Welcome to another of our weekly roundup features, here you’ll find seven new mini reviews from three of our film writers, if you can’t find something to watch after reading the this post then, honestly, you’re just not trying. Enjoy!
Mike’s Been Watching…
THE CRAZIES 
DIR: Breck Eisner
Not just one of the best remakes of recent years, but also one of the best horrors, my re-watch of The Crazies was a real treat this week, as these kinds of movies hardly ever hold up to a second viewing. Beautifully shot by DoP Maxime Alexandre (a horror maestro who started with Aleandre Aja’s Switchblade Romance and shot Wes Craven’s segment of Paris, Je T’Aime), it also shows a clear progression for director Eisner, whose last effort was the middling Sahara, a true crime against the works of Clive Cussler. The paranoid build-up is appropriately claustrophobic, nailing the small town fears and escalating violence which begins to tear at the seams of friendships and families. When the horror starts it isn’t the most original but it is executed with tension and flair – in particular a carwash set-piece impresses. Timothy Olyphant – a truly underrated B-movie actor – is terrific as the Sheriff, as is Joe Anderson as Deputy Russell. At a lean 98 minutes it delivers spades of scares, action and character, and the environments actually feel both hostile and ravaged by infection. You’ll know exactly where it’s going from minute one but the final shot is still a stunning one. Unlike other horror remakes this one actually feels like it has a purpose and a story worth telling again. Technically it’s near faultless (there is some middling CGI) and the passion behind the project translates to the screen for an enjoyable ride that Romero himself would be proud of – even if it does lack his political allegory and sense of timelessness.
MERCI LA VIE
DIR: Bertrand Blier
A dazzling experiment in narrative form, Merci La Vie sees Blier revisiting the themes of his provocative 1973 classic Les Valseuses but replacing his male protagonists with two spirited, free-bird females – Joëlle (Anouk Grinberg), a sexually liberated woman who attracts the violence of men, and Camille (Charlotte Gainsbourg), the lonely and introverted virgin she adopts into her travels. Flitting between colour, sepia and black-and-white, Blier forms a story within a story – who knows if Joëlle even exists, or if she’s an actress in a period wartime drama, also starring Dr. Worms (Gérard Depardieu). More likely he’s infected Joëlle with an STD, so that he may find the cure and become a hero. It’s fitting that the wartime drama seems to focus on the Holocaust, because Dr. Worms’ ambition is a Nazi-like one; one of eradication for the purpose of self-enrichment and power. The film is both antagonistically surreal and beautifully dreamlike, equally infuriating and intoxicating. The most baffling element comes from narration – is it internal or external, from an omnipresent raconteur or a character revisiting their past lives? And from which dimension are they telling it; past, present of from inside the film, breaking the fourth wall? One scene sees Camille (Gainsbourg, superb in an early role) back in time, trying desperately to persuade her father to impregnate her mother, but he is shortly kidnapped and his gouged eye is used for odd purposes… no doubt Blier had an anarchic smile written large across his face shooting this movie, and fans of the avant-garde will likely have one watching it. Uneven, but truly a lost gem of world cinema.
DIR: Yasuzo Masumura
An unflinching anti-war film, Masumura’s Red Angel is even better than his classic 1969 thriller Blind Beast, which also explores the theme of sex as a catalyst for death, and vice versa. Here that theme is relocated to the Sino-Japanese war, 1939, where nurse Sakura Nishi (Ayako Wakao) falls in love with the morphine addicted Dr. Okabe (Shinsuke Ashida) and acts as an aid to the fallen men who have no hope of a future. The soldiers have been ravaged by war – it has taken their minds and soul and now all they have left is the physical. Sex is a relief from their torturous pain and as they realize that they could die any day, they regress into an animalistic state and take what they want when they want, resulting in one disturbing gang-rape scene. The idea being presented here though is that there are no evils except those presented by war. Everybody is a victim; the men of war, Nishi of the men. It’s a cycle dictated by something bigger than them and all of the horror, suffering and rape is self-contained in the middle of an impenetrable war zone. Never before have I seen such a realistic portrayal of a wartime hospital, with blood, sweat and vomit covering the walls, floors and uniforms of doctors and nurses. Masumura doesn’t shy away from these horrors either, presenting full amputations with agonizing sound design. While the image of surgery is obscured as to not become exploitative, the sound of a bone being sawn through drills into the viewers subconscious and lodges itself there uncomfortably. The content is visceral and harsh – screams of pain, howls of rage, blood-soaked amputation, gang rape, intense battle scenes, addiction and pity sex culminate to an emotionally draining experience the likes of which you’ll never forget.
Oren’s Been Watching…
DIR: John Schlesinger
There’s nothing quite like British wit to brighten up the week, in particular British wit from the swinging 60’s. This funny, charming, whimsical film from the British New Wave of the 60’s is quite a little gem – based on the popular novel and stage play about a young man growing up in a small town in rural Northern England who escapes into an elaborate fantasy world in order to brighten up his trapped and boring existence, the film version takes the daydreams that could only be described in book or stage form, and portrays them visually in a striking, hilarious, surprising way that is ahead of its time. These daydream sequences and “wishful thinking” jump cuts would later appear in many other film and television works, but Billy Liar is one of the first examples of this technique being used. All in all, it plays like a decidedly more British version of The Graduate or a Wes Anderson film, and feels as timely and relevant today as it was back when it came out. Also, it has the added bonus of starring the stunningly beautiful Julie Christie, in one of her first film roles.
DIR: Cary Fukunaga
Riffing on imagery seen before in films such as City of God, Sin Nombre still manages to hold its own as a gripping, harrowing depiction of gang life in the slums of Mexico. Brilliantly scripted, structured and executed, the film follows an Honduran family trying to make their way north through Mexico to the United States and the parallel story of a young gang member in Mexico who is having doubts about the life path he has chosen for himself. The two parallel stories collide as the characters cross paths, and their destinies are forever intertwined. It’s a movie about escape, about the urge to get out of the confines of a harsh lifestyle of poverty, and the extreme difficulty of achieving this aspiration. First-time director Cary Fukunaga (who also happens to be a recent alumnus of the NYU graduate film program), an American, does an incredible job of immersing himself (and the audience) in this harsh and alien environment, and fills the film with little details and striking cinematography that breathe life into the story, the setting, and the characters in a tense, thrilling and unique way.
Sam’s Been Watching…
DIR: Kaare Andrews
Altitude has a pretty interesting premise; take five people in their mid twenties (two couples and someone’s cousin) and put them in a malfunctioning plane. Bake for 90 minutes, et voila, there’s your thriller. Right? Sadly not so much, largely because Altitude is aggressively stupid. The characters are either completely colourless (Jessica Lowndes, Landon Lobrion, Julianna Guill, Ryan Donowho) or total stereotypes (Jake Weary as Sal, the film’s token dick).
For the first hour the film is simply boring; a collection of resolutely average actors having a bland off in a giant tin can, tasked with trying to make some of the worst dialogue I’ve heard in a while play (they can’t). I began, quite early on, to wish that they’d hurry up and start dying, just so I could be rid of them. Then comes the last half hour, and that’s when the film goes mental, the idiocy levels – of both characters and film – shoot right off the charts, culminating in some the most hilariously ridiculous visuals you’ll ever see.
The only way I could possibly recommend Altitude is if you and your friends need a new film to mock on a drunken Friday night. If you’re looking for a quality horror or thriller film, look elsewhere.
DIR: Doug Liman
Efficient, that’s probably the best way to describe Fair Game. It dramatises the story of Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) – A CIA operative outed by the George W Bush White House after her ex diplomat Husband (Sean Penn) made a fuss when his evidence about an alleged nuclear sale to Iraq was misrepresented – in accessible and, for a story that is largely about people sitting or standing in rooms talking, pacy fashion.
It is made worth seeing, as you would probably expect, by the two leading performances. This is the third film that Naomi Watts and Sean Penn have shared the screen in, and there is a clear comfort and chemistry between them which works for the film by making Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson’s marriage something that we believe and invest in. An early scene after a party where Joe has caused an argument about politics is especially good, you get a real sense of history, of this being just the latest time he’s done this.
Good as Watts and Penn are together, they are quite different actors. Penn is, in all but a physical sense, quite big. He’s good at the grandstanding speeches that the film is quite fond of, and even though it feels at times like being beaten about the head with a political agenda, Penn sells it as part of the character. Watts, on the other hand, is more held in, her character and performance summed up in the line “You can’t break me. I don’t have a breaking point.” Like some of Penn’s speeches, that’s not a great line; it feels a bit cliché, and contrived for the purposes of the trailer, but Watts’ performance lets you believe both that she’d say that, and that she can back it up. It’s a real pleasure to see two such fine actors together and bringing out the best in each other.
On some other counts Fair Game falls short; the script does often seem to preach, supporting characters are underdeveloped and Doug Liman’s direction, if not bad, is a little lacking in personality, but this film is well worth seeing just for the actors, whatever its other flaws.