Thursday 21 September 2017

Reviews: Cake, The Duke of Burgundy, Project Almanac, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Cake (15A, 102mins)
*The Duke of Burgundy (18, 104mins)
*Project Almanac (12A, 106mins)
*Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (PG, 104mins)

Jennifer Aniston in Cake
Jennifer Aniston in Cake

Paul Whitington

Most of the publicity surrounding Daniel Barnz's drama Cake has focused on the fact that it stars a relatively dowdy and unglamorous-looking Jennifer Aniston. More interesting than that, though, is the quality of the performance she delivers in a rare chance to take on a meaty and not entirely sympathetic role.

Claire Bennett suffers from chronic back pain that stems from a serious car accident. She self-medicates with white wine and heavy-duty painkillers, and her sharp tongue and short temper make life pretty miserable for all those around her. Luckily for Claire she has a walking saint in her corner in the shape of her Mexican housekeeper Silvana (Adriana Barraza), who refuses to believe her employer is quite as nasty as she seems.

The real reason for Claire's unhappiness only gradually becomes clear in a nicely shot film that contains few surprises but lots of good things, not least the sincerity and depth of Ms. Aniston's funny, moving performance.

WATCH: The Movie Show: Paul Whitington has the lowdown on Blackhat, Cake and Project Almanac

In his last film, English Berberian Sound Studio director Peter Strickland built and sustained an extraordinary ambiance of dread while paying tribute to the splendid unpleasantness of 1970s Italian horror films. That film eventually got lost in its own cleverness, but The Duke of Burgundy is a much more interesting piece of work. And while Strickland's obsession with vintage British and European horror is evident from the get-go in his gorgeous opening credits, this movie runs a lot deeper than mere pastiche.

In an arcane, soft-focus world where men and automobiles do not seem to exist, a young woman called Evelyn (Chiara D'Anna) cycles to the country villa of Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), an academic who specialises in butterflies. Evelyn seems to be a maid, Cynthia a particularly cruel and vindictive mistress, but in fact the two women are involved in a sadomasochistic relationship. And though Cynthia is the dominant, it soon emerges that Evelyn is the one in charge.

The Duke of Burgundy is a beautifully made film, erotic and even titillating to begin with but ultimately a drama about how all human relationships, no matter how exotic, are fundamentally the same. Like the butterflies Cynthia studies, the two women are slaves to animal impulses and desires, and Peter Strickland's playful drama floats by like a lurid, florid dream.

'Found footage' is the genre that will not die, but should. It's all the Blair Witch Project's fault, but at least Project Almanac boasts a mildly original premise. High-school whiz David Raskin (Jonny Weston) is trying to find a way of raising money for his fees at MIT when he comes across something strange in his late father's workshop. Dad was an inventor, and David has stumbled on a basic time machine. When he modifies and updates it, he and his friends begin flitting back days weeks and months in time, changing exam results and fixing romances. But their temporal tinkerings will have big consequences that won't be easily fixed.

Project Almanac is alright so far as it goes, and the slight nausea caused by a constantly shaking camera is counteracted by some fiendishly intricate plotting.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is an odd and pleasing movie based on a real character, though not necessarily a true story. Rinko Kikuchi plays Kumiko, a lonely, despairing Tokyo office worker who becomes obsessed with the stash of money Steve Buscemi buried near the end of Fargo. Kumiko thinks it's real, and sets off for wintry North Dakota to find it. Her hopeless quest is lovingly photographed in a film that has echoes of the Coen brothers' wit.

Irish Independent

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