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The Team (Arrow Films)

April 24, 2017 Film, Reviews Comments Off on The Team (Arrow Films)

The Team is released on Blu-Ray and DVD on Monday 17th April

I approached this series with a little trepidation, given that I’ve seen a few cross-European co-productions that, even though made with the best of intentions and a highly skilled cast and crew, have ended up as “Europuddings”.
Melding a number of different nationalities’ police forces into a portrayal of a coherent international crime fighting force has proved too much for a number of series. But then along comes a notable exception like The Bridge that blows these theories away. So into which camp does The Team fall?
I’m delighted to say that this turns out to be a cracking thriller. There’s still the odd occasion where the dialog, and the delivery, lets it down at times when the lead characters have to resort to English as a common language to communicate and it gets a bit stilted. But this is really a minor quibble.
The premise for the Team is that it is set up by Europol to investigate the identical murders of three prostitutes – one in Berlin, one in Copenhagen and one in Antwerp. Under the lead of Harald Bjorn (Lars Mikkelsen) this Joint Investigation Team recruits Jackie Mueller (Jasmin Gerat) from Berlin and Alicia Verbeek (Veerle Baetens) from Belgium. Working together, they unravel the threads of a criminal organisation involved in human trafficking on a massive scale.
As the labyrinthine plot moves from the Austrian Alps to Copenhagen, and various points in between, the impressive cinematography gives a real sense of the locales, a factor that helps to underpin the pan-European nature of the story that moves from dodgy Lithuanian businessmen to corrupt Belgian officials.
The relationships between the three investigators is well handled, Bjorn and Mueller have “previous” (one of her children may be his) and all have the complicated home lives that pretty much every tv detective is burdened with. There are a number of issues left unresolved at the end – personal ones, not loose ends from the case – presumably to be dealt with in a second series, should there be one. But this does not detract from what is a first class thriller, ideal for a “binge” watch.

Jim Welsh

Follow the Money Season 2

April 10, 2017 Film, Reviews Comments Off on Follow the Money Season 2

Does Season 2 of the financial thriller match the first series?

Follow the Money came to BBC4 with an excellent pedigree, coming as it does from the producers of The Killing and Borgen. Tough acts to follow, but Season 1 turned out to be yet another hit from this stable.
Setting a thriller in the boardrooms of financial institutions might not on the face of it seem like the ideal subject for gripping a Saturday night audience, but skilful scriptwriting, taut direction and a fine ensemble cast combined to make this one of the best of the Nordic imports.
And has the second season surpassed the first? Indeed it has, I’m delighted to say. Set 18 months on from the first, as Claudia (Natalie Madueno) is released on parole after serving time for her part in the Energreen scandal (if you haven’t seen season 1, I’d advise you to grab both box sets, pour yourself a drink, and settle down to watch the lot), the story finds Fraud Squad investigator Mads (Thomas Bo Larsen) and his colleague Alf (Thomas Hwan) once more attempting to bring to justice the men whose financial machinations have made them wealthy at the expense of others.
A minor investigation into the bankrupting of a small business leads them to suspect that this is the tip of the iceberg, and their pursuit of this runs parallel to Claudia’s efforts to re-establish her career by attempting to save one small banking institution from the attentions of a much larger operation.
The masterminds behind this latest scheme are as ruthless as previously, but their use of the Swedish hitman to eliminate troublesome opposition stumbles when the Swede’s health problems worsen, leading him to recruit garage owner and small-time criminal Nicky (Esben Smed Jensen). Nicky’s moral compass – or lack of one – is a key element of the series: how far is he willing to go? With a wife and small child and the garage he owns with his hapless mate Bimse (Lucas Hansen), he perhaps has more ties than is suitable for a killer for hire.
The well-rounded nature of the central participants is one of the things that makes FtM a cut above average; the headstrong Mads paired with affable Alf (surely the most amiable detective in television history), the uncertainty of whether Claudia’s need for revenge will lead her to disregard all other factors…it is not my place to reveal the end here, but I can unreservedly say that the series has deserved the awards it has received.
I believe there is to be a third and final season, and I’m looking forward to it already.
Jim Welsh
FOLLOW THE MONEY SEASON 2 is released on DVD on Monday 10th April by Nordic Noir & Beyond

Apple Tree Yard

February 20, 2017 Film, Reviews Comments Off on Apple Tree Yard

Powerful BBC production comes to DVD and Blu-Ray

Not having seen this when shown on BBC as a 4 part mini-series, I came to this release fresh, and watched it over two successive evenings. And a powerful, indeed quite emotionally draining, piece of work it is.
Eminent geneticist Yvonne Carmichael (Emily Watson) is married with grown up children. Successful both in her home life and her career, she – like so many people past the first flush of youth – suffers from the feeling that she is becoming increasingly invisible to those around her. So when a charismatic stranger (Ben Chaplin) flirts with her, she embarks on an affair. So far, so ordinary.
But this affair is to change Yvonne’s life forever and lead her to the dock in the Crown Court. The story turns on trust; how much trust we put into our relationships and how much others trust us. How well do we really know those in whom we place this trust? And how much damage can one chance remark cause, when said to the wrong person at the wrong time and place?
A powerful contrast is made to great effect between the enthusiastic, and often al fresco, sex that brings a sparkle into Yvonne’s life, and the brutal rape by a colleague that points up the fact that rape is a hate crime, motivated by a desire for power over the victim rather than a desire for sex.
It is not for me to give away any secrets here, this is a well-written adaptation by Amanda Coe of Louise Doughty’s novel with an exemplary ensemble cast and deserves to be watched start to finish as the turns of the script are gradually revealed.
Jim Welsh
APPLE TREE YARD is released on DVD & Blu-ray Box Sets on Monday 20th February by Arrow Films.

Prevenge

February 5, 2017 Film, Reviews Comments Off on Prevenge

Markus previews a very black comedy

Tell me, how do you like your dark comedies? If it’s it as black as a cup of coffee in a moonless sky at midnight, then “Prevenge” will probably tickle your fancy. Alice Lowe who wrote, directed and starred in this film has made quite the career with the blackly comic, be it up to maudlin mischief in the “Horrible Histories” series or starring in Ben Wheatley’s “The Sightseers”. It’s almost as if that’s all been homework for her current project. The tale invokes the feel of those revenge flicks from the seventies. You know the ones starring mainly Charles Bronson. Except if that were the case here, Charles Bronson would be heavily pregnant! Yes, Lowe wrote and directed this all whilst she was with child!

And it certainly adds an eerie dimension given the movie’s subject matter. The nature of the film is quite simple, as we follow Lowe’s character Ruth on her path for vengeance, but is she necessarily the driving force behind these murders? Or is it perhaps the little voice that’s been growing within her womb over these past months that’s enabling her as an instrument of retribution!

What I like about Lowe’s direction, is the fact that she slowly lures you in, only giving the viewer little breadcrumbs of information where it’s needed. It certainly kept me on my toes and left me wondering as to what was going to happen next. Another touch I liked was the disguises Ruth would use to lure her victims into a false sense of security. They weren’t avant-garde in anyway. It could be as simple as her putting up her hair or the way she applied her make up differently. Subtle little things that allowed her to hide in plain sight. In someone else’s hands it could have been very easily overdone and that could also apply to the very film itself. My only real misgiving was the fact that with such a slew of linked murders, the cops should be more quickly on her tail. But because the film is so well crafted, you do tend to just go with it and Ruth’s mission. So it’s truly a sick and twisted tour de force from Miss Lowe, as one minute you’re splitting yourself laughing and the next you’re cringing in your seat. I’ll admit it’s not one for the faint of heart but I encourage you to be brave, as you’d be missing out on one of the most inventive films that I’ve seen in ages.

Markus Helbig

Indochine

January 4, 2017 Film, Reviews Comments Off on Indochine

Newly Restored 4k version on DVD and Blu-Ray

“It will run for 3 hours, it will cost 120 million francs and I want the Oscar”.
No messing about then – the producers set out to make Indochine an epic. To be, perhaps, France’s Gone with the Wind. And in some respects they succeeded in realising their ambitions. It runs for over two and a half hours, it cost 100 million francs and it did take the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, in addition to which Catherine Deneuve was also nominated.
On its release in 1992, Indochine was one of the most sumptuously beautiful films it has ever been my pleasure to see, and in this meticulous frame-by-frame 4k restoration it is an even more ravishing feast for the eyes. A standing ovation is due to all who participated in the preparation of this new version.
However, while it is even more of a visual delight, there is little that can be done to rectify the fault that prevents this from becoming one of the truly great films to come out of France. A fault that lies with the story itself. What should be an incisive look at the end of European rule of far flung colonies loses narrative power when placed second to the somewhat “soapy” screenplay that concentrates on personal lives and loves as a parallel to the political situation.
This, and the fact that even with this running time the film cannot possibly take a cohesive look at the time period it covers – almost 25 years from the early 1930s to 1954 and the independence of what would become Vietnam – means that we are left thinking that this visually arresting banquet is ultimately a little unsatisfying.
But I find it hard to carp when there is so much to admire. Director Regis Wargnier brings out the best in his cast; Catherine Deneuve is regal as Eliane, running her father’s rubber plantation and bringing up her adopted daughter Camille (Linh Dan Pham). When Camille falls in love with French naval officer Jean-Baptiste (Vincent Perez) who had previously been Eliane’s lover, Eliane contrives to have him posted to a remote outpost. When Camille runs away to find him, it’s the catalyst for the downfall of both family and France. Camille’s politicization drives the narrative to its conclusion – a conclusion seen by some at the time as an anticlimax, but perhaps in retrospect the only viable ending.
In conclusion, I can only say that on the strength of the cinematography alone, this is a film that thoroughly deserves this restoration.
And should you buy the DVD or Blu-Ray, there is included a brand new documentary about the making of the film that gives insight into the historical context and includes interviews with most of the main participants.
Jim Welsh

The Man Who Fell to Earth

October 30, 2016 Film, Reviews Comments Off on The Man Who Fell to Earth

Brand new restoration of the classic sci-fi movie

The 40th anniversary of Nicolas Roeg’s science fiction classic is celebrated with a brand new 4K restoration, released this week in a special collectors’ edition.
And this is special, for in addition to the bonus disc of extras such as interviews with Roeg, Candy Clark, Producer Michael Deeley and others, there’s a remastered cd of John Phillips’ music for the film, with a couple of tracks that do not appear on the soundtrack. What more could you want? Well, in my case, that’ll do nicely, thank you.
To the film itself, and the restoration by Deluxe London. Cinematographer Tony Richardson has been closely involved in the work, and if it is down to his advice and assistance that this is the end result, then full credit to him – this is as good as you might hope for. Looking at the film today, it seems preposterous to think that it is 40 years old.
In case the original was before your time, David Bowie stars as Thomas Jerome Newton, the assumed name of an alien who has arrived on Earth from a home planet which is dying from a lack of water. By patenting his advanced technology, he amasses incredible wealth that he intends to use to finance the construction of a ship to take water back to his people. But life, love, alcohol and government forces conspire to prevent him achieving his objective.
Walter Tevis’ 1963 novel on which the film is based may well have been a parable of the Cold War of the ‘50s, but it stood up well in 1976, and still does so today. With its themes of alienation, displacement and distrust of immigrants, as well as containing a powerful message on the detrimental effects of alcoholism, it could have been made this year. It would seem that humanity has made little progress in the intervening years. But, as Newton says resignedly “we would probably have done the same if you’d come over to our place”.
I’m delighted to find that a film that became one of my all-time favourites on its release is still on that list 40 years on.
Jim Welsh

The Lion in Winter

October 23, 2016 Film, Reviews Comments Off on The Lion in Winter

Newly restored version gets DVD/Blu-Ray release

This week sees the release of the newly restored version of historical drama The Lion in Winter. A triple Oscar winner – Katherine Hepburn (Best Actress) James Goldman (Best Adapted Screenplay) and John Barry (Best Score) on its release back in 1968, it has weathered the intervening years remarkably well.
Helped by an impeccable restoration job, this latest addition to StudioCanal’s Vintage Classic Collection comes over almost as fresh as the day it was made.
Set in 12th Century England and France, King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Hepburn), faced with the decision of which of three sons should succeed Henry to the throne, scheme, betray and double-deal as each attempts to set their favourite on the throne.
From a personal point of view, I find it curious that the thing I least liked about this film on its release – the theatricality of the production, which for much of the time resembles a filmed theatre performance where the cast are more inclined to declaim speeches than attempt any form of “natural” speech – is one of the main reasons it has not dated; should you see the play itself today, chances are it would vary little in any aspect from what you have here, other than the few outdoor scenes.
The theatrical origins are also carried into the film by the cast, some of Britain’s finest stage players feature here. In addition to John Castle (with whom there is an excellent interview among the “extras”) there are big-screen debuts for Anthony Hopkins (Richard) and Timothy Dalton (Phillipe of France).
While it never was one of my favourite films, it must be said that it has to feature on the “must-see” list for anyone with an interest in British film, so praise is due to all those involved in this restoration.
Jim Welsh

Kubo and the Two Strings

October 5, 2016 Film, Reviews Comments Off on Kubo and the Two Strings

Markus has an animated afternoon at the movies

It’s not often you see a stop-motion animation film at the cinema these days, and for me they tend to be a bit of a treat when they do turn up. I’ll admit that it’s a rather under-represented artform and that this isn’t a pure one. By that I mean that the creators Laika, who have produced such previously similar fare as “CORALINE” and “PARANORMAN”, use a bit of CGI within this. But fear not dear purists… imagine this film as a rich, hearty and satisfying stew. Where the stop-motion effects are the meat, potatoes and vegetables of it, and the CGI is the stock and spices used minimally but just enough to enhance everything and to allow all those flavours to blend seamlessly together. And that’s what this film is: seamless. Certainly in technique if not in tale.

The story is set around the Edo period of Japan. A time of noble samurai and mischievous yokai. It concerns a talented boy called Kubo (Art Parkinson), who is able to create animated origami through music and much to the villagers’ delight, act out the characters in his epic story telling sessions. These tales are all based on his dead father Hanko’s exploits, as told by his near catatonic mother at times when she’s most lucid.

But it’s not long before the narrator soon becomes the adventurer himself, assisted on his quest by his own motley crew of companions. Be it the strict but maternal Monkey (Charlize Theron), or even two rather unusual samurai: Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) and the origami version of Hanko. Beetle is literally a giant anthropomorphic bug! Who knows where insect starts and man begins, but he merges perfectly well within his scalloped armour. It’s a shame the same can’t be said of his memory! And origami Hanko (the avatar of his father’s spirit) although silent, is indeed stalwart.

Marc Haimes and Chris Butler’s script truly embraces the creed of true folklore, be it the repetition of certain key phrases and conundrums hiding in plain sight, but also in the fact that it’s not afraid to take risks and stick with them. It’s true that magic is flying about all over the place in this movie, however there does seem to be a code to it and that makes it very powerful but also equally damning at the same time.

I’ll admit it takes a little while to get going, and in the beginning some of the back and forth between characters can come off a little awkward at times too. But as the film proceeds, there is kind of a reason for it and I thought this was actually well handled by Travis Knight in his role as director. The protagonists, just like the animation and the script itself, all have a wonderful amount of levels and layers to them that give this film a true texture. Much akin to that stew I mentioned at the start of this review. So it’d be quite remiss of you not to treat yourselves to this grand feast for the eyes, ears and soul.

Markus Helbig

Highlander (15)

July 21, 2016 Film, Reviews Comments Off on Highlander (15)

Special 30th Anniversary 4K Restoration of cult movie

Highlander (15) (DVD and BLU-RAY)
It’s hard to believe it has been 30 years since the release of the original Highlander movie – a film that became a cult classic, and led to several sequels and a television series. But 30 years it is, and – with the approval of Director Russell Mulcahy – Deluxe London have produced a restoration in 4K to celebrate the anniversary.
Edinburgh International Film Festival hosted the World Premiere gala performance of this restored version, with Clancy Brown (The Kurgan) in attendance and StudioCanal have now issued it on DVD and BLU-RAY.
So, is it worthy of all this attention? Surely it was just another half-baked swords and sorcery epic with wooden acting and big hair that should lie forgotten on a shelf somewhere? Don’t kid yourselves brothers and sisters – this is a film that is probably even more popular now than it was when it was released.
For it wasn’t an immediate success when released, perhaps more due to the studio not knowing how to promote it than anything else. But times were different then, films didn’t go straight to DVD if they didn’t take their production costs in their opening weekend.
And Mulcahy’s vision was given a chance to make an impact, which, given a couple of attractive leads in Christopher Lambert and Roxanne Hart and a major role for Sean Connery (leaving aside the curious casting of a Frenchman as a Scot, and a Scotsman as a Spanish/Egyptian) plus a great soundtrack from Queen, should have always been on the cards.
OK, the basic premise of the story can easily be dismissed as out and out silly, especially as there was no back story to give any sort of credence to the existence of immortals – they just are, they’ve been there for thousands of years, waging war on one another, it’s just that no-one’s noticed until now. And now (1985) those who remain meet in New York to fight until the last man standing – and they are all men, no girls allowed in those days – can claim The Prize. “There Can Be Only One” and as immortals can only be killed by decapitation, there’s no sitting around waiting for the others to crumble to dust before you. Just as well really, that wouldn’t have made for much of a movie…
We see Connor MacLeod (Lambert) through the centuries in flashback, culminating in his final battle with The Kurgan (Brown) while trying to evade the clutches of the NYPD who are fairly sure he has had a lot to do with the decapitated bodies they’ve found. But he still finds time for cute pathologist Brenda Wyatt (Hart) among the mayhem.
Whatever the script might lack in logic, this is still a vibrant film with exciting battle scenes, and special effects that while they may seem dated to today’s viewer, are all the more impressive for the ingenuity of their construction and a lot more convincing for the lack of CGI.
Welcome back Highlander – maybe you are immortal after all.
Jim Welsh

Room (15)

May 9, 2016 Film, Reviews Comments Off on Room (15)

Lenny Abrahamson’s uplifting drama out now on DVD and Blu-Ray

Room (15) Dir Lenny Abrahamson
Brie Larson (Joy “Ma” Newsome) Jacob Tremblay (Jack)
Screenplay Emma Donoghue from her book of the same name
Five year old Jack lives with his Ma. Not an unusual situation, except that in this case they live in a shed in the garden of the man who abducted Joy – Jack’s Ma – seven years before. This is Room, and the only world Jack has ever known, his only glimpse of outside is the light that comes from the skylight.
They survive on the rations brought to them by their captor “Old Nick” in return for Joy’s acquiescing to his sexual demands. Joy shuts her son in the wardrobe to prevent him witnessing this, but as the boy turns five, starts to wonder what will happen to him when he grows too big for his hiding place, and looks to find a way for the boy at least to escape.
Telling the story largely from Jack’s point of view, his largely uncomprehending innocence serves to underline the mundanity of evil – their jailer complains of losing his job and wonders how they will make ends meet. And this emphasises the point that this type of behaviour is carried out, not by monsters who are so different, but by people who appear as ordinary as the next man. And “Old Nick” is no master criminal but a no-account loser, unemployed and unable to form a relationship with a woman, he is further reduced by his actions, and by the mid-point of the story the captives have been released and he is under arrest.
Ultimately he becomes of little relevance as the second half of the film deals with Jack’s adjustment, and Joy’s readjustment, to the outside world. Difficult enough if you have been buried away for seven years, but almost incomprehensible if it is a world you have never seen before.
Abrahamson’s sensitive direction creates a heartbreaking, and yet somehow joyous film that was rightly nominated for a host of awards. Brie Larson richly deserved her Best Actress Academy Award, BAFTA and Golden Globe and the performance of Jacob Tremblay is beyond astonishing as five year old Jack. He convinces to the point where he does not seem to be acting at all, and to have a child actor on screen for almost the entirety of the film without becoming either irritating or overly sentimental is a tribute to all concerned. Mention too for Joan Allen as Jack’s grandma, who strikes exactly the right note as she tries to support daughter and grandson in their attempts to cope with the world.
I’m glad to have seen this film; I gave it a miss in the cinema for a reason I won’t mention here, but should you meet me in the pub some night, it’s a tale to tell you over a pint.
Jim Welsh