Wednesday, 20 July 2016

FILM REVIEW: LOVE & FRIENDSHIP



Transmission Films

Sassy and saucy, we've not seen a Jane Austen heroine quite like Lady Susan Vernon. Not that Austen's oeuvre has been without its share of beeyatches, but they're usually an impediment or rival to the heroine achieving her goal of happy matrimony. They're never the protagonist. And they've never been played on the screen quite as deliciously as Kate Beckinsale.

Adapted by writer-director Whit Stillman, from an unfinished Austen novella titled Lady Susan, Love & Friendship could just as easily have been titled All Is Fair In, for Beckinsale's Lady Susan Vernon is not above doing all that it takes to achieve her aims; that is, financial security for herself, and her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), via advantageous marriage. What's love got to do with it?

Duplicitous, adulterous, scheming and conniving, Lady Susan is the antithesis of Elizabeth Bennett, and those who've only ever enjoyed Austen as a witty forebear to the modern rom-com will be a little perplexed to find the villain driving the narrative. And they will be equally as perplexed to find themselves -- against their better nature -- rooting for her.

So delightfully wicked are Lady Susan's observations, asides and put downs, and so perfect are Beckinsale's delivery of them, that you can't help but be won over. Not since My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), where Julia Roberts' famed smile turned maniacal in her attempts to upend that titular event, has the bad girl been so much fun to watch.

It's also a refreshing change to see an Austen heroine subverting both the patriarchy and the author herself. It might be a man's world but Lady Susan knows how to play the menfolk like a fiddle. The women around her know exactly what she's up to but the men, no matter their intelligence, seem oblivious to her scheming.

Well, all but Mr. Johnson (Stephen Fry). The husband to Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny), best friend and confidant to Lady Susan, has threatened his American wife with a returned exile to the new world should she continue their acquaintance. The likes of her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards), his brother-in-law, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel, quite fetching in a Regency wardrobe), and the dim-witted but financially-endowed Sir James Martin (a scene-stealing Tom Bennett) are blindsided by Lady Susan's charm and beauty.

Beckinsale, best known for her role in the Underworld franchise and a series of other forgettable actioners, relishes the opportunity she has been gifted by Stillman (whom she worked with 18 years ago on The Last Days of Disco) and Austen, delivering a career-best performance. Trading leather catsuits for Regency costumes has worked wonders for the actress.

Fans of Beckinsale's werewolf franchise may not be so easily converted, but those who seek out Love & Friendship are in for a treat. Period.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

FILM REVIEW: EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!



Roadshow Films

Likened to a spiritual successor to one of writer-director Richard Linklater's earliest films, Dazed and Confused (1993), Everybody Wants Some!! also picks up where his previous film, the impressive Boyhood, left off; that film's protagonist, having been followed from the age of six through to high school graduation, leaving home for college.

It's 1980 and three days out from the commencement of the Fall semester at a Texan university when first-year student Jake (Blake Jenner) arrives at the off-campus house which he will share with seven other students, all teammates on the university baseball team. A second house of eight ball players is next door.

The coach announces there is to be no alcohol on the premises and women aren't to progress above the first floor but we suspect he knows he's already struck out on both counts. And there's plenty of boozing and some womanizing in Everybody Wants Some!! but this is no frat house comedy. Bad neighbours these guys may be but the film isn't concerned with what goes on in these jocks' jocks: there's far more talk than action, this is a Richard Linklater film after all.

And Linklater is a master of simultaneously capturing both the profound and the mundane in the every day and the passage of time. It's a theme which preoccupies much of his work -- Boyhood, the Before trilogy -- even if Everybody Wants Some!! doesn't quite reach the same heights, particularly emotionally, of those films. Male bonding and its inevitable competitive nature are examined here but there's no scarring or even bruising; Linklater's characters' punches are more prodding than probing and everything occurs in a late summer haze reeking strongly of beer and weed, rendering events more mellow than malicious.

It's fun and ephemeral and might leave you asking 'what was the point of all that?' But then, most booze-soaked long weekends tend to have that effect. The further you get from it the more fondly you may recall it.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

FILM REVIEW: MUSTANG



Madman Films

On a sunny afternoon, five girls -- all siblings -- decide to walk home from school, taking a detour to the beach where they frolick in the water with some fellow (male) students. But by the time they arrive home, word has spread like wildfire -- or Chinese whispers -- and the girls' grandmother berates them for their "indecent" behaviour.

From here on, the grandmother and uncle of the girls, orphaned several years ago, will gradually make their home a prison whilst they attempt to preserve the girls' purity and marry them off; virtual house arrest and virginity tests just some of the punishments and indignities meted out to the vibrant, spirited young women trying to find their way in the world.

That world is modern day Turkey, which, although officially a secular society, boasts a Muslim population of some 95%, with conservative observance more rigid in the rural regions of Turkey, where Deniz Gamze Erguven's debut feature is set. By turns joyous, maddening, sad and hopeful, Mustang isn't so much a critique of Islam but of patriarchy everywhere, which seeks to control women's sexuality, and by turns, their joy, lives and very freedom.

But these sisters aren't so easily imprisoned. Even as the metal bars go over the windows and one-by-one male suitors are brought to the house with the prospect of a marital match, these young women bend, and even break the rules as much as they can.

Erguvan, co-writer Alice Winocour, and the five extraordinary young actresses (Gunes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu, Elit Iscan, Ilayda Akdogan) do similar things with your nerves and your heart, so invested are you in the plight of these siblings.

FILM REVIEW: INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE



20th Century Fox Films

It's the end of the world as we know it -- again. And no director takes quite such a delight in the destruction of our planet -- be it via alien invasion, atomic bomb-created giant lizard, meteorological phenomena or it simply imploding from the inside out -- as does Roland Emmerich. From Independence Day in 1996, through Godzilla (1998), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), and 2012 (2009), the German-born blockbuster maestro has been finding new ways to tear planet Earth a new one.

Twenty years later, he's back -- along with Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman -- to finish the job the alien invaders began in 1996. It's a long time to wait for an unnecessary sequel to a film which, by no means a classic, has its admirers; it's certainly not without its big, dumb and fun charms, especially when viewed through a prism of nostalgia. The film is very much of its time.

Sadly, Independence Day: Resurgence is very much of its time: spectacle without awe, popcorn fun without a hint of wit. It's camp and self aware some may argue, but a team of five writers have failed to inject the screenplay with any sense of urgency, thrills or human emotion (not many films would have you rooting for the occupants of a school bus to be crushed underfoot by a giant alien queen).

Independence Day 3 has apparently already been greenlit. If we must have that unnecessary sequel, here's hoping it takes at least another 20 years to reach us. By that time, the real destruction we as a species are inflicting upon Mother Earth may have already taken its toll.