Mike’s Been Watching…
DEVIL [Main Picture]
DIR: John Eric Dowdle
Opening on a series of capsized cityscape shots, Devil is a claustrophobic disaster movie spliced with a Satanic slasher, and is quite a bit better than most critics would have you believe. It’s a slick, suspenseful and often comic thriller with enough invention and silliness to keep you engaged throughout its 72-minute running time. Those visually arresting opening shots are complemented by a Fernando Velázquez score – veteran of Guillermo Del Toro – which helps set the mood and atmosphere. We’re not formally introduced to our characters, but meet them in large panning shots (the film has admirable scope), and it’s not long before we’re guessing who the killer is. We sit through some clunky exposition too, but painful screenwriting is now no surprise in a film with the Shyamalan tag. We flit between a suicide case, the fraying group confined to the elevator and the security officers trying to get them out; all handled with deft direction and some really proficient editing from Elliot Greenberg. Technically it’s a slick and efficient genre vehicle, crammed with B-movie jumps, and I was involved in the story from beginning to end. Dowdle has demonstrated a keen eye in his follow-up to Quarantine, with inventive camerawork, confident use of space, careful composure of set-pieces and a neat understanding of narrative within a timeframe. These elements are largely missing from contemporary thrillers, and I was glad to see them in such an entertaining flick, no matter how ridiculous it may get. Devil is a rollercoaster ride… strap yourself in and just let go.
THE MAN ON THE TRAIN
DIR: Patrice Leconte
It’s an unwritten movie rule that men on trains have intentions of crime and hostility. The Orient Express was privy to a murder or two, and Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) hatched his psychotic criss-cross plan to Guy Haines (Farley Granger) onboard a locomotive in Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train. Perhaps the drabness of their interior and the loneliness of their motion leaves a man with too much time on his hands. Time to hatch best laid plans. Milan (Johnny Hallyday) is a bank robber, and he’s riding the train to a small French town where he’ll meet aged ex-teacher Monsieur Manesquier (Jean Rochefort), who boasts about his time in academia, “Not one pupil molested in 30 years on the job.” This seems to impress Milan, who stays with the withered anecdotalist until Saturday, when both men have a vital appointment. They meet in a pharmacy, where people go to get well. Perhaps this is apt. Manesquier adopts the role of gentleman and offers Milan a bed when the local hotel is revealed to be closed, and together they converse, slowly revealing shades of character. The screenplay, by Claude Klotz, isn’t always as sharp as it would like to think (I doubt Manesquier would formally introduce himself by regaling tales of his sexual awakening, via a portrait in the living room) but this is a gripping and unconventional drama about men in the company of men, and it avoids all of the clichés that one would suspect of that idea. It’s carefully constructed, well measured, spiked with poetically odd humour and beautifully played by the two leads. Not for everyone, certainly come the metaphysical ending, but an underrated treat nonetheless.
Sam’s Been Watching…
I was off last week, so I’ve included a couple of reviews that would have run in last week’s round up if I’d been well.
DIR: Sergei Bodrov
As a big fan of her work in Fucking Amal, I had wanted to see Rebecka Liljeberg’s other really significant film (also, to date, her last) for a long time, but I had never really known much about it, so I was surprised to find out that it’s about a circus performer (Liljeberg) who adopts a bear cub who one day shape shifts into a young man (Sergei Bodrov Jr), and the two fall in love. You know, that old story.
As you can probably guess, Bear’s Kiss is an odd film. The story never really convinces, and it’s not helped by a clunky script and an international cast who are made to speak English throughout. Liljeberg works hard, and there is a soulful quality about her that leaps off the screen, but she’s hobbled by the language issue and the fact that her character is supposed to be in love with a bear. As a curio, Bear’s Kiss was worth a look, but I can’t tell you it’s a good film.
DIR: Pier Giuseppe Murgia
I’ve seen a lot of controversial and confrontational films, in fact I’ve sought them out, but this really is a new watermark in controversial cinema even for me Maladolescenza (Adolescent Malice) is about three characters on the cusp of puberty (played by 12 year old Lara Wendel and Eva Ionesco and 17 year old Martin Loeb) exploring their sexuality for the first time. Wendel’s character seems to want to resume a holiday romance with Loeb, but he continually plays mean, dangerous, pranks on her, exploits her burgeoning sexuality and then moves on to the younger, newer, Ionesco, who seems to be on the same wavelength as him, and the two torture Wendel by parading a profoundly sexual relationship.
It’s an incredibly uncomfortable watch, replete with explicit nudity by the young cast, and it’s definitely uneven and quite repetitive, but the film is beautiful, and it really does get under your skin. It’s another film that speaks to the casual cruelty kids can be capable of, and it does so more brutally than almost any other. It’s solidly acted by the young cast, especially Wendel, whose alternate desperation and desolation are moving. That said, I’m not sure I could recommend it, because it is such a skin crawlingly discomforting experience.
DIR: Prachya Pinkaew
It takes a little while to get going (thanks to director Pinkaew’s taste for treacly melodrama), but once Chocolate amps up it becomes, thanks to the astounding talents of 22 year old Jeeja Yanin, one of the most relentlessly thrilling martial arts films ever made. The plot has Yanin as an autistic girl who is able to pick up martial arts… oh who cares, it’s a film about kicking.
The kicking is flat out awesome, from a Bruce Lee inspired ice factory fight, to a Jackie Chanesque confrontation in a meat market to the frankly astounding last half hour, which closes out with a fight on the side of a building, Yanin’s dexterity, power and grace astound at every turn (she’s also a capable enough actress to allow the plot to play, which is a nice bonus). The choreography is varied, the violence feels powerful and painful and the stunts are jaw dropping, it’s a film to make even seasoned martial arts fans reach for the remote so they can just see that moment again. If you like martial arts movies, this is as good as it gets.