Posts Tagged ‘Bullhead’


rsz_18nejA Federico Fellini film for the Bunga Bunga generation, Sorrentino returns to form with perhaps his greatest film yet. Toni Servillo plays an ageing playboy journalist who begins to tire of the endless parties and excess in his beloved Rome. The film mixes high art and low trash to an exhilarating degree, swooping from sober existentialism to scandalous hedonism at the directors whim. While the parties are filmed with an inventive, restless vigour, it’s Servillo’s hangdog lead that lingers in the memory.


rsz_nebraska3This austere, melancholic road movie follows Woody, an alcoholic pensioner and his put upon son as they travel across the American highways to cash in a bogus junk mail prize for 1 million dollars. It’s a superbly concise and effective set up to explore the American dream and the way it lures in its everyday victims with visions of wild riches. Shot in beautiful black and white, director Payne makes great use of both the endless plains and the weary faces. It would be a bleak watch if it didn’t contain a redeeming mix of wry and slapstick humour.


This is Mexican maverick Carlos Reygadas going for broke here. Wildly adventurous, visually inventive and probably quite infuriating for large swathes of the audience, I loved every beguiling second of it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I could tell you what it’s about. The story, of which there is little, follows a privileged Mexican family living on the outskirts of an impoverished and remote rural town. Oppressed by a tyrannical father, the film is possibly a semi-autobiographical account of Reygadas’ own life. Surreal highlights include a glowing animated devil figure and steamy sauna scenes.


A delightful and charming rites of passage comedy showcasing Greta Garwig’s inimitable charisma. She plays a naive and childlike New Yorker struggling to hold onto her dreams of being a dancer. Ditched by her best friend and unwilling to commit to a romantic relationship, Frances is forced to seek out on her own. As a privileged and somewhat spoilt protagonist, the film would fall apart if it wasn’t for Frances’ infectious goofiness and will to succeed. Baumbach again succeeds at making us care about characters who aren’t always perfect human beings.


Imagine a more mystical Michael Haneke and you might be halfway towards the films of Bruno Dumont. This strange, unsettling film follows ‘The Guy’, a mystical, messianic figure, and ‘The Girl’, a local gothic girl who together roam the windswept coastline of Northern France. ‘The Guy’ has the power to kill and the power to heal, with a strange ability to save people by having sex with them. An absurd idea on paper, but Dumont makes it work. A beguiling mix of realism and surrealism, Dumont orchestrates both the visual and aural brutality of the desolate landscape to startling effect.


Carrying on from his previous film I Wish, director Koreeda concocts another incisive and moving portrait of modern Japanese families. Ryota is a workaholic in the city who has little time for his son Keita, and when Ryota learns that Keita might be the result of a mix up at birth, he has to decide whether blood ties or love ties matter the most to him. The story contrasts Ryota’s uptight, glossy family with their biological son Ryusei’s scatty family living in the country to great effect. A moving and humane exploration of what it means to be a parent.


A film which divided critics and audiences alike, Cianfrance’s ‘difficult second album’ is an ambitious, sprawling crime drama that motors through three generations. Ryan Gosling’s turn as a speedy heist merchant steals the show in the opening act, yet it’s Bradley Cooper’s angsty performance that lends weight to the whole film. The final section is a little weak but overall the film is a joy to watch. Cianfrance combines stylish retro thrills with an inventive structure and meaty drama.


As a self confessed Malick-nerd this arrives at a surprisingly lowly position, and I would suggest it is his weakest film in his ouevre so far. The film is a frustrating, challenging piece of work with some enigmatic, introspective performances…and yet there is something niggling away, burrowing beneath your skin as you watch it. A muted Ben Affleck plays a desolate man torn between Olga Kurylenko, a vivacious Parisian, and Rachel McAdams, a sweet local. The themes and drama are less pronounced that in his previous films and that is often infuriating, yet if I was to pick one of these films to have staying power then it might just be this one.


This was a criminally under-seen thriller that came out earlier in the year. Matthias Schoenaerts, a hulking presence, plays a simmering Cattle farmer in rural Belgium who helps illegally inject steroids into the animals. When a new business venture with foreign investors goes suitably awry, Schoenaerts has to fight to save the business and his own life. Coming on the heels of moody, character driven French thrillers like A Prophet and A Beat That My Heart Skipped, newcomer Roskam delivers a punchy crime drama like Scorsese used to make in his heyday.


Harmony Korine now seems like the Peter Pan of the US underground cinema, constantly ferreting away trying to find the latest movements in youth culture. With Spring Breakers he has hit upon the Girls Gone Wild franchise and turned it into something surreal and often beautiful. In a master stroke of casting he nabbed a couple of Disney starlets for the leads, giving the film both considerable marketable clout and blurring the lines between reality and fiction. The lean story is essentially a bunch of bollocks; four teenagers go on a Cancun-style orgy of excess and violence. It is Korine’s own warped, poetic take on proceedings that make it something special.

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Bullhead couldn’t have picked a more topical time to hit UK cinemas. The current media swarm surrounding the horse meat scandal, with countless foreign suppliers coming under new scrutiny, lends this Belgium thriller a pertinent hook. Writer-director Michael R. Roskam’s film has taken a couple of years to finally find release in the UK, but its timing couldn’t be snappier.

The horse meat story has awakened the general public to a little covered subject, and Bullhead threatens to do the same. Set in rural Belgium, the film immerses itself in the world of illegal cattle breeding; the stock are injected with hormones to speed up the process and make them fattier for consumption. The Vanmarsenilles are a farming family who rely on this shady practice for their livelihood, led by the hulking Jacky, one of two sons. In the second sequence we follow his trip to intimidate a local farmer who wants out. Jacky’s tetchy, menacing presence is evident, the message clear to the viewer; cattle farming is serious business.

Jacky is played by Matthias Schoenaerts, who brings his monstrous physicality from Rust and Bone to the fore again. Schoenaerts is singling himself out as a unique actor, someone able to terrify the audience while demonstrating a naked vulnerability. While his brother has a young family to protect, Jacky is left to the seedier side of the family business. One of his accomplices, a veterinarian, suggests a lucrative deal with a West Flemish beef trader, new territory for their low key set up. Jacky is apprehensive; the murder of a detective investigating the meat mafia hangs over them, and he thinks they should lay low. Furthermore, an unwelcome face from the past crops up in the trader’s gang.

Bullhead is not your typical mafia drama. For one, the location and subject lends the film a fresh take on a tired genre. The opening shot is a strikingly beautiful image of a woodland dawn, overlaid with Jacky’s blunt and poetic voice over. Roskam immediately announces this as a film that cherishes character and soul as much as the unsavoury trappings of the genre. There is a complex plot, things start to go awry, violence punctuates the landscape and the protagonist is a bullish hothead with an uncompromising taste for blood. Yet, this is no ScarfaceRoskam makes sure the audience never strays from Jacky’s tormented plight, revealing his past demons through a series of flashbacks.

It is these flashbacks which elevate Bullhead above its gangster peers. Often derided as a clumsy expository device, here they add much needed context to Jacky’s current physical and mental state. One particular sequence will leave the male audience members with nightmares for months. Like Michael Haneke’s Hidden, we see how past events can profoundly affect the present. The film is also remarkable in that it is the feature debut of writer-director Roskam. Not since the Antipodean blitz of Snowtown and Animal Kingdom has a debutante steered a thriller with so much confidence and verve.

Perhaps the only false move comes at the finale; a slightly dubious move into buddy movie territory derails the focus on Jacky’s doomed plight, and edges towards a predictable climax. Up to that point  however, Roskam has the audience wrapped around his finger, conjuring a tale blessed with brutality and tenderness. An offbeat subject matter introduced to punchy character drama, with a smattering of violence. Bullhead marks out Roskam as a talent, and further demonstrates Schoenaerts as a muscular new acting force.

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