Imogen Poots

The Father

11/06/21

Cineworld

It’s been over a month since the 2021 Oscars, where The Father won awards for best male actor and best adapted screenplay, but somehow it seems I’ve been eagerly awaiting its arrival for much longer than that. It’s finally here, available to view on the big screen, where its powerful narrative pulses from every frame.

Anthony Hopkins is, it seems, the oldest recipient of the best actor award and we know, don’t we, that sometimes such honours are handed out because it’s late in an actor’s career and there might not be another chance to reward him? But make no mistake, his performance in the lead role is a genuine tour de force. As ‘Anthony,’ a widowed man enduring the terrifying, mind-scrambling rigours of Alzheimer’s, he pulls out all the stops, taking his character through a range of moods and manifestations – from grandstanding showoff to sly insinuator – before delivering a final, desperate scene that is absolutely devastating.

Those seeking a rollicking, sidesplitting comedy should be warned: this is not the film for you.

Anthony – when we first encounter him – is living alone in his spacious London apartment, where he’s receiving regular visits from his compassionate daughter, Anne (Olivia Colman). Anthony has recently dismissed his paid carer, claiming that she’s stolen his watch, and he’s adamant that he will not, under any circumstances, move out of the place that he has always regarded as home. But as the story progresses, the touchstones of his life crumble one by one as the familiar things around him begin to change at a terrifying rate. The place doesn’t look the same… items have been moved, rearranged. Anthony’s favourite painting is missing… and why does somebody by the name of Paul (Mark Gatiss) parade around saying that this is actually his apartment? Who is Paul exactly? Anne’s ex-husband? If so, who’s the other Paul (Rufus Sewell), and why does he act like he owns the place? And what’s all this nonsense about Anne moving to Paris?

Perhaps the new home help, Laura (Imogen Poots), might be able to put things in order, but why does she remind Anthony so much of his other daughter, Lucy, the one he seems to have lost touch with? And most bewildering of all, why is it that sometimes, even Anne appears to be a different person than she used to be?

Florian Zeller’s astonishing film, adapted from his stage play, unfolds almost like a psychological horror story, as Anthony struggles to take in what’s happening to him. While I expected this to be bleak, I’m not fully prepared for the power with which it hits me. There’s doubtless extra impact because, for the last ten years of her life, my own mother was afflicted by Alzheimer’s and I recognise many of the beats here as being absolutely authentic. Perhaps that’s why the tears are rolling so copiously down my face.

Despite being confined mostly to one set, The Father never feels stage bound, because so much of what I can see onscreen is in a constant state of flux and because, at times, I feel every bit as unsettled as Anthony does. I’m never entirely sure where a scene is taking place, when it it is set and who is present in it – and that’s not meant as a criticism, but as an observation about the story’s unsettling grip on me. While there was aways a danger of The Father being completely dominated by Hopkin’s extraordinary performance, Colman is as excellent as always, managing to kindle the audience’s sympathy with a mere glance. And Olivia Williams is also compelling as the film’s most enigmatic character.

I walk out of the cinema, bleary-eyed from crying and, if I still have a few unanswered questions, well, that feels exactly right. This is an assured film that handles its difficult subject with rare skill.

So, worth the wait? Most definitely. But maybe remember to take some hankies?

5 Stars

Philip Caveney

Vivarium

02/04/20

Curzon Home Cinema

Curzon Home Cinema has become our go-to for movies in these stay-at-home times, and Lorcan Finnegan’s waking nightmare, Vivarium, is the latest on their list to catch our eye.

Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg star as Gemma and Tom, a teacher and a tree surgeon. They’re ready, they think, to buy a home together, and visit an estate agent to see what’s available. When creepy Martin (Jonathan Aris) recommends Yonder, a vast suburban estate of identikit new builds, Gemma and Tom are dubious. But Martin is very persuasive, and they agree to go along, just to have a look.

To their horror, they find themselves trapped: it is impossible to escape Yonder’s endless green streets; despite their ever-more frantic efforts, they always end up back at the same house, with food and other staples delivered silently and anonymously, all shrink-wrapped and pre-packaged like the life they’re being forced into. One day, a baby (Côme Thiry) is deposited on their step; within days he has grown into a freaky young boy (Senan Jennings). Tom insists they should refuse to care for the child – it’s not human, he says, and certainly not theirs – but Gemma can’t face leaving the boy to his fate, and does her best to look after him. Tom, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly obsessed with digging a hole in the garden…

The metaphors here are all thinly-veiled. The opening sequence of a cuckoo forcing its way into a nest, brazenly devouring everything it can, is a beautifully brutal portent of what’s to come, but it’s not a subtle allegory. The cartoon-like Yonder, with its perfectly manicured lawns and lifeless, listless architecture, represents the living hell of conformity, the loss of self that many couples feel as they settle down, do what’s expected of them, become subsumed by their children’s needs.

So no, not subtle, but clever nonetheless. The child’s age, for example, is a neat concept: the sight of a six-year-old screaming relentlessly while his ‘parents’ desperately try to placate him with food seems monstrous; the way he copies what they say and parrots it back at them is equally grotesque. But this is just what babies do, amplified here to awful effect.

There is, it must be said, only a single idea here, so it is all bit one-note. Nevertheless, Vivarium is a taut and genuinely frightening film, and its pervasive imagery might well haunt your dreams, especially if you watch it now, while we’re all ensnared in a similar scenario, unable to venture far from home, and barred from participating in the lives we used to lead.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

18/05/17

Edward Albee’s 1962 play was famously adapted as a movie in 1966, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. The role of Martha is widely considered Taylor’s best onscreen performance, so it’s a tough act to follow – and perhaps, on paper, Imelda Staunton is an unlikely candidate for the role. But never underestimate her. She is an absolute revelation in this National Theatre production, beamed out live to cinemas across the UK. These screenings are a wonderful (and more affordable) way for people outside London to gain access to the very best of theatre.

George (Conleth Hill, best known for Game of Thrones) is an associate Professor of History at an American University, a man who feels that he hasn’t really achieved his life’s ambitions. This belief is constantly reinforced by his hard-drinking wife, Martha (Staunton), who seems to delight in reminding him of his failures at every given opportunity. The events of this three hour play unfold over one night, after a party at the faculty. George and Martha are already well-oiled when they arrive home and George is dismayed to discover that Martha has invited a young couple back ‘for drinks.’ They are a young biology professor, Nick (a barely recognisable Luke Treadaway) and his ditzy wife, Honey (Imogen Poots). Given the gladiatorial nature of the host couple’s conversation before the guests arrive, it’s clear that we are in for a bumpy ride… and as the drinks flow and inhibitions are increasingly broken down, the deepest secrets of everyone present are pulled out and ripped to shreds.

This is an incendiary, vitriolic drama, often wickedly funny but ultimately heart-breaking. Staunton’s extraordinary performance is perfectly matched by Hill’s dry, acerbic turn as George; indeed many of the play’s funniest moments are his, most tellingly the scene where he immerses himself in a favourite history book, while Martha and Nick cavort unabashedly just behind him. The other two actors may have somewhat less to do, but they make the most of what they’ve been given.

It’s a while since I’ve seen this performed and I was astonished at the similarities between this and Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party, which came along more than a decade later. In both plays, an ambitious male character is pushed to the very age by an unforgiving wife. In both plays, we laugh at the resulting humiliation, only to have that laughter snatched away by the misery of the conclusion.

This was a one night only screening, so if you really want to see this show, you’ll need to head down to ‘that London’ where it’s currently showing  at the Harold Pinter theatre.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Green Room

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13/05/16

Jeremy Saulnier’s previous film, the low budget revenge drama Blue Ruin, ticked enough boxes to make him a director to watch. Green Room is a rock-horror vehicle that cranks everything up to eleven, and features the kind of visceral carnage that’s not for the faint-hearted or the weak-stomached.

Third division rock band the This Ain’t Rights are gigging their way around the Pacific North West of America, getting from place to place by siphoning petrol from other vehicles and playing the kind of dives that bring them around six dollars a piece. After a particularly bad night, an embarrassed promoter fixes them up with a gig at his cousin’s place and warns them that the audience will be ‘an unusual crowd’ – by which he means that they are a bunch of shave-headed, Neo Nazi supremacists led by Darcy (Patrick Stewart in an uncharacteristically nasty role, featuring an occasionally wonky American accent).

After an unpromising start, (the band kick off the gig with the Dead Kennedy’s classic – the one that dismisses Nazis in an fairly uncompromising manner) but after that, the band go down quite well and they are just congratulating themselves on being paid a decent fee for a change when they discover the body of a young woman with a knife. Unfortunately for her, it’s stuck in the side of her head. What’s more, the management seem very reluctant to let the band leave and before they know it, they find themselves holed up in the titular green room, wondering if they are going to escape with their lives.

In tone, the film is closer to some of the body shock films of the 70s – as individuals are hacked, bludgeoned and shotgunned to death, the tension begins to wrack up to almost unbearable levels. Anton Yelchin as bassist Pat is the nearest we get to a lead role here and Imogen Poots puts in a decent turn as Amber, a girl who is unlucky enough to have both the haircut from hell, and the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Saulnier’s muse, Macon Blair, has a small but interesting role as Darcy’s right hand man.

Everything builds to a ferocious crescendo, and it’s clear fairly early into the proceedings that  this isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of haemoglobin. As a former band member myself, it recalled some of the worst gigs I ever played at, but thankfully, things never got quite as bad as they do here.

Watch this only if you can tolerate scenes of excessive violence. Things get very bloody.

4 stars

Philip Caveney