Saturday 30 September 2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin by Simon Curtis

Reviewed By Linda Marric

Simon Curtis’ Goodbye Christopher Robin might not be one of the most perfectly executed films, but what it lacks in the direction stakes, it definitely manages to make up for with its genuinely heartwarming and deeply affecting storyline. Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan, the film offers a beautifully nuanced account of the story behind one of the most loved children’s books in history and the boy who became symbolic of an idyllic childhood in the English countryside in A.A Milne’s Winnie The Pooh books. Recounting the story behind the creation of all the characters who became part of most people’s childhood, the film present a flawed yet charming story arc which is certain to move its audiences to tears despite its obvious shortcoming.

Thursday 28 September 2017

The Exception by David Leveaux

Reviewed By Nick Tesco

History is told through the prism of the Jeffrey Archer School rather than Hilary Mantel’s in this waste of a great cast. If you had the likes of Cristopher Plummer, Eddie Marsan and Lily James available to you surely you’d ensure that the story you told maintained some vague grip on historical reality. Yeah, I know this is escapism but puh-lea-se! Add Jai Courtney and Janet McTeer and the idea that a terrible waste of effort and talent takes root.

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? The Little Mermaid (1976)

What's it all about?
You probably know, or think you do. This is a relatively close adaptation of the original Hans Christian Anderson fairytale of The Little Mermaid.

Why haven't you seen it?
I'm not sure whether I should credit the Disney film with being a help or hindrance in this case. On the one hand its popularity keeps the story in the consciousness, on the other, it has a tendency to eclipse other versions. I only heard of this film having become interested in Czech surrealism after seeing Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders, and let's just say that The Little Mermaid isn't a film you're very likely to stumble upon

Why should you see it?
As I alluded to above, Disney has, thanks to its position in popular culture, a way of taking ownership of the fairytales it adapts, and that certainly seems to be the case with The Little Mermaid. On the one hand, it's fair enough to lighten up what is a dark and sad tale for a young audience, on the other it's good to have a version that gets closer to the original intent of the story.

This isn't to say that Karel Kachyna's take on the tale is relentlessly grim, indeed it can be quite enchanting and beautiful. The film's first half hour takes place almost entirely under the sea, as the King of all the seas prepares for a birthday celebration marking one year before his daughter (Miroslava Safránková) is married and her husband will inherit the throne. The film doesn't exactly look as though it was hugely expensive, but whatever the budget the design is beautiful and intelligent. The Mer people wear flowing robes, have blue make up on the top halves of their faces and wear their hair up, with ocean debris sticking out in all directions.

Sets are adorned with sunken treasures from the human world, some the Mer people seem to understand (the King knows what swords are), but others are more obscure (“It's full of yellow circles” is the Little Mermaid's reaction to a chest of gold coins). Kachyna makes great use of these design elements as well as of very slight slow motion, which gives some key moments in the underwater kingdom a quality of movement that matches the design's creation of an otherworldly space.

It is only in the film's last half hour that the Little Mermaid (who is never given a name) trades her voice for a chance to go to the human world and have a Prince she rescued from drowning fall in love with her. The scene of the spellcasting is well done, with the witch laying out in detail the pain that the Mermaid must endure for this chance. Without playing up to it, it becomes a creepy moment. On land the film is rather more ordinary than it is underwater. The design isn't as inventive and while the acting is solid enough only  Safránková stands out. The ending does deliver on its tragic intent though and the story is well told throughout, it's just that the film marks itself out much more in its first hour.

The Little Mermaid isn't the masterpiece that Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders (whose star, Jaroslava Schallerova, has a small part here) or Jan Svankmajer's Alice are, nor even as distinguished as Three Wishes For Cinderella and lacks their surreal edge. That said, it tells its story faithfully and, through its design, transports us to an underwater kingdom that feels truly like something out of a fairytale. It's well worth seeking out if you've seen the films mentioned above and are curious.

How can you see it?
This is strange. While researching this section I couldn't find a DVD release of this film, nor is it available on Amazon or Netflix, to my knowledge (if you look on a certain well known video site though, you'll find it easily enough). What I did stumble on is a RUSSIAN telling of The Little Mermaid, also from 1976, on Amazon's Prime streaming service. I've never seen it, but will be correcting that soon.

Saturday 23 September 2017

London Film Festival 2017: Shorts

Real Gods Require Blood

This year's London Film Festival is playing well over 200 feature films, but often lost in the shuffle among the coverage of those are the short films that accompany each strand of the festival and which are often goldmines for spotting new talent. I'll be reviewing some of these over the course of the festival and here, to begin with, are four films, each from different strands.

The Artificial Humors [Short film award programme 1]
Dir: Gabriel Abrantes
The premise is kind of irresistible. Claude (Gilda Nomacce) creates a robot, which she names Andy Coughman, designed to test the limits of artificial intelligence. While learning to socialise, Coughman falls for Jo (Amanda Rodarte), a girl from a remote part of the Amazon but on the suggestion of a friend Claude decides to reprogram Coughman, making him the first AI standup comedian, but in the process he loses the memory of his love for Jo.

Almost Heaven By Carol Salter

Reviewed By Andy Zachariason

Good films drop an audience into a crevice of the world and show us how they reflect something larger that exists in our own lives. First time director Carol Salter has done just that with Almost Heaven, a documentary following Ying Ling, a seventeen-year-old who’s training to become a mortician in China.

This is a film that’s filled with dead bodies and mention of ghosts, yet it’s calm, gentle, never forced – comforting even; like a spa treatment for the soul. This observant and relaxed approach mirrors Ling’s own professionalism as she learns to prepare the deceased for their final moments in this world.

Friday 22 September 2017

Borg Vs McEnroe By Janus Metz

Reviewed By Linda Marric

In the summer of 1980, one of the greatest tennis matches in the history of the game took place when two of the most accomplished players met in the Wimbledon final. In Borg McEnroe, Director Janus Metz brings the story of the two men to life in this beautifully crafted biopic and takes a look at the dynamic which existed between them on that fated fortnight. Staring Shia LaBeouf in the McEnroe role, and Sverrir Gudnason as the great Björn Borg, the film not only does a fantastic job in keeping the suspense going till the very end, but also manages to recreate the era almost perfectly, right down to the dodgy haircuts and questionable fashion sense. And it is even better if like yours truly, you had no idea who had won the infamous match all those years ago.

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? All About Them (2015)

What's it all about?
Micha (Félix Moati) and Charlotte (Sophie Verbeeck) have been together for several years, and while they've had a strong relationship, they're going through a tense period. This isn't helped when they both separately begin affairs with Charlotte's friend Melodie (Anaïs Demoustier).

Why haven't you seen it?
IMDB lists a late 2015 release date for this film in the UK, but that release must have been tiny, because even as a big fan of Anaïs Demoustier, I only discovered this film by accident when it popped up in my Amazon suggestions. It clearly didn't gain much momentum from what cinema release it had, as the DVD release followed a full 16 months later. Unless you're an even bigger Anaïs Demoustier fan than I am, you probably never realised this came out.

Wednesday 13 September 2017

mother! By Darren Aronofsky

Reviewed By Linda Marric

The best way to describe the experience of seeing Darren Aronofsky mother! is like being forcibly thrown into a giant washing machine in which every cycle is as fast-paced and as raucous as its predecessor, and where you are tossed about, wrung out and hung to dry without ever having a say in what’s coming next. If this sounds like the kind of thing you might be into, then buckle up because you’re in for a hell of a ride.

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? Blood and Bone (2009)

What's it all about?
A martial artist known only as Bone (Michael Jai White) gets out of prison and immediately gets himself into underground bare knuckle fighting. What he really wants is to take on a fighter who works for local gangster James (Eammon Walker), whose moll (Michelle Belegrin) Bone seems to have taken a dangerous interest in.

Why haven't you seen it?
Despite the fact that more and more films are bypassing cinemas there was until very recently, in many viewers minds, an implied seal of quality, that comes with a theatrical release and not with a direct to video film. Netflix and other streaming platforms with original content are addressing this perception, but even they aren't often doing it with action films. Unless you're into action cinema enough to dig into the direct to video part of the genre it's likely you never came across this film or many, many others.

Why should you see it?
I didn't mind The Bourne Supremacy at the time. I suspect I might still like it if I get round to rewatching it. It's that film's legacy that bothers me. I think we can trace the current awful state of most mainstream American action cinema back to Paul Greengrass' first take on the Matt Damon led franchise. With that film the trend for shakycam, fast cutting and close up shooting in fight sequences really began to take hold, and I still see far too much of it. For me, that style makes action meaningless. It destroys the choreography, messes up the geography of a scene and often makes it unclear exactly what is even happening from moment to moment. Happily, films like Blood and Bone and other direct to video titles have kept action movies alive.

This film suffers from none of the problems of shakycam action. The fights are, like most of the rest of the film, simply shot. The emphasis is put on showing us what Michael Jai White and the other accomplished martial artists he is paired with during the film can do. The speed comes from White's movement, the impact from the force of his punches and kicks, director Ben Ramsey and editor Dean Goodhill simply don't need to use cutting to force either rhythm or impact into those moments. The fights build well, with White easily despatching early opponents, but more challenged as the film goes on. A highlight comes in a mid film bout with Bob Sapp, who plays a huge fighter named Hammerman, but the best really is saved for last in the fight with Matt Mullins, which starts tentative but evolves into both a great fight and an interesting story moment.

The script is never the main point of these films, but Blood and Bone's simple writing is given a lift by a clutch of decent performances. Michael Jai White knows this is a great showcase for him and he grabs hold of what is a cliché part (noble martial artist fulfilling a promise) and invests it with great presence if not immense depth. Eammon Walker, who I first saw on Oz is an exceptional actor who has never really got a film role that shows what he can do. His character here isn't the most consistent – the moralising gangster of the first half who won't tolerate foul language is more interesting than the more standard writing of the second half – but Walker is great; all simmering ambition and rage. When Walker and White share scenes it makes you wish the screenplay was a bit better, because these two face off as well in dialogue as they do in their fight. Unfortunately the film's true 'Big Bad' is Julian Sands, who still can't act.

Whatever the shortcomings of the script, I don't mind them. Sure, it's thin and predictable, but I'll take that plus a series of hard hitting fights (one of them featuring a pre-Haywire Gina Carano) I can actually see rather than most of what Hollywood was churning out and calling action cinema at this time. Blood and Bone is a great jumping off point for exploring the world of DTV action movies, which can be surprisingly rewarding.

How can you see it?
There are UK, US and European DVD and Blu Ray release available. The UK edition has a few features, including a commentary.

Friday 8 September 2017

Insyriated by Philippe Van Leeuw

Reviewed By Linda Marric

Belgian director Philippe Van Leeuw may not seem like the most obvious person to direct a film about the Syrian war, but then again the same could have been said about Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo and his seminal film about the the Algerian war of independence,  The Battle Of Algiers (1966), a film which remains to this day one of the most powerful features ever made on the subject.  Set inside a solitary apartment in a building in Damascus, Insyriated is certainly not for the fainted hearted, but remains nevertheless essential viewing for anyone wanting to make sense of the horrors taking place daily.

Thursday 7 September 2017

The Vault By Dan Bush

Reviewed By Linda Marric

Directed by Dan Bush (The Signal, The Reconstruction of William Zero), The Vault is a fast-paced, violent and at times simply baffling heist movie with a twist. Mixing the supernatural with the usual heist narrative fodder, the film attempt a new approach to this tried and tested formula, but ultimately falls at the first hurdle by its inability to offer a compelling or coherent enough story.

James Franco, Taryn Manning and a whole host of brilliantly talented young Hollywood actors are  wasted on this deeply confused small budget production, which sadly for its makers can’t quite decide what it wants to be and ends up looking messy and rather confused.

Tuesday 5 September 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? Keeping Rosy (2014)

What's it all about?
Charlotte (Maxine Peake) is laser focused on her career, but when she resigns from her job after failing to get a promotion she feels is due her she takes her frustrations out on her cleaner Maya, accidentally killing her. Disposing of the body, she discovers Maya's baby daughter in her car and decides to keep the child while covering her tracks.

Why haven't you seen it?
Like so many of these entries, this is another story of a low budget film getting a low key release and, unless you're deliberately seeking it out, being very prone to getting lost in the stacks of new discs on the shelves each week.

Moon Dogs By Philip John

Reviewed by Andy Zachariason

Every summer offers up a new crop of coming-of-age films. Audiences can sit down and travel down avenues of youth completely unrecognizable to them on the surface, but cut through emotionally because growing up is a universal story. It is perhaps the most overtly relatable genre that there is. The coming-of-age film, at its best, is less of a genre and more like a home movie showing you memories that you’d forgotten.

Friday 1 September 2017

FrightFest Interview : FilmLand Empire Meets Todd Tucker


Interview By Linda Marric

Regarded by many as one of Hollywood’s hardest working special effects artists, and one of the most talented puppeteers in the business, Todd Tucker has worked on numerous projects throughout his career including big budget productions such as Hook, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Apocalypto and even Watchmen.

As part of this year’s Horror Channel's FrightFest, Tucker was in London recently for the world premier of his second feature as director with the screening of his new film The Terror of Hallow's Eve. Earlier this week, FilmLand Empire had the chance to meet up with Todd for a candid chat and asked him about his aspiration for the future and his role as one of the most sought after make-up artists in the industry.

First of all, welcome to London and to FrightFest, is this your first time here? How are you finding it so far?

Oh it’s awesome, really awesome. I saw a couple of films and got to meet all the owners…’s very cool.

How does the festival crowd here compare the other horror festivals you’ve been to?

You know, it’s funny because the horror audience…the fans…. are kinda the same everywhere, but they’re great….they are the most loyal, loving fans of any genre, the only different thing in the accent[laughs]. But it’s really cool, because so far everyone we’ve met has been very nice and anyone who has seen the movie has been veRy confident, it’s very cool.