Sunday 18 July 2021

Cannes 2021 - The Awards

 No matter what was going to happen with the awards, the 2021 edition of the Cannes Film Festival, as unusual as it was, was a resounding success, a celebration of cinema that was much needed and considering some of the most outlandish predictions by some nay-sayers, the proof that it is still possible to hold a film festival of that scale in these covid days. Yet some great editions have sometimes left us with a sour taste when the awards did not quite match what had come behind... We should not have worried!

Friday 16 July 2021

Cannes 2021 - Comments on a special edition

It was never going to be a regular year. After the successive delays then cancellation of last year's edition (a vastly reduced, four days version did take place in October however) and a first delay from May to July this year, there were fears that it was not going to happen again. Despite the successful vaccination campaign and the reduction in cases and mortality, there were some who questioned whether it was safe to hold an event with thousands of visitors from around the world congregating in confined spaces. Yet the naysayers were proven wrong, the Cannes Film Festival was back in triumphant form and it turned out to be a sterling success and a celebration of cinema that was sorely needed.

Tuesday 13 July 2021

Cannes 2021- Compartment No. 6 by Juho Kuosmanen

Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen made a big impact in Cannes in 2016 with his charming The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, winning the Un Certain Regard top prize back then. He is back in the official selection and in competition with the adaptation of the novel of the same name by Rosa Liksom.

In Compartment No. 6, a Finnish student, Laura (Seida Haarla) who lives in Moscow in the '90s is in a seemingly happy relationship with the older Irina (Dirana Drukavora), a teacher, when she decides to board the Trans-Siberian set to Murmansk to see the renowned petroglyphs. On board she shares a compartment with Vadim (Yuriy Borisov), a young, coarse Russian man.

Monday 12 July 2021

Cannes 2021 - Oranges Sanguines by Jean-Christophe Meurisse

"On ne peut plus rien dire" (you just can't say anything anymore) is a sentence often pronounced by right-wing politicians and media in France these days and one several of the characters of Oranges Sanguines seem to agree with. In its hilarious opening scene set during a regional dance competition, its judges seem to tiptoe around what is socially acceptable when it comes to fair chances in society and how modern sensibilities and various disadvantages must be taken into consideration, the conversation turning much more heated than it strictly required with the masks easily slipping and frustration giving place to anger.

Cannes 2021 - Flag Day by Sean Penn

Sean Penn's previous film, The Last Guard, earned a place in the history of the Cannes for all the wrong reasons, receiving some of the worse reviews in the history of the festival after a memorable press screening filled with uncharitable laughters and gasps. While snark and outlandish reactions might have come across as unprofessional, it truly is a ghastly film, vain, hollow and one that probably did not belong to the competition. Surely you would expect the director to ask for some honest feedback before having his new film screen in competition, surely he would not have as bad a film? Surely...?

Sunday 11 July 2021

Cannes 2021 - La Civil by Teodora Ana Mihai

The premise of La Civil is familiar, perhaps overtly familiar: when her teenage daughter is kidnapped by a drug cartel in Northern Mexico, Cielo (Arciela Ramirez) decides to take matter into her own hands as the authorities are unable or willing to help, soon turning into a vigilante as violence around her escalates. At the very least we are spared the usual yellow tinge that American films feel obliged to add when filming a similar story. Indeed first time director Teodora Ana Mihai impresses right from the start with a visual style that works wonders with shades of black and a very particular way of filming night scenes. 

Cannes 2021 - The Worst Person in the World by Joachim Trier

Who could have predicted that a romantic comedy (a genre that is rarely present in Cannes and even less frequently in competition would sweep the Croisette in such a way? Yet this is precisely what has happened with The Worst Person in the World, a bittersweet Norwegian rom-com with a tinge of drama by Joachim Trier.

It is almost as if the genre has been cannibalised by a certain iteration of it, usually set in New York under the snow and as pleasant as these films can be, there is more to it all than these.  In The Worst Person in the World, we follow the life of Julie (Renate Reinsve, extraordinary, more on her later), a young woman in her late '20s in Oslo over the course of a few years as she navigates her love life but not only, ever other facets of her life too.

Saturday 10 July 2021

Cannes 2021 - Great Freedom by Sebastian Meise

Great Freedom, a decades spanning German gay drama set during those times when the love that dare not speak its name was not allowed, follows Hans (Franz Rogowski, outstanding) over the years as over the course of several stays in jail, starting off right from the mid '40s to the '60s, guilty of the same crime over and over again: homosexuality. 

Cannes 2021 - Benedetta by Paul Verhoeven

Benedetta was arguably one of the most anticipated film on the Croisette this year. The idea of Paul Verhoeven tackling the subgenre of nunsploitation soon after his most successful critical and commercial hit in a while, Elle, was exciting enough and after its delayed production and release, first due to the director's health issues then the small matter of the pandemic, it was finally shown on competition. 

In Benedetta, a novice 17th century nun, Benedetta (Virginie Efira) puts her convent in turmoil when she is struck by some religious visions then exhibits the signs of stigmata while turning her romantic attention to a younger sister, Bartolomea (Daphné Patakia).

Friday 9 July 2021

Cannes 2021 - Where Is Anne Frank by Ari Folman

Israeli director Ari Folman made a big impact on the Croisette with his animated documentary Waltz With Bashir in 2008, which many predicted a palme d'or win yet it left empty-handed. Its follow-up, The Congress (2013) was a flawed but fascinating part live action, part animated sci-fi folly and now he is back in Cannes, out of completion, with Where Is Anne Frank.

Cannes 2021- Everything Went Fine by François Ozon

The prolific and one enfant terrible of French cinema François Ozon has had an uneven career to say the least, to be expected perhaps with that kind of output. Yet at times it is hard not to feel that he has not completely fulfilled the promises of his early career and you never quite know what to expect which each new film.

In Everything Went Fine, Emmanuèle (Sophie Marceau) has to look after her father André (André Dussollier) after he suffers a stroke that left him near paralysed and in poor shape. As he asks her for the impossible, to help him end his life, she has to confront her conflicting feelings about him and her family in the midst of her busy life.

Thursday 18 March 2021

SXSW 2021: The Hunt for Planet B by Nathaniel Kahn

The valiant Hubble telescope has generated some awe-inspiring pictures over the decades and revolutionised astronomy so excitement for its replacement, the Webb telescope, the largest and most complex space observatory ever built that is going to take it all to the next level, is at its peak. The Hunt for Planet B follows a group of astronomers as preparations are well on their way for its launch, relaying their motivations, the drama behind it all and the hopes placed onto it.

The issue with many scientific documentaries is their propension to fall into two extremes: they are either too technical and dry or too simplistic and over the top, with a bombastic narration full of grand claims and some outlandish CGI. No such things with The Hunt of Planet B which is all the more remarkable considering what is the stake, quite simply the possibility that it might detect some life signatures in the atmosphere of the exploplanets in the Trappist-1 System, the closest one to our solar system.

Wednesday 17 March 2021

SXSW 2021: Paul Dood's Deadly Lunch Break by Nick Gillespie

Paul Dood's Deadly Lunch Break has a rather brilliant premise. We have all seen the first rounds of reality talent shows in which the production team puts the spotlight on the most talentless and deluded, at times scary participants, with their dramatic walkouts as their dream of stardom are ruined by the judges, uttering some stern threats while security staff is on standby. So what if one of them actually followed through and went all Falling Down?

SXSW 2021- WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn

"If you tell a thirtysomething male he is Jesus Christ, he is inclined to believe it". 

WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn is the account of the rise and fall of WeWork, one of the biggest venture capitalist bubbles in recent years and his near messianic co-founder Adam Neumann. WeWork was in the not so glamorous business of renting office space in premises it had refurbished with a trendier edge except that with it came some grand promises of a new lifestyle, of a work revolution, of changing the world even. In it, Academy Award winner Jed Rothstein has interviewed several former employees at every level as well as those bought into the We lifestyle and gathered some extensive footage for a forensic investigation into this unicorn company, that promised so much and failed so hard.

Wednesday 3 March 2021

Berlinale 2021: Bloodsuckers - A Marxist Vampire Comedy by Julian Radlmaier

Writer/director Julian Radlmaier ‘s 2021 film Bloodsuckers – A Marxist Vampire Comedy (Blutsauger in the original German) has firmly nailed his genre aspirations to the mast of his film title. Nominally set in late 1920s Germany a wandering actor Ljowushka (Aleksandre Koberidze) becomes of interest to a wealthy German vampire Octavia (Lilith Stangenberg) who at first, assumes the Russian is an aristocrat fleeing the Soviet regime. Holidaying in her family’s seaside estate with her lovelorn servant or human vampire familiar Jakob (Alexander Herbst), Octavia quickly acts on her attraction to Ljowushka and he is invited to stay. 

Thursday 25 February 2021

The Lawyer by Romas Zabarauskas

In The Lawyer, Lithuanian corporate lawyer Marcus (Eimutis Kvosciauskas) meets a Syrian refugee, Ali (Dogac Yilkiz) on a cam service and travels to Belgrade to meet him and help him escape to Western Europe, while some complicated feelings slowly develop between the two men.

The premise might make you think you are about to watch an issue film, not there would be anything wrong with that but while film is acutely attuned to contemporary social concerns, it is the best kind of social films, one that never forgets about cinema and characterisation as opposed to just serving us a dour lecture, while still putting the focus on the injustice of the world.

Tuesday 23 February 2021

Wrong Turn by Mike P. Nelson

In Wrong Turn, a group of teenage friends is hiking the Appalachian trail when their idyllic trip turns into a nightmare as they find themselves stalked and hunted by unseen assailants. As their situation becomes more and more desperate, their fight for survival forces them to challenge and reconsider their moral values.

In the mid 2000s, horror classics remakes were all the rage, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Amityville (2005), Friday the 13th (2009) and a few others of variable quality. Among those came Wrong Turn (2003), an original film despite some familiar tropes that became a beloved minor classic, one that spawned five sequels with diminishing returns.

The new Wrong Turn is neither a sequel nor a remake but a reboot. After a prologue, the action is mostly told in a long flashback and at first the story is fairly close to the first film except that the group of teenagers has been transposed to our era thanks to some  signifiers that are a little too obviously signposted without having much narrative weight.

Sunday 14 February 2021

Broil by Edward Drake

In Broil, Chance Sinclair (Avery Konrad), a troubled teenager, is sent to live with her grandfather in his sprawling mansion after she attacks a classmate who had provoked her. There she begins to realise the extent of her family's power and wealth as well as their monstrous secrets...

It is not that big a spoiler to discuss what the members of the Sinclair family really are, with clues early on such as their aversion to spending too long in the daylight and the daily blood transfusion Chance has to go through due to a "genetic disorder". So kudos to Edward Drake for coming up with a fresh take on the vampire lore.  It is not uncharitable to say that the plot is confusing however. He and co-writer Piper Mars, seemingly filled with ideas, let their enthusiasm get the better of the self-critical judgment and there is just too much going on, too many characters... If only the script had been tightened and allowed audiences to breathe a little.

Friday 12 February 2021

Willy's Wonderland by Kevin Lewis

In Willy's Wonderland, a drifter (Nicolas Cage) finds himself stranded with a broken car in a small town. Having to work to repay his debt at the local repair shop, he spends the night cleaning an abandoned family amusement park where the happy mascots suddenly come to life and run amok.

Comparisons between Willy's Wonderland and Five Nights at Freddy's, the iconic horror video game in which a security guard has to survive the night while surrounded by some homicidal animatronics, will be inevitable due to the similarities between their premises. There are also echoes of The Banana Splits (2019), an adaptation that subverted the family friendly TV series and turned its friendly furries into mechanical, murderous monsters. This is where the connection ends however as while that film aimed for a camptastic pop culture satire, Willy's Wonderland plays it mostly straight, surprisingly so for all its assumed silliness. The origin story behind the carnage is also more disturbing and gruesome than just a mechanical malfunction and while there are several funny scenes, Kevin Lewis is skilled enough to not let them derail the darker tone.

Sunday 7 February 2021

Sundance 2021: In The Earth by Ben Wheatley - review

Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Ten years after making a big impact with his sophomore feature length film, Kill List (2011), Ben Wheatley has remained a distinctive voice in the British film industry throughout the decade, with a prolific career in which he has experimented with various genres from the very dark comedy of Sightseers (2012), to the mind bending A Field in England (2013), all the way to his glossy remake of Rebecca for Netflix last year.

Last we heard from him he was attached to two blockbusters, the Tomb Raider and The Meg sequels (he has subsequently dropped from the former) so it came as a surprise when it was announced that a film he had directed in secrecy last year, In The Earth, was ready and was to have its world premiere at Sundance.

As the world is in the grip of a deadly pandemic, Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) is on his way to a research site deep in a forest, guided by park scout Alma (Ellora Torchia) when a brutal night time attack leaves them shoeless and at the mercy of the elements and nature, not to mention of an unseen presence seemingly stalking them.

Wednesday 3 February 2021

Sundance 2021: Prisoners of the Ghostland by Sion Sono

The announcement that Nicolas Cage was going to star in Sion Sono's new film sent some ripples in the cinephile world, a somehow improbable pairing although considering how the American actor has been willing to experiment more and more in his recent career with Mandy and The Colour out of Space, one that was perhaps not all that surprising. The maverick Japanese director suffered a heart attack during the planning of the film which delayed him but did not stop him and the film had its world premiere at Sundance 2021.

In Prisoners of the Ghostland, a bank robber, Hero (Nicolas Cage) is tasked by The Governor (Bill Moseley) to find his missing adopted daughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella) who is said to be in a wasteland populated by ghosts.

Monday 1 February 2021

Sundance 2021: Cryptozoo by Dash Shaw - review

Is a Utopia possible? Director Dash Shaw’s newest ambitious animated offering is a dive into a kaleidoscopic world of mythic creatures called Cryptids. It’s the sort of inventive swing that makes Sundance such an exciting festival for showcasing up-and-coming talent. As a follow-up to My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea Shaw pushes the potentials of animation into intriguing aesthetic and tonal directions. 

Sunday 31 January 2021

The Swarm by Just Philippot - review

French genre cinema is relatively rare these days compared to the heydays of the New French Extremity over ten years ago, with the recent Raw by Julie Ducournau a notable exception. Then along came The Swarm (La Nuée) and the prospect of a French bugs horror was intriguing. 

In The Swarm, widowed mom Virginie (Suliane Brahim) struggles to make a living and support her children in rural France. Her latest project, the breeding of edible grasshoppers, did not deliver the expected yield and brings ridicule to the whole family, especially her teenage daughter who gets bullied at school and who is embarrassed by her mom's unsuccessful and odd endeavour. A chance discovery leads to a reversal of fortune but also comes with a heavy price.

Saturday 30 January 2021

Sundance 2021: Censor by Prano Bailey-Bond

For non British audiences and younger generations, video nasties and the moral hysteria around those might not mean much but it is this interesting and not so proud part of the British film industry history that Prano Bailey-Bond has picked for the background of Censor. Opening with a montage of these infamous films, including some prominent footage of Abel Ferrara's The Driller Killer, we are reminded how opportunistic politicians and moral crusaders whipped up a frenzy at the time, their target a list of films they seldom bothered to watch yet were subsequently banned.

In Censor, Enid (Niamh Algar), is, well, a censor who becomes convinced that there is a connection between a past tragedy in her family and a film she watches in the course of her work. She sets out to investigate and find its elusive director as real life and fiction collide.