Friday, 29 April 2016

Son of Saul Review

Son of Saul, the best film I saw at Cannes 2015, is out in UK cinemas today. It's relentlessly grim, but an unforgettable watch. If you can find a cinema near you playing it over the next few months, I highly recommend it. It's not going to be as big as Captain America: Civil War, but it deserves your attention!

Here's a snippet from my review:

The gas chambers, the incinerators and the sickening machinery of genocide are all vividly dissected in Son of Saul as viewers are plunged into the midst of Hitler’s Final Solution at work. Audiences are dragged along on the gut wrenching journey of one man, a tiny cog in this machine of mass slaughter. For those who think they’ve seen all the horror that holocaust films can muster, Son of Saul scrapes new depths of despair in its harrowing depiction of the inner workings of Auschwitz in 1944.

We follow title character Saul, a Hungarian prisoner working as a member of the Sonderkommando at an Auschwitz crematorium. His job is to herd his fellow Jews to the gas chambers, where he then scrubs away the evidence of their deaths, before removing the bodies and plundering their belongings for the Nazis. But when the seemingly desensitised Saul finds the body of a boy he takes to be his son, he suddenly finds a way to grasp at some small sense of redemption in amongst all the senseless killing. He makes it his mission to save the boy’s corpse from cremation, and to find a rabbi who can recite the Kaddish prayer as he buries his child. Even as those around him plan rebellion in order to stand a chance at survival, Saul sticks rigidly to his plan to find a way to give the boy a proper burial.

You can check out the rest of my review at Tastic Film here.

Here's the trailer:

More from Cannes 2015

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Louder Than Bombs Review

Despite being set up in the opening scene as the main character, Jesse Eisenberg takes a back seat, allowing relatively unknown talent Devin Druid to shine in Joachim Trier's bittersweet drama Louder Than Bombs. Eisenberg is on solid, if not exceptional form as a son who returns to the family home to find his father and younger brother still in a complete mess after the death of his mother. He injects moments of welcome humour into what could have been a stifling exploration of grief in the modern world.

College lecturer Jonah (Eisenberg) has recently become a father himself and is feeling the weight of responsibility when he is called home to sort through some of his mother's belongings. His father Gene (Gabriel Byrne) hasn't managed to sort through the undeveloped photos that his late conflict photographer wife took before she passed, and now a gallery is hoping to put together an exhibition of her final work. Jonah's younger brother Conrad is unaware of the exact circumstances surrounding his mother's untimely death in a car crash. With a revealing article about to expose the truth about her 'accident', Jonah and Gene must decide whether they should tell the disturbed boy about his mother’s depression before it becomes public knowledge.

Dealing with grief and the fallout from a death in the family runs the risk of piling on clichés and treading ground that has already been amply trodden on by many filmmakers in the past. Even with its familiar troubled teen at the centre of the story, Louder Than Bombs manages to be heard above the clamour of similarly themed stories. This is largely due to terrific performances from its trio of male leads and some perceptive exploration of what it means to live in a time where everything is mediated, and it is increasingly difficult to find meaning in life.

Conrad sits in his darkened room, immersed in violent and fantastical videogames where he can become any character he likes, or kill people at will. He is withdrawn and surly, and his father has no idea how to communicate with him. The sadness of this relationship and the catastrophic ways that Gene tries to learn more about his son are tempered by some extremely comical moments. With Jonah helping him to come out of his shell, Conrad blossoms into the film’s raw exposed heart.

Despite bursts of voiceover from a number of different characters, as well as a complex chronology that contains flashbacks within flashbacks, it is really Conrad’s point of view in which we see the world through. His heart on sleeve writings and curious dancing behind not-so-closed doors make him utterly endearing, even if he does spit in a teacher’s face in one scene. Memories and dreams of his mother have a powerful hold on his mind, but it is his fragmented view of the world that resonates most. Like the flashes of his mother’s photos that we occasionally see on screen, or the YouTube videos he consumes daily, Conrad is lost in a disjointed reality, a reality reflected in the inventive structure of the film.

Getting under the skin of a few of its characters is daring, but could easily be accused of a lack of focus. However, Louder Than Bombs has a decent stab at examining not only three generations of men, but also the woman who affected their lives in profound ways. All of the film’s flawed characters deliver moments of heart and humour, but as distressed teen Conrad, it is Devin Druid who deserves the most praise for his exceptional performance.

Watch the trailer:

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Hardcore Henry Review

Hardcore Henry is an action film completely shot from the first-person point of view of its lead character. Apart from found footage films that use the POV of a character's camera, I think this is probably the first total first-person POV film since Lady in the Lake attempted it in 1947. And Hardcore Henry is a hell of a lot more fun than that.

It's from director Ilya Naishuller who made the music videos I have embedded below. Once you've seen these, you'll have a very good idea of exactly what Hardcore Henry is going to be like. Below these is a snippet of my review of the film.

The titular Henry awakes in a flying laboratory after losing two limbs and most of his face in some unseen grisly accident. His scientist wife, Estelle (Bennett), is putting him back together with new robotic parts when suddenly telekinetic villain Akan (Kozlovsky) bursts in, kidnaps Henry’s beloved and sends his henchman to hunt and kill poor Henry. But they’ve underestimated this half-cyborg super-soldier and his determination to get his wife back, even if he’s running low on power and hasn’t got any memories of his former life.

Just because films based on video games never work, it doesn’t mean that cinema can’t have its very own version of a first-person shoot-‘em-up. Hardcore Henry is so much like playing a video game, that it feels strange not to have a controller in your hand. Copley pops up throughout the film as Jimmy to tell Henry/you what the next mission/level is that needs to be completed. You might find yourself tilting your head, straining to see what Henry sees from a clearer angle, or recoiling from the screen as his enemies leap, punch, kick, and shoot at him. There’s even time for a sniper’s eye view as you stand on a balcony picking off enemies below you...

Read the rest of my review of Hardcore Henry at Starburst Magazine here. 

Here's the trailer:

More recent reviews:




The Witch