Reviews: Anthropoid, Solace, Tumbledown, A War, The Dressmaker

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Anthropoid

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Directed by Sean Ellis | Written by Ellis and Anthony Frewin | 120 min | On Netflix

1942, Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Two Czech expatriot soldiers Jan (Jamie Dornan) and Josef (Cillian Murphy) parachute into the countryside outside Prague. Their mission: To manage dialogue in painful Czech-accented English and be terribly good-looking in period costume, connect with the jittery Resistance, and assassinate the highest ranking Nazi officer in the country, Reinhard Heydrich. While there they endeavour to find dates, played by Charlotte Le Bon and Anna Geislerova, but love is doomed in this time of war. Naturally, the ginger is the weak link, but not Toby Jones. Never Toby Jones.

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I kid, but there’s something so wholly self-serious about this World War II potboiler it’s tough to not chuckle at its teeth-gnashing efforts to cleave to every single genre convention. To its credit, the look of the thing is compelling, with great use of Prague locations, and the finale where Dornan does his best Eastwood-at-the-top-of-the-stairs-in-Where Eagles Dare thing excuses a few sins. Also, it goes some way to frame the freedom fighter/terrorist headspace. That gives Anthropoid a relevance beyond the semi-engaging period war games.

Solace

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Directed by Alfonso Poyart | Written by Sean Bailey and Ted Griffin | 101 min | On VOD

Imagine that Anthony Hopkins always wanted to play the Will Graham role from those Thomas Harris books, the FBI agent who caught Hannibal Lector with an almost supernatural intuition of the motives of a killer. His Dr John Clancy is a genuine psychic, recruited by Agent Merriwether (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to help with an investigation into a serial killer who likes to use a spike to the back of the neck. Also on the beat is tough-as-nails Agent Cowles (Abbie Cornish, who could use a new agent), a skeptic of the psychic’s abilities. The movie isn’t—Clancy predicts and prophesizes, he reads minds, futures, and histories with unerring accuracy, powers that would surprise Charles Xavier. As schlocky as this material is, it’s delivered with some real enthusiasm in the direction and the cinematography, with the Atlanta locations providing some southern heat and grit. Poyart seems to think he’s got the next Seven here, especially with the late arrival of a typically potent Colin Farrell in a role not entirely different from the one Kevin Spacey played.

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He doesn’t: things go from entertainingly absurd to just plain ridiculous as the film doubles down on its central conceit, but at least it has the courage of its convictions. You can’t help but think a cast this good must just be cracking up whenever they call cut.

Tumbledown

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Directed by Sean Mewshaw | Written by Mewshaw and Desiree Van Til | 105 min | On Blu-Ray

This movie takes some risks, and for that it should be admired, though that isn’t to say it achieves all, or even most of what it goes for. Hunter Miles was a folk singer of Eliot Smith-esque proportions, though maybe a little less well-known. He released his magnum opus, retreated to Maine and died in a fall. His widow, Hannah (Rebecca Hall), is still grieving and trying to pen a Hunter Miles biography with the help of the local bookstore owner (Griffin Dunne, who does show up in the strangest places these days) while having lumbersexual Joe Manganiello on call for her more prurient needs. When brash New York academic and Miles-enthusiast Andy McDonnell (Jason Sudeikis) shows up, he immediately pisses Hannah off, but he’s more of a writer than she is so she starts to warm to the idea of his help. Richard Masur and Blythe Danner also appear as Hannah’s parents.

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This is a melancholy drama about letting go—the spectre of whether Miles killed himself haunts the whole running time—dressed up in romantic comedy clothes. The major problem is Sudeikis working his full, slightly sleazy romantic charm (his best trick) but Hall’s chops are operating on a whole other level. Along with a lovely score, she carries the picture all the places it wants to go, but leaves him in the dirt. He never convinces as either a writer or a music scholar. Fifteen years ago, John Cusack would’ve been the ideal guy for the part, but oh well. Hall deserves to be a star, but the tonal irregularities in Tumbledown keep it middling.

A War (Krigen)

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Written and Directed by Tobias Lindholm | 115 min | on Blu-Ray

A Danish military drama in the running for last year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar finally arrives on Blu-Ray. Lindholm is known for his work as a screenwriter—The Hunt and Submarino, and for writing and directing A Hijacking. A War is a low-key docudrama following a group of soldiers in Afghanistan. Their commanding officer, Claus, played by Pilou Asbaek of Borgen and Game of Thrones fame, has a wife, Maria (Tuva Novotny), raising their three kids alone in suburban Denmark. The film is slow-moving and gritty, a lot of hand-held camera with very little in the way of score. The opening act alternates between Afghanistan—the soldiers’ patrols, managing the local civilian population, hunting the Taliban, and avoiding IEDs—and wet, grey Denmark, the domestic complications Maria faces trying to respond to the needs of the children. The plot doesn’t really kick in until the mid-section, with a firefight. Claus makes a fateful decision in battle, one that sends him home in disgrace and turns the third act into a courtroom drama. The narrative is extraordinarily matter-of-fact, with the lingering whiff of Dogme ’95 still a part of this branch of Danish cinema: the observational realism is taken to a level where the absence of any kind of theatre is almost a detriment. That said, the lingering take-away stays with you— a grim tale of the consequences of war and the impotent efforts to impose some kind of justice after the fact.

The Dressmaker 

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Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse | PJ Hogan, adapting a novel by Rosalie Ham | 119 min | On VOD

Many movies fail by trying to cleave to a single note and drawing it out as long as possible. Few fail by taking the jazz fusion approach, doing too much and muddling it up as it goes along. The Dressmaker has the latter problem, but the stuff here that works is so much fun it’s hard to argue its ambition. It features the welcome return of Moorhouse—director of Proof and How To Make An American Quilt, who hasn’t directed a film since 1997—and screenwriter Hogan, much beloved for his work on Muriel’s Wedding. He gives the magnificent Judy Davis most of the best lines, never a bad idea, as Mad Molly, the mother of Kate Winslet’s Tilly. Tilly was run out of this one-horse town in 1950s Australia when still a child, accused of killing a boy. Now she’s back as a stylish seamstress, but is it for revenge or to clear her name? The particularly Aussie quirkiness is what works best here, and also in the mix is Hugo Weaving as an enthusiastic cross-dressing cop, Sarah Snook as the town Cinderella, and Liam Hemsworth who entirely convinces as the local hunk. In a wonderfully atypical conceit, we’re supposed to believe he and Winslet are roughly the same age. The syrupy strings that show up for the romantic moments are painfully hokey opposite so much physical humour, and the dark flashbacks to Tilly’s difficult childhood and other moments of violence feel poached from some other film. But don’t worry about that, or the breathless narrative pace in the last 10 minutes—come for the gorgeous frocks by Marion Boyce and Margot Wilson, and stay for Davis and the big laughs.

About the author

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Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.

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