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Happy Valley (2014)
I thought 'Scott & Bailey" to be extraordinary - and it is - but "Happy Valley" is gut wrenching, heart stopping, uncomfortable, and totally, totally brilliant. Firstly, nothing of quality can be created without a very good script, and Sally Wainwright's script is her best yet, and rivals her Scott & Bailey scripts. The dialogue crackles with its own rhythm, and sharp observations of modern life, while the emerging story is all at once shocking as it is at times ordinary.
Happy Valley is the name the police use to describe this neck of the woods, around Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. Drugs, unemployment, and the resultant crime are part of everyday life. Within this mix, we meet Catherine Cawood, a policewoman (formerly a detective) played by Sarah Lancashire. At the risk of throwing too many superlatives into this review, I believe Ms Lancashire should win a BAFTA in 2015 for her portrayal of a dedicated, often jaded, but loyal and determined copper. I *believed* her character, through her heroics, as well as her anti-heroism. Her ambivalence towards her young grandson is uncomfortable to watch, but completely understandable. It would be too easy to say that Sarah Lancashire *is* the show, but that would be unfair to some of the other fine performers, such as James Norton, George Costigan, Siobhan Finneran, and a stellar performance from Steve Pemberton, whose character, Kevin, sets off the whole mess of events which kept me breathless for the 6 episodes.
The environment - around Hebden Bridge and Halifax, in West Yorkshire - is beautiful, and the buildings appear to have grown directly out of the landscape, and while this may be an ancient environment, the problems which occupy the police all belong in the modern world. I am really hoping there will be a Series 2.
An unusual TV series
Firstly, I have not yet finished watching the whole 20 episodes. I think I'm up to about episode 12. Thus this review is not really about the series as a whole, but just a series of comments on what I have experienced so far.
The idea of 20 episodes, each running for 55+ minutes, and all about just one murder is an interesting one. I was not especially looking forward to launching into this, fearing that it would get nit-picking and boring. What has impressed me so far about Forbrydelsen is: 1)the beautiful camera work, with such attention to details, such as lighting, perspective and background images. There's one particular scene filmed inside a hospital, and through the opaque glass in the background we see shadowy images moving back and forth, reminding us that there is activity going on in other rooms. 2)the locations, where much thought is given to small details - like the table in the Birk Larsen home, the surface of which was decorated by the mother and her daughter. 3) the acting - superb, almost to the point of being flawless. My parents lost their oldest child suddenly in an accident, and I was able to see in the body language of both Bjarne Henriksen and Ann Eleanora Jorgensen - as the parents of the murdered girl - that very same shocked-into-paralysis that I had seen in my own parents many years ago. All performances are worthy of a mention, but it is Henriksen and Jorgensen who are the most believable, as they begin to tear one another apart with their unexpressed grief.
There is a definite sense of place in this series, and the dialogue itself has little which is unnecessary - other than the scenes with politicians, but such is the nature of politics itself that so much of what is said seems unnecessary.
For me, the Danes have done it again. Rejseholdet was a different sort of cop show, but back in the day it was through watching Rejseholdet on Australian TV that I was introduced to Danish story-telling. At Episode 12 and counting, I'm dying to reach the end of this series to discover whodunnit.
Punch in the guts cinema
Having watched another Dogme film - "Truly Human" from 2001 - only yesterday, I was not prepared for the punch-in-the-guts which was "Festen". "Festen" delivers right from the beginning, and only lets up briefly and occasionally to let you take a breath, and maybe again feel safe. All performances are stellar - from Ulrich Thomsen's Christian to the wonderful Paprika Steen's Helene, but for me, the performance of the film is by Henning Moritzen as the father, Helge, whose 60th birthday celebration it is which draws his whole family together. When he flatly denies his oldest son's accusations of rape, complete with a tinge of outrage, I almost believed him - but not quite.
This film is about the layers of culture and mannered behaviour which are ultimately only of molecular thickness, so that when the layers are peeled away, only the fittest can survive. The cocoon safety of the family unit quickly becomes the jungle. For me, the most shocking scenes were when Christian is beaten up for revealing this family secret so publicly, and when the remainder of the family simply got on with the festivities as though he had never spoken of what his father did to his twin sister and himself when they were children. Anyone who has blown the whistle - at work, in politics, and within families - will be familiar with this level of mass denial, followed by counter- accusation, then the inevitable being cast out. Given this is a Dogme film, we the viewer are drawn into proceedings almost as though we are there, and so when something shocking happens, we are shocked also, partly because we realise we are part of the story and no longer at the safe distance of a casual observer. It is worth sitting through a certain level of discomfort to eventually hear the handful of words spoken by Helge which are essentially his admission of guilt. He throws this sentence into the air, almost as though he's daring his family members to believe him. The contempt he has for his children is clear.
This film is for lovers of cinema. I'm not sure I'd call "Festen" entertainment, but like other Dogme films, it will give you plenty to think about.
Should be shown in all schools to 14-15 yr-olds
This film is remarkable, shocking, frightening, but most of all it was truthful and made without desire to sensationalise the practice of school bullying. I had to look up Estonia on Google Earth before watching this film; I knew it to be close to Latvia, but then I wasn't altogether sure where Latvia was, other than its proximity to Russia. That such a truthful and shocking film came out of this country is in itself remarkable, but that it was so very well made is even more so.
One of my sons was ritually and regularly bullied in high school (taunted, bashed, called a 'poof') and I watched this confident boy turn into a scared, then cynical and angry adolescent. Whatever I did to stop this happening eventually resulted in an escalation of the bullying. This is the nature of bullies - they are determined to maintain power over others, since without this they perceive themselves as failures.
In "Klass" we never gain any insight into why it is Anders and Paul have chosen dominance and violence as their weapon of choice. It is documented that the bullied often become bullies themselves, so we can only contemplate their possible real reasons for expressing such violent hatred against their 'freak of choice', the sensitive Joosep. The violence escalates as the film progresses, and it becomes clear that those who stand by and watch are probably relieved to not be the one on the receiving end.
This film is very well made. The acting is always believable, the cast well-chosen, and there is little left in the final cut which is not absolutely necessary to the narrative. Visually it is often frightening as the viewer is drawn into each scene, and camera work and editing work are excellent. By the time Joosep and his accomplice, Kaspar, are at a point where they decide to take drastic action, I was feeling as trapped and hopeless as they were.
A must-see for everyone in the Western world. It will shock you, but perhaps that is not altogether a bad thing.
You'll hold your breath for the whole 113 minutes
I have lately been trawling through Swedish movies, in an effort to watch as many as I can. I have not yet come across one that I didn't at least appreciate. The Scandinavians are remarkable story-tellers, and can teach the rest of the world a thing or two about good story-telling in film. What surprises me the most is why it is the rest of the world does not know about and applaud this film. As an examination of bullying and abuse it is extraordinary.
"Ondskan" is the story of one teenage boy's experiences of bullying - both as a perpetrator and also from the receiving end - firstly at the hands of his bitter & twisted stepfather, then in the school-yard at his high school, and lastly at an exclusive boarding school to which he is sent by his mother. It is a highly charged movie, and will be too much for some more sensitive viewers, but tells a very important story of how it is bullying is perpetrated, justified, institutionalised, and then passed on so that the behaviour continues.
There is little to place this story in an historical context other than the music and the rather odd dress of the late 1950's. The culture of the school to which Erik Ponti is sent is one in which the members of the Council - the Boss Boys - ritually bully the younger boys, and the school staff turn a blind eye. To fight back by striking a Council member is to invite expulsion, and Erik cannot risk this. Andreas Wilson has a strong presence, and is believable as Erik, and Henrik Lundstrom, who plays the sensitive Pierre, is worthy of mention also. I came across this movie because I was searching for movies featuring Gustaf Skarsgard. In "Ondskan" Skarsgard plays the student we all want to hate - the top bully - and he does it well. Later in the movie we are given a brief insight into what drives him, and the degree of pain he experiences on a daily basis. Great writing!!
The only real gripe I had while watching this film was the swimming style of Erik's character. He was meant to be a top swimmer, and yet while doing freestyle his arms barely managed to get out of the water. With a swimming stroke like that he'd never make it to be top swimmer at any school. Picky, I know, but it bothered me.
If I could give this film 12 stars I would.
Patrik 1,5 (2008)
Should be called 'The Charm Of Gustaf Skarsgard'
I found this film to be a very satisfying experience, but then again, much of Swedish cinema has this effect upon me.
This is not so much a story about a gay couple attempting to adopt a baby boy (and being sent a surly, delinquent 15-year-old) as it is about family, relationships, fitting in, making compromises, and ultimately discovering that what you have may just be what you need.
Most of the movie takes place in a 'nice' suburban street, a kind of Stepford-meets-Pleasantville. Residents spend their spare time in the garden, socialising with others in the street, and being nice to one another. Enter a gay couple who are in the process of adopting a child. Not only does the neighbourhood have to adjust, but so do the couple themselves, and eventually the 'child' they adopt.
Gustaf Skarsgard carries this film almost single-handed. His character - Goran - is subtle, charming, patient and caring. He is the one who eventually forms a meaningful relationship with the 'son' who turns up at their door - wonderfully played by Tom Ljungman, who will be someone to keep an eye on in the future. It's hard to believe he was only 16 at the time of filming, as he creates a character in 3 dimensions.
I like people-movies, and this is definitely a people movie. It is not complicated or terribly deep, but it held my attention fully, and I was sorry when it ended.
Just one more comment........... There is a blue car which speeds down the street, and kids and dogs have to jump out of its way. This happens about 2-3 times throughout the course of the film, and is never explained. It reminded me of the motor cycle which sped through the town in 'Local Hero'; rather a nice touch, although not original.
Elle s'appelait Sarah (2010)
I have only just finished watching 'Sarah's Key', and I am speechless with awe. I have been deliberately and methodically watching Kristin Scott Thomas's French films, and this one stands out above the others. Based on the novel by Tatiana De Rosnay, 'Sarah's Key' follows the journey of journalist, Julia Jarmond (Scott Thomas)as she searches for answers to what happened to the two children of a Jewish family - the Starzynski's - who were removed from their apartment in Paris by French police during the summer of 1942. Jarmond's connection with this child is that her husband's grandparents had moved into this same apartment only a month after Sarah's family were taken away.
Based on real events, the film comfortably blends the story of Sarah from 1942 onwards with the almost obsessive need Julia Jarmond has to know what became of the child Sarah once the war ended. Her quest takes her from Paris to New York to Florence, and then back to New York.
This story is beautifully told. Performances are solid and realistic, and this is aided by a tight and relevant script. Despite the often sad and distressing subject matter, the line between story-telling and voyeurism is never crossed, and emotion is delivered with realism and is never mawkish.
Kristin Scott Thomas deserves a special mention, as does Melusine Mayance who played Sarah as a child. Both performances drew me in to engage with the story at close range.
If I could give this 12 out of 10 I would!
Äideistä parhain (2005)
Exquisite tale from WW2
Having only just finished watching this film, I can say that I consider it to be the most emotionally authentic story I have viewed in a very long time. This is a truly beautiful film, and I was not in any way distracted by having to follow the story by reading sub-titles. All actors are to be commended for their performances, but special mention must go to child actor Topi Majaniemi for an outstanding performance as Eero, the child who is sent by his Finnish mother to Sweden for the remainder of the war. He is in almost every scene - a big ask for a child - and he never ever wavers; I hope we see more of him in the future.
As well as Majaniemi, special mention also must go to Maria Lundqvist, who played the child's troubled foster mother, and also Michael Nyqvist (who can do no wrong IMO) as the kindly, but often out-of-his-depth foster father, and the one to first befriend Eero in his foreign environment. All three actors give such realistic performances that I kept forgetting that I was watching a work of fiction, albeit based upon true stories. I felt that I was being allowed into this private world of these people trying to find their way through a situation none of them asked for, and so I had better be quiet and respectful.
And this is beautiful to watch, set chiefly in coastal rural Sweden, complete with rolling green hills and white-washed buildings. Cinematography and Direction of this film as so flawless as to be invisible; the film just flows gently, but is never ever boring.
Just one piece of advice........have some tissues handy, as it is an emotional journey, but without any of the emotional manipulation found in many English-speaking movies.
I give it 12 stars!
Worth viewing just to hear Kelly's accent!!!
This is about more than kids gaining super powers after an electrical storm. When I first began watching this I thought it was like "Being Human", but for a younger audience...........wrong!! This show is for everyone.
The 5 lead characters appear somewhat stereo-typed at first viewing: irresponsible, annoying eternal-child Nathan; aspiring athlete with a conscience, Curtis; beautiful-but-slutty Alisha; aggro girl-with-attitude, Kelly; socially awkward geek, Simon. Throw in a handful of 'authority' figures, and you have an interesting set of conflicts and decisions to be made.
But then, by about the 3rd episode, the layers beneath and the motivation behind each of the lead characters begins to emerge, and this makes for compelling viewing for people of all ages. The scripts are excellent, and the acting is generally up to the mark. What impressed me the most was how each character's 'special powers' related to their lives in some way. eg. Simon, who feels invisible in the world, develops invisibility as a super power, and so begins to experience the advantages to be had in being invisible.
The English have again made a TV series we'll be watching over and over for years to come.
The King's Speech (2010)
Firth and Rush on top form
As the credits rolled at the end of this movie when I saw it at a local cinema on New Years Eve last, a group of patrons broke out in spontaneous applause - something very rare these days - and I felt that I had been rewarded with a rare film-going experience. For me, this is by far the best film I have seen in a decade.
It is worth seeing this film just to enjoy the scenes involving Colin Firth (as the King) and Geoffrey Rush (as Lionel Logue, the speech therapist.) Their time together on screen ripples with energy and tension. Their Academy Award nominations are well-deserved. Colin Firth is probably a shoe-in, as his portrayal of the stammering Bertie is nothing short of flawless. Rush and Bonham-Carter may have to be satisfied with just the nominations they each so richly earned.
There is much depth of talent in the cast - Timothy Spall, Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon, Claire Bloom - and it seemed liked so many actors of class and experience were willing to climb aboard.
But the highest accolades must go to Director, Tom Hooper, and screenwriter, David Seidler. This film never strayed from the point. It is not really a biopic, and it is not really historical. It is a story about one man's personal struggle, and the people who helped him overcome his obstacles. The fact that this man was the King Of England at a time when leadership was required just complicated his personal difficulties. I found it to be a very moving experience.