Anthropoid

Director: Sean Ellis (2016) BBFC cert: 15

This agonising account of espionage and assassination makes for a gut wrenching watch.

It’s a handsome dramatisation of Operation Anthropoid, the real life mission to the eliminate Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler’s third in command and architect of the Final Solution.

As well as being a ferocious entertainment, Anthropoid is a moving testament to the astonishing defiance and sacrifice of the country’s citizens under the rule of the Nazi known as the Butcher of Prague.

Sean Ellis produces, directs and co-writes with confidence and authority. Filming on location, the autumnal palette weathers the lovingly crafted period detail with a sepia tone. It’s use heralds a ferocious finale and recalls the final moments of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969).

Betrayal is a recurring idea, perpetrated on the country and its citizens on an international, local and individual level. The British government is not spared admonishment.

Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan are terrific as patriots Jozef and Jan who risk torture and execution when they return by parachute to their homeland, Czechoslovakia.

Making contact with the pitiful remnants of the resistance, they discover Prague in the winter of 1941 is caught in a blizzard of suspicion and paranoia. There’s little safety in this turbulent world of coded conversations, cyanide capsules and clandestine meetings on park benches.

Anna Geislerova and Charlotte Le Bon are local ladies who soften the boys’ demeanour and raise their personal investment. One soldier becomes less fatalistic and the other learns to lead.

This intimate investment in the characters allows for fleeting humour and desperate romance. We fear the repercussions of the attack on those on the periphery of the plotting as much as for the main conspirators.

Among the remainder of the strong supporting cast, stalwart character actor Toby Jones offers dignified concern.

The sometimes graphic but always purposeful and excellently staged action culminates in the Orthodox Cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius, where the bullet holes sustained in the actual fight can still be seen.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

Morgan

Director: Luke Scott (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Kate Mara gives a blank performance as a corporate investigator in this wearingly predictable sci-fi thriller.

It’s a curious choice of material for a directorial debut by Luke Scott, who presumably would enjoy being recognised for more than being the son of industry titan, Ridley.

Grappling but never getting to grips with sci-fi’s key theme of sentience, Scott Jnr’s film desperately clings  to the coat tails of his father masterpiece, Blade Runner (1982). For long stretches Morgan feels like an unofficial fan fiction prequel. It is produced by Scott Snr’s production house.

Alex Garland’s debut Ex Machina (2015) covered much of the same ground and is a far superior model.

As the immaculately presented Lee Weathers, Mara arrives at a remote research facility to assess the viability of Morgan as a potential product stream in light of a violent episode.

Morgan is the result of synthetic DNA and nano-bot technology being subjected to an accelerated growth programme. It/she appears to be a teenager yet is really only five years old.

Anya Taylor-Joy endows her dead-eyed and hoodie-wearing character with a suitably sullen teenage malice and is capable of defending herself.

Toby Jones and Michelle Yeoh furrow their brows as scientists while Paul Giamatti arrives to administer a psyche evaluation which is definitely not a Voigt-Kampff test. The scientists regard Morgan as their child and are suspicious of Lee’s motives.

The evil corporate angle is over emphasised and under developed, humourless characters leave us cold and there’s a forgettable soundtrack. Though we’re presented with the occasional arresting visual composition, there’s a lack of ambition in the camera movement.

Despite nicely executed bloodshed and decent stunt work, this is a functional and uninspiring creation lacking the necessary heart and soul.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

Tale Of Tales

Director: Matteo Garrone (2016)

Full of deliciously dark deeds and black comic moments, this fabulously grotesque fairytale is definitely not one for the kids.

In the grand tradition of European folk stories it’s a moral foray through a murky forest of avarice, gluttony, madness, magic and death.

With a minimal of dialogue its entwining stories are expertly twisted together by a marvellous mix of strong performances, stunning costume design, incredible locations and beautiful cinematography.

The loosely connected stories of three medieval monarchs begin with Salma Hayek’s Queen who is longing for a child.

A cloaked figure guarantees her a child but warns of a potentially lethal price. The Queen’s husband must kill a sea monster and its heart must be cooked by a virgin and then eaten by the Queen.

Dishonesty causes repercussions which pass down the years.

Meanwhile Vincent Cassel’s debauched king courts a singing maiden without having seen her face. Toby Jones is a wonderfully distracted king who organises a tournament to find a prince to marry his daughter.

Ogres, giant fleas, leeches,  jugglers, fire eaters, dwarves and a fat lady add flavour to this witches brew of story telling. A circus troupe adds a layer of theatricality and make believe to the mythic environment.

Roccascalegna castle is one of several perfectly chosen examples of Italian architecture which anchor the extraordinary events in our imagination.

None of the royal plans ends in the way they or us expect as they discover lies and self interest have severe and deserved consequences.

The final shot is a breathtakingly beautiful comment on the frailty and difficulty of life, offering a degree of compassion to those who have suffered through their own weakness.

@ChrisHunneysett

Dad’s Army

Director: Oliver Parker (2016)

Don’t panic! Fans of the veteran TV series can stand at ease and enjoy this big screen adaption of the second world war sitcom.

It generally succeeds in it’s mild ambitions of providing charming entertainment and gentle laughs.

The director describes it as a celebration of the long running show and in respectful fashion the semi-skimmed sauce of the picture postcard humour is never crude or cruel.

Set in early 1944, the Daily Telegraph reading Nazi high rank send a spy codenamed Cobra, into Blighty.

Meanwhile the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard, led by the pompous Captain Mainwaring and the diffident Sergeant Wilson, are thoroughly unprepared.

Toby Jones and Bill Nighy step into the boots of beloved actors Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier to breathe new life into the roles.

The top rank cast are hummed into action by the familiar theme tune alongside Tom Courtenay and Michael Gambon as Lance Corporal Jones and Private Godfrey.

Privates Pike, Walker and Frazer are also present and correct.

Catherine Zeta-Jones appears as glamorous journalist Rose Winters, who wants to write a story about the platoon.

Rose captivates the men which upsets their wives, resulting a fresh outbreak of hostilities in the battle of the sexes.

Action is always just out of reach for the men, who’s sense of masculinity has already been blitzed by being unable to fight overseas with the real troops.

But as chaos predictably ensues, the opportunity arises to earn their spurs in combat.

This is as much a celebration of British nature as anything else. So there’s snobbery, curtain twitching gossips and men acting like schoolboys.

But there’s also loyalty, bravery, friendship, good humoured amateurism and a determination to does one’s bit for the greater good.

Dad’s Army is such a peculiarly British institution it would be unpatriotic not to salute as it marches on.

 

Serena

Director: Susanne Bier (2014)

Love, madness and corruption collide with catastrophic results in this compelling Depression-era drama.

Based on the novel by Ron Rash, it brings together Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper as on-screen lovers for the second time in an exquisite exploration of the pernicious power of passion.

George Pemberton (Cooper) is a logging company owner in North Carolina. In the wake of the Wall St. crash he’s struggling to finance an ambitious business project in Brazil.

Meanwhile as he tries to fend off central government plans for a National Park on his land, the local sheriff McDowell (Toby Jones) is investigating his firm for corruption.

At a society party George is smitten by the beautiful, strong-minded Serena (Lawrence). Following an impetuous romance, he whisks her off to the Smoky Mountains where she wins over a sceptical workforce with her knowledge and attitude.

With his leading man looks decked out in stubble, leather jacket and wide brimmed hat, Cooper is solidly convincing as the panther-hunting entrepreneur. Lawrence has yet to deliver a poor performance and doesn’t disappoint here. There is an easy comparison to be made between the characters of Serena and Lady McBeth – but Cleopatra may be a better fit.

Talented and handsome, the leading couple share a resonant chemistry. They nicely underplay a ripe script which helps to navigate some unsteady plotting littered with symbolism and told at a measured pace.

The Swedish director is fascinated with cultural context, mixing superstition and religion with labour disputes and a keenly observed social hierarchy. It’s a shame the many interesting minor characters are too often pushed into the background.

Electricity, the railroads and mechanisation are changing a landscape filled with bears, eagles, snakes and horses; the impressive attention to period detail and epic landscapes are captured by the rich cinematography of Morten Søborg.

Gradually George’s devotion to his bride begins to cloud his judgement and she exploits every opportunity to encourage his independence away from his business partner Buchanan (David Dencik). An accident sees a hunting guide called Galloway (Rhys Ifans) declare his loyalty to her.

When Serena is unable to provide George with the healthy heir they crave; deceit, jealousy and murder follow.