Experienced French filmmaker Jacques Audiard, makes what I call proper films. I mean, have you watched the cinema of yesteryear, notably the 1970s, with stories about characters that are deeply flawed and even possibly unlikeable. Well, Audiard still makes those kind of films. He takes risks representing human beings on the edge of society and perhaps struggling with life; people who often make left-field decisions to improve or escape their existential plight.
For my latest piece in the My Cinematic Romance series, I will look at some key Audiard films well worth watching. I will also incorporate a mini-review of his most recent release, tragi-comedy Western, The Sisters Brothers. If you haven’t seen much of Audiard’s work and are drawn to intense human character studies with absorbing narratives, then I highly recommend it.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
THE SISTERS BROTHERS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW
Starring a quartet of fantastic scene-stealing actors in: Riz Ahmed, Jake Gyllenhaal, Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly, this Western bends the genres between drama, comedy and tragedy. Based on Patrick DeWitt’s critically acclaimed novel, the film is set in the 1850s during the Californian Gold Rush. It centres on the titular brethren, easier-going, Eli (Reilly), and drunken Charlie (Phoenix); hired bounty hunters who kill mainly for an enigmatic individual called the Commodore.
The film unfolds in what I would call a curious romp fashion; and it is certainly guaranteed to attain future cult status. Moreover, it also echoes the tone and eccentricity of recent Westerns like: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) and Slow West (2015). While Reilly and Phoenix’ characters form a humorous double-act in terms of verbal exchanges, their actions betray the fact they are cynical, hard-bitten and murderous. A product of their amoral milieu they remain the antithesis of the stylish and charming outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Their latest quarry and target for the Commodore is Ahmed’s idealistic chemist, Herbert Warm. Assisting them is Gyllenhaal’s likeable tracker, John Morris. The brothers’ haphazard pursuit of Warm is a fun and bloody journey replete with: chaotic shootouts, barnstorming brawls, hilarious bickering and right-turn narrative twists. Overall, it’s probably too idiosyncratic to impact the box office, yet, Audiard directs with his usual love for morally ambiguous characters. Lastly, the natural lighting and colour scheme is beautifully shot throughout; while Alexandre Desplat’s score resonates impeccably. Thus, these elements plus Phoenix and Reilly’s tremenodous on-screen sparring make this a very enjoyable picaresque Western tale.
Mark: 8.5 out of 11
OTHER RECOMMENDED AUDIARD FILMS
READ MY LIPS (2001)
This Audiard thriller centres on Emmanuelle Devos’ office worker, Carla, and has echoes of Hitchcock and Coppola’s paranoiac classic The Conversation (1974). Hiding her deafness from colleagues, Carla enters into a robbery plot with Vincent Cassel’s ex-con and a fascinating serpentine double-crossing narrative ensues.
A PROPHET (2009)
This is one of the best prison films I have ever seen. It is a perfect example of the emotional power of linear filmmaking. As we follow Tahar Rahim’s lowly prisoner rise through the prison ranks using: violence, luck, cunning and smarts, we feel every emotion and tension he does during an incredibly compelling journey.
RUST AND BONE (2012)
Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts fizz with passion, star quality and brute sexuality in this “opposites-attract” romance drama. Cotillard is a Marine Park employee who falls for Schoenaerts low level criminal but obviously the path of love is a jagged one. Full of beautiful imagery and brutal violence, it’s a memorable character drama full of bitterness, redemption and pain.
Dheepan starts as a humane story of survival and the immigrant experience, before crossing over into explosive thriller territory by the end. Further, Audiard casts his leads with unknown actors and wrings every ounce of feeling from the sympathetic characters. As the Sri Lankan Tamil, Dheepan, and his “wife”, struggle with life on a Paris council estate, what may seem small in scale is in fact emotionally very epic.
A bumper month of viewing this month incorporating some fine films I saw at the London Film Festival plus some bloody good televisual catch-ups as well. As usual my marks are – in tribute to Spinal Tap – out of eleven!
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
AMERICAN SNIPER (2014) – BLU RAY
Modern warfare biopic directed by Clint Eastwood about Chris Kyle; an American sniper who had the most recorded kills in U.S. military history. It was a box office smash and Bradley Cooper is excellent as are the kinetic direction of the war scenes. Politically I felt uneasy rooting for a hired killer and I also felt more could have been done to show the downside of coming home from war. Ultimately though this is solid masculine filmmaking for all you John Wayne fans out there. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
BEASTS OF NO NATION (2015) – NETFLIX/CINEMA/LONDON FILM FESTIVAL
This is a stunning drama which leaves you battered and burnt emotionally. It’s about a civil war in Africa and the child soldiers whom are ripped from their families and made to fight for despotic mad men. Don’t watch if you are easily upset because Cary Fukanaga’s film is a terrifying journey into the heart of darkness. A career-best performance from Idris Elba and phenomenal acting debut from Abraham Attah, as Agu, make this a stunning film. I saw it at the London Film Festival but it is freely available to watch on Netflix. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (1959) – BLU RAY
This heart-breaking film — with brilliant performances from Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon — shows the power alcohol has as it systematically shakes you like a rabid dog until one’s soul is hollowed out. The story shows a couple succumbing to the demon drink after which their relationship is torn apart. It’s also demonstrates the power of AA in aiding treatment for recovery. Incredible performances, script and score make it an American classic. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
DHEEPAN (2015) – CINEMA (LFF)
Superb filmmaker Jacques Audiard strikes cinema gold again with this brilliant character study about immigrants in France, attempting to forge a life in the crime-ridden estates of Paris. What starts as a humane tale of survival crosses over into explosive thriller territory by the end. There is so much empathy to be felt for Dheepan and his fake “wife’s” struggle that while their journey is small-scale it feels epic from an emotional standpoint. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
DUMB AND DUMBER TO (2014) – NOW TV
Saw some negative reviews for this silly comedy sequel but I found it just as dumb, moronic and hilarious as the original. It’s a twenty-years-later-retread of the same jokes from the first as we find Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels older but just as fun and funnerer.(Mark: 7 out of 11)
EVOLUTION (2015) – CINEMA (LFF)
Some wonderful and evocative imagery and cinematography relating to birth and death could not save this French- arthouse-film-poem from being a pretentious and repetitive bore. (Mark: 4 out of 11)
FARGO (2014) – NETFLIX
I just caught up with first season TV show of FARGO and really enjoyed it. If you’re a Coen Brothers’ fan you’ll love it because it’s like a “greatest hits” package full of their characters, plots, themes, dumb criminals, nice cops and references to their whole back catalogue. I loved Billy Bob Thornton’s evil emulation of Anton Chigurh and good to see Martin Freeman play a “not-so” good guy. Even Glen Howerton pops up filtering Pitt’s dumb fitness trainer from Burn After Reading. I think Allison Tolman steals the show with a fine, nuanced performance though. It’s dark, bloody, suspenseful and kinda funny looking! (Mark: 9 out of 11)
GET ON UP (2014) – NOW TV
The time-hopping structure didn’t necessarily help this biopic of James ‘Godfather of Soul’ Brown but the funky music, editing and performance of Chadwick Boseman as Brown are a joy. Growing up a pauper the resilient and determined Brown became a musical great and must be recognised as a genius. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE GUNMAN (2014) – BLU RAY
Sean Penn does a Liam Neeson and wraps his acting chops round some fisticuffs and firepower as he missions round the world dealing with post-traumatic migraines and capitalist pig war-mongerers. It’s a decent DVD rental watch and has some fun shootouts and action. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
HONEYMOON (2013) – NOW TV
This is an indifferent no-budget horror movie with decent cast, including Rose Leslie, about newlyweds having a nightmare honeymoon. Starts well and has some suspenseful moments but lacks a decent pay-off. (Mark: 5 out of 11)
HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (2015) – NOW TV
Very entertaining comedy sequel in which the cast including: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz and Kevin Spacey have a lot of fun fighting each other in a worker versus bosses plot. The highlight once again is Jennifer Aniston’s filthy-sex-addicted dentist who steals the show with her depraved and hilarious ways. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE JUDGE (2014) – NOW TV
Kind of made-for-TV-pilot-script is elevated in quality by the castings of Robert Duvall, Vincent D’Onofrio and Robert Downey Jnr as a family torn apart by a murder trial. Downey Jnr and Duvall are excellent as the warring Judge/Father and Lawyer/Son who must join forces and attempt to repair their differences while Duvall faces a murder charge. Slightly longer than needed this is decent legal drama with fine performances. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
MACBETH (2015) – CINEMA
The “Scottish Play” gets a gothic and atmospheric treatment from Justin Kurtzel with the majestic Michael Fassbender as the doomed laird. Macbeth and his Lady – ethereal Marion Cotillard – plot and cook up a whole heap of revenge, regret and retribution on the misty Highlands. It’s heavy on mood and pain and panoramic landscapes as the tears of war and greed for power resonate heavily within the wonderful Shakespearean story and dialogue. Powerful stuff. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
THE MARTIAN (2015) – CINEMA
Ridley Scott is back on form with this terrific science fiction epic starring Matt Damon as Robinson Crusoe on Mars. A fantastic ensemble cast including Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Jessica Chastain, Benedict Wong and Kate Mara all combine to try and get Mark Watney back to Earth. Reminiscent of Castaway (2000) we find time running out for the lone Botanist forced to grow food out of human manure. Damon is a charming lead and we root for his hero in a dramatic and humorous space opera. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
MISS MEADOWS (2014) – NOW TV
This is an odd but not-too-bad indie film starring Katie Holmes as a Miss-Prim-and-Proper-vigilante who murders scumbags with a butter-wouldn’t-melt attitude. More of a sketch or short film idea rather than a feature it’s still darkly diverting if you like your comedy deadly. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
OBSERVANCE (2015) – CINEMA (LFF)
Creepy voyeuristic and Kafkaesque horror-thriller doesn’t make much sense but has enough creepy moments to keep you interested. Probably would have made a better short film but kudos to the Aussie filmmakers for getting this no-budget movie together. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
RIPPER STREET – SEASONS 2 & 3 – AMAZON PRIME
Just caught up to date with Season 2 and 3’s BBC/Amazon Prime’s TV show RIPPER STREET. This is a great ‘historical’ period detective show. The usual genre stuff of solving crimes is accompanied by some lovely faux-Victorian dialogue, colourful costumes, great characters and evil plotting. Downtown Abbey can go f*ck itself. This is my kind of period drama; bloody and brilliant! (Mark: 8 out of 11)
SICURIO (2015) – CINEMA
After the brilliance of Denis Villeneuve’s directorial releases Prisoners (2013) and Enemy (2013) my expectations were really high for this DEA/Cartel crime-based thriller starring Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin. While it’s high on suspense, great cast and atmosphere it fails to catch fire dramatically, leaving one thirsty for more heart-in-your-mouth moments such as the brilliant opening sequence. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
SUFFRAGETTE – CINEMA (LFF GALA)
This is a cracking drama which has fine direction by Sarah Gavron with a simple, yet effective screenplay by Abi Morgan. Carey Mulligan is the brave workhouse heroine who decides to make a stand against the inequality around her; for that she is arrested and beaten and castigated by the men and establishment. Her story is heart-breaking and touching and stands a fine testament to the brave women who fought for the right to vote. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
SURVEILLANCE (2013) – NOW TV
Jennifer “Daughter of David” Lynch delivers a nasty and weird little psycho-horror which stars Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman as FBI Agents tracking down nefarious killers on the road. Suspenseful and dark I thought it was pretty good with some decent kills and suspense. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
UNBROKEN (2014) – NOW TV
With Suffragette, Get on Up, American Sniper and The Walk it was a month for biopics and Unbroken follows this trend. It charts the brave exploits of Olympian and war-hero Louis Zamperini played with formidable zeal by Jack O’Connell. It’s an absorbing tale of survival that’s solidly directed by Angelina Jolie. It’s a simple old fashioned story told with broad strokes that, while short on characterisation, would make a good rental on a rainy Sunday afternoon. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE WALK (2015) – CINEMA
If you’ve seen the Man on Wire documentary about the mad French bloke walking a tightrope between the Twin Towers in the 1970s then you pretty much know the story here. However, Joseph Gordon Levitt is charming as the Parisian lunatic and film genius Robert Zemeckis carves out a bravura range of set-pieces based around a final act heist. Overall this is an entertaining, if slight, biopic of a dare-devil mad-man which is not recommended for those with vertigo. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
Watched quite a lot of TV stuff in June including a binge on Hannibal Seasons 1 & 2 plus I have started watching the old school Star Trek series with Shatner and crew so not that many films watched in June. Anyway, here’s my humble little reviews with marks out of ELEVEN! Peace!
**YES – THERE’S SPOILERS!**
THE BABADOOK (2014) – BLU-RAY
Eerie low-budget Aussie chiller which involves a blow-the-spectrum kid and his mother who mentally unravels following the death of her husband. Together they become isolated as outsiders and are left to the mercy of The Babadook; a dark creature from a weird indestructible book. It’s filmed with consummate skill and has a creeping style which gets under the skin. For an hour I was gripped but in the end felt it was somewhat one-paced and lacking a satisfactory gore-frenzied ending I like from my horror. However, the dark symbolism in the piece was highly compelling and the director is one to watch. (7 out of 11)
THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (2005) – BLU RAY
This one’s a rewatch and on second viewing it remains a complex and humanely ambiguous French drama from one of my favourite directors Jacques Audiard. It’s a loose remake of James Toback’s Fingers (1978) and concerns Thomas (Romain Duris) as an unsympathetic slum landlord who tries to use a mild talent for the piano to try and escape his nefarious job. However, he is delusional and ultimately finds little peace from this pursuit as he is constantly dragged back to violence. It’s an involving character study of a man with family and anger issues and is typical Audiard; holding a mirror up to complex humans and their relationships.(8 out of 11)
CHEAP THRILLS (2013) – NOW TV
This cracking micro-budgeted horror-thriller may be shot on a shoe-string but it’s sharp and nasty as piano wire. The basic premise is a drunken game of “Would You” which escalates way out of hand as two friends meets a decadent drunken couple including Anchorman’s Champ Kind – David Koechner. Mild dares such as: fighting a club bouncer and crapping in the neighbour’s house are just for starters as this darkly comedic gore-fest illustrates the lengths some people will go to for fun or money. This film killed: in a good way and the final image is still burned on my retina. (9 out of 11)
COLD IN JULY (2014) – NOW TV
I love my Southern neo-noir movies. John Dahl and the Coen Brothers made some cracking films a few years ago like Blood Simple (1984) and The Last Seduction (1994) and Cold in July is in that territory as it tells a dark, twisted story as slippery as an eel smeared in grease. Michael C. Hall of Dexter infamy plays an ordinary Joe whose house is invaded by a burglar and having killed said intruder he is then hunted down by the dead man’s career criminal father. This is just the taster as tables are turned and chairs are burnt in a first act full of suspense. The story then diverts into murkier waters as Don Johnson pops up as a charismatic Farmer/Private Investigator!! Jim Mickle is an unsung director of very good lower budget films like vampire-western Stakeland (2010) but this was an even better thriller with a keen sense of mood, doom and unsettling fear. (8 out of 11)
THE CONNECTION (2014) – CINEMA
This solid French police drama starring the handsome Jean Dujardin takes a looks at the team who brought down the biggest heroin dealers in 70s France. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before but it brilliantly filmed with a brutal, masculine cast crossing and double-crossing each other all for a bit of money and power. I have to admit I was VERY tired watching this so dozed off at one point as the cinema was bloody hot! However, my cinema fail aside it’s certainly one to catch online or DVD rental. Performances from Dujardin as heroic prosecutor Pierre Michel and Gilles Lellouche as his gangster counterpart are worth the admission alone. (7 out of 11).
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) – NOW TV
I positively reviewed this one last year and on second watch it holds up well but certainly loses power on the smaller screen. Still a very entertaining superhero-time-travel film with the X-Men battling the past to resolve future extinction. Still loving the Quicksilver v Fort Knox slow-mo fight scene. Gets me every time. Good solid home-screen entertainment. (7.5 out of 11)
I also reviewed this one last year and it actually works so much better as a put-your-feet-up-in-front-of-the-telly-after-work-actioner. Here the always-reliable movie star Denzel’s portrays a seemingly meek Homebase worker when in fact he is a deadly former CIA shadow able to take bad guys down in a heartbeat. Like a modern-day Robin Hood he kills the bad and rewards the good all in a calm, professional and explosive fashion. Great, if brutal, fun. (7.5 out of 11)
I rewatched the petrifying original before watching the prequel Chapter 3 at the cinema and while not as good as the first the latter had some cracking scares which had my heart in my mouth throughout. I love a decent horror and also enjoy the more fantastical elements present in the Insidious franchise. I know it’s about Astral Travelling and some such nonsense but Leigh Whannell and James Wan crafted a terrifying original complete with horrific demons and ghosts from the other side. The plots basically involve a family being terrorized by ghosties and troubled medium Elise Ranier and her team go into ‘The Further’ to slam the door shut!
Wan is a wonderful genre director who during Insidious uses a box of cinematic tricks to convey terror including: light and shadows; kinetic camera movement; smash cuts; sudden music cues including screeching violins; characters appearing out of nowhere; ghosts hiding in the corners; and many more. It’s not always subtle but damn it works well to get the heart pumping. Writer Whannell directs Insidious: Chapter 3 and makes a good fist of it as old favourites come back from the beyond along with some newer nasties to give you nightmares. (7.5 out of 11)
JURASSIC WORLD (2015) – CINEMA
Jurassic World is loads of fun. The formula that Michael Crichton began in Westworld and continued with the original Jurassic Park is ratcheted up to eleven! I mean, who doesn’t enjoy watching Dinosaurs wreak havoc on the screen; and the Dinosaurs in this are impressive with the vicious Indominus Rex stealing the thunder. Chris Pratt coasts through all muscles and winks; while Bryce Dallas Howard’s character arc is defined by the reduction of clothing throughout. The joy of cinema is to divert the brain from the real world outside by creating an exciting one on screen. Jurassic World succeeds — despite the paper-thin characters — with impressive chases, scares and one-liners . (7.5 out of 11)
KAJAKI (2014) – BLU RAY
I’m anti-war. But I enjoy war films. For me “blood will have blood” and historically one can blame Kings, Governments and greedy humans for wars. When watching a war film I will look at the humanity on show; the story that is told rather than solely the politics.
Kajaki is a brilliant lower-budget British war film set in the Helmond Province, Afghanistan in 2006 and focuses on the true events which befell a group of soldiers trapped in a historical Russian minefield. The screenplay is impressive as it establishes the characters and longueurs of war before exploding into furious action when the men become locked in a small patch of hellish land. It’s both illuminating and suspenseful as soldiers become prisoners to the past conflict of a land persistently ravaged by conflict.
Indeed, Afghanistan has been invaded more times than a Wild West Saloon whore and STILL there’s no resolution to the fight. Amidst the bloody suspense of Kajaki, however, the bravery, humour and camaraderie on display is something to be in awe of. (9 out of 11)
TWO FACES OF JANUARY (2014) – AMAZON PRIME
With Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and rising star Oscar Isaac in the cast I had very high hopes for this Hitchcockian thriller based on Patricia Highsmith’s book. But it kind of petered out as a story really after a very gripping start. Still, the cast are good and the sunny setting of 1960s Greece and Turkey is beautiful to look but the main issue was I never felt any empathy for the unlikeable characters and rarely felt like there was much at stake. A mirage of a film: promises much but then you realise there is nothing there. (5 out of 11)