Set in a provincial town in the great rural expanses of western France, there’s a debilitating claustrophobia to Mathieu Amalric’s The Blue Room, a tightly coiled retelling of the 1964 Georges Simenon novel. Surrounded by verdant fields and miles of open road, with seclusion comes isolation, and lashings of heavy rain. It is seduction that sees the actor-director’s character, Julien, become inextricably entwined in an ill-fated and ever more sinister spiral of lust and adulterous behaviour with mistress, Esther (Stéphanie Cléau, a co-writer with Amalric).
Ming of Harlem: Twenty One Storeys in the Air could have been a stellar documentary given its subject. Alas, it’s not. The film’s principle voice – and limited success – lies with the eminently watchable, animal-loving Antoine Yates, who, in 2003, was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment for housing a Bengal tiger (Ming) and alligator (named Al) in his spacious twenty-first floor Harlem apartment.
It’s all the more disappointing for a cinemagoer when a film meant to delight in a fellow performance art falls limply flat on its face. Paired with a weakly executed, western-articulated perspective on the constraints of Iranian society, Richard Raymond’s debut feature Desert Dancer is a lifeless, contrived and remarkably unengaging rallying cry for freedom of expression and self-fulfilment in the face of adversity.
The majority of headlines and reviews on Boulevard – this one included – will preface any thoughts on Dito Montiel’s latest offering with the simple fact that it is Robin Williams’ last appearance onscreen. Considering the final performance of a cinematic great brings with it a tendency for nostalgia and, occasionally, undue praise, so while remaining compassionate it’s important to be as dispassionate as possible. With the best will in the world it must be said that Boulevard is a less than worthy denouement to a fine career.
“What kind of adolescence will a ten year old boy look forward to when he has no arms, no legs and is only two feet tall? How can an eleven year old girl look forward to laughing and loving when she has no hand to be held and no legs to dance on?” This emotional rhetoric, delivered by MP Jack Ashley in 1972 during a long awaited debate on the ill effects of thalidomide, resonates with the same crushing injustice today as it did over forty years ago. Attacking the Devil: Harold Evans & the Last Nazi War Crime details the plight of its campaigning titular journalist to bring justice to victims of the poisonous prenatal drug whose roots lay in Nazi Germany…
Coming to you from a newly autonomous republic somewhere in the vast plains of the Caucasus is a real oddity. Lost in Karastan – the latest offering from British filmmaker Ben Hopkins – is difficult to pin down. Modelling itself as a satirical black comedy interrogating the nature of creativity, art vs. love, and what constitutes national identity, Hopkins ventures into unknown Eastern European territory and gets completely lost.
Camp X-Ray is one of many names by which Guantanamo Bay is known and aptly contextualises writer-director Peter Sattler’s debut feature, which is at its best when focussed on the bare bones of its storyline. A quasi-buddy film, it follows the growth of a muted kinship between rookie guard, Cole (Kristen Stewart), and detainee, Ali (Payman Maadi), across boundaries of religion, intellect and experience. Modestly budgeted and quietly sincere, it efficiently portrays the brutality and humiliation endured by men interned at the USA’s infamous all-inclusive Cuban resort while pointing towards the futility of its existence.
The most gifted actors are able to convey all emotion and inner anguish with their eyes alone. It’s through the window to the soul of The Lesson’s (2014) protagonist, Nade, that the directorial pairing of Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov – who also penned the script – tell an age-old allegory of right and wrong with a number of substantial twists, toppling dominoes with patient regularity in a spiralling tale of desperation. The film is built around a superb performance by Margita Gosheva, whose Nade strives to save her family from ignominy.
With a nostalgic, wry smile Pete Townshend admits not wanting to have been in a band to such a ripe-old age and reminisces that whilst they may have been irreverent in their youth, The Who “did give a fuck”. The band’s longevity, says the now legendary guitarist, is thanks to a team ethos instilled by the management of two men who had no previous experience whatsoever in the music industry. James D. Cooper’s Lambert & Stamp (2014) explores the chalk and cheese pairing of Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, The Who’s mentors.
In the underdog story that was Dodgeball (2004), the teams of Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller went head-to-head in Las Vegas, the spectacle broadcast around the world on ESPN8. Another almost-sport worthy of ‘The Ocho’ would be the World Paper Plane Championships, which is sponsored, as fate would have it, by Red Bull. Australian director Robert Connolly’s Paper Planes (2014) is rife with the kind of heart-warming, back-to-basics nostalgia that will fill kids of all ages with child-like glee and have reams of A4 flying off shelves and into the air.