Saturday 20 December 2014
10) 22 Jump Street
It recently dawned on me that comedy as a genre has gone completely downhill. Oh sure we are inundated with smart, too smart tv series with an army of staff writers producing far too calibrated material, but nothing at the cinema reaches the highs of the last golden age in the 80's. (Airplane, Naked Gun, Working Girl, The Blues Brothers...) Which is what makes 22 Jump Street so refreshing. Yes I hear you say, it is very smart, but for all of its meta flourishes, it never feels smug, and it never forgets to engage with is audience, thanks in no small part to the sizzling bromance between Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. And it is genuinely funny, not "look at me I'm so clever" funny, I mean laugh out loud, properly hilarious. Such is the fast pace of inventive jokes than one viewing is nowhere near enough to make the most of it. As for the end credits sequence, it ranks high among some of the most dazzling scenes I have seen all year, the film deserves a spot in my top 20 for those alone.
Friday 12 December 2014
15) Les Salauds
Yes I had to use its French title to avoid any issues with Blogger! Claire Denis has been a consistently brilliant director, with I Can't Sleep, Beau Travail, Trouble Every Day and White Material among my favourite films of hers. And she does not disappoint with the bleak neo-noir Les Salauds. While its script is rather oblique, it is never frustrating and allows her to tell her story with a more impressionist brush, in a way that is completely in tune with the nightmarish vibe of the film. Add the haunting soundtrack from usual musical collaborators The Tindersticks, and you have one of the most haunting and singular films of the year.
Friday 5 December 2014
After my top 30 of glorious 2013, 2014 did not quite reach such heights, hence a top 20 instead of 30 this year. In an effort of consistency, I have only included films with a UK release date in 2014, and frustratingly, I saw most of the films in this top 20 at film festivals last year, while most of the best films I saw this year were also seen at film festivals, and are sure to feature in my top films of 2015, a trend which reflects my viewing habit of the last few years. This is no snobbery but the cinema going experience has become so depressing... and I found film festivals to be the best and nearly only way to enjoy films with a respectful audience. Indeed it seems as if multiplexes are determined to discourage dedicated film fans from visiting them, through gimmicks and general lack of respect for the medium. But there is hope with cinema still, as the variety of talents, countries and genres in my top 20 reflect.
Monday 24 November 2014
Julie Bertuccelli's 2013 documentary 'La Cour de Babel' about a 'reception' class in a French school in Paris, is fascinating as we see the group of 24 children speaking 24 different languages adapt to their new life in France. The children are from completely different backgrounds, and have come to France for a variety of reasons. There is a Venezuelean boy who plays the cello, a Jewish Serbian whose family have fled Nazi hatred for a new life, a Chinese girl whose parents run a restaurant, an African girl who has been reunited with her mother and finally given a chance to start school, to new a few.
Tuesday 18 November 2014
“I wish my threshold of self-deception was as low as yours.” That line, a stinging rebuke, directed at Aydin (Haluk Bilgner), the hotelier, retired actor and landowner, by his sister Necla (Demet Akbag), during an increasingly intense (and lengthy) slanging match, in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s, Winter Sleep, winner of 2014 Palme d’Or, is one of many aimed in the fella’s direction.
In fact, any comment or insult is likely to stick. Aydin is a smug bourgeoisie hiding behind the mask of an artist; a bloke emotionally crippled by arrogance, self-regard and a cynical view of the world. One can’t help but ponder what sort of surrealist mishap or violent demise would befall him, had this been a Luis Buñuel film. Pier Paolo Pasolini might have fed Aydin to the pigs, or cursed the guy to wander the slopes of Mount Etna, for all eternity.
Friday 14 November 2014
It is 1862, during the late Joseon Dynasty - a time, as we are told by the voice-over that opens Kundo: Age of the Rampant, when the Korean people were starving and exploited by corrupt, greedy and self-serving officials. But it might as well be the Wild Wild West, as Yoon Jong-bin's film proves to be a rambunctious, genre-blurring spaghetti eastern (or noodle western), akin to Kim Jee-woon's The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008). Although here swords and arrows are the weapons of choice, characters also get rescued from hangings and ride off into the sunset to the accompaniment of bass guitar licks and harmonica - and you can be sure that the Gatling gun glimsped early on (and assimilated into the mount of an ornate Asian carving) will eventually be mowing down bad guys, Django-style.
Wednesday 12 November 2014
With cinematography clearly taking inspiration from the sort of high end documentary film making that the BBC are world renowned for, director Diego Quemada-Diez's Spanish language film The Golden Dream follows the journey of four Guatemala children as they follow their golden dream of making a life for themselves in the United States.
The film has the viewer take an observational step back from the journey the children are on, to take in the breathtaking beauty of the countryside along with examples of the zenith and troughs of humanity. The three friends Juan (Brandon Lopez), Samuel (Carlos Chajon) and Sara (Karen Martinez) make their way on foot and by train without complaint but with a dogged determination that does not require explanation but action. When they meet Chauk (Rodolf Dominguez) an indigenous boy, the dynamic of the group shifts and Juan struggles with his own racism towards Chauk as they journey together.
Thursday 6 November 2014
‘Once you’re a parent, you’re the ghost of your children’s future.’ There are plenty of philosophical musings like that in the astounding sci-fi blockbuster, Interstellar, and the film’s detractors may describe them as cod-flavoured. Cynics, beware, as this utterance is very much the fulcrum of Christopher Nolan’s latest cinematic endeavour. The director appears intent on using a genre vehicle to transcend said genre and guide us to a universal message of hope in these dark times. It’s also about space exploration and packed with gnarly set-pieces. So don’t panic!
Monday 27 October 2014
Pasolini (dir: Abel Ferrara) Pier Paolo Pasolini’s brutal murder in 1975 was truly an ignoble and cruel exit for the firebrand cultural figure. On the surface, the criminally underrated Abel Ferrara might appear to be an odd choice to make a biopic about such a divisive intellectual artist. However, the NYC auteur boasts a controversial movie or two in his own filmography and shares with Pasolini a certain roughhewn, albeit, poetic vision. The two directors could be spiritual brothers.
For a man often charged by his detractors as an immoral soul, the screenplay by Maurizio Braucci – and actor Willem Dafoe’s portrayal – paint the man as a profoundly moral individual, whose last movie, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, was a doom-filled political allegory so shocking that its message was barely palatable, let alone comprehended.
Monday 20 October 2014
Eden sets itself to portray the French electronic scene of the 90's, which is such a great subject it makes you wonder why hardly anybody else has attempted it. Yes there was the rather poor Clubbed to Death, but tackling this subject now adds a layer of nostalgia that also makes everybody who partied at the time feel very old indeed (aherm). This is the mid 90's and we follow DJ Paul, one of the (fictional) pioneers of the famous French touch, a musical renaissance for a country that had made very little impact over the previous decades. Inspired by the rise and (SPOILER) fall of her brother and former DJ Sven Löve, Mia Hensen Löve charters the early excitement, the dizzying heights of success, and then the increasing indifference from a changing audience.
Sunday 19 October 2014
Gregg Araki remains one of the true survivors of the wave of US indie directors who emerged in the late 80's/90's, one who has remained faithful to his own style and never been tempted by the big bucks of Hollywood studios. Some have criticised him for essentially making films that are always about the same theme: teenagers, which is an unfair accusation, as if other true auteurs were ever subjected to the same complaint. Besides his visual talent has evolved from the early grubby, grungy days of the 90's to an almost purest, pop-art like simplicity, as witnessed by his previous film, the wonderful Kaboom.
Wednesday 8 October 2014
"This is not Earth, it's another planet," announces the voice-over at the beginning of Aleksei German's Hard To Be a God (Trudno Byt Bogom), "About 800 years behind." That might sound like a minor variant on "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" - but in fact the setting is some time in the future, and the hellish 'city' of Arkanar is behind only in the sense that the "Renaissance didn't happen here." As both city leader Don Reba's 'Greys' (soldiers so-named for the colour of their uniforms) and the 'Blacks' in the powerful religious Order all vie to round up, torture and execute any 'wise guys' (artisans or intellectuals), a group of Scientists from Earth go undercover as local nobles of divine descent, observing the atrocities all around them and trying to insinuate some sort of Enlightenment without resorting to their own violent interventions. Yet as one of these Earthlings, 'Don Rumata' (Leonid Yarmolnik), is discovering, it is relatively easy to go native, but hard to be a god.
Saturday 4 October 2014
His first feature, Katalin Varga (2009), is a rape/revenge story shot in Transylvania with exclusively Hungarian dialogue. His second feature, the metacinematic mystery Berberian Sound Studio (2012), is set in Seventies Italy and uses the grammar and tropes of giallo to explore the misogynies in and around an unseen horror film undergoing endless, infernal postproduction. Which is to say that writer/director Peter Strickland likes to inhabit the outermost limits of genre - and his latest, The Duke Of Burgundy, is no exception.
Wednesday 1 October 2014
One thing that is most imperative about reading anything about director David Fincher's new film Gone Girl is that one needs to avoid all forms of spoilers. So this review will strive to do the same while suggesting that if anyone attempts to tell you anything about the plot of the film, to firmly place one's fingers in one's ears and run swiftly away. Adapted from her novel of the same name, Gillian Flynn's script requires the full two hours and twenty nine minutes running time to tease out the relationship and stories that emanate from Gone Girl.
When Nick Dunne's (Ben Affleck) beautiful blonde Ivy League wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing, a media wave and then storm springs up around the story. Police are involved with suspicions raised as literal clues in envelopes turn up for Nick to solve. As the case progresses who Nick and Amy are is thrashed out via prime time seeking media shows and in the hearts and minds of the TV watching public.
Saturday 27 September 2014
As much as I like French cinema, one thing that has often been bothering me lately is its overt reliance on naturalism. Oh sure, it does it so well. But it is almost like all the film graduates from the grand old FEMIS cannot earn their stripes unless they go down that road. Yet where are the French Brian de Palma, Peter Greenaway, David Lynch, Apichatpong Weerasethakul even?... It is even more baffling considering how, within France itself, the new wave came up with such formally inventive films decades ago. I'm thinking Godard obviously, but also Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette... Sure there has been a lot of genre films coming from France over the last decade, but they don't offer a great deal in term of formal experimentation (apart perhaps from Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury).
The Sundance Film Festival, America’s mecca of indie cinema, was never so-called for taking place in sunny times. On the contrary, January in Utah is the season of extreme cold and much snow, and Park City at that time attracts skiers as much as cine-hipsters. Rather, Sundance ultimately takes its name from one of the best known on-screen rôles by festival godfather Robert Redford. Still, the name of festival's transatlantic counterpart Raindance is an example of dry British humour about wet weather, in resigned recognition of the precipitation that tends to characterise the English autumn in which the festival takes place. Yet it needn't all be grim, damp and cold - for even as the sun sets on the British summer, this year's Raindance features a showcase of films from the Land of the Rising Sun, with special emphasis on filmmakers in the springtime of their careers.
Monday 8 September 2014
The same week that quiet, diligent snowplow operator Nils (Stellan Skarsgård) receives Citizen of the Year from his local Norwegian town, his son is murdered by a drug cartel. Nils knows his son to have been innocent and just as diligently as he clears the snow for his fellow citizens, he begins to clear a path through the drug organisation that killed him to find out who ultimately gave the order.
This puts him in the sphere of the drug kingpin Ole also known as The Count (Pål Sverre Hagen) a highly strung, beautifully tailored vegan crime boss teetering on the edge of a nervous break down. As the body count increases causing a dent in Ole's staffing ranks, assumptions are made about the source of the saboteur which results in the involvement of a Serbian drug cartel led by a figure known as Papa (Bruno Ganz).
Sunday 7 September 2014
It seems to be an enduring trend of film festivals that it is often the directors you expect the most who let you down, while it is those films you did not know anything about it that surprise you. And FrightFest this year was no exception. The best film I saw was one I did not know or expect anything from, Faults by Riley Stearns.
In it, Ansel (Leland Orser), an expert on mind control is enrolled by concerned parents whose daughter Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has fallen into the clutch of a weird cult. Having kidnapped her and confined her to a motel room to do his work, it is safe to say that Leland had not anticipated the turn of events, leading to a mental game of cat and mouse. Faults is Sundance-y to the max, but not in an annoying, kooky romantic comedy with a ukulele kind of way, more in a resolutely independent, creative and original way. And it is a tribute to the festival they have extended the boundaries of their selection to include some less obvious candidates such as this. If anything, I often felt during FrightFest that I was seeing a much more interesting snapshot of the US indie cinema than I did at Sundance London earlier this year.
As is now tradition, this FilmLandEmpire contributor and former Horror Film Shy Watcher, went along to enjoy a taste of the annual FrightFest in Leicester Square, this year at it's new home in the Vue Cinema. The five day festival of Horror is accessible to the most ardent of the genre's fans and those wishing to educate themselves as cinephiles. What is most striking about this particular film festival is the warmth and enthusiasm of the attendees as the full effect of sitting in a darkened room cringing, squealing, being enthralled, revolted, laughing, being impressed, unimpressed and applauding allows for a full cinematic group experience. By general consensus, this year's festival was less gore drenched and more psychologically affecting. The festival was brought to it's close by The Signal by William Eubank (who made an impression with his first film Love), and this was the film selected to be reviewed by this contributor.
Saturday 6 September 2014
"At the end of the day, this is going to be normal," declares Josef (Mark Duplass), embracing Aaron (Patrick Brice), whom he has only just met, with a clingy firmness. "This isn't weird at all." In response to an ad on Craigslist, amateur videographer and all-round nice guy Aaron has driven up to Josef's woodland home, armed only with his digicam. Expressly invoking the Michael Keaton-starring terminal illness weepie My Life (1993), Josef explains that, owing to a brain tumour which will kill him within months, he wants, with Aaron's help, to make a posthumous video diary for his as yet unborn son Buddy. Everything that we see here is the result of this arrangement, shot on Aaron's camera, as these two strangers set off together to record who Josef really is and what he is like.
Friday 5 September 2014
The festival made some bold choices this year, stretching the limits of what some might consider horror, and while there was some grumbling within a minority, this approach largely paid off. First off that day, The Harvest by John McNaughton. It was hard to know what to expect from the man still better known for one of his early films: Henry, Portrait Of A Serial Killer, and who has had a rather uneven career since. Thankfully, his new films turned out to be one of the many highlights of this edition.
In The Harvest, Samantha Morton and Michael Shannon play the parents of a housebound sick child, whose mundane daily life is disturbed by the arrival a pesky new girl in the neighborhood who, unable to fit in at school, strikes a friendship with him. But it is an understatement to say that his mother does not take kindly to this intrusion...
Tuesday 2 September 2014
A new chain game has swept Twitter over the last few days (no, please don't mention the you know what challenge), the Cinephile Photo challenge. The aim is to pick a still from a film you love, and nominate three of your followers who in turn must publish a picture and keep the chain going. And the exercise of picking only two or three of them after being selected a few times was so hard-breaking, that I decided to dedicate a post entirely to those striking stills from the films I love, the ones that have stayed with me all these years.
While I am open-minded when it comes to films, to me cinema remains above all a visual art form, and you will notice that neon lights feature prominently. It has still proven impossible to decide which ones to publish, and tomorrow I'll think of plenty more I want to include. But I am hoping this will prove an interesting kaleidoscope of cinephilia, and that those stills will inspire you to discover the films featured if you don't know them already.
Saturday 30 August 2014
Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut, The Babadook, is a horror tale uncommon in its shattering poignancy. Bearing the influence of Guy de Maupassant’s The Horla, as well as the creepy ambience of J-Horror (Hideo Nakata’s Dark Water, especially), the film is fronted by Essie Davis’s electric performance. Quite brilliantly, Kent’s haunted house chiller has managed the neat trick of packing a mighty emotional punch and providing de rigueur scare-jolts.
One day, single mum Amelia (Davis) and her boy, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), find a creepy pop-up storybook titled ‘Mister Babadook’. Something isn’t quite right about this mysterious tome. (Imagine a collaboration between Maurice Sendak and Michael Myers.) Not long after the discovery, things start to go bump in the night. Samuel is convinced his mum has let ‘Mister Babadook’ into the house and the spirit wants them both dead.
Thursday 28 August 2014
FrightFest moved venue this year, from the huge and beloved screen at the Empire to the Vue cinema next door. Because of the smaller capacity, the festival had to be split into three main screens, and while there was a definite loss of atmosphere as a result, the cracking line-up more than made up for it. Indeed, this was not only the best edition ever since I started attending a few years ago, I'd say it also gave Sundance London a run for its money, offering a better snapshot of US indie talent, as well as some intriguing new voices in world cinema. The organisers also made some bold choices and unusual for the main screens, which paid off handsomely, even though some hardcore fans were heard grumbling a little.
Wednesday 27 August 2014
"I have thoughts and feelings that aren't mine," says Jordyn (Ana Paula Redding), the confused heroine of Jason Bognacki's Another. "I wake up in strange places and I can't remember how I got there." Jordyn's sense of extreme disorientation is perfectly reproduced in the viewer too as this sequence flows into that and one location bleeds into the next, with little adherence to the norms of spatiotemporal continuity. The film's unconventional editing engenders a world that feels slippery and oneiric, with little to anchor events to actuality - and even a mundane conversation between Jordyn and her nightshift colleague John (Michael St Michaels) is cut up in a jittery, mannered fashion that drips with neurotic unease. Here the irrational rules, dreams dominate, and a young woman's contemporary life takes on the forms of both fairytale (chiefly Snow White) and ancient rite (of passage), with the canted angles and stylised sets just adding to the off-kilter nature of this film's reality.
Wednesday 20 August 2014
Claims to veridicality are a cliché of horror, and for those already playing the game they are as clear an advertisement of fiction as 'once upon a time.' Still, even the most gullible of viewers would do well, when they read the words 'inspired by true events' that open Scott Derrickson's Deliver Us From Evil, to remember that his last similar film to have opened with a similar claim, 2005's The Exorcism of Emily Rose, validates a priest who, in the real story on which the film is super-loosely based, in fact through overzealous credulity exorcised to death a young girl whom even a Commission of the German Bishops' Conference subsequently ruled was never possessed in the first place. So caveat emptor, for here the devil is truly in the details.
Sunday 17 August 2014
French-Canadian boy wonder Xavier Dolan’s latest picture, Tom at the Farm, based on a play by Michel Marc Bouchard, draws suspense and high tension from a clash between dilemma and desire.
Tom (Dolan) makes a trip to his recently deceased boyfriend’s home, out in the sticks. His unannounced arrival is a delicate matter. The family, it appears, are unaware the son was gay. The mother welcomes the visitor with open arms – even inviting the lad to stay in the deceased son’s bedroom – but Tom is shaken by Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), the older brother of Guillaume, who’s brooding intensity and dangerous physical strength both captivates and unnerves the city slicker. He stays for a few days, but the mother and son’s hospitality is akin to being locked in the family crypt. At Francis’s behest (and threats), Tom is forced to tell lies about the relationship with Guillaume, so as not to upset Agathe (Lise Roy), the mother, even further.
Monday 11 August 2014
Early buzz and expectation surrounding David Michôd’s second feature, The Rover, spoke of the film as a potential descendant of George Miller’s 1979 classic, Mad Max. In fact, The Rover doesn’t trade at all in high-octane actioneering. The refitting of the iconic white line nightmare for a new generation of cinemagoers has been left to Miller himself and the forthcoming Mad Max: Fury Road.
Might Michôd be cruising for a box-office bruising? Here is a movie set in the near future, in rural Australia, and one that opens with a brief scene-setting note situating the story after the entire country has experienced a ‘collapse’. An air of lawlessness is apparent throughout the film and social contracts, it appears, have been rendered non-void. Does this not sound very much like the world of road warrior Max Rockatansky and those crazed highway goons prepared to slit any throat necessary for a tank of guzzaline?
Monday 4 August 2014
Last week, respected film critic MaryAnn Johanson launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund her "What to Stream" column on her own website, Flick Filosopher. A few eyebrows were raised due to the novelty of her approach, and while I was a little puzzled at first, I was even more surprised to see how she found herself at the receiving end of some vitriol on Twitter, which was completely uncalled for. If anything, the whole incident has put the spotlight on the current and difficult situation film critics find themselves in at the moment.
Thursday 24 July 2014
The Marvel momentum is showing no sign of abating. Some might have thought they had reached their peak with the mega hit Avengers Assemble, yet the last twelve months have seen them deliver three films in rapid succession which all met with commercial and critical success: Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World Captain America: The Winter Soldier... and now comes Guardians Of The Galaxy.
Guardians Of The Galaxy is their riskiest offering to date. Featuring some characters totally unknown to the public (and even my comic book fans friends knew little of them), with a cast of largely unknown (with the biggest names to be found in supporting parts or providing a voice-over), it is also an all out escapade in space, whereas their previous films, even Thor 2 and its different realms, remained largely Earth-centric. Add a gun-totting talking raccoon with an attitude (something the creators of Poochie might have dreamed of) and a humanoid tree among its lead characters, and this sounded like an impossible trick to pull. So have they succeeded with their seemingly impossible task? Yes, a resounding yes.
Friday 11 July 2014
Writer/director John Carney's major film calling card is the 2006 low budget big hit Once about a broken hearted Dublin musician who forms a musical partnership with a Czech woman and songs and potential romance filled the auditoriums. Carney's Begin Again could well be considered a first cousin to Once as we follow the story of Dan (Mark Ruffalo) New York based A&R man once the toast of the industry, now falling on tougher times and trawling through the mountain of new releases earnestly looking for talent.
Sunday 6 July 2014
Sometimes there is a scene in a film that stands out, one that stays with you forever. And it is often the more understated and subtle ones which achieve this as far as I'm concerned. I'm thinking the short moment before Jodhi May is jumping off a cliff in The Last Of The Mohicans to join her loved one in death. I'm thinking Gerard Depardieu in Tous Les Matins Du Monde, in that scene near the end in which the spirit of music has finally inhabited him yet again and it is as if he is discovering it for the first time. And then there is THAT scene in Mud.
It is difficult to know where to start in trying to describe the tapestry of references that constitute River of Fundament, Matthew Barney's strange threnody for, and celebration of, the novelist and essayist Norman Mailer, who died in 2007. Perhaps the best place might be Idaho's Sawtooth Mountain Range, where this grand work begins and ends, and where Mailer's muse Ernest Hemingway once had a cabin.
Here, in the final sequence, we witness salmon swimming upriver from the Ocean to respawn over the corpses of their own dead, and a shift from the polluted industrial and urban settings that dominate much of the tripartite film's five and a half hours to idyllic (if not altogether pure) nature, even as Barney also returns us to Mailer's (literary) source. After all, this epic is obsessed with recycling, rebirth and resurrection - with the movement from life to death and back again running very much counter to the flow of the mainstream.
Thursday 26 June 2014
The opening image of Cold In July is of a barren wilderness, until the camera pulls back revealing a picture frame, and the domestic mantelpiece above which this landscape painting hangs. It is late at night in East Texas, 1989 - and jittery Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall), still barefoot and in his pyjamas, accidentally shoots dead a young burglar, splattering his brains all over the painting.
"I hear you got you one last night," says the local mailman to Richard the following morning. "I couldn't believe it was you, at first - I didn't think you had it in you." Richard cannot quite believe it himself. A family man devoted to his wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw) and young son Jordan (Brogan Hall), this 'upright citizen' serves the community with his picture framing business - which makes him quick to spot another kind of frame being mounted by the police investigating the burglar's death.
Sunday 22 June 2014
My blog might be getting a bit blockbuster heavy, but what can I say, this is the summer after all! Besides, I have zero snobbery when it comes to cinema, I can see merits in any genre without preconception. Hell I even got excited at the Transformers: Age Of Extinction trailer recently (before getting back to my senses when I read the first reviews). Besides, sometimes a fascinating, conceptual blockbuster comes out. So obviously, it flops.
First of all, I must add that, to me, a blockbuster does not need to have a strong subtext to be worthy of interest. In fact, I am wary of an annoying recent trend of over-analysing pop culture.
After the staggering success of The Avengers, it seems that every studio wants a piece of the action. And Fox in particular. What they do not seem to realise is the Marvel megahit made gazillions at the box office not merely because it put together a bunch of superheroes, but because it found the golden formula for some great group chemistry and banter among all the CGI action, which made it enjoyable not just for fans or even casual cinema-goers, but even for those who rarely even go to the cinema. After the pathetic attempt of making the Spiderman rebooted franchise an ensemble film, there comes the X-Men, which, at least, was always meant as a group. X-Men: Days Of Future Past is a strange beast, which proved entertaining enough when I finally caught up with it, yet whose facade has sophistication has crumbled in my mind.
Saturday 21 June 2014
Usually I try to cover either new/upcoming films, films seen at film festivals or older and more obscure ones. But sometimes I also like to cover some which do not fit into any of these categories, films that I have missed at the cinema and caught up on Blu-Ray, if I feel strongly about (or against!) them. Such is the case with Machete Kills (the latter in this particular case).
For a film that started as a joke and was made from a fake trailer, Machete was a pleasant surprise, which a second viewing more than confirmed. It had fun with its Grindhouse tribute concept, but was also surprisingly sweet and engaging with its welcome social undertone and some great and strong female characters.
Unfortunately Machete Kills ruins everything by dispensing of all that made the first film so great. To avoid repeating itself, Robert Rodriguez had the intriguing idea of mixing the original's grindhouse elements with a tribute to low budget 60's/70's B movies and even the James Bond films of the late 70's/early 80's (in fact a lot of the plot is directly borrowed from Moonraker).
Saturday 14 June 2014
The Canyons currently holds a Rotten Tomatoes score of 24% and an IMDB rating of 4.0. Even one of my favourite film critics, Mark Kermode, hated it and called Schrader ‘a spent force’. (He didn’t care for the director’s Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist, either, and that’s another movie I find fascinating.)
The critics sank their fangs in good and proper. It was the movie that American festivals didn’t want to screen. Schrader explored the death of traditional cinema platforms and the role of technology in our daily (and sex) lives, so they accused it of being unsophisticated. He hired an actress more famous today for being a troubled young soul and TMZ fodder, and laughed at her performance. To them, the film was soap opera trash. They found the dialogue bland and the acting even blander.
You might well scoff at the suggestion that I find Schrader’s Kickstarter funded drama, written by controversial author Bret Easton Ellis, featuring adult movie star James Deen and actress/trainwreck Lindsay Lohan, a movie well worth your attention, but I really think it so. And no, I’m not insane or being a contrarian. I do not enjoy it ‘ironically’. There is no such thing as a guilty pleasure.
Monday 9 June 2014
"College is a symbol of many things," declares the Headmaster (Peter Jeffrey) in Lindsay Anderson's second feature if...., which transplants motifs and ideas from Jean Vigo's Zéro de Conduite (1933) to an England swinging between legacy and change in the late Sixties. The boarding school College House is a bastion of tradition, inculcating class values, hierarchical attitudes and the ideology of privilege to its young men, all in the paradoxical service of preparing Britain's new generation for what the liberal(ish) Headmaster describes as the nation's current "powerhouse of ideas, experiment, imagination, on everything from pop music to pig breeding, from atom power stations to miniskirts" - or at least of producing an army of obedient cannon fodder for any future war.
Sunday 25 May 2014
The last day in Cannes is spent literally catching up on as many films as possible, with all the ones in competition as well as those from Un Certain Regard being showed back to back in all the screens of the Palais. This was stretched to two days this year, with the competition having been shortened by a day and the awards given yesterday. So I had one last chance to catch a final film early in the morning, and I picked Le Meraviglie by Alice Rohrwacher, which won the runner up prize last night, an award which surprised many.
Saturday 24 May 2014
You can never please anybody and neither should you want to. There is never going to be any film awards that will please us all. Remember how last year there were already a few dissonant voices for Blue Is The Warmest Colour? Remember back in 1994 when Pulp Fiction won, some woman in the audience was so outraged she shouted at Quentin Tarantino as he was on his way to accept his prize. And this year was no exception.
It is indeed an impossible task for the jury. They pick a favourite? They are accused of being safe. They pick a wild card? They are accused of getting it all wrong. I must admit I am mostly happy with the result but I have a few comments on them too.
There are some who lament the lack of fresh new talent in the official selection at the Cannes Film Festival, which is both unfair and untrue, as the presence of Wild Tales and The Wonder proves this year. Besides, as interesting as there are, some films are just too fragile to be competing against some masters of cinema and would be destroyed in the process. And this is where sidebar selections come in, especially the smallest and newest one: ACID, so new in fact that many attendees are not even aware of it even though it is actually 21 years old. And it has discovered its fair share of talents: Lucas Belvaux, Ursula Meier, Yolande Moreau... It is in this selection that was presented Mercuriales this year.
It might seem a bit premature to discuss the awards in Cannes when I am nowhere near finished with my daily write-up. But I decided to actually spend more time watching films (24 and counting so far!) and then write reports and full reviews after the festival. Besides, a slight delay will be beneficial and help me decide which films stick and which other ones vanish without a trace.
It is always tricky to second guess prizes in film festivals. While film awards like the Oscars are based on the votes of thousands of people (or more) and therefore tend to be more consensual, here the choice is made between a handful of juries, which can cause its faire share of surprises. Back in 1997, the then president Isabelle Adjani had asked for the members of the juries to be all artists (in the past, it used to be a mix of critics, producers, and artists), a tradition which has sticked since and which often means some even more unexpected pics. And to make it even harder, out of the 18 films eligible for a prize in the main competition this year, I have only seen 11. I have decided to both include who I believe deserve to win, and who I think might win. Bear in mind that films are not allowed to win more than one prize.
Friday 23 May 2014
Perhaps one of the most intriguing entry in the official selection this year thanks to the unusual pairing of Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart, Clouds Of Sils Maria was screened the last day of the competition. While I have not always been the biggest fan of Olivier Assayas (with L'heure d'été being a crime of boho), at least the premise promised a connection to one of his best films Irma Vep as well as countless cinephile references.
In Clouds Of Sils Maria, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), an actress at the peak of her career, is about to embark in the revival of the play that made her famous at a young age, the twist being she is now taking on the part of the older woman in the play, one that led the original actress to commit suicide. She travels to the Alps in the town of Sils Maria with her young assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) in tow to rehearse for the play.
Thursday 22 May 2014
You just do not know what to expect from David Cronenberg anymore. While his career peaked early and his heydays are clearly behind him (despite what snobs might say), he has soldiered on with his career valiantly, with a few highs (eXistenZ, A History Of Violence) and many lows (A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis...). Worse, while I would not expect him to carry on doing the same films and going over the same themes, he seems to have lost his identity, with many of his recent output feeling rather anonymous. And now he is back on the Croisette with Maps To The Stars, a Hollywood satire.
L'homme Qu'on Aimait Trop was a late addition to the official selection, and is presented out of competition, as if the festival was trying to find a diplomatic way of including it, given its starry cast and prestigious director, without exposing it to the ruthlessness of the competition. And indeed it seems as if André Téchiné has somehow gone out of fashion in the world cinema circuit.
Faced with the comeback of a certain kind of heavy and intellectual cinema (such as Winter Sleep and Leviathan, both in competition this year) that used to be so popular in the 70's and 80's, his films might lack a certain oomph and arthouse street cred while not offering the whimsical experience of a more wide reaching and retro French cinema, meaning there is little room for them outside France, where he continues to be popular. Which is a shame as while his directorial input of late has not quite matched the highlights of his career, it remains consistently rewarding.
Is it even possible to objectively review a film by Jean-Luc Godard? It seems as if you can only belong to two camps: those who see it as an impostor and have long given up on even trying, and those full of hyperboles at the ready for any of his new offering. Yes his work over the last two decades have proven challenging to say the least, but there is a certain freedom and sense of experimentation to it which I can only admire even if I am not completely on board with it. And detractors and fans alike were intrigued when it was announced that he was to make a full feature in 3D (after his segment in 3X3D). So it is with an open mind that I attended the sole screening of his film at the festival, among a buzzing atmosphere, but with the master sadly absent, in fact the only director allowed not to attend the screening of his own film by the festival (it is a condition of participation for anybody else).
Tuesday 20 May 2014
We were expecting Bird People to be in the main selection this year, only to find it relegated to sidebar selection Un Certain Regard. This is not necessarily a bad sign, as the latter is reserved for more fragile films which might suffer from the cutthroat world and intense scrutiny of the former, and in fact the same thing happened with Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring and Claire Denis' Les Salauds last year.
Pascale Ferran is little known outside France, yet she made a big impact twenty years ago as part of a new generation of French directors, which included Arnaud Desplechin. Yet after directing two films back to back (Petits Arrangements Entre Les Morts & L'âge Des Possibles) in the mid 90's, we had to wait another ten years to see her direct again, with her acclaimed adaptation of Lady Chatterley in 2007, and another seven years to see her behind the camera, with the intriguingly titled Bird People.
In Lost River, single mum Billy (Christina Hendricks) is forced to enter a dark underworld to survive when facing financial difficulties, while her son Bones (Iain de Caestecker) discovers an abandoned town at the bottom of a reservoir.