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Movie Reviews

Detroit

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Released: 25th August 2017

Directed By: Kathryn Bigelow

Starring: John Boyega, Will Poulter

Reviewed By: Menachem Rephun

“God!” the hunter exclaims to his cohort, his face soaked with sweat as he looks down at his fallen prey. “What a specimen he was!”

Had this flippant remark been made by a poacher on safari, we would likely not think too much of it. The speaker in this case is no big game hunter, though, but a police officer proudly sporting the uniform and badge denoting his profession. The officer’s “kill” is not an animal, but a human being, an unarmed black man shot in the back despite posing no threat to anyone.

This is the world of Katheryn Bigelow’s Detroit, a film which transports us to the nerve-wracking, racially-charged atmosphere of 1967 Detroit. It was a time when tensions between the city’s black residents and its white police force were running at an all-time high, resulting in violent clashes between angry African-Americans and DPD officers who bigotry was very thinly disguised.

Bigelow, who has proven herself a master of cinematic realism with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, clearly appreciates the famous “show, don’t tell” rule. With all of the history on hand, it would have been easy for the film to be expanded by another hour, at the very least. Aside from a brief, animated introduction establishing historic context, though, Bigelow does not allow her movie to become bogged down in exposition. Instead, the nightmarish, chaotic atmosphere is established through haunting imagery, like the shot of police officers silhouetted against a backdrop of smoke and flame.

As many have noted, Detroit is rife with painfully drawn-out sequences of terror and violence that are almost jaw-dropping. As its name suggests, the dramatic core of the film is an incident which took place at Detroit’s Algiers Motel on a summer night in late July 1967. The trailer for the film bills the incident as one of the most terrifying in American history, and after viewing this reenactment, it isn’t hard to see why.

The episode, in which three young black men were murdered, while several other hostages, including two young white women, were verbally and physically tortured by DPD officers, is an exercise in police brutality that transcends anything we have come to expect. The heart of Detroit lies in this sequence which makes up a good portion of its run time. The way that Bigelow presents the horror is truly unflinching, without a trace of histrionics or sentimentality. Most viewers will be as unprepared for the nightmare as its victims, creating a nail-biting anxiety and claustrophobia that would send Hitchcock back to the drawing board. Bigelow’s interpretation of what took place in the Algiers Motel that night is colder, more insidious, and more traumatic than anything Stanley Kubrick ever made. Despite its intensity, the violence never becomes numbing. Bigelow captures the tragic absurdity of the incident, which began when a young African-American man, Carl Cooper, fired a toy pistol out of his hotel room window as a prank, sending the police into a frenzy. It was a very stupid move, to be sure, but it paled in comparison to the Pandora’s Box it opened.

As horrifying as Detroit’s violence is, it would have much less impact without a compelling villain. In this respect, Bigelow has gone above and beyond the call of duty, creating a flesh-and-blood monster who undoubtedly deserves a spot on any Greatest Movie Villains of All Time list. That monster is Phillip Krauss, a young DPD officer whose childish, innocuous features give little indication of the sadism, cunning, and pure hatred underneath. It is Krauss who deals the first real blow in the movie, gunning down the above-mentioned unarmed black man during what should have been a routine patrol. The action, which results in the victim’s death, earns Krauss a reprimand from the top brass that is little more than a slap on the wrist, and it isn’t long before the rookie is back on the beat. When confronted over the murder by his superior officer, Krauss points out that Detroit is “a war zone.” He isn’t wrong. The city does look like a war zone, trapped in a state of lawlessness that makes it the perfect playground for an unhinged psychopath drunk on absolute power. Events soon conspire to bring that maniac (Krauss) to the Algiers Motel, where he becomes responsible for most of the insanity that follows.

After the dust settles from the night of terrifying violence (which really must be seen to be believed), it is the characterization of Krauss, portrayed with oozing, bone-chilling malice by Will Poulter, that most haunts me. A beautiful scene in which the young black musician Larry Reed (portrayed by Algee Smith), sings a powerful Gospel tune after surviving Krauss’s reign of terror, is obviously meant to be cathartic and cleansing. But the sting of the injustice refuses to be wiped away.

The performances in Detroit, particularly those of Smith and John Boyega as beleaguered black security guard Melvin Dismukes, are uniformly excellent. But, for better or worse, it is Poulter who steals the show. In his first appearance, we see Krauss riding by car through the ruins of Detroit, remarking to his fellow officers that the police have “failed” the black community. This phony compassion is shown for what it is when, moments later, Krauss shoots a fleeing black man in the back. It is an introduction that, in hindsight, strikes me as eerily similar to the first time we see Nazi Commandant Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List, as he arrives at the Plaszow labor camp by car. There is an extremely thin line between Krauss (note the Germanic name) and a young Nazi commandant. Krauss’s actor, Will Poulter, and director Katheryn Bigelow have confirmed that Krauss is a composite character meant to represent the officers present that night, and I doubt his German name was chosen at random. Both Krauss and Goeth are men better suited for a straitjacket and a padded cell than an officer’s uniform, but fate, tragically, handed them a weapon and the freedom to use it as they please. All that separates the Goeths and Krausses of the world is the uniform and the badge. And, perhaps most disturbingly, the Krausses and Goeths will always prowl among us likes wolves in human skin, smirking and confident knowing they’ll walk free.

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Climax ★★★★★

Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.

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Released: 21st September 2018 (UK)

Directed By: Gaspar Noé

Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull and Giselle Palmer

Reviewed By: Dion Wyn

Birth and death are extraordinary experiences. Life is a fleeting pleasure.

Master provocateur Gaspar Noé has been warping our fragile little minds for over 20 years. After the vast disappointment of Love 3D in 2015, he finally returned to Cannes this year. Where he won best picture at Director’s Fortnight; with his latest feature Climax. The win truly has reinvigorated interest and buzz of Noe’s work. The big question is does it actually live to the hype? Climax is set in the mid 1990’s, 20 French urban dancers join together for a three-day rehearsal in a closed-down boarding school located at the heart of a forest to share one last dance. They then make one last party around a large sangria bowl. Quickly, the atmosphere becomes charged and a strange madness will seize them the whole night. If it seems obvious to them that they have been drugged, they neither know by who nor why. And it’s soon impossible for them to resist to their neuroses and psychoses, numbed by the hypnotic and the increasing electric rhythm of the music. While some feel in paradise, most of them plunge into hell.

Climax grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Gaspar Noé’s fine form has returned with his sangria-soaked neon nightmare. Climax opens very subtly with interviews from the dance troop. We get a candid view into their lives and what drives their passion for dance. Noé shows the naivety of his cast before we enter the pressure cooker of the dance hall. Once the usual closing credits happen at the beginning, the true story starts to unfold. The opening dance sequence is electrifying and full of raw kinetic energy. You have succumbed to the euphoria of Noé, the camera becomes another dancer in the troop. We are witnessing the synchronicity and passion for the art of dance. You suffer from a slight come-down after the initial performance, but the depravity and relaxed inhibitions of the dancers start to flow out. There is no real script to Climax it is largely improvised, we delve into the sexual depravity of the dancers. These conversations are not for the faint of heart. You start to see where Noé is going with Climax or do we?

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Once the LSD soaked sangria kicks in Noé begins his wizardry behind the lens. Distortion and blurriness are subtly put into frame. You can feel the sweat pouring through the walls. The music intensifies and the dance becomes a lot more aggressive. We have now entered the hellish nightmare we were expecting from the get go. It isn’t the drug trip we witnessed in Enter The Void either. Once the LSD has kicked in, you only see the reactions to their hallucinations. Gaspar Noé challenges you to think what is actually going on? The usual camera trickery now ensues, a classic Noé move. The journey warps your senses and you don’t always know what is going on. The crucial element in sustaining the tension is the killer soundtrack. It really is the beating heart of Climax (Vinyl has been pre-ordered all ready). After the explosion of this pressure cooker of a situation, the story goes no holds barred with scenarios of extreme violence, incest and self harm. Noé doesn’t create an in your face scenario in this instants, it is rather out of character for him.

Sofia Boutella has shed away the action star. Her raw and un-tameable energy is addictive. She flows so powerfully through Climax and you can feel her passion for dance. The casting of the dancers is a master stroke. They all bring a different element to the piece and the diversity of characters gives it great balance. Our inner darkest ideas and nightmares flow through Climax like a virus. You are tested from the get go and Climax is a true cinematic challenge. It is a true testament of youth and the ever flowing challenge of perfecting your artistry. Gaspar Noé’s Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.

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Movie Reviews

The Little Stranger ★★★★

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to.

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Released: 21st September 2018

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill

Reviewed By: Sinead Beverland

Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to. At the helm is Room Director Lenny Abrahamson, with an impressive cast including Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling.

Set shortly after the second world war, Doctor Faraday (Gleeson) introduces us to the faded grandeur of Hundreds Hall, a place he envied feverishly as a child. Having belonged to the Ayres family for several generations, the house is now inhabited by just Mrs Ayres (Rampling) and her two adult children, Roderick (Will Poulter) and Caroline (Wilson). When Faraday is called to the house to visit the unwell young housemaid Betty, he recollects his childhood adulation of the place. Remembering the presence of a young girl, he is told that this was Mrs Ayres first daughter, Susan, who had died as a child. It seems the spectre of Susan (affectionately known as Suki) still lays heavily over the house, as housemaid Betty tells Faraday she fears something ‘isn’t right’. As he becomes more entwined with the family and their home, strange events begin to raise concerns and individually threaten members of the family.

From the very outset, the film breeds an unsettling feeling, the house is imposing with long shots conveying the sense that the characters are being observed. The audience follows Faraday in to this fading world of status and money, sensing his childhood desire and starched formality. The family are equally intriguing and unnerving. Roderick, badly injured during the war, is now an invalid struggling to cope and disturbed by the sense that something in the house does not want him there. Matriarch Mrs Ayres seems to be doing her best to keep the past alive and daughter Caroline (the best of the bunch as attested to by a fellow doctor) seems strong yet vulnerable. When Faraday begins an intriguing friendship with Caroline, their relationship evolves to hinge the entire ethereal story together. With fantastic performances all round, the characters all emerge fully formed, conveying depth without the need for swathes of expository back story.

The terror of the film gradually reveals itself, impacting in set scenes that are truly disturbing and realistic. Director Abrahamson has a subtle touch (as seen in the Oscar Nominated Room) and these climactic scenes engulf you, whilst revealing the fate of certain characters. Abrahamson knows how to accentuate the fear for the audience and uses restraint to devastating effect. As the house leaks secrets and the memory of the deceased Susan comes to the forefront, the story is told with an intensity that uses strikingly rich music and extreme close ups to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. However, to reveal too much of the story here, would spoil the experience of discovering for yourself what is happening at Hundreds Hall.

The Little Stranger is a mature and nuanced film, layered in such a way that it address status and class alongside desire and emotion. The period setting is detailed and worn, bridging the gap between transitioning eras in Britain.  This is no straightforward horror or ghost story and the film certainly feels to have done justice to its excellent source material. Rich in theme, characters and style, I would gladly take The Little Stranger home.

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Movie Reviews

Dogman ★★★

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Released: 19th October 2018

Directed By: Matteo Garrone

Starring: Marcello Fonte

Reviewed By: Rhys Handley

Dogman is the anti-Paddington. Antithetical to the marmalade-loving bear’s enduring mantra – “if we are kind and polite, the world will be right” – dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) carves out a life in the dilapidated outskirts of Rome modestly tending to his estate’s canine residents and enjoying the respect of his neighbours.

But Marcello’s submissive, accommodating kindness is pushed closer and closer to its limit by the hulking Simone (a terrifying Edoardo Pesce, surely masked in near-mutant prosthetic), a brutish ex-boxer who stalks the estate terrorising the residents. Unable to say no to a friend, Marcello facilitates Simone’s egregious coke habit to little recompense.

When Simone’s scheme to rob a nearby jeweller’s implicates Marcello and he is apprehended by the police, the Dogman takes the fall himself and goes inside for a year for the sake of the bully who pretends to be his friend. When he comes out, something has changed.

Marcello, diminutive and always sporting a toothy grin, strikes an unimpressive, but likeable figure. He is perfectly happy with his lot as the film opens – a divorced father who takes pride in his work and loves trips to the beach with his daughter. While director Matteo Garrone makes a meal of the grim, filthy aesthetic of the film’s setting, he peppers in moments of levity and blissful tranquility to reinforce the humble satisfaction of Marcello’s daily life.

To see him repeatedly indulge the cruel, selfish whims of Simone quickly becomes a source of frustration, as the brute encourages vices in Marcello that seems entirely at odds with his persona. Marcello is swept away on break-ins and hedonistic strip club nights in jarring scenes more in keeping with Garrone’s work in the gangster canon such as 2008’s Gomorrah.

In these scenes, the toxicity fuelling Marcello reveals itself. Fonte delicately skews the kindly facade when Marcello enters Simone’s world. Behind his courteous smile is a sickening glimmer of delight – Marcello loves the thrill and decadence of life of crime. His latent desires mix with his better nature, to create something more insidious than Simone’s overt depravity.

Dogman stumbles in its closing chapter as Marcello is released from prison, returning to a community who despises him for violating their trust and chasing Simone’s false offers of brotherhood and fortune. Marcello reemerges not exactly changed, but more honest to himself about what he is. Garrone and his co-writers steer this portion of the story with a steady hand, but it is hard to shake comparisons to other established squares-gone-rogue like Walter White.

Marcello’s resolve and vengefulness is convincing thanks to Fonte, but its emergence is sudden and teeters dangerously close to cliche. His push and pull with Simone is rote, which makes its languid pace a little irritating – this has suddenly become a very different film, and it can’t carry the slower moments of contemplation as well as it could before Marcello was locked up.

An inevitable confrontation takes place, bursting with brutality and gore. But rather than a release of tension, it feels like a betrayal of the thoughtful, measured character piece Garrone set up. The violence overreaches for shock value where Garrone had before been satisfied with something more pensive and empathetic.

Luckily, he pulls back in the final moments of the film and dovetails elegantly by concluding what is essentially his thesis on ‘little guy’ psychology. He frames Marcello not as a good man pushed too far, but as someone whose better and worse natures are intrinsically tangled to create a monster very different to the bully who ultimately leads him to snap.

No matter how kind and polite the Dogman might try to be, he cannot deny the malice that festers in his heart – and Garrone artfully distills Marcello’s melancholic final moment of self-realisation in a resonant closing shot that gracefully irons out the kinks in this curious, inconsistent little film.

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