhood is discussed and his inept father evident. Jack O’Connell’s performance is something of a revelation, composed one minute, explosive the next; his character turns all the emotions one might expect to see from a disfigured adolescent. Neville, the father, played by Ben Mendelsohn, is a distressed and colossally troubled character. I could watch Mendelsohn continually perform and find him evermore impressive and enthralling. The two meet each other as their match, Neville the assumed prison superior and Jack the ‘rising star’ battle it out through love, hate, jealousy and sheer animosity. The love broods through the fortification and intrinsic self-possession of a father for his child, this is present in a climax scene that exposes the shock and corruption of prison-life.

It is great to see Film4 head the funds of yet another successful British film where acting and filmmaking talents are so vivid. Don’t let this film slip under the radar, as it nearly did for myself. Eric is waiting for your support.

4/5 stars

Watch the trailer below:

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Jeune & Jolie – Francois Ozon is staking out impressive territory in the cinema

young&beautiful_01

MOVIE REVIEW

Jeune & Jolie (Young & Beautiful)
Mandarin Films, France
94 Min
1.85:1
UK Release: 29th November 2013

DIR François Ozon
PROD Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer
SCR François Ozon
DP Pascal Marti
CAST Marine Vacth, Géraldine Pailhas, Frédéric Pierrot, Charlotte Rampling

Just when you thought there’d been enough fascination with teenage girls’ coming of age in the cinema, François Ozon’s Young & Beautiful (Jeune & Jolie) comes along. Ozon’s provocative and vibrant tendencies are far from asleep in this wonderful and intriguing exploration of a 17-year-old girl’s malicious entry into the world of prostitution. The film instantly reminded me of Luis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour where Catherine Deneuvre, playing a frigid housewife, also steps willfully into the enraptured trade. However, of course, Ozon is far less ambiguous and detached as Bunuel, taking the situation into far more emotionally challenging places, heralded by the stunning performance from the young and beautiful Marin Vacth.

The film begins with a provocative shot of Isabelle (Vacth), our heroine, on the beach in her bikini, seen through the lens of peering binoculars. It then becomes clear that Isabelle is on a seaside vacation with her family and desperate to lose her virginity with the mentality of getting it done and out the way. She’s even happy to tell her younger brother “it’s done” when she gets in. Ozon then cuts to the fall and we are greeted by a vamped out Isabelle, one laced with a silk blouse, heels and vivid rouge lipstick. She will sleep with any man for $300 and appears to favour the elder. This plot may seem gimmicky, but there are many more twists to come and Ozon crafts a film that is far more complex than at first may appear; it certainly isn’t an impermeable and literal diary of a teenage prostitute.

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Despite the film being a voyeuristic approach to a young and beautiful girl having sex, there isn’t much erotica, and the attitudes and positions of Ozon’s characters, alongside the framing and cinematography, are surprisingly uniform. This isn’t to say there’s no nudity or startling imagery, for starters, we’re talking about a French film here! Though, the shots are well lit and nicely complement the dramatic approach of the film. I’m not saying that Ozon particularly needs to push the boat out with his style; the mood suitably meets the confinements of our lead girl Isabelle. Her wicked compulsion is self-contained and her emotions rarely float above the surface, but when they do, it is a combination of self-destruction, redemption and arguably bad parenting – just some of the themes entwined into this uncanny picture.

The biggest area, no doubt, to critique is “why”? Isabelle comes from a rich family, so money is out the question. The family appears stable, thus ruling out childhood trauma or repression – her Mother actually encourages her to grow up by leaving out condoms on the side! Perhaps Isabelle wants her own sense of control, a chance to breakout, and her families bourgeois inclinations may have driven her towards this. However, it ultimately boils down to the fact that sometimes we don’t exactly understand our actions and this is positively implicit of a 17 year old. The story might not have been pulled off if it wasn’t for Vacth being such a strong and intriguing lead as Isabelle. Not for one minute does the film feel dull; Isabelle’s next step is constantly ambiguous. Ozon crafts his films in such a lifelike, yet peculiar fashion that one could watch on with intent for hours before dawning back to reality.

4/5 stars

Watch the trailer below:

Big Bad Wolves – shock value and comedy go hand-in-hand

bigbadwolves_01

MOVIE REVIEW

Big Bad Wolves
United Channel Movies, Israel 
110 Min
2.35:1
UK Release: TBA for 2014 by Metronome Distribution

DIR Navot Papushado, Aharon Keshales
PROD Tami Leon, Chilik Michaeli, Avraham Pirchi
SCR Navot Papushado, Aharon Keshales
DP Giora Bejach
CAST Lior Ashkenazi, Tzachi Grad, Rotem Keinan, Dov Glickman, Menashe Noy

Hailed by Quentin Tarantino as the best film of the year, so far, at Busan international film festival, it’s easy to see why with the flair, punch and shock value that Big Bad Wolves brings to the table.

The film is, ultimately, a black comedy that takes you headfirst into the rather corrupt underworld of the Israeli police. However, it is also a spin on the horror film with torture scenes designed to make your jaw drop one minute, and the next, to laugh out loud. This is by no means a new experience, but there is something fresh about the way Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales (the directors) combine horror and comedy. The horror itself, is not funny, it is overwhelmingly shocking, but it is constantly being switched on and off with unforeseen interruptions of almost burlesque value. We are bounced back and forth in our seats.

The story is quite straightforward: A reckless cop, Miki (Lior Ashkenazi), and a missing girls irate father, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), are drawn to the attention of Dror (Rotem Keinan) who they relentlessly believe is guilty of raping and beheading the girl. The pair duo up and take things into their own hands in order to find a way to extract the truth from Dror. It is the classic set-up for an acrimonious torture scene.

It is within this torture-ology that the film swims in the murky waters of good vs. evil where perspective is the only thing separating the two. You are left constantly trying to guess what the characters will do next, which keeps us tied right to the edge of our seats. This tense atmosphere infuses an air of moral superiority into the narrative. You can’t help wondering, surely there is a better way to go about this? There is also a comical play-off between the local Jews and Arab communities – a statement of change and novel friendship between the two.

The only thing lacking for me in the film was the absence of any real character development. Okay, it is not entirely necessary for the script to work as our squirming and laughing out loud soon sidetracks us. Also, part of the reason this film is so impulsive lies in the lack of back-story. However, there is also nothing to explain why Miki and Gidi are so focused on Dror, the man they are targeting as the killer. Towards the beginning, there is simply an anonymous throwaway line regarding someone alleging to have seen Dror with the child.

Big Bad Wolves is, nevertheless, beautifully crafted, from its apprehensive and muted prologue to sinisterly lit forest scenes and pronounced, sweeping camera shots of the basement corridors and walls. The film is innovative in nearly all respects, it is brimming with the unusual and it boasts a brilliant genre fare. Not since Park Chan-wook’s pictures has a director managed to maintain such a light tone whilst depicting a deeply troubling subject matter.

4 stars

Watch the trailer below: