Films of the Fortnight

Films of the Fortnight

Downhill
A couple on a skiing holiday in the Alps find the buried cracks in their relationship forced to the surface when the approach of a (seemingly) dangerous avalanche sees the father fleeing and leaving his wife and sons to die. If this premise sounds familiar, congratulations: you saw (or at least heard about) the 2014 film Force Majeure, of which this is a remake. That was a near-masterpiece of character comedy; this stars Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, so it’s not a complete loss. This never actually improves on the original in any way, but the Ferrell-Dreyfuss team up is a good one, with both playing characters clearly suppressing (or trying to) some of their natural instincts to make their marriage work, only to have their conflict constantly coming to the fore. Surprisingly short (at under 90 minutes, it’s a good half hour shorter than the original), this leaves very little up in the air; it’s fatal for a relationship comedy like this to come down firmly on one partner’s side, and yet this does in a very blunt fashion. But individual moments still work; there’s a broader, sillier, funnier comedy about being on holiday buried under this film’s chilly surface. National Lampoon’s Alpine Vacation?

Queen & Slim
Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) is a lawyer angry after one of her clients was executed; Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) is just hoping the date they’re on is going to work out. It doesn’t, though not because Queen lets him know on the drive home there’s not going to be a second date. Pulled over by a cop who’s aggressive from the start, Queen gets shot (minor) then Slim shoots him (fatal) and now our not-exactly lovebirds are on the run. There’s a constant thread running throughout about the wider political effects of their actions; the cop had killed an unarmed black man a few years earlier, making them as much rebels as wanted criminals, and almost everyone they encounter is African-American with their own take on the system. But for the most part this is a touching, tentative romance, following two very different people (with great chemistry) who gradually realise all they have is each other. Their plan is to first hit up Queen’s uncle (Bokeem Woodbine) in New Orleans then head to Florida, and their journey across America’s south provides a stunning and beautifully shot backdrop to the slowly tightening net around them. The solidly realised settings, harshly realistic politics and swooningly romantic relationship all combine to intensify each others impact; the result is thrilling.

Dark Waters
Corporate lawyer Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) has come a long way from Parkersberg, West Virgina – but not so far that one of its residents, farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) can’t show up at his office. Tennant has a lot of dead cows and sick livestock; it’s not Bilott’s area (he works in corporate defence), but as his grandmother still lives in Parkersberg, he makes a courtesy call. What follows was two decades of lawsuits exposing the toxic chemicals DuPont was putting in the ground – and the bodies of everyone in the western world. As a paranoid corporate thriller, Dark Water’s greatest achievement is its mood, a dankly malignant tone that seeps into everything. This suffocating malaise embodies the forces Billot is up against; they can’t be beaten because they’re everywhere and everything, a pollution that rots the soul. The actual story isn’t quite as grim, despite the usual reversals and setbacks (in part thanks to great performances from Camp, Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway and Tim Robbins), but Haynes’ lasting achievement here is the tone rather than the narrative, presenting a vision of America that’s rotted out from under, a world where everything exists for a reason and that reason will kill you slowly if there’s a dollar in it.

Dark Waters

Military Wives
With their partners freshly shipped off to fight in Afghanistan, the wives at a UK military base have little to do but wait for news they hope will never arrive. In the wake of her son’s death serving his country, Colonel’s wife Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas) knows this pain too well, so with her husband away, she decides to help out with the social committee run by laid-back Lisa (Sharon Horgan). Do their differing styles clash? Does the idle suggestion that the women form a choir turn into something bigger than both of them? Are there more than a few setbacks along the way before a final heart-warming triumph? That’s a big yes: with The Full Monty director Peter Cattaneo on board and a script “inspired by a true story”, this warmly professional effort hits all the right notes without ever breaking out into something original. The formula’s predictable and apolitical (no questioning the war here) but rock solid and handled well, so bring plenty of tissues. The best part of this is Thomas and Horgan’s performances; they’re both lively enough to make this feel like a real story and not just a blatant (but often successful) attempt to make viewers cry.

Beats
Everybody loves a film set during one crazy night, and this night’s about to get pretty crazy. It’s Scotland in 1994, and best friends Johnno (Cristian Ortega) and Spanner (Lorn Macdonald) are heading off to their first ever rave… which might also be their last, as laws banning outdoor dance parties are about to come into effect. Worse, Johnno is about to move with his family to the suburbs, while Spanner seems destined for a life of crime. Their big night is a big mix of comedy and drama (like all the best nights out), with the boy’s sense of their friendship coming apart reflected in the feeling that the whole rave culture around them is coming to a close. It’s hardly a sombre film, though it does take its characters seriously; rather it tries to capture a moment long gone and briefly make it shine again.
This film is currently showing at The Pivotonian Cinema, Geelong

Beats

Films reviewed by Anthony Morris