Monday 12 December 2016

Manchester By The Sea by Kenneth Lonergan - Review

December marks the beginning of snowy weather, hot cocoa, and seeing your relatives wayyyy too much, but for cinephiles it also marks the beginning of an onslaught of potentially great films every weekend. There are a few contenders for the best film of the year so far. Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan has thrown his new film, Manchester By the Sea, into the ring.

Casey Affleck gives the best male performance of the year as Lee, a Boston handyman who gets a phone call telling him that his older brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died of a heart attack. Lee returns home to Manchester, a fishing town in Massachusetts, to set up the funeral and figure out what to do with Joe's son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), a teen who he used to be close with.

Monday 5 December 2016

The Black Hen by Min Bahadur Bham - Review

Nepal seems to be having something of a moment on the big screen, with Hollywood blockbusters like Everest (2015) and Doctor Strange (2016) setting scenes in the Himalayan nation as a novel new arena for adventure and spiritual self-discovery. But that’s for tourists. Here’s the real deal. The debut feature from director Min Bahadur Bham won Best Film during Critics Week at last year’s Venice Film Festival and proves to be an accomplished meditation on its creator’s childhood growing up amidst the Maoist Insurgency, a conflict tat saw the country drawn into a bloody civil war between 1996 and 2006.

Monday 21 November 2016

Certain Women by Kelly Reichardt - Review

The opening image of director Kelly Reichardt’s new film is mountains looming over the barren landscape of Montana and then the sound and light of a train enters frame to slowly take command of the screen. It signals an entrance, or rather, an intrusion into a quiet and forgotten world. 

Certain Women is about observing the most intimate, and insignificantly significant moments in the mundane everyday. The audience is an intruding voyeur as Reichardt shows us a window into three lonely and belittled Montana women’s lives that aren't seen or heard by anyone else.

Sunday 13 November 2016

Moonlight by Barry Jenkins - Review

The most critically acclaimed film of the year is a triptych tale about a black boy who grows up in Miami. Writer-director Barry Jenkins sets his coming of age tale in a dangerous world with fragility overwhelmed by the threats of a poisoned environment. The result is a film of sensitivity that feels suppressed by hate and gives a sense that our lead character, Chiron, is missing his life. We see his world in brief chapters as a young boy (Alex Hibbert), a teenager (Ashton Sanders), and a man (Trevante Rhodes). As a kid and teen he grapples with being gay in an environment of hyper masculinity.

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Nocturnal Animals by Tom Ford - Review

Adapted from Austin Wright 1993 novel Tony and Susan, Nocturnal Animals marks the return of Tom Ford in his directorial guise after a seven year absence. Ford’s second foray into directing sees him taking on an oeuvre which at times seems almost unfilmable. The film is a dense piece with a triple stranded narrative, which owes as much to Hitchcock as it does to the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk. It is a visually stunning tale of getting your own back, and doing so with class and without any regrets.

Thursday 27 October 2016

Shin Godzilla by Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi

Japan’s latest Godzilla entry is a reboot much like Gareth Edwards' near great 2014 blockbuster. While that film evoked Spielberg creature features like Jaws and Jurassic Park, Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi's interpretation is in line with Japan's original vision of an all-powerful god-like monster. Toho Studios have answered the call of the west with "actualllllly, this is Godzilla" and they've put the "God" back in Godzilla. Shin Godzilla, which translates to “True Godzilla,” has the style, scale, and creature effects that recall the best films in Toho Studios kaiju collection.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Doctor Strange by Scott Derrickson

In Doctor Strange, a gifted and wealthy surgeon, Stephen Strange finds his life turned upside down after a terrible car accident that leaves him badly injured and with his career ruined in the process. Upon hearing about a guru who might be able to help him, he travels to Nepal only to be thrusted into a world of magic in which he has to somehow reluctantly takes centre stage, again those who wants to unleash the forces of darkness on Earth.

Monday 17 October 2016

London Film Festival 2016: Taekwondo by Marco Berger & Martín Farina

Marco Berger has a been a little hit and miss with his output, achieving acclaim with Plan B (2009) the and particularly the dream-like, Hitchockian Absent (2011). However his previous film Hawaii (2015) was rather forgettable . He is back with Taekwondo, which he co-directed with Martín Farina.

In Taekwondo, Fernando (Lucas Papa) invites a new acquaintance from his Taekwondo's class, Germán (Gabriel Epstein) to a lad's holidays in a villa with all his male friends he has known for years. Germán is gay and he is careful to keep it hidden from all the boisterous and laddish guests, while wondering about Fernando's true intentions because of the mixed signals he is receiving from him.

Monday 26 September 2016

London Film Festival 2016: A Date for Mad Mary by Darren Thornton

Part of the First Feature Competition, A Date For Mad Mary is an Irish production from writer Colin Thornton and first time film director Darren Thornton. Adapted from Yasmine Akron’s play 10 Dates For Mary and directed on stage by Darren Thornton himself, the film delivers hugely enjoyable comedy moments and is at times very touching. On paper, the script might not sound like the most original of ideas - but the story manages to win you over from the outset, with an entertaining dialogue and a realistic portrayal of a young woman stepping into adulthood, albeit reluctantly. Mostly funded by the Irish Film Board, the film is a refreshing spin on the romantic comedy strand, but also deals with themes of rebellion, identity, friendship and love. With a storyline which would feel at home within the more rigid structure of the Hollywood rom-com, Mary is however so much more than just a comedic love story.

Sunday 25 September 2016

Raindance 2016: Sick Of It All by Brian McGuire

Writer-director Brian McGuire’s latest low-budget indie comedy, Sick Of It All, which received its world premiere at this year’s Raindance Festival, recounts a day in the life of Anthony Prince (Logan Sparks), a harassed cold-caller and vintage toy collector who is tasked with organising a dinner party by his jaded wife Rose (Amy Claire) but instead becomes side-tracked by his idiot brother’s plot to kidnap his own son LP (Zion McGuire).

McGuire has described his new production as “a film noir style [sic] comedy about a loveless relationship, strangely based on the French children's book, The Little Prince.” There are at least two problems with this statement.

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Stranger Things by Matt Duffer & Ross Duffer

In the age of rebooting past pop culture, many properties are announced years ahead of time and written about endlessly. In film we've seen loads of 80s remakes that have already been forgotten. TV has reignited properties such as 24, Full House, and Gilmore Girls. Most of these reboots, especially in film, are nostalgic cash grabs (occasionally there’s a good one). But opposite of that approach, and a rarity, is another kind of nostalgia that is earnest and in the spirit of Spielberg and Lucas creating Indiana Jones as an ode to the films of their youth.

Tuesday 2 August 2016

Disorder by Alice Winocour - Review

Paranoia, suspense and thriller take centre stage in the ambitious French production Disorder, in which director Alice Winocour makes a surprising foray into the well honed genre territory. Featuring Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts (A Little Chaos, Far From The Maddening Crowd, Suite Francaise), the film is a dramatic change of direction from Winocour. Her directorial debut Augustine, a stylish costume historical drama, saw her film being nominated for best foreign film at the 88th Academy Awards in 2013.

Sunday 31 July 2016

Captain Fantastic by Matt Ross

A seventeen year old boy camouflaged in mud kills a deer with a knife and emerging out of the forest are his five siblings who watch their father, Ben (Viggo Mortensen), initiate the seventeen year old, Bo, into manhood.

Ben and his six children live off the land in the Pacific Northwest forest. All six children, from seventeen-year-old Bo to seven-year-old Nai, speak multiple languages and are experts in everything from history to physics. Their daily rituals involve physical conditioning, listening to Bach, studying, hunting, and in the evening they huddle around the fire for an improvised musical jam sesh. In this musical scene without dialogue Ross conveys the emotional cohesion and loyalty they have together. Ben's approach to parenting is rigid in routine but full of compassion and love.

Thursday 28 July 2016

Hunt For The Wilderpeople by Taika Waititi

While this disappointing summer has been filled with studio blockbuster #brands, Taika Waititi invites us into the New Zealand bush for a witty coming of age road trip and a breath of fresh air. His zany and energized sensibility provided laugh after laugh with the excellent What We Do In The Shadows. Wilderpeople is his Moonrise Kingdom, a charming children's tale with a father/son dynamic that has more excitement than most of the summer blockbusters.

Monday 4 July 2016

Check The Gate Season - The Search for the American Soul in the Right Stuff

Check The Gate is a new season dedicated to presenting films on film that will run at the Prince Charles cinema this summer. It is a collaborative efforts curated by various journalists and film collectives such as our friends at The Badlands Collective. Among the impressive line-up, peppered with rare films and old favourites, the highlight might well be the 70mm presentation of The Right Stuff, probably one of the greatest American films ever made. Our contributor Andy Zachariason tells us why, and it feels fitting to publish it on this 4th of July.

In 1980 the silhouette of a man in a fedora and the crack of a whip signaled a new hero in American cinema and set the stage for the onslaught of 80s popcorn spectacles. Indiana Jones was the child of blockbuster wunderkinds Spielberg/Lucas and brought black and white morality. In 1982 an alien befriended a fatherless young boy and in doing so restored the balance of a nuclear family. In 1985 a teenage boy went back in time to 1955 to repair his parents marriage and restored order to the 1980s. The decade of Reagan era cinema is loaded with tales of returning to a "simpler" time, but there is one film that crystallized that 1950 American spirit and hero better than any other. In 1983 Philip Kaufman's The Right Stuff, based on Tom Wolfe's novel, merged spectacle with decades of American discovery. It was as if the soul of American ingenuity had finally been given the proper scale.

Monday 20 June 2016

Embrace of the Serpent by Ciro Guerra

The Colombian Amazon, 1909. German ethnologist Théo Von Martius (Jan Bijvoet) enlists shaman Karamakate (Niblio Torres) to help him find the mythical yakruna plant, which he hopes will cure his sickness. In return, Von Martius pledges to deliver Karamakate to the last of his people, the Cohiuano, from whom he has been separated since white Europeans descended to colonise the area. 

Ciro Guerra's film, shot in austere black-and-white, recounts their journey upriver into the heart of the rainforest while simultaneously telling the story of the older Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) agreeing to take a second explorer, American botanist Evan (Brionne Davis), on the same quest in 1940.

Monday 13 June 2016

Sundance London 2016

After a hiatus in 2015, The Sundance Film Festival finally made its highly anticipated return to London. The decision was made to move the festival from its original venue at the O2 Centre in North Greenwich to the far more central location of The Picturehouse in Soho. This venue which is barely a year old has already seen huge popularity amongst film fans in and around London.

On paper this should have been a great opportunity for the festival to pick up where it left off, and build on past successes, and in fairness it has somewhat succeeded in doing so. However, despite a great selection of films, it has failed to capture the imagination and for whatever reason some screenings had many unsold tickets left on the day.

Friday 10 June 2016

Aferim! by Radu Jude - Review

Romanian auteur Radu Jude's latest sees him partner with novelist Florin Lazarescu for a first period piece, a tale of bigotry, duty and revenge set in 19th century Wallachia, then under Ottoman rule. 

Growing up under Communism when all that was taught in schools placed an exclusive emphasis on the heroic aspects of the region's history, Jude and Lazarescu set out to present a truer picture, trawling documentary evidence to find a story that might convey some of the murkier aspects of their homeland's heritage. Aferim! went on to win Jude the Silver Bear for Best Director at last year's Berlin International Film Festival. It's hard to dispute the jury's verdict, the director delivering a splendidly earthy vision of life as lived during a little-represented moment of Central Europe's turbulent past.

Monday 6 June 2016

Ran by Akira Kurosawa - Re-release

If there ever was a film that would thrive through restoration, Akira Kurosawa’s 1985 epic Ran is that, and thanks to Studio Canal we are able to experience the film in all of its elegance.
Based selectively on Shakespeare’s King Lear and rooted in Japanese folklore, Ran follows a father and his three sons as corruption and competition throw them into war with each other. This invokes a dichotomy of status and influence, especially in the state of battle, where one’s great power can be lost and taken by another at the drop of a hat.

Monday 30 May 2016

The Measure of a Man by Stéphane Brizé - Review

Very few films in the last 10 years of social realist cinema have managed to achieve what Stéphane Brizé has in The Measure Of A Man (La Loi Du Marché). The film made its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and its lead Vincent Lindon won a Best Actor award. It was also shown at last year’s London Film Festival, and was an early favourite with critics and festival-goers alike. It tells the story of a put-upon former factory worker Thierry (Vincent Lindon), who after giving the best years of his life to a job he excelled at is made redundant and forced to go through the bureaucratic rigmarole of job seeking, retraining, and having to justify his unemployment benefit cheque every month. At first Thierry seems to be taking everything that is thrown at him in his stride, actively looking for work in his area of his expertise, but we soon see him becoming more and more exasperated by the unfairness of what has happened to him.

Friday 27 May 2016

Rams by Grímur Hákonarson - Review

Grímur Hákonarson's bone-dry comedy drama, now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Soda Pictures, introduces us to rival Icelandic sheep farmers Gummi (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Kiddi (Theodór Júlíusson). The pair are feuding brothers whose lands lie adjacent and who nevertheless haven't spoken to one another for 40 years, relying on Somi the sheepdog to deliver messages back and forth - and only when absolutely necessary. The exact cause of their quarrel is obscured by the mists of time, although elder brother Kiddi, a temperamental alcoholic, appears to nurture a grievance about their long-dead father's decision to entrust Gummi with the family pastures rather than himself. 

Journey To The Shore by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

The first words Mizuki says as Yusuke, her long-dead husband, suddenly returns to their marital home one night are “welcome home”. No gasps of fright, no shock; just the resumption of a routine. It’s a reflex, an irrational instinct that speaks volumes about Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Journey To The Shore. How can we process the loss of a loved one when they’re ripped away from us with no warning or explanation?

Sunday 22 May 2016

Cannes 2016: Awards & Comments

By all accounts, this has been the strongest edition of the Cannes Film Festival in well over the decade, the official selection in particular, and there were fears that the jury might not deliver the awards that would do it justice jury members being particularly fickle. Few of us could have imagined how wrong this George Miller led jury was about to be however, crowning of the best edition with some of the most misguided awards in history.

First of all, I must specify that this bitter disappointment is not due to the arrogant belief that only I know which films deserved some awards, my tastes are quite unusual at the best of times, and as much as I loved Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden, my favourite of the festival, I never expected it to win the favours of such a diverse jury (I had wrongly hoped for a directing nod however). Rather I am judging these results within the context of the festival's history, and what constitute some "good", worthy winners. And considering the savage response from critics to these results, I am far from alone.

Cannes 2016 - Awards Predictions

It is with a heavy heart that I am writing those predictions. By all accounts, this Cannes Film Festival edition has been the strongest in many years, with most of the already established directors in competition delivering some of the best work, and a discovery that took the Croisette by storm. Yet, insistent rumours about which directors has been called back for the awards ceremony tonight promise a disastrous list of awards. I will pretend that I have not read those as, after all, every year the wildest rumours fly around, and I will stick with my original predictions.

Saturday 21 May 2016

Cannes 2016 - The Neon Demon by Nicolas Winding Refn

Nicolas Winding Refn had already made a name for himself among the most discerning arthouse crowds with Pusher, Bronson and Valhala Rising, when he crashed into the Croisette on 2011 with his biggest hit to date, neo-noir Drive, which earned him a best director award, a great critical response and catapulted his lead Ryan Gosling into the A-list. Their return to Cannes two years later with Only God Forgives, a more radical and, in my humble opinion, a better film, was not so successful, with some accusing the director of quickly becoming a caricature of himself. He is back this year in competition, with arguably the most anticipated film of the official selection for fans of cult films, The Neon Demon, which he described as a female-centric horror film set in the fashion world of Los Angeles.

In it, naive ingenue Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles with star in her eyes and dreams of making it big as a model. As she enjoys a meteoric rise, under the watchful eye of make-up artist and confidente Ruby (Jena Malone), she soon has to face to dark side of the city.

Cannes 2016: Elle by Paul Verhoeven

For any cinephile, the announcement that Isabelle Huppert and Paul Verhoeven were going to make a film together was among the most unexpected and exciting news you can think ok. Verhoeven has made few films over the last decade or so, after the highlights of his Dutch then American career in the 80's and 90's. So the idea of him making a film in France, and with Isabelle Huppert, arguably the French actress with the most celebrated and diverse career at the moment, was catnip to us all. Announced two years ago, and with some expecting it for Cannes 2015, the film is finally finished and it screened in the official selection this year.

In Elle, Michèle (Isabelle Huppert), the CEO of a game company, is the victim of a brutal rape at her home one evening. Except that, instead of reporting it to the police, she engages in a game of cat and mouse with the masked perpetuator who keeps coming back to visit her, all while dealing with a complicated life, with her wayward son, her narcissistic mother and  her demanding ex-lover all causing her some grief.

Cannes 2016: Rester Vertical by Alain Giraudie

Alain Giraudie made a big splash (pun intended) in the festival and world cinema scene with Stranger By The Lake (2013), which screened at Un Certain Regard in Cannes, while many felt it deserved a slot in the official selection. The film was quite a departure from some of his early work, which is more of a comedic tone, and Giraudie's latest film, Rester Vertical, which is presented in the Official Selection this time, feels closer to his first films in tone and spirit.

In Rester Vertical, Léo (Damien Bonnard) is a film director in serious lack of ideas for his new film, and who goes on a trip in the countryside looking for inspiration, where he meets shepherdess Marie (India Hair). He, somehow, gives her a son, while being embroiled in a love triangle with two other men.

Friday 20 May 2016

Cannes 2016: Dog Eat Dog by Paul Schrader

Sometimes, film directors with the most uneven, unpredictable careers are the most interesting ones, against those with a more calculated ones, and Paul Schrader firmly belongs in the former camp. Having written some of the best films of the 70's and 80's (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver...) his director career has many highs (American Gigolo, Cat People, Mishima...) and many lows (Light of Day, Patty Hearst, the awful Exorcist sequel Dominion...). His previous film, The Canyons (with James Deen and Lindsay Lohan), was widely panned by the critics even though I find it rather fascinating. He is back with Dog Eat Dog and a rather starry cast: Willem Defoe, Nicolas Cage...) which was presented as the closing film of the Director's Fortnight strand in Cannes.

Thursday 19 May 2016

Cannes 2016: It's Only The End of the World by Xavier Dolan

It's hard to think of a more precocious talent recently than Xaxier Dolan. Only 27 and the Canadian director has just made his 7th film, all of them bar one who made to various selections of the Cannes Film Festival. Many felt that Mommy, his first foray in competition in 2014 deserved the Palme d'Or (he shared a jury prize with Jean-Luc Godard instead). Now the prodigal son is back in competition with It's Only The End of the World.

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Cannes 2016 - The Wailling by Hong-jin Na

Genre cinema is a rare presence in the official selection in Cannes, especially horror films, except for the Midnight Screenings, and even the titles selected for those over the last few years have been rather lacklustre. There have been the odd exceptions in the 90's (the most notable being the inclusion in competition of Abel Ferrara's Body Snatchers (1993). So the inclusion of The Wailing this year, in the official selection (but outside competition, unfortunately) is a pleasant surprise, the film being a proper horror film, bloody, terrifying, and disturbing. It also shows, alongside The Handmaiden (also in the official selection), that South Korean cinema is making a great comeback in the international scene after a few years with few memorable titles.

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Cannes 2016: Personal Shopper by Olivier Assayas

Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart made for the most unlikely pairing when they collaborated on their first film, Clouds of Sils Maria, shown in Cannes in 2014, and in which the American actress had a supporting role against Juliette Binoche, yet she made a big impact, winning a César in the process. Now the auteur dream team is back with Personal Shopper, in which Kristen Stewart has the leading role.

In Personal Shopper, Maureen (Kristen Stewart), a young American woman works as the personal shopper of a famous woman in Paris, while coming to terms with the recent death of her brother.

Monday 16 May 2016

Cannes 2016: Paterson by Jim Jarmush

Is there a more timeless director than Jim Jarmush? The director, at the forefront of the wave of new indie talents of American cinema in the 80's, has conducted his career admirably, faithful to his style and philosophy while constantly surprising us. He dazzled Cannes with his vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive in 2013, and he is back on the Croisette with Paterson.

In Paterson, Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver in the city of Paterson, writing poems to keep the dreary routine of his job at bay, while his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) embarks on her own artistic pursuits.

Cannes 2016 - Loving by Jeff Nichols

Loving is based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an American interracial couple in the 50's, at a time when some states still banned mixed races weddings, faced with the prospect of living their marriage away from those they loved and the place they called home.

Loving is a great film as much for what it is as for what it is not. You could be forgiven for approaching the premise with caution. So many mediocre directors hide behind a worthy subject to offer dour, melodramatic films with no personality and not an ounce of cinema. "Important" Award baits are often guilty of that too. Yet director Jeff Nichols has not put a foot wrong so far with his young career, and Loving is no exception. This might sound like a more classical territory for him, but such is the mark of a great director that he makes it completely his own. Talking about the film at the press conference today, he made it clear that he did not want to make a courtroom drama. So do not expect a bombastic soundtrack, big shouty acting, tear-jerking scenes... Instead, the Midnight Special director delivers a film spared down to the absolute minimum, yet such are his confidence and talent that every scene and every meaningful moment count.

Sunday 15 May 2016

Cannes 2016 - Train To Busan by Sang-ho Yeon

In Train To Busan, a busy businessman, Sok-Woo (Yoo Gong), takes an early morning train from Seoul to Busan with his young daughter Soo-Ahn (Kim Soo-ahn), to take her to his estranged wife. As the journey begins, a mysterious virus outbreak spreads through the country, turning its population into mindless, flesh eating monsters, and infecting the passengers too. The survivors have to fight to make it until the train reaches Busan, which has been spared so far.

It is a bit of unfair stereotype among those who do not know much about cinema that the Cannes Film Festival is all about the most boring and/or experimental "foreign" films, but far from it. Genre cinema often finds its place in the line-up, and there is even a Midnight Screening sections for those violent/naughty films that cannot be shown earlier in the day.

Cannes 2016: Toni Erdmann by Maren Ade

The official selection in Cannes is often blamed for relying on established talents, and not giving newcomers a chance. It is a rather unfair criticism, as Thierry Frémaux has explained that the intense scrutiny of the selection can break a film, a career even, which is why Un Certain Regard or other sidebars selections are often more suited. As such, Toni Erdmann was a surprise addition to the competition this year, the third film of a rather unknown German director (none of her films have been released in the UK although she has attracted a certain following in some circles).

In Toni Erdmann, Winfried (Peter Simonischek), tries to reconnect with her estranged daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller) by following her on a business trip to Romania. Winfried is a joker who has seemingly never grown up, while is daughter is trying to climb to corporate ladder, and see his arrival and his pranks as an unwelcome distraction at best.

Cannes 2016 - I, Daniel Blake by Ken Loach

The unflappable Ken Loach, who is about to reach his 80th birthday, has tireless made some films supporting his political leanings, and there is so much to be angry about in the British society at the moment, so much injustice and inequality... Seen as a left-wing, out of touch radical during the Blair years, he has recently been vindicated with New Labour dying a good death, and Labour taking a shift to the left. In his new film, I, Daniel Blake, his target is the Tory government and particularly its workfare programme, which has purposed itself to put a lot of benefit claimants back to work, using some coarse, unfair methods in the process.

In I, Daniel Blake, Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a carpenter who, having suffered a heart attack, finds himself out of work and having to rely on benefits to survive, facing a complicated, Kafka-esque system in which benefit claimants are seen as skivers and liars. He befriends single-mum Katie (Hayley Squires), who has been relocated from London to Newcastle with her children, where she has no support system or even acquaintances, and who faces the same hardship and a baffling system.

Saturday 14 May 2016

Cannes 2016: The Transfiguration by Michael O'Shea

Genre cinema is everywhere in Cannes this year, with zombies, demons yet to come, and vampires in The Transfiguration, the first feature length film by director Michael O'Shea. Finding new ideas to inject in the vampire mythology is nearly impossible, so having the film set in a tough urban environment (ok, the ghetto) is quite original, indeed vampire films have rarely features POC characters (please don't mention weird mismash A Vampire in Brooklyn with Eddie Murphy. There have actually been a few case of interesting new takes on vampires in the world of indie cinema, best of all being Abel Ferrara's The Addiction, with his blend of philosophy artfully shot in black and white, Claire Denis's Trouble Every Day, as well as more recently Let The Right One In.

Friday 13 May 2016

Cannes 2016: Ma Loute by Bruno Dumont

French director Bruno Dumont is having the most unusual turn of career. Originally known for extremely serious, austere films, which, for some audiences, were filled with arthouse stereotypes (glacial pace, glances that speak volumes, heavy subjects etc...), he surprised everybody by making a mini-series about a killer on the loose in a rural community, that was among the funniest films of the recent years, showing us a comedic talent we would never have expected from him, all while sticking to his theme and personal style. He is back in Cannes this year with yet another comedy, Ma Loute.

In Ma Loute, set a few years before WW1, the Van Peteghem, a very bourgeois family, travel to their beach house for their usual summer holidays. Tourists begin to disappear in mysterious circumstances however, with two local cops being sent to investigate.

Thursday 12 May 2016

Cannes 2016 - Sieranevada by Cristi Puiu

Director Cristi Puiu made an impact on the European arthouse scene ten years ago with The Death of Mr Lazarescu (winning the Un Certain Regard top prize). However some felt that its follow-up, Aurora, was a relative failure. He is back in Cannes this year, having been finally upgraded to the the main competition with Sieranevada. The film is a daunting prospect for your average filmgoer, a near three hours long Romanian film, in which most of the action is set in a flat, and yet, and this is the magic of Cannes, it had the same red carpet treatment with a screening in the main screen today as Jodie Foster's Money Monster starring Julia Roberts, so let it be said that the Cannes Film Festival loves cinema and that's the end of the matter as far as I am concerned.

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Cannes 2016 - Café Society by Woody Allen

In Café Society, Cannes opening film this year, young New-Yorker Ben (Jesse Eisenberg), unwilling to taker over his father's business, comes to Hollywood at the height of its golden age, to work for his agent uncle Phil. Starting at the bottom of the industry and learning the ropes while mingling with the who's who of the film industry, he falls for Phil's assistant, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), who is only willing to offer her friendship in return, her heart being already taken.

Period Woody Allen is often him at his most sparkling, with some of his best films such as The Purple Rose of Cairo and Radio Days taking place in the past. But period dramas always run the risk of looking back with rose tinted glasses, a theme that was basically at the heart of Midnight in Paris (another Cannes Film Festival opener, in 2011).

Tuesday 10 May 2016

Departure by Andrew Steggall - Review

Andrew Steggall’s debut feature Departure ambitiously attempts to tell a story of coming of age and sexual awakening within the picturesque setting of the beautiful French countryside. It deals with themes of teenage rebellion, sexual frustration and parental disobedience. The film tells the story of 15 year old Elliot (Alex Lawther) and his mother Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson) who arrive in the middle of the night at their holiday home in a small Languedoc village after a long drive from England. We soon realise that this is no ordinary holiday, and that they are in fact here to pack up their beautiful summer home in order to sell it.

Sunday 8 May 2016

Evolution by Lucile Hadžihalilović - Review

Over a decade on from her debut Innocence (2004), French director Lucile Hadžihalilović returns to our screens with a haunting sophomore work as mysterious as it is exquisite.

Evolution introduces us to a seaside community presided over by a strange, all-female sect. The children they care for are all prepubescent boys who spend their days idling on the isle's volcanic shores and playing in the streets. One day, one of their number, Nicholas (Max Brebant), dives below the waves and returns in a state of shock, claiming to have seen the body of a dead boy staring up at him from the seabed, a red scar slashed across the corpse's belly. Nicholas's mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier) rubbishes the claim and takes him to a local hospital, where he is swiftly operated upon by the facility's sinisterly browless staff. Taken thereafter to a ward populated by other boys who have undergone the same procedure, Nicholas learns to his horror that he is now pregnant and seeks help from Stella (Roxane Duran), a sympathetic nurse.

Sing Street by John Carney - review

Where were you when you heard that song? Where were you when you fell in love? Where were you when you felt you knew who you were? These are questions that writer/director John Carney asks in his new musical joint, Sing Street. In your teenage years there's perhaps no greater influence than music to help you find yourself. It's that feeling of someone articulating something you've felt but never been able to understand or tell someone else. Carney, director of Once (2007) and Begin Again (2014), has soared past his previous efforts and bottled up that feeling of music composing one's identity in a tale of teen romance.

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Horror & Feminism: The Final Girls

Béatrice Dalle in Trouble Every Day (2001)

We might be reading a lot about the decline of cinema, but the London repertoire/film curating scene is in rude health at least, with some recent collectives such as the Badlands collective and The Bechdel Test Fest to name a few, who have come up with a truly inspired and lively line-up of films over the last few years. And there is a new player on the block, The Final Girls, a collective who is specialising in the horror genre through a feminist prism. I feel that this is a great initiative, as the horror genre often gets a bad press when it comes to its representation of female characters, and they are kicking off in style, with a screening of Trouble Every Day (2001) by Claire Denis, which is a must-see. So I was very keen to interview its creators, Anna Bogutskaya and Olivia Howe.

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Everybody Wants Some!! by Richard Linklater - Review

On the last day of school in 1976 a young teenager in Texas is initiated into the Rock 'n' roll ecosystem of high school.

Four years later in 1980 a college freshman knocks on the door of a new world as he meets his college baseball team.

The former film is Dazed and Confused, my favorite film of all time. The latter film is Richard Linklater's new joint, Everybody Wants Some!!, the semi-autobiographical and spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused (both films are named after songs obvs). It picks up where Mitch Kramer likely would've ended up at the end of high school in summer 1980; going to college to play baseball. Our lead character in this giant ensemble is the quiet and perceptive freshman, Jake (Blake Jenner).

Friday 8 April 2016

Nasty Baby by Sebastián Silva - Review

Nasty Baby is a child that is, at first, difficult to love. More of a sneered snapshot of self-entitled NY hipster life than a rounded story, the film is driven by deliberately unlikeable characters; one-dimensional personalities who care for little other than themselves. A loose construct with handheld camera and improvised dialogue highlight their seemingly easy lives, and one feels one is watching really nothing very much at all, particularly given the muted tone to the film’s palette. Yet, there are layers to this social satire, and the insidious effect of central character Freddy’s (writer-director Sebastián Silva) brazen narcissism in the opening scene unexpectedly draws you in to observe more complex matters of class division, prejudice, and homophobia.

Sunday 3 April 2016

Krisha by Trey Edward Shults - Review

While a mega studio blockbuster inhabited every cinema this past weekend a film of complete opposite DNA made itself quietly known. Krisha is Trey Edward Shults' debut feature and immediately signals the arrival of a distinct new artist. It's the story of Krisha, a woman who returns home for Thanksgiving to the family she once abandoned. She's played by Krisha Fairchild, Shults’ real life aunt and the story is based loosely on the family’s real life experience with a relative who was an addict.

Sunday 27 March 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa - Review

For a comedic actress and writer as prolific as Tina Fey it's sort of shocking that she's never starred in a smash hit film. Her commitments to television are a big reason for this, but someone as funny as her should've been given the keys to a comedy franchise at this point. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot marks a slight shift on Fey's film resume. Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa plant Fey's comic sensibility in a journalistic war film that's a tonal balancing act jumping through different genres.

Fey is Kim Baker, a nowhere USA news producer in 2004 whose luck changes when a foreign correspondent position opens up in Afghanistan. Her arrival in the battleground looks like a deleted scene from Zero Dark Thirty and then a local calls her a “shameless whore”, which is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot's tonal balance in a nutshell. It's a mid life crisis rom com set in a war zone but with western comedic convention and the little tension found in it's harsh location is overwhelmed by gags.

Friday 25 March 2016

Zootropolis by Byron Howard, Rich Moore & Jared Bush - Review

Zootropolis (or Zootopia in the US) is the newest film from the Disney production line, directed by the trio of Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush. The simple plot surrounds Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a police officer in Zootopia working a case with rogue fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), when it turns out to be more than just a standard missing person report. Yet the element that’s ‘exciting’ people the most is how the film supposedly deals with racism and teaches children to be good people and not judge them by who they are or what they look like. I guess there’s no better time than this to get into it, but I think the film fails completely.

Saturday 19 March 2016

BFI Flare 2016 - The Pass by Ben A Williams

Adapted by John Donnelly from his critically acclaimed play, and directed by Ben A Williams, The Pass opened the 30th London LGBT Film Festival (FLARE) this year. The Pass is first and foremost a brilliant Russell Tovey vehicle. For those unfamiliar with the play, it tells the story of a closeted football player Jason (Tovey), in an episodic narrative which spans 10 years of his turbulent life. The story takes place mostly indoors and is told in a three acts structure, separated by five years in between each act. Bar the last act, it is mostly a two hander.