Monday, 16 April 2012

Review Round-Up: 'Cabin in the Woods', 'Once Upon a Time in Anatolia' and more...

I'm off on holiday to Rome for a week so I don't have time to write up full reviews for the last few films I've seen - which is a pity because a couple of them were fantastic and all of them were enjoyable. With that in mind, here is a short round-up of some recent releases:

'Cabin in the Woods', cert '15'
Completed in 2009 but not released until this month due to the bankruptcy of MGM, 'Cabin in the Woods' is an incredibly funny and whip-smart take on the horror genre from producer/co-writer Joss Whedon and writer/director Drew Goddard. It's got the splatter horror humour of 'Evil Dead' and is similar to 'Scream' in that it deconstructs the slasher genre and subverts its tropes. But unlike 'Scream' it does this without ultimately becoming just another slasher movie: it goes much further than that, delving into what makes such movies work and questioning why they satisfy audiences in the first place. It grapples with such concepts as audience complicity in movie violence and the way young people are portrayed in American movies, as well as being hilariously funny, incredibly gory and full of imagination. When it all kicks off in the final third, I can promise you there is nothing quite like it.

Aside from Chris Hemsworth, who has since become the star of 'Thor', the cast is mainly comprised of familiar faces from Whedon's TV work, the best of whom is 'Dollhouse' supporting cast member Fran Kranz. Kranz steals the show absolutely and owns most of the script's most inspired lines of dialogue. Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins are also excellent, though to explain their roles in any depth would constitute a spoiler. I don't usually care about those (being a "journey not the destination" type of guy) but 'Cabin in the Woods' is most certainly a film you don't want spoiled. One of the year's best so far, which is unusual for a film that's been on a shelf for three years.

'Once Upon a Time in Anatolia', cert '15'
An honest-to-gods masterpiece, this Turkish drama from Nuri Bilge Ceylan has a lot in common with the almost equally excellent 2009 Romanian film 'Police, Adjective'. Both share the same fascination with the banal side of police work not usually explored in cinema, as ordinary cops perform quite boring duties. Both films have patience in common, allowing us to observe these men at work without any embellishment. But whilst the Romanian movie explored whether the semantic definition of law should hold more weight than our own understanding of morality, this feature ponders how such men can maintain their humanity when forced so often to encounter acts of barbarism.

Most of the film takes place over one night as regional police escort a murder suspect around the countryside in the hope that he will reveal the location of his victim's body. That's about it as far as the plot is concerned. There is an increasingly frustrated local police captain who loses his temper with the uncooperative prisoner, a doctor brought along to identify the cause of death and a prosecutor who is charged with gathering all the evidence and shaping the official report of the night's events. The men trade stories and exchange views on humanity, marriage and culture, but there is little "action" in the traditional sense. Yet it never comes close to being boring, thanks to well observed dialogue, interesting characters and some of the most scintillating photography I've ever seen: both of the Turkish countryside and of the human face in extreme close-up. A miraculous movie and spellbinding experience.

'Headhunters', cert '15'
From the production company behind the 'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' adaptations, this Norwegian screen version of the Jo Nesbo thriller is more glossy than its Swedish counterparts and better paced. It's also as mad as a bag of hammers, with a plot that turns on the hero's decision not to recommend a Dutch former CEO for a top corporate job in Oslo. The Dutchman, as luck would have it a former commando specialising in tracking elusive targets, takes this very badly indeed and decides to pursue Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) across the country with the aim of killing him. He kills lots of other people along the way too. Oh, and Roger Brown in an international art thief in addition to Norway's most respected corporate headhunter, though this never really comes to anything.

It's completely implausible from start to finish and possibly one of the most violent films I've seen this year, though it moves at a fair clip and seems to understand its place in the world. I can't honestly say I liked it, but I enjoyed watching it far more than I did the Swedish 'Dragon Tattoo' movies and it certainly feels more cinematic than that trilogy.

'Le Havre', cert 'PG'
Incredibly slight, this affable French comedy from Finnish aueteur Aki Kaurismäki concerns an ageing bohemian (André Wilms) who lives a simple life in the port town, tending to his sickly wife and owing money to the local shopkeepers. The community depicted here are reminiscent of the sort of oddballs who populate Jeunet comedies, though the sense of humour is less wacky and more deadpan. It feels old fashioned and contrived, in a very sweet way, though the film's politics are far from conservative. Instead the film deals with the issue of France's refugee internment camps and revolves around the decision of the local community to shelter a young African boy who is on the run from immigration.

Considering how big an issue immigration is in French politics currently, 'Le Havre' is a bold film which posits sympathy for immigrants as a very French way to behave - as the community band together against forces who would see the boy imprisoned and prevented from reaching his mother in London. That it treats this divisive subject matter with such a deceptive simplicity and lightness of touch, within a heart-warming and congenial comedy, is worthy of applause. A compassionate and humanitarian film without bad guys.

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