Some recent reviews…

Links to reviews I’ve recently done for theatre paper The Stage:

Lolita (The Lord Stanley) ★★
Imaginative staging does little to realise the spark of Nabokov’s landmark novel

The Dog, the Night and the Knife (Arcola) ★★★
Darkly atmospheric, this Dog growls with tension, but rarely bites

The Glasshouse (Tristan Bates) ★★★
A poignant, if overlong production that sheds light on a shameful episode of the Great War

Everyman (St Bartholomew the Great) ★★★★
An intelligent and fresh adaptation of a challenging 16th century allegorical text

#Venice2013: Night Moves & Child Of God

Night Moves (dir. Kelly Reichardt) ★★
Child Of God
 (dir. James Franco) ★★

Night Moves

One of the front runners for this year’s Golden Lion is Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, her follow-up to the taught pseudo-western Meek’s Cutoff, a bruising eco-terrorist drama that offers up its own ethical conundrums alongside bags of simmering tension.

Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard star as three environmental activists, whose version of direct action is to join together to blow up a hydroelectric dam to save its lake’s dying fish. To Eisenberg’s Josh, the kind of wiry introvert fanatic Eisenberg has such a knack for,the plan is to make people think about “killing all the salmon so you can listen to your iPod all day”, and Reichardt manages a decent stab at contemplative edge to this knotted thriller.

Do these activists have the right motives at heart, and what of the potentially tragic consequences of such an explosive act? I imagine it’s Reichardt’s intention, too, to point out the incongruity of green activists destroying an energy source that is rare in its renewable energy credentials.

Still, they’re subjects the film doesn’t dwell too long on, which would be a pity if Reichardt hadn’t meticulously built the tension to the climax of the first half, a bravura sequence of hushed silence and daring kinesis.

The tension doesn’t quite worm its way to the final act, which descends into more genre fare that seemed to have been transposed from a different film, but still it’s a complex and dark conclusion to an effective and believable thriller.

Meanwhile James Franco is the toast of town around Venice, the new renaissance man that everyone seems to have a good word about. A huge advertising hoard for Gucci places him centre stage overlooking the lagoon from the Doge’s palace, and he has two film at the festival: he stars in Palo Alto, Gia Copolla’s debut film based on Franco’s own novel, and his third directorial effort, Child Of God, a raw fable of a homicidal hillbilly set in the cruel heart of the American outback.

Franco is clearly assured at capturing the sweaty aesthetic of Cormac McCarthy’s 1950s-set novel of the same name, and of its society-shunned Lester Ballard, played as a demented menace by the excellent Scott Haze. He moves up the criminal food chain from assault to mass murder with a haunted eye and a mean streak that can’t be controlled

But in driving his story, Franco seems to lose his way, we’re barely given reason to care or to keep up with Ballard rampaging this small town-America, murdering lovers while they shack up in their cars or raping naked bodies.

Perhaps it’s because the film doesn’t communicate if it’s a tragic drama of a broken soul or a hard-bitten slasher with artistic pretentions, and sometimes the mixture was crudely formed. But perhaps it’s also because I don’t see the attraction of a mentally disabled person murdering en masse. Franco is potentially one of Hollywood’s great promising polymaths, but he’s still a director in development.

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