A Round Up of Some of the Films Recently Released for Home Viewing

  
Suite Française

Suite Française is the adaptation of a novel published in 2004 about the German occupation of a small town outside of Paris at the start of WWII. Michelle Williams stars as a young woman living with her overbearing mother in law while her husband is away fighting and when the enemy soldiers move in a comparatively compassionate and tactful junior officer is billeted in their house. The two women have very different approaches to how they see this man. To one he is the enemy but to the other he is another victim of the war. Any connection between Williams’ Lucille Angellier and the lieutenant, played by Matthias Schoenaerts, is tested though when the realities of their situation, their duties and their allegiances become too strong to put aside.  

At the heart of this film is the believable and moving relationship between the two main characters but their story is well supported by events in the lives of those around them. The movie is filled with good performances, not only from the leads but also from Kristen Scott Thomas as Madam Angellier and from a raft of other excellent actors including Ruth Wilson, Sam Riley and Margot Robbie.

I loved the film but then I am a particular sucker for a good historical drama. Suite Française more than effectively displays the situation many people found themselves in at the time and is, even now, quite brave in showing a Nazi soldier in a positive light. (He is the only one mind, there are plenty of others who back up the image of the German army that we have seen in War films for decades, that of selfishness, cruelty, slow wittedness and a penchant for short tempered flashes of sadistic violence.)

This is a well crafted movie and you get a clear sense that the narrative strands have been skilfully selected and brought together from a more detailed and equally engaging book. There is an important story behind the writing of this source material as well but I won’t say what it is other than it provides a different but valuable perspective on things when the information is shared on title cards over the closing credits.

If you only search out one feature on this list then this first one has my most heart felt recommendation.


Robot Overlords

That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy these other movies though and this next one I liked a lot, possibly more than I should have done. It is shonky and derivative but it is also immensely charming.

Robot Overlords is a British film set in a non-specific rural UK location but shot almost entirely in the Isle of Man. The set up has alien robots descending on Earth and, after a pretty one sided war, forcing humans to stay in their homes on punishment of incineration. A group of kids accidentally discover a way of disabling their tracking chips though allowing them to set off on a rebellious and dangerous adventure outside.

One of the poster quotes describes this movie as ‘Transformers meets Doctor Who’ and while the presence of the giant mechanoids is all that justifies the first of those references the second one is totally accurate. It has a slightly different sensibility to the long running timelord show (it’s actually a little more Sarah Jane Adventures) but there is certainly something a little BBC Sci-Fi about the whole thing. In their review Empire magazine compared the film to The Tripods, a TV show that aired in the 1980s, but for me though it felt more reminiscent of the Children’s Film Foundation. 

Between 1947 and 1985 this non-profit making production company turned out a series of short features of which I best, but still only vaguely, recall The Boy Who Turned Yellow and The Glitterball. What has stayed with me from these stories is the way, like the Famous 5 books, that they put young people at the heart of quests where they faced challenges beyond their years. Yet it was the optimism of youth that drove the heroes forward though and caused their enemies to foolishly underestimate them. Robot Overlords has this same sense of kid’s own adventure and has the capacity to genuinely inspire and empower an adolescent audience. Having said that, note that the film is rated 12A so is not suitable for small children. 

The cast features Ben Kingsley giving a well observed performance as a school teacher turned malicious power hungry psychopath (which is a transition many teenagers will suspect some of their own educators are capable of) and the always good Gillian Anderson is present too. It is the kids that really excel though, particularly Milo Cooper currently impressing alongside Ian McKellen in Mr. Holmes.


While We’re Young

I like Ben Stiller but there is no escaping the fact that this film would have been better without him. The movie centres around mid forties couple Josh and Cornelia, played by Stiller and Naomi Watts, who are quite happily living their lives until they meet Jamie and Darby, a couple the best part of twenty years younger than they are. The older two become enamoured with their new friends and the lives they lead and inevitably begin to question how they have changed since they were at a similar point in their own lives and relationship. It is a bit of a midlife crisis film.

Being close in age to Josh and Cornelia I found there was plenty of stuff in the film that resonated although the things that we see happen to them are sometimes a little obvious. For example, at one point Josh sustains a small injury whilst out cycling with Jamie, see if you can guess what it is. Yep, that’s right, he puts his back out; the default ailment of any one trying to keep pace with a younger person in a film or sitcom. Naomi Watts hip hop dancing is equally cliched but actually it’s kind of cool and almost worth the rental price by itself.

I’m not sure if the lives of the younger two, portrayed by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried, are as well observed. They listen to vinyl and have no involvement in Facebook which are both things I did at that age but it wasn’t a choice for me. It is possible that director Noah Baumbach is making a deliberate statement in giving the twenty somethings the retro version of Josh and Cornelia’s earlier existence but he literally over eggs it by making them keep chickens too. They have the kind of warehouse apartment hippy kid lifestyle that surely only exists in the movies.

The main problem though is that by the end Ben Stiller has fallen back on that stuttering, arm waving, exasperated anger schtick that has become his trademark and the familiarity of this became a distraction. As I said at the start, I rate the man and I do generally admire his career choices. He has excelled in broad comedic performances, such as Zoolander and Dodgeball, but has mixed this up with other types of roles so as not to go the full Johnny Depp and quirk his career into a corner it may never escape from. He just needs to not get cross though because every time he does that thing I’m back watching him slap a monkey in Night at the Museum.


Insurgent

I was hooked by the trailer for this one. It showed a great fantasy action sequence involving hero Tris leaping and swinging between flying buildings. Unfortunately that scene is pretty much all the film has got.

The first film, Divergent, was Hunger Games lite (mind you so was the last Hunger Games movie) but it set up its dystopian world and characters effectively enough. All this instalment has to do is tell its story and I didn’t find it very engaging. My eldest daughter, who is clearly much more the target audience, enjoyed it though so my opinion is not all that important.

Still, that has never stopped me so I’ll talk about the cast a little. First off there’s Jai Courtney who I’m sorry to say is so bland in everything he does that he is beginning to annoy me. Then there is Theo James as the chisel jawed Tobias ‘Four’ Eaton but for me he’ll only ever be the man who died in Lady Mary’s bed in the third episode of Downton Abbey. The incredibly talented Kate Winslet plays the big bad again but she’s not wowing me like she normally does and Naomi Watts is here too but there’s no hip hop dancing in this one (shame). Miles Teller returns, presumably for contractual reasons, and has enough personality to transcend the material but the series continues to be carried by the excellent Shailene Woodley. Unlike Jennifer Lawrence, who is building a great career around the blockbuster series she signed up for early in her career, Woodley probably needs to get this one done and out the way before she can really shine. She has a couple more to go because the last book in the series has been split into two parts. Of course it has.


X-Men: Days of Future Past (The Rogue Cut)

Speaking of Jennifer Lawrence’s blockbusters this new release is an extended version of the last X-Men film that was in cinemas about a year ago. Anna Paquin’s Rogue was key to the first X-Movie, almost as much so as Wolverine, and featured significantly in the second and third instalments but when the original actors returned for this mash up of old cast and new Paquin barely featured. Her part in proceedings was almost entirely cut. 

It is a mark of people’s regard for the actor and her character and the strength of the geek pound that this new edit exists and is available to buy. Of course it would have been kind if this alternate cut had existed as a viewing option on the original Bluray but when generosity comes up against shrewd marketing in Hollywood you always know which one is going to win.

As far as I am concerned X-Men: Days of Future Past was the best of 2014’s big Summer films, just edging Edge of Tomorrow and Guardians of the Galaxy, and this reissue is even better. You can see why the additional fifteen minutes were deleted but it does make sense of some of what happens and has some nice directorial touches. The previously unseen material has future Magneto rescuing Rogue from a facility, where she is the subject of testing and experimentation, so that she can assist Kitty Pryde in phasing Logan’s brain. It would have been nice of them to go and rescue her anyway rather than waiting until they needed her help but we’ll move past that. This new scene is intercut with 1970s Magneto breaking into the Department of Defence to get his hat back and the edit works well. The Rogue rescue also explains how the sentinels end up finding them at the end. Some of the final scenes are then altered as they have Rogue in too so reshooting must have been necessary for the cinema version. There are a few other extras too.

If you’ve not seen the film before then I would definitely recommend it and you might as well watch this one. If you have seen it but fancy viewing it again (I’ve seen it four times now) then again, give this one a go. We owe that much to Rogue, she has earned the right to have a proper ending to her story.


The Voices

Ryan Reynolds seems like such a wholesome screen presence, what with Definitely Maybe, The Proposal and Green Lantern, and even his cruder characters are built around his likability. He can be dark though (as evidenced by his soon to be successful efforts to bring violent comic book antihero Deadpool properly to the screen). The Voices plays on this duality having him as a pleasant and charming young man who kills women and keeps their heads in his fridge.

It is a pretty twisted film and not always in a good way. It is clearly aiming for black humour but doesn’t always manage the second part of this as well as the first. Still, if In Bruge, American Psycho, Sightseers, Heathers and Evil Dead II are all on your DVD shelf then you may want to add this to the watch list.

Reynolds’ protagonist Jerry lives in a fantasy world created by not taking drugs and his misdemeanours are driven by the conversations he has with his dog Bosco (good pet), his cat Mr. Whiskers (bad pet) as well as his increasing collection of severed heads, all of which talk back to him. The brief moments in which you see Jerry’s environment as it really is are unpleasant and a harsh realisation that what you have been watching, for all its stylised presentation, is really brutal. The film is never less than compelling though and it ends with a happy song so that’s nice.


It Follows

It Follows takes that idea that it was always the promiscuous kids that got sliced in 70s horror films and subtly builds its whole premise around it. Here the evil haunts those touched by a curse which is passed on through sexual intercourse. It’s not an oblique metaphor. This is no preachy morality tale or unsubtle parody though. It is in fact a smart and sophisticated supernatural thriller that will undoubtedly prove to be a calling card for its star and director; Maika Monroe and David Mitchell (not the author of Cloud Atlas or the British comedian, writer and TV panelist but a third David Mitchell). 

Movies have given us plenty of innocent things to be scared of over the years; dolls, Japanese children, St. Bernard dogs and 1958 Chryslers and now we can add random strangers to that list. The thing that follows the specific prey is some kind of murderous spirit that can look like anyone, sometimes a loved one but most often just anyone. It walks towards its victim and even though it is relatively easy to escape from it is relentless and will not cease until it has caught up with them and bent them in to really unnatural shapes. It’s not a nice way to go. The film is creepy rather than scary but sometimes that stays with you longer. One way or another this is not a film to be quickly forgotten


Focus

Being about confidence tricksters Focus sets itself up against great movies like The Sting, Catch Me If You Can and The Grifters and actually it compares favourably. It isn’t as good as these other films but it is smart and it keeps you guessing in a way all con man flicks should. The hustles are well worked out, it is often tense as the jobs play and the leads, Will Smith and Margot Robbie are likeable. Initially I had a problem with the film as all I could focus on was the victims of the crimes. It is ordinary people being ripped off at the start which didn’t show the pair in a good light but when they turn to a mark with his own nefarious motives it is easier to go along with it.

Interestingly the age gap that was such an issue in While We’re Young is less than that between Smith, aged 46, and Robbie, 25. Here though there is no mention of it, even though they are romantically involved. It’s not an issue that she is younger, it’s that the inference is that she needs to be. Maggie Gyllenhaal recently said that at thirty seven she was told she was too old to play the romantic lead against an actor twenty years her senior and clearly you don’t need to look around much to see that this was not an isolated incident. The fact that we’ve been fooled into accepting this, that is the real con.


Click on the links below for other recently released films that are reviewed elsewhere on the website: 



Clouds of Sils Maria

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

American Sniper

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