Cinema: Far from the Madding Crowd
Far from the madding crowd Cert 12A
Reviewed this week are Far from the Madding Crowd, Samba, Unfriended, Argerich, Two by Two.
Another decade, another adaptation of the 1874 Thomas Hardy novel that lends itself to modern revisions, what with its gutsy central female protagonist Bathsheba Everdene. In the case of this lush and pacey outing by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, the baton has been passed to versatile English rose Carey Mulligan.
Mulligan's Bathsheba lacks some of the facial steel of Julie Christie's 1967 turn but she nails that blend of toughness and vulnerability that is fundamental to the heroine. The suitors, meanwhile, come packaged with varying adequacy. The current go-to man for period-romance male totty, Matthias Schoenaerts is Gabriel Oak (the strong, smouldering one) while the ever-reliable Michael Sheen is William Boldwood (the rich, gentle one). Essaying Sgt Troy, however, is Tom Sturridge who is too modern and urbane to cut it as a rakish, self-destructive rural soldier.
All compete with the rolling, sun-dappled Dorset countryside, which Vinterberg does a magnificent job of framing, while Craig Armstrong's score swoops and soars about.
It's an achingly handsome two hours (thanks to cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen), but it's Claire Simpson's masterful editing that gives it a confident, breezy clip.
You need this with Hardy's busy plot comings-and-goings - Bathsheba may dilly-dally over picking a husband to help run her late uncle's farm but at least the screenplay doesn't.
A flawed victory, but a victory none the less.
Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's last film, 2012's The Intouchables, was one of the highest grossing French films of all time. This time round, with Samba, they are attempting to recreate the same worthy feelgood atmosphere, and while it doesn't work quite as well, it does work on many levels. The Intouchables star Omar Sy once again brings his gorgeous charm, this time playing Samba, a Senegalese illegal immigrant to France. Although he's been in the country for 10 years he is facing deportation and his case worker is the uptight and somewhat fragile Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg).
Released into a legal limbo where he is ordered to leave France but not actually deported, Samba once again begins the tightrope walking life of an undocumented worker. It's another timely cinematic representation of current events, showing, in a slightly sanitised fashion, what life is like for undocumented workers. Even after the often perilous journey, the lives they face in Europe are, without official status, stressful and uncertain.
Alice has her own issues and she and Samba are uncertain how to go about dealing with each other. In an unusually upbeat role for him, Tahar Rahim plays Wilson, Samba's also undocumented "Brazilian" friend and a collection of smaller parts complete a great cast. It's a little contrived but it is sweet, often funny and makes its points gently.
Now showing at The Lighthouse
If, like me, you remember a perfectly nice and functioning world existing before the internet then this new horror may not have quite the desired effect. For your children, however, expect them to cower in terror at its tale of a group of hashtag teens getting haunted via Skype, Gmail and Facebook while glued to their laptops. Think Christopher Pike rewritten by Mark Zuckerberg and you're nearly there.
Scoff all you like at the premise, but Levan Gabriadze's spin on the found-footage genre has a freshness to it that works quite well. Up to a point. Shelley Hennig plays Blaire, who hooks up with her Californian chums for a Skype chat one evening only to find that an anonymous visitor is sitting in on their call. Unable to delete the intruder, it soon turns out that this is the ghost of a fellow schoolgirl who killed herself following some vicious cyberbullying a year previously.
Somewhat understandably, the malevolent poltergeist wants them all to suffer for playing a hand in her persecution. Tasks and games are set to shame them all and put them through plenty of emotional, and soon physical, torture, all done while tampering with the very functions of everyday programmes and commands.
A wronged spirit taking down hot, white high-schoolers is nothing new but that it all takes place within the frame of a laptop screen is novel. Gabriadze has great fun pixilating faces ghoulishly and staggering bandwidths to build suspense. It's all a bit silly, and yet if you remove the supernatural parts, Unfriended has disquieting metaphors about cyberbullying.
IFI No Cert
Martha Argerich has long been one of the world's foremost concert pianists but this documentary, made by her daughter Stephanie, is much more about the woman than about the artist. As the same-sex marriage debate reaches its zenith, it feels timely to have such an intimate account of alternative family models.
There is more about Martha Argerich's career on Wikipedia than in this doc, which, subtitled Bloody Daughter, what Stephanie's father calls her (affectionately), is very much a film about a daughter studying her own family.
The tone is set at the beginning with Stephanie giving birth to her son, a moment at which her mother is present. Using interviews with her sisters and father, and footage she shot on a video camera as a child, it shows scenes from a bohemian childhood.
There was a lot of travel, school was not important, family relationships sporadic.
Stephanie is one of six siblings, her mother had two other daughters by other fathers, her father had three sons by two other mothers.
She never lived with her father, concert pianist Stephen Kovacevich, and they each say they are nervous when they meet. She never lived with her brothers and found out about the existence of her eldest sister only when she was five.
Gently she pieces together the lives they have had, all the while focussing on the mother to whom she wonders if she is too close. It is intimate in its close-ups and in its honesty. Stephanie questions her mother but never answers when her mother questions her, but her narration is frank and open. Seventy at the time of filming, Martha Argerich as a subject is really interesting. As a portrait of an artist the documentary is flimsy. But, as a portrait of a family, an interesting and unusual family, it is fascinating.
Two by Two
From the outset this felt like a story that could not possibly end well. This part- Irish production, was originally called Ooops, Noah is Gone and there's more of a clue in that title. The King of the Jungle (Alan Stanford) gathers his subjects together and explains that a flood is coming but that a nice man called Noah has built a boat, thanks to which they will survive.
There's a moratorium on carnivores eating herbivores and everyone has to line up to see if they are on the manifest. Whilst this happens we meet Dave (Dermot Magennis) and his son Finny (Callum Maloney). They are Nestrians. Nestrians who find they are not on the ship's manifest, but bunk aboard anyway in the reluctant company of Grymp mother and daughter Hazel (Tara Flynn) and Leah (Ava Connolly).
Leah and Finny swiftly run off, get into trouble and whilst their parents sail off on the ark, the kids hook up with other mysterious creatures, including Obesey (Paul Tylak) seeking dry land on which to survive the rising water. Realising their children are lost, Dave and Hazel must join forces to turn the ark around and save their babies.
Clearly Nestrians and Grymps and creatures like Obesey do not exist, so it all felt like it didn't bode well for them. Heavily reminiscent, in parts, of The Lion King and in more parts of assorted episodes of Ice Age, the cartoon is pitched very squarely at younger children - it doesn't have any double meanings or knowing jokes for the older audience. And I worried for the little kids who might get attached to these cute, big-eyed, brightly coloured characters only to find they didn't make it. However I need not have fretted. The writing team has a clever solution which remains hidden until the end. Otherwise, the film does what it should do - characters have little journeys, enemies become friends, teamwork is king, everyone has something admirable. The animation is bright and smooth, and at under 90 minutes, it's not too long. Older children might sneakily enjoy this but really it is one for small kids who will find it easy to follow and get plenty of laughs with the stinky gas and the pratfalls.
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