Custody – Review

Divorce is a tricky beast. For the lucky ones, it can end amicably as lust turns to love turns to friendship and you part ways knowing you were once happy and had a life together. Despite the impact it may have on everyone involved, divorce can be the end of an era, a relationship gone mute, and those people can move on with their lives.

However, when your ex-spouse is abusive and the courts keep you tied to him through your own children, the situation can almost turn deadly.

That’s the focus of Xavier Legrand’s Custody.

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The heavy drama revolves around Miriam and Antoine, a bitterly divorced couple who are going through many different court battles to accrue custody of their youngest son Julien. The boy is bounced from mother to father and starts to unravel because of it. Whilst Julien is forced into uncomfortable situations, his father’s stoic façade begins to fall and the truth spills out horrifying…

Denis Menchot is a tour-de-force as the hulking Antoine. Looming over the screen, Menchot’s presence is like a villainous shadow, haunting even at the times where he isn’t there. He keeps his anger and rage broiling underneath his eyes so that those who don’t know him are charmed by him whilst those who know him can see the monster he hides. It’s a terrific performance by Menchot, reminiscent of Robert Mitchem’s Preacher in Night of the Hunter, or Brian Cox’s Hannibal Lecter – mean of pure sociopath nature, twisting the world into their will regardless of the cost. As the tension brews to ahead, Menchot masters this terrifying and all too realistic portrayal of an abuser.

Sharp and tightly directed Custody is brooding masterpiece. It delves into the intricacies of abuse without over-playing it. The emotional turmoil that Lea Drucker’s stricken and pained Miriam is put through Drucker is an accomplished actress. With just a flicker of her eye or a quiet delivery, you can see the horrors that have been inflicted upon her. And yet, with that, you see her strength and determination to remove her ex-husband from their lives…for her sake, and her children’s.

An upcoming star here is Thomas Gioria as the young Julien. Here, unlike his sister Josephine who has cut off contact with her father, Julien is used as a pawn. Antoine is determined to worm his way into Miriam’s life again and using his son. It adds to the deplorable nature of Antoine and Julien’s terror is palpable; the fear he feels for his father and the pulsates with this nervous and insular nature.

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Xavier Legrand’s work here is stunning. It’s an intense and intimate piece that has developed breath-takingly due to the outstanding work by the actors involved. A chilling exploration of mental, emotional, and physical abuse, Custody is this year’s most haunting feature.

Custody is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

Mary and the Witch’s Flower – Review

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is the first feature film from Japanese animation house Studio Ponoc. The studio aims to continue the East’s artistry of traditional animation through its work. With a selection of well established animators and based on a British short story, interest in the studio and project was high.

The film, centred on a young girl whisked away to a magical world, and had all the makings of something enjoyable. But sadly the film is a dull, uninspired waste of its animators talents. For a studio that has the alumni of the great Studio Ghibli, this work does not justify that comparison. Whilst there’s some stunning art here and there’s a strong start, the film winds up being dull and the dubbed version has a grating, mismatched English voice cast.

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Mary is a young, insecure and clumsy girl that is sent to stay with her grandmother over summer. Without friends and in constant embarrassment of her curly red hair, she tries to occupy her time with chores. When her efforts cause more chaos than help, she ventures into the forest and discovers a hidden broom. With the broom and the aid of a mysterious flower, she is whisked off to a magical school for witches in the sky. Although she finally feels as though she’s home, is the school really all it seems?

The film is the feature film debut of Studio Ponoc which was founded by Ghibli lead animator Yoshiaki Nishimura in 2015. The studio had previously only worked on adverts but has many past Ghibli animators on its team.

The film starts off well enough; A young girl escapes a burning building on a magical broom. She is pursued by other flyers when she falls, losing both her broom and seeds that grow into magical flowers. Years later we meet Mary, who stumbles upon the broom and flowers. Once she is taken to the school, the narrative falls. It relies on used scenarios and over-the-top characters that add nothing to the story. It repeats itself and becomes too predictable to hold the audiences attention. In terms of tone, it is not clear if this was aimed at a young audience or it wanted the mass appeal of something more classic. It fails on both with a messy final outcome.

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In spite of the flaws, Mary and the Witch’s Flower does have some phenomenal animation, with some moments looking like photography. Hand drawn is not used enough these days in feature work but here it beautifully creates characters and settings.

As is the case with many animations that are dubbed from their production language, the film feels as if it has lost something in translation. Voices do not suit their characters and scenes feel stunted in places; no more so than the broom keeper Mr Flanagan voiced by Ewen Bremner. They give off no real emotive range despite having the talents of Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is too whimsical to have wide appeal. Despite some beautiful animation, the film never takes flight.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

How to Talk to Girls at Parties – Review

Everyone seems to be tackling Neil Gaiman at the moment. From American Gods to God Omens, the fantastical writer is having each work thrown into Hollywood. Indie flick How to Talk to Girls at Parties tackles a much smaller, 18-page tale, giving it a hyper-active big screen adaptation.

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Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, the film revolves around Enn, a shy young punk artists who embarks on the streets of Croydon, London to see rock bands on the underground with his friends. Coming across an alluring and strange house party, the group comes across weird latex wearing people. They say there are tourists, and equipped with Union Jack ponchos, that may be correct – but perhaps they’ve travelled from a place beyond America.

Mitchell isn’t averse to capturing a wild punk rock nature in his films, most notably Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Pins, denim, ripped jeans, and a lot of hair gel, How to Talk to Girls at Parties is a checklist of what is aesthetically punk to our juvenile protagonist. Juxtaposing the bleak and rotten nature of punk with the colourful and vibrant world of the aliens, this film is an array of colliding cultures trying desperately to find meaning in the vast universe. Fun to watch, 1977 London is captured brilliantly here.

Alex Sharp is a compelling lead as the awkward but passionate Enn. Even beside Elle Fanning, whose mysterious curious nature and electrifying beauty transfer well, you cannot take your eyes off him. Full of wonderment, sadness, love, and a personality that fumbles with polite uneasiness, Sharp (who has previously excelled in To The Bone,) is and appealing and likeable star. Filling the other characters are Nicole Kidman (reuniting with Mitchell after Rabbit Hole and sporting a rather strained cockney accent,) Matt Lucas, and Ruth Wilson.

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There is no denying that How to Talk to Girls at Parties is an unpolished and uneven product. Much like punk itself, it is muddled in its own themes (of which there are too many.) Yet its raw energy is unparalleled. This little oddity of a film is remarkably ferocious and unexpectedly visceral. At the core are two people willing and preparing to break free from their respective families or social groups. Detrimental in places, there are different layers of messages, and when they work, are happily devoured. From how species ingest their planets through greed to catering for our children, giving them the best life before they are (quite literally) gobbled up by the world. The biggest takeaway in this vibrant and bizarrely wonderful film is experience: resistance is living, sex and love is evolution, and you should live to your own identity.

There is a great (and different) soundtrack of punk, with an added original song to get your pulsses started. As though Bjork and the Sex Pistols came together in an LSD laden night of passion birthing a surreal film about human consumption, rebellion, and young love, How to Talk to Girls at Parties may not suit everyone’s tastes.

But when has punk ever done that?

How to Talk to Girls at Parties is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!