God's Own Country (dir. Francis Lee) 2017

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God’s own Country is a simple love story. A gritty, realistic, unsentimental love story. It is set in surroundings that are bleak and that sometimes seem hopeless. It is peopled with characters whose lives reflect that environment.

It is not an easy watch, Francis Lee, the director, has chosen not to airbrush the harsh realities of farm life on the Yorkshire moors, so there are scenes of birth, death, blood and gore. The characters, too, are depicted in a brutally honest way. They do not talk a great deal and when they do they are often spikey and abrasive. However, the occasional tenderness displayed seems highlighted because of this.

The four main actors are all great, both Josh O’Connor as Johnny and Alec Secareanu as Gheorghe appear to bare their soul for the camera and Gemma Jones is great as Nan. Ian Hart is outstanding, with a beautifully nuanced performance as Johnny’s Dad, Martin. He can be harsh and  blunt, but beneath it all what he wants is his son’s happiness.

This is a film that is defined by the place in which it is set. Not only is this a very British film, it is a northern film, in much the same way that the band, The Smiths, were, when they were at their best. Sometimes the diamond shines all the brighter for being in a rougher environment, and that is certainly the case here. It is a very simple love story made sweeter by being found in such a hopeless place.

Wiener-Dog (dir. Todd Solondz) 2016

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This is a comedy written and directed by Todd Solondz. If you know his name and like his movies you will know not to expect uplifting and light hearted comedy, and this one is bleak even by his standards.
It consists of four short stories about people whose lives are affected by coming into contact with a Dachshund. It is well written, beautifully observed and has some great performances. I thought Ellen Burstyn and Julie Delpy were particularly good.
However, I really did not enjoy the film. Almost every character is cruel, self-serving or damaged and the humour comes from the dysfunctional way they deal with their lives. This is certainly a movie where we are laughing at them – not with them. Most of the laughs fall into the “so horrible it’s funny” category. The fact that that the film is so well made and the characters and situations are so realistically handled, make the comedy darker. I laughed rarely, and when I did, I disliked myself for doing so.  I left the cinema feeling depressed and dispirited.
It is said that “Great Art” is any which makes you feel strong emotions, either good or bad. In that case, this is “Great Art” but, if I were given the hour and a half back, I would choose not to spend it in that cinema.

Indignation (dir. James Schamus) 2016

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Indignation was first shown in London as part of the Sundance London film festival. Based on a Philip Roth novel, it is set in Columbus, Ohio. It is the story of a New York boy’s first semester at college. The whole film is a flashback to 1951, showing how decisions made at that time, led to the position that he is in now.
This film is James Schamus’ first as director and he does an amazing job of immersing us in the milieu and mindset of the day. The sets and costumes are beautiful, with a lovely eye for detail.
Logan Lerman is excellent as Marcus Messner, an idealistic young man, setting out on life. His exchanges with the dean of the college and his relationship with his first girlfriend, adroitly show both the attitudes of the time and how they are about to change. Tracy Letts and Sarah Gadon are very good as the dean and the girlfriend.
Indignation is a precise, deep film and a brave choice as a directorial debut.
James Schamus’ self-confidence has paid off well.

Margin Call (dir. J.C. Chandler) 2011

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Margin Call was filmed in 2010 and released at the Sundance film festival early 2011. It is very well made, has a great script and the cast is packed with famous actors, all of whom do a good job. Paul Bettany’s and Jeremy Irons’ performances, in particular, are excellent. Kevin Spacey is always good.
The farther away we get from its release date, the less impact this film has. It is a film about a very specific incident; the financial crisis of 2008/9 and the part that sub-prime mortgages had in this. This film sets out to be an insight into the companies involved and into the people running and working in those companies.
It feels like an independent festival movie because its prime motivation is to inform rather than entertain. It achieves this well, and it suited the market when it was released, shortly after the crash.
Now though, most people who would choose to watch this, already have the information that it imparts, and the story itself is good but not brilliant.