Category Archives: Cinema releases



Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 4 April 2016

Distributor: Matchbox Films

Directors: Yoav Paz, Doron Paz

Writers: Yoav Paz, Doron Paz

Cast: Yael Grobglas, Danielle Jadelyn, Yon Tumarkin, Tom Graziani, and Howard Rypp

Israel 2015

94 mins

The gates of hell open in Jerusalem in this tense and fun Israeli horror film.

***½ out of *****

History, folklore, various ancient scriptures and occult experts have agreed that there are three gates to Hell. Two of them are usually associated with topographically/geographically tempestuous regions like oceans, volcanoes and deserts. The third one is located in a variety of ancient cities.

To my mind, the scariest has always been the southern portion of Old Jerusalem, oft-referred to as the ‘Old City’, about 35 square miles contained within its venerable walls and a crossroads twixt the faiths of Judaism, Islam and Christianity (not to mention a considerable Armenian population around the turn of the 20th century). Given the on-going Israeli-Palestinian claims to the Old City, it seems an ideal Gate to Hell for a horror film, one in which Jews, Muslims and yes, even Christians (who only really want to convert the other two to their side of the God Squad), must all try to put differences aside and work together, if and when the Jaws of Hades spew forth the most malevolently and seemingly unstoppable demons.

This is the rich, visually tantalizing backdrop to JeruZalem.

Americans Sarah (Danielle Jadelyn) and her dad (Howard Rypp) have been in mourning over the death of their brother and son respectively. Dad decides to bankroll a trip to Tel-Aviv for the beautiful, raven-haired apple of his eye and Rachel (Yael Grobglas), her golden-tressed, equally hot bestie. Most importantly, Dad bestows Sarah with the most wonderful gift of all, the insanely expensive Google glasses, which not only act as prescription spectacles, but offer a first-person digital video camera and all manner of internet connectivity and handy-dandy voice-activated apps like Skype, browsers and Google-icious mapping and GPS info.


What this means for us, is that we don’t have to question why the first-person camera keeps running as its wearer is tear-assing away from fucking demons when the gates of Hell spill out a variety of winged nasties and cloven-hoofed giants. Hell, at one point, Sarah even places her glasses down (conveniently) whilst receiving the root from Kevin (Yon Tumarkin), a handsome, young stud who (conveniently) happens to be an anthropology-archaeology grad student and (even more conveniently) affords us glimpses of delectable nudity.

It’s what one can call ‘win-win’.

Yes, this is yet another found-footage horror film shot on a shoestring, but there’s no need to despair since JeruZalem is a wildly entertaining, often unbearably intense and occasionally drawer-filling experience. Featuring hot babes and hunky hunks (including the well-humoured hotel employee Omar, delightfully played by Tom Graziani), plus cool digital effects (some of which have a Ray Harryhausen other-worldly. borderline stop-motion quality), whiz-bang direction, editing that knows when to sparingly mess up spatial concerns, and shots of both the action and the Old City ably captured by cinematographer Rotem Yaron, the movie yields some worthwhile terror-infused shenanigans.

Add to the mix a few ultra-hunky Israeli soldiers, generally decent acting (save for the clunky deliveries of Indiana Jones-wannabe and Sarah’s bone-beau Tumarkin), a few fun scenes in Old City night clubs, plenty of chills in the labyrinthine streets and, among a few terrific set pieces, one set in an asylum which is so creepy and chilling that some of you might wish you’d worn adult diapers. Importantly, most genre fans will respond positively to a horror picture that benefits greatly from its indigenous flavour.

Hilariously, the Paz Brothers shot this film in The Old City without the usual permissions and permits required since they managed to convince the powers-that-be that they were shooting a documentary. The results of this bravado added a few warm cockles to the guerrilla filmmaking side of my heart and reminded me of those halcyon days of producing no-budget independent movies in the 80s and 90s when I used to do the same damn thing.

I normally care less about exigencies of production, but these have such stellar attributes, that the result is one rip-snorter of a ride.

It’s like a travelogue to Hell.

Greg Klymkiw

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Black Mass

black mass
Black Mass

Format: Cinema

Release date: 27 November 2015

Distributor: Warner Bros. UK

Director: Scott Cooper

Writers: Jez Butterworth, Mark Mallouk

Based on the book by: Dick Lehr, Gerard O’Neill

Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane,
Adam Scott, Dakota Johnson

USA, UK 2015

122 mins

Scott Cooper’s violent thriller about Boston criminal Whitey Bulger fails to engage.

** out of *****

Joe Berlinger’s Whitey: The United States of America V. James J. Bulger (2014) is a modern masterpiece. It tells the same story as Scott Cooper’s Black Mass, a derivative ultra-violent homage to Goodfellas, which it desperately wants to be (failing miserably in that respect).

Berlinger’s picture is an alternately terrifying and heartbreaking documentary exposé of Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, his protection at the hands of the FBI and the suffering of his hundreds of victims. It’s the victims who give Berlinger’s film oomph. Cooper’s picture does little more than blast through key high points of Bulger’s ‘career’. Bulger was an asshole and psychopath of the first order. This places Black Mass immediately at a disadvantage. There’s clearly no room for redemption and the only change of any consequence is just how appalling Bulger’s actions become.

Focusing too superficially on the family dynamic between Bulger, his State Senator brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) and their tough, accepting Mom (Mary Klug), the movie mostly targets Bulger’s 30-year history as a federal informant via old neighbourhood chum, FBI agent John Connolly (superbly played by Joel Edgerton). Bulger is given complete immunity to commit horrific crimes so the FBI can get the dope on the Italian mob whom our ‘hero’ is attempting to rub out so his Irish Winter Hill Gang can completely control all criminal activities in Boston. Seeing as Bulger is so ruthlessly reprehensible (sans the perverse fun Scorsese injects into his pictures), so much of the proceedings are humourless and just plain unpleasant.

Much will be made of Depp’s performance as Bulger and he does indeed seem to be having the time of his life mugging malevolently under a variety of insane makeup designs. His flamboyant excess delivers prime entertainment value, but only to a point. It eventually becomes tiresome. I’ll take Depp’s work as Tonto in The Lone Ranger over this any day.

The biggest problem is a screenplay that doesn’t provide a strong enough adversary for Bulger to play against. This wasn’t a problem in Berlinger’s great documentary since Bulger’s prime victim was the protagonist, genuinely fearing for his life (and indeed getting rubbed out during the film’s shooting and subsequent Bulger trial). What drives the world of Black Mass is Bulger’s enablers, henchmen and virtually faceless rivals whom he stylishly dispatches. It’s the human factor that’s missing right across the board. Humanity is what makes great crime

Greg Klymkiw

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The Fear of 13

The Fear of 13
The Fear of 13

Format: Cinema

Release date: 13 November 2015

DVD release date: 25 January 2016

Distributor: Dogwoof

Director: David Sington

USA 2015

90 mins

A fascinating storytelling tour de force and an ambiguous documentary about a Death Row convict.

A bald-headed man in a blue shirt sits in the corner of a stark room. He leans into the camera, his face half in shadow, and begins to tell his story. The first words he speaks are about time: ‘In the blink of an eye, you can look and 10 years are gone… but the next week is agony.’ This is Nick Yarris, recounting the years that he spent in solitary confinement in a Pennsylvania prison. It’s a dramatic opening to David Sington’s documentary, which is also a breathtakingly dramatic monologue. Yarris is charismatic, intense and a masterful storyteller. After two decades on death row, Yarris requested that all appeals be ceased, and that he be put to death; David Sington’s engrossing, if uneasy, film is an attempt to understand what led to that decision.

Footage of Yarris is mixed with cinematic recreations, often almost abstract close-ups, filmed with a Gregory Crewdson-like vibrancy; in slow motion, a boy runs through the woods, a hint at a dark secret that is shockingly revealed at the film’s end; water pours down a man’s back in a shower; a pair of women’s gloves lie on the seat of an empty car. Crisp, eerie photography of the inside of the prison – the rows of bars, the cold steel of a toilet in an empty cell – is also interwoven with Nick’s tale, as he speaks about the harsh, brutal treatment that he and other prisoners endured, including being ‘tortured with silence’. It’s a captivating performance, full of emotion, as he recounts the horrors of jail, building up a sense of atmosphere by evocatively describing life behind bars, then his rehabilitation, and his newly found obsession with words and literature.

It’s only later in the film that he begins to reveal the details of his past, and the nature of his drug addiction and the crimes that he committed. Though we learn that he was first jailed for auto theft, the crime that – wrongly – landed him on death row is a mystery that runs like a thread throughout much of the film. It’s a story full of twists, turns and tragedies, punctuated by the many mistakes that he made, and also the vagaries and delays of the justice system. And though we learn that he was later exonerated of murder after the advent of DNA testing (although it took years), it’s the final twist that is the most disturbing, powerful and gut-wrenching.

It’s a striking, compelling film that is incredibly personal. Yet, it’s hard, at the end, not to feel as though we’ve been manipulated by both the filmmaker and Yarris. The vague way he’s shot (and the film itself) is reminiscent of interviews in Errol Morris’s remarkable documentary The Thin Blue Line, where the location is obscured, lending a sense that Yarris is perhaps still in the system, though the reality is that his ordeal ended in 2003. While his story is an incredible one, it feels like we’ve watched a very rehearsed theatrical performance, and are left wondering how much of this is documentary and how much is masterful storytelling. But maybe it doesn’t actually matter.

Sarah Cronin

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Make More Noise!

Make More Noise
Make More Noise! Suffragettes in Silent Film

Format: Cinema

Distributor: BFI

Release date:
23 October 2015
For selected venues visit the BFI website

DVD release date:
23 November 2015

Curated by: Bryony Dixon, Margaret Deriaz

UK 1899-1917

80 mins

When the theme for the 59th BFI London Film Festival is ‘the year of strong women’, it seems unsurprising that festival director Clare Stewart would have chosen Suffragette as the opening night gala. And as a compliment to director Sarah Gavron’s film, BFI curators Bryony Dixon and Margaret Deriaz have mined the archives for footage relating to the women’s rights movement. The result is Make More Noise!, words taken from a legendary 1913 speech by British political activist Emmeline Pankhurst, calling for women to be louder, more visible, and impossible to ignore.

The 21 short films selected for this compilation from the BFI National Archive provide a glimpse not only of news footage of the suffragettes, but also at the way women were depicted in turn-of-the-century and Edwardian comedies, sometimes embraced and sometimes mocked. The documentary footage is fascinating, revealing the sheer numbers of people who flooded the streets to protest alongside the suffragettes, including working-class men, who also lacked the right to vote. There is disturbing footage of the infamous death of Emily Davison, who threw herself in front of the King’s horse on Derby Day (the importance of which went unnoticed by the filmmakers, who kept on rolling), as well as images of the huge crowds at her funeral procession. The war brought new work opportunities for women, and we see them staffing munition factories as well as a field hospital in France, where they served as orderlies, nurses, and surgeons.

But as well as the wealth of news reels, the curators have also taken a playful approach to the era, unveiling a host of comedic portrayals of females – still often played by men. In the mischievous ‘Did’ums Diddles the P’liceman’, a young boy dressed as a suffragette mercilessly taunts a policeman into a wild chase. In another, ‘Women’s Rights’, two women (men again) are depicted as foolish gossips. In a 1913 comedy, a husband, outrageously forced to look after his own children by his suffragette wife, dreams of extracting his revenge. But the highlights are the pre-war short films featuring the Tilly girls (Alma Taylor and Chrissie White), two high-spirited young women determined to be gleefully and gloriously independent.

Soundtracked and performed by composer and pianist Lillian Henley, who was commissioned by the BFI to create an energetic period score, Make More Noise! is a fascinating, moving and entertaining tribute to the suffragettes. While it seems like a shame that more wasn’t made creatively of the rather dry intertitles, used to introduce the shorts, it’s a small niggle that can be overlooked.

This review is part of our LFF 2015 coverage.

Sarah Cronin

Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)

Bang Gang
Bang Gang

Format: Cinema

Seen at LFF 2015

Release date: 17 June 2016

DVD release date: 18 July 2016

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Eva Husson

Writer: Eva Husson

Cast: Finnegan Oldfield, Marilyn Lima, Daisy Broom

Original title: Bang Gang (Une histoire d’amour moderne)

France 2015

98 mins

This intense French debut blows away the cobwebs with its depiction of love and sex in the internet age.

Eva Husson’s vital debut joyously blows up simplistic judgements and adult anxieties with its candid portrayal of modern youth. In a seaside town in the south of France, the amorous entanglements between loner Laetitia, school beauty George and party boys Alex and Nikita, lead to the spontaneous creation of group sex parties with other teenagers. The full-frontal opening, a dreamy, fluid meandering among young bodies engaged in kissing, screwing, playing and drinking, drops us straight in the middle of one of their orgies. But what follows is not quite what might be expected from such a beginning: neither exploitative shocker nor critique of our pornified culture, the film is instead a complex, nuanced tale of love in the time of total sexual freedom.

That porn has an impact on young people’s views of sexuality is acknowledged; so is the pull of youthful hedonism. But the sex parties are prompted less by explicit YouTube videos than by a girl’s heartbreak. And the two most attractive and sexually active characters in the film, one male, one female, despite all the banging and the bravado, are ultimately looking for love in its different forms. These teenagers know everything there is to know about sexuality, but they are as maladroit and inexperienced as their elders when it comes to feelings and relationships. Countering media-inflated concerns about the effect of modern life on young people, Bang Gang affirms that the context may have changed, but growing up and negotiating your way through love and sexuality remains essentially the same: sexual freedom does not pervert love; nor does it make it easier, or more difficult, to find it.

Some of what has changed is for the better: the girls in the film are sexually liberated and are not punished for it. They openly like sex as much as the boys, and can be equally as unsentimental. Romantic clichés are sent up (the idea that the first time has to be special for a girl is comically subverted), and love can be found through the excesses of drugged sexual experimentation. And although love is ultimately what the film is about, libidinous desire is celebrated in itself, with the camera sensually capturing the warm beauty of naked bodies and the loveliness of physical intimacy.

The self-contained world of the teenagers, entirely cut off from the adult world, is perceptively, tangibly described. The importance of ambiguous, homoerotic friendships, the creation of a persona to hide emotional vulnerability, the wired energy that needs an outlet for release, are all keenly observed. But although the adults are largely depicted as either unaware or uncomprehending, Husson is interested in the teenagers’ relationships to their parents, who range from painfully absent to weightily present, and the way familial bonds inflect their behaviour. In this way, the search for romantic love that is at the heart of the story is intelligently inscribed in a larger nexus of emotional connections that includes friends and parents too. Fuelled by the acute intensity of lived experience, Bang Gang is an incisively frank, yet celebratory depiction of first love in the internet age.

Virginie Sélavy

This review is part of our LFF 2015 coverage.

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The Martian

The Martian
The Martian

Format: Cinema

Release date: 30 September 2015

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: Drew Goddard

Based on the novel by: Andy Weir

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor

USA 2015

141 mins

** out of *****

Overrated hack Ridley Scott has made a handful of moderately passable pictures since Alien, his 1979 horror-in-space masterpiece. Any tepid accolades I might allow for The Martian, however, are little more than back-handed compliments. The best thing I can say about the picture is that it’s watchable; the finest work Scott has wrenched out of his rectum since the miraculous aforementioned fluke.

By now, most viewers will know that The Martian details a manned mission to Mars in which one astronaut (a cute, hunky and plucky Matt Damon) is left behind for dead, only he’s most assuredly alive and needs to muster all his scientific know-how to survive until a rescue mission can be launched. And that’s pretty much it. One man alone against the Angry Red Planet.

Based on the popular novel by Andy Weir and decently scripted by Drew Goddard, the film-on-paper must have seemed a sure-fire science-fiction survival tale with relatively distinctive characters, both in the rescue ship and back on Earth at NASA, plus a lot of great monologue-style dialogue for Damon to utter as the stranded astronaut.

The film conjures memories of Byron Haskin’s (The War of the Worlds, From the Earth to the Moon, Conquest of Space) modest, but terrific 1964 survival adventure Robinson Crusoe on Mars. The memories Ridley Scott’s film will eventually inspire are mostly how good Haskin’s film was and how woefully overblown and occasionally dull The Martian is.

We know from the beginning that yummy Matt is not going to die and that good, old-fashioned American bravery and know-how is going to save the day. The ride to get to this predictable conclusion is mildly diverting at best. Buried beneath its layers of fat is a much snappier, pulpier movie wanting to burst forth like the parasitical penis-creature that exploded from within John Hurt’s chest in Alien.

I’ve always wondered what happened to the Ridley Scott of that 1979 classic.

The Martian could have used that guy.

Greg Klymkiw

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In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood
In Cold Blood

Format: Cinema

Release date:
11 September 2015

Distributor: Park Circus

Director: Richard Brooks

Writer: Richard Brooks

Based on the novel by: Truman Capote

Cast: Robert Blake, Scott Wilson, John Forsyth

USA 1967

134 mins

Released eight years after the event, Robert Brooks’s In Cold Blood is an adaptation of the infamous book by Truman Capote, about an unfathomable crime that took place in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. Acting on a tip-off, newly released convicts Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson) decided to rob the home of the Cutter family, convinced they had a safe full of cash. Armed with rope, a knife and a shotgun, and full of confidence that their plan was foolproof, they drove across state lines to the remote farm, with little intention of leaving any witnesses behind. The result was four dead bodies, and Smith and Hickock on the run.

Brooks methodically divided the film into parts: the first cuts together scenes of the perpetrators and their victims. The Cutters, the teen children especially, are all wholesome, mid-west innocence, the slightly saccharine scenes overlaid with a sentimental score – as opposed to the cool 60s jazz that drives the scenes with Smith and Hickock, both ex-convicts looking for their next big score. Smith is a greaser in a leather jacket, his oily hair slicked back. Addicted to painkillers after his leg was torn up in an accident, he’s an almost-crippled figure, haunted by searing memories of his childhood (whether or not his past in any way justifies his actions is up to the audience to decide). Hickock, in a terrific performance from then-newcomer Wilson, is the charismatic one, the guy with the plan, who – though he talks the talk – is unable to kill people himself, and needs someone with muscle.

The atmosphere is claustrophobic as Smith and Hickock drive the hundreds of miles to the Cutters’ home, their journey across the barren plains brilliantly evoked by cinematographer Conrad Hall, who won an Oscar for the film. The camera is ever present in the car with the men throughout much of the film, dialogue, rather than action, propelling the story. Their conversations shine a light on their past and present lives, a means of exploring their motivation, and establishing them as deluded and strangely naive, rather than just cold-hearted killers.

After their arrival at the farm, the film skips ahead, leaving the audience initially in the dark (the murders themselves are later relived in cruel detail when Smith and Hickock are finally caught and forced to confess). As the focus shifts to the following day, and the discovery of the bodies, In Cold Blood becomes less of a film noir and more of a police procedural, with the manhunt led by Alvin Dewey (John Forsythe). The murders are shocking, senseless, and the police, the community, and of course, the film itself, struggle – in the words of a journalist, who follows the tragic story through to its conclusion – to understand how a ‘violent, unknown force destroys a decent, ordinary family’.

This attempt at understanding, unfortunately, becomes one of the film’s weaknesses. There are moments of brilliance, but the narrative, with the exception of some terrific flashbacks, feels relentlessly unswerving, from the introduction of the characters, to their arrest, imprisonment, and finally, their execution. Capote was famously opposed to the death penalty, and Brooks carries across that sentiment. Their deaths are presented in a documentary-like style, which, although chilling, again robs the film of cinematic tension. In Cold Blood is at its best, stylistically, when it indulges in its noir leanings, rather than when it works as a docudrama. But with Quincy Jones’s excellent soundtrack, the captivating black and white cinematography, and the dynamism between Smith and Hickok, it’s still a compelling watch.

Sarah Cronin

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Buttercup Bill

Buttercup Bill
Buttercup Bill

Format: Cinema

Release date: 4 September 2015

Distributor: Trinity Film

Directors: Émilie Richard-Froozan, Rémy Bennett

Writers: Émilie Richard-Froozan, Rémy Bennett

Cast: émy Bennett, Evan Louison

USA 2014

96 mins

A young girl in a white dress runs out from the woods into a field. Children play games in a hallway, chasing each other, laughing. A girl is spun around in a field, her eyes covered with a yellow strip of fabric. A boy in a cowboy hat stands, smiling, on a wooded path. The meaning of these images is only gradually revealed, but they create an air of tense mystery that persists throughout the striking, compelling Buttercup Bill. Dream-like, elliptical, ambiguous, the debut feature by co-writers and directors Émilie Richard-Froozan and Rémy Bennett is a sun-drenched, erotically charged, Southern Gothic romance about two childhood friends, Patrick and Pernilla, and their cruel, sadistic, yet loving mutual obsession. It’s a film about desperately craving something that you can – and should – never have.

Buttercup Bill starts with the death of a woman named Flora. Pernilla – her friend, her sister, it’s never quite clear – is distraught. Her first act is to leave ‘Patrick’ a phone message, begging for him to come to her. She delivers a poem at the funeral, before descending into a spiral of drugs, alcohol, sex. She wanders drunkenly through neon-lit streets. She leaves more messages. She finds Patrick, finally, in Louisiana, where they’re reunited, their murky past soon inserting itself into the present.

The husky-voiced Rémy Bennett (Pernilla) and Evan Louison terrifically capture the damaged pair, who are like brother and sister, husband and wife, the sexual tension, and jealousy, always palpable. Louison portrays the softly spoken Patrick with a wide-eyed, innocent charm, a good Southern boy. But the problem is that he isn’t good. Or at least not, so he believes, when he’s with Pernilla. Their relationship is intimate, affectionate, yet they continually (especially in one memorable scene) inflict physical and emotional pain on each other, and others. And, as the identity of Buttercup Bill is revealed, and snatched glimpses of the boy and girl become ever darker, it’s clear that their sadistic streak has haunted Patrick and Pernilla since childhood.

In exploring this twisted romance, Richard-Froozan and Bennet have also, refreshingly, if darkly, created an honest, never gratuitous glimpse into female desire. Pernilla is in control of her own urges, an active participant in the games that they play with the people in Patrick’s life – his best friend, a possible girlfriend. A scene in a strip club is seen from the female gaze, Pernilla as fascinated by the dancers as Patrick, Patrick as turned on by Pernilla’s desire as his own. It’s a reminder of just how rare it is to see a film that was not only written and directed, but also produced, by women (Sadie Frost and Emma Comley, and their Blonde to Black production company).

Like the relationship it lays bare, Buttercup Bill is tender, playful, moving and deeply disturbing. It’s beautifully shot, Lynchian in feel, with a vibrant palate imbued with the colours of the south, while the heat of the sun, the moisture in the air, are almost palpable. Although there are definitely moments that feel too staged, too self-aware, the overall originality of the filmmaking, the quality of Will Bates’s atmospheric score, and the sheer forces of nature that are Patrick and Pernilla, make Buttercup Bill a stand-out of the independent scene.

Sarah Cronin

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Format: Cinema

Release date: 7 August 2015

Distributor: Altitude Film Entertainment

Director: Alberto Rodríguez

Writers: Alberto Rodríguez, Rafael Cobos

Cast:Javier Gutiérrez, Raúl Arévalo, Mar Rodría Varod

Spain 2014

105 mins

Spain, 1980. When teenage sisters go missing in the remote and barren Andaluz wetlands, two detectives from Madrid are sent to investigate. It’s immediately clear to them that the locals, even the girls’ own father, are virtually indifferent to their disappearance, believing that the sisters, with their ‘loose’ morals, have either run away or brought their fate upon themselves. Although the town’s residents remain stubborn in their refusal to help, the detectives soon discover that the girls are not the first who have gone missing from the area, and that a serial killer (or killers) is sexually exploiting the women before callously disposing of their bodies.

Juan (the excellent Javier Gutiérrez) is the experienced detective with a murky past under the Franco regime. Pragmatic, wily, manipulative, he’s better at needling out information over a few drinks, or, if that doesn’t work, using his fists. His new partner is the idealistic rookie, his future already in jeopardy after publicly criticising Franco’s still-powerful generals. Played by Raúl Arévalo, Pedro is the more earnest, less charismatic of the two, his integrity at odds with the casual way business is done in the marshlands.

Director Alberto Rodríguez’s atmospheric Marshland, (which swept the Goya awards on its release last year) can feel at times like a by-the-numbers police procedural, but it’s saved by its backdrop of social upheaval and unrest. The murders are used as a foil to delve into the legacy left behind by Franco, revealing a country struggling to find its way forward. The climate of fear that existed under his regime still permeates the small, impoverished town, where the police don’t ask too many questions (turning a blind eye to the drug running in the region’s swampy rivers), and where powerful business owners are still untouchable. But things are slowly changing, as men strike for better working conditions, and women are lured away to places like the Costa del Sol with promises of hotel work. But as the women become more independent, more sexually liberated, they are shunned by the community, and left vulnerable to the town’s dangerous predators.

Parallels have been drawn between the film and True Detective, but it’s also reminiscent of Arthur Penn’s excellent Florida-set Night Moves. Marshland is a terrifically well-crafted sunshine noir, with the genre’s usual shadows replaced by the searing bright light and heat of southern Spain. Rodríguez is clearly inspired by the atmospheric, treacherous bayous of the deep American south; the marshes are like fetid pockets of water, where bodies and secrets can lurk unfound just below the surface. The flat, open spaces are stunningly captured by cinematographer Alex Catalan, with some remarkable, abstract aerial shots of the land below, the rivers and tributaries, forming resonant motifs.

Though the violence that the women are subjected to, and its casual dismissal, is deeply disturbing, the victims themselves are never really fleshed out by the filmmaker. It’s the relationship between Juan and Pedro, between the past and future, justice and abuse of power, that is the film’s beating heart. Though the crime is solved, Rodríguez refuses to indulge in a neat resolution, either for the murderer, or the two detectives.

Sarah Cronin

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The Legend of Barney Thomson

The Legend of Barney Thomson
The Legend of Barney Thomson

Format: Cinema

Release date: 24 July 2015

Distributor: Icon

Director: Robert Carlyle

Writers: Richard Cowan, Colin McLaren

Cast: Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone

Canada, UK 2015

96 mins

Barney Thomson (Robert Carlyle) is, in his 50s, wifeless, childless and largely friendless, his only social life revolving around the occasional chat with local loser Charlie (Brian Pettifer) and the strained relationship with his harridan of a mother Cemolina (Emma Thompson), who views him as a free taxi service and unwelcome distraction from bingo. All he has to cling to is his loyalty and professionalism in his decades-old position as barber in a small family concern. But even here, his status is slipping, as his lack of ‘patter’ with the customers means that he is being moved further and further away from his old prestige position in the window. His anger and frustration lead him to a fatal blunder, and soon dogged copper Inspector Holdall (Ray Winstone) is on his trail, as Barney finds himself a suspect in an ongoing serial killer case.

Robert Carlyle’s directorial debut is the kind of low/mid-budget black farce that the British film industry seems determined to flog to the general public (think Deadly Advice, The Young Poisoner’s Handbook), kind of like a Brian Rix number with frozen body parts. It’s too comically broad to work along the lines of Shallow Grave, too dark to work as broad comedy and just never really flies. Part of the problem is that it’s built around a character who, the script reminds us, is devoid of charm, and, as played by Carlyle, exudes a kind of whining ‘why me?’aura. So while the plot contrives to elaborately humiliate and persecute Mr Thomson, it’s still hard to feel too much sympathy for a man who doesn’t seem to care much about anybody else, or indeed, whether he is liked, which is not an accusation that could be levelled at The Legend of Barney Thomson, the film. On the contrary, TLOBT exudes a certain desperation to be liked, it’s full of outré bits of ‘funny’ business, sweary old ladies and vivisection humour. We’re barely started on the voice-over-heavy opening sequence before we get a severed cock on screen, to be followed later with a scene built around an arse on the chief inspector’s desk. Likewise, Ray Winstone’s cockney rozzer schtick seems to be here because people like his cockney rozzer schtick, and regardless of whether it belongs in this film. Which I’m not entirely convinced it does. And there’s an increasing unreality about the plotting, which becomes more and more contrived as the coincidental serial murders and unlikely accidental deaths start to pile up, which would be fine, if it didn’t undermine all the Woman’s Realm and fag butt verisimilitude that much of the dialogue and production design is straining for.

On the plus side you have Emma Thompson having a ball as the foul Cemolina, surrounded by a great cast of solid character players. Glasgow is smartly used as a backdrop, and it’s beautifully framed and lit, with a well-achieved shabby, seen-better-days aesthetic. On the whole, though, it’s frustrating. There’s a fair few nice lines here and there, and I wonder how the source novel reads, because a scene at a funfair where Charlie (who has witnessed Barney trying to dispose of a body) uses this leverage to try to get a free hot dog and coke out of him in the most pathetic blackmail bid ever, gives a hint towards a sorrier, sadder film, one that used all these fine performers and crumbling urban detail to so something a bit more aching and singular, away from all these coppers with shooters and bagged bits of bum.

Mark Stafford

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