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Saturday, 22 September 2012
In the summer of 1556, Arnaud du Tilh strolled into a village in Artigat, France, and loudly proclaimed to be Martin Guerre, one of the town’s citizens who’d disappeared eight years previously. Unbelievably, they believed him, and Arnaud was accepted into society for three years by the whole of Guerre’s family, including his wife. Eventually, however, someone spotted that all was not right with the town’s new resident and the French imposter was tried and executed. A remarkable story and, some might say, one that’s unique to its era. Then it happened again. In 1997 the Frenchman Frédéric Bourdin walked into a Spanish Children’s Hospice and successfully convinced the whole world, including the victim’s family, that he was Nicholas Barclay, a Texan child that had gone missing three years earlier.
Tellingly, filmmakers have been unable to leave the two stories alone. In 1982 Daniel Vigne dramatized the 16th century oddity and the result is a superb exploration of how slippery identity can be. Here, though, the differences start to mount up. Vigne had to tell a story about something that happened over 400 years ago, a documentary that included talking-head interviews and video recordings of Martin wasn’t really on the cards; it had to be dramatized so there’s only so far he could’ve taken the discussion. British director Bart Layton has no such problems with his debut feature. The year was 1997; almost everyone is still alive and willing to speak. Layton even has video footage of the family meeting the fake Nicholas – in case you’re interested, it’s awkward.
Still, bringing Nicholas’ (or is that Frédéric Bourdin’s?) story to film can have been no easy task and in lesser hands this could have been a disaster destined to populate late night TV channels. What's worrying is that more stories are as difficult as this to represent than many factual filmmakers would care to admit. Most documenters simply lack the, dare we say it, honesty that Layton shows in concluding that he simply doesn't know who to believe. That's not to say his style isn't bold and comprehensive; he presents interviews with all the major players and bravely decides to re-create key scenes, normally a technique that would be cause for concern given that this is a rumination on the nature of the truth, but the details are kept fuzzy and confused. This is not Crime Watch and Layton does well to use his re-creations to show off the air of disorientation that surrounds the case.
Like the Guerre story, The Imposter is a lesson on the impossibility of trying to define the word ‘fact’. You see, there are always two sides to every story and everyone interviewed has a clear reason to argue their case. Unfortunately for those seeking a neat resolution, all involved rise to the occasion; from the obsessed Private Eye who first notices that Nicholas has different ears, to the distanced, on-edge mother of the real missing boy, they’re all compelling. With the help of some careful editing from Andrew Hulme, Layton offers up all the details; conclusions are to be drawn for homework.
The real star of the show, if it’s appropriate to describe him as such, is the imposter himself Frédéric Bourdin. The man’s an engaging, charismatic chameleon, who invites sympathy and, at times, gains it despite the nature of his crimes. Arnaud du Tilh would be proud and also, I suspect, a tiny bit jealous.
A gripping, thought provoking, oddly open-minded documentary that twists like an episode of CSI and yet still concludes like an academic study on the nature of the truth.
Monday, 3 September 2012
Released way back in 1972, this litte-known Hammer came at a time when the famed studio were, shall we say, struggling to compete with the game-changing nature of America horror. It follows a young, withdrawn and weird Carrie-looking woman called Brenda when she moves south from London to Liverpool in order to try and find a "prince" to have a baby with (really). The bloke she chooses, however, might be a serial killer.
The end result is a mixed bag. Both leads do well, Rita Tushingham as the Northern fish out of water in 'Swinging London' is convincingly hopeless, if not occasionally irritating, and Shane Briant is a vacant yet chilling killer. Their relationship, which hinges on his distaste of beauty, is interesting to watch develop. Moment of choice is the horrifying end sequence - the various murders are spliced together and the sounds of the screams drown everything and everyone.
Obviously, this is a Hammer film (and a cheap one at that), so they get things wrong. The song, "Straight on Till Morning", that accompanies the film and gives it its title, features singing that wouldn't even befit a children's nativity let alone a movie from a studio well-know for producing fantastic original scores. It also features moments of sexual exploitation that had became more and more prevalent at Hamer as the money started to run out. Here the camera seems to stare at Katya Wyeth, who plays Brenda's friend Caroline, a little too often.
Ignores those grips, though, and Straight On Till Morning proves itself to be a film that, nearly 40 years on, still feels creepy enough to make one feel uncomfortable.
Friday, 17 August 2012
Sylvester Stallone has once again assembled a crack team of ageing action icons for this second outing of The Expendables. This time Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris are the big names joining Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li (for a minute), Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and others for another round of fighting. After being forced on a compromised new mission by Mr Church (Willis), Barney (Stallone) and his team lose one of their men, so resolve to seek vengeance against the villainous Jean Vilain (Van Damme).
As with the previous iteration, the plot is really just there to contrive different situations where all the superstars can spend time together, a feat it accomplishes with a staggering lack of subtlety. Not that this is a surprise and, in all honesty, the times when they are all bashed together need to be cherished. Chuck Norris’ introduction is a knowing and hilarious highlight, but the tone adopted for his far too brief section – which is also effectively utilised to accommodate Schwarzenegger and Willis – should have been more widespread. Instead, Stallone and director Simon West take matters far too seriously.
A movie featuring almost every action-god on the planet shouldn’t waste time getting Stallone to deliver pants speeches about the cruelty of death. At the most, you want to see Norris talk more about cobras, but other than that speaking ought to be kept to a minimum. You can’t to go for sincerity and then make Arnie compare a Smart Car to his shoe size.
Also disappointing is the lack of imagination. Whenever a group are put together in this way it’s vital that believable obstacles are presented. Avengers Assemble (2012) struggled with this same issue in its final third and, let’s face it, these guys are pretty much superheroes too – beating Schwarzengger, Willis and Norris is going to take more than a few machine guns. But greater firepower isn’t forthcoming and viewers will have to settle for a few choice moments. Sadly, this is a theme that, due to misjudgements in tone, reverberates across the whole film.
Originally posted at: www.newempressmagazine.com
Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Warlords of Atlantis (1978) was the 4th in a series of fantasy films by Amicus director Kevin Connor, but despite an original screenplay by Brian Hayles [it was the first film from Connor not based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs book] the plot contains many elements that anyone watching for the first time will already be familiar with. A group of people go searching for something in the ocean, but some of the party know more than they’re letting on. Before they know it they’re transported to an unknown land, in this case the lost city of Atlantis, which is run by an ancient race of people called The Warlords.
Early on, Connor’s film seems to have a lot going for it. There’s a good scare in the beginning involving a monster inside a diving bell that’s timed perfectly. Actually, the creature designs are strong throughout which may have something to do with the fact that they were designed by Roger Dickens, who a year later went onto work in the special effects department of a little-known film called Alien (1979). The sets, for the most part, also do their job of giving the lost city a sense of otherness that provides much of the film’s adventurous tone.
Which is why it’s such a shame that the direction isn’t up to scratch. Connor makes some mistakes that just aren’t acceptable in any time period, such as allowing his audience to literally see the strings behind it all. Also a pity is the poor dialogue and lack of surprises in the script. If you’ve seen any film with this structure before or since 1978 then Warlords of Atlantis isn’t going to offer any shocks.
So, although those feeling nostalgic will find some solace in the creature designs, Hayles’ dated script and Connor’s over-revealing direction leave a stale aftertaste.
Originally Posted at: www.newempressmagazine.com
Thursday, 9 August 2012
Circular, multi-saga dramas are a tricky business. The story count, characters and sense of meaning all have to be perfect or the whole film collapses in on itself. Sadly, 360 doesn’t get any of these elements right. The film, written by Peter Morgan (The Queen and The Last King of Scotland, both 2006) and directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God, 2002), wanders aimlessly through the lives of an enormous array of people in search of profundity but, taking into account the length of time it spends trying to deliver a message, the end result isn’t particularly sophisticated.
Aside from the tedious reminder that we are all connected, the only statement being made is that when we reach important decisions in our lives we’d be best to just pick an option and go for it. Saying that, a couple of storylines seem to either reach no conclusion or end up jarring with the others. The Muslim dentist wrestling with a religious-belief threatening dilemma is a case in point. Even the tales that hang together – Anthony Hopkins searching for his daughter, the intelligent sister of a prostitute running off with a criminal’s driver, Jude Law and Rachel Weisz’s struggling marriage – say little about love, loss and adultery that hasn’t been said before.
There are just too many different stories, or forks to borrow the film’s road-related metaphor and the result is that many feel under-developed. There’s nothing worse than watching an interconnected drama and wishing you could have seen more of some characters and less of others; 360 falls head-first into this trap and fails to clamber out. Star power galore can’t save it either, though Hopkins comes closest, with his 15 minutes carrying the clearest of emotion and meaning.
Meirelles succeeds in making the transitions between the characters pretty seamless so that 360, on surface level, appears to be telling one story. A closer look, however, reveals it to be at best confused and at worst clichéd.
Originally posted at: www.newempressmagazine.com
Monday, 6 August 2012
I Against I features a clear homage to Michael Mann’s well-respected thriller Heat (1995): two of the main characters pull over at the same time on the road and enter a cafe, this is the first time they will meet and it’s a crucial moment. But whereas Mann’s film had built up and fleshed out its central characters to the point where the tension was huge – although it admittedly didn’t hurt that this would be the first time that Al Pacino and Robert De Niro would meet on screen – in i Against i there’s nothing of the sort.
Despite this failure, the premise can not be found at fault. Two men, Ian (Kenny Doughty) and Isaac (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson), are hired to kill each other by Joseph Carmichael (Mark Womack) after his father is found dead and both men are caught leaving the scene. Trouble is, things get a lot more complicated than that and the film seems to buckle under the pressure. For instance there’s a third party, comprised of two drug dealers, that enters proceedings randomly and then exits ten minutes later, confusing everything and everyone – audience included.
Directing and writing team Mark Cripps, David Ellison and James Marquand needed to take a breather here so we could spend some time with Ian and Isaac. Yes, brief attempts are made for us to get to know them, Isaac has pills he must take, but ultimately these threads go nowhere.
They ought to be commended, however, for their success in making London seem like such an icy, atmospheric place. Their city feels dark, literally and metaphorically seeing as everything is filmed at night, and unforgiving. In the end i Against i succeeds at creating a sense of place like its forbears Heat (1995) and The French Connection (1971), but its story lacks the weight of those titans and so falls short of its lofty aims.
Originally uploaded at : Newempressmagazine.com