The House by the Cemetery (1981, Lucio Fulci) – DVD Review

I’ve never paid much attention to Lucio Fulci having seen Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) as a teenager and dismissed it as crap. Other Italian legends like Mario Bava, Argento on his day, and Michele Soavi caught my attention but I’ve avoided Fulci films ever since. So I wasn’t expecting much from The House by the Cemetery. I may well have been wrong about Fulci. This is an often very subtle tale with a touch of Henry James about it. The final part of Fulci’s unofficial ‘gates of hell’ trilogy after City of the Living Dead (1980) and The Beyond (1981), it also features a plot where the dead cross over into the world of the living. 
Dr Norman Boyle (Paula Malco) and his wife Lucy (Catriona McColl) plan to move the Massachusettscountryside. Yet the house they are moving into looks very much like the one in the photographs hanging on the wall in their city apartment in which their young son Bob (Giovanna Frezza) claims he can see a young girl (Silvia Collatina) at the window warning him never to go there. Norman hasn’t told them but he intends to investigate the murder/suicide of an old friend who had been researching the mysterious Dr Freudstein whose experiments many years ago were aimed at prolonging the lifespan of human beings.
The House by the Cemetery will satisfy anybody looking for gore but it is the atmospheric otherwordly feel of the film which makes it a success. It is admittedly not entirely coherent. It has the logic of a dream. Time and time again the locals tell Normanthey have seen him before though he insists he has never visited this place at all. This ambiguity works in the film’s favour though and adds to the dreamlike atmosphere.
Sergio Salvati’s cinematography brings an Autumnal feel to this sombre downbeat film. Italian exploitation films shared with their American counterparts a bleak worldview. Though this despair would give way in the United States to the cheap if not un-enjoyable thrills of the horror-comedy it never really left the Italian genre film at least until the industry began to fall apart in the 90’s.
Fulci regular Catriona McCall is an effective scream queen but poor Giovanna Frezza is lumbered with horrendous dubbing on the English language version. It sounds like a fifty-four year old woman is imitating a nine-year old boy. Best stick with the original Italian language track. There is an interview with both stars on the disk in which both discuss the movie and their other work in Italian horror, as well as a wealth of extras, documentaries, commentaries, and written work to accompany the movie.

Also out today from Arrow is Forbidden Zone, a cult curio from Richard Elfman and his brother Danny who draw their inspirations from the same kind of pop culture Americana as early Sam Raimi and Tim Burton but with less interesting results.


 Made as a showpiece for their band The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo its demented college boy humour wears thin, but there are some catchy songs, and Hervé Villechaize turns up playing a trumpet.  

The Deadly Spawn (1983, Douglas McKeown) – DVD Review

While this low-budget horror movie never quite manages to fulfil its promise it has a certain charm. Made in the same cheap and cheerful fashion as Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981) by a bunch of amateur filmmakers in New Jersey, The Deadly Spawn features intergalactic carnivorous aliens munching on the local population. A cult favourite on VHS the film is very much of its time. It has the bleakness often found in American horror films from George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) onwards and the gross out comedy horror of the 80’s in which death is treated as an elaborate joke. The Deadly Spawn has a knowing sense of humour and is clearly made by people who love horror films and science fiction. The most resourceful character in the film is a kid who is obsessed with horror and is able to adapt when his own life turns into a scary movie. The creatures when they appear are suitably disgusting, tadpole-like with layers of teeth. Not nearly as frightening as the décor though. It’s terrifying, a mixture of garish colours and unholy shades of brown which might well inspire intergalactic visitors to think human beings are of little use except for eating or tearing into pieces. The film was a minor sensation today but now looks as hokey as the B-movies of the 1950’s. Fun though. 

Credit to Arrow Video they never stint on the extras. Doesn’t matter if the film is an arthouse classic like Ashes & Diamonds (Andrzej Wajda, 1958) or a daft homemade horror film like The Deadly Spawn Arrow respectfully takes the same care when putting the DVD extras together. In this case the special features are far more interesting than the actual movie. An accompanying booklet contains written work on The Deadly Spawn by film experts Calum Waddell and Tim Sullivan. Producer Ted A. Bohus provides two commentaries, one of which is a conversation with Editor Marc Harwood and basically involves them describing whose house they are filming in at that particular moment. This really was DIY filmmaking. The archive footage provided in a trio of features emphasises this. It is like watching a hairy grown-up version of Super 8 (2011, J.J. Abrams). John Dods IMDb page credits him with providing Matt Dillon dummies on A Kiss Before Dying (1991, James Deardon) and being Grace Jones Corpse Creator on Boomerang (1992. Reginald Hudlin). Since then he’s been off the radar, maybe Grace Jones got him, but there is an amusing documentary filmed in his workshop. There is also an audition reel which includes actors who didn’t get the parts they were reading for which is perhaps cruel, but not as cruel as it is funny. There are also interviews with Bohus on various low-rent TV channels, a comic strip prequel which attempts to give the film a backstory but seems more like an afterthought, and the original trailer for the film’s cinema release. 

Midnight in Paris (2011, Woody Allen) – Programme Notes

‘Things are sweetest when they’re lost’
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and the Damned


Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen’s most financially successful film to date and picked up an Oscar for Best Screenplay last Sunday. Not bad for a director who was considered a busted flush in the United States and had to seek out funding in Europe. Allen has made four films in London and one in Spain since 2005, but his writing style felt incongruous outside of his regular New York surroundings. Paris has been in so many movies the city comes with its own set of clichés giving a writer of Allen’s abilities plenty of material to play around with. Allen pays homage to the City of Light in a beautiful extended opening sequence and this confidence extends to the rest of the film which is funny and charming and handled with a lightness of touch not seen in his work since The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). 
Like the earlier film Midnight in Paris has an element of the fantastical. Gil (Owen Wilson) feels alienated from his fellow American travellers. His fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her rich right-wing parents have little interest in the city beyond its material comforts. Worse still is Paul (Michael Sheen) an academic in town to deliver a speech at the Sorbonne, whose interest in culture has more to do with showing what impeccable taste he has than enjoying it. Gil wanders away from them one night and gets lost. 
As the clock strikes midnight he accepts a lift from a group of revellers dressed in an antiquated car and finds himself amongst another group of expatriates, the ‘Lost Generation’ of writers and artists who flocked to Paris in the 1920’s. F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife Zelda (Alison Pill) are taking their first steps towards drink-fuelled oblivion, Cole Porter (Yves Heck) provides the musical accompaniment, while Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) muses on what it means to be a man; “have you ever shot a charging lion?” Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) is as you would expect a bit strange. 
It’s all terrific fun and the film’s message; live for the moment, don’t get distracted by thinking things were better once upon a time, suggest Allen has no interest in recapturing his own glory days but would rather move forward and try to create something new. 

‘Dellamorte Dellamore’ – DVD Review

Francesco Dellamorte has an unusual problem in the cemetery he watches over in the small town of Buffalora; the dead have a tendency to rise again within seven days of their original demise. Dellamorte has no interest in finding out why they are coming back. Indeed, he is baffled by why anybody would want to come back. Dellamorte is a misfit. Nobody really listens to him. The little old lady who visits the cemetery every day calls him Engineer, even though as he keeps explaining he is not one. The mayor is politely inattentive, praising Dellamorte’s work, while paying no attention to what he has to say. A group of young locals mock him for his rumoured impotence, although Dellamorte later admits he started those rumours so people would leave him alone. He has only two friends, Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro) his assistant, who can only communicate by grunting, and Franco (Anton Alexander), a clerk at the post office in the village.
Reclusive, while also longing to escape from Buffalora, Dellamorte’s closed-in world is thrown into crisis when he is drawn towards a beautiful young widow (Anna Falchi). She has no interest in Dellamorte until he shows her the Cemetery’s Ossuary and it arouses her. Unfortunately their tryst is interrupted by her dead husband, whose bite seemingly causes her death. Yet Falchi returns to in various guises later on in the film as Dellamorte becomes increasingly disturbed. 
Unusually for a horror-comedy with gore and sick humour, Dellamorte Dellamore takes loss and grieving quite seriously. Sure, there’s exploding heads and killer dialogue and Rupert Everett bludgeoning a zombie-nun’s head in with a blunt object, but there is a mournful aspect to the film. Everybody has lost or loses someone. Dellamorte Dellamore operates on the same level as a fairytale, or a dream, in which strange happenings are possible, but they have a deeper psychological meaning that is open to interpretation. Death appears to Dellamorte, taking form out of burning rubbish on a bonfire and asks Dellamorte to leave the dead alone. Given that the ‘Dylan Dog’ comic books take place in a world where reality and the supernatural exist side-by-side it is entirely feasible that Death does visit Dellamorte. Maybe however Dellamorte is just losing his mind. 
.Michele Soavi has a gift for creating stunning visuals (Terry Gilliam used him on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Brother’s Grimm) and the film’s beauty is complemented by a truly warped sense of humour. Dellamorte Dellamore is based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi and features a character who appeared briefly in the author’s ‘Dylan Dog’ comics. Dellamorte bears a startling resemblance to Dylan Dog and is essentially an alter-ego for the Nightmare Detective. Sclavi based Dylan Dog’s appearance on Rupert Everett so the big fella is perfectly cast here. A gifted comedy actor Everett makes the most of the dialogue and has a sadness to him which renders the absurdist elements of the film more believable. It is a great performance, one of the best you’ll see in a horror film and it’s a shame the film has never found a wider audience though maybe this will change with this new DVD release. Sadly even Everett undersells it, the only mention of Dellamorte Dellamore in his autobiography ‘Red Carpets and other Banana Skins,’ is a small photograph.
Watch the English language track rather than the Italian version. Genre films in Italy have traditionally used American or British stars to attract funding and shoot scenes in English. Everett’s deadpan delivery is preferable to hearing him being dubbed into Italian.The Americanised version of Dylan Dog (2011, Kevin Munroe) appears on DVD and Blu-ray later this month and while it is nowhere near as bad as expected, it is no match for Dellamorte Dellamore
Special Features
Part of the fun of Shameless releases is going through the trailers for there other releases. Highlights include Who Saw Her Die? (1972, Umberto Lenzi), a giallo starring former 007 George Lazenby, the haunting reworking of Patricia Highsmith’s ‘Strangers on a Train’ The Designated Victim (1971, Maurizio Lucidi) with Tomas Milian, and Dario Argento’s underrated Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971). 
There’s also an Italian trailer which emphasises the Dylan Dog connection and a photo gallery. The commentary with Soavi and screenwriter Gianni Romoli is interesting and gives an insight into their approach to the material. Soavi says the film is about a man who can’t face reality, who refuses to grow up, who “doesn’t want to leave his garden, his enchanted world.” Film journalist and author Alan Jones has also provided writing on the film’s production and photographs for an accompanying booklet. 

‘Sleeping Beauty’ – DVD Review

“Such a sleep works wonders.”

By turns haunting, baffling, risible, voyeuristic, perverse, tender, and funny, novelist Julia Leigh’s directorial debut is a strange one. It may take its title from a fairytale but this Sleeping Beauty owes more to Walerian Borowczyk than the Brothers Grimm. The film may well be a critique of modern young women and their willingness to submit to the desires of men; or a parody of the service industry taking the absurdities inherent in fine dining and raising them to a whole new level.  It may even be a dream for at one point sleeping beauty closes her eyes and the screen goes black. 
                                   
Lucy (Emily Browning) is a pretty student who pays for her studies in a variety of ways.  She submits to medical experimentation, works as a waitress in a café, photocopies documents as an office drone, and occasionally prostitutes herself in nightclubs to guys who can’t believe their luck.  Despite earning money she never pays the rent in her shared accommodation.  Lucy is ambivalent, just drifting along, sleepwalking through life.  There is a tender friendship with a withdrawn literary type (Ewan Leslie) who appears to be drinking himself to death but no other emotional bonds.
She answers a personal ad for a waitress with silver service experience placed by Clara (Rachael Blake), a fixer for wealthy clients and arranger of unusual requests. Lucy’s uniform is pink lingerie. She starts serving at weird dinner parties for older men, and one noticeably masculine looking female, at which the guests eat ludicrously prepared dishes overseen by a maître d who looks like a topless version of an extra from a Robert Palmer video. Clara persuades Lucy to become her sleeping beauty, to lie drugged in a bed for melancholy old men to peruse at their leisure though she remains unaware of what is happening to her. 
There is a disturbing sequence when one of these men becomes aggressive, burning her with a cigar, yet even though she is sleeping she seems the stronger of the two.  He is impotent, ugly, and unlovable.  Aware of it too no doubt and perhaps this fuels his rage. Yet Julia Leigh is by no means unsympathetic to the vagaries of age.  One man delivers a startling monologue about his weariness with life.  What makes this moment more immediate is Leigh’s decision to cut from a reverse shot by having the actor directly face the camera as he begins to speak.  Though in terms of the narrative he is talking to Clara, Leigh breaks the Fourth Wall bringing the viewer into the story, another voyeur here to observe but never touch the heroine.
Sleeping Beauty is made up of static takes, the camera rarely moving, just watching and observing.  The acting is non-realistic and underplayed and the ethereal Emily Browning is outstanding.  The effect is unsettling and often this deadpan approach is quite funny. Though it may be inscrutable Sleeping Beauty is all the better for this ambiguity. Leigh has already written the screenplay for another movie, The Hunter (2011, Daniel Nettheim) based on her own novel, but it will be interesting to see what she chooses to direct next.


Extras


Cast & Crew Interviews are fairly short but in Leigh’s case revealing as she discusses her approach to the film and how she wants the audience to be a “tender witness.” Apart from that there are only trailers; one for Sleeping Beauty, the disturbing serial killer movie Snowtown (2011, Justin Kurzel), and a TV mini-series called The Slap starring Melissa George and Alex Dimitriades.

DVD Reviews – ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,’ ‘Drive’

Smiley reflects on events in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy didn’t make much of an impression on me at the cinema. Watching Tomas Alfredson’s film on DVD proved to be a much more rewarding experience. The attention to detail is astonishing. Not just in terms of set design (loved the Wimpy bar) but also in terms of how subtle Alfredson’s approach to the material is. There are little touches that passed me by first time around, such as seeing a Hungarian police officer carrying a baby in the background of a scene. Earlier we saw the child’s mother get caught in the crossfire as Jim Prideux’s (Mark Strong) operation went badly wrong.  I misjudged the film thinking it cold and indifferent. There is plenty of humanity here, it’s just everybody keeps their feelings hidden. Letting your guard down in this world can prove costly as Ricky Tarr (Tom Hardy) finds out when he inadvertently blows his cover and puts the woman he loves in danger not to mention his own colleagues.

Le Carre experienced the paranoia of the post-Kim Philby era first hand and Alfredson captures this unease perfectly. Often he places the camera up high or at unusual angles so it seems like the viewer is also complicit, another pair of eyes watching as these people scheme and machinate. George Smiley (Gary Oldman) too is an observer, rarely speaking, taking everything in. It’s a great performance by Oldman, easily his best since the 1980’s when he did his most exciting work in films like Sid and Nancy (1986, Alex Cox) and The Firm (1987, Alan Clarke). I’ve watched the film twice since getting the DVD and it gets better each time.

Special Features

There is a fantastic interview with John le Carre in which he discusses his novel, his own time in the Intelligence service, the differences between Gary Oldman and the TV version’s leading man Alec Guinness. The only other extras are deleted scenes and a laid back commentary from Alfredson and Oldman.

Driver and Irene Share a Moment in Drive
With its retro vibe and synthesiser-heavy soundtrack Drive is a throwback to 80’s action thrillers like Thief (Michael Mann 1981), and To Live and Die in LA (William Freidkin 1985). Taciturn loner (Gosling) comes to the aid of his pretty neighbour (Carey Mulligan) when Mobsters force her ex-con husband to take part in a heist. Refn mixes restraint in the emotional scenes with over the top violence as heads are destroyed and arteries are opened. 

The Driver lives the customary solitary existence expected of existential loner types in the movies ever since Alain Delon starred in Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai (1967). We know nothing about him, except he drives; for the movies as a stunt driver and at night as a getaway driver for hire. Maybe there is nothing else to know. During the day he works at a garage run by Shannon (Bryan Cranston) who dreams of competing in stock car races with Driver at the wheel. Irene (Mulligan) awakens something in Driver though, and he begins to spend time with her and her young son. These early scenes are achingly romantic and made up of meaningful stares and sparse dialogue. 

This mixture of yearning and savagery sums up the movie. Is the Driver a hero or a psychopath? Is he Shane or is he Travis Bickle? The biggest surprise in Drive is comedian Albert Brooks menacing performance as a blade-wielding gangster, performing the same function as the genial but ruthless drug lord Milo in ‘Pusher.’ Refn likes violent protagonists, the most notable exception being Miss Marple (Refn directed a couple of episodes of the TV series), and putting themselves in situations where they must struggle to extricate themselves within a short period of time. 

There have been churlish complaints about Drive being nothing more than an exercise in style, but these are wide of the mark. The story, based on a novel by James Sallis and adapted by screenwriter Hossein Amini (The Wings of the Dove), may be a cliche, but Refn’s direction, his use of long takes, slow motion, lighting, and music are mesmerising. The style gives the film substance. Drive may also be a pastiche of earlier films, like the game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City it conjures up a world made from movies that has little to do with reality. Yet Refn invests Drive with a poeticism rarely found in action/thrillers and like the best genre films it transcends itself. 

Special Features

Not many. There is a blinding Q & A session post-BFI screening hosted by film critic Robbie Collin. Apart from that there is a trailer and a TV spot. Nice menu though. 

The Tin Drum – DVD Review

Volker Schlöndorff’s adaptation of Gunter Grass’s novel ‘The Tin Drum’ is almost unbearable. It turns the rise of Nazism into a grotesque farce and suggests those involved were mentally aberrant rather than willing participants in the horror. That the film offers such a childish view of the world should not be a surprise given we see the world through the eyes of little Oskar (David Bennent).  Oskar is three years old and decides to stop growing when he receives a tin drum for his birthday. As a citizen of Danzig, the ‘free city’ claimed by Poland and Germany he is at the heart of the chaos that will engulf the world. 
In the novel the narrator is unreliable and probably insane. Schlöndorff makes Oskar a heroic figure performing his own mini-rebellion against an ideology which promotes physical strength. As an allegory it does not work because Oskar’s decision not to engage with the adult world makes him as guilty as they are. Schlöndorff takes the magical realist elements of the novel literally and despite his regular collaborator Igor Luthor using the kind of bright garish colours you associate with a Hollywood musical The Tin Drum never has the otherwordly fairytale feel you suspect Schlöndorff was aiming for.  
Yet The Tin Drum is undeniably an important film. When the film premiered in 1979 West Germany was undergoing an identity crisis with the younger generation seeking to confront their parents over their involvement with Nazi Germany. Schlöndorff was part of a movement critics christened the New German Cinema though none of the directors had much stylistically in common with each other than being from the same country and challenging the old order. Gunter Grass too challenged the complacency of the FDR with his irreverent and often provocative novels. The film became an international hit managing to be one of the few films to pick up the Palme D’Or at Cannes and an Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture. 
Special Features
Arrow Academy continues their impressive series of classic European films with this dual format DVD release of The Tin Drum. Both the original theatrical cut and restored version of the Director’s Cut are here. Schlöndorff provides an audio commentary and there two interviews with him, the first given at Cannes in 2001, and the second concerning the new version. Where Arrow Academy often excels is in the written work accompanying a film. The Tin Drum has essays by George Lellis and Hans-Bernard Moeller, authors of ‘Volker Schlöndorff’s Cinema: Adaptation, Politics and the Movie-appropriate,’ as well as extracts from the director’s diary, and pieces by screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere, and Gunter Grass. 

Top Ten Films 2011

Here’s my top ten list for 2011. As with all lists it is a matter of personal taste.

10) SHAME



“We’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place.” 



Its final descent into a hellish sexual underworld with sex-addict Brandon (Michael Fassbender) on an odyssey to penetrate anything with an orifice is ridiculous but for the most part Shame is a haunting study of urban loneliness. The heart of the film is the fractious relationship between Brandon and his equally damaged sister Irene (Carey Mulligan). Fassbender has been getting most of the acclaim but Mulligan matches him. There is clearly some traumatic incident in their past they can’t get over and though there are subtle hints screenwriter Abi Morgan and director Steve McQueen avoid offering any easy explanations. Shame is exactly how I like my movies, ambiguous, voyeuristic, and full of yearning. And when it comes to singing ‘New York New York’ Carey Mulligan kicks Frank Sinatra’s ass.

9) THE ARTIST



” (Silence)”

Director Michel Hazanavicius proved himself to be a dab hand at pastiche with his OSS 117 movies. This charming tale of a silent era movie star (Jean Dujardin) having to deal with the advent of sound and repressing his feelings for Hollywood’s new It Girl (Berenice Bejo) captures the style of those early movies perfectly. Both actors seem like they belong in the 1920’s. Dujardin channels Douglas Fairbanks and his permanently amused screen presence. Bejo’s comic timing is exceptional.  Oddly enough for a film made in black and white The Artist reminded me a lot of Stanley Donen’s Technicolor masterpiece Singin’ in the Rain (1952). It too is about a silent star trying to deal with the advent of sound. The approach the two directors make to their stories may be different but their final coda is the same; “Gotta Dance!”

8) DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME



“Everything is transient. Follow Heaven’s Mandate”

Lush epic murder-mystery from genre specialist Tsui Hark. Andy Lau’s world-weary detective is freed from prison to investigate a series of murders linked to the construction of a giant Buddha statue. Featuring spontaneous combustion, talking fawns, and kung fu fights with puppets on a string, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame has everything you could want from a wuxia. Sammo Hung choreographed the fight sequences. There’s great support from Carina Lau as China’s only female Empress, Li Bingbing as her right hand woman, and Chao Deng as an enigmatic albino warrior. 
7) MELANCHOLIA


“Life is only on Earth, and not for long.”

A welcome return to the stylised form of film-making Lars von Trier rejected for the strictures of Dogme, Melancholia is the director’s best work since the TV series The Kingdom (1994). As social satire and as sci-fi the film flounders, but as an insight into a depressive state of mind Melancholia is outstanding. Justine (Kirsten Dunst) destroys her own wedding without really meaning to as a happy event turns into a precursor for the end of the world. In the second part of the film Justine is a near catatonic wreck until a planet hurtles towards Earth on a collision course. Then she comes alive. ecstatic even, bathing nude in the moonlight and coming to terms with oblivion far more capably than her well adjusted sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg). It’s a comforting thought for those who view life through a glass darkly. Especially as von Trier suggests those of a cheerier disposition are fucked. 
6) SENNA


“Then he sighed and his body relaxed and that was the moment…”

Asif Kapadia’s sensitively handled documentary about the great Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna had me in tears. The bitter rivalry between Senna and his nemesis Alain Prost is fascinating. A clash between two opposing forces, Senna the romantic who always raced to win, and Prost the pragmatist who planned out his races beforehand. Kapadia compiled Senna using archive footage never cutting away from events to look back on them meaning we stay in the moment watching Senna as he goes on with his career. It makes the final part of the film focusing on the ill-fated San Marino Grand Prix which also cost the life of Roland Ratzenberger even more powerful. 
5) THE SKIN I LIVE IN


“Are you in therapy too?”

Almodovar’s last three films are lifeless and showed a worrying tendency towards good taste. The critics still fawned over them which made me hate the films even more, but The Skin I Live In  is an outrageous return to form. Though essentially a horror film Almodovar still directs in his lush melodramatic style. The narrative unfolds through flashbacks as we begin to find out just why a troubled surgeon (Antonio Banderas) has a beautiful woman locked in his house. I’ll say no more because The Skin I Live In is best seen without knowing too much about it. And with Hollywood having nothing to offer Banderas but voicing cats and cameos in Spy Kids movies it is so good to see him back with his mentor for the first time since Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990).
4) NOBODY ELSE BUT YOU
This is the story of my life. Now that I’m dead I finally meet a nice guy.”

An offbeat murder mystery with the quirky tragicomic tone of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1989-91) Gérald Hustache-Mathieu’s film functions as an unofficial biopic of Marilyn Monroe. Fragile beauty Candice (Sophie Quinton) is the much loved celebrity whose death shocks a small town. World-weary crime novelist Rousseau (Jean-Paul Rouve) is not convinced by the verdict of suicide and starts his own investigation. A facsimile for all the film buffs who obsess over Marilyn’s Rousseau’s initial journalistic impulses give way to romantic longing. Hustache-Mathieu finds inventive ways to incorporate events from Marilyn’s life into his narrative and Nobody Else But You is a far more fitting tribute than the film adapted from the dubious memoirs of Colin Clark My Week with Marilyn (Simon Curtis 2011).
3) BEGINNERS

Copyright Focus Features

“Tell her the darkness is about to drown us”

This is 2011. This is what movies look like. Mike Mills beautifully observed drama flits between the past and the present as Oliver (Ewan McGregor) recalls his complex relationship with his father Hal (Christopher Plummer) and grieves for him after his death. Hal came out as a gay man in his 70’s leading Oliver to reflect on his parents marriage and his own romantic failures as he begins a tentative relationship with a French actress (Melanie Laurent). Mills deals with big themes; mortality, loss, homosexuality from the 50’s onwards, but does so with a lightness of touch and Beginners never feels pretentious or heavy going.   
2) SLEEPING BEAUTY 
“All of my bones are broken”

Novelist Julia Leigh makes her directorial debut with this baffling, haunting, perverse, oddity which plays like a deadpan version of a 70’s softcore flick. Emily Browning is Lucy, a student sleepwalking through her life submitting herself to the desires of others. Only a tender friendship with a socially withdrawn drunken literary type suggests Lucy can feel anything at all. She gets a job working as a lingerie-wearing waitress at elaborate dinner parties organised by an attractive older woman (Rachael Blake) then allows herself to be drugged and put to sleep for melancholy old men to peruse. The acting is stylised rather than realistic, the dialogue artfully constructed especially when Leigh decides to break the fourth wall during a conversation by switching from a reverse shot to having one of the characters directly address the camera and deliver a lengthy monologue on how weary he is with life. What’s the film all about? Is it a parable about the objectification of female beauty? Maybe it’s a mad parody about the exploitation of those working in the food service industry.Or maybe Lucy is dreaming for at one point we see her going to sleep and the screen goes dark. I’m not sure Leigh wants us to know and Sleeping Beauty is all the better for this ambiguity. 
1) DRIVE

Credit – Richard Foreman

 “There’s something about you boy”

There has been a fair old backlash against Nicolas Winding Refn’s sleek and stylish existential crime thriller. The arthouse crowd resent an exploitative B-movie getting critical acclaim while curiously enough the artier aspects of Refn’s direction alienated those who like their action films to be a bit more fast and furious. Drive is derivative but genre films always are. Its influences are many; Melville, Michael Mann, Shane (George Stevens 1950), Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1964), and pretty much the whole of the 1980’s. However Refn brings his own sensibility to the film. Refn’s devotion to violent protagonists has been in evidence since his debut film Pusher (1997) and once again he takes a morally non-committed approach to his storytelling. It is entirely up to the audience whether they see the Ryan Gosling’s Driver as a hero or a head-stomping psycho. The early scenes with Driver growing close to Carey Mulligan’s single mom have a tenderness rarely present in Refn’s work. Only the awkward courtship between social misfits Lenny and Lea in the otherwise macho Bleeder (1999) hinted Refn has a romantic side. One day Refn might actually get around to making a great drama about real human beings rather than films about movie archetypes but till then I’m happy to watch him move from genre to genre. Next up a martial arts film with Ryan Gosling. Looking forward to it already.