Monthly Archives: September 2012

Review – The Imposter (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Bart Layton – Breakout, Banged Up Abroad

Cast:

  • Adam O’Brian
  • Anna Ruben – Eternal, The Fallow Field
  • Frédéric Bourdin (himself)
  • Beverley Dollarhide (herself, Nicolas’ mother)
  • Carey Gibson (herself, Nicholas’ sister)
  • Codey Gibson (himself, Nicholas’ brother-in-law)
  • Charlie Parker (himself, FBI official)
  • Nancy Fisher (herself, FBI official)

The disappearance of children is nothing new, as Changeling and the case of Madeleine McCann can attest. Vanishing children is a deeply disturbing part of society and one that is not as rare as good people would like it to be. In the case of Nicholas Barclay, however, there were a series of unusual twists that would be too far-fetched for a soap opera. In brilliant fashion, The Imposter sheds light on this peculiar affair.

Nicholas Barclay, aged thirteen. This picture was taken shortly before he disappeared without trace after playing basketball with friends.

The Imposter is a documentary-style film about the vanishing of Nicholas Barclay in San Antonio, Texas, in June 1993. After no news for more than four years, in November 1997 the Barclay family received a call from Spain telling them that Nicholas had been found. Yet, when ‘Nicholas’ returned to America, he was no longer fair-skinned, blond-haired and blue-eyed. Rather, he had dark Arabic features, brown eyes, looked older than sixteen, and spoke with a distinctly French accent.

Nevertheless, the Barclay family took him in. They looked after him as if he were part of the family, unaware that ‘Nicholas’ was really Frédéric Bourdin (played by Adam O’Brian to depict ‘Nicholas’ when young).

The Imposter is a surprisingly gripping film that feels significantly shorter than its 99 minutes. Despite being neither a drama nor a thriller nor a horror movie, the film is dramatic, thrilling and unnerving (indeed, more so than many thrillers and horror movies). This is because The Imposter has been put together magnificently by Bart Layton by predominantly using old film footage of the actual events; few re-enactments, all of which are grounded; eerie music that gives the film an odd air of surrealism; and question-less interviews with the living members of the Barclay family, embassy officials and FBI-agents involved in the case, as well as Frédéric Bourdin, himself.

Frédéric Bourdin, whilst being interviewed during the film. Even though he is thirty-eight now and balding, with his dark features it is still incredible to believe that he managed to fool the Barclay family, the Spanish authorities, American embassy officials, and some FBI agents into thinking that he was Nicholas Barclay in 1997.

By putting the cameras directly in front of the interviewees, Layton has cleverly made the audience feel as if they are interviewing the cast themselves. Moreover, as the interviews and the storyline follow a logical/chronological order, viewers are able to feel a rare intimacy with the interviewees as well as with the events as and when they unfold.

Layton has also given each member of the cast a fair amount of time to explain his/her reasoning. This ensures that one can understand and empathise with the characters for why they behaved and reacted in the way they did.

That is not to say that all questions arising from the case are satisfactorily answered in The Imposter. (I won’t go into them as that would spoil the film.) It is also bizarre that little is mentioned of Nicholas’ older brother Jason, who died mysteriously of a drug overdose in 1998 not long after meeting ‘Nicholas.’ Surely, Layton could have interviewed some of Jason’s friends (assuming he had any) to get Jason’s side of the story or to get an idea of the sort of relationship Nicholas had with his older brother?

‘Nicholas’ (Adam O’Brian) back in school after returning from Spain. Did it not occur to Nicholas’ friends and teachers that he looked darker than he should have done and much older than a sixteen year old boy?

But the lingering question throughout the movie is: how did Nicholas’s mother, Beverley, not realise that it was not her son who arrived from Spain? Or, alternatively, did she know that ‘Nicholas’ wasn’t her son, yet played along with it for other reasons? It seems somewhat implausible that a mother, regardless of her intelligence, would fail to recognise her son in an instant, as Christine Collins (played superbly by Angelina Jolie) conversely illustrated in Changeling.

All-in-all, The Imposter elucidates admirably upon the weird ‘reappearance’ of Nicholas Barclay. The film powerfully makes one feel close to the events in an impressive, yet utterly unsettling way. This is not merely because of Bart Layton’s bold and well-executed documentary-style approach to the movie. It is because The Imposter is a non-dramatised true story, and deals with a disconcerting issue that is very pertinent to present-day society.

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Review – The Possession (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 1/5

Director:

  • Ole Bornedal – Nightwatch, Deliver Us From Evil, 1864

Producer:

  • Sam Raimi – Xena: Warrior Princess, Spiderman I-III, The Evil Dead

Cast:

  • Jeffrey Dean Morgan – Watchmen, Grey’s Anatomy, Red Dawn
  • Natasha Calis – Donovan’s Echo, The Firm
  • Madison Davenport – Jack and the Beanstalk, Shameless, Noah
  • Kyra Sedgwick – Man on a Ledge, The Closer, Chlorine
  • Grant Show – Melrose Place, Marmalade, All Ages Night
  • Matisyahu

In my review of The Woman in Black, I spoke of the urgent need for the horror-genre to be revamped. Too often, so-called ‘horror’ films have become formulaic and a joke. Well, unbelievably, the genre has sunk even lower due to The Possession.

Em (Natasha Calis), unaware of the evil held within the container, purchasing the ‘Dibbuk box’ at a yard sale not far from her father’s home.

The Possession is a supernatural horror movie based on a true story. (Yeah right.) Em (Natasha Calis) and Hannah (Madison Davenport) are two young girls, whose parents are divorced. While staying with their father, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), they go to a yard sale to purchase some new things for their father’s new house.

At the sale, Em comes across an old wooden box with an inscription of Hebrew writing and buys it. Little does she know, though, that the box contains a Dibbuk (Hebrew for an ‘evil spirit’). Em doesn’t find out until after she opens it. But by then it is too late, as the Dibbuk is already consuming both her soul and her flesh.

The Possession is neither scary nor interesting, thereby making the film feel a lot longer than its 92 minutes. Also, starting the movie with ‘based on a true story’ just renders the film stupid. One is generally not going to take a film seriously after watching human beings fly upside down across rooms, before smashing into walls and denting the brickwork. (Because that happens in real life, doesn’t it?)

Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) holding the ‘Dibbuk box’ while his daughters are with their mother and her new boyfriend. Clyde is trying to work out what is inside the box that could have harmed Em.

It is not as if those scenes are unique to The Possession either, as the recent The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Rite and The Devil Inside attest. Like all of those films, The Possession suffers from an embarrassing number of clichés, which seem to be endlessly recycled in (bad) horror movies. Seeing (poorly-made CGI) insects coming out of someone’s throat or hearing a young girl talking with the voice of a nasty old hag has been done so many times that it ceases to shock or scare.

Combined with these standard techniques is the reprocessed music. Usually these unoriginal scores at least make viewers’ hearts flutter and pump up their adrenaline. In The Possession, however, it doesn’t even do that. The music sometimes threatens to make one feel that he/she will be jumping out of their skin by the end of the scene. Yet, because the film builds up to a climax that invariably doesn’t happen, the non-atmospheric music is reduced to pointlessness to the extent that the scenes would have been tenser with silence.

Matisyahu, donned in full chassidic gear, reading out holy verses, hoping to exorcise the evil spirit that has possessed Em.

And in case The Possession isn’t pathetic enough, the acting is terrible and the script is even worse. Indeed, it is all so dreadful that it almost forces one to question how a donor or Sam Raimi (whose reputation has plummeted since the much-maligned Spiderman 3) could have been duped into thinking that The Possession was a film worth making. At least The Woman in Black was an adaptation from a successful theatre production, so there was an excuse for it to be made. The Possession, on the other hand, has no such strong foundation and is almost solely the result of (the lack of) imagination on behalf of Stiles White and Juliet Snowden (both of whom helped to write Knowing, an appalling movie that was all over the place).

Over-all, The Possession is yet another wretched and stereotypical horror film. It adds nothing new to the genre, is neither funny nor frightening, and is remarkably dull. How many more ‘horror’ movies like this can Hollywood make before donors, directors and producers alike gain some dignity and pull the plug on this woeful genre?

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Review – Shadow Dancer (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • James Marsh – Man on Wire, Project Nim

Cast:

  • Andrea Riseborough – Brighton Rock, W.E.Birdman
  • Clive Owen – Derailed, Inside Man, Blood Ties
  • Gillian Anderson – The X-Files, Johnny English Reborn, Mr Morgan’s Last Love
  • Aiden Gillen – Game of Thrones, The Dark Knight Rises, Calvary
  • David Wilmot – Intermission, The Guard, Calvary
  • Dohmnall Gleeson – Never Let Me Go, Harry Potter VII(i) & VII(ii)Ex Machina
  • Brid Brennan

Last year’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (TTSS) was a wonderful example of the capabilities of the British Film Institute (BFI). The acting, the dialogue and the settings were noteworthy, plus it gave audiences a true sense of the machinations of the British secret services. Similarly, in Shadow Dancer, the BFI has come up again with another quite impressive film about the murky world of intelligence and underground movements.

Collette (Andrea Riseborough) waiting somewhat apprehensively to speak with Kevin Mulville, one of the most senior activists in the IRA’s ‘military wing.’

Shadow Dancer is based in Belfast between 1993-94, at the time of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and revolves round Collette (Andrea Riseborough). She is an Irish Republican Army (IRA) activist, who gets arrested for attempting to blow up Mile End underground station in London.

Her interrogator from MI5, Mac (Clive Owen), gives her a stark choice: either face prison and the loss of her son, or become an informant. Mac believes she is a useful person since she has close ties to the most important people in the IRA’s ‘military wing,’ in particular with its leader, Gerry Adams (Aiden Gillen), and his henchman, Kevin Mulville (David Wilmot). Reluctantly, Collette agrees.

Shadow Dancer is a slow-moving, tense thriller. In the same vein as TTSS and Harry Brown, the settings are gritty, non-theatrical and reflective of the era which help to set the tone of the film; in this case, some late-eighties hair-styles and the cream-coloured, box-like computers. Yet, unlike the two aforementioned films, Shadow Dancer runs out of steam, turning to an eclectic mix of predictability and vagueness that undermines much of what is good about the movie.

Collette meeting with her MI5 boss, called Mac (Clive Owen), to discuss the IRA’s latest plans.

Aided by a well-written, realistic script and solid acting, Shadow Dancer illustrates the tough life of a militant activist and the dangers of being a double-timer for a movement like the IRA. This is all exemplified astoundingly by Andrea Riseborough as the vulnerable Collette. Without doubt, Riseborough is the star of the film and enhances her growing reputation, after emerging as the only actor to come out unscathed from W.E., the atrocity directed by Madonna. Riseborough makes us empathise with Collette’s difficult and mentally-strenuous situation without appearing weak or cowardly. And her Northern Irish accent is flawless. All of this is no small achievement.

Furthermore, Collette’s position in the IRA enables viewers to see the men and women of the IRA’s ‘military wing’ for what they are. While it shows instances of their malevolence, it also has the effect of humanising them, especially Gerry Adams. (Aiden Gillen, with no less distinction, playing a quieter and much less charming role than as Lord ‘Littlefinger’ Petyr Baelish, the king’s slimy and untrustworthy advisor, in Game of Thrones.)

Moreover, Collette’s situation allows audiences to gain an understanding of the IRA’s internal disagreements over the treaty, between the ‘military wing and the ‘political wing,’ the latter headed by Ian Gilmour (Stuart Graham).

Collette looking on sadly at a funeral, standing alongside with Gerry Adams (Aiden Gillen), her brother Connor (Dohmnall Gleeson), and her mother (played by Brid Brennan). The red haired man in the background.

Yet, surprisingly, Shadow Dancer does not do the same for the inner workings of the British secret services, vis-à-vis the IRA. Whereas TTSS was layered with intrigue, Shadow Dancer falls into a (depressing) cliché wherein Mac plays the ‘good operative,’ since he backs the main character, in contrast to Kate (played by a steely Gillian Anderson), his main (villain-like) adversary, who has an ulterior motive and isn’t given the time to justify herself.

All-in-all, Shadow Dancer is another worthwhile movie made by the BFI. Like TTSS and Harry Brown, it has a grounded and harsh feel that is only lightened by the remarkable performance of Andrea Riseborough. It is just a pity for Riseborough that Shadow Dancer’s storyline lacks the complexity and plausibility that is so striking about her display.

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