Review: The Ritual

DIR: David Bruckner  WRI: Joe Barton  PRO: Jonathan Cavendish, Richard Holmes, Andy Serkis • DOP: Andrew Shulkind • ED: Mark Towns DES: Adrian Curelea  MUS: Ben Lovett • CAST: Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton

 

With October underway, Get Out being touted as one of the best horror films of the decade, and the intense remake of It imminently surpassing The Exorcist as the highest grossing horror film in box-office history, it is such a good time to be a horror fan. Right now in 2017, it looks as though horror can do no wrong, and even this year’s terrible entries (such as The Bye Bye Man or Wish Upon) still have a distinctive badness to them that can be enjoyable to watch masochistically, something horror lovers are all too familiar with. Luckily, The Ritual doesn’t belong to this category and, although not as thematically impactful as Get Out or well-executed like It, still manages to solidly provide a few interesting ideas in an overall entertaining monster movie.

Based on the award-winning novel of the same name, The Ritual reads as something akin to The Stag meets Blair Witch Project. Six months after an endeared friend dies in a botched robbery, four friends go on a hiking trip up Swedish mountains despite none of them bearing any wilderness experience. Tired, hungry, and desperate for a beer, the friends decide to take a shortcut through a nearby forest which goes as well as might be expected in this kind of movie. Soon, they find shelter and begin experiencing intense nightmares, with one of them, Luke (Rafe Spall, Prometheus), reliving the moments of their friend’s murder because of some personal guilt. Panicked and embittered by their terrors, the friends are soon lost and quickly convinced that something horrible stalks them in the forest.

Admittedly, as more and more of what stalks them is revealed, The Ritual loses more and more of its momentum, culminating in a twist reminiscent of another classic horror film that would simply be too much of a spoiler to reference. As with so many horror films exploring an enigmatic figure, the mystery is always far more compelling than the reveal, and although it might have worked in Adam Nevill’s novel, it simply doesn’t translate to screen.

What does work, however, is the chemistry between the film’s four protagonists. While the external tension is always present, what makes The Ritual set itself apart is its internal conflicts between the four friends. Although never explicit, it’s clear that some have found greater success than others post-college, hence why these friends find themselves reluctantly on a cheap camping trip. That economic and class difference between the four allows personal resentments to overshadow rationality in escaping the forest, and it’s the strength of Sam Troughton, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, and Rafe Spall, which help carry the film. Especially Rafe Spall, who continues to prove himself as a unique presence in film, adding a lot of dimensions to an already interesting character with something as simple as a subtle hand gesture.

Whether or not The Ritual stands to repeat viewing is up for debate, its lacklustre third act and brisk ending does a substantial disservice overall, but the film still stands as a fun trip for bloodthirsty horror fanatics. The Ritual isn’t a scary film, but an uneasy one. With a basic premise like ‘people being chased in the woods,’ it’s hard to screw that up, and what director David Bruckner (Southbound; V/H/S) delivers here is a decent effort just in time for the Halloween season.

Michael O’Sullivan

12A (See IFCO for details)

117 minutes
The Ritual is released 13th October 2017

 

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Review: On Body and Soul

DIR/WRI: Ildikó Enyedi  PRO: Ernö Mesterházy, András Muhi, Mónika Mécs • DOP: Máté Herbai • ED: Károly Szalai  DES: Imola Láng  MUS: Adam Balazs • CAST: Géza Morcsányi, Alexandra Borbély, Zoltán Schneider

If any word accurately surmised the experience of On Body and Soul, it’s unconventional. It’s unconventional in how it sets up its characters, its plot, its setting, and even the timeframe doesn’t reveal itself until the film’s halfway mark. It’s unconventional in its direction, being simultaneously clinical and intimate with its characters and their vulnerabilities. It’s unconventional for being quite possibly the most chastely film about lust and desire ever executed to cinema. Yet in exploring ideas of romance, courtship, relationships, and love (themes well and truly covered all the way back to filmmaking’s inception), On Body and Soul is also unconventional in offering a near-transcendental experience that is both refreshing and insightful to watch.

From Hungarian filmmaker Ildikó Enyedi (who won international acclaim at Cannes for My Twentieth Century in 1989), On Body and Soul plainly explores the growing conflictions between humanity’s natural biological urges for sex and companionship against the sterility of modern culture in everyday life. There undoubtedly are risks for such a premise to overbear itself on the film and its accessibility, an early scene demonstrating the killing process of a cow in an abattoir is as gratuitous as it is gruesome, but the seamless blend of calm visual design and music allow the story of two wounded introverts to feel immersive before even their introduction on screen.

The aforementioned two are Endre (Géza Morcsányi) and Mária (Alexandra Borbély), who find themselves unfathomably bound despite their inability to properly communicate to one another. For Endre, who has spent his life scheduled to a taut regime in a cold place of work, his ability to talk to another is either in succinct retorts or awkward small conversation. Mária, however, is far worse. Newly appointed as an inspector of all produced meats, Mária, exhibiting all the trademarks of someone with autism (yet never explicitly clear), finds her ability to converse with anyone near impossible. She spends her nights recreating verbatim her interactions with Endre, and even rehearses meticulously for their next conversation. However, when an incident involving stolen aphrodisiacs causes local authorities to begin an investigation on each employee, Endre and Mária are forced to confront what has connected them since they first met, and the inexplicable coincidences allows both to gradually open to one another with each passing night.

Dealing with such a broad theme with unusual methods, the screenplay, written by Enyedi herself, is cautious in its attempt to not overstep into absurdity or pretentiousness. On Body and Soul does not connote ideas of a biological hierarchy, adding repugnant supporting characters that purport themselves as “alpha-males,” but instead focuses just on human impulse as something that can be both natural and sensual as an expression. Perhaps it can be too cautious, however, as the film’s secret reveal undoubtedly adds to the story’s intriguing dynamic, but also sacrifices the narrative to a more repetitive beat. Not only does it become obvious where the story will conclude, but a test of patience waiting for that inevitable conclusion.

Those looking for a more interesting time at the cinema will undoubtedly find a lot to engage with in On Body and Soul, especially those who find themselves more romantically inclined than most, but it should be stressed that some people might find themselves detached by characters that are considerably discrepant from what might be expected from a love story. That doesn’t make them boring, however, and Maria is certainly one of the most intriguing and refreshing heroines in arthouse cinema in a while.

On Body and Soul can easily be surmised as an invitation to appreciate the complexity and fulfilment of deep intimacy with another person, and serves as a strong introduction for anyone unfamiliar to Ildikó Enyedi’s unique surrealist filmmaking.

Michael O’Sullivan

 

116 minutes
On Body and Soul is released 22nd September 2017

 

On Body and Soul– Official Website

 

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Review: mother!

DIR/WRI: Darren Aronofsky   PRO: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin, Ari Handel • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Andrew Weisblum  DES: Philip Messina   MUS: Jóhann Jóhannsson • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris

Sometimes the best marketing campaign is to not do one at all. At least, that’s what can be ascertained from mother!, the most surprising release of 2017 and officially completed literally a week before its premiere. Choosing to do the complete opposite of Darren Aronofsky’s ambivalently received Noah in terms of publicity has proven already more successful than the environmentalist blockbuster even before mother!’s public release. Much like the unexpected sleeper hit, 10 Cloverfield Lane, it seems sometimes it’s better not to say anything at all about a release and let the big names and the big mystery generate the intrigue  by itself. Does that mean that the final result is any good?

Boy, is that the million dollar question. What begins as a reimagined setup to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (a fact made by the film’s none-too-subtle poster), soon spirals into an artistic fever dream that crosses the line between genius and lunacy more times than Stephen King on OxyContin. Aronofsky’s statement for its premiere at the Venice Film Festival isn’t just a pretentious roundabout description of the film – it’s a synopsis. And whether or not people will like mother!, it’s unquestionable that this is a horror movie of a different breed: one that confounds, infuriates and, finally, exhausts the viewer in its grim and maddening tone.

What is certainly more approachable is mother!’s first two acts. The eponymous and nameless mother (Jennifer Lawrence) has just recently moved to her new and isolated house with her husband (Javier Bardem), a writer suffering from a creative block. Before they have even finished unboxing and decorating their home, a strange man calls (Ed Harris), who stays with the couple despite his intentions becoming more and more unclear and insidious. It isn’t long until the stranger’s wife (Michelle Pfieffer) comes to stay as well, and seems verbally hostile to Lawrence without explanation, determined that Lawrence conceives a child with Bardem. When the strangers’ stay becomes more indefinite over time, tensions rise and escalate until Lawrence feels no longer under control of either her relationship, her home, or her mind.

Aronofsky presents what essentially is an Ira Levin novel (who famously wrote Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives) without its renowned satirical edge. The film begins and ends in an aggressively anxious atmosphere and never alternates for even a second. mother! has plenty of quiet, slow moments before the madness and its occasional use of jump scares feel like nothing more than a cheap means of maintaining the audiences’ investment. This is a slight complaint, however, as the sound and visual design more than compensates in creating an overwhelming sense of dread and uncertainty. The added touches of hearing the hollowness of the floorboards themselves make the home feel much bigger and emptier than we see, making the characters feel more isolated and letting the eeriness seep under our skin.

The problem, and possibly the most arresting sequence of the entire film, is its third act. Without spoiling any details, tolerance for what will undoubtedly become mother!’s reason for infamy will boil down to whether or not a particular person prefers ideas over storytelling. Things change quickly, with the former soon dominating the latter, and escalate to such a drastic extent that it warps into a surreal melting pot of anxieties and fears in the 21st century. Although the setup allows for the transition to occur naturally without breaking the film’s own logic, the ideas presented are unfocussed at best; cursorily overviewing a lot of serious issues that come and go like a house of horrors.

mother! begins thematically as a relationship disintegrating from the struggled balance between personal and professional life but it certainly doesn’t end there, even if it does try to connect the pieces. Part of what makes a horror work is that the subtext of the horror prods at a more deeply personal fear. Although I don’t doubt that Aronofsky does fear what he’s presented, it’s more likely that the people who watch mother! don’t exactly share his experience. So, returning to that question of whether or not the film is good, the answer is still ambivalent because the unorthodoxy of mother! defies a simplified response. What can be said is that watching it personally felt draining as the credits rolled and probably won’t be one I’ll return to again for a long time.

Michael O’Sullivan

18 (See IFCO for details)

120 minutes
mother! is released 15th September 2017

 

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Review: Detroit

DIR: Kathryn Bigelow   WRI: Mark Boal  PRO: Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Matthew Budman, Megan Ellison, Colin Wilson • DOP: Barry Ackroyd • ED: William Goldenberg, Harry Yoon  DES: Jeremy Hindle   MUS: James Newton Howard  • CAST: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith

 

Although every film critic should enter a screening with an open mind and an unformed opinion, Detroit’s marketing campaign has made the film a difficult exception. Despite having one of the most catching taglines in recent memory, “it’s time we knew” also errs in being one of the most ill-conceived. As a film recreating the lesser-known cruel tragedy of the Algiers Motel incident of 1967, its tagline makes perfect sense. But as a film dealing substantially with racial prejudice and police brutality, to suggest no one knows of its occurrence in America is at best absurd and at worst woefully ignorant. “It’s time we knew” suddenly possesses an air of privilege and white exceptionalism made more emphatic in the opening minutes of the film as it explains why racism exists in America.

However, it doesn’t take long for Kathryn Bigelow’s award-winning visceral and intense style to salvage the film almost entirely. Based on personal records and testimonies investigated by the filmmakers themselves, Detroit is an amalgam of three different kinds of film blended seamlessly together to create an epic account of the 12th Street riot as it lasted between July 23rd and 27th 1967. Firstly, there’s the suburban war film, as a public bust of an unlicensed club incenses the neighbourhood against unlawful arrests and abuse from local law enforcement. News and archive footage mesh impeccably with the handheld realistic style of Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography, who worked previously with Bigelow on The Hurt Locker.

While the first third of the film establishes the environment and mood, it’s the second involving the motel incident itself that takes up the bulk of Detroit’s 2 and half hours running time. Played out like a home-invasion movie, the sound of gunfire incites nearby patrolling police and military officers to enter a three-storey house at the rear of the Algiers motel for a suspected sniper. What follows is a brutal and humiliating line-up of nine black men (among them is Anthony Mackie, Jacob Latimore, and Algee Smith)  and two white women, led by officers Krauss, Demens, and Flynn (played by Will Poulter, Jack Reynor, and Ben O’Toole respectively) and a private security marshal named Dismukes (played by John Boyega). As the lack of clear evidence becomes more apparent, the three white officers grow increasingly more violent and begin tormenting the suspects with threats of murder if no one comes forward as the imagined culprit.

Every minute is made excruciatingly tense, as each actor gives a far more raw and grounded performance, adding to the sense of realism that has made Bigelow a celebrated director in recent memory. John Boyega serves as the film’s moral centre, showcasing a charisma that made him a breakout star in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In contrast to this is Will Poulter, whose personal racism influences him to manoeuvre around the law and exhibit its inherent corruption.

Bigelow’s attempts at finding a grey moral centre soon dissipate as the line-up gets underway; despite her attempts to highlight the competency and impartiality of the police force during its opening section as a point of contrast, its central antagonists are so intense to witness, that it’s extremely doubtable if anyone would find an inch of sympathy for the three racist officers.

As the film gets to its third act, in an extended post-traumatic sequence and the subsequent trial on the Algiers motel incident, things begin to fizzle out once again. Although Detroit adheres as faithfully as possible to the facts, the framing of the trial can’t help but feel clichéd and redundant. While it offers interesting points of discussion, Mark Boal’s screenplay is extremely black and white on its subject matter. That is, a predominantly white police force profiles and impedes black Americans significantly more than they do with other white Americans. It’s a conclusion that is fairly obvious to anyone even before entering the film, and doesn’t warrant its substantial running time as a result.

However, make no mistake; Detroit is a very well-made and gripping film to watch. What problems the film does have thematically are more than compensated for by some of the most excruciatingly tense sequences in cinemas this year. While some might suggest this to be a step down from both The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Bigelow still provides an incredible and shocking experience on one of the biggest issues in American society to this day.

Michael O’Sullivan

15A (See IFCO for details)

142 minutes

Detroit is released 25th August 2017

Detroit – Official Website

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Review: American Made

DIR: Doug Liman   WRI: Gary Spinelli  PRO: Doug Davison, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Brian Oliver, Kim Roth, Tyler Thompson  DOP: César Charlone • ED: Saar Klein, Andrew Mondshein, Dylan Tichenor  DES: Dan Weil   MUS: Christophe Beck • CAST: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright

Every year, the summer season tends to include at least one unapologetic male fantasy film for the dads that does moderately well at the box office and becomes quickly forgotten about. Usually, they offer an avatar that develops a sense a power by living dangerously, earning lots of money, and having lots of sex, all under the pretence of condemning the American dream while also saying it lets you do some really cool things. For 2017, American Made is that film, based loosely on the life of former drug smuggler and C.I.A. informant, Barry Seal, who notoriously abetted the white house in exposing members of the Medellín Cartel (including Pablo Escobar) before being assassinated in 1986.

Although that sounds interesting and exactly the kind of story Hollywood covets to get its hands on, there is little if any insight into government corruption or drug trafficking, which serves as only a framework to the overall fantasy. The basic outline of American Made can be surmised as a bored husband and father (Tom Cruise), who hates the tedium of his work, is given an offer (here by Domhnall Gleeson) to infiltrate a dangerous foreign group, only to find himself face to face with one of the group’s leaders (Jorge Ochoa played by Alejandro Edda) who counteroffers with a far more lucrative proposal. Playing both sides against one another, Seal takes full advantage of his new home and wealth with his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright), until the whole operation eventually falls apart and Seal’s lifestyle, and his life, become under threat by everyone around him.

Yet as wholly generic as its plot may be, director Doug Liman adds small touches of creativity to liven up the execution. Many problems with Tom Cruise’s films stem from the actor himself showcasing his ego by being the cocky hero that made him famous. As Barry Seal, Cruise is presented as a pawn who thinks himself a king. Seal asking his wife whether she trusts him and she outright stating no is treated as a recurring gag and one which refreshingly deflates the action star when necessary. Most famous for directing The Bourne Identity and the surprisingly fun Tom Cruise vehicle, Edge of Tomorrow, Liman knows how to rely upon and restrain Cruise’s charismatic persona to enjoyably great effect.

Likewise, some scenes work really well in creating tension and suspense in areas where other screenwriters and directors might not have given much thought to. There’s something oddly engaging in watching Seal simply etch out the mathematical requirements for lifting a plane off a narrow runway beleaguered by tall trees with heavy packages of cocaine in his plane’s compartment. It allows us to see an intelligence and skill in the character that films like these often forget to include.

In its minute and nonconsequential moments, American Made feels like something more substantial than many of its comparative films, but it’s not enough elevate the material beyond a flashy by-the-numbers gangster movie. As its neat two hour runtime draws to a close, there’s little that could be regarded as memorable or unique shortly after the film’s conclusion. American Made is, at times, an exciting and humorous turn for Cruise following Universal’s disastrous remake of The Mummy, but offers nothing new to stand out as anything other than an above-average blockbuster for the end of summer.

Michael O’Sullivan

15A (See IFCO for details)

115 minutes

American Made  is released 25th August 2017

American Made – Official Website

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Review: The Dark Tower

 

DIR: Nikolaj Arcel • WRI: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, Nikolaj Arcel • PRO: Akiva Goldsman, Ron Howard, Erica Huggins • DOP: Rasmus Videbæk • ED: Alan Edward Bell, Dan Zimmerman • DES: Christopher Glass, Oliver Scholl • MUS: Junkie XL • CAST: Katheryn Winnick, Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” Ask anyone who’s read Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series what they remember most about the books, and their answer will most likely be that iconic opening line. Much like adaptations of his work, King’s novels can vary widely in quality from modern classics such as Different Seasons to the absurdly unsalvageable Tommyknockers, but perhaps none are as divisive among readers as The Dark Tower, the horror writer’s self-declared magnum opus.

Initially conceived as a blend between The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The Lord of the Rings, and Arthurian legend, the series began as a simple revenge story as basic as its first sentence suggests. The last of a group of magical knights known as gunslingers, Roland, pursues an enigmatic man in black in the hopes to avenge his fallen allies. However, over the course of many years and increasing frustration from demanding fans, King transformed The Dark Tower into a quasi-spiritual and full-blown meta-narrative whereby its characters, including a tongue-and-cheek insertion of Stephen King himself, are at the centre-point of a multidimensional universe which connects all of King’s other novels as a collective story, with its central antagonist influencing the events of those other books.

In other words, near unfilmable. Since its final volume in 2004, talks of an adaptation have been circulating around Hollywood with Ron Howard’s name in frequent attachment. Now, after what can easily be seen as a decade of development hell, The Dark Tower is finally here. And very, very flawed. Following the story of Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a supporting character from the novels, Jake is a New York kid who has repeatedly been experiencing horrible visions in his sleep since the death of his father. In them, he sees the man in black, Walter (Matthew McConaughey), using children to help demolish a tall, black tower in the centre of a wasteland. But Jake also sees a gunslinger, Roland (Idris Elba), who holds immunity to Walter’s influence, and can therefore stop him from destroying the tower. When servants to Walter try to kidnap the young boy, Jake runs to an envisioned portal connected to another world, where he meets Roland and begins his quest with the gunslinger to defend the dark tower from being destroyed.

In a commendable effort to make the story accessible to a much wider audience, The Dark Tower suffers from trying to compact over 4,000 pages into 90 minutes, making most of the story difficult to follow or fully grasp. Heavily edited by studio mandate into a clean 95-minute film, the film skips along from scene to scene, with overuse of flashbacks to fill in the expository gaps left on the cutting room floor. As a result, what occurs can be best described as what might’ve happened had Warner Bros. decided to make one Harry Potter film about all seven books.

While not having precursory knowledge of the series probably benefits those experiencing The Dark Tower with fresh eyes, fans of King might feel especially alienated throughout. Especially in its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references to other Stephen King films, which suggests a collaborative effort to incorporate the series’ meta-narrative to something more than just mere fan service. Its allusions are so minimal and obtuse to avoid paying licence fees to other studios that it can be easy to miss when other Stephen King films become part of The Dark Tower’s overarching storyline. For instance, not only do Roland and Jake fight off the creature suggestively from Stephen King’s It, but Jake possesses an important power known as “shine,” the very same psychic ability as the small boy from The Shining. This would be a nice little trivia piece for fans of Stephen King, but “shine” is so integral to the story and yet so underdeveloped that seeing Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic might be required beforehand.

What’s evident in The Dark Tower is a clear aborted attempt by Sony and Columbia Pictures to create a new cinematic universe based on nearly forty years’ worth of established films. While ambitious and faithful to King’s intent with the series, the failed execution to bring such an idea to the screen makes for an incomprehensible viewing experience. Idris Elba struggles to remain compelling as a hero, performing an understated imitation of Clint Eastwood’s ‘Man with No Name,’ while McConaughey borders on hammy over-the-top villainy which might have been fun to watch had he fully committed. With the film now released, talks of a supposed television series are in circulation and, if true, The Dark Tower serves as a messy and dull pilot for things to come.

Michael O’Sullivan

94 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

The Dark Tower is released 17th August 2017

The Dark Tower – Official Website

 

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Review: England is Mine

DIR: Mark Gill • WRI: Mark Gill, William Thacker • PRO: Baldwin Li, Orian Williams • DOP: Nicholas D. Knowland • ED: Adam Biskupski • DES: Helen Watson • MUS: Masakatsu Takagi • CAST: Jack Lowden, Jodie Comer

 

The idea of making a film about Morrissey sounds like a concept delivered a few years too late. The former frontman to The Smiths undoubtedly remains popular to this day, but enmity for the conceited popstar continually grows even among his fans. Deciding to take a page from the John Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy, and focus on Morrissey’s adolescence and pre-music career seems like the best choice for England is Mine to take, yet even this isn’t enough to make the experience an enjoyable one. While fans of Morrissey might find nuggets of appreciation for moments which allude to some of his more famous songs, those unfamiliar will undoubtedly feel alienated and frustrated with this tribute to the Manchester artist.

One of the most significant problems that England is Mine suffers from is in its narrative. Choosing to focus exclusively on Stephen Morrissey as a young teenager and his relationship to his home excludes a lot of the more interesting moments of his life and the controversies in them. The Morrissey depicted here by writer/director Mark Gill, in his feature debut, is one who feels empty and aimless in conjunction with the world around him. Unfortunately, the film adopts this sentiment as well, often without any clear indication about what the film wants to be about.

It’s an exploration of creativity and inspiration, about frustrations with bourgeois social ambitions, about depression and mental illness, dysfunctional families, and yet none of these elements are cohesive from beginning to end. An incredibly coincidental moment which occurs two thirds into the movie while Morrissey works in a hospital would be considered a traumatic and life-changing experience, but is simply glossed over here as another plot point until the final conclusion.

Secondly, and far more egregiously to the film’s detriment, is Morrissey himself. As a character study, it’s hard to think of another more obnoxious and unlikable screen presence in cinema this year. As England is Mine opens, we see a fastidious, sardonic, bitter, and imperious teenager who looks down on his best friend’s help because she works in Asda. As the film ends, this character never changes. Teen dramas often rely on themes of alienation and confusion, with the well-meaning message of “be yourself” but Gill and co-writer, William Thacker, turn this into an excuse for senselessly callous remarks to friends and family. Morrissey does not change at any point throughout the film, and his pretentions become the very reason a character like Adrian Mole exists to be made fun of.

Not helped by this is a bland imitation of Jack Lowden (Dunkirk) of the singer/songwriter in his early years. Lowden certainly adopts the look and mannerisms but remains monotone throughout, performing as Morrissey, the celebrity, more than Morrissey, the young and confused adult.  What’s left of the film is an empty and unfocussed celebration of an intolerable and immature brat’s right to be intolerable and immature.

Music biography films, such as Walk the Line, are best when they offer insight into an artist’s life for fans looking to learn more but can also work as an introduction for newcomers to songs they might never have heard. England is Mine offers neither, and as opening narration advises, is “worth avoiding.”

Michael O’Sullivan

94 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

England is Mine is released 4th August 2017

England is Mine – Official Website

 

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Review: Land of Mine


DIR/WRI: Martin Zandvliet • PRO: Malte Grunert, Mikael Chr. Rieks • DOP: Camilla Hjelm • ED: Per Sandholt, Molly Marlene Stensgaard • DES: Gitte Malling • MUS: Sune Martin • CAST: Roland MøllerLouis HofmannJoel Basman

 

It’s inarguable to suggest the current cultural climate is anything but divisive. For many people, this is an era of stark contrasts, unquestionable polarising opinions, and the ubiquitous adoption of the Us-versus-Them mentality in everything from politics to Jodie Whitaker’s casting in Doctor Who. With the controversial reception met with HBO’s new confederacy production this week, now seems like a simultaneously inappropriate and relevant moment for a film like Land of Mine to be made. Snubbed at this year’s Oscars for best foreign feature, it’s certainly not difficult to imagine the Danish film to be regarded as a Nazi sympathiser movie had it won.

Of course, Martin Zandvliet’s fourth feature film (which could easily be described as The Hurt Locker in WWII) is far more complicated narratively and thematically than simply inverting the tropes in depictions of Nazism. Set during May 1945, as the German occupation of Denmark draws to a close, a group of German boys are withheld from returning home in order to clear the minefields across the beaches of Denmark. Led morally by a young teenager named Sebastian (Louis Hofmann), the boys are supervised by a jaded and irascible Danish sergeant (Roland Møller; Atomic Blonde) who initially refuses to feed or assist the boys unless out of necessity.

It’s not difficult to imagine that the sergeant soon softens his stance with the young POWs, in a film that boils down to a tale of learning to see the humanity that lies beneath a person’s identity. Land of Mine (originally titled Under Sandet, meaning “Under the Sand”) carefully navigates its subject matter, choosing to distance its characters from association with Nazism as much as possible, except for the occasional visual cue when it’s thematically relevant. Its border between sympathy and empathy is a difficult line not to cross, particularly when Zandvliet intentionally makes the Danish army barbarous torturers in ways often reserved for the SS in war films. How willing a person is to overlook this particular complication depends on each person seeing the film, but the tension and quietly sombre mood helps elevate Land of Mine into an entertaining and brutal look into the aftermath of war.

The setting of a minefield easily lends itself into dramatically suspenseful moments, with each explosive accident feeling as startling and unpredictable as the next. Despite the unending feeling of tenterhooks during each sweeping of the mines, the cruelty and brutality enacted upon the adolescent boys is never forgotten between each scene. Whether it’s food poisoning or physical humiliations by the Danish, Zandvliet excellently spotlights the troubling atmosphere that creates a temperament where violence against others is not only considered acceptable but a normal part of everyday life.

This serious subject is made even better by its cast, particularly Roland Møller, whose ambiguous but intimidating presence easily slips between compassion and severity often within the same scene. As someone who dreads the possibility of seeing yet another war film, Land of Mine is a refreshing surprise that deserves its nomination at the Oscars simply by being humane, heartfelt, and shocking without feeling necessary to delve into the platitudes of glorifying heroics which can often bog down the genre as a whole. Its depiction of Nazism will undoubtedly be a point for discussion after viewing, but the film’s decision to delve into the morally grey areas of war serves as one of the many reasons Land of Mine exists to begin with.

Michael O’Sullivan

100 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Land of Mine is released 4th July 2017

Land of Mine– Official Website

 

 

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