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last update 12.Apr.14
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dir Erik Skjoldbjaerg
prd Christian Fredrik Martin
scr Nikolaj Frobenius, Hans Gunnarsson, Cathinka Nicolaysen, Erik Skjoldbjaerg, Kathrine Valen Zeiner
with Aksel Hennie, Wes Bentley, Stephen Lang, Jonathan LaPaglia, David A Jorgensen, Jorgen Langhelle, Ane Dahl Torp, Endre Hellestveit, Stephanie Sigman, Andre Eriksen, Eirik Stubo, Robin Hayes
hennie and bentley release Nor 30.Aug.13,
US Oct.13 ciff, UK 11.Apr.14 13/Norway 1h51

london film festival
Pioneer A shocking, unsettling true story is adapted into a slow-burning Norwegian thriller that sometimes strains to make real events fit a standard conspiracy movie structure. But the film is packed with genuinely disarming menace. Plus a terrific central performance from Hennie.

In the early 1980s, Norway's state-owned oil company turns to the Americans for help in laying a deep-sea pipeline from its North Sea oilfields to the mainland. But these divers are charting unexplored territory nearly 400 metres below the surface. Even the training is fraught with difficulties. Then on a test dive a fatal accident makes lead diver Petter (Hennie) wonder who's really pulling the strings. He takes an immediate dislike to American diver Mike (Bentley). But then no one around him seems terribly trustworthy.

Filmmaker Skjoldbjaerg shoots the film in a gritty 1980s style that makes every scene bristle with urgent authenticity. Although the script never bothers with backstory, so it's tricky to work out how the vast quantity of characters fit together into the bigger picture. We have to catch up as we go along and try to remember who's working for the oil company, the government and the scientific community.

Since everyone is a bit shady, we understand Petter's increasing desperation to find someone he can trust. Hennie is likeable and sympathetic, even when the camerawork reminds us that even he might not be seeing everything very clearly. So we take this journey with him, putting faith in people until they let him down. Or try to kill him. Indeed, as the body count grows, the film begins to feel like a particularly nasty Hitchcockian thriller in which an innocent man is stranded alone in a sea of villains.

So it's frustrating that it is nearly impossible to remember characters' names and inter-connections, which makes the plot feel like it wanders in circles looking for a way out. There isn't a weak performance from the cast, who look dangerous, helpful and helpless when we least expect them to. And it comes together strikingly in the end, with a bold comment on how nations achieve wealth at the expense of integrity, decency and the value of a human life.

15 themes, language, violence
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The Raid 2
aka The Raid: Berandal
dir-scr Gareth Evans
prd Nate Boloti, Ario Sagantoro, Aram Tertzakian
with Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Alex Abbad, Tio Pakusodewo, Oka Antara, Ken'ichi Endo, Cecep Arif Rahman, Cok Simbara, Yayan Ruhian, Julie Estelle, Very Tri Yulisman, Donny Alamsyah
uwais release US 28.Mar.14,
UK 11.Apr.14
14/Indonesia 2h28
The Raid (2011)
The Raid 2 Fans of the gritty, linear style of the 2011 original will be taken aback by this sprawling-epic sequel. Instead of a ripping series of battles, this is more in the vein of big Hong Kong thrillers like Infernal Affairs (remade as The Departed). And while it's a solid story, it feels indulgent on just about every level.

Barely surviving that notorious raid, young Jakarta cop Rama (Uwais) is recruited by his boss (Simbara) to infiltrate the mafia. But after bidding his wife goodbye for a few months, Rama ends up spending two years in prison to earn the respect of top mobster Bangun (Pakusodewo) by protecting his hot-head son Uco (Putra) inside. Now Rama is working as Uco's minder, which is tricky since Uco is impatient to inherit his father's territory, secretly working with wildcard thug Bejo (Abbad) to ignite a war between Bangun and the Japanese gangster Goto (Endo).

For two and a half hours, the film is a swirl of crazed action and talky plotting, building tension until an extended set-piece in which Rama tries to clean up what has become a huge mess. Each fight is more violent than the previous one, with more smashed skulls and snapped bones than we can count. But they're so carefully choreographed that we don't take them as seriously as in the first film. Assailants attack one-by-one while Rama ducks and dives at exactly the right moment.

Not that he avoids injury. Uwais is still hugely likeable, a character we identify with even as things escalate wildly. And Putra and Abbad are unusually engaging baddies, both blinded by their good looks and relentless ambition. This allows writer-director Evans to add loads of subtext in their interaction (sadly never followed through), as well as comical touches in the violent moments.

But it's all about the fights. Highlights include an insane car-chase battle, a clattering kitchen brawl and two specialised killers: a deaf girl (Estelle) wielding two hammers and a skater-dude (Yulisman) with a baseball bat. Everything from the fight scenes to the tangled plot is overwrought, as Evans indulges merrily in a vastly increased budget. In other words, while this is a ripping thriller, it's not nearly as visceral as The Raid.

18 themes, strong violence, language, sexuality
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The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears
4/5   L’Étrange Couleur des Larmes de Ton Corps
dir-scr Helene Cattet, Bruno Forzani
prd Francois Cognard, Eve Commenge
with Klaus Tange, Jean-Michel Vovk, Sylvia Camarda, Sam Louwyck, Anna D'Annunzio, Manon Beuchot, Ursula Bedena, Birgit Yew, Hans de Munter, Joe Koener, Romain Roll, Lolita Oosterlynck
The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears
release US Nov.13 afi,
UK 11.Apr.14
13/Belgium 1h42

london film festival
east end film fest
The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears Fans of Italian giallo will enjoy this disorienting, deliberately elusive horror movie. While the plot makes little actual sense, a thread of narrative connection and emotional engagement holds our interest as things get increasingly surreal. And it's awash in so much visual style that it's almost exhausting.

After an exhausting business trip, Dan (Tange) returns home to Brussels to find his flat locked from the inside and his wife Edwige (Bedena) missing. He calls the police, but the detective is no help. So Dan starts poking around his building for clues, listening to rambling stories of murder and mayhem from an elderly neighbour (Yew) and the detective himself. Soon Dan is convinced that his wife has been abducted by someone living in secret compartments in the building's walls. But perhaps his imagination is running away from him.

The film plays out like some sort of fevered nightmare as Dan falls down a series of insane rabbit holes. Each scenario he considers is rendered with a new flurry of filmmaking gimmickry, from black and white to freeze-frame animation, accompanied by monstrous 1970s movie music, lurid art-nouveau production design and an astonishing sound mix. But it's the emotional intensity that truly grips us, even though the characters and situations remain tantalisingly out of reach.

By resolutely refusing to explain what's happening, filmmakers Cattet and Forzani are being fiendishly indulgent. Their skill at shaping the atmosphere is so strong that they create terrifying scenarios simply because there are so few clues about where it'll go next. Meanwhile, the shocking violence builds to unbearable levels, while each of the cast members delivers a straight-faced, inexpressive performance that only hints at their character's inner thoughts.

In other words, this is not a film for fans of mainstream horror in which every scare is carefully explained. Cattet and Forzani have created something unnerving but gleefully visceral, forcing us to feel every nasty moment on screen even if we never quite understand what's happening or who these people are. Instead, this film echoes David Lynch's genius, grabbing hold on a subliminal level to both entertain us and leave us shaken. A terrific freak-out for art-film fans.

18 themes, violence, sexuality
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3.5/5   Arrugas
dir Ignacio Ferreras
scr Paco Roca, Ignacio Ferreras, Angel de la Cruz, Rosanna Cecchin
prd Enrique Aguirrezabala, Manuel Cristobal, Oriol Ivern
voices Tacho Gonzalez, Alvaro Guevara, Mabel Rivera, Raul Dans, Montse Davila, Charo Diaz, Isabel Vallejo, Carolina Vazquez
English cast Martin Sheen, George Coe, Matthew Modine, Mallory Moye
wrinkles release Sp 27.Jan.12,
US Nov.12 sliff,
UK 18.Apr.14
11/Spain 1h28
wrinkles This animated Spanish film could just as easily have been a live-action comedy-drama. And it might have been more effective that way, because the rather simplistic animation style, while effective and artistic, kind of leaves us outside the story. But the characters are hugely engaging.

When his short-tempered son Juan (Dans, Modine in the English version) puts him in a nursing home, Emilio (Gonzalez/Sheen) is worried about becoming bored. But his new roommate is Miguel (Guevara/Coe), a spry con artist who quietly keeps everyone on their toes. Sure enough, Emilio becomes entangled in Miguel's small scams and begins to think he's being conned himself. Meanwhile, the residents are haunted by the upstairs floor, where people go when their senility gets too bad for them to take care of themselves.

We can tell fairly early on that Emilio has Alzheimer's, but it takes quite a while for him to begin to suspect it himself. And as he watches his new friends deteriorate, filmmaker Ferreras adds moving melancholic undertones to the film's comedy-caper atmosphere. Characters are vivid and involving, with strong, funny personalities and a sobering sense of underlying honesty regarding the situation these people are in.

Meanwhile, the animation is oddly basic. While there's a gorgeous sense of light and shade, the characters themselves are stiff and somewhat inexpressive. So it's a good thing that the script is so strong, adding plenty of jagged humour, dark emotion and even some earthy action to hold our interest. And the skilled voice cast adds some spark as well. Along the way, we begin to care about these people in surprising ways, as the film gently spurs us to think about how we want to be treated when we get old.

The filmmakers mercifully never remotely turn sentimental, refusing to ask for pity as these characters become frail or forgetful. Each one maintains his or her dignity right through the story, so every plot turn carries a genuinely haunting punch. We cheer for them as they plot a midnight escape, setting off on a joyride that we know can't possibly end well. But for a moment, they feel like teens again. But then they always did, and always will.

15 themes, language
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