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The Eyes of my Mother

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Morality can have its grey areas. However, if we’ve never been raised to understand the difference between right and wrong, how would that effect your life, your decision making? That idea haunts The Eyes of My Mother, the directorial debut of Nicolas Pesce.

The film’s protagonist is Francisca (Kika Magalhaes), a young, happy, woman who lives out her days on her deceased parent’s secluded farm. Shot in stark black and white, Pesce shows us three distinct chapters in her life, the first of which lays down the groundwork for her existence. Her mother has been murdered and her father keeps her killer locked in their barn. With no other friends to call her own, Francisca dubs the criminal, ‘her best friend.’ Taken this into account, it’s no wonder Francisca’s moral compass is fractured.

There’s a frailty and naivety to Francisca which is extenuated by Magalhaes’ performance. Francisca will go on to do terrible things, but, stuck in a permanent childhood, she does them with wide-eyed innocence. Bathing her father’s corpse and digging up her mother’s for advice, she cries the tears of a lost child. Even attempting to understand her own sexuality leads to unwanted bloodshed before an epiphany of what she really wants: not to be alone. It would be heartbreaking if it wasn’t so troubling.

More arthouse than horror, The Eyes of My Mother has a slow burn to it. Obviously, Pesce’s film has moments of violence, but we often see just the aftermath; the director cutting away only to return when there’s cleaning to be done. It gives the scenes a sense that Francisca is burying her deeds in her own memories. And whilst the structure of the film never lets us in on what’s going on behind Francisca’s own eyes, some scenes will make an indelible impression on the audience’s.

 
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Miss Sloane

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Ahhhh, political lobbies – such an easy target. Too easy, in fact. The problem with the “let’s attack lobbyists” narrative is the tendency for them to become a tale of good versus evil, where morality is black and white, and grey simply doesn’t exist. Lobbyists: bad, political crusaders: good. But what is often left untouched is the exploration of the idea that, actually, everyone sucks. Anyone working in politics knows that you operate primarily in the grey while preaching the black and white – and that’s the gritty, interesting stuff that makes a good film, right? Well, that’s exactly what Miss Sloane is; a Peckinpah-esque intellectual melee in the vein of a two-hour-long House of Cards episode.

Written by first-time screenwriter Jonathan Perera, the film takes place in the high-stakes world of political power-brokers, where Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is the most sought after and formidable lobbyist in D.C. Known equally for her cunning and her track record of success, she has always done whatever is required to win – ethical or not. But when she takes on the most powerful opponent of her career, the gun lobby, she finds that winning may come at too high a price.

For a first-timer, Perera’s writing is merciless. It’s hefty with detail and sub-text but moves like a feather in a hurricane – fast, furious and non-linear. What’s really impressive about Perera’s efforts though, is his ability to control and change your opinion of Chastain’s character as the film goes on. Elizabeth Sloane is a moving target for the viewer; you’re with her, you’re against her, you want her to simultaneously succeed and fail. It gives the film a dynamic, three-dimensional quality not often afforded to female-driven content.

And while we’re on the subject, it’s nice to see Hollywood’s treatment of strong female characters challenged, where the tradition to weaken their strength with sympathy is an infuriating device that can make an otherwise solid female presence into a forgettable one. Perera’s Sloane however is a purposely defiant, unsympathetic type, who instead provokes empathy from the audience, rather than pity. You don’t have to feel sorry for her to understand her. That’s good feminist-driven writing.

This pairs well with John Madden’s cold and detached direction, refusing to get caught up too much in the emotional business, instead harnessing the speed and intensity of the writing with a kind of icy composure. The film does however, allow Madden to indulge one of his most criticised directorial tics, where he focuses too much on the superficial, overly-stylised elements of the production (think his earlier work for Shakespeare in Love and Proof). If he ever gets tired of the blockbuster rat race, he’s got a lucrative career shooting commercials for Gucci and Chanel for sure.

Though the writing and directorial combo of Perera and Madden is a well-oiled machine, Miss Sloane is undeniably Chastain’s film – not just because she’s the title character, but because she earns and demands it. Her performance as a brutal, manipulative political chess-master is ugly and masterful. She is a straight-shooting, ethics-be-damned, whiskey-swilling juggernaut in a man’s world, more brilliant and heinous than any opponent she faces. And man, Chastain’s delivery of this stone-cold bitch is unbreakable.

All in all, Miss Sloane is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from the genre; political espionage in a game of high stakes one-upmanship. It diverts from the traditionally strict rules of the political thriller enough to be refreshing, but not enough to be revolutionary. It’s got a ballsy female lead, gutsy plot twists and some interesting comments about the current state of political morality.

 
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Rings

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Ring, the original novel by Koji Suzuki, works from a killer premise. It focuses on a haunted videotape: if you watch it, you receive a mysterious phone call. Once you have answered that call, you have seven days left to live before the ghost of a murdered psychic girl named Sadako kills you. The only way to survive is to show the videotape to someone else. Then they have seven days to live. Suzuki plays the horror across multiple levels: the biological fear of a virus, the social fear of the urban myth, and a cultural fear based on Japanese folklore. The novel exploits the myth of the yūrei: vengeful drowned ghosts, soaking wet, with white faces and straggly black hair. Suzuki simply re-purposed these horror traditions for a modern readership.

Given the novel’s success, it is not a surprise that it was adapted for the screen, not once but numerous times in Japan, South Korea and the USA. While the American iteration of the franchise – in which Sadako was renamed Samara – died off with The Ring Two in 2005, it has received a much-delayed revival in the form of F. Javier Gutiérrez’s Rings.

The film limps into cinemas after a protracted delay. It was made almost two years ago with an American release set for November 2015. That date was shoved back to April 2016, then to October 2016, and finally to February 2017. The finished film can’t help but show why: Rings is an inconsistent mess. If it did not receive a significant reshoot during its protracted delay then at the very least its screenplay was rewritten into oblivion. Depending on the given scene, Rings feels like three different sequels at once.

So there is the Ring-as-Final Destination opening, which looks to reframe the supernatural thriller into something more visceral and adolescent. There is the edgy college experiment first act, in which a secret university project has students watching Samara’s videos and recording the results. From there the bulk of the film comprises a more youthful remake of the original film, as students Julia (Matilda Lutz) and Holt (Alex Roe) go searching for wherever Samara’s remains were buried after they were recovered the first time.

Only one of these versions feels as if it has a purpose (the experiments), and its potential is squandered. While there is some effective horror imagery, the film is too quick to show off its supernatural effects and abandons any real chance of generating tension. When the film takes Julia into the college to uncover the experiments, it rushes things terribly. When she and Holt head off into rural America it slows down to an absolute grind. The lead performances are earnest but bland. The supporting performances, including actors Johnny Galecki as a seedy college professor and Vincent D’Onofrio as a blind cemetery attendant, are practically caricatures.

Ring is a source material with enormous potential, but a little of its technology-powered supernatural horror goes a very long way. Gore Verbinski’s 2002 remake showed off an admirable restraint, and successfully replicated the original film’s slowly rising dread to great effect. 15 years later, Rings feels as if that cursed videotape has been copied a few generations too many.

 
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The Salesman

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The Salesman, the latest film from Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Past) gathered a certain amount of buzz following news that its Iranian director would be unable to attend this year’s Oscar ceremony due to Trump’s travel ban. It then pipped favourite Toni Erdmann (and local favourite Tanna) to win Best Foreign Language Film.

Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are a young couple who appear together onstage regularly for a local theatre production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Forced to move out of their apartment due to construction faults, the two end up renting another place from a fellow thespian. Whilst they manage to settle in quickly, a moment’s force of habit leads to Rana being assaulted in their new home, whilst Emad is shopping.

Farhadi follows the couple as they continue to play their parts on stage, whilst dealing with much more complex emotions behind the curtain (often Miller’s scenes echo in the lives of our couple). Hosseini confidently rides the crest of repressed anger as Emad seeks retribution for what has happened to his wife. However, it’s never clear whether he wants it for her, or for him; chastising himself for failing to protect his other. Alidoosti is heartbreakingly believable as someone who tries to own their tragedy with as much dignity as they can muster, whilst drowning in it all the same. She refuses police involvement and, when pressed by a frustrated Emad, claims to remember little of what happened to her. As we watch the couple deep in thought whilst preparing for their roles as Willy and Linda Loman, their powdered white hair and painted-on crow lines signpost that the results of their actions will echo for a long time.

The Salesman is an uncomfortable watch, but it’s also a powerful dissection of couple dynamics that resonates broadly outside of its Iranian homeland.

We previosuly reviewed The Salesman here.

 
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The Walking Dead S7E11 – Hostiles and Calamities

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

What’s it like to be the henchman of a truly evil person? That’s the question that underlies every scene in this week’s quirky detour, “Hostiles and Calamities”. The theme is explored through the experiences of two of the show’s most eccentric characters, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Dwight (Austin Amelio) with a number of tense appearances from Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who is a much more effective villain when used sparingly, but more on that later.

We open with Dwight discovering Daryl has flown the coop and Eugene getting delivered to Negan’s compound aka The Sanctuary. It’s a nice juxtaposition, as Dwight is one of Negan’s favoured acolytes and Eugene is a hostage, literally bound with a sack over his head, but we’re about to see a rather neat reversal of fortune.

Eugene is dragged towards what we imagine will end up being a grim and grisly cell but is in fact a totally terrifying… comfortable-looking room! He’s then offered a meal and is left to his own devices. His fridge is full, the stereo works and Eugene cranks that bloody ‘Easy Street’ song. Enjoy having that stuck in your head for another week. Thanks a bunch, Walking Dead.

The Walking DeadDwight meanwhile ponders the note Daryl received that reads “Go now”. Does he recognise the handwriting or is he just an ardent fan of neat penmanship? His train of thought is abruptly derailed as Negan is at the door with a group of Saviors. Poker night for the boys? No, actually it’s a savage beating for Dwight. Negan is evidently displeased by Daryl’s escape and perhaps something else? Cue the opening titles.

The next day Dwight, found lounging in Daryl’s old cell, receives a visit from Negan. Apparently Sherry (Christine Evangelista) former wife of Dwight and current “wife” of Negan, has done a runner. Negan wants to know if she helped Daryl and, perhaps more importantly, where she is. After reestablishing his dominance over Dwight with a classic “Who are you?”, “I’m Negan” exchange, Dwight says he’ll find Sherry and bring her back, first paying creepy, gaunt-looking Dr. Carson (Tim Parati) a visit to get his busted mug fixed. No shade, Dwight, but that’s like pouring perfume on a pig, mate.

Eugene meanwhile gets a brief tour of what looks like the most depressing post-apocalyptic version of Paddy’s Markets imaginable and scores a jar of pickles for his troubles. He’s then lead outside where Negan quizzes our clearly-on-the-spectrum hero about just how smart Eugene really is. Initially, it does not go well, and Eugene delivers a stumbling, flustered monologue about his own intelligence to little avail. As if to punctuate just how badly he flopped a nearby zombie drops its guts, leading Negan to ask how Brains Trust would fix the problem of fence zombies falling apart like poorly-rolled burritos. Eugene comes up with an insane plan that involves pouring molten lead over the walkers. Naturally Negan loves it, praising the idea as “not only practical… it is just badass!” Eugene lives to eat more pickles, but just what game is he playing?

As a reward for his grand idea, Doctor Smartypants (Eugene’s new nickname) gets a visit from three of Negan’s wives. Frankie (Elyse Nicole DuFour), Tanya (Chloe Aktas) and Amber (Autumn Dial) all purr and coo at Eugene who plays Yar’s Revenge on an old Atari 2600. Eventually the ladies convince Eugene to perform a few explosive science experiments and the mulleted one delivers, getting awkward hugs and mild sexual tension for his efforts. Eugene, you lady killer.

Meanwhile Dwight searches his old house and finds a note from Sherry. Sherry apologises for leaving, but claims they never should have returned to the Saviors. Even though that course of action was Sherry’s idea, the note concludes with “I loved who you were – I am sorry I made you into who you are” and Dwight finds his former wife’s wedding rings inside. It’s a surprisingly emotional moment and one can almost sympathise with Dwight’s plight, although a lot depends on what he does next.

Meanwhile back at The Sanctuary, Frankie and Tanya beg Eugene for a suicide pill to give Amber. Amber has fallen into a dark and abiding depression and wants to shuffle off this mortal coil painlessly and soon. This seems a lot to lay on the big fella, but Eugene mumbles and nods his assent and uses his newfound status to score meds at the market, not to mention a bedpan, flyswatter and cuddly toy.

Dwight returns and tells Doc Carson that Sherry was torn apart by walkers. Carson is about as sympathetic as a particularly callous brick and one wonders why the scene exists at all. The question is answered in the next sequence where Negan is heating up the branding iron in the furnace. It seems a note has been found in the not-very-good doctor’s belongings, implying that he wanted to impress Sherry by releasing Daryl to curry her sexual favour. A ripped bit of paper seems a fairly thin piece of evidence, but Negan is convinced and offers Carson the iron or the apology. Because Carson has clearly never watched the show before, he admits his guilt, apologises and gets chucked into the furnace.

Eugene gets a final visit from Frankie and Tanya but it doesn’t go well for the ladies. Eugene is hip to their plan, which is to poison Negan, and will not be a part of that. “You’re a coward!” the ladies spit, “That is a correct assessment” Eugene replies. Later Negan visits and it’s time to ask Eugene the big question, but Eugene is so ready to answer he doesn’t even let Negan finish asking: “I am utterly, completely, stone-cold Negan.” Oh, Eugene, say it ain’t so.

The final scene shows Eugene’s molten-lead-on-the-walkers plan being implemented while Eugene munches on a pickle. For him there is a sense of belonging here, even if it comes at the cost of personal freedom and dignity. Dwight sidles up next to him and the compromised pair chat awkwardly. “We are Negan” Eugene says. “Yeah,” Dwight replies.

“Hostiles and Calamities” is a strange episode, offering a mixture of deadpan humour, quirky dialogue and genuinely threatening Negan all at the same time. It’s light on zombies and violence but it does offer an interesting glimpse into the henchman’s dilemma. Is it really is it better to die on your feet than live on your knees? For Dwight the court’s still out, but for Eugene – when slavery comes with an Atari 2600 and all the fresh pickles you can eat – it seems he’s all too willing to bend the knee.

 

 
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Girls S6E3 – American Bitch

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There’s a quiet and compelling energy that pulsates in “American Bitch”, which goes deep into the world of sexual politics, accountability, and consequence. A brooding exchange between Hannah and lothario writer, Chuck Palmer (Matthew Rhys), sustains an entire twenty-seven minutes where we discover Chuck has summoned her to his expensive apartment to question her on a piece she wrote about his occupied position as a famous author having his way with young, impressionable, literary groupies – who then kiss and tell by blogging about it.

What unfolds is a low-key, slow-burn narrative and fluctuating power play that starts off as a curious enough encounter between two people. Hannah gets kudos straight up assuming he has “an ass-deep google alert” on himself – how else would he know of the article written for a niche feminist website? And she gains traction stating she’s an unknown writer whose only wish is to use her voice momentously – which, again, means accusing hip authors of using their power and influence to bed fawning female creative writing students. Chuck pushes back, but not in an obvious way. He’s prickly, yes, but hardly in combat stance, and concedes she’s smart and funny by reading out a line from said article. ‘If one more male writer I love reveals himself to be a heinous sleazebag I’m going to do a bunch of murders, create a new isle of Lesbos and never look back.’ “You’re funny – that’s a funny sentence”, he says.

The episode alternates between opinions and differences due to gaps of gender and age and suffice to say a war begins between them. A war between generations, a war of the sexes, a war for and against technology. “Isn’t that the crazy part about all of this? About being alive right now?” Chuck says. “So much of your life, your world, can be destroyed by something called Tumbler without an e?” Hannah cheerleads for the internet as some kind of public town hall that gives voice to the marginalised. “Is that why the internet is so cool? Because some might argue that it’s a monster we’ve created that will ultimately kill us”, Chuck shoots back. “Yeah, well the people who argue that are probably a generation above me”, she retorts.

The problem is, Hannah thinks she knows Chuck because she’s read all his stuff along with some of the facts. But she wouldn’t know the first thing about who the private man is. She knows of the public figure and the prize-winning writer in possession of an unruly sexual appetite, but it’s Chuck Palmer and his shitstorm of a personal life that is the revelation for her. She also asks why she alone was invited to his apartment knowing she wasn’t the only writer who declared open season on him. It seems to be an insignificant question yet plays out well in a satisfying denouement. But it isn’t until their encounter abruptly devolves into an eye-popping disaster that you finally see Chuck and his ‘master manipulator’ shadow – one which fell across their entire meeting from the start.

 
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Being Seventeen

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Being a teenager is tough. It is a time of heightened insecurity and anxiety, during which many people discover who they really are. Such is the case for the two boys, Damien and Tomas, at the centre of Being Seventeen. Tomas comes from a farming family and is stagnating in his studies. Damien’s father is a soldier, fighting in an undisclosed country and his mother is a doctor.

When the film begins, the mountains surrounding their idyllic village are buried under crisp, white snow. The world is as cold as the two boys who inhabit it. But when Tomas’ mother becomes pregnant, Damien’s mother, who is her doctor, makes Tomas stay in their home to help with his schooling, further complicating the boys’ relationship.

There is no doubting Damien and Tomas’ hatred for each other at the outset of the film. In class Tomas trips Damien for no reason and pushes Damien down after school. But Damien jumps back up and lets fly several of his own blows, one leaving Tomas with a bloodied nose. Damien is no victim here. But as time goes by, the seasons transform, Tomas’ mother’s once barren womb blossoms, and the two boys’ relationship changes as well.

One of the wonders of the film is the unexpected way this relationship develops, so we won’t go into details about where it takes them.

The film deftly deals with the burgeoning issue of masculinity. For these boys, they deal with it through asserting physical dominance and prowess during their fights. At first, this desire to win comes from their contempt for the other, but as they begin training together a quiet respect develops. They promise to cover for the other if Damien’s mother should find their wounds.

Being Seventeen relies heavily upon the performances of Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein), Tomas (Corentin Fila) and Damien’s mother (Sandrine Kiberlain). The latter acting as the moral centre for these two boys as she keeps them from spiralling out of control several times until, near the end of the film, they must do the same for her when she experiences her own tragedy. These performances are at times sensitive and at others outright bold with all three characters pushed to their limits time and time again.

Post-New-Wave director, André Téchiné (I Don’t Kiss, The Girl on the Train) aids these performances by allowing the camera to invade these characters’ private spaces, reminiscent of the style of Lars Von Trier. He also makes the most of the Pyrenees backdrop, transforming it at times into a whimsical dreamscape to mirror the boys’ unfolding relationship. But with a film of this kind, if you aren’t involved with its leads, it will start to drag. And at times, their actions just don’t feel realistic for their age. That is the greatest weakness, which admittedly is not a lot, of an otherwise great film.

 
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Alone in Berlin

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No one wants to criticise a holocaust film; they serve a critical purpose in remembering and learning from the atrocities of our shared history. But when they fail to even strike the middle, they become problematic. Taking a subject as terrifically painful as Nazi Germany and removing the impact is dangerous – and whether it was intentional or not, the lack of fire in Alone In Berlin downplays fascism to seem like more of an ‘upsetting happenstance’ than an extraordinarily brutal plight.

Directed by actor Vincent Pérez (whose directorial credits include little-known features 2002’s Once Upon An Angel and 2007’s The Secret), Alone In Berlin, set in 1940s Berlin at the height of the Second World War, follows working class couple Otto and Anna Quangel (Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson) who receive the news that their only son has been killed on the battlefield in France. Already disillusioned with The Führer and The Fatherland, the loss of their son proves the tipping point and Otto begins a campaign of civil disobedience, writing messages on postcards that urge fellow Germans to resist the Nazi regime.

Anna soon partners with Otto and together they covertly distribute hundreds of postcards, left in stairwells and mailboxes across the city. At the head of the police force trying to track down the dissenters is detective Escherich (Daniel Brühl), who faces enormous pressure from the SS to find, stop and bring the traitors to justice.

Based on the international bestseller by Hans Fallada, the original content for the film was strong. But somewhere down the line it all became lost and laboured. Arguably the fault is Pérez’s – whose transparently fearful direction shows his inability to dig any deeper than the surface layers of a greatly sensitive subject. Clearly, his confidence and maturity as a director is wanting, and here, he’s definitely bitten off more than he can chew.

The performances, though notably better than the direction, are a bit like trying to make laksa, giving up halfway, and eating Mi Goreng over the sink instead. Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson start out with the best intentions; they are present, passionate and even rather convincing in places. But much like the laksa, it becomes less-and-less about taste and flavour, and more about just getting something in your stomach. What the pair deliver is passable, but their efforts aren’t exactly what you’d want them to be.

Ultimately the film is a flat-liner. There are just no peaks and troughs, which is remarkable given the tremendously heavy content of the film. It fails in pulling at the heartstrings or even, at the very least, giving any real context to what was a terrifying and dark period in time.

 
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Logan

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With Logan, director James Mangold and actor Hugh Jackman make the boldest choice possible with the saga that began with Bryan Singer’s X-Men back in 2000 – they end it.

That’s an almost heretical choice in this age of endless franchises. Indeed, there certainly will be more X-Men movies going into the future (never let good taste or appropriateness get in the way of a cash cow, right?). But make no mistake, the pair’s statement of intent going in, that they would tell the final, definitive screen Wolverine story before Jackman voluntarily hung up his claws, was not just hot air. This is The Last Ride of James Howlett.

Summarily excising the tangled mess of X-Men continuity, along with most of the characters and, indeed, all but the most necessary comic book trappings, Logan sets its scene in the southern US border states, circa 2029. There we find an alcoholic Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), aka James Howlett, aka Logan (we’ll stick with that one for simplicity’s sake) working as a chauffeur and drinking to numb the pain, both physical and emotional, that he carries with every limping step. He’s a shadow of his former self, his healing factor is barely keeping him together – he’s a lean, haunted, scarecrow of a man.

He keeps it together only because he has a dream of escape with his two remaining friends, the ancient psychic, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart),  and Caliban (Stephen Merchant), the albino mutant who helps Logan care for him. In his dotage, Xavier’s powerful brain is failing him and he is prone to “seizures” that unleash psychic havoc; Logan has resorted to keeping the old man sedated in a derelict compound across the Mexican border. It’s a pathetic, hardscrabble existence, but the three of them have a dream to shoot for: raise enough money to buy a boat, and spend their final days on the open ocean.

It’s a sad little life – the boat is basically the rabbit farm in Of Mice and Men – and it’s certainly no retirement for former heroes. Mangold sketches the sorry state of the world and our protagonists efficiently and effectively. This brown and ochre desert world we’re in isn’t quite post-apocalyptic; like Mad Max, it’s a world in the middle of collapse. There are no more mutants, we’re told, and the fate of the rest of the X-Men are darkly hinted at but never made explicit. The world has moved on, and there’s no room in it for clawed ronin and their silly ideals of honour and loyalty.

LoganThis depressing dustbowl tableau is disrupted by the arrival of three figures – a Mexican nurse (Elizabeth Rodriguez) on the run with a mysterious little girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), and Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), the cyborg mercenary in pursuit of them. Laura, as it turns out, is perhaps the last mutant in the world, a clone of Logan experimented on a shadowy corporation and imbued with an adamantium skeleton and claws, just like him – in effect, his daughter. The pair want to hire Logan to take them north to the Canadian border and safety. Logan will have none of it, but events soon conspire to put him, Laura and Xavier on the road, with Pierce and his cyborg PMC army in pursuit. And we’re off.

It’s unsurprising that Mangold, director of 3.10 to Yuma, would dress Logan in the iconography and narrative tropes of the Western, but it’s impressive how well it fits the material. The obvious touchstone here is Unforgiven, with its retired gunfighter taking up arms once more and its meditations on violence and morality, and Shane is repeatedly referenced. There’s even a touch of Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia in its sweaty desperation – and in its violence. Logan certainly doesn’t waste its restrictive rating – right out of the gate, claws are popping and limbs are flying. Every action sequence is carnage, and Logan’s failing healing factor means he carries the increasingly heavy cost as the film progresses, his body barely holding together under the near-constant rain of punishment.

Yet almost none of it feels gratuitous – it’s all in service to the film’s themes. The cost of violence is heavy, and in Laura we see how violence perpetuates down through the generations. Yes, it’s hugely cathartic when she unleashes her fury on her oppressors, slicing femoral arteries and jamming claws into eye sockets, but it’s disturbing as well – as it should be. We and Logan are forced to look at this murderous miniature version of him and wonder what dreadful future this world has in store for her – and whether it can be averted.

Keen is incredible, by the way; her Laura is an odd-looking, intense, silent child, almost feral, yet desperate for familial love. Indeed, it’s the misshapen family of choice that she forms with Logan and Xavier that gives the film its considerable heart. For all the slaughter and the darkness, Logan lives in its small moments of warmth and humour, of which there are many – it’s a stern individual who refuses to crack a smile at Patrick Stewart swearing. The film also digs deep into Xavier and Logan’s relationship; there’s a quiet point in the film where the three have to pretend to be an actual family and Logan refers to Xavier as “Dad”. It’s incredibly moving, and all the more impressive in that it feels a part of the film’s texture and not forced.

We’ll drift into heavy spoiler territory if we push forward much further. Logan‘s story is simple, but its themes are dense and varied. The climax takes them all and twists them together in a scene of action and catharsis that will leave you breathless. Logan is not just a great superhero film – and easily the best of the X-Men stable by an incredibly long chalk – it’s a great film, period. The Wolverine story has moved in fits and starts over the past 16 years, with a few highs and plenty of risible lows but, by God, does it go out with a bang.

 

 
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Sniper Elite 4

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Shooting Nazis is almost as ubiquitous a trope in video games as hearts representing health pick ups or red barrels being explosive. The average 30-something gamer has probably killed over a million on screen Nazis in their life, and that’s a conservative estimate. Frankly the whole thing had started to become a bit passe in recent times but then the world went fucking nuts and suddenly Nazis are back in the zeitgeist, and positions of political power, once more.

While that’s shockingly, heart-breakingly bad news for humanity it’s a pretty sweet deal for killing Nazis in video games, which brings us to Sniper Elite 4.

Sniper Elite 4 tells the tale of Karl Fairburne, an Office of Strategic Services agent who has all the personality of unsalted tofu but boy can he shoot folks. After Karl grunts through a fairly unexciting opening cutscene you, the player, are dropped into action in a sprawling map of Italy in 1943. Immediately the game distinguishes itself from its very linear predecessors by giving you options and many of them. Naturally sniping is the main focus, but you can also lure enemies into traps, drop crates on groups or even destroy trucks or heavy ordinance while a cadre of Nazis mill around nearby, creating hilariously nasty death traps.

When you make a kill the game switches to an X-ray mode so you can see the exact impact of your bullet, or other projectile, and watch it literally tear through organs, splinter bone and smash testicles. Yes, the series’ favourite iconic testicle shot is back and it’s even more wince- and chuckle-inducing than ever before. There is an immense sense of satisfaction to be garnered from setting up and executing a perfect scrotum-smashing shot, or popping a Nazi eyeball. It’s grim and nasty but given the nature of the enemy, there’s a great deal of catharsis to be had.

On the downside Sniper Elite 4’s story is a non-event. That’s to be expected to an extent in this kind of choose-your-own-path-to-kill title, but even a touch of character or Inglourious Basterds-style gallows humour would have been appreciated and made the wholesale slaughter all the more satisfying.

That said, Sniper Elite 4 scratches an ultraviolence itch in the best kind of way. The ten generously proportioned maps offer a wealth of opportunities to kill your foes in interesting, creative ways and a surprising number of co-op and PvP modes round out the package, offering decent multiplayer options for those who want to shoot their friends and co-workers right in the ballbag.

Sniper Elite 4 knows exactly what it is, and as a way of blowing off steam, or engaging in some splattery wish-fulfillment fantasy, it’s a bloody good time.