Review: Jimmy’s Hall

Jimmy’s Hall (dir. Ken Loach, 2014) 

Jimmys Hall

Nuance might be a feature of Ken Loach’s work that has long since left the building, but that’s not to say his latest work doesn’t fail to charm. The story of James “Jimmy” Gralton, the only Irishman to be deported from his own country, has Loach on tempestuous, didactic form, parleyed by sensitive performances from its cast that give more depth than Paul Laverty’s agitprop script seems to give. Jimmy’s Hall, like the second half of its closest Loach relative, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, pits itself in the aftermath of the Irish war of independence and the awkward political situation of Ireland in the early 1920s, where the progressive branches of republicanism were just as buried as they were under the British.

Read the rest of the review at CineVue

Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones

A Walk Among the Tombstones (dir. Scott Frank, 2014) 

A Walk Among the Tombstones

There’s an endearing nature to Liam Neeson’s action-hero exploits – what CineVue’s Chris Fennell dubbed “Neesploitation” – over the years. The man who won an Oscar nomination twenty years past for Schindler’s List (1993) is now a more bankable hardman than Schwarzenegger and Stallone, and yet little before 2008′s Taken suggested such a second career for someone of Neeson’s gruff appearance. Perhaps the tragic death of his then-wife Natasha Richardson was the catalyst. There’s a gravitas and indeed a tragedy that makes him effortlessly identifiable in these madcap parts. Just look at how many ‘former’ roles he plays – an ex-CIA man in the Taken films, a reformed convict in The Next Three Days.

The review continues at CineVue

Venice review: The Postman’s White Nights

The Postman’s White Nights (Belye nochi pochtalona Alekseya Tryapitsyna)
(dir. Andrei Konchalovsky, 2014) 

Postman

Just when it appeared that the Venice film festival was winding up the red carpet for another year, in comes Andrei Konchalovsky’s remarkable small-town docudrama to set the cat among the pigeons (of St Mark’s Square). With his film warmly received at yesterday’s press screening, the veteran Russian filmmaker could prove a late Golden Lion winner after a 50-plus year directing career.

Continues at Filmuforia

Venice review: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron)
(dir. Roy Andersson, 2014) 

Pigeon

To paraphrase Chaplin, life is a tragedy in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. That’s the spirit of Roy Andersson’s latest, dizzy, brilliant film. The film’s first three scenes offer slices of death: a man suffers a heart attack opening a wine bottle; a dying, wailing mother prizes her handbag of jewellery from her money-grabbing kids; a dinnerlady offers up the abandoned beer of a gentleman who has just collapsed and died in front of her. They’re all ferociously funny scenes. Why? Because we’re only human.

Read on at Filmuforia

#Venice2013: Miss Violence

Miss Violence (dir. Alexandros Avranas) 

Miss Violence

New Greek cinema – films like Dogtooth and Attenberg – have a tendency to slowly build to a riotously shocking conclusion, tossing you out of the cinema like you’ve been through a wash cycle. It’s no different with Alexandros Avranas’ new film, Miss Violence, the most challenging, and extraordinary film I’ve seen in Venice so far.

Set among a financially struggling nucleated Greek family – grandparents, mother, children all live in a fourth floor flat – Avranas’ film begins at daughter Aggeliki’s 11th birthday. It’s uncomfortable and stilted, and when everyone dances it’s with fake smiles to Leonard Cohen’s Holocaust-inspired Dance Me to the End of Love. Then, in a state of nonchalance, the birthday girl leans over the balcony, stares into the camera – us – and falls to her death. It’s an electrifying sequence, and we spend the rest of the film working up to the shocking reasons behind her extreme act of self-violence.

The first hour goes at a meticulous pace, immaculately controlled by Avranas, who unravels the plot in just the right amounts to keep us riveted, helped along by the film’s excellent cast. Themis Panou is superb as the family patriarch, who struts around with an untapped violence buried in his straight-laced cheap suits, while Eleni Roussinou is greatly impressive as the mother to the family’s long-suffering children. She carries a shattered heart, hopelessly compliant to her father’s twisted schemes and yet aching with guilt.

But this drama is most notable in being a brave state-of-the-nation piece coming from a country in the grips of a burgeoning political extremity and financial hardship. When the film’s final pieces come together – a bravura, and very tough sequence which produced audible gasps from the audience with whom I saw the film – it’s a challenging watch, but it’s the most urgent filmmaking in Europe today.

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