IR Film Review: SUMMERLAND [IFC]

The aspect of myth comes down in many ways to the notion of metaphor versus what might be going on in the actual world. In times of war, it becomes an interesting motif since it tends to reflect more in the idea of escapism. With a story like “Summerland” which is set during World War II in a small town near the Cliffs Of Dover, it becomes more about the texture of acceptance and perception. It is the story of a woman who lives her life alone for a reason, burned in a way by love, which leaves her alienated just as much by the circumstance as she is by the time. Gemma Arterton who rose to prominence in large scale films like “Quantum Of Solace” and “Clash Of The Titans” devotes herself more to character work here. Her foil in many ways is two-fold. One is in the past with Gugu Mbatha-Raw who plays Vera and Lucas Bond who plays Frank in her present day. Because of the war and children being shepherded away from London because of the Blitz, Alice ends up taking care of Frank because of an edict to take in children displaced. “Bedknobs & Broomsticks” used a similar construct.

The relationship starts off as all similar situations do but these two disparate yet similar souls start to teach each other about acceptance. However, the idea of masks and perceptions begin to take a toll. There is an earnestness and a ease to the relationship as it is balanced with the flashbacks to Alice & Vera spending times together (which honestly is portrayed more as dreamlike — but that might be Alice’s remembrance since the movie is primarily from her POV). What gives the movie a bit of edge is having Frank have a young friend, both open minded and yet close, precocious and yet piratical in Dixie Egerickx’s Edie who is able to walk a thin line of a girl independent but still of that age. It is a maturity which is both effective and yet unrefined in a good way in terms of acting style. The story of course to a head in terms of perspective and sometimes resorts too readily into melodrama. Also the film is bookended to give a sense of completion which is alright but in may ways too neatly packed. The overall myth of a floating city and how that keys into the psychology of the characters, grasping at a peace just beyond their fingertips which they can’t reach, is an apt metaphor and keys into the greater themes of the film.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: THE POOL [Shudder]

The simplicity of a film is sometimes a hard aspect to accomplish. While some of the circumstances in “The Pool” are a bit exaggerated, its end result is not. One can look over many aspects of certain shortcomings including some of the CGI but the direction creating a sense of darkness where escape is impossible is hard to do in modern cinema and especially with this kind of construct. Granted this takes place in Thailand so the infrastructure and the mystery of it is an interesting progression for sure that works for internationally audiences. While the movie within a movie construct is deceptively meta, part of the film was supposedly inspired by the director’s claustrophobia of the space in certain ways. The creature in effect is not played overly in terms of behavior but rather very effectively in what could happen. One aspect of it pushes credibility a little too hard but again the concept definitely works well in terms of the logic it is propelling. It makes one think of those abandoned Olympic stadiums in Sochi, Russia. There is a probably a horror film waiting to happen there.

What this pool complex was used for in real life and how long ago is interesting. The sets perfectly integrate. More important is the acting. While at times overplayed, it is mostly silent in many ways which makes it not about subtitles, but the action of the characters. It is a primal play. The brutality for the most part is singular. It doesn’t come down to brutality until the end. But the certain sacrifices are quite intense. Very few films have that cringe factor since it is overall done with gore which has become desensitized in modern horror. Anticipation is the more psychological based horror. Here it is animal and human nature which can be far more vicious. Certain coincidences obviously again strain credibility but in all perspectives “The Pool” is its own beast. It is a film that works perfectly in its world but would not work in a remake. It works well because of where it is set but also the characters it places in the scenario. It is simple, effective and visceral without claiming to be anything more than entertainment with a sense of the real.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: LAKE OF DEATH [Shudder]

The essential elements of horror have to reflect in the unknown. Some pieces do it through a sense of mood. Others through gore. Some waver in the excess of metaphor while belying even more dark tendencies of human nature. “Lake Of Death” reflects these ideas in a persistent veil of childhood trauma which is not necessarily balanced within the story. As with some horror movies, it uses the concept of a location, usually far removed from the normal vein of living to act as a surrogate vision for these troubling issues that bubble to the surface and explode in a vein of action. The dark bottomless lake at the center of “Lake Of Death” again serves as a metaphor but also a literal abyss in the path of certain characters. A mute, almost ghostly girl who is supposedly visits the location with her boyfriend and another couple in addition to a paranormal podcast friend seems awfully convenient. The house and the lake also represents bad childhood memories though it is never explained who she (and her mute brother, who is also part of the story) actually came to be there. The humor leads way to mistrust but in many ways it comes off surreptitiously more circumstantial. The film reveals certain hidden structures but nothing truly unveiling.

What is more interesting is going on inside this girl’s mind. The reasoning being some traumatic element in her past are not explored which in flashback might have been undeniably impactful. The unfortunate aspect is that it all doesn’t really add up. There are some great mood setting scenes including her in a bathroom as well as on a lake set in extreme slow motion. Some of the imagery, having to do with the background, has some very Lars Von Trier depth of imagery to it. The psycho-sexual incantations are here as further aspects are revealed as well but mostly in a circumspect way without any explanation. The ultimate resolution is a horror film trope of sorts, more in a European sense. “Lake Of Death” is more metaphorical than literal but the intention is not quite brought to bear. With so may disparate strands including many details and opportunities (like the sleepwalking), the film had definite potential but moved away from it at certain points (whether because of budget or plot-wise) to find itself at an ended deserved but not really earned.

C-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: GREYHOUND [AppleTV+]

Tom Hanks’ affinity for World War II is well known and of course his integration both in documentaries and on the big screen speak for themselves which becomes an interesting quandary and question with the film “Greyhound” premiering on AppleTV+. In one way, it is a great move and completely in line with AppleTV+’s programming while injecting it with star power. AppleTV+ is more sophisticated in certain ways than the Netflix approach but each has its strengths. With “Greyhound” which details a crossing of the Atlantic corridor during World War II, Hanks plays the captain of a ship (called “Greyhound”) whose job it is to oversee and in a way cut off attacks on the ships (including the supply chain) by elusive U-Boats. The film has a breakneck pace which is meant to show the dynamics and feel of such a crossing. Unlike “Midway, it is much more insular, the editing and dialogue much tighter but it requires attention since the dialogue points to strategy. This is the first film Tom Hanks has written since “Larry Crowne” and only the 3rd overall. He knows what he wants to do and is efficient…perhaps too efficient since the film comes in at only 90 minutes. But because of that breakneck speed it captures what “U-571” didn’t quite do: the frenetic tension of possibly being attacked at all times. This reviewer found himself thinking of the way “Twister” as a film worked many years ago and that is a compliment. That film was based in action but knew when to speed up but then slow down just enough that you got a true sense of the characters. This is undeniably true here without fail.

The biggest issue is that, as Hanks has said, it was made for the big screen to be seen in the darkened theater especially with many of the storms and night scenes of strategy. This is true but who is to say that as many people would have seen it in a theater. “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” was good and a character piece but it is hard to compete with mega blockbusters. “Greyhound” is a movie that in the late 90s and early 2000s would have cleaned up. It is an interesting quandary. But what remains the same despite any of these discussions is the quality of the film. It is not overtly deep but is an action and character piece which literally takes place in a couple rooms. Granted years ago this could not hae been made since it is almost completely digital in terms of the surrounding CGI. This kind of film is perfect in terms of progressing the style that “The Mandalorian” has pioneered with The Volume. It opens the path to these worlds I would think in a period context even more. This writer was on a press trip visit one or two years back when “Greyhound” was being shot in Baton Rouge. It had just wrapped so it did take some time in post production versus say The Volume which is all in camera.

“Greyhound” is that great discussion for creative evolution though it requires letting go a little of the old in service to the audience. Again “Greyhound” develops some great surrounding conversations. It hopefully just as a film doesn’t get lost in the discussion. Hanks steers the ship while his director (Aaron Schneider) who before this was known for the Robert Duvall period film “Get Low” shows a steady hand probably buffered by Hanks. That might have been interesting exercise all around since it seems like many of the supporting players may have been locals around Louisiana. It might have had a masterclass exercise to him. Stephen Graham who has worked multiple times with Guy Ritchie plays Hanks’ XO and, like Sam Neill to Sean Connery in “Hunt For Red October”, works quite well in creating a solid base dealing with both perception and perspective. “Greyhound” is an efficient, entertaining, tense, sophisticated and also educational perception into the idea of this war by placing you in the seat, outside of the modern day contrivances. In that final moment of rest, it shows the dexterity of a captain but also the impact that one crossing could make.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: THE OLD GUARD [Netflix]

The texture of finding balance in a good action film while balancing the spirit of the times can be a tall order. Recently starting with “Mad Max: Fury Road” and then with “Atomic Blonde”, Charlize Theron has upped the game while still understanding the inherent acting needed to convince the audience of her character’s plight. With her new film “The Old Guard” premiering on Netflix, she finds a balance but is able to maintain the theatrical feel. While the freedom allowed in the storytelling might be tricky in theatrical, it has undoubted effectiveness here. Like her film “Aeon Flux”, this kind of picture fills the mid range that many studios gave up years ago. These more practical-based action pictures became the stuff of legends because of what they were able to do. What is interesting her is the diversity of characters, how they work and how the characterizations allow them to both be human and bad ass. The charge of the course needs to be led by Theron and she provides that amply without overtaking the contributions of the others.

This works diametrically very well especially with Matthias Schoenaerts who has done very interesting work since he first came on the scene years ago (his performance in “Rust & Bone” — see our interview here) showed power with vulnerability. There is an interesting parallel here between him and Tom Hardy. Hardy seemed to get ore bulky as his career progressed while Matthias has leaned out which works well for the characters he has been playing. He brings that here as well and it is that balance which is the balance of the film. The movie doesn’t slide into tropes though it pays homage to it. With some flashbacks, there are some hints of Xena for sure. While this might have worked as a high end series for Netflix, doing it this way still retains that movie feel without restricting the talent. The base boards have been laid so the inherent concept works.

Adding to the balance is Kiki Layne who goes toe to toe with Charlize especially in one sequence. Theron is gracious enough to allow sharing the screen like this but also hired Gina Prince-Bythewood who is an interesting and yet wholly suitable choice for this story. Granted the supernatural in a way plays into it but is done more grounded than say something like “Highlander”. The film works well but the imagery is fairly straightforward and not overwhelming in style like say a “Mission Impossible” or even “Atomic Blonde” but that might be a truly conscious choice. “The Old Guard” is effective, lean and powerful in many of the ideas it presents while also keying into cool genre concept and hard hitting visceral action.

B+

By Tim Wassberg