Film Review: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Jacques Demy’s classic musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is just as enchanting fifty-five years after its original release. 

Geneviève is in love with Guy, a young car mechanic. When he is drafted to serve in the Algerian War, Geneviève and Guy each take a different path…

Originally released in 1964, Jacques Demy’s sung-through musical gets a rare re-release as part of the BFI Musicals season. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg focuses on the poignancy of first love, with its bittersweet romance. Told in three chapters, the film is about the blossoming romance between Geneviève and Guy, and the path each takes when life gets in the way. The story unfolds in an engaging manner, allowing viewers to empathise with the two protagonists as the narrative takes its turns. 

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg sets up an initial friction between the passion of first love and the practicalities of living. Yet it is more nuanced than this, offering characters who make thoughtful choices. The sting that both Geneviève and Guy experience at different times is palpable. Demy successfully captures the range of emotions, translating them perfectly to his audience. 

Music in the film, by Michel Legrand, is wonderful. There are some very memorable sequences and pieces. The use of colour is also striking. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg harks back to the technicolour of the 1950s. The costumes and styling really help to set the era. The 2013 restoration is fantastic; images in the film are wonderfully vibrant. Catherine Deneuve is great in this early role. She really embodies the part of Geneviève. Nino Castelnuovo is also great, as is Anne Vernon. 

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a must-see for fans of the musical genre, and will prove very rewarding for even casual viewers. Demy’s film is an essential musical. 

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg will be released at BFI Southbank and cinemas UK-wide on 6th December 2019.

Film Review: The Nightingale

Jennifer Kent’s sophomore film The Nightingale is brutal and engrossing. The film is a wonderful showcase for Kent’s conferrable talents.

In 1825, Irish convict Clare suffers a traumatic experience. As she seeks revenge, Clare enlists the help of Billy, an Aboriginal tracker, to guide her through the Tasmanian wilderness…

After the success of 2014’s The Babadook, writer-director Jennifer Kent’s second feature has been eagerly awaited. The Nightingale does not disappoint in its scale and its scope. The film is a trial by fire, delivering a multifaceted retribution tale. 

From the very beginning, the tone of The Nightingale is unsettling. Things quickly get worse, setting up the revenge narrative. Kent ably maintains a sense of tension throughout. The mission is fraught with danger and horror. Nevertheless there is a building of hope to punctuate the bleakness. 

Kent does not shy away from the visceral with The Nightingale. Some of the sequences are incredibly brutal, making them very difficult to watch. The filmmaker forces her viewers to confront evil; it is uncomfortable but not exploitative. Like The Babadook, the film is preoccupied with grief. Here, the anguish is spread out. There is of course the grief of protagonist Clare dealing with a profound and immediate loss. Billy himself deals with the loss of family, but also the loss of a country. Kent places the theft of Australia at the centre of the film, never shying away from the loss and the torment of Aboriginal people. It is of course a wider critique of empire, yet very much a film about Australia. 

The narrative progresses well, with the threat of peril always looming. Sound design in the film is most effective. Kent’s direction places viewers with the protagonists in an intimate and intense manner. Performances are great all round, with Aisling Franciosi delivering an impressive turn. Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman and Sam Claflin are also solid. 

The Nightingale is an unremitting and unforgiving film, yet it is also very powerful viewing. Jennifer Kent is clearly a filmmaker to watch.

Film Review: Running with the Devil

Jason Cabell’s solo directorial debut Running with the Devil is refreshing in its commitment to harsh realities over cheap thrills, for the most part. Unfortunately this doesn’t make the film particularly memorable. 

The head of a drug cartel sends two of his trusted assistants to investigate why a batch of cocaine went missing on its way from Mexico to Canada. The pair need to go through the chain to identify the problem…

An early shot of Running with the Devil is reminiscent of the very famous tracking shot from Goodfellas. Writer-director Jason Cabell uses this to set up a sharp contrast between the glamour of recreational drug use, and the brutality of the growing and supply industry. 

This contrast returns time and time again in Cabell’s film. The Colombian family existence is a world away from The Cook’s comfortable lifestyle. The narrative begins to pick up pace at around twenty minutes in. The film is sufficiently engaging, although it is relatively silly situation which propels the story.  

Given the nature of the film, Running with the Devil is not as tense as it could be. There are some heightened moments, but the film is a little flat for a thriller. The tracking of the cocaine and its steadily increasing price is a good device to emphasise the length and danger of the journey. The complete lack of character names is an odd stylistic decision. 

The use of dialogue is restrained; exposition is takes prominence in practically every conversation. There is not a lot of character building in the film, which is fine for the purposes of the story, but does not help with the generating of tension. A few key moments lack the gravitas they should have had. Cabell may have felt he needed a wild ending, but the twist  is unearned and rather disappointing. 

Performances in Running with the Devil are perfectly fine. None of the cast members really excel. Nicolas Cage is more restrained than normal, Leslie Bibb and Laurence Fishburne are not stretched by the film. The score tries its best to add tension, but is sometimes intrusive. The editing is abrupt on occasion. 

Running with the Devil is a case of execution not quite matching ambition. 

Running with the Devil will be available on Digital Download from 4th November 2019, and can be pre-ordered here

Film Review: Angel Heart

Alan Parker’s neo-noir thriller Angel Heart is rightly considered a classic. Parker’s nightmarish vision is just as indelible over thirty years later.

Private investigator Harry Angel is hired by a man to track down a singer who owes him a debt from years ago. Angel starts tracking down leads, before the investigation takes a dark turn…

Angel Heart’s noir premise is straightforward enough; a private detective on a case to track down an individual. Nothing is as simple as it seems however, as the case leads him to travel far and wide to chase down any viable lead. Viewers suspicions are raised from the beginning, with his mysterious client. The picture features a film noir set up, which gets increasingly darker as narrative progresses. 

Set in 1955, Angel Heart has hallmarks of a noir mystery. The dialogue is very much in keeping with the genre. Angel’s exchange with Dr Fowler feels like it is could be straight out of a classic-era noir. There some great lines and turns of phrase used in the film. Based on William Hjortsberg’s novel Falling Angel, writer-director Alan Parker’s screenplay keeps the audience hooked with its well-developed turns. Parker imbues the film with a sense of mystery that only increases as the story advances. 

The setting of the film envelopes viewers. There is an otherworldly atmosphere that permeates Angel Heart. The hidden underside of the big city feels like it is brimming to the surface more and more as the narrative progresses. Attention to detail in the film is great: the styling of Cyphre, Angel’s dishevelled look, the 1955 period aspects such as the identity cards. Production design is noteworthy, with some distinctive looks such as Margaret’s salon. 

Sound works very effectively to build tension. The pulsating heartbeat is a good effect, whilst the sudden cessation of sound is startling in the film’s climax. Grisly images add to the sense of horror, with the shock of the first body conveyed with a gory close up. Close ups and reactions shots are used efficiently throughout the film. The rapid cutting of the voodoo artefacts is a successful conveyance of descent into horror. Furthermore, the cross-cutting between Angel discovering the body and the tap-dancing outside really amps up the horror. A long shot of the beach conversation is striking. The use of light and shadow very atmospheric in key sequences. 

Casting in Angel Heart is great overall, but particularly with lead Mickey Rourke as Angel. Rourke delivers a strong central performance, inhabiting the role of the jaded investigator. Robert De Niro is as believable as ever as Cyphre. His delivery really helps to heighten the character. Meanwhile, Lisa Bonet is memorable as Epiphany. 

With its horror crescendo of a conclusion, Angel Heart truly is a fantastic noir mystery. The film is atmospheric, curious, and engrossing. 

The Alan Parker approved 4K restoration of Angel Heart is released on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital on 14th October 2019.

Film Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Director Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters is something of a po-faced monster movie. The emphasis on the human characters weighs the film down.

It has been five years since Godzilla attacked, and the monster has not been seen since. Agency Monarch has to fight against a series of monsters, as the monsters battle each other…

Director and co-writer Michael Dougherty (with co-writers Zach Shields) brings the monsters together with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a follow up to 2014’s Godzilla. The opening ten minutes is an exciting introduction to the film, succinctly introducing the narrative set up. After this, the film settles into a standard pattern for an action blockbuster, with several scenes there to provide exposition on the monsters and current state of affairs, interspersed with big action set pieces.

There are a few good thrills, where Dougherty plays up horror aspect of the monster movie. The additional monsters are introduced quite quickly; it feels like a rush to pit the monsters against each other. Viewers do not get to have a full appreciation of these new monsters.

The script is rather lacklustre. The dialogue is exposition heavy, and lacks any particular character. The explanation of Dr Russell’s actions, which occurs about a third of the way through the film, is bizarre in its need to illustrate the rather basic things she mentions with images. The film does not really earn its moments of gravitas, as the characters are not fleshed out in any meaningful way. The frequent cuts to the human activity during the big fight sequences exposes Godzilla: King of the Monsters‘ flaws.

The moving camera does help to infuse the film with a sense of urgency. The CGI effects are not particularly seamless. In some of the scenes, there is simply a whirlwind of CGI and bright lights, which is not particularly exciting to watch. The real star of the film is the sound. The sound effects for the monsters, in particular, are most impressive. The film boasts a good cast including Ken Watanabe, Vera Farmiga, and Kyle Chandler. The script does not give them much to work with unfortunately.

Given the high-concept premise, Godzilla: King of the Monsters should have been a lot more fun.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is available on DVD, Blu-ray™, 3D Blu-ray™ and 4K Ultra HD from 14th October 2019.

LFF 2019 Highlights Part 2

With the 63rd BFI London Film Festival drawing to a close tonight, there have been a lot of wonderful movies this year. The best films of the first week can be viewed here. Below are the LFF 2019 highlights from the second week…

LFF 2019 Highlights – Unmissable

The Irishman

In a career positively littered with jewels, Martin Scorsese manages to surpass expectations once more. The film is a magnificent gem. The Irishman is an introspective study, with Scorsese pulling no punches where it counts. READ MORE

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

Midge Costin’s documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound is as immersive as its subject matter. Midge Costin’s documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound is as immersive as its subject matter. READ MORE

Judy & Punch

Mirrah Foulkes’ Judy & Punch is an impressive fairy tale. Boasting a distinctive atmosphere and strong performances, the film is an engrossing watch. Foulkes has delivered an original, creative, and compelling debut with Judy & PunchREAD MORE

LFF 2019 Highlights – Best of the Rest

Knives Out

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s murder mystery Knives Out is tremendous fun. The star cast are on great form in this very entertaining film. With Knives Out, Johnson plants several red herrings, offers up twists, and delivers a hugely enjoyable film. READ MORE

Waves

Trey Edward Shults’ Waves is tender, powerful, and finely executed. There are several emotional moments, and each of these is earned by the solid script, good character development, and the filmmaker’s considered direction. READ MORE

Family Romance LLC

Werner Herzog’s documentary style drama Family Romance LLC depicts a bizarre but fascinating phenomenon. The film is both amusing and disquieting. Herzog once again shows his flair for capturing the various shades of humanity. READ MORE

Sid & Judy

On the fiftieth anniversary of Judy Garland’s death, director Stephen Kijak has created a timely and engrossing documentary with Sid & Judy. The film effectively conveys Garland’s magnetism, and does not shy away from depicting the star’s personal struggles. A very entertaining documentary. READ MORE

Deerskin

Another one of LFF 2019 highlights is Deerskin. Writer-director Quentin Dupieux’s Deerskin (Le Daim) is absurd and entertaining. The film is a real treat. The film marries creativity and accessibility in an amusing package. READ MORE

The BFI London Film Festival ran from 2nd-13th October 2019.

Film Review: Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs

Edmunds Jansons’ Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs is an amiable animated adventure with a strong message at its core.

When his father goes on a business trip, Jacob goes to stay in the Riga suburb of Maskachka with his cousin Mimmi. When the local park is earmarked as the site of a new skyscraper, Jacob and Mimmi enlist the help of a pack of talking dogs to stop construction…

Directed and co-written by Edmunds Jansons (with co-writer Liga Gaisa), Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs is a family-friendly animated film. The film focuses on two children’s fight to stop construction that will destroy the look and ambience of a neighbourhood. Along the way, protagonist Jacob goes on a metaphorical journey of his own.

The narrative takes a little bit of time to get going. The film does lack momentum to begin with, as the narrative focuses on Jacob’s reluctance to stay with his uncle and cousin, and his initially abrasive relationship with Mimmi. Once the main narrative of the park destruction gets going, along with the appearance of the talking dogs, the film shifts to a more engaging gear. The gang of dogs are an important addition, bringing laughs and giving the movie a spark.

Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs touches on an interesting subject for a family film, which is the struggle between idealism and realism. This idea is presented in a very digestible way, and exists within the wider context of environmentalism versus economic prosperity. Gentrification is referenced explicitly, albeit in a humorous fashion. The film presents its message in an entertaining manner. 

Animation in the film has a charming effect. There is a contrast between the detail and sometimes delicate backgrounds and the broad style of the humans. Jansons and the film’s animators have created a two-dimensional look, with the protagonists looking almost like paper dolls. It is a distinctive and likeable style.

With Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs, Jansons combines humour with adventure to deliver a message that should resonate with young and old alike.

Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.