‘On Body and Soul’

on body and soul-1An oddity – an intriguing yet clinically told love story as two apparent opposites meet and against all odds become involved.

According to the workers on the shop floor at the abattoir, the new stand-offish quality controller, Maria (Alexandra Borbely, winner of Best Actress at the European Film Awards), follows the rules too closely. The Finance Director (Geza Morcsanyi – at 65 making his acting debut) looks on bemused. But then the two discover they have exactly the same dreams…

Amid gruesome slaughterhouse scenes, this intimate, challenging narrative moves slowly as the two come to understand each other.

Alongside a nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Ildiko Enyedi’s film won the Berlin Golden Bear and best film awards at Sydney, Portland, Mumbai and Sofia film festivals.

Rating: 63%

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‘Loveless’

loveless.poster.ws_Stark yet rivetingly sincere, the latest feature from Andrey Zvyagintsev (Leviathan, Elena) is feel bad in extremis.

As a Leningrad couple look to divorce, so their 12 year-old son, caught in the vindictive and argumentative maelstrom, disappears.

It’s a devastating drama, with Aleksey Rozin (Leviathan, Elena) and newcomer Maryana Spivak superbly nuanced as the couple in a feature that is never afraid to allow scenes to slowly unfold in all its dour yet heightened banality. A layered slow burn, Loveless is another of Zvyagintsev’s desolate commentaries on contemporary Russian society.

One of the best films of the year so far.

Rating: 83%

‘The Florida Project’

The_Florida_ProjectLife on the margins – and director Sean Baker (Tangerines, Starlet) immerses us in the everyday of six year-old Moonee and her friends.

Newcomer Brooklynn Prince is sensational as the street-savvy kid smart-arsing her way round the run-down motel blocks on the outskirts of Disneyland. Heavily-tattooed mom, Bria Vinaite, hustles cheap perfume, knock-off Disney passes and, eventually, herself to make ends meet. As motel-manager, Willem Defoe (Spider Man, John Wick) can only look-on with a sense of powerless hopelessness.

Baker gives us magic in the mundane, a voyeuristic experience of brattish behaviour (by adults and children alike) that highlights the cycle of poverty and crime. The Florida Project unfolds quietly in a series of non-judgemental, semi-observational vignettes that focus on character rather than didactic commentary. The result is warm, humorous but ultimately tragic.

Rating: 80%

‘The Square’

the-square-the-square-film-the-square-film-review-1Ultimately uncomfortable watching as director Ruben Ostland (Force Majeure, Involuntary) presents a heady mix of odd social commentary along with moments of crazed subversion.

Arrogant gallery curator Claes Bang (The Bridge, Rule #1) finds himself in deep schtick both professionally and personally as a result of a distraction during the negotiations of a controversial new exhibition.

But what on paper appears to be a linear narrative is anything but as commentary on lack of social awareness or care is troweled on thick and fast in scene after scene. Subversive, anarchic, occasionally brilliant, overstuffed with ideas but a film that could have benefitted from being 105 minutes long instead of 152. Inexplicably, The Square was presented with the 2017 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Rating: 52%

‘A Fantastic Woman’

fantasticOscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, this timely Chilean drama, focussed around a stellar central performance by transgender actress Daniela Vega (The Guest), explores grief and prejudice in modern-day Santiago.

With the sudden death of her older partner, Orlando, Marina finds herself ostracised by his grieving family, including threats of violence from Orlando’s adult son. But what prevents the latest from Sebastian Leilo (Gloria, Disobedience) slipping into oversimplified or overtly emotional political melodrama is the multilayered performance from Vega. As Marina, she is as steady as a rock, a history of violence and prejudice hidden behind her knowing, fathomless gaze.

Rating: 71%

‘Lady Bird’

lady_bird_ver2_xlgWarm and quirky, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a coming-of-age narrative as 17 year-old Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson struggles to come to terms with living in Sacramento, California rather than New York.

As Lady Bird, Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Brooklyn) nails it as the eccentric, generous yet ultimately self-centred teenager determined to get what she wants – even if it pits her against her loving but exasperated mom (a superb Laurie Metcalf – Stop-Loss, Fun With Dick and Jane), a supportive dad (Tracy Letts – The Big Short, August: Orange County) and school friends.

Personal and honest, Lady Bird is a lightweight gem.

Rating: 79%

‘The Post’

the-post-0547279001515497618Interesting story solidly told and performed (you’d expect nothing else from Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and director Spielberg) yet somewhat dramatically inert.

As secret documents of clandestine American involvement in Vietnamese politics from the 1940s onwards come to light, The Washington Post owner (Streep) and editor (Hanks) must decide whether to play safe or risk contempt of court and publish.

Pre-empting Watergate and All the President’s Men, arguably the best of the investigative political journalism genre, The Post comes across as a feature where Streep, Hanks and Spielberg, whilst engaging in lots of freedom of the press and women’s position in society conversations, hardly overstretched themselves.

Rating: 61%

‘Phantom Thread’

Phantom_Thread_PosterLike the clothes produced at the House of Woodcock, Paul Thomas Anderson’s (There Will Be Blood, The Master) latest is distinguished, stylish and classy.

Set in 1950s London, Daniel Day Lewis (My Left Foot, There Will Be Blood) is designer to European royalty and the aristocracy. A lover of women but a confirmed bachelor set in his ways, his head is turned by Alma (Vicky Krieps – Das Zimmermaedchen Lynn, Hanna), a waitress working in a hotel in Yorkshire. Elevating Alma to a stylish beauty, the London home ruled over by sister Cyril (Lesley Manville – Another Year, Mr Turner), is soon challenged by a young woman determined to be more than merely decoration.

A gorgeous period drama that slips and slides into obscurity as intent is not always clear, Phantom Thread remains a beguiling character study of three determined personalities, as controlled and clipped as post-war English manners.

Rating: 74%

‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

3bb_KEY_1SHEET_101_F3_smA profane delight – a black comedy dark yet compassionate, violent yet profound, a  blistering yet deeply humane commentary on small town America.

Frances McDormand (Fargo, Burn After Reading) and her wry, foul-mouthed performance anchors writer/director Martin McDonagh’s (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) superb script. Mildred wants answers from the police for the rape and murder of her daughter more than 12 months earlier.

Head of the local police, Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers, Seven Psychopaths) and dumb, racist cop, Sam Rockwell (MoonSeven Psychopaths), are firmly in her sights as the darkly comic narrative unfolds. A real crowd pleaser.

Rating: 88%

‘I, Tonya’

i_tonya_xlgIt may be overlong – and ‘the incident’ forms only a small part of the whole – but director Craig Gillespie (Lars & the Real Girl, The Finest Hours) highlights the eccentricities in the life story of US competitive ice-skater, Tonya Harding.  Importantly, he choses to laugh more with the characters than at them.

From the wrong side of the tracks, Harding (a confident, Oscar-nominated Margot Robbie – The Suicide Squad, The Wolf of Wall Street) was abused by her mother (a magnificent out-of-character Alison Janney – Spy, The Girl on the Train) and husband (an almost unrecognisable Sebastian Stan, the Captain America trilogy). Yet she rose to number one in the world and represented the US at two winter Olympics. But Harding is best remembered for her involvement in the attack on fellow ice-skater, Nancy Kerrigan.

It’s a tragic story and this black comedy tells it well. How much Harding knew is left in the air as Gillespie explores the issues of class and the nature of truth in this entertaining sports movie.

Rating: 65%