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Arthur Christmas and Grandsanta

19 November 2012-11-19

Out in the UK This Week   Arthur Christmas (Sony, cert U, Blu-ray/DVD) There have been some terrible British animations in the past few years. Anyone remember Valiant? But this comic adventure re-imagining the Christmas delivery round as something that’s grown into a gigantic FedEx-like operation, with Santa Claus now almost as redundant as his sleigh, is not one of them. Brilliantly structured, it’s witty, gutsy, insightful and entirely entertaining. And its depiction of Santa’s family as a bunch of characters who don’t actually enjoy spending Christmas together gives it universal appeal, as does its “cake and eat it” suggestion that the corporatisation of everything we hold dear is going to happen, but … Read more
Matthew McConaughey and Juno Temple in Killer Joe

9 November 2012-11-09

Out in the UK This Week Killer Joe (Entertainment One, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD) French Connection/Exorcist director William Friedkin returns to form and hands a decent role to Matthew McConaughey, who plays a dead-eyed contract killer menacing a family who thought they’d hired him to kill the materfamilias for insurance gain. As with The Exorcist, Friedkin gives us an awful lot of set-up before he gets the nasty stuff out, by which time we’re emotionally invested and feeling every jab. Juno Temple stands out as the braless jailbait who catches McC’s eye, but it’s very hard to get really involved in this family as they’re so scarily dim. Unless the whole thing is meant … Read more
Jeremy Irons in Margin Call

12 November 2012-11-12

Out in the UK This Week Margin Call (Paramount, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD) JC Chandor’s debut, and what a film, is about a Lehman Brothers’ (ish) bank hitting the skids. It’s the definitive Hollywood entertainment about the financial crash, a cool, glossy, edge-of-seat procedural about a night in the company of two low-level bank employees (Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley) who are on duty at the point when a gigantic accounting error comes to light. Whereupon the problem is batted further and further up the heirarchy, until it reaches the top (a particularly dry and corrupt Jeremy Irons). The performances are in the ionosphere – Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci … Read more
Santi Ahumada plays Lucía in Thursday till Sunday

Thursday Till Sunday aka De Jueves a Domingo

Dominga Sotomayor’s remarkable debut feature is a sotto voce drama about a family on a road trip. Proceeding by suggestion rather than assertion, it is in some respects similar to Pablo Trapero’s early, soapy drama Familia Rodante. There are faint hints of the work of Carlos Reygadas in there too, as well as more than a touch of Claire Denis. This is not bad company to be mixing in. If the long opening locked-camera shot through a bedroom window into a courtyard, where a family is loading a car with baggage and sleeping children, recalls Reygadas’s amazing up-comes-the-dawn opening to Silent Light, then the Claire Denis element is supplied by what follows, as … Read more
Claude and Esther

In the House

If you’ve seen 5X2, you’ll already know that François Ozon makes immensely clever and highly entertaining films, and that there’s a point to the cleverness; he’s not just showing off. In the House, aka Dans La Maison, is Ozon to the bone, another very clever piece of work. This time, however, the point he’s making is far less immediately obvious. 5X2 was a love story played out backwards, the point being that, “forearmed” as we were with the knowledge that the relationship would crumble, we saw the couple in question’s first stirrings of love, courtship, marriage, honeymoon and so on through entirely different eyes. Here Ozon plays a similar trick, taking a Cuckoo … Read more
Pilou Asbaek as Mikkel

A Hijacking

London Film Festival, 2012-10-22 Stories of Somali pirates hijacking ships and holding people hostage for months regularly make the news bulletins but rarely seem to make it to the big screen. Which is odd considering that foreigners waving guns about in front of frightened innocents’ faces is a staple of cinema. Enter A Hijacking (original title: Kapringen), a Danish offering that welds a cast familiar to viewers of Danish TV sensation Borgen to a twin-track plot – one half takes place on the high seas, the other back at base where negotiations for the hostages’ release are taking place. The result is a drama so involving that, though I’d dragged myself to the … Read more

29 October 2012-10-29

Out in the UK This Week   The Hunter (Artificial Eye, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD) There’s a totally immersive sense of place in this engrossing thriller starring Willem Dafoe as the titular hunter in kill-or-be-killed Australia. He’s some sort of badass eco-transgressor working for a rapacious global megacorp and he’s after the mythical and possibly mystical Tasmanian Tiger. Or is that a metaphor? Or is he actually not the hunter at all but instead the hunted? No spoilers. I will just say it’s a thriller and it’s structured like Apocalypse Now – one man, a quest, lots of delicious jeopardy.  The Hunter – at Amazon Your Sister’s Sister (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD) Grown-up mumblecore, a … Read more
Fathers Julián and Nicolás patrol the shanty

White Elephant

London Film Festival, 2012-10-21 At a certain point in the career of a successful film-maker who isn’t working in the English language, you expect him or her to make a “breakout” film, the one that gets them noticed in the global multiplexes, the one that makes them some money. At this point in the career of Pablo Trapero, the Argentinean who gave us Familia Rodante, Lion’s Den and Carancho – all critical hits – you’s expect White Elephant to be that film. It isn’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s a disappointment. Quite the contrary. Instead of taking the money and selling out, Trapero has taken what budget his status as a film-maker now entitles him … Read more
simonkiller

Simon Killer

London Film Festival, 2012-10-20  Giving a film’s plot away in its title: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford did it. So, with a lot less fuss, did Snakes on a Plane. Here we have Simon Killer, about a guy called Simon, who’s a Killer. It’s a good thing we know this early on, because without the sense of “when’s he going to do it, and who’s he going to do it to?” Antonio Campos’s introspective follow-up to the nervy, pervy Afterschool might just die of a tension deficit disorder. We’re in the sort of Paris that Americans with a Hemingway bent still hanker after – of cafes and night-time … Read more
Cristina Flutur (centre) as the novice nun

Beyond the Hills/Dupa Dealuri

The Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s most well known film to date, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, followed a pair of student girls in 1980s Bucharest into a grubby hotel where a back-street abortionist first took their money, then demanded further payment, of a sexual kind. After he’d had his way, and then performed his grisly termination, the two girls went down to the hotel restaurant, where the only food on offer was a plate of all-too-reminiscent offal, blood sausage and cold cuts of meat. Roll end titles, and up came a credit stating that the film was from the series “Tales from the Golden Age”. It’s this sort of gruesome black … Read more
Caleb Landry Jones

Antiviral

What’s that, you say, Cronenberg? Surely not a relation of David? Indeedy, this is the son, Brandon, and, apples not falling far from tree, chips tending to fly from old blocks, he serves us up a rather lipsmacking portion of body-horror just like dad used to make. And the lips, as you might have guessed, are blistered with herpes. We’re in a parallel world – it looks like today but the celebrity fever has got to such a point that people are happy, willing, desperate to be injected with herpes simplex virus harvested from rich and famous stars such as the Madonna-alike Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon). That’s when they’re not buying and eating … Read more
Viktor Gerrat in Silent Souls

22 October 2012-10-22

Out in the UK This Week Silent Souls (Artificial Eye, cert 15, DVD) Two men from an almost extinct Russian ethnic sub-group, the Merja, take the dead wife of one of them to her final rest in this poetic, poignant drama which works brilliantly as character study and as a meditation on the notion of national identity. After the rampage of Anders Breivik in Norway in July 2011, and in a world of multicultural cross-fertilisation, the positive case for ethnic separateness or uniqueness is rarely made without it sounding like the spit-flecked rantings of ultra-conservatives, die-hards or Nazis. Yet director Aleksei Fedorchenko has done it. That his film is mystical, full of half-remembered … Read more

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