FILM OF THE WEEK

UNDER THE TREE

This Icelandic gem from director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson demands attention from its opening sequence and doesn’t let go till the final credits. His perfectly crafted black comedy begins with Atli (Steinthor Hroar Steinthorsson), a frustrated married man with a small daughter caught one night by his wife watching porn on his computer. She is outraged at his audacity but then throws him out of their apartment when she realises that the man in the porn movie is no other than Atli. He has no alternative but to go back to his parents, who are have their own problems with their next door neighbours. They demand that Atli’s parents should cut down their old beautiful tree which casts a shadow on the neighbours’ patio…The beauty of this film is that the characters are so well defined that their action are utterly character driven, like in an Alan Ayckbourn play set in suburbia. It is hysterically funny and unpredictable but as the dispute escalates beyond epic proportions tragedy is not too far away.  The acting is universally strong but special mention must go to Edda Bjorgvinsdottir as Atli’s mother Inga, a woman determined to teach her neighbours a lesson at all costs. Sigurdsson’s first feature EITHER WAR was remade in the U.S as PRINCE AVALANCHE- do not miss this before the inevitable Hollywood remake!

THE DARKEST MINDS

Jennifer Yuh Nelson makes an effortless switch from directing animation features like KUNG FU PANDA 2 & 3 to this teen futuristic adventure. Following a disease that kills 98% of children and young people in the United States the adults begin to imprison the 2% remaining in fear of an uprising especially after the surviving few have developed superpowers. The action is seen through the eyes of Ruby (Amandla Stenberg), a 16- year-old girl who manages to escape from the camp…It is based on Alexandra Bracken’s novels and promises to a be a trilogy possibly in the manner of THE MAZE RUNNER and DIVIRGENT, even though it occasionally lacks tension and suspense. Stenberg makes a likable heroine and is well paired with the dashing British actor Harris Dickinson, fresh from his BEACH RATS triumph, as Liam a valuable member of the resistance.

SGT. STUBBY

Richard Lanni’s charming animation is not only very enjoyable but also informative and educational. It is based on the amazing true story of America’s most celebrated dog- an unlikely hero in the most unexpected circumstances. Army “doughboy” Robert Conroy (Logan Lerman) rescues a stray dog from the streets of New Haven, Connecticut and miraculously the stray follows him everywhere even at his army training camp. But most bizarrely the dog now named Sgt Stubby finds himself in the middle of the trenches in France during World War I and it is not too long before Sgt Stubby gets the chance to show his immense bravery and courage especially during the mustard gas attack…It is a gripping story told with simplicity and style aided by an authoritative narration from Helena Bonham Carter. The voice work is very good by Logan Lerman as the enthusiastic young man whose beloved dog saves the day on numerous occasions on the front line while Gerard Depardieu lends his voice to great effect as the affable French soldier Gaston Baptiste.

POPE FRANCIS; A MAN OF HIS WORD

It is easy to be cynical about a film on the Pope but Wim Wenders mesmerising film soon puts a stop to any such thoughts. His fascinating documentary is a deeply moving cinematic experience thanks to the dignified presence of Pope Francis. It begins with references to Saint Francis of Assisi before it creates an intimate portrait of this genuinely holy man who is always ready to share his wisdom and grace across the globe. He never shies away from any human tragedy and makes his presence felt whether it is the Syrian refuges in Lesbos or following the hurricane disaster in the Philippines. Pope Francis speaks eloquently in Spanish as well as Italian and for the first time he addresses his audience in English when he visits the American Congress where his comment about the “land of the free and home of the brave” gets a standing ovation despite the twinkle in his eye. The world especially now with all the catastrophes across the globe need more people and leaders like this most humble and dignified of men!

THE HEIRESSES

This gentle film from Uruguay tells the story of Chela and Chiquita, two middle aged women from wealthy families who have been living together for over 30 years. But now times are hard and the debts are escalating which lead to Chiquita’s imprisonment on fraud charges. Meanwhile Chela is experiencing a new lease of life when a group of elderly women hire her to drive them around the city… Director Marcelo Martinesi makes a remarkable and very assured directorial debut. He elicits tremendous performances form his cast particularly from Ana Brun as Chela, who was a worthy winner of the Best Actress Award at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year. Recommended!

HEATHERS

Michael Lehman’s imaginative cult film is as fresh as the day it was first released 30 years ago. Veronica (Winona Ryder) is desperate to escape from the high school snobby circle that surrounds her and thankfully she teams up with J.D (Christian Slater), a charming but dangerous sociopath with whom she plots to exterminate the undesirables…The daring plot is unpredictable and fun and is brought vividly to life by Lehman’s inventive direction. And the winning chemistry between Winona Ryder and Christian Slater is an utter joy- sexy, sensual and sultry! A musical version of the film is about to open in the West End but before that make sure you see this wonderful 4K restoration on the big screen where it belongs!

THE APPARITION

This is a total change of scene for Xavier Giannoli, the director of the deliciously funny MARGUERITE. Jacques (Vincent Lindon) is a dedicated war reporter who takes some time off work following his colleague’s tragic death while on duty. But a call from the Vatican brings Jacques out from semi-retirement when he is assigned to investigate the truth behind a saintly apparition in a small French village…Lindon is superb as the fragile reporter determined to solve the mystery behind the young girl’s apparent apparition but after several meetings with Anna (Galatea Beluggi) he begins to have his own doubts and different theories about the events. Giannoli’s intriguing film begins as a religious drama before it develops into a compelling investigative thriller, very much worth witnessing!

DAMASCUS COVER

This spy thriller by Daniel Zelik Berk begins in Berlin in November 1989 at the time when the wall came crashing down and proved to the world that anything was possible. Then the action moves to Jerusalem before as the title suggests concludes in Damascus. Ari Ben Zion (Jonathan Rhys Meyer) is an Israeli spy working undercover as a German and assigned to smuggle a chemical weapon scientist from Syria…The premise is strong despite the feeling of déjà vu but its stilted dialogue and lack of pace make this a very average experience it is also sad to see John Hurt being rather wasted in his final role as a Mossad agent. Rhys Mayer has his moments but is not entirely persuasive as the undercover agent. However, he is well supported by Olivia Thrilby, who plays Kim, an American photographer also caught up in these double crossing circumstances. A mixed bag!

George Savvides

 

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