Movie reviews

THE El Camino de Santiago stretches from southern France all the way to Spain’s Atlantic coastline, a religious pilgrimage undertaken by Daniel (Emilio Estevez) in The Way (12A).

When Daniel dies during a freak storm, his estranged father, Tom (Martin Sheen), flies to Europe to recover the body. Once on French soil, however, Tom decides to honour Daniel’s intent and make the pilgrimage on his behalf. Intended as a metaphor for Tom’s spiritual progress towards acceptance and peace, Emilio Estevez’s film — he writes, stars, directs and produces — lacks the kind of conflict, struggle and triumph that might have made the journey worthwhile for the audience. Tom travels with a ragtag group of fellow pilgrims, played by James Nesbitt, Deborah Kara Unger and Yorick van Wageningen, and while the co-stars turn in solid performances, Sheen is as watchable as ever, particularly as the mourning, irreligious Tom is resolute in his determination to plough a furrow between pious faith and the more functional reasons his more secular companions have for making the trek (losing weight, giving up cigarettes, breaking through writer’s block).

Unfortunately, the quartet’s regular bickering and reconciliations fall well short of the cathartic experience the film’s set-up promises, and too much of the narrative is given over to montages in which the pilgrims hike past attractive scenery, an indulgence that comes at the expense of a more personal exploration of Tom’s grief and subtle transformation. The net result is a film that is far more interesting as an advertisement for Spanish tourism than it is as a spiritual odyssey.

ATTACK the Block (16s) opens as a clever riff on the alien invasion movie. For once the dastardly extra-terrestrials aren’t invading Los Angeles; secondly, they make the mistake of picking an inner-city London apartment block as their landing spot, a decision that doesn’t go down at all well with the block’s resident teenage gang, which is led by Moses (John Boyega). Writer-director Joe Cornish establishes Moses and his cohorts as social dregs when we first meet them mugging new resident Sam (Jodie Whittaker), but quickly celebrates their threat in a blackly comic take on George Orwell’s quote about people sleeping peaceably in their beds only because rough men stand by ready to do violence on their behalf. Inventive editing, a compressed time-frame and some authentically frightening aliens combine to give the movie a terrific sense of pace, and Cornish also has some post-modern fun by dropping allusions to the Western genre into the mix. Attack the Block offers breathless entertainment with a subversive twist.

LOVE Like Poison (16s) is a French rites-of-passage drama, in which 14-year-old Anna (Clara Augarde) struggles to come to terms with her parents’ separation, her grandfather’s imminent death and her own awakening sexuality, her experience shot through with religious overtones as her confirmation looms. Writer-director Katell Quillévéré generates enough story for two melodramas, but a strong ensemble cast and a subtly questioning tone results in a film that justifies her bold approach. Augarde has an endearing charm as she blends innocence with a hesitant desire.

Anna’s various dilemmas exert a compelling momentum. Currently on limited release.

“ARE you talkin’ to me?” One of the great movie quotes comes courtesy of one of the towering cinematic achievements of the 1970s, but Taxi Driver (18s) remains a disturbing depiction of urban alienation some 35 years later, and is as relevant now as it was then. Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle may well be cinema’s most compulsively watchable sociopath, a man pushed past his limits by his own twisted morality, which sees him attempt to rescue the insouciant child prostitute Jodie Foster from her life of degradation. Arguably Martin Scorsese’s finest moment, the film has been re-released in a new digital restoration that does nothing to buff up the scuzzy streets Bickle stalks. Currently showing at the IFI.


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