Friday, 11 January 2019

Dilili in Paris (Michel Ocelot, 2018)


For many years, director Michel Ocelot has been the go-to guy for sumptious, intelligent animation.  His immaculate feature films always make for a nice alternative for families with younger children, and their soothing ambience is a far cry from the loud and garish cartoons which are so often found in the multiplex.  Ocelot's films carry a most distinctive style, and, while Dilili in Paris is immediately identifiable as being the work of the director, there's quite a stylistic departure in place as his unmistakable 2D characters are placed in front of photographic backgrounds.  This novel approach works remarkably well, with the backgrounds greatly contributing to the wonderful atmosphere created by this engaging, humorous, yet occasionally troubling work.


Set during the Belle Époque, the film sees the Dilili of the title arrive in Paris from New Caledonia.  This young, impeccably mannered Kanak girl cheerfully takes in the sights and sounds of the City of Light, encountering casual racism and a galaxy of famous names as she gets involved in some sleuthing.  The mystery she's trying to solve regards a spate of kidnapping which is occurring in the city; there is a pattern in that all the victims are female, and it must be said that this premise is a dark one for any film, let alone a family one.  Thankfully, Ocelot's deft handling of this potentially very upsetting subject matter ensures that any little ones watching shouldn't find anything too traumatic in what unfolds.  As she attempts to find those responsible, Dilili has a helpful sidekick, Orel, who holds an impressive list of contacts that can only be described as a Who's Who of the Paris of the time.  Through Orel, Dilili encounters the likes of Bernhardt, Pasteur, Toulouse-Lautrec, Rodin, Satie, Curie and Claudel - and that's by no means an exhaustive list of those who pop up during the course of the film.  You will have noticed that these important historical characters include a number of successful, pioneering women, which turns out to be very relevant once Dilili and Orel discover the thinking behind the crimes.


Dilili in Paris manages to be both a charming, intoxicating walk around Belle Époque Paris and a commentary on some very contemporary issues.  Despite being an animated work, it's one of the most atmospheric recreations of Paris seen on film for some years, and Ocelot brilliantly conjures a city many of us know and an era which remains endlessly fascinating.  While it makes for fine entertainment, the film also possesses huge educational potential, with its countless figures from history providing many jumping-off points for discussions on the important developments which occurred during the French Third Republic; any one of the featured luminaries would make for a substantial school project.  However, first and foremost, and despite its slightly sinister edge (which is nothing unusual for Ocelot), Dilili in Paris is a wonderful slice of escapism from a director who rarely, if ever, lets us down.

Darren Arnold

Images: image.net

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Monday, 17 December 2018

We're on the LAMB

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Good news, everyone!  We're now a member of the Large Association of Movie Blogs!  If you head on over there right now you may just glimpse us featured in the "Newest Lamb" section.  The LAMB is the world's largest directory of movie blogs (so it's not just a clever name), and you can visit it at any time from this site by clicking on the permanent button I've installed at the bottom of the page...

Monday, 10 December 2018

Kill Switch (Tim Smit, 2017)


In een toekomstige wereld heeft de multinational Alterplex een eeuwigdurende energiebron ontworpen. Dankzij de M-Theorie en de theorie over het dupliceren van materie, zijn ze erin geslaagd om een parallel universum te creëren. Geloof me, de hele theorie wordt in de film uit de doeken gedaan. Niet dat ik er veel van begreep. Er wordt lustig gebruikgemaakt van wetenschappelijke termen zoals ruimtedimensies, kwantum deeltjes en zwaartekracht portalen. Het enige verschil tussen ons universum en dit duplicaat, is dat er geen organische bestanddelen aanwezig zijn. Het is dus eigenlijk een reusachtige, levenloze batterij waar de moderne wereld energie uit kan winnen. Iets wat noodzakelijk is geworden, daar het energieverbruik op onze planeet fenomenaal gestegen is.


Will Porter (Dan Stevens, The Ticket), een natuurkundige die ook voor NASA gewerkt heeft, wordt door Alterplex aangeworven als oplossing bij eventuele problemen. Indien er een instabiliteit wordt vastgesteld, wordt hij naar het parallelle universum getransporteerd waar hij een kubusvormig object in de gedupliceerde toren moet plaatsen. Alterplex heeft er alles voor over om hem in te lijven. Zelfs de overplaatsing van zijn zus (Charity Wakefield) en haar zoontje Donny (Kasper van Groesen) is geen probleem. Zelfs voor de beste medische begeleiding voor Donny wordt gezorgd. Een aanbod waar Will geen neen tegen kan zeggen. Ook al heeft hij in eerste instantie geen benul van wat hem te wachten staat.

En schijnbaar is zijn opleiding niet grondig geweest, want op het moment dat hij effectief door een portaal naar dit ander universum gaat, blijkt hij grotendeels niet te weten wat er aan de hand is. Zelfs de melding Redivider op de kubus zegt hem niks. Dan Stevens loopt dus eigenlijk de gehele film verward en hulpeloos rond terwijl hij zich afvraagt waarom er toch menselijk leven aanwezig is en allerhande objecten uit de lucht vallen (objecten die op de werkelijke wereld spoorloos verdwijnen). Dat hijzelf niet gekopieerd werd vind deze natuurkundige vanzelfsprekend blijkbaar. Redelijk onlogisch toch.


Qua verhaal stelt het allemaal niet erg veel voor. Het is vooral het FPS perspectief dat de meeste aandacht eist. En ook aardig op de zenuwen begint te werken naarmate het verhaal vordert. Misschien dat PS4 aanhangers hier enthousiast over worden, maar ik geloof nog steeds niet in dit concept. Hetzelfde principe werd in Let's Be Evil en Jeruzalem gehanteerd en ook niet echt geapprecieerd door ondergetekende. Als ik zin heb in een FPS, dan plug ik mijn PS4 wel in. Dan heb ik tenminste de controle over het verloop van het verhaal. Verwacht je dus weer aan een heen en weer zwierend beeld waarin allerhande statussen getoond worden. Ook Dan’s monologen lijken enkel volgepropt te zijn met steeds dezelfde weerkerende uitroepen zoals “Oh my God!”, “What the hell is this?”, “Let's go!”, “Come on!” en “Run! Run! Run!”. Ik ben er zeker van dat in Chariots of Fire minder rondgelopen werd als in deze film.


Qua acteren is het ook al niet zo overweldigend. Dan Stevens was waarschijnlijk niet lang aanwezig op de set, daar we hem het overgrote deel van film toch niet te zien krijgen. En als hij al in beeld komt, kijkt hij telkens met die verbaasde, onwetende blik. Bérénice Marlohe tracht de hele tijd haar meest fotogenieke gedeelte van haar gelaat te gebruiken (haar diep uitgesneden decolleté eist aan het begin de meeste aandacht) en heeft hoogstwaarschijnlijk een overenthousiaste medewerker in de schminkafdeling ter beschikking gekregen (gezien de riante hoeveelheid mascara dat er gebruikt werd). Is er dan niets positiefs te melden. Jawel hoor. Ik was aardig onder de indruk van de gebruikte SE’s. Neen het is niet vergelijkbaar met de peperdure SE’s van pakweg Star Wars of Avatar (je kijkt er dus niet naar alsof je van de hand Gods geslagen bent) en het is soms wel overduidelijk dat het gecomputeriseerde beelden zijn. Maar toch waren ze niet slecht deze beelden. En dat het zich afspeelde in het toekomstige Amsterdam, was ook een aangename verrassing. Kill Switch heeft dezelfde tekortkoming als Lights Out. Beiden films zijn voorafgegaan door een kortere you-tube versie die voor de nodige hype hebben gezorgd op dit medium. Het resultaat is in beide gevallen een film met een ijzersterk concept, waar je het gevoel krijgt dat men enorm veel moeite heeft gedaan om het kortverhaal zo lang mogelijk te rekken. Dus na verfilmingen van PC-games en boekverfilmingen, is het misschien ook wijselijk om niet meer YouTube succesjes naar het grote doek te verhuizen. 

Peter Pluymers

Images: SquareOne Entertainment

Thanks to Peter for this review; don't forget that you can read more of Peter's work here (in English) and here (in Dutch).  Please note this article is copyright © movie-freak.be 2017.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino, 2018)


Moordvrouw star Renée Soutendijk is back on the big screen in this lavish, controversial remake of Dario Argento's classic 70s horror.  The past few years may have seen Soutendijk become a fixture on RTL 4, but recently both the Amsterdam-born actress and her Moordvrouw co-star Thijs Römer have enjoyed parts in theatrical films.  Soutendijk, of course, is well acquainted with the silver screen, with her many film credits including some of Paul Verhoeven's early work; she also gained much attention for her portrayal of Hannie Schaft in The Girl with the Red Hair.  Her presence in Suspiria appears to be the result of some homage casting by director Luca Guadagnino, who has also included Fassbinder favourite Ingrid Caven and "slow cinema" doyen Fred Kelemen among his eclectic ensemble.  At the other end of the spectrum, the film features the likes of Fifty Shades starlet Dakota Johnson and Marvel actor Tilda Swinton (admittedly, the latter is no stranger to arthouse fare, and both actresses have worked with Guadagnino before).  Argento, who has a producer credit on the new film, also went with some surprising actor choices for his original, casting old pros Alida Valli and - in her final film role - Joan Bennett.

Guadagnino's film is set in 1977 - the year Argento's film was released - and the basic premise is the same as the earlier movie: young American Susie (Johnson) arrives in a wet and windy Germany to study at a prestigious dance school.  Susie's arrival coincides with the disappearance of fellow student  Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz), who's convinced that the academy is run by a coven of witches.  It's no real secret that Patricia is actually telling the truth, and she tries to impart this information to her psychotherapist, who in turn tries to tell the police that the girl's disappearance is the work of the women in charge of the school.  The West Berlin police have little time for such tales, given that both the city and the country are in the grip of a fear perpetrated by the Red Army Faction; as Suspiria unfolds against the backdrop of the German Autumn, you could say that two types of terror are simultaneously at work here.  Such a move grounds proceedings in a reality that was wholly absent in Argento's film - a work which could easily be viewed as a colour-saturated fever dream.  As fascinating as the Baader-Meinhof story is, I'm not convinced that Guadagnino's idea is the better of the two.


While either one of these two plot threads would be enough for one movie (cf. Argento's Suspiria and The Baader Meinhof Complex), Guadagnino and his scriptwriter David Kajganich add on another layer involving German national guilt and the holocaust; at times, this aspect provides some poignant moments, yet at other points it feels borderline distasteful.  Linked to this element, however, is a sad and touching story involving Patricia's psychotherapist, the inconsolable Dr. Klemperer (Lutz Ebersdorf), whose wife (Jessica Harper, star of the original film) vanished in the chaos of 1943.  Klemperer regularly crosses divided Berlin to visit the couple's East German dacha, where he feels the sadness especially keenly.  The doctor's tragic story is obviously a motivating factor in his determination to solve the disappearance of Patricia, but his enquiries inevitably lead him to the sinister dance academy and its icy lead choreographer Madame Blanc (Swinton), who presides over a number of matrons (played by Soutendijk, Craven and Sylvie Testud, among others).  Klemperer tries to warn another student, Sara (Mia Goth), of the sinister nature of the academy, but she angrily dismisses his claims; Sara has befriended Susie, who we should remember is both the film's main character and the star of ominous dance show Volk, which the students are preparing for a public performance.

Suspiria is something of a paradox: there was absolutely no need to remake Argento's masterpiece (which is now available on an outstanding 4K UHD disc), yet the very idea of doing such a thing provided a level of intrigue which made it, at least for me, one of the most anticipated films of 2018.  An inherent weakness of the new film is that Guadagnino is no director of horror, let alone an Argento, and it's obvious that he's looked to other areas to compensate for this; the film is never scary, and it falters whenever it has to deal with familiar genre tropes - although it is occasionally unsettling.  It is, incredibly, nearly a full hour longer than the original, and wears its pretension on its sleeve as it languidly moves through its "six acts and an epilogue".  And, while immaculately photographed, it doesn't come close to replicating the unique visual aesthetic of Argento's film.  There are lots of other reasons why the film shouldn't work, but, just like the witches featured here, it sure knows how to cast a spell.

The closest point of comparison for the movie is Gus Van Sant's Psycho - both films share a perverse aim in remaking an established masterpiece, and the two remakes stand as bizarre art exercises whose existence is infinitely stranger than any of their content.  Which is saying something in the case of Suspiria, which is an elliptical, fragmented rumination on motherhood and collective memory masquerading as a horror film.  However, the movie does very much succeed in creating a strong sense of time and place: Bowie's Berlin is that most atmospheric of settings, and the film is certainly an immersive experience which pulls you down the rabbit hole right from the off.  The performances are committed, too, with Johnson making for a surprisingly appealing lead, while Goth continues to impress.  But the film very much belongs to Swinton, whose work here is nothing less than staggering - it's best if you can go into the movie without doing too much reading up on it, as you'll find the experience to be all the more rewarding if you're ignorant of certain facts; at the very least, make a point of avoiding the film's IMDb page until after the screening.  Guadagnino's take on Suspiria, then, is a quite unique beast: pointless, yet also a must-see.

Darren Arnold

Images: image.net

Monday, 26 November 2018

The Girl in the Spider's Web (Fede Álvarez, 2018)


Brabant native Sylvia Hoeks stole more than a few scenes in last year's excellent Blade Runner 2049, and she portrays a similarly villainous character in The Girl in the Spider's Web, which is also a sequel - or is it?  While it follows the 2011 adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this latest film skips the next two books and jumps ahead to the fourth instalment in the Millenium series, which was the first in the saga to be written by David Lagercrantz following the death of Stieg Larsson.  And while David Fincher, director of the 2011 movie, here returns in the form of executive producer, this latest film features an all-new cast.  Confused yet?  If not, consider also the Swedish trilogy of movies based on Larsson's books, which were combined and augmented to create TV miniseries Millennium, with the resulting show subsequently cut in three to form new, extended versions of the trilogy.  Great material for a Venn diagram.

So, where does The Girl in the Spider's Web fit in to this chaotic canon?  Is it part two?  Part five?  Or even part four, if we simply go with the order of the books?  I have no real idea, but as this new film appears to be a reboot it could quite reasonably be seen as the first in a planned new series, one which probably won't go any further if the box office takings thus far are anything to go by.  The expensive 2011 film of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo did eventually drag itself past the $100 million mark in its domestic market (thanks in no small part to the casting of Daniel Craig), but was largely met with indifference, and few clamoured for a sequel; The Girl in the Spider's Web, while made on less than half the budget of Fincher's film, will probably meet with similarly modest success.  It appears that English-language movies of the Millennium series have proved something of a tough sell to audiences long saturated in Scandi-noir; the books, on the other hand, continue to sell by the boatload.


In any case, The Girl in the Spider's Web works as a standalone film, so you'll be just fine if this marks your first experience of any of the Millennium stories.  Lisbeth Salander, the girl who hurts men who hurt women, is played this time around by Claire Foy, and the British actress acquits herself very well.  The film is still in its early stages when we witness the cheering sight of her stringing up some woman-beating lowlife, but Lisbeth's bread and butter is soon abandoned in favour of a plot revolving around Firefall, a computer program which can access nuclear codes around the globe (and which sounds, in both name and purpose, much like an unused Bond idea).  If this wasn't based on a book, you'd swear that the entire plot was written on the back of an empty Ahlgrens bilar packet.

Salander is tasked with retrieving the program from the Americans after its author (a miscast Stephen Merchant) has misgivings about his creation, and a job which may have taken an entire film to complete is dealt with most swiftly by our heroine.  Of course, there's much more to come, as Lisbeth isn't able to hold on to the program for long as it's plucked from her hands by an international crime syndicate known as, yep, The Spiders; cue numerous frantic chases around a Stockholm where apparently no-one speaks Swedish.  The syndicate has more than one link to Lisbeth's murky past, and their identities emerge following some digging by Salander's journalist ex Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason).


Hoeks enters the film fairly late on, although her part is the important one of Camilla, the sister who was left behind when Lisbeth escaped their abusive father (a pre-credits scene fills us in on the girls' traumatic childhood).  As you may expect, Camilla is resentful of the fact that she was left to face her father's depravity alone, and she turns up as a grown woman in no mood to forgive.  Although you can sort of understand where she's coming from - Lisbeth's departure presumably doubled Camilla's torment - her father is infinitely more deserving of her ire than her sister.  Despite Camilla's harrowing backstory, Hoeks' role here is another unsympathetic one following her turn in the Blade Runner sequel, and she should perhaps be wary of becoming typecast in such parts.  Foy, on the other hand, is inhabiting a role very different from her one in TV show The Crown, and she should consider herself rather unlucky to have starred in two films this year which have performed well below expectations; Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, in which Foy played the astronaut's wife, also never really got off the ground in terms of box office.

While this reboot certainly has a slick, streamlined and uncomplicated feel to it, it lacks real urgency or tension, with Lisbeth's near-invincibility telegraphing her survival in even the tightest of corners.  It also largely dispenses with Blomkvist, arguably as big a part of the Millennium series as Salander, and reduces him to an inconsequential supporting character (despite Gudnason's prominent billing).  Director Álvarez, as the man behind Don't Breathe and the Evil Dead remake, is someone who might have been expected to bring much more of an edge to the story, but the end result is as unmemorable as it is ordinary, with only a couple of flourishes reminiscent of his inventive prior work in evidence here.  While it's always a serviceable film, and far worse movies will fare much better in terms of revenue, The Girl in the Spider's Web's inevitable hasty retreat from multiplexes will almost certainly spell the end for Lisbeth's big-screen adventures.  Perhaps we should all just stick to the books?

Darren Arnold

Images: Sony