Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Critical Week: My head hurts!

I caught up this week with Will Smith's new film Concussion, a true drama that's very well shot and acted, and also relentlessly "Important!" Hopefully it'll finally give traction to the dangers of brain injury in America's favourite sport, which has suppressed medical findings for decades. Long delayed here in the UK, Ramin Bahrani's 2012 film At Any Price will be released in the wake of the filmmaker's 2014 drama 99 Homes. This is a similar story of the American dream gone sour, and it gives Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron (astutely cast as father and son) unusually meaty roles.

Vincent Cassel is terrific as the patriarch in Partisan, an elusive drama about a commune in an isolated country (it was shot in the Georgian Republic) where one of his children begins to doubt the nature of this created reality. It's clever and startlingly involving. And from Denmark, A War cross-cuts between life at home and on the battlefield in Afghanistan. Shot like a documentary, the film feels rather derivative (see Restrepo for the real thing) but carries a strong kick in the moral dilemma of the final act. I also caught up with two previously released awards contenders:

Hard to Be a God
dir Aleksey German; with Leonid Yarmolnik, Aleksandr Chutko 13/Rus ****
With a virtually plotless structure and nearly three-hour running time, this Russian epic will test the patience of even the most ambitious moviegoer. But there's so much going on in every extraordinary frame that it's never boring. Violent, silly and utterly bonkers, the premise is that a group of scientists has travelled to help a distant planet that's stuck in its middle ages, unwilling to move into a renaissance. Shot in vivid black and white, the film follows one of these men, Don Rumata (Yarmolnik), through an odyssey of mud and blood. Details are observed in long takes by the bravura camerawork and jaw-dropping production design. It may ultimately be a meandering and bleak look at the tenacity of human ignorance, but it's utterly dazzling. (Nominated for Foreign-Language Film of the Year by the London Critics' Circle.)

dir Tom Browne; with Richard Johnson, Gemma Jones, Daniel Cerqueira 14/UK ****
A beautifully played three-hander, this astutely written, shot and acted film centres on Daniel (Cerqueira) who finds that he needs to travel more often out of London to visit his parents as their eccentricities increase. Leonard (Johnson) has confined himself to the sofa, while Maria (Jones) keeps herself unnecessarily busy. In very different ways, both are extremely demanding, and Daniel struggles to adapt to this new paradigm in which he is their primary caregiver. Each scene is packed with astute observations, played to perfection by the sharp cast with an offhanded sense of humour. And the emotional kicks, when they come along, are potent. (Nominated for Breakthrough British Filmmaker by the London Critics' Circle.)

I still have a few more screeners to watch before I cast my final votes in the London Critics' Circle Film Awards and make my nominations in Galeca's Dorian Awards. And I also need to finalise my own year-end lists, which I'm planning to post on Thursday.

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