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Departure

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Departurequad

Reviewer:  Freda Cooper

Director:  Andrew Steggall

Stars:  Juliet Stevenson, Alex Lawther, Phenix Bressard, Niamh Cusack,   Finbar Lynch

Released:  May 20th, 2016                                            

 

Andrew Steggall’s Departure is one of those films with a title that’s open to interpretation.  But, just as you think you’ve worked out all its different meanings in terms of the storyline, there’s one more.  It’s something of a departure for its director and young leading man.

Alex Lawther’s face may well look familiar.  He won the London Film Critics’ Circle award for Young British Performer Of The Year for playing the young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game and, before that, was one of a group of maths geeks in X + YDeparture, however, is the first role that puts him centre stage.  It also has a first-timer in the director’s chair, as writer/director Andrew Steggall has hitherto concentrated on shorts.  This is his feature film debut.

Teenager Elliot (Lawther) and his mother Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson) are packing up their holiday home in the French countryside to sell it.  But Elliot’s mind is on his fascination with older boy, Clement (Phenix Brossard), who he saw diving off a bridge into the local reservoir.  As their relationship develops, another one crumbles: his parents’ marriage.

At first sight, this looks like another coming of age story, with Elliot starting to become aware of the sexual side of his nature.  His crush on Clement is a real case of opposites attracting.  The English boy speaks halting French, is a sensitive, would-be poet, delicate and a wee bit pedantic.  Clement’s English isn’t much better, but he’s rebellious, hot tempered and more interested in the physical than the mental.  And, while it’s obvious how Elliot feels about him, it’s not an equal relationship.

This isn’t just Elliot’s story.  It’s about his parents, the disintegration of their marriage and its effect on Beatrice.  And while the boy is in the foreground at the start of the film, the parents’ story has overtaken his towards the end of the film, with his mother nervously facing the prospect of the end of the life she’s known for many years. She’s tried to ignore the inevitable for some time, concentrating on her son, but now it’s staring her in the face and, while frightening, it also offers the opportunity for a fresh start.

The film opens with Beatrice and Elliot driving towards their holiday home at night and they appear to hit something.  Elliot’s sure it’s a deer, but his mother doesn’t want to find out.  From time to time they pass the same spot and Elliot wants to find out if the deer is still there, perhaps in the ditch, but something always stands in his way and he never finds it.  It soon becomes clear that the idea of returning to something that’s probably dead is intended to reflect the parents’ marriage and it’s about as heavy handed as this otherwise delicate film gets.

Despite being set over the course of six days, it’s a slow, leisurely watch and there are moments when the camera lingers just a beat too long.  But that doesn’t detract from its hypnotic quality, underlined by a combination of a subtle soundtrack and the beautiful scenery and photography.  It’s a living Monet.  The tone is wistful, longing and nostalgic for a family and way of life that probably never existed in the first place.

Juliet Stevenson, as ever, gives a wonderfully sensitive performance as the mother who can’t find any balance in her life.  Desperate for closeness yet admitting to a neighbour that she’s never been good at friendships, she focusses all her attention on a son, who’s growing increasingly distant.  Yet she still treats him like a little boy and her repeated requests for him to wash his hands make you wince.  Lawther grasps his first lead role with both hands and gives an impressive, assured performance as the young teenager.

We never see their departure from the house, but we can guess what lies ahead.  And we also know that the title just doesn’t refer to that departure: there are many others and their echoes will always live in that house.

 

 

Freda's been a film fan all her life - the best qualification for the job! As well as being a Movie Marker regular, she has her own blog, Talking Pictures - https://fredacooper.wordpress.com/ - and a podcast of the same name - https://soundcloud.com/freda-14/talkingpictures6october2016. She can even be heard burbling on about films every Friday morning on BBC Surrey and Sussex!

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Movie Reviews

Bad Times at the El Royale ★★★★

Bad Times at the El Royale feels like a throwback to Tarantino in all his 90’s pomp.

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Director: Drew Goddard

Stars: Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Lewis Pullman

Released: 12th October 2018 (UK)

Bad Times at the El Royale has seemingly fallen foul of the particularly hectic October release schedule in the U.K. As Venom and A Star is Born dominate the box-office and with the London Film Festival in full swing, El Royale has not received the recognition it deserves.

Boasting an impressive cast, Bad Times at the El Royale follows seven strangers whose stories intertwine at the El Royale hotel in Lake Tahoe. As each person’s agenda for being at the El Royale is revealed, tensions inevitably rises and the characters collide.

From the get-go, El Royale feels like a throwback to Tarantino in all his 90’s pomp. Director Drew Goddard, no stranger to managing madness following his debut A Cabin in the Woods, has crafted an immersive, intricately linked murder-mystery that feels like a grindhouse version of Cluedo. The violence is garish but necessary, the dialogue is short and snappy and the characters are most importantly, interesting. The hardest part of any film with so many moving parts, is making the audience actually bond with those involved. Goddard, who also wrote the screenplay, has nailed this – giving enough back-story for each, whilst holding enough back to keep us learning more.

Between Jeff Bridge’s bad-ass priest, Dakota Johnson’s kill-happy hippy and Chris Hemsworth’s dancing cult-leader, the wider cast have somehow managed to create a credible on-screen dynamic, despite the stark character contrasts. Cynthia Erivo’s soulful singer Darlene is the obvious standout and her interactions with Bridge’s Father Flynn provide some of the most film’s most satisfying scenes. Lewis Pullman’s unassuming concierge Miles is another strong performance deserving of a mention.

The film swaggers along accompanied by its killer soundtrack, which plays a crucial part in the films tonal change from chapter to chapter. It’s dark and violent, yet at times it’s engaging and even emotional. The sharp edits that mash-up the timeline don’t over-complicate the plot, but accentuate the frenzied feeling that Goddard is creating as we head towards the plot’s crescendo.

As expected there are some areas where a film with so much going on inevitably suffers. Jon Hamm’s Seymour is arguably the biggest victim of this, with his character perhaps not utilised as much as it could have been. The film also feels a little too fleshed out in parts, lingering on some of the less necessary aspects and leaving one or two plotlines unexplored as a result.

Bad Times at the El Royale really does feel like a Tarantino movie and that’s no mean feat, Goddard has taken his own style and applied tried and tested techniques to create a compelling, genuinely exciting movie and one that deserves to be enjoyed by a wider audience.

 

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Arctic ★★★★

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Released: 5 December 2018

Directed by: Joe Penna

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir

Reviewed by: Lauren Tina Brady

An expanse of white as far as the eye can see, gently sloping mountains in the horizon, a polar bear pads silently across the snow, pausing briefly to gaze back at the watching man across the valley.

At first Arctic reads as a classic survival narrative; the basic man vs. nature conundrum. I’d recently seen The Mountain Between Us, which draws some very obvious similarities; plane crash, hostile snowy environment, a great expanse needing to be crossed for a chance of survival. However, unlike relying on the pairing of Kate Winslet and Idris Elba for context,  Arctic’s dialogue is bare. This is largely due to the fact that there is only the protagonist for the first third of the film, played by Mads Mikkelsen.

At first it appears to lull you into that false sense of security of knowing exactly how this works out; he sticks to a routine of catching fish, laying out black rocks spelling ‘help’ against the snow and signalling for nearby aircraft. However, crucially, we don’t know who he is. He speaks very little, in both Danish and English. He offers no information to help us piece together a backstory and remains an enigma throughout, which feels fresh. The character becomes more than a person; he becomes the flicker of hope for survival, the spectrum of emotions that occur in the darkest of hours.

There is plenty of drama to keep us on the edge of our seats; he has a chance of escape quite early on – a small helicopter has spotted him and attempts to make it’s way towards him in strong winds leading to a crash. There are two people on board; one is killed with the other, a woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir), who survives but is badly hurt and must be cared for. Suddenly the odds of both surviving are halved; the danger is intensified.

Here is a tale of endurance over survival. This is where Mikkelsen excels; he digs deep to portray every possible emotion through a gruelling and ice-cold journey. He is silent but his face says everything. I laughed in delight, I wept quietly. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing this role.

It’s a feat for Joe Penna, directing his feature film debut. See it for Mikkelsen, stay for the sensitive direction and the stunning cinematography.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Museum ★★★★

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Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios

Stars: Gael García Bernal, Leonardo Ortizgris, Alfredo Castro

Released: London Film Festival 2018

It’s Christmas Day, 1985. College dropouts Juan Nunez and Benjamin Wilson are ready to pull off an audacious heist that will have authorities searching for professional art thieves for years. Based on a true story, Alonso Ruizpalacios’ film sees the duo attempt to steal 140 priceless artefacts from the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Winner of the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, Museum explores the mindsets of two would be criminals with nothing to lose.

The tale is narrated by Wilson, played with subtle compassion by Leonardo Ortizgris. Wilson’s role is much like Nick’s in The Great Gatsby, an opinionated and somewhat loyally biased eye through which Juan is diluted. Played by Gael Garcia Bernal, Juan is the film’s focus, a Mexican Cool Hand Luke drifting through his young adulthood. In the hands of another actor, Juan may have come off as entitled, lazy even, but Bernal’s performance layers the character with sympathetic naivety and relatable desire. A perennially youthful, multifaceted actor, Bernal paints buckets of emotion into every micro-expression.

The crime takes place after Christmas dinner, a lively family affair that sees Juan alienated and berated. At first, the silence is reminiscent of the hanging scene from Mission: Impossible; the tension equally palpable. But soon the action changes, pared back to a static style similar to the panels of a comic book. It is a technique repeated throughout the film, the continuity broken up into freeze frames that are not quite motionless, still alive with a touch of movement. Reducing these scenes to a childlike fantasy, Ruizpalacios succeeds in creating the ultimate sense of idyllic, youthful adventure.

Something often ignored in heist films is the aftermath, when the thieves must deal with the fallout of their decisions. Museum’s second act focuses on this aspect, allowing the introduction of an English art dealer, played by the superb Simon Russell Beale. Uncertainty builds from the start of their meeting, as the camera endlessly pans until Juan’s misguided perceptions come crashing down around him. In a script littered with intelligence and comedy, it is a pleasant surprise to see the characters’ raw emotion become the focal point.

Ruizpalacios seems content to pose questions that hang wispily in the air, unanswered: questions of cultural ownership, of morality and greed. He is more interested in the character study at the heart of this story, of a man who commits a crime out of boredom, a sense of nihilism or a desire for adventure, or perhaps a little of all three. It is a fresh idea in a crowded genre, making for a film that is impressive but never quite brilliant, a wonderful adventure that doesn’t aim to blow minds. But does that matter? As Juan says and Wilson relays: “Why let the truth ruin a good story?”, a sentiment Ruizpalacios takes quite literally. Luckily for him, Museum is without a doubt a good story.

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