We review this week’s new cinema releases, including GOD’S POCKET and PLANES: FIRE & RESCUE…
GOD’S POCKET (USA/15A/88mins)
Directed by John Slattery. Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christina Hendricks, Richard Jenkins, John Turturro, Caleb Landry Jones.
THE PLOT: Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has married into the close-knit, blue collar neighbourhood of God’s Pocket, and has been accepted into the community, or so he thinks. When his step son Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) is killed on a construction site, and Mickey has to scramble together money for his funeral, he gets a sudden lesson in what happens to outsiders in God’s Pocket, when the chips are down.
THE VERDICT: John Slattery’s feature directorial debut has taken on an unexpected poignancy since the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film is meant to be a darkly comic look at life in a small area of Philadelphia, but it is hard to watch the film without thinking of the fact that we lost Hoffman too soon.
Thankfully, this is not Hoffman’s final film, as it is perhaps not the performance we would want to remember him by. Mickey is a well-meaning character, who is a bit of a rogue, but this is not one of Hoffman’s trademark powerhouse performances. Instead, he somehow gets lost in the ensemble, and comes out as adequate, but nothing special. Christina Hendricks, Eddie Marsan, John Turturro and Richard Jenkins suffer similar fates, with Caleb Landry Jones’s short performance being memorable, if only for the fact that the character is a horrible piece of work.
Based on Peter Dexter’s novel of the same name, the story follows the events of three days in God’s Pocket. We are immediately told that the community is a close one and will tolerate almost anything, other than not being from the area, and this is precisely the trouble that Hoffman’s character finds himself in. The script, written by Alex Metcalf, valiantly tries to balance the drama and the dark humour, but fails at truly being either. This means that the dark humour comes off as tasteless and the tragedy as awkward.
As director, John Slattery does a perfectly adequate job; the performances are nothing to really write home about, but the film is well paced and interesting. The trouble comes with the introduction of a myriad of characters, leaving the film struggling to keep all the narrative balls in the air.
GOD’S POCKET is an interesting, but ultimately flat examination of life in an impoverished but fiercely loyal neighbourhood. Hoffman, Turturro, Hendricks and Jenkins make a nice central foursome, but none of their performances really stands out.
Review by Brogen Hayes
WAKOLDA: THE GERMAN DOCTOR (Argentina | Spain | Norway | France/TBC/93mins)
Directed by Lucía Puenzo. Starring: Àlex Brendemühl, Natalia Oreiro, Diego Peretti, Elena Roger.
THE PLOT: After the fall of the Third Reich, Josef Mengele – a doctor who carried out horrific experiments at Auschwitz – fled to Argentina. Wakolda: The German Doctor is the fictionalised story of an Argentine family who had no idea of the true identity of their mysterious friend and benefactor, even as he became obsessed with experimenting on the youngest, and smallest of their number.
THE VERDICT: Writer/Director Lucía Puenzo has woven a fascinating study of obsession and cruelty. Àlex Brendemühl plays the German doctor of the title as a man who is not adverse to manipulating people in order to get what he wants. Brendemühl gives Mengele a predatory feeling, leaving the audience feeling as though there is a tiger in the room, waiting to strike. Diego Peretti plays Enza, the patriarch of the family whose suspicions about Mengele – even as he hides under an assumed identity – cannot be swayed by bribes or the family’s affection for the stranger in their midst. Natalia Oreiro plays Eva, the pregnant mother of the family; a woman so in love with her children that she would do anything for them even as she is taken in by a man who speaks German, reminding her of her childhood and innocence. It is this that makes Eva relatable but ultimately, frustrating.
Elena Roger plays Nora Eldoc; a photographer who is as consumed with discovering the doctor’s identity, as he is about concealing it. Roger is well matched with Brendemühl, and the final conformation between the two is as thrilling as it is terrifying. The heart of the film, however, belongs to Florencia Bado who plays Lilith, the object of Mengele’s obsession. Small for her age, but naturally curious, Lilith falls a little in love with the man who promises to make her the same as everyone else, while showering her with attention.
Puenzo’s film weaves historical fact with fiction to examine the notion of Argentina as a hiding place for former Nazis after World War II, and also addresses the rumours that Mengele continued to experiment on humans throughout his life. Having Eva pregnant with twins is a double fascination for the doctor, who was known to have used one twin as a control subject, while torturing the other. Puenzo also explores adolescent notions of love and obsession by making Lilith as curious about Mendele as he is about her. The film twists and turns, eventually becoming a suspenseful thriller as the family try to find out more about the stranger in their midst, and come to terms with the choices they have made. At times, however, the story feels a little too convenient, which leads to a slight air of unbelievability.
The cinematography of the film, by Nicolás Puenzo shows rural Argentina as both beautiful and desolate; highlighting the age of innocence in which the family lives, and the isolation that could well be their downfall.
WALKOLDA: THE GERMAN DOCTOR is a thrilling film that suffers slightly through the uninspiring telling of a highly original tale. Some subplots are never fully explained, but the central story of an unrequited love affair between a young girl and a man who sees her as nothing more than a subject is suspenseful, engaging and tense, even if it all feels slightly too convenient to be true. Àlex Brendemühl and Florencia Bado shine, and the chemistry between the two means that the creepy, morbid fascination at the centre of the film works.
Review by Brogen Hayes
Directed by:Hong Khaou. Starring: Ben Whishaw, Andrew Leung, Naomi Christie, Peter Bowles, Pei-Pei Chung.
THE PLOT: After his boyfriend Kai (Andrew Leung) dies, Richard (Ben Whishaw) attempts to form a relationship with Kai’s mother Junn (Pei-Pei Chung). The trouble is that Junn doesn’t speak any English and is deeply jealous of Richard, even though she is unaware that her son was gay. Richard enlists the help of a translator to try and make the transition more smooth, but understanding what one another says does not always make Junn and Richard’s relationship better.
THE VERDICT: The vein that runs through LILTING is one of understanding. Not only do Richard and Junn have a language barrier, but they also suffer from cultural misunderstandings, as well as a lack of understanding of one another as people.
As the central couple of the film, Whishaw and Chung have strong chemistry and give nuanced and engaging performances. Both characters are tinged with sadness and regret over the loss of Kai, yet both are passionate in their defence of Kai as a person, without realising that one person can be different things to different people.
The rest of the cast are fine in their roles – Peter Bowles as Alan, Naomi Christie as Vann – but compared with the central performances of the film, they feel wooden and their performances lack nuance and subtlety.
Writer/Director Hong Khaou has created a film that hinges on understanding between people, and as such, is an interesting look at not only the relationships that people have with one another, but the fear of loss of identity by assimilating into a different culture. Khaou’s screenplay is engaging and gentle, but he stumbles as a director, by focusing too much on Richard and Junn, thereby allowing the supporting cast to whither and their performances to jar against the rest of the film.
LILTING is an engaging look at the relationships we form in life. The screenplay examines loss of culture, loss of family and the loss of those we love, while juxtaposing this with unexpectedly finding someone new in life. The trouble is that the film suffers from weak supporting performances and some stubbornness on the behalf of characters. Still, the film is a good watch and an interesting cultural examination.
Review by Brogen Hayes
WELCOME TO NEW YORK (USA/TBC/125mins)
Directed by: Abel Ferrara. Starring Gerard Depardieu, Simone Bisset.
THE PLOT: In this thinly disguised examination of the recent scandals surrounding Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Gerard Depardieu plays Devereaux, a powerful and unscrupulous man who uses women, and casts them aside. Although he has the financial fate of nations in his hands, he seems unable to control his own destiny.
THE VERDICT: The good news first, if you ever wanted to see Gerard Depardieu full frontal naked, straining, sweating and grunting as he takes advantage of women before being thrown into jail, then WELCOME TO NEW YORK is the movie for you. The Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair played out in the public eye, and writer/director Abel Ferrara seems all too aware of this, so uses the movie as a way to play out sexual fantasies on the screen, rather than giving us any insight into the characters portrayed.
There is really very little point in going into the performances here – although the women faced with a naked Depardieu have to be commended for their strength. Ferrara is trying to make a statement about wealth, power and addiction, but since the central character denies his actions, and seems to learn nothing from his time in prison, it is difficult to take a message from the film, other than don’t rape women, but we knew that anyway.
The sex scenes are necessary – to an extent – to understand the type of character Deveraux is, but under Ferrara’s direction, there are too many, they go on too long and are utterly gratuitous. It seems that Ferrara never heard the phrase ‘Less is more’. As well as this, by not taking a stand in terms of tone, Welcome to New York feels like a litany of Deveraux’s exploits and punishment, as opposed to a film that truly tries to understand the actions of a sex addicted, violent man.
In all, WELCOME TO NEW YORK is a completely unnecessary film. Devereaux comes off in an unfavourable light, but only because we, as the audience, as repulsed by his actions. The sex scenes are disgustingly gratuitous and it seems that no-one truly learns anything throughout the film. It is little wonder that Strauss-Kahn and his ex-wife intend to sue the filmmaker, and that the film failed to be accepted into this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
Review by Brogen Hayes