Archive for the ‘Action’ Category

Those That Wish Me Dead (2020)

Dir: Taylor Sheridan | Cast: Angeline Jolie, Medina Senghore, Aiden Gillen, Nicholas Hoult, Finn Little, John Bernthal, Jake Webber | US Action Thriller, 100′

A flash and burn action thriller that really doesn’t set the night on fire despite a solid cast and a smouldering Angelina Jolie who plays a Montana firefighter recovering from one too many forest tragedies. And in the midst of this she rescues and befriends a traumatised orphan (Little) whose father (Webber) has been blown to bits in escaping an incendiary couple of cypher-like assassins (Gillen and Hoult) who kill people for reasons that never really makes sense – destroying swathes of bosky Montana countryside in some spectacular set pieces that will make nature-lovers and environmentalists weep.

Taylor Sheridan was heralded a promising new talent on the indie circuit with his spunky scripts for the lauded Hell or High Water and Sicario. Here he gets behind the camera sharing the virtue-signalling narrative in a group effort – and it shows – a big budget fails to paper over the cracks in the muddled, multi-stranded storyline takes a while to shape up, based on a book by Michael Koryta – who joins Charles Leavitt and Taylor in the writing department.

One thing it does have is two feisty female characters in the shape of Jolie (the more convincing of the two, taking over from Emily Blunt’s FBI agent in Sicario) and Medina Senghore who gets the cheesy option as a simpering pregnant sheriff’s wife whose gloves go on in the fraught finale. Between them they save the day amid endless mayhem – and that’s something to welcome in this otherwise rather forgettable pulpy production. MT

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Fukushima 50 (2020) Digital release

Dir.: Setsuro Wakamatsu; Cast: Ken Watanabe, Koichi Sato, Shiro Sano; Japan 2020, 122 min.

Japanese director Setsuro Wakamatsu pays tribute to fifty courageous workers who averted a Chernobyl-style meltdown when a natural disaster hit a power plant in 2011. This is a blockbuster without any villains – the government and utility executes got away Scot-free, as we soon discover. All the characters are fictional, apart from Watanabe’s Masao Yoshida, the plant’s superintendent, who died – as a national hero – of cancer unrelated to the accident of 11.3. 2011 two years later.

Based on The Inside story of Fukushima Daiichi’ by Ryusho Kadota, Fukushima 50, takes its title from the fifty heroes who stayed to face the music after an earthquake (scale 9 on the Richter Scale) and a massive Tsunami threatened to wipe out the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and the devastation of eastern Japan, including Tokyo.

All the men in the plant are tough and selfless (unlike today’s young generation in Japan), there are references to the WWII generation, “who lived for others”. Japan’s military forces are also featured, fighting from the front in great numbers. Toshio Isaki (Sato), the shift supervisor, is the embodiment of these attributes: he would have liked a more active role, but his men ask him to stay behind, whilst they try to cool the reactors down with seawater, or reduce the pressure so that the reactors do not explode.

The seawater solution, brought forward by Yoshida, is one of the few pivotal passages of the film: the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), who owns the plant, gives orders to Yoshida not to cool the reactors this way to the plant being damaged by seawater, but the superintendent goes against his orders. Heated arguments add a scintilla of drama but even the Prime Minister (Sano) gets away with a limp performance,oscillating between weakness and bullying.

The lack of a central villain reduces the film to a well meaning fight ballade, everyone striving for heroism. We never find out the cause of the disaster, nuclear power is never questioned, nobody asks if the disaster preparations were adequate or if the country needed to re-think their economic or cultural strategy – after all, idea of WWII being a time of heroism has been successfully propagated by the Japan’s Liberal Party which has been in power since WWII, with the exception of a handful of years.

Compared with the dark and eerie images of Chernobyl, which went for a systematic critique of the Soviet Union, Fukushima does not hold anybody responsible for the disaster – despite the collusion between regulators, government and TEPCO. Meanwhile law suits have been piling up amid ongoing international investigations, the report of the Japanese Parliament (DIET) calls the disaster “man-made”. Nothing has changed since March 2011, and the Japanese Anti-Nuclear movement has lost much of its urgency.

The blockbuster treatment leaves us with good production values (DoP Shoji Ehara), spirited performances by the saviours, but a hapless happy-end, with Isaki being re-united with his family, an unruly daughter and a critical father. Fukushima shows nothing has changed since March 2011, styling his actioner as a boys-only adventure story – thrilling and triumphant with the cherry blossom finale promising an uncritical pastel future where governments turn a blind eye. AS

FUKUSHIMA 50 OUT NOW ON ALTITUDE FILMS and all digital platforms across the UK & Ireland

 

No Man is an Island (1962) ****

Dir: Richard Goldstone, John Monks Jr. | Jeffrey Hunter, Barbara Perez, Marshall Thompson, Ronald Remy, Amparo Custodio, Paul Edwards Jr. | US Action drama, 116′

No Man is an Island (aka Island Escape) is based on the 1945 memoir ‘Robinson Crusoe, USN’ by George Ray Tweed (1902-1989), who evaded capture by the Japanese for more than two and a half years after the Japanese invasion of Guam in 1941.

Nearly two hours in length, this Universal release handsomely lensed in colour and scope by Carl Kayser and back in Hollywood edited by veteran cutter Basil Wrangell is considerably more ambitious than the other cheap war movies shot in the Philippines during the early Sixties; with Hollywood star Jeffrey Hunter again finding himself alone on an island dodging enemy bullets just nine years after finding himself in the same situation in the Boulting Brothers’ Singlehanded.

The title quoting John Donne – along with a lead actor who had just played Christ – had made me expect something preachier; but apart from a scene with a local priest there’s actually surprisingly little God talk (maybe there was more in Tweed’s original book). The situation was played for laughs in Heaven Know, Mr Allison! (from which footage reappears) and Father Goose; while the ending recalls Brigadoon. But here – despite one character treading barefoot on a scorpion and others bleeding to death, being decapitated and stripped down to a skeleton by crabs – the treatment is more like a soap opera, with a pet chicken cutely named ‘Admiral Halsey’ and a suitably romantic score by Restie Umali.

Although prominently billed second in the opening credits, Girl Friday Barbara Perez in fact gets a fraction of the screen time of ninth-billed Filipina comedienne Chichay (Mrs Nakamura) as a feisty Japanese-American saloon owner, to whose establishment the film keeps returning. Richard Chatten.

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News of the World (2020) ***

Dir: Paul Greengrass| Cast: Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Marvel, Ray McKinnon, Helena Zengel | US Drama 114′

The American Civil War has come to a close and in Texas a virulent epidemic is sweeping through the panhandle. Tom Hanks and German newcomer Helena Zengel star as two lost souls drawn together in the aftermath of the tragedy, this once happened 150 years ago but Greengrass gives a contemporary feel with its migrant central characters.

Set on the wide open panoramas of the Southern desert yet intimate in its personal story of survival, the theme of storytelling is at the heart of this ambitious Western adventure, both for Greengrass and his lead, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd. The soldier has seen active service during the war but several years later has turned to ‘newscasting’ – making a crust out of telling spirited, often didactic stories that connect his audiences with the wider world. As he makes his way across the vast desert landscape, Hanks is believable and appealing as the strong and benign warrior.

Piqued with lively action sequences, News of the World is contemplative rather than swashbuckling but impressive nevertheless, wearing its burnished period detail on a war-torn sleeve, this is a well-mounted and poetic frontier adventure, and a departure from the director’s usual slick modern thrillers such as The Bourne Ultimatum and United 93. 

Greengrass quickly establishes his statesman-like hero’s credentials in the opening scenes, a respectable horseman now down on his luck but making the best in his reduced circumstances, he still cuts dash spinning his newsy yarns with languorous dignity during long evenings in candlelit hostelries. One topical item relates to the opening of a new railway line from the Kansas border all the way to Galveston, that was the Pacific Railway’s first foray across Indian reservations.

Essentially a two-hander though with the occasional side-lining vignette, the slow-burning storyline carries a distinct whiff of cultural diversity, the Captain journeying through this lawless territory with a blond 10 year-old he meets while hitching up his waggon in the frontier town of Wichita Falls. And this relationship sets the reflective tone of their odyssey; he is mentor, protector and father-figure, a role Hanks pulls off with a respectable swagger, though the two lack a noticeable chemistry: Johanna is sullen, unreachable, but turns out to be a German orphan raised by a Native American tribe. Hanks finds himself tasked with relaying her to blood relatives in another part of Texas, against her will.

Writing with Bafta-award winner Luke Davies, Greengrass bases his script on Paulette Jiles’ 2016 bestseller that centres on two unlikely companions who gradually develop a mutual bond. Shooting took place in the magnificent scenery of New Mexico by Dariusz Wolski, his jerky intense handheld ‘urban’ scenes contrasting with the feral beauty of big desert countryside where the two encounter all kinds of surprises during their eventful escapade.

It soon emerges that Johanna is subject to some kind of kidnapping and is bound for San Antonio, so Kidd’s wings are clipped by the presence of the minor, who becomes his responsibility in the hostile terrain. The child has been let down by so many adults she proves unruly although vulnerable and lost in this turbulent country where settlers are at war with Native Indians and vice versa. And this milieu of conflict and danger provides a heady atmosphere to the couple’s journey. One episode sees their carriage involved in a terrible accident when the horse loses control over a mountainside. Another involves an ugly skirmish with some Confederate former soldiers (Covino, James and Lilley) who try to ‘buy’ the little girl, and have to be fended off. Johanna’s upbringing in Indian culture brings a spiritual and folkloric element to the Western adventure showing Hanks at his best in a gritty role of guardian for this tough but also thoughtful kid in a surprisingly lyrical piece of Americana. MT

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White God (2014) | Bfi Player

Dir/Wri: Kornél Mundruczó | Cast: Zsofia Psotta, Sandor Zsoter, Lili Horvath, Szabolcs Thuroczy, Lili Momori, Gergely Banki, Karoly Ascher | 119min  Drama/Thriller  Hungary

Hungarian director, Kornél Mundruczó’s art house thriller is also a revenge flick with a touch of the “Pied Piper of Hamlin’ about it. Serving as an elusive parable on human supremacy, it scratches the edges of fantasy with some bizarre and brutal elements.

Dogs, or more correctly, mutts are the stars of the story which opens with a little girl cycling through the mysteriously empty streets of Budapest, followed by a pack of barking beasts. With is canine cast of Alsations to Labradors, Rottweilers and even little terriers, WHITE GOD also brings to mind The Incredible Journey with a darkly sinister twist. Is she escaping a virus, or a human enemy?

These dogs are clearly well-trained and credit goes to the Mundruczo for his ambitious undertaking, but then Magyars have a reputation for their horsemanship and this clearly extends to the canine species. It transpires that Lilli (Zsofia Psotta) the girl on the bike, has adopted a large street dog called Hagen. Lilli’s mum is off on a business trip with her new boyfriend, leaving her in the care of her emotionally distant but rather sensitive father who ironically works as an abattoir inspector.

Their relationship is not a close one and Lilli becomes even more distant from him when he insists on her getting rid of her loveable pet. Budapest is a city full of street dogs and the Hungarians appear to be a great deal less keen on animal welfare than most European countries. Hagen is soon picked up by a new owner, an unscrupulous dog fighter, who sets about turning him into a savage warrior-dog, before he escapes and ends up in the Police dog pound, where he stages a mass canine uprising. The transformation is both sad and frightening but there are also poignant moments as Hagen as his ‘mate,’ a sweet Jack Russell, desperately try to evade re-capture by their enemies – human beings. And it is this balance of power that underpins Mundruczó’s unique drama transforming it from an animal adventure to a satire with universal appeal. WHITE DOG is quite literally, a tale of the ‘underdog’ rising up and claiming his rightful place in society: on a more sinister level it could represent the masses over-taking society. A captivating and provocative piece of filmmaking. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER | Dedicated to the late Miklós Jancsó, WHITE GOD won PRIX UN CERTAIN REGARD in Cannes 2014.

Le Mans 66 (2019) ***** Home Ent

Dir: James Mangold | Cast: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Caitriona Balfe, Jon Bernthal, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Tracy Letts. | US Drama 152′

A dynamite duo of Christian Bale and Matt Damon powers this petrolhead portrait of the feud between Ford Motor Company and Ferrari at Le Mans in 1966. They play racing legends Ken Miles and Carroll Shelby in James Mangold’s finely crafted high octane vehicle. 

Back in the 1960s motor racing was still a raw and dangerous game. But James Mangold makes it into a meaningful drama for all the family, exploring the real lives and loves behind the dynamic days of Formula One.

In those days Ferrari dominated the circuit, combining speed with stylish design. But as the film opens Ferrari is experiencing financial problems and Henry Ford II and his lieutenant Lee Iacocca – famous for the Mustang – see a gap in the market to make a racing car that could compete with the Italians – and win.

Straighforwardly told by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller, this is a well-paced and suspenceful piece of kit that revs up from the start with some magnificent widescreen camerawork, a cast of likeable and dastardly characters adding sparky dynamics to the action drama’s historic underpinnings. From the riveting race scenes to the poignant personal stories this is enjoyable and intensely moving.

James Mangold adds steely humour in constrasting the rival’s corporate culture. Boring old Ford’s budget for lavatory paper alone exceeds stylish Ferrari’s spend on show cars. And it’s the attention to detail and personal touch that wins through for the charismatic Enzo Ferrari who presides over his empire like a feudal Medici. And these scenes are a breath of fresh air when compared to the posturing ego of Tracy Letts’ flaccid Ford and his simpering sidekick Leo Beebe (a suitably mincing Josh Lucas).

Ford is bored with his beige output and desperate to make his name with something more interesting that can compete on the racetrack. He puts his money on the table and sets his minions to finding a winning solution. But at the heart of the film is a more thoughtful story: the strong working friendship between former Le Mans winner turned designer Shelby and maverick mechanic Ken Miles. The winning focus for Shelby is to create a hot car for Ford, and get Miles – who has already rubbed up against Beebe – behind the wheel.

Bale brings a breath of fresh air in the shape of lone wolf mechanic Miles who is an awkward and unpredictable perfectionist tempered by his appealing wife Mollie (Caitriona Balfe) and intelligent son Peter (Noah Jupe). The share a mutual respect for one another but aren’t afraid to air their differences, ending up at one point in a punch-up. and this all adds grist to the film’s feisty dramatics.

The nerve-shedding third act takes us through the gruelling 1966 24-hour French marathon that sees the drivers pit their wits against the harsh conditions in a competition that never fails to impress with its viciousness and verve. But Shelby and Miles are past masters in an endeavour that doesn’t always end well. The crucial element here is the Ford car’s breaks which have been subject to failure. Bale and Damon’s energetic chemistry provides for a thrilling watch with a fair share of tear-pricking tenderness and angry set-to’s. The male centric cast showcases an era when men were men and women watched on, encouragingly. What shines through here is their courage to achieve or to fade into the background. MT

ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD 9 MARCH | ON 4 K ULTRA HD, BLU-RAY, DVD and VOD 23 MARCH 2020

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018) ***

Dir: Terry Gilliam | Cast: Jonathan Price, Adam Driver, Stellan Skarsgard, Jason Watkins and Olga Kurylenko | Drama, UK 133′

Terry Gilliam’s struggle to film Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote has been as epic as the title itself. The finished version of his fantasy adventure – that sees a disillusioned advertising executive mistaken for Sancho Panza – was beset by legal potholes as it fought its way stoically towards the Red Carpet in Cannes two years ago, with a beleaguered but indomitable cast of Jonathan Pryce, who stars as El Don himself, Adam Driver, Stellan Skarsgard, Jason Watkins and Olga Kurylenko.

Miguel de Cervantes crafted a likeable story with everlasting appeal – its simple premise: that Chivalry should not die out in the ‘modern age’, a timely tenet that very much applies today. Even back in the 17th century, it was Don Quixote’s bee in his iron helmet, and he was said to be rendered mad by reading too many books on the subject of good manners. So he sets off with his trusty squire Sancho Panza and his lady Dulcinea, to make things right in the world from his titular hometown in La Mancha – where clearly he was stumbling on the foothills of dementia. During his confused and eventful journey, his worried family desperately try to get him home.

Terry Gilliam’s passion project has been two decades in the making. He had no idea that the saga would develop into its own quixotic tragedy. Keith Fulton’s 2002 documentary charts Gilliam’s doomed attempt blighted by the well-known chestnut the ‘rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain” – filming was abandoned when the set was flooded. This put the mockers on Gilliam’s cherished dream, but he pushed on undeterred and blissfully unaware that his passion project would soon develop into a nightmare.

Over the years, several actors have been attached to the film including John Hurt, Ewan MacGregor and even Robert Duvall. But not all attempts to bring Cervantes’ legendary novel to the screen have been so problematic. Some have been roaring tributes. In 1926 Danish director Lau Lauritzen cast the leading comedians of his era in the main roles: Carl Schendstrom and Harald Madsen were Denmark’s answer to Laurel and Hardy. Then Georg Wilhelm Pabst chose the esteemed Russian actor Feodor Chaliapin Sr to play the chevalier in Adventures of Quixote (1933), which appeared in three languages (German, French and English). Rafael Gil successfully followed, filming the story as a comedy in 1947 with Rafael Rivelles in the saddle as Quixote, and Juan Calvo as Sancho Panza. Orson Welles then made a valiant stab in his (unfinished) 1972 endeavour that followed a similarly tortuous path as Gilliam’s, starting in 1957. Typically, Welles run out of money and was forced to abandon filming, the project was later developed by Jesus Franco who released the dubbed version in 1992 to uninspired reviews. Robert Helpmann directed and also starred in the main role of his 1973 ballet version, with Rudolf Nureyev as Basilio. And David Beier’s 2015 version actually starred James Franco, but the less said about this one, the better. Needless to say, there have been numerous TV adaptations.

The curse continued to blight other films in Cannes 2018 when Quixote was finally screened. In a strange twist, Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov had won the Don Quixote award at Locarno for his film Yuri’s Day (2008) but was placed under house arrest, forbidden to attend the 71st Cannes festival to accompany his competition title Summer (Leto). And Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi shared the same plight. He first appeared in Cannes with his debut White Balloon (1995) which went on to win the Camera d’Or, the first major award won by an Iranian film at the world’s most famous film festival. He was forced to stay at home while his drama Three Faces screened in the main 71st competition. Luckily The Man Who Killed Dox Quixote survived its arduous journey and finally makes it to the Croisette but shlepped home empty handed, but has since won Spanish and Belgian awards for its production and make-up. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 31 JANUARY 2020  | FESTIVAL DE CANNES

 

Marrakech International Film Festival 2019 | Tributes Australian Film

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL is set to pay tribute to screen legend and Sundance pioneer Robert Redford in its 18th edition which also showcases an extensive retrospective of Australian Cinema. November 29th to December 7th 2019.

Marrakech Film Festival is one of the most glamorous events in the film festival circuit attracting professionals and film lovers from all over the World and honouring global film in all its forms. This year’s International Competition Jury is headed by Tilda Swinton, who has starred in over 70 feature films, most recently in The Personal History of David Copperfield, and Wes Anderson latest comedy drama The French Dispatch which will premiere early next year.

This year’s 18th edition taking place from November 29th until December 7th also plays host to an impressive tribute to Australian cinema, considered to be one of the oldest in the world. This year’s tribute is also the biggest get-together of Australian actors and directors ever to take place at a film festival. Australia has a tradition of a gutsy hard-nosed crime thrillers but also lyrical arthouse dramas and comedies that embody the infinite variety of the vast nation. From the hostile outback of Ayer’s Rock to the sophisticated urban centres Australia’s spectacular landscape provides a remarkable background for its visual arts. And although the average cinema-goer may only be able to remember Crocodile Dundee, the country has an impressive array of movies to draw on and one of the world’s most active film industries boasting memorable commercial and indie titles and directors as diverse as Baz Lurhmann, Gillian Armstong, Mel Gibson, Ivan Sen and film pioneer and screenwriter Lottie Lyell  (1890-1925) considered to be Australia’s first film star. During her short life she made an important contribution to the industry in the silent era with The Blue Mountains Mystery (1921) which she co-directed with Raymond Longford. Here is a selection of some outstanding Australian cult classics to put us in mind of what we might look forward during the Marrakech official selection in November 2019.

WALKABOUT (1971)

In Nicolas Roeg’s moving mystical coming of age drama an Aboriginal boy comes to the rescue to two teenagers abandoned by their father in the remote corner of the Outback. Walkabout is a bleak but beguiling feature that riffs on the theme of human kindness and cultural differences. Although Roeg and most of the cast are British, the film has been taken to Australias’s heart because it launched the remarkable career of Indigenous Australian actor David Gulpilil.

WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971)

Directed by Toronto born maverick Ted Kotcheff and also known as Outback, Wake in Fright kicked off the Australian New Wave and is now considered one of the most extraordinary Australian features ever made. Blending horror with an immersive character drama, it was ‘lost’ for many years, until veteran producer Anthony Buckley finally tracked it down in 20o4 in a Pittsburgh warehouse. Remastered and given a theatrical release and the Bluray treatment in 2014 (courtesy of Eureka) this is one film you simply must see with its standout performances from Donald Pleasence, Chips Rafferty and Sylvia Kay.

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975)

A mesmerising and unsolved mystery about a group of school girls who disappear during a school picnic on Hanging Rock. Peter Weir’s haunting drama stays in the memory with its luminous cast and glowering background of Ayer’s Rock. Based on the novel by Joan Lindsey it was adapted for the big screen – and I mean big – by Cliff Green.

GALLIPOLI (1981)

Another haunting tragedy that tells a poignant tale of war and guarantees a tearful audience. Set in Australia just before the First World War, it follows a group of Western Australian soldiers who will eventually meet their fate during the Gallipoli campaign on Turkish soil. Mel Gibson leads a cast of men whose lost innocence and dedication to duty continue to resonate nearly forty years later.

DEAD CALM (1989) not showing

Where would Australian cinema be without British-born Sam Neill and his leading lady Nicole Kidman. Alone on a yacht off the Great Barrier Reef they face up to a psychotic monster Billy Zane in this tensely gripping thriller.

ROMPER STOMPER (1992) not showing

Russell Crowe embodies stomping but he is an actor who can also do subtlety and infinite gentleness. Here in Geoffrey Wright’s urban thriller he does the former with gusto. Set in a working class Melbourne suburb, Romper Stomper sees a motley crew of neo-Nazi skinheads rise up against their changing neighbourhood with devastating consequences.

LANTANA (2001)

Kerry Armstrong, Anthony LaPaglia and Geoffrey Rush star in this taut and emotional thriller elegantly enveloped in a characterful study of human relationships in suburban Sydney. A dead body, a detective caught in flagrante, a psychiatrist whose own marriage is floundering: these are the elements that gentle stew for two engrossing hours in Ray Lawrence’s memorable mystery movie.

JAPANESE STORY (2003) not showing

In the Australian desert, a guide and a Japanese businessman who can’t stand each other are suddenly drawn together in an awkward situation that ends in tragedy. Toni Collette gives an outstanding performance as the guide in this memorable multi-award-winning psychological drama. Sue Brooks directs Alison Tilson’s brilliant script with aplomb.

THE PROPOSITION (2005) not showing

John Hillcoat directs a superb cast of Ray Winstone, Guy Pearce and Emily Watson in this bleak and feral outback Western scripted and scored by Nick Cave. What can go wrong? The answer is absolutely nothing. The Proposition won awards across the board for its thorny depiction of a criminal  family that sees an outlaw ordered to kill his older brother in order to save the life of his younger one.

ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010)

David Michod’s tense and brutal urban epic sees a mafia-style family locked in bitter conflict in 1980s Melbourne. Based on a real life Pettingill family it stars Oscar-nominated Jacki Weaver as a machiavellian matriarch playing each relative off against the other as she protects her 17 year old son (James Frecheville) without a shred of sentimentality.

SNOWTOWN (2011) not showing

With its unforgettable clanging score, Snowtown sent critics into a cold sweat. This Adelaide-based real crime thriller explores the descent into hell of a young man (Lucas Pittaway) at the hands of his charismatic mentor turned vicious serial killer, the infamous John Bunting – who went on to kill 11 people (chillingly played by Douglas Henshall). Snowtown was the feature debut of Justin Kurzel who  has gone on to deliver The Turning (2013), Macbeth (2015) and historical fact-based drama The True History of the Kelly Gang (2019).  

THE BABBADOOK (2014) not showing 

One of the best horror films in memory is Jennifer Kent’s truly terrifying and formally splendid psychological chiller. Melding a suspenseful narrative with finely crafted horror tropes, the film swept the board at the global film genre awards and is still popular with horror enthusiasts everywhere.

MAD MAX (1979)

Cinema goers didn’t know what had hit them when George Miller’s sadistic motor cycle thriller revved onto the big screen fuelled by murder and mayhem. It was a mesmerising experience and still is, with its odd combination of eccentric characters, stunning scenery and throat-grabbing barbarism that would spawn several sequels, but this was the weirdest yet.

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975)

The 1970s was a standout decade for Australian film not least because of the Peter Weir’s languorous mystery drama suffused with an eerie delicacy and based on Joan Lindsay’s novel that sees a group of school girls go missing on Valentine’s Day 1900 in the sizzling heat of summer. Starring Rachel Roberts, Helen Morse and Jacki Weaver, the drama went on to win a BAFTA for cinematography.

MY BRILLIANT CAREER (1979)

Judy Davis won a BAFTA for her performance as a writer and contemporary female role model Sybylla Melvyn in this 19th century set debut feature for Gillian Armstrong. It garnered awards across the board but went home empty handed from Cannes in the year of release.

THE YEAR MY VOICE BROKE (1987)

A young man (Noah Taylor) suffers teenage angst as his crush and best friend (Leone Carmen) falls in love with an older guy in John Duigan’s poignantly funny 1960s set coming of age drama. A budding Ben Mendelsohn triumphs as the thuggish rugby playing criminal whose violence sets off an irreversible chain of events.

A CRY IN THE DARK (1988)

Based on John Bryson’s novel Evil Angels, Meryl Streep inspires terrifying evil as she fights to prove her innocence in Fred Schepisi’s biopic drama about the woman whose child was supposedly killed by a dingo in the Australian Outback.

During this year’s festival a distinguished delegation of Australian actors and directors will make the trip to Marrakech to enjoy this exceptional tribute and take part in a range of stage appearances and lives events in the Moroccan capital and its lush locations.

MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 29 NOVEMBER – 7 DECEMBER 2019

 

The Irishman (2019) *****

Dir: Martin Scorsese | Wri: Steven Zaillian | Cast: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Bobby Cannavale, Jesse Plemons | US Crime Drama, 2019, 208mins

Much of the hype surrounding The Irishman has focused on the fact that it reunites Martin Scorsese with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci for the first time since 1995’s Casino. It also throws Al Pacino into the mix, and marks a return to the mob-infused crime dramas with which Scorsese made his name. The excitement is understandable – Scorsese made a string of iconic hits while working with De Niro, and it was through these that he established himself as one of the great American filmmakers. 

And yet… Scorsese’s body of work has a depth and breadth to it which is often obscured by a focus on certain titles (notably GoodFellas, 1990), and there was, perhaps, a fear that Scorsese’s return to this world might present if not a step backwards, at least a retread of ground already covered. 

Fortunately, such worries prove to be unfounded: the world of The Irishman may be familiar – it even touches on the mob’s involvement in Las Vegas, which formed the backbone of Casino – but the tone is something new: though not without Scorsese’s trademark humour, the film trades the baroque exuberance of his earlier work for a more reflective pace, closer to the ruminations of Silence (2016) than the crashing excess of Casino. 

Spanning multiple timelines set over several decades, The Irishman spends as much time examining the wiles of old age as the wilds of youth. In parts, the film almost plays like a eulogy: throughout, Scorsese uses titles to tell us how characters will die, and the film’s focus on death and aging seems like a lament for the end of an era – of a certain type of lifestyle, and a certain type of cinema. In the past, Scorsese has faced accusations that he glamorises mobsters, but here everyone seems to end up worn out, tired or dead, as if those are the only possible outcomes. The religious angst which has fuelled Scorsese’s work since Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967) has here transmuted into a nihilistic acceptance of life as it is.

The story itself is drawn from the nonfiction book I Heard You Paint Houses, by former investigator Charles Brandt, and follows Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran’s career as a hitman for the mob, painting houses with other people’s blood. After being introduced by head mobster Russell Bufalino (Pesci), Sheeran becomes right-hand man to Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and a loan-shark to the mob, supplying them with funds from the Union’s pension fund. As the decades pass, the mob’s machinations extend from the union to the White House, installing and removing presidents to suit their needs – an offhand remark about one of the Teamsters’ love of golf makes for some interesting contemporary commentary. 

Throughout the years, Sheeran’s conscience is troubled by disapproving glances from his daughter (for Sheeran has a personal family as well as his mobster family), but it is Sheeran’s friendships with Bufalino and Hoffa that really form the heart of the epic narrative, and which drive it towards its tragically moving conclusion. Given that the film serves, in so many ways, as a family reunion, it’s a fitting thematic thread and one which, thankfully, weaves a powerful tribute to the legacy of what’s come before it. Alex Barrett

NOW ON NETFLIX

 

Campo (2018) ***

Dir: Tiago Hespanha | Doc, Portugal 106′

At first a vast expanse of verdant pasture seems a bucolic paradise buzzing with bees, grazing sheep and deer. But appearances can be deceptive. Only a handful of people live here under strictly controlled conditions – for reasons that soon become obvious. At first Bees go on making honey and the lambing season also seems oblivious to the combative nature surrounding them. This is Alcochete, home to Europe’s largest military base, on the outskirts of Lisbon.

Clearly this place is not the rural idyll it appears to be. Quite to the contrary. Soldiers are  preparing for active combat:Bombs explode, shots ring out across the fields, and troops undergo mock incursions, often with fake blood. And their impact on the local environment gradually starts to take hold. Bees are dying, not in their hives, but because they cannot get back to them. Something in the atmosphere is adversely affecting their ability to navigate. Ironically, scientists have finding a way to create man-made bees who are capable of joining the war effort, and being used in combat missions. At the same time, a sheep is found dying, unable to give birth to her stillborn lamb. This is also seems counterintuitive to what nature originally intended when the gods looks down from the starry obsidian skies and created humanity in all its entirety.

Bringing his architectural sense of framing, lighting and visual awareness,  Hespanha directs a documentary feature with thematic concerns that feel atavistic yet totally contemporary in exploring the origins of the word ‘campo’. Often abstract and abstruse, Campo is nevertheless a spell-binding and often mundane film that contemplates the transcendental wonder of the universe and nature while also considering the baseness of man’s inhumanity towards his fellow man. Etymologically speaking ‘Campo’ is both a simple field (in Italian) and a perilous battlefield: the Campus Martius was an area of Rome dedicated to Mars, the God of War, who was parodoxically also the patron of agriculture. So this natural breeding ground where flora and fauna innocently thrive and procreate is also a place of warfare and death. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 1ST NOVEMBER 2019 |  PREMIERE Cinéma du Réel 15 – 24 MARCH 2019 | PARIS.

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019) ****

Dirs: Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz | Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern, Shia LaBeouf, Zak Gottsagen | US Comedy 93′

A buddy movie with some good laughs and a really warm heart that doesn’t seek the easy way out in depicting its Down’s Syndrome hero who makes a break for freedom confounding the odds.

Zack Gottsagen plays Zak, a young Down’s syndrome man with no family confined to living in a care home and sharing a bedroom with an old timer – a game Bruce Dern – in North Carolina. Zak may have his limits but he wants to live those to the full. A local wrestling school has captured his imagination although it appalls his carer Eleanor (Johnson), so with the help of his roommate he makes a bid for freedom, wearing only a pair of Y-fronts, hooking up with LaBeouf’s struggling fisherman Tyler – after spending the night under canvas on his boat.

Even hard-to-please cynics will enjoy this charming comedy. All the characters are convincing and appealingly fleshed out. Zak and his new friend Tyler make an oddly endearing couple – Zak is surprisingly tough under his vulnerable facade and so is the macho Tyler who is still mourning his brother – flashback scenes shows the two of them  in affectionate mellow-tinted musings.

The adventure they embark on is a picaresque-styled sortie with shades of Mark Twain. They eventually catch up with Zak’s wrestling heros (cameos from real-life fighter Mick Foley and Jake Roberts, in mufti.). And although Zak often comes a cropper in his white wellies, y-fronts and combat trousers he is a character who we laugh with, and never a figure of fun: A perfect role model for those with life-limiting conditions.

Gemini Man (2019) **

Dir.: Ang Lee; Cast: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong; China/USA 2019, 117 min.

Director Ang Lee has turned a screenplay by David Benioff, Billy Ray and Darren Lemke into a technical extravaganza without heart or soul.

Not even the combined firepower of Lee and his three writers can make a decent fist of this ham-fisted affair. The script has been on the back burner since 1965. In the Nineties, the late Tony Scott was supposed to direct it; Harrison Ford is one of many stars attached to the project. In the hands of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, it has now become a star vehicle for Will Smith, but why did Ang Lee – whose credentials include such classics as The Ice Storm – need to attach his name to such an undemanding, farcical pot boiler? 

After having killed 72 citizens for the Defence Intelligence Agency (thinly disguised acronym for CIA), Henry Brogan (Smith) is tired at 51 and looks forward to retirement. Needless to say that boss Clay Verris (Owen) does not like the idea, and sends Junior, Henry’s cloned double, a mere stripling of 23, to finish him off. Verris is not only into ordering assassinations, he is also a bio-tech tycoon who has assembled an army of AI fighters, who are superior to humans – apart from Henry. With fellow assassin Danny Zakarweski (Winstead) and pilot Baron (Wong), Henry fights his younger Self in Columbia, Budapest and finally Georgia, where the showcase show-down takes place, whilst Junior has the un-inviable task of determining who his father his: fellow assassin Henry or Bond super villain Verris.

The digitally rejuvenated Henry fighting his older self is interesting for about five minutes, then it goes the way of all gimmicks. The same goes for the 120 frames per second pace and the high-resolution 3D widescreen technique. As we experienced in Lee’s last outing (Billy Lynn’s long half-time Walk, 2016), the overall effect is like watching an old beta-max tape on a modern wide-screen TV. What ever DoP Dion Beebe’s contribution may be worth, this is a dumb, depthless and moronic spectacle. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 11 OCTOBER 2019

Joker (2019) **** Golden Lion Winner Venice 2019

Dir: Todd Phillips | Cast: Joaquin Pheonix, Robert De Niro
Joaquin Phoenix coruscates with desperate anger as a tortured mentally ill loner in Todd Phillips’ tale of the age old arch-nemesis. Imagine Taxi Driver ten years on without the heart and soul of Scorsese or Bernard Herrmann’s iconic 70s score; add some hyper violence and a dose of livid desperation and you have Joker, another rich character study not for the feint-hearted.

Robert De Niro also stars as a glib gameshow host Murray Franklin but this is Phoenix’s film and he is a firecracker as the disgruntled and delusional Arthur Fleck tending his ailing mother whilst trying to juggle various jobs, gradually losing his sanity. He is also cursed with a corrosive condition forcing him to cackle with laughter – uncontrollably and mostly inappropriately – whenever he is stressed or put upon. One such incident occurs in the opening scene where he is chased down and beaten up by kids who steal his sale placard.

Shocking in its sheer intensity, Joker is a film for everyone who has ever been scorned or short-changed, so that’s just about everyone. Joaquin Phoenix looks as if he nearly died preparing for the role, his emaciated body and strung out demeanour testament to the sheer dedication of an actor at the top of his game – thoughts of quitting should now be way behind him.

Phillips and Scott Silver’s script is not based on any of the DC Comics oeuvre, but its resonance will delight an eager fan base. In Gotham City, inspired by New York of the same era, Fleck is also fond of his role as a clown, and he is good at it. Strutting his stuff in the local children’s hospital but also imagining himself performing as a stand-up comedian – one of his jokes is “let’s hope my death makes more cents than my life”.

After the street punch up Fleck is lent a gun by a workmate, but foolishly incorporates it in his act at the hospital, a mistake that leads to his sacking and final down-spiralling. One night in the tube he becomes trigger happy when taunted by some City workers and is soon running for his life, the sheer payback exhilaration infecting the audience with complicit delight as he becomes everyone’s misguided ‘have a go hero’.

Without revealing the rest of the plot, let’s just say Arthur makes one bad choice after another. And when certain facts come to light about his family and background, he morphs into a fully fledged psychopath not caring what happens next – to him, or anybody else’s for that matter.

Phoenix brings a scathing humanity to a tragic soul in crisis. Even a romance with a neighbour Sophie (Zazie Beetz) seems to be a figment of his shattered psyche as he descends into a hellish underworld of his own making. Although technically brilliant you have to question the sheer level of the gratuitous violence. That said, this cuastic moral tale will leave everyone with a vague sense of satisfaction and sadness as Joaquin struts his stuff to Gary Glitter’s 1972 hit Rock and Roll, part 2. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 4 OCTOBER 2019

The Prey (2018) **

Dir.: Jimmy. Henderson; Cast: Gu Shangwei, Vithaya Pansringarm, Dy Sonita, Nophand Boonyai, Byron Bishop, Sahajak Boonthanakit; Cambodia 2018, 93 min.

Italian born director, co-writer and producer Jimmy Henderson (Jailbreak) may well lay claim to have delivered the first Cambodian action movie, but The Prey is a second rate blend of Irving Pichel’s The Most Dangerous Game, Predator and Hard Target. Henderson never avoids a cliché, if he can help it – making this debut at times rather tedious.

Chinese undercover cop Xin (Shangwei), is investigating a ‘phone scam involving Mainland Chinese customers in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. Captured by local police in a raid he is sent to a faraway prison with the Warden (Pansringarm) is less interested in rehabilitation, and more in hiring out his prisoners to be hunted down and killed Hunger Games style.

Released into the jungle Xin and the other victims are hunted down by Payak (Boonthanakit), Mat (Bishop) and Ti (Boonyai). Fortunately, and to keep the plot rolling, Xin is able to send off a signal to his superiors, who send in a rescue team which includes Li (Chinese supermodel Dy Sonata). There is a sub-plot with a rebel village controlled by the The Warden, but this narrative strain is quickly forgotten. Instead, booby traps; gruesome injuries; snapping twigs as well as unbelievable braveness and sadistic brutality takes over, to deliver a predictable outcome. 

The production values, including DoP Lucas Gath’s lively images and original angles, make this old-style slaughter feature slightly more bearable than the more recent, CGI controlled models. But that’s not saying not too much. AS

AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD FROM 7 OCTOBER 2019  

 

The Birdcatcher (2018) ***

Dir.: Ross Clarke; Cast: Sofie Boussnina, Arthur Hakalahti, Jacob Cedergen, Laura Birn; Norway/UK 2019, 100′.

Ross Clarke has adapted Trond Morten Venaasen’s script in this gripping thriller that uncovers a relatively unknown slice of Norwegian Second World War history. It follows an enterprising Jewish teenager who takes refuge in a farm belonging to a Nazi sympathiser in a bid to escape persecution and deportation. From collaboration to resistance, the local population’s reaction to their Nazi conquerors was not always clear-cut. And while some of the action pieces here feel unconvincing, strong performances make this an absorbing drama.

In 1942 Trondheim, Esther (Boussnina) dreams of becoming a Hollywood actress despite her humble beginnings. Her father has planned their escape to the USA, but Nazi raids on the Jewish population condemn Esther to a lonely struggle in the remote countryside, after escaping a deportation convoy.

She ends up at a farm house, dressed as a boy and calling herself Ula. Although the owner Johann (Cedergen) supports the Nazi occupation, he does little to help his son Aksel (Hakalahti), despite his disabilities. The only person who rumbles Esther is Johann’s wife Anna, who is having a affair with a Nazi officer, and keeps quiet about the girl in defiance of her husband. During a bloody shoot-out between Johann and his wife’s lover, Esther and Aksel try to escape on a sleigh over the frozen sea to Sweden. An epilogue set in Trondheim after the war delivers the final surprise.

Clarke uncovers some original takes on Nazi politics during the occupation. Johann goes with Esther to the local cinema where German propaganda films are casually screened alongside dance-features and bogus propaganda newsreels showing unanimous Norwegian support for their German occupiers. Boussnina is outstanding as Esther, and the rest of the ensemble offers convincing support. DoP John Christian Rosenlund creates an impressive sense of place, with glorious widescreen images and realistic shots of Nazi Party meetings. AS

ON RELEASE in Cinemas, Digital HD & DVD from 4th October 2019

 

 

 

Dogs of War (1980) **** Bluray release

Dir: John Irwin | US Thriller 118′

Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter) is a masterful presence as a brutal mercenary who must fight the ultimate battle – against his own conscience – in this powerful, energetic action thriller. Based on Frederick Forsyth’s paperback The Dogs of War, the screen adventure brilliantly captures the horror – and glory – of war, in an imagined African state of Zangar

Walken’s James Shannon is no pipe and slippers man – he only feels alive in the heat of armed conflict. After being captured and tortured while on reconnaissance on behalf of a British mining concern, he goes back to Africa with a vengeance, and a mission to invade the corrupt dictatorship and replace it with a set-up more friendly to the British. With him are a select bunch of well-trained buddies – in the shape of Tom Berenger, Paul Freeman, Hugh Millais and Jean Francois Stevenin. John Irvin’s feature debut is now on Blu-ray courtesy of Eureka. MT

ON RELEASE  14 October 2019

https://youtu.be/oaAh2tgOHcg

The King (2019) **** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir. David Michôd. US/Australia. 2019. 133mins

David Michôd’s The King re-imagines history to give a rather intriguing version of the story of Henry IV’s least favourite son Prince Hal, a Prince Harry style character who mends his ways to become serious about the business of running the kingdom and bringing glory to England at the Battle of Agincourt.

Although there is no mention of Shakespeare here, all the traditions are respected, the costumes are magnificent and the battle scenes spectacular. Even though we know what happened on that fateful day, Michôd and his co-writer Joel Edgerton – who also stars as Sir John Falstaff – embellish the story to deliver a solemnly gripping firecracker of a film that will make you “Cry God! For Harry, England and St George” and Brexit too, if you’re so inclined.

Timothée Chalamet is sombre and rather thoughtful with a cut glass English accent in the style of a David Lean wartime hero. All peaky and pale as Hal, his transformation into a King, on the death of his father (Ben Mendelsohn), sees him exuding newfound charisma and integrity in a gentle way – Chalamet gives a performance of vulnerable allure lighting up every scene. The screen time shared with his trusted friend and ally Falstaff makes this one of the most engaging versions, Edgerton bringing a warm and witty confidence to his Sir John.

The trump card is played by Robert Pattinson as a sneering and flirty Dauphin with a tousled mop of hair and a perky French accent that would make Macron proud.

The elegant script allows plenty of time for philosophising as each powerful lord gives his liege the benefit of well-formed opinion as to the merits of spoiling for battle with France after the King is given a cricket ball as a coronation present by the Dauphin. Evidence of an assassination plot come to light courtesy of a courtier William (Sean Harris) – a decision he will live to regret: this sylph-like newly-crowned Monarch has a fist of iron and a steely resolve behind his boyish exterior, and this comes through in impetuous bursts as the story unfolds.

The battle scenes unleash their bloody mayhem with a hail of longbow arrows and a clash of steel armour and military might as blood soaks the muddy Autumn fields of Pas de Calais in 1415. The strategy is a good one explained calmly by Falstaff in his moment of glory.  This should be experienced on the large screen but sadly The King is bound for Netflix.

The female roles go to Lily-Rose Depp as the bony-faced French princess who makes her caustic intentions clear as Henry’s bride. Tara Fitzgerald has a cameo as the cantankerous  barmaid and thorn in the bibulous Falstaff’s side.

On the eve of battle he proclaims in a timely speech that still holds true today : “I die here or I die of the bottle in Eastcheap — I think this makes for a better story.” And given the parlous state of England’s care homes dying with glory seems a more sensible idea. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 August – 7 September 2019

Comes a Horseman (1978) *** Blu-ray release

Dir: Alan J Pakula | Western | US 118′

Alan J Pakula made some outstanding films – COMES A HORSEMAN was not one of them but certainly entertains as an impressive modern day (1940s) Western with a remarkable cast and crew. The Blu-ray release positively gleams in its vibrant Technicolor scenery of Westcliffe Colorado; Flagstaff, Arizona and the Coconino National Forest, brilliantly brought to life by the inimitable Gordon Willis.

Jane Fonda and James Caan play Ella Connors and ‘Buck’ Athearn, Montana ranch-owners who join forces against the depredations of her ex-lover, Jason Robards’ ruthless J R Ewing determined to increase his empire no matter what. In the opening scene he confronts her when the dust has settled, taunting her with the possibility of a re-union. The onscreen chemistry between them crackles. An interesting foray into Western territory then, but certainly not as strong as his thrillers.

The film won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for stuntman Richard Farnsworth in the role of a craggy cowhand called Dodger, although another stunt man Jim Sheppard was killed when a horse that was dragging him veered off course. And the script also goes off course slightly too despite Pakula’s able direction. His best known film Klute (1971) was another collaboration with Jane Fonda, and he would go on to make more stylish thrillers such as Sophie’s Choice; Presumed Innocent and The Pelican Brief during the course of a career which concluded with Brad Pitt starrer The Devil’s Own (1997). MT

OUT ON BLURAY FROM 16 SEPTEMBER 2019

 

 

 

 

Kursk: The Last Mission (2018) **

Dir.: Thomas Vinterberg; Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Lea Seydoux, Artemy Spiridonov, Colin Firth, Peter Simonischek, Max von Sydow; France/Belgium/Luxembourg 2018, 117 min.

Based on the true story of the Kursk submarine tragedy of 2000 in which 188 men lost their lives, Kursk: The Last Mission is a rather surprising choice for Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt), whose adaption of Robert Moore’s factual story A Time to die, written for the screen by Robert Rodat (Private Ryan), has all the hallmarks of a Luc Besson inspired would-be Hollywood production. This narrative of the nuclear-powered submarine disaster which befell the Kursk in August 2000 in the Barents Straight, is short on truth and rather overbearing of masculinity and clichés.

In this mega European disaster feature we meet the hero Mikhail Kalekov (Schoenaerts) on home ground: pregnant wife Tanya (Seudoux) and son Mischa (Spiridonov) are the lively family who play around, not knowing that disaster lurks around the corner. The crew of the Kursk is introduced as a good natured bunch – only interested in getting the alcohol for a team members wedding, which Mikhail organises, paying part of the bill with his watch. On August 12th disaster strikes: two explosions (caused by a faulty weld) occur, leaving only 23 of the 115 men crew alive. Stonewalling by the Russian authorities – they even invented a collision with a Nato submarine as a course for the accident – meant that the survivors died a slow death, since the help of British and Norwegian rescue teams were postponed, until it was too late.      Unfortunately, Firth as British naval attaché David Russell has more in common with a Victorian counterpart, and Russian Admiral Grudzinsky (Simonischek) ”is on the outlook for an enemy”, but does not now his identity. President Putin gets away “with being on holiday for most of the time” – even though he clearly had a hand in the avoidable tragedy, but particularly in the incident with the wife of one of the victims.

DoP Anthony Dod Mantle tries his best to save the heavy handed direction, his images are halfway between apocalyptic and eerie-romantic. Particularly the oxygen-cartridge retrieval scene is a masterpiece – the photographer is the only production crew member who can hold his head high. Overall this feature is mostly interested in simple male moral boosting: songs more at home on the terraces of a football stadium replace any analysis of this technology disaster, which was the result of scandalous political motives. AS

Kursk: The Last Mission in Cinemas and on Digital HD 12 July 2019

      

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) ***

Dir.: Michael Dougherty; Cast: Kyle Chandler, Vera Famiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Ken Watanabe; USA 2019, 132 min.

Godzilla goes out for walkies for the 35th outing for Godzilla since Japanese director Ishiro Honda created the dinosaur’s debut feature in 1954. Nowadays, Godzilla doesn’t only trample all over global cities, but has morphed into humankind’s helper – luckily still destroying everything in sight.

Michael Dougherty (Krampus) works hard with his co-writers Shields and Borenstein to find a storyline that joins up the intervals between Godzilla’s fights with less human-friendly titans, like the three-headed King Gidorah, but his family-friendly plot is dwarfed by the mammoth action set pieces.

Doctors Mark (Chandler) and Emma Russell (Famiga) have co-invented the Orca sonar device, which enables them (and their employer Monarch, a worldwide technology giant), to synthesize the cries of various titans, so that they can communicate with them. Their teenage daughter Madison (Brown), complains about their parents, still hankering after her older brother, who died in some titan related accident. Her parents are divorced and Madison lives with her mother, a firm believer that the titans should “clean up the world”, so that the planet can heal itself – never mind its denizens, who are after all responsible for the mess!.

This sounds like Thanos from the Avenger, but eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Dance), wants the same, and it is not quite clear why he has to kidnap mother and daughter. Anyhow, the latter escapes, and via the sound-system of Fenway Park Baseball Stadium in Boston, communicates on her own with the titans, Dad leading a team of international scientists to help Godzilla in his fight against his enemies like Rodan, the dragon and Morah, a larvae, who turns into a luminous super moth.

With Godzilla down and out on the bottom of the ocean, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Watanabe) takes it on himself, to save humankind, getting Godzilla back to life with a shot of nuclear radiation. Well you might guess where all this is leading…

The family saga not withstanding, this is a great action feature, which has to be seen on a very big screen. The production values are as stunning as the logic of the scientific troupe. And to make everyone happy, we overhear the scientists whispering to another,  “thank heavens, Godzilla is on our side – but for how long?” Might this lead to the return of the bad monster of old in the next instalment?  For everyone reliving their childhood an absolute must! AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Diego Maradona (2019) **** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Asif Kapadia | Doc, UK 120′

Asif Kapadia is no stranger to Cannes. His Cannes biopic Amy went on to win an Oscar and became the highest grossing British documentary after its Cannes premiere in 2015, and was even more popular than his 2010 biopic Senna. DIEGO MARADONA rounds off his trilogy about child geniuses and fame. Football fanatic Kapadia is clearly fascinated by the Argentine football legend’s charisma, low cunning and leadership, but mostly by his sheer ability to bounce back from the lows in his career: “He was always the little guy fighting against the system, and he was willing to do anything to use all of his cunning and intelligence to win.” This all footage foray blends over 500 hours of grainy media coverage with home video material to transform Maradona’s story into an adrenaline fuelled two hours that sees the cheeky mummy’s boy from a poor barrio in Buenos Aires transformed into a charismatic winner whose undiluted hubris was bound to send him Icarus-style on a meteoric mission to the sun. Crucially Kapadia’s film is about both sides of the megastar’s personality: the affectionate insecure slumdog and the epic hero who would finally crash to earth. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | GOLDEN EYE | 14-25 MAY 2019

Les Miserables (2019) Cannes Film Festival 2019 ***

Dir: Ladj Ly | Drama France 102′

Not to be confused with Victor Hugo’s 1862, Les Miserables is in a way a 21st update of the milieu where the French classic took place. With echoes of TV’s Law & Order Ly channels the anger and malaise of modern city life into his contemporary story, that kicks hard against the system.

Opening with documentary footage showcasing the national unity leading up to France’s 2018 World Cup victory, to the headline “There are no bad plants or bad men; there are only bad cultivators,” is an apposite one that could apply to dogs and children as well.

This good cop, bad cop urban thriller follows a day in the life of officer Stéphane (played by Damien Bonnard), who’s recently fetched up the backwater of Montfermeil from the almost genteel by comparison town of Cherbourg. Ly – who directed and co-wrote the debut feature from his own short film – grew up in this badass council estate and we soon find out that the cops are as venal as many of the locals they victimise. This soon emerges when Stephane is tasked with shadowing two Anti-Crime Squad officers, Chris (played by the distinctly unappealing (co-writer) Manenti, a really nasty piece of work, and his black sidekick Gwada (Djebril Zonga) who, interestingly, also abuses his power, and almost manages to corrupt Stephane’s straightforwardness and strong sense of public duty. The trio roam around the neighbourhood where drug dealers are free to peddle their wares and kids run wild. Meanwhile the local Muslims try to go about their business, and a petty criminal called Issa, who has stolen a baby lion from the circus, nearly loses his eye when Gwada fires a flash-ball gun further adding to mayhem. Clearly Ly is playing things up for dramatic effect but it also transpires that this community has more or less been abandoned by the authorities for so long that it has developed its own dog eat dog existence. And this sad fact is portrayed with a great deal of humour and humanity by Ly and his co-writers Alex Manenti and .Giordano Gederlini.

Julien Poupard’s camera captures the area warts and all with his brilliant images, often from the officers’ moving car and this is amplified by drone footage, adding considerably to the gritty allure of this everyday story of life in a place where little has seemingly changed in nearly 200 years. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 14-25 May 2019

Bull (2019) *** Un Certain Regard

Dir: Annie Silverstein | Drama | 104′

Annie Silverstein’s feature debut is muscular filmmaking at its best: high on atmosphere the enigmatic narrative ebbs and flows but there’s no major dramatic heft just plenty of pulsating moments of tension.

The story centres on 14-year-old protagonist, Kris (Amber Havard), who has no father to speak of and a mother (Sara Albright) in prison; without anyone to guide her she hangs out with lowlifes in a downtrodden community — directionless and full of doubt. There are shades of The Rider and Bullhead here but none of that strong storytelling.

Guided by her grandmother (Keeli Wheeler) while her mother’s behind bars, she also takes care of her little sister. Her pit bull terrier menaces and kills the chickens belonging to her African-American neighbour, almost getting her a criminal record.  Abe (a towering Rob Morgan) decides not to press charges, on the proviso that Kris agrees to help out around the house. Abe was once a Bull Rider pro, but now works as a rodeo protection advisor, bating the bulls so they chase the cowboys. Naturally, he’s a hardbitten but appealing character and there’s a terrific scene where he stares down a bull as it cowers visibly in its pen. The focus gradually moves towards Abe and he carries the film along with Kris, who exudes vulnerability but also teenage nous.

BULL is certainly a powerful first film, so perhaps Silverstein will emerge with a stronger narrative next time, building on this impressive start with its appealing cinema vérité style. MT

UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Arctic (2018) **

Writer-Dir: Joe Penna | Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smaradottir | Drama | 93’

A macho Mads Mikkelsen is marooned in Arctic nothingness in Joe Penna’s dialogue free survival saga. You could almost call ARCTIC a road movie, but there isn’t a road to speak of. And this is not really a two hander either because the woman Mads tries to save – when her own aircraft crashes trying rescue him – is just a concussed and grunting victim he feels duty bound to take with him on his mission to reach safety in the snowy wilderness of craggy peaks and perilous caverns.

Moving mountains to get her to hospital is an experience as gruelling for Mads as it since for us viewers, if you haven’t already drifted off in the opening stages. If you do remain awake, there is no backstory or attempt at characterisation to make you care whether either of the travellers makes it home. Barren of landscape and of narrative, ARCTIC follows Mads as he moves in a slow circle, due to his poor map-reading skills, after etching an enormous SOS in the snow. The only brief moment of drama is derived from seeing a Polar bear deprived of his dinner when our hero hides in a cave.  Meanwhile Mads develops clever ways of catching and eating raw fish, a sight almost as unpalatable as Joseph Trapanese’s screeching score. 

Even Stakhanov would be proud of the work Mads puts in, and his perseverance in getting the injured woman out of danger as he drags her up hill and down dale without a by your leave, and certainly no encouragement from his human bundle. Yet he never gives up hope until the final showdown where he sets off a flare which is totally ignored, leaving him to trudge on tirelessly through the elements. Mikkelsen’s grunting performance has a strange humour to it, matched only by the moment when he catches sight of an artic flower and then rapidly disappears through a pothole. Marvellous stuff. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 10 MAY 2019

Beyond the River (2018) ***

Dir.: Craig Freimond; Cast: Lemogang Tsipa, Grant Swanby, Emily Child, Kgosi Mongake; South Africa 2017, 110 min.

Beyond the River is a conventional real-life sporting feature, with redemption written all over it. Director/co-writer Craig Freimond (Material) doesn’t ignore the social inequalities in today’s South Africa, but his emotional pathos and seductive sentimentalism reduces any realism to a minimum.

Based on the true story of canoeists Siseko Ntondini and Priers Cruickshanks –  played as Duma (Tsipa) and Steve (Swanby) – who won Gold medals in the 2014 Dasi endurance race, Freimond develops a formulaic structure, showing the emotional struggle both men have to overcome. Duma, in his twenties, lives with his family in a dilapidated hut in a black poor, crime-ridden neighbourhood. After the death of his mother, he had to give up on his ambition. Steve is more than ten years older than his partner, and lives in a middle class flat in the capital – but is unhappily married to Annie (Child). We later learn that Steve wa partly responsible for the accidental death of their son, and has since repressed any memory of him, forcing Annie to leave him. The canoe races are a splendid spectacle even though  Freimond uses a great deal of 70s style slow-motion, in keeping with genre rules.

Spectacular visuals save this from being just another humdrum human interest story fuelled by male testosterone and empty gestures. Tsipa and Swanby share a compelling on screen  chemistry and this fuels the rather overblown narrative, Child taking to the role of cheer-leader, like in some 50s boys own feature. Beyond the River just about passes as decent entertainment even though the male heroics feel old-fashioned and repetitive. AS

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTION ARTHOUSE CINEMAS from 27 April 2019     

Dragged Across Concrete (2018) ***

Dir: S Craig Zahler | Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn | Thriller | US, 16o;

S Craig Zahler’s latest thriller lacks the slick, pared-down momentum of his previous outing Brawl in Cell Block 99. Overlong and often ponderous it nevertheless carries some weight in the social message it pushes forward. But two hours and 40 minutes is pushing it too far.

Mel Gibson (Lurasetti) and Vince Vaughn (Ridgeman) are cops who decide to play some criminals at their own game by disturbing a suspect’s love nest during a drug raid, giving him a bloody nose. Their boss (Don Johnson) gets to hear about it from a neighbour’s video footage, and decides to suspend them. Both have major family commitments so they turn the tables on the law to raise some much needed spondulix. Ridgeman’s plan is to make a quick buck by staking out a local safe house, and stashing aside some filthy lucre. Lurasetti is not keen on the plan, but goes along for the ride.

Suffice to say, it all goes pear-shaped and there follows a rather drawn out denouement involving another strand to the storyline. The action sequences are entertaining, particularly the one involving the slow dissemination of their vehicle. And it’s quite clear, once again, where Zahler’s sympathies lie. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 19 APRIL 2019

Yuli (2018) ***

Dir: Icíar Bollaín | Carlos Acosta, Santiago Alfonso, Carlos Enrique Almirante, Keyvin Martinez, Laura De la Uz | Biopic Drama 104

Cuba is the dazzling backdrop to this ‘all singing all dancing’ traditionally-styled biopic that vivaciously explores the rags to riches route to the international stage of its best known living export Carlos Acosta, now an celebrated ballet dancer. Based on his 2007 memoir No Way Home, it stars Acosta himself looking back on a career that has gone from minor to major striking nearly every thematic chord in life’s libretto from childhood poverty to paternal domination, racial discrimination, political turmoil and self realisation through artistic endeavour, under the glare – and glory of Castro’s regime.

Teaming up for the third time with her English husband and scripter Paul Laverty (I, Daniel Blake) Spanish director Icíar Bollaín (The Olive Tree) creates the irrepressibly vibrant milieu of modern Cuba where Acosta is seen rehearsing for a show that chronicles his life in the medium of dance. He is then transported back – by means of a red-bound scrapbook – to memories of his childhood where as ‘Yuli’ the cheeky young Acosta (Nuñes), named after the Cuban Santéria religion, is growing up in an impoverished barrio of Havana, with his white mother Maria (Perez) and his black father Pedro (Alfonso) who we first meet dragging Yuli away from a brilliant break-dancing routine with his pals.

The draconian Pedro has set his sights on better things for the wayward whippersnapper, and soon he is forcing him into a formal training despite the boy’s natural inclination to join a football pitch rather than the stage of the respectable Cuban School of Ballet where he soon fetches up, his talent capturing the imagination of his teacher Chery (De la Uz), who encourages him into a strict regime of training.

The years go by and the grown-up Carlos (Keyvin Martínez) finds himself travelling to London to take up an offer he soon manages to refuse, missing the warmth of his native Cuba which is by now in political meltdown. Back home, his father and Cheryl point him in the direction of dance rather than ballet – despite an approach from the Royal Ballet.

Laverty’s script tiptoes lightly over Maria of the rest of the family – alluding to mental illness for his older sister Berta (Doimeadíos) – but no love stories for Carlos, despite his popularity with the opposite sex. Knowing how well-received father/son relationships are (Boyhood, Field of Dreams etc) maybe Laverty and Bollain have decided to put Carlos and Pedro in the limelight of a story of male inspiration, particularly as it is a black one, although the decision to have Pedro give a diatribe on the slavery question in Cuba seems awkward, and strangely misplaced.

Bollaín injects plenty of joie de vivre into this sun-filled optimistic portrait with its terrific dance routines and sweeping cinematography. And although Laverty’s script sometimes follows a schematic road the performances overcome this, with Olbera Nuñes and Acosta himself the standouts. Yuli provides flamboyant entertainment for ballet lovers and mainstream audiences alike, enlivened by the presence of Acosta having so much fun. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 8 April 2019 | WORLD PREMIERE SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

The Sisters Brothers (2018) ****

Dir: Jacques Audiard | Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, John C Reilly, Riz Ahmed, Jake Gyllenhaal | Western | 120’

The Sisters Brothers is a whip-cracking Gold Rush buddy movie that mines a rich vein of gold-plated themes from greed and fatherly dysfunction to the impact of industrialisation on the Mid-West delivered courtesy of Thomas Bidegain’s witty co-adaptation of Patrick Dewitt’s novel.

Jacques Audiard won the Palme d’Or in 2015 with Dheepan. The Sisters Brothers couldn’t be more different. Essentially a feelgood Western for the thinking man, this textured character-piece trots along briskly in 1850s Oregon where the brothers make their entrance in an impressive opening scene lit only by gunshots in the pitch black dusky night. Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly exude a fiery chemistry as the siblings ensuring there’s never a dull moment drama-wise. They play hired assassins pursuing two gold diggers – Gyllenhaal and Ahmed with a new prospecting trick up their sleeves – on behalf of their tricky boss The Commodore.

 The wide-open spaces of ‘Oregon’ are surprisingly lush thanks to the Romanian/Spanish settings and the campfires glow with some good-looking night-time scenes and sparky shootouts.

Joaquin Phoenix and Riz Ahmed add a twist of psychological angst to John C Reilly’s swaggering all American style and the European sensibilities of the directing team make this an invigorating addition to the genre, while those who appreciate the classic style of John Ford and Sergio Leone will go home with a few entertaining nuggets. MT 

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE from 5 April 2019  VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | Winner Best Director 2018

Minding the Gap (2018) ****

Dir: Bing Liu | Doc US, 83′

Skateboarding is the lifeblood and unifying element for a group of young guys in Bing Liu’s terrific Oscar nominated debut.

They all grew up together in Rockford, near Chicago, where Liu began filming their adventures as the boys moved into early adulthood. It seems they all had difficult backgrounds, in one way or another. But Minding the Gap skates over these in its joyful kinetic playfulness.

Bing Liu’s fluid camera keep pace with the sporty action as the boarders refuse to be diminished by their setbacks, each scene froths with energy and alacrity. And even though the stories of family dysfunction and continuing anxiety are shared there is always at positive feel to the encounters. Clearly boarding is a hobby that makes their adrenaline flow with its mix of risk, dexterity and joy de vivre. In the meantime what emerges is a rich social tapestry of contemporary working class youth in all its pain and glory.

Each story slowly emerges through the wizardry of the skateboarding sequences as Zack Mulligan and his girlfriend Nina, Keire Johnson and the Liu himself share a common experience of camaraderie and togetherness that gets them through the days and offers focus on their lives and futures.

Keire had a controlling father who is now dead. Liu’s life was dominated by a coercive bullying father who manhandled his mother and took away his confidence. Zack has just become a father with his girlfriend Nina, but they are too young and marked by their own difficult childhoods to fall into parenthood easily, and there are trust and vulnerability issues at play, which gradually become resolved in the final segment.

There is a freshness and an appealing innocence to all these encounters. And  combined with the upbeat tone of the documentary Minding the Gap makes for a satisfying and enjoyable experience. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 22 MARCH 2019

A Private War (2018) ****

Dir.: Matthew Heinemann; Cast: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander, Stanley Tucci; UK/US 2018, 110 min.

As bio-pics go, Matthew Heinemann City of Ghosts) makes a decent stab at showing the ambivalence of his courageous real life heroine, this case American-born war correspondent Marie Colvin (1956-2012). Strangely enough, it’s not the war scenes that look artificial, but the scenes of Colvin’s private life that sometimes look downright clumsy. But Rosamund Pike’s brilliance as Colvin overshadows everything.

Bookended by scenes from Homs (Syria), where Colvin was targeted and killed by Syrian forces in 2012, just after giving a passionate report about the Assad’s Syrian genocide, Heinemann goes about the last twelve years in Colvin’s life with a parallel montage of her private and professional life. Having lost an eye covering the war between the Tamil Tigers and the Government in Sri Lanka in 2001, she returned to London to receive the Foreign Reporter of Year award for her work at The Sunday Times, whose editor Sean Ryan (Hollander) is featured thoughout the narrative as an personal friend. (The real Colvin was married twice to Patrick Bishop, and to war correspondent Juan Carlos Gummuccio, who killed himself). After discovering the mass graves of POWs from Kuwait in Iraq, meeting freelance photographer Paul Conroy (Dornan) and reporting from Marjah in Afghanistan, Colvin had a mental breakdown, and sought help for PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). A wealthy new lover (Tucci) offered her a way out, but she returns to work  with Paul and does one of the last interviews with Mohamed Gaddafi, whom she had met as a very young journalist, before her last assignment in Homs.

Based on the Vanity Fair article by Marie Brenner and written by Arash Amel, Private War shows Colvin as having an addictive personality: to alcohol (since the age of fifteen), nicotine and war, but not necessarily in that order. The recurring images of the horror she witnessed – one aspect of PTSD is that these images are not ‘stored’ in the part of the brain where normal memories reside, but have ‘intruded’ in the here and now – making everything worse. Colvin was afraid of growing old – perhaps even more than of dying young. She had an image of herself that she needed to defend and save at all cost. And wanted to filter out the horrors of war, for her readers. But she was also aware of the nature of these readers: a pampered Western audience, ready to cry and give donations, but then equally prepared to forget and return to the safety of their lives. Colvin suffered from these contradictions as much as she suffered from her own: she wanted to make a difference, but at times she could only function with the help of drugs and casual sex – “I always end up with the psychopaths”. But she was a noble warrior, and deserves to be remembered. Heinemann got it just right: A private War is not a monument, but a tribute. AS

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 16 February 2019

 

The 12th Man (2017) ***

Dir.: Harald Zwart; Cast: Thomas Gullestad, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Marie Blockhus, Mads Sjograd Pettersen; Norway 2017, 135 min.

Dutch director Harald Zwart, best known for Agent Cody Banks and The Karate Kid, surprises  us with a gritty WWII feature that lionises intrepid Norwegian resistance fighter Jan Baalsrud, who escaped the Nazis in his home country after an ordeal lasting months. Already filmed in 1957 as Nine Lives, Zwart shows how the solidarity of the Norwegian people was key in helping their courageous countryman to survive, against the odds.

Baalsrud (Gullestad) is part of a twelve man commando sent from Great Britain to Norway, to sabotage the airfields of the Nazi occupants. But the Norwegians are caught before having time to use their explosives, and all but Baalsrud are captured, tortured and shot. Even though Baalsrud has been shot in the foot, he escapes into the treacherous mountain landscape where  two brothers in the small town of Manndalen (Troms County) come to his aide, SS Officer Kurt Stage (Meyers) is in hot pursuit. Meyers prides himself in having caught every resistance fighter in his region, but he becomes so obsessed with Baalsrud that his Ego cannot countenance a defeat. After hiding under rocks and in a hut in the mountains, starving and fighting gangrene, Baalsrud finally makes his intrepid way to Sweden.

Very much in the vain of Fred Zinnemann’s The Seventh Cross (1944), based on a novel by Anna Seghers recounting the fate of seven KZ inmates who flee the camp, The 12th Man is all about making the right choices: The men and women of Manndalen risked their lives to help Baalsrud so that he could become a symbol for their resistance against the Nazis. In real life, Stage was executed in 1947, whilst Baalsrud, who died in 1988, is buried next to Aslak Fossvool in Manndalen, played in the film by T.P. Munch, who fed him in his rocky hide-out but died of diphtheria four weeks after Baalsrud’s escape.

Zwart pulls out all the stops in an action drama that really maxes out the Germans’ brutality against their courageous counterparts. DoP Geir Hartly Andreassen triumphs both in close-up and in the spectacular panoramas of the towering mountains, the final escape is a well-choreographed masterpiece. Whilst relying on action and adventure elements, The 12th Man always keeps us questioning which side we would have chosen. AS

The 12th Man in select Cinemas & Digital HD 4th January and on DVD 7th January

aKasha (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

Dir: Hajooj Kuka | Cast: Abdallah Ahur, Ganja Chakado, Ekram Marcus, Kamal Ramadan | Drama | 78’

Akasha is the feature debut of South Sudanese documentarian Hajooj Kuka, Set in the Nuba Mountains in 2011, the energetic unorthodox comedy love story plays our over 24 hours in a war-torn rebel-held area of Sudan where the soldiers are keen to recruit young men to fight for their cause. Cockily charismatic Adnan (Ramadan) is not having any of it: a revolutionary both in his attitude to life and his guise as a soldier revelling in having shot down a MiG fighter plane with his favourite AK47 called ‘Nancy’. In order to avoid being corralled into the round-up (or “kasha”), he and his mate Absi (Chakado) decide to dress as women, much to the chagrin of Adnan’s long-suffering girlfriend Lina. But that’s not all Adnan, also experiments with the local weed to surreal effect in a flip and fun-loving and colourful caper that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is refreshingly anti-war. MT

IN COMPETITION | MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018  | LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

Die Hard (1988) ****

Dir: John McTiernan | Roderick Thorp | US Action thriller | Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia | 132′

This ’80s hostage thriller with a soft-boiled soul ushered in the contemporary crime blockbuster, as we now know it. A tribute to Alan Rickman’s sharp-suited charismatic criminal with a voice of liquid gold. On Christmas Eve, Bruce Willis’ New York detective John McClane arrives in Los Angeles with the aim of reconciling with his estranged wife, Holly (a voluptuous Bonnie Bedelia). When the party is stormed by a group of hell-raising hostage-takers, led by the Rickman’s Hans Gruber. McClane goes out on a limb on a one man crusade. What follows is a slow-burning, skin of the teeth showcase showdown where Willis wages a one-man war against the criminals  attempt to rob his wife’s Japanese employer, whilst they occupy the LAPD and the FBI.  McClane battles on to the last in an auction thriller characterised by its astonishing performances  and dramatic action sequences rooted in reality rather than fake-ness, fantasy and CGI. MT

ON RE-RELEASE NATIONWIDE COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS AT THE FOLLOWING VENUES

Assassination Nation (2018) **

Dir.: Sam Levinson; Cast: Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Abra, Bill Skarsgaard, Joel McHale, Cullen Moss, Colman Domingo; USA 2018, 110 min.

Director/writer Sam Levinson (Another Happy Day) pictures small town America at its most obnoxious; sex, violence and social media run riot – his heady mixture of Heathers, The Purge and Twin Peaks suffers first and foremost from dishonesty, swerving wildly from his critique of  Trump-led anti-feminism.

Set in modern Salem, Massachusetts, the witches in question are actually four 18 year-old High School girls: Lily (Young), a cheap Lolita caricature (her socks are imprinted with Fatal Attraction), and her best friends Sarah (Waterhouse),Bex (Nef) and Em (Abra). We meet Lily first in the office of principal Turrell (Domingo), defending her nude drawing of a young woman, hailed as ”pornographic” by the principal. Lily defends herself well, arguing that pure nudity can never be pornographic. So far so good. Lily and her three friends participate in the usual social media frenzy, enjoying it like everyone does. Her boyfriend (Sarsgaard) is a bullying jackass – then suddenly the narrative veers off into Lynchian territory with the introduction of Nick (McHale), a father whose daughter Lily babysits. The two exchange lurid messages, with ‘Daddy’ proposing all sorts of nasty implications. Then the conservative town mayor Bartlett (Moss) is outed as being in love with men, while wearing female stockings. Next on the list is principal Turrell, who is accused of being a paedophile because he posts photos of his little daughter on the net. The whole atmosphere suddenly morphs into wild violence, Lily and her friends being accused of being responsible for the revelations. Meanwhile, the townsmen don masks featuring the American flag, and hunt down the four girls who look just like Little Riding Hoods masquerading as a feminist death squad.

Having leered voyeuristically at the teenage girls for half the feature, Levinson then suddenly suddenly criticises the male gaze as anti-feminist. But it now seems that the female teenagers love violence as much as their male counterparts. The worst aspect of this thrill-seeker is that Levinson answers the Trumpian message of resurrected male superiority with even more violence, this time perpetrated by females. His cheap blood bath (literally) is merely an excuse to direct mayhem – and he’s brilliant at it. But it degrades any serious confrontation with anti-feminism in a male free-for-all revenge bonanza. AS

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 23 NOVEMBER 2018

   

Russian Film Week 2018

Russian Film Week is back for the third year running. From 25 November to 2 December the event will take place in London at BFI Southbank, Regent Street Cinema, Curzon Mayfair and Empire Leicester Square before heading to Edinburgh, Cambridge and Oxford.

The eight-day festival celebrates a selection of award-winning new dramas, documentaries and shorts, bridging the gap between Russian cinematography and the West with the aim of building bridges rather than enforcing tensions. The festival will culminate in the Golden Unicorn Awards. This year’s selection has certainly upped its game and comes thoroughly recommended. Particularly worth seeing is Rashomon re-make THE BOTTOMLESS BAG, a magical mystery drama, in black and white.

Russian Film Week opens with Avdotya Smirnova’s prize-winning historical drama THE STORY OF AN APPOINTMENT (prize for Best Script at Russia’s main national film festival Kinotavr). Based on real life events, it follows an episode from Leo Tolstoy’s life. The opening night will be held at the largest screen in the UK – Empire IMAX Leicester Square.

Other seasonal highlights include Kirill Serebrennikovэ’s Cannes awarded biographical film LETO (Summer) and SOBIBOR, Russia’s foreign-language film Oscar submission 2018. The film is the debut feature for actor-turned-director Konstantin Khabensky, and focuses on events in the titular Nazi extermination camp during 1943. The film also stars Christopher Lambert and Karl Frenzel. Danila Kozlovsky, known for his role in BBC series McMafia (2018) and numerous Russian blockbusters, will present his debut project, sports drama TRENER (‘Coach’).

The festival c Golden Unicorn Awards ceremony, including the Best Foreign Film About Russia. British actor Brian Cox will head up the jury. The awards ceremony is in aid of Natalia Vodianova’s Naked Heart Foundation.

Russian Film Week and the Golden Unicorn was founded in 2016 by Filip Perkon with a group of volunteers on a non-profit basis. From 2017 the festival supported by the Russian Ministry of Culture, Synergy University, and the BFI.

RUSSIAN FILM WEEK 2018 | 25 NOVEMBER – 2 DECEMBER 2018

Overlord (2018) **

Dir.: Julius Avery; Cast: Jovan Adepo. Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbœk; USA 2018, 109 min.

Britain won the war? Not according to OVERLORDJulius Avery (Son of a Gun) and his writers Billy Ray and Mark Smith transform the 1944 Normandy landings into a Zombie action saga where the Americans save the world (so what’s new?) and fulfilling a clear demand for full-on confrontation in our increasingly divided society.

The first ten minutes are the best: shades of Saving Private Ryan, this time played out on board an airplane re-enact the brutality of the invasion and its countless victims. After the survivors land with their parachutes, they make their way to a small French village. Here the Nazis have fortified a church, and installed a transmitter in the tower. The Americans have to blow it up. Taking shelter with Cloe (Ollivier) in a small house, the Yankees have to listen to SS office Wafner (Asbœk), who blackmails Cloe to sleep with him – or else he’ll take her little brother with meet to same treatment as her disfigured aunt. Corporal Ford (Russell) and his men storm down from the attic, taking Wafner prisoner, before he can realise his threat. Meanwhile Private Boyce (Adepo), an Afro-American softie, discovers the Nazis are experimenting with the local population, turning them into Zombies in their quest to create a re-animation serum in a bizarre historical re-write. Apart from the historical faux-pas (American troops were strictly segregated in WWII), Overlord’s second rate video-game of makes the Normandy landings just an excuse: This is a cheap horror fest and even the decent production values cannot save it. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM Wednesday 7th November 2018

           

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018) 2018 *****


Dir: Peter Jackson | Doc | UK | 99′

The Lord of the Rings director, Peter Jackson shows what it was like to be a solider fighting in the trenches in the First World War where 1 million men lost their lives between 1914-18). Jackson’s New Zealand-based Weta special-effects house uses 3D film and combines cutting edge special effects with archive footage that actually comes to life offering a first hand experience of the trenches, the gunfire, the mud and the death. (courtesy of ).It’s a colossal achievement and fascinating in its down to earth detail.

Sifting through 600 hours of archive footage collated from Imperial War Museums, and overlaying a voiceover of actual testimonies of veterans, also from Imperial War Museums, recorded in the 1960s and 1970s, Jackson puts us in the thick of it with an in-depth start to finish experience of what actually happened when war was declared on Germany in 1914. He describes not only the excitement and sense of duty, but also the banality of fighting for youngsters who returned to Britain on the train to Victoria Station, when the ‘guns suddenly ceased”. And not as heroes, but as unemployed, unemployable often broken men. The Great War has been much romanticised in novels and poetry. Here, Jackson takes the romantic image out of the equation, and gives us a gruelling but also shocking images of mass latrines, open wounds, eviscerated bodies. The stench, but also the pity of war, and the camaraderie too. One soldier reminisces: “it was like a camping holiday with the boys, only with a spice of danger”; another: “the Germans were decent family men, and their loved their kids”.

Jackson shows us how the soldiers made tea from the hot water that cooled their machine guns, and how they got tired of endless plum and apple jam. There are clips of British soldiers enlisting in 1914, of soldiers training, and then boarding decommissioned “pleasure boats” to France where they were offered bottles of wine and raided the fields for carrots. And it’s inclusive – we see Indian soldiers marching in turbans, along with the British platoons.

Jackson’s 3D film feels smooth and non-jerky as it yields up its superbly restored coloured treasures. The voiceover is achieved through lip-read recreated dialogue as the soldiers literally come alive to tell their own story, their faces demonstrating at first hand the smiles, the fear and even the mistrust.

There are naturally elements missing such as footage of the actual battles due to the difficulty of transporting the heavy photographic equipment to the scene. The guns were moved by horses, who sadly often sank into the “viscous” mud. But Jackson takes us there amongst the soldiers in the fray – and we feel for them. It’s a heart-breaking endeavour but infinitely worthwhile. If you only watch one film this year, watch this one. MT

Peter Jackson’s THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD will be released in cinemas nationwide, from 9th November with a special pre-recorded Q&A with Peter Jackson (3D and 2D). It will then premiere on Armistice Day (Sunday 11th Nov) on BBC Two at 9.30pm and will be released on home entertainment platforms later this year. 

 

Outlaw King (2018)

Dir.: David Mackenzie; Cast: Chris Pine. Florence Pugh, Billy Howle, Stephan Dillane, Aaron Taylor-Jones; US/UK, 132 min. 

Director David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water) and his four scriptwriters have made this history book of medieval wars between Scots and English into a legend of machismo – but in the end the rivals all emerge as anti-heros, and all is drowned in blood and mud.

In 1304, after the end of William Wallace Revolution,. Robert the Bruce (Pine) attempts to unify the Scotts  tribes to fight Edward I (Dillane), who has seized the Scottish throne for himself – instead of appointing a promised Scottish successor. As a sign of the new alliance, Edward I allowed Robert the Bruce to marry Elizabeth de Burgh (Pugh), daughter of the powerful Earl of Ulster. But after the death of Edward I, his son, the Prince of Wales (later Edward II of England), captured and imprisoned Elizabeth, who was not willing to divorce Robert.

Robert’s fury is fed by the treachery of a Prince of Wales, who was once his close friend. After many years of imprisonment, Elizabeth was re-united with Robert, and they had three children. The many ambushes culminate in the Battle of Loudoun Hill (1307), the show-piece of the feature, and turning point of the campaign for an independent Scotland – even though the war would last another twenty years.

Together with his second in command, James Douglas (Taylor-Jones), Robert is shown as ruthless and risk-loving. The action scenes are repetitive and cruel: at one point during the Battle of Loudoun, spikes are used by the Scots to pierce the bodies of the English horses.

Outlaw King is redeemed by a handful of scenes that are worth watching – between Elizabeth and Robert (who is rather gentle with his young wife) – and these provide a counterpoint to the endless monotone warring, although Mackenzie ruins it with an embarrassing sex sequence. At least Elizabeth is shown as being as stubborn and bloody-minded as her husband, and Pugh excels in another strong female role.  

Cut down from the 146 minutes of the version shown at TIFF, Outlaw King is still far too long. DoP Barry Aykroyd captures the fighting scenes with great power, but in the end, the over-kill is tiring. AS

ON Netflix


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 Utøya – July 22 (2018) ***

Dir: Erik Poppe | Cast: Andrea Berntzen, Aleksander Holmen, Brede Fristad | Thriller | 90′ | Norway

 Utøya 22 seems rather a dismissive title for a film about the tragedy that killed 77 people. Many of them teenagers, on the on the Norwegian island of Utøya, on that fateful date in 2011. But if any director could tell the story with a sensitive way it is certainly Norwegian director Erik Poppe’s whose Oscar hopeful The King’s Choice made the shortlist to represent the country in the 89th Academy Awards. This docudrama vividly recreates the horror and the anguish without sensationalising the horrific events that turned a summer’s day into a living nightmare that went on for 72 minutes, and still continues to haunt the lives of an entire generation of Norwegian youth and those affected. Poppe’s approach is to focus on the victims who were in the midst of enjoying their holidays, but judiciously gives only a passing distant glance to the perpetrator, right-wing extremist Anders Briekvik.

Piecing together direct experiences and interviews with those present, his drama involves characters who are entirely fictitious, so as to spare the families further heartache. What results is  bodyblow of a film. Apart from showing a few bruises and bloody faces, the film focuses on the psychological effects of the onslaught that opens with the bombs exploding on the government buildings in Oslo and then relocates to the island, as the kids desperately flee for cover, huddling in groups in the thickly wooded shorelines. The camera follows teenager Kaya (Andrea Berntzen) who is sharing a tent with her younger sister Emilie (Elli Rhiannon Müller Osbourne). After being separated when gunfire opens, she then rushes through the island trying to find her sibling while giving comfort and support to her friends and along the way until the final desperate moments. Not an easy or particularly enjoyable film to watch in its one-note tone of unremiting tension, but a story well-crafted and atmospherically told – and one you won’t forget easily. MT

BERLINALE FILM PREMIER | ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 27 OCTOBER 2018

Lajko in Space (2018) *** Warsaw Film Festival 2018

LAJKO – GYPSY IN SPACE (LAJKO – CIGANY AZ URBEN)

Dir.: Balazs Lengyel; Cast: Tamas Keresztes, JozsefGyabronka, Tibor Pallfy, Anna Boger, Bohdan Benink; Hungary 2018, 90 min.

Director/co-writer Balazs Lengyel shows no fear: his satire about the first man is Space – of course, a Hungarian, not Gagarin, as claimed by the Soviets – is a relentless attack on Stalinism, but the re-write of history is always funny, even if not always done in the best taste.

Young Lajko, a gypsy growing up in the Hungarian country site, has always been interested in Space travel. Unfortunately, one of his first attempts sends his Mum into space, together with the outdoor toilet. As a young man Lajko (Keresztes) has designed a moored balloon to take him into the stratosphere – but he ignores the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 and is shot down by the Red Army. He is the victim of waterboarding, but his torturer has shot through too much money over the previous year, and is put in prison. Lajko can count on the help of his father Florian (Pallfy) and uncle Jeno (Gyabronka), the latter a party functionary. The three are sent to Baku, where the Soviet Space programme is being developed. Lajko has to compete with a Mongolian monk, a Baltic counter-revolutionary and Helga Mengele (Boger) to be the first one in Space. Helga is very upset, that “the good name of her father is by now forgotten”, even though he created ten different prototypes of an Aryan super-woman – of which she is the only survivor. When Brezhnev (Benink) arrives at the Space station, Florian steals his ring, and Jeno falls in love with the Soviet leader, admitting that he is gay for the first time. Lajko finally wins the race to be the first man in Space; meeting his mother there in the process. Needless to say, the beastly Russians put Lajko, Florian and Helga in a work camp (so that Gagarin can claim to be the winner), and poor uncle Jeno is shot dead, having just come to terms with being gay.

This is a romp, sometimes crude, but always enjoyable. DoPGyorgy Reder is very inventive, using different formats for the historical scenes, sometimes speeding up the tempo, like in silent movies. It is obvious that everyone had fun shooting this feature, and Lengyel always manages to keep the careering plot on the road. AS

SCREENING DURING WARSAW FILM FESTIVAL | 12-21 OCTOBER 2018

 

11 Films to See at the BFI London Film Festival 2018

 

The lineup for the 2018 BFI London Film Festival has been announced, and the public box office is open. The 12-day festival will show over 225 feature-length films from all over the globe – so here are some of the best we’ve seen from this year’s international festival circuit.

WILD LIFE (2018)

A teenage boy experiences the breakdown of his parents’ marriage in Paul Dano’s crisp coming of age family drama, set in 1960s Montana, and based on Richard Ford’s novel. Although once or twice veering into melodrama, actor turned filmmaker Dano maintains impressive control over his sleek and very lucid first film which is anchored by three masterful performances, and sees a young family disintegrate after the husband loses his job. WILDLIFE has a great deal in common with Retribution Road (2008), with its similar counterpoint of aspirational hope for a couple starting out on their life in a new town – in this case Great Falls, Montana. But here the perspective is very different – in Wildlife, the entire experience is seen from the unique perspective of a pubescent boy, Joe, played thoughtfully by young Australian actor Ed Oxenbould (The Visit).

WOMAN AT WAR (2018) – SACD Winner, Cannes Film Festival 2018

Benedict Erlingsson’s follow-up to Of Horses and Men is a lively, often funny eco-warrior drama that follows a single woman taking on the state of Iceland with surprising results. Lead actress Haldora Geirhardsdottir has an athletic schedule, running and hiding in the countryside, with helicopters and drones circling overhead. With a magnificent twist at the end, Woman at War doesn’t pull its punches: There are shades of Aki Kaurismaki, the dead pan humour taking away some of the tension of the countryside hunt for Halla. And Erlingsson makes a refreshing break from tradition in the super hero genre by casting a middle-aged woman, who is also super-fit, in the central role.

THE FAVOURITE (2018) Best Actress, Olivia Colman, Venice 2018.

The Favourite is going to be a firm favourite with mainstream audiences and cineastes alike. This latest arthouse drama is his first to be written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara who bring their English sensibilities to this quixotic Baroque satire that distills the essence of Kubrick, Greenaway and Molière in an irreverent and ravishingly witty metaphor for women’s treachery. Set around 1710 during the final moments of Queen Annes’s reign it presents an artful female centric view of courtly life seen from the unique perspective of three remarkable women while on the battlefields England is at war with the French. Despite its period setting The Favourite coins a world with exactly the same credentials as that of Brexit and Trump.

SUNSET – FIPRESCI Prize Venice 2018 

Laszlo Nemes follows his Oscar-winning triumph Son Of Saul with another fraught and achingly romantic fragment of the past again captured through his voyeuristic camera that traces the febrile events leading up to the shooting of Emperor Franz Ferdinand that changed the world forever Set in Budapest between 1913 and the outbreak of the First World War, Sunset reveals a labyrinth of enigma, intrigue, hostility, greed and lust as the central character played by Juli Jakab (Son of Saul) guides us through scenes of ravishing elegance and cataclysmic violence. What seems utter chaos gradually becomes more clear as the spiderweb is infiltrated. Nemes pays homage to the late Gabor Body whose Narcissus and Psyche, are the obvious touchstones to Sunset. On an historical level, Mathias Erdely’s images conjure up the fin-de-siècle fragility in the same way as Gabor’s masterpieces. 

BORDER – Winner, Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2018 

BORDER is one of those bracingly original films. Melding fantasy and folklore while teetering on the edge of Gothic horror, it manages to be cleverly convincing and unbelievably weird at the same time. Fraught with undercurrents of sexual identity and self-realisation this gruesome rites of passage fable is another fabulous story with enduring appeal for the arthouse crowd and diehard fans of low key horror. Based on a short story by Let the Right One In creator John Ajvide Lindqvist it is Ali Abbasi’s follow up to Shelley and his first film with writing partner Isabella Ekloff. Abbasi masterfully manages the subtle strands of his storyline while keeping the tension taut and a mischievous humour bubbling under the surface.

DOGMAN Best Actor, Marcello Forte, Cannes 2018 | Palm Dog Winner 2018 

Matteo Garrone’s terrific revenge thriller returns to the filmmaker’s own stamping ground of Caserta with a richly thematic and compulsive exploration of male rivalry and belonging in a downtrodden, criminal-infested, football-playing community scratching a living in a seaside backwater. Life has always been tough in this neck of the woods, infested by gangland influences: it is a terrain that Garrone knows and describes well in his 2008 feature Gomorrah. A brutal brotherhood controls this bleak coastal wilderness where everyone relies on each other to survive. Dogman a gritty and violent film and often unbearably so, but there are moments of heart-rending tenderness – between his Marcello and his doggy dependants – where tears will certainly well up. Fonte won Best Award at Cannes for his skilful portrayal that switches subtly from sad loner to daring desperado.

MADELINE’S MADELINE  

Josephine Decker’s inventive, impressionistic dramas – Butter on the Latch (2013) /Though Wast Mild and Lovely (2014) are an acquired taste but one that marks her out as a distinctive female voice on the American indie circuit. And here she is at Sundance again with a multi-layered mother and daughter tale that is probably her best feature so far. With a stunning central performance from newcomer Helena Howard and a dash of cinematic chutzpah that sends this soaring, Madeline’s Madeline is a thing of beauty – intoxicating to watch, compellingly chaotic with a potently emotional storyline.

MUSEUM – Best Script Berlinale 2018

Alonso Ruizpalacios’ follow-up to his punchy debut Guëros, sees two wayward young Mexicans from Satellite City robbing the local archeological museum of its Mayan  treasures – simply out of boredom. MUSEUM is an offbeat but strangely captivating drama that gradually gets more entertaining, although it never quite feels completely satisfying, despite some stunningly inventive sequences and three convincing performances from Gael Garcia Bernal, Simon Russell Beale and Alfredo Castro (The Club). It’s largely down to local Mexican incompetence that these two amateurish dudes (Bernal/Ortizgris) get away with their heist in the first place. But what starts as a so-so domestic drama with the same aesthetic as No!, slowly starts to sizzle with suspense as the director deftly manages the film’s tonal shifts to surprise and even delight us – this is a film that deserves a watch for its sheer wakiness and inventive chutzpah. 

IN FABRIC 

Impeccable red talons slide a flick knife across a box to reveal its contours, a beautiful silky dress that can kill. Peter Strickland’s latest, highly-anticipated oddball feature again stars Sidse Babett Knudsen (The Duke of Burgundy) in a haunting ghost story that follows the fate of this bedevilled garment as it passes from owner to owner, with tragic consequences against the backdrop of the winter sales in a busy department store. This is a gem of a giallo with Strickland’s signature soundscape dominating, just as it did in Berberian Sound Studio. 

THE WILD PEAR TREE – Palme d’Or, Cannes 2018 

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s long-awaited follow-up to Winter Sleep melds his classic themes of family, fate and self-realisation into a leisurely and immersive 3-hour narrative that won him the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes. This is a sumptuous, visual treat to savour but you’ll never actually see a pear tree. 

THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD (2018)

There should be a sub-genre dedicated to films about the multi-talented force that was Orson Welles. Here Morgan Neville (Best of Enemies) has his turn with a focus on the final fifteen years of the director Welles as he pins his Hollywood comeback on a film called The Other Side of the Wind, a film within a film sees an ageing director trying to complete his final oeuvre. Welles’ film starring John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich was a hotchpotch of brilliance and tedium, in equal parts. Neville’s doc offers new insight into the creative legend with clarity and charismatic flourishes that would make Welles turn in his grave…with approval. MT

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS

AQUARELA: Victor Kossakovsky, Eicca Toppinen; BEEN SO LONG: Tinge Krishnan, Michaela Coel, George Mackay, Nadine Marsh-Edwards, Amanda Jenks; FAHRENHEIT 11/9: Michael Moore; THE HATE U GIVE: George Tillman Jr, Amandla Stenberg, Angie Thomas; MAKE ME UP: Rachel Maclean; OUT OF BLUE: Carol Morley, Patricia Clarkson; PETERLOO: Mike Leigh; RAFIKI: Wanuri Kahiu; THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD: Peter Jackson 

OFFICIAL COMPETITION

BIRDS OF PASSAGE: Ciro Guerra, David Gallego; DESTROYER: Karyn Kusama; HAPPY AS LAZZARO: Alice Rohrwacher; HAPPY NEW YEAR, COLIN BURSTEAD.: Ben Wheatley; IN FABRIC: Peter Strickland; JOY: Sudabeh Mortezai; THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN: David Lowery; SHADOW: Zhao Xiaoding; SUNSET: László Nemes; TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG: Dominga Sotomayor

FIRST FEATURE COMPETITION

THE CHAMBERMAID: Lila Avilés; THE DAY I LOST MY SHADOW: Soudade Kaadan; HOLIDAY: Isabella Eklöf; JOURNEY TO A MOTHER’S ROOM: Celia Rico Clavellino; ONLY YOU: Harry Wootliff; RAY & LIZ: Richard Billingham; SONI: Ivan Ayr; WILDLIFE: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

DREAM AWAY: Marouan Omara, Johanna Domke; EVELYN: Orlando von Einsiedel; JOHN MCENROE – IN THE REALM OF PERFECTION: Julien Faraut; THE PLAN THAT CAME FROM THE BOTTOM UP: Steve Sprung; PUTIN’S WITNESSES: Vitaly Mansky; THE RAFT: Marcus Lindeen; THEATRE OF WAR: Lola Arias, David Jackson, Sukrim Rai; WHAT YOU GONNA DO WHEN THE WORLD’S ON FIRE?: Roberto Minervini; YOUNG AND ALIVE: Matthieu Bareyre.

THE BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | 10-21 October 2018

 

 

 

 

Shadow 2018) **** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir: Zhang Yimou | Action Drama | China | 110’

Two-time winner of the Golden Lion at Venice for The Story Of Qiu Ju, and Not One Less, Chinese supremo Zhang Yimou relinquishes his charisteristic colour spectrum for a magnificent monochrome palette in his latest martial arts extravaganza that melds solemn Singing in the Rain set pieces with eye-popping wuxia credentials in a glorious return to form akin to Hero and House of Flying Daggers.

Grey has never looked so stunning in Yimou’s action scenes inspired by China’s tradition of ink-wash painting and creatively choreographed with the director’s signature style and inventiveness. In place of shields, lethal steel umbrellas cut and thrust in an epic tale set during China’s Three Kingdoms era during the Third century where the land of Pei is ruled by an unhinged maverick king (Zheng Kai). The king’s military commander (Deng Chao) has shown his skill on the battlefield, but running the kingdom is another matter needing political nous and diplomacy to survive. So he has trained a “shadow” (also played by Deng), who can fool the king, as well as Pei’s enemies, when required. Fighting to gain control of the walled city of Jing, the king and the commander join forces to plan a secret strategy. While the real king, a dissipated old warrior, has retreated to his lair to lick his world weary wounds, his wife Madam (Sun Li) has fallen for the younger and stronger double. 

During the extraordinary battle scenes the only contrast from the stunning steel grey, charcoal and white aesthetic is that of human flesh and blood evoking a palpable feeling of pain and suffering and bringing to mind the epics of Akira Kurosawa. This occasionally drawn out but intoxicating game of intrigue and duplicity slowly builds to a coruscating climax as Yimou manages the spectacular combat set pieces with extraordinary ingenuity both on the widescreen and in intimate close-up, the umbrellas bristling with blades as they cascade like gushing rivers of steel raining down on the floating Trojan horse centrepiece.

Aside from the visual mastery of it all Yimou offers dramatic character studies: Deng as a double-crossing demon, the gracefully feisty women Sun Li and Guan Xiaotong giving impressive performances. But it’s Cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding and production designer Ma Kwong Kwai who really set the whole production alight. Another worthwhile and thoroughly enjoyable edition to Yimou’s wuxia wonderland. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

A Ciambra (2017)

Dir.: Jonas Carpignano; Cast: Pio Amato, Koudous Seihon, Iolanda Amato, Damiano Amato, Rocco Amato; Italy/USA/France/Sweden 2017, 118 min.

Jonas Carpignano’s casts non professionals in this companion piece and follow-up to his debut Mediterranea, a lively all singing all dancing immigration drama that revolves around a family of Romas who live in an enclave of Gioia Tauro in Calabria, .

Voluble teenager Pio (Pio Amato) is the youngest in the family of jailbirds, idolising his brother Cosimo (Damiano Amato) who has already served time, as has his father Rocco (Rocco Amato), he mixes easily in the multi-cultural milieu of fellow Romas, local Italians and African refugees, and the rest of their clan are under house arrest. Mother Iolanda (Iolanda Amato) keeps the family together, and Pio is a afraid of her – but not enough to stop his various criminal activities. Pio’s only confidant is Ayiva from Burkino Faso, who lives in the African section of the town and is played by the only professional actor, Kudos Seihon. Pio’s loyalities are put to the test when he discovers his clan is planning a robbery at Ayiva’s “warehouse”; but he’s proud to be a Roma and keeps his mouth shut, respecting his brother’s words: “when you are in prison, you are respected, even by the Italians, but nobody respects the Africans”.  Carpignano keeps his distance from his characters, never judging them and allowing their macho, misogyny full rein. That said, the clan live in abject poverty, crime clearly doesn’t pay for these canny immigrants. This approach works up to a point. Realism is fine, but it has to encompass more than one dimension. There are shades of The Dardenne Brothers in Tim Curtin’s handheld camerawork which follows each scenes through to the end, although the brothers take their narrative rigour from showing society as a whole, not indulging in the cul-de-sac actions of one section of the community.  Overall, A Ciambra pulls out all the stops aesthetically, allowing the audience to enjoy the ride rather indulgently, and with a dangerous lack of reflection. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 18 JUNE 2018

 

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) **

Dir.: J.A. Bayona; Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Daniella Pineda, Justice Smith, Rafe Spall, Toby Jones, Isabella Sermon, James Cromwell, Geraldine Chaplin, James Cromwell; USA/Spain 2018, 128′.

Director J.A. Bayona (A Monster Calls) and his regular, fellow Catalan DoP Oscar Faura have delivered the fifth instalment of the Dino franchise, with Fallen Kingdom being the middle piece of a trilogy. Despite some visually stunning set pieces (and a budget to match), the script by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly is as weak as their work for Fallen Kingdom’s predecessor Jurassic Park (2015).

This new outing sees the dinosaurs on the Isla Nublar threatened by an erupting volcano. Dino lovers Owen Grady (Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Howard), still lack a convincing chemistry and are called back into a rescue mission with their sidekicks Dr. Zia (Pineda) and Franklin (Smith). Unbeknown to the quartet, back in Lockwood Mansion Sir Benjamin (Cromwell) is dying and his wicked CEO Eli Mills (Spall) has teamed up with Super-Baddie Gunnar Eversol (Jones), to trade the surviving dinosaurs to the highest bidders so they can be genetically altered and used as fighting machines. After Lockwood’s  death, his granddaughter Maise (Sermon) takes over the good fight having lost her last ally, a Mrs. Danvers-like housekeeper (Chaplin). While the auction of the rescued animals is in full swing, Maise is finally joined by the foursome in her fight to thwart the greedy usurpers.  

Shot in CinemaScope (240:1 ratio) with an Arri Alexa 65, digital debutant Faura deftly masters the mix of animatronix and CGI, using older lenses in place of the latest ones – as digital’s lack of depth tends to look hyper real. Having said this, the folio on the island does appear to be a little bit too rubbery….  

There’s nothing really new here: once again we get a reprise of the fight between the good flying dinosaur (Blue, Grady’s lead Dino) and the baddie reptile; and when they eventually fall through yet another glass roof, there’s a maddening sense of déja vu. Fallen Kingdom never makes its mind up if it wants to be a disaster movie or a Bond flic with a great finale. The 128 minutes running time outstays its welcome without any justification for doing, and the ending, prepping us for a planned third outing of the rebooted franchise, is only secured by a mind blowing act of unbelievable wilfulness. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY 8 JUNE 2018

Edinburgh International Film Festival | 20 June – 1 July 2018

Artistic Director Mark Adams unveiled this year’s programme for Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF), with 121 new features, including 21 world premieres, from 48 countries across the globe.

Highlights include Haifaa al-Mansour’s long-awaited follow-up to WadjdaMARY SHELLEY, with Elle Fanning taking on the role of Mary Wollstonecraft, the World Premiere of Stephen Moyer’s directorial debut, THE PARTING GLASS, starring Melissa Leo, Cynthia Nixon, Denis O’Hare, Anna Paquin (who also produces), Rhys Ifans and Ed Asnerand an IN PERSON events with guests including the award-winning English writer and director David Hare, the much-loved Welsh comedian Rob Brydon and star of the compelling Gothic drama THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE, actor George MacKay, as well as the Opening and Closing Gala premieres of PUZZLE and SWIMMING WITH MEN.

BEST OF BRITISH

This year’s Best of British strand includes exclusive world premieres of Simon Fellows’ thriller STEEL COUNTRY, featuring a captivating performance from Andrew Scott as Donald, a truck driver turned detective; comedy classic OLD BOYS starring Alex Lawther; the debut feature of writer-director Tom Beard, TWO FOR JOY, a powerful coming-of-age drama starring Samantha Morton and Billie Piper; oddball comedy-drama EATEN BY LIONS; striking debut from writer and director Adam Morse, LUCID, starring Billy Zane and Sadie Frost; Jamie Adams’ British comedy SONGBIRD, featuring Cobie Smulders. Audiences can also look forward to a special screening of Mandie Fletcher’s delightfully fun rom-com PATRICK.

AMERICAN DREAMS 

This year the AMERICAN DREAMS strand has the quirky indie comedy UNICORN STORE, the directorialOscar-winning actress Brie Larson in which she stars alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Joan Cusack; the heart-warming HEARTS BEAT LOUD starring Nick Offerman; glossy noir thriller, TERMINAL, starring and produced by Margot Robbie and starring Simon Pegg and Dexter Fletcher; IDEAL HOME in which Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan play a bickering gay couple who find themselves thrust into parenthood; 1980s set spy thriller starring Jon Hamm, THE NEGOTIATOR; and PAPILLON, starring Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek.

EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES

Notable features include 3/4  Ilian Metev’s glowing cinema verity portrait of family life. Malgorzata Szumovska’s oddball drama MUG that explores the aftermath of a face transplant; Aida Begic’s touching transmigration tale NEVER LEAVE ME highlighting how young Syrian lives have been affected by war; actor-turned-director Mélanie Laurent’s fourth feature DIVING, and Hannaleena Hauru’s thought-provoking THICK LASHES OF LAURI MANTYVAARA and the brooding and atmospheric drama THE SECRET OF MARROWBONE starring George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Mia Goth and Matthew Stagg.

WORLD PERSPECTIVES 

This offer a fascinating snapshot of developing world-cinema themes and styles such as BO Hu’s epic Chinese drama AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL; Berlinale award-winning South American dram THE HEIRESSESGIRLS ALWAYS HAPPY, a touching but darkly funny tale of a Chinese mother and daughter and Kylie Minogue starrer FLAMMABLE CHILDREN , a raucous comedy set in Aussie beachside suburbia in the 1970s. THE BUTTERFLY TREE starring Melissa George and Ben Elton’s THREE SUMMERS starring Robert Sheehan and set at an Australian folk music festival.

DOCUMENTARIES

This year’s EIFF programme features a strong musical theme from Kevin Macdonald’s illuminating biopic WHITNEY, about the life and times of superstar Whitney Houston; GEORGE MICHAEL: FREEDOM – THE DIRECTOR’S CUT narrated by George Michael himself and ALMOST FASHIONABLE: A FILM ABOUT TRAVIS directed by Scottish lead-singer Fran Healy. Audiences will be inspired by the creativity of Orson Welles in Mark Cousins’ THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES; HAL, a film portrait of the acclaimed 1970s director Hal Ashby; LIFE AFTER FLASH, a fascinating exploration into the life of actor Sam J. Jones.

DOWNRIGHT STRANGE

As the sun sets, audiences will be able to journey into the dark and often downright strange side of cinema, with a selection of genre-busting edge-of-your-seat gems including: the gloriously grisly psychosexual romp PIERCING starring Mia Wasikowska; the world premieres of Matthew Holness’ POSSUM and SOLIS staring Steven Ogg as an astronaut who finds himself trapped in an escape pod heading toward the sun; dark and bloody period drama THE MOST ASSASSINATED WOMAN IN THE WORLD and the futuristic WHITE CHAMBER starring Shauna Macdonald.

FOCUS ON CANADA 

The country focus for the Festival’s 72nd edition will be Canada, allowing audiences to take a cinematic tour of the country and its culture, offering insight as well as entertainment, from filmmakers new and already established. HOCHELAGA, LAND OF THE SOULS is an informative look at Quebec’s history; but possibly best to avoid the unconvincing FAKE TATTOOS opting instead for WALL, a striking animated essay about Israel from director Cam Christiansen and FIRST STRIPES a compelling look into the Canadian military from Jean-Francois Caissy.

Weather permitting, the Festival’s pop-up outdoor cinema event Film Fest in the City with Mackays (15 – 17 June) will kick off the festivities early, with the 72nd Edinburgh International Film Festival running from 20 June – 1 July, 2018.

Tickets go on sale to Filmhouse Members on Wednesday 23 May at 12noon and on sale to the public on Friday 25 May at 10am. www.edfilmfest.org.uk.

 

 

Zama (2017) Bfi Player

Dir: Lucrecia Martel | Argentina, Brazil / 115’ | cast: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Lola Dueñas, Matheus Nachtergaele, Juan Minujín

Argentinian auteuse Lucrecia Martel (The Headless Woman) makes a welcome return with a subtle and sumptuously beguiling fantasy peepshow where one man’s mind unravels in mysterious 18th century South America.

Tired of waiting for the King to transfer him to his wife in Buenos Aires, a Creole officer of the Spanish Crown embarks on a perilous bid to return to his family while around him his fellow officers scheme and disemble. Based on an adaptation of Antonio Di Benedetto’s 1956 Latin American classic, this cinematic soupçon offers creative insight into Spanish colonial history through its central character Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) who slowly loses his grip on reality and descends into paranoia in a remote and savage outpost somewhere in Paraguay.

Sensually deprived and desperate for home, Zama falls prey to the South American sirens including Lola Duenas’s lacivious noblewoman, and a local Indian with whom he fathers a crippled child. Martel seduces with her gorgeously costumed cavalcade as we strain to make out the enigmatic storyline through a closeted and voyeuristic lens amid exotic birdsong and strange beasts including a volatile pet llama. Beyond the invidious perils of the settlement lies a land of savagery populated by dangerous masked tribes and a wild Portuguese warrior named Vicuna, whom Zuma is tasked with capturing in a perilous final attempt at a glorious transfer back to civilisation in Spain.

Drawing comparisons with other recent films from South America such as Jauja (Lisandro Alonso) and Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra). ZAMA is an extraordinary historical adaptation. Gleaming like Pandora’s Box and striking like a cobra, Martel offers a dizzyling distallation of the dying days of Don Diego de Zama. MT

ON BFI PLAYER

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack; UK/USA 1968; 141 min.

Christopher Nolan presents a Warner Bros 70mm print struck from new printing elements made from the original camera negative in Cannes this year. This is a true photochemical film recreation. There are no digital tricks, remastered effects, or revisionist edits. Stanley Kubrick’s daughter, Katharina Kubrick, his coproducer Jan Harlan and director Christopher Nolan were in attendance.

But who better to define Science Fiction than Arthur C. Clarke, co-author of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, on whose short story of the same name Kubrick’s film is based: “Science fiction is something that could happen – but usually you wouldn’t want it to. Fantasy is something that couldn’t happen – though often you wish it would”. This rather cautious outlook is also at the heart of Kubrick’s film, which does not engage us with the thrills of conventional Sci-Fi films – neither Clark nor Kubrick could come up with plausible aliens and the film is the better for it – presenting, rather, a visual/philosophical treaty. To start with, 95 of the 141 minutes are without dialogue, dominated by classical music and/or images – the dialogue could have easily been written on the inter-titles used in silent films. Needless to say, there are no statements or solutions just questions about a future, which remains enigmatic and open to all sorts of interpretations in the final images.

The first Homo-Sapiens opens the proceedings: some apes are thrilled by the appearance of a strangely glittering monolith – inspired by his awe. One of them uses a bone as tool, jubilantly throwing it into the air, where it transforms into a spaceship. Part two opens with the discovery that the same monolith has been found on the moon. It transpires that it is sending electronic signals to Jupiter. We witness space flights, as ordinary and routine as rail travel. Part three is set in 2001, when a secret mission is send to Jupiter, to find out if Aliens are responsible for the signals from the moon. There are five astronauts on board of the spaceship; three of them are scientists, kept in coffin-like boxes, put into an artificially induced coma. Commander Bowman (Duella) and his deputy Poole (Lockwood) are keeping an eye on the instruments, but their work-rate is minimal, since the super-computer HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain), who is infallible, is in charge of the journey. When Bowman and Poole find out that HAL is malfunctioning, they huddle in a closet to resolve the matter, but HAL is able to lip read and tries to do away with the whole crew. Firstly he kills the three scientists, then he cuts Poole’s air supply off when he is out in space. Bowman tries to rescue him but HAL sabotages his efforts. The computer than locks the space ship, to leave Bowman in space, but the commander outsmarts him and switches him off, HAL pleading like a human, for his life. After a journey illuminated by whirling colours, Bowman ends up in a flat full of Louis XV furniture, where he quickly grows old and dies. At the foot of his bed stands the monolith like a sentinel.

Music plays a central role in decoding the film: The opening scene is dominated by Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathrustra” (a re-occurring theme of the film; the docking sequences of part two are accompanied by the Johann Strauss’ waltz “An der schönen blauen Donau”; Bowman’s and Poole’s lonely life on board of the spaceship is mournfully underscored by Aran Khatchaturian’s “Gayane’ Ballet Suite and György Ligeti’s Requiem is the leitmotif of the whole film.

Even after 50 years, and without any CGI, the images of A SPACE ODYSSEY are still fresh and do not give away the real age of the film. Kubrick used simple tricks, like the scene with the ballpen in the spaceship, which seems to float, but was in reality only glued to a plate of glass. The images of the astronauts floating in space were achieved with circus equipment and models in real size, filmed against a black background, the camera shooting from the floor upwards. This way, the ropes under the ceiling were hidden by the body of the stuntman; the audience has the illusion, to watch him floating from a sideways position. Music and visuals are dominating; the underlying philosophical questions, particularly the role of the computer, are still  topical and evergreen and overall 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY still feels modern and wonderful to watch. AS

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | SPECIAL SCREENING

Youth (2017) | Bluray release

Dir: Feng Xiaogang | China | Historical Drama | 148′

Feng Xiaogang (I Am Madame Bovary) is widely considered as China’s answer to Stephen Spielberg, and he certainly proves himself in this crowd-pleasing if over-ambitious drama that straddles an entire generation of young Chinese, caught in the vortex of political and social change.

Setting off in the 1970s this magnificently-mounted saga tries – and initially – succeeds in being all things to all people: a musical laced with political commentary; a tragedy of war and of first love all narrated by Xiao Suizi (Chuxi Zhong) a dancer in a military troupe where another young woman He Xiaoping (Miao Miao) has just arrived determined to escape her troubled background by making a name for herself. The professional dancing standards are exacting even by Chinese considerations but He does her best for the national cause despite bullying from the other girls. Feng (Xuan Huang) takes her under the wing and the two grow close.

While the dizzy backdrop of political events unfolds – Chairman Mao’s death is a highlight – the troupe (the the drama) powers on at a relentless pace amid rivalries, and romantic crushes all masterfully recorded by Pan Luo whose energetic camerawork darts around taking it all in.

With Chairman Mao gone, a new sense of confidence invigorates the troupe and, slowly, materialism rears up in the face of the previous hardships as the film segues into a bloody depiction of the Vietnam War and its salient Chinese protagonists. Meanwhile, our own heroes don’t get away lightly during the decades – and we feel for them, especially Liu Feng whose dedication and sacrifice shines through, while He seems also to be misunderstood. As time marches relentlessly on, the film loses momentum as the focus becomes more scattered, its previous authenticity turning soapy in contrast to the convincing earlier scenes.

Overall this is an entertaining romp through the Chinese history books, its schmaltzy score milking the memorable moments with a rousing gusto that Chinese audiences will relish and take to their hearts. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY/DVD | Reviewed at PINGYAO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | YEAR ZERO | 28 OCT – 4 NOV 2017

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Dir: Ron Howard | Writers: Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan | Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Thandie Newton, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Paul Bettany | US | Action adventure | 135′ 

In 2002, it was Star Wars – Episode II – Attack of the Clones and in 2005, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. In 2018, what is one of the greatest legends in the history of cinema has returned to the red carpet here at Cannes, presented Out of Competition.

The saga’s second spin-off is the latest film of the Star Wars galaxy by Ron Howard bringing together Han Solo, his faithful Chewbacca, the crooked Lando Calrissian, the Millenium Falcon and of course the droids. This adventure takes us back to the youth of the famous smuggler, ace pilot and charming scoundrel, Han Solo. Written by Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, and directed by Ron Howard, who starred in George Lucas’ classic American Graffiti and directed numerous popular and critical hits such as Apollo 13 (1995) or A Beautiful Mind (2002, Oscars for best film and director).

Alongside Alden Ehrenreich (Blue Jasmine, 2013) who plays Han Solo, it has local Hampstead resident Thandie Newton (Jefferson in Paris); Woody Harrelson (No Country For Old Men), Emilia Clarke (Terminator Genisys), Donald Glover (The Martian), , Phoebe Waller-Bridge (The Iron Lady), Joonas Suotamo (Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi) and Paul Bettany (Dogville).

Ash is Purest White (2018) ****

Dir: Zhangke Jia | Cast: Tao Zhao, Fan Liao, Xiaogang Feng | Drama | China | 140’

ASH IS PUREST WHITE portrays the eventful relationship between a Chinese petty criminal and the woman whose loyalty to him never dies. This rolling contemplative saga occasionally veers off the beaten track with its indulgent running time of 141 minutes but will still appeal to the director’s ardent followers, featuring the same rough-edged characters who we first meet in 2001 and follow until the bittersweet denouement on New year’s Eve 2018.

Star of Shanxi’s creative community Jia Zhang-ke trained as an architect near his native mining town of Fenyang, just South of Beijing, and brings his aesthetic flair and some magnificent landscapes to this lasting love story set in a dying era. The director’s forte is his graceful way of portraying China’s traditional way of life with its penchant for ceremonial drumming and white-gloved officials, with the chaotic new era vibrantly captured in Eric Gautier’s resplendent camerawork.

Opening in 2001 in his Shanxi homeland, his wife and regular collaborator Zhao Tao plays the confident delicate local beauty Qiao, who frequents the nightclub of her boyfriend Guo Bin (Liao Fan/Black Coal, Thin Ice). And she is no arm candy, establishing herself as a keen advocate of the traditional jianghu codes of loyalty while embracing the modern world, spryly dancing to Village People’s YMCA.

Respectful of her ageing father she is more playfully assertive with Bin, and when he is assaulted by thugs on motorbikes, she manages to save him by firing shots into the air in a brutal scene that really takes our breath away, but also secures her a spell in prison where she is unwilling to grass on her boyfriend about the ownership of the firearm.

The second act is an upbeat affair that follows Qiao’s release in 2006, and treats us to a sumptuous journey down the Yangtze River in another nod to the sinking glory of the old China versus the brash new world. Qin has proved a feckless boyfriend and is no longer on the scene, but Qiao is keen not to let him slip away so easily, after her sustained loyalty. And when she is robbed of her cash and passport, she bounces back cleverly in some amusing scenes where she gate-crashes a wedding to enjoy the banquet, desperate for food. Qiao finally confronts Bin in a soulful and moving episode that is visually captivating for its exquisitely calm contemplation of the end of their romance.

As we leave Qiao she is running a gambling hall, and Bin is back in her life, attracted to her strength of character and tenacity. The two actors are mesmerising to watch in their commandingly restrained yet natural performances, exuding a fascinating chemistry that will remain in the memory for a long time after the credits have rolled. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 26th APRIL 2019

 

Sleeping Dogs (1977) | Bluray release

Dir: Roger Donaldson | Sam Neill, Warren Oates | 107′ | NZ Thriller

Tightly scripted and tense, SLEEPING DOGS is the gritty political action thriller that revolutionised New Zealand filmmaking, kicking off its New Wave movement at a time when the country was not well known for its cinema, at the end of the 1970s. Resonating with audiences at home and abroad with its themes of politics and personal struggle, it also launched the Hollywood careers of Sam Neill (Possession) and director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out). Neill, in his first lead role, plays a mercurial young man escaping his failed marriage and two kids by taking temporary refuge in an island off the Coromandel Peninsula Meanwhile at home, political turmoil and an oil embargo leading to civil war is drawing him slowly but surely back into its claws. Warren Oates is also brought into the conflict as the commander of a US army unit. Together, they fight against the country’s dictatorship, in a narrative based on C K Stead’s novel Smith’s Dream. Amazingly, Donaldson enlists the cooperation of the NZ Air Force in this entertainingly subversive and occasionally surreal action thriller. MT.

ON BLURAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS FROM 16 APRIL 2018

Between Land and Sea (2017) ***

Dir: Ross Whittaker | Doc| Ireland |87′

Between Land and Sea shows how a little village can change from one season to the next and from a generation to the one that follows as its population struggles not only to survive but to make the most of a sustainable existence. There are only so many crashing waves, glorious sunsets and smiling locals one can admire for 96 minutes, and whether Whittaker’s film can sustain interest in the absence of an engrossing narrative arc is the only criticism here.

Once famous for its golfing activity, Lahinch, Co. Clare now buzzes during the summer months when surfers flock to its wild Atlantic seascapes featuring the cliffs of Moher to capture the mammoth waves. At the end of the season the place recedes back into the emerald landscape taken over by its regular population, nature and the elements.

The film opens as the New Year descends on Lahinch, shops boarded up but behind closed doors villagers who have decided to make their lives to this ravishing part of Ireland are eeking out a meagre existence preparing for the coming season when the Easter weekend will see the return of tourists to fill their coffers once again. We then get a close-up view of the villagers’ lives in and out of the water: Tom Doige-Harrison (and his Spanish wife Raquel Ruido Rodriguez), Ollie O’Flaherty, Fergal Smith, John McCarthy and Dexter McCullough, along with Pat Conway and get to learn how they are make ends meet in this glorious back to nature idyll. Champion surfer Shane Dorian also makes an appearance.

If nothing else, Between Land and Sea serves as an imressive travelogue for those interested in the popular destinations of Riley’s Wave and Aileen’s Wave on this stunning Atlantic coastline captured in Kevin Smith’s impressive aerial and in-water camerawork which provides some breathtaking shots. MT

ON RELEASE AT CURZON BLOOMSBURY + SELECTED SCREENS

 

Hell Drivers (1957) **** | Bluray release

Dir: Cy Endfield | Writer: John Kruse | Cast: Stanley Baker, Herbert Lom, Peggy Cummins, Patrick McGoohan, William Hartnell. Sidney James | 108′ | Crime Drama

“They fight to the death – and their weapons are ten-ton trucks.” So screams the poster publicity for Hell Drivers. This tough and tautly directed thriller unconsciously echoes the lorry driver tribulations of Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear and anticipates the internal combustion engine, as monster, in Spielberg’s Duel. The Wikipedia entry for Hell Drivers actually supplies a credit for the vehicles “The Doge 100 Kew” parrot-nosed truck, with a tipper body.” The trucks are as much a star of this film as are the macho guys who manically drive them, loaded with gravel, on 20 mile round trips.

Tom Yeates (Stanley Baker), just released from prison, gets a job as truck driver after seeing Carley, (William Hartnell) the manager for a local building contractor. He soon meets Red (Patrick McGoohan), the head Irish driver and violent bully. Lucy (Peggy Cummins), the manager’s secretary, is dating driver Gino Rossi (Herbert Lom), but is really more interested in Tom. Red and Tom compete fiercely and dangerously to be the top driver so they can claim a gold cigarette case (their prize and flashy symbol of strength). Meanwhile, Hell Drivers’ sub-plots of managerial corruption, loyal male friendships and the attraction of the hardly conflicted Lucy, all simmer in the pot for this powerful duel.

Hell Drivers is fascinating for its Americanisation of the parochial British thriller of the 1950s. Director Cy Endfield (a victim of the McCarthy purges) is an émigré who directs as if whipping up a posse pursuit in a Western, with a nod to that Warner Brothers melodrama about truck driving: They Drive by Night: all the action being sharply spiked by an angry script about worker exploitation. Yet Hell Drivers seems to address conflicting forms of masculinity rather than small business swindles in today’s climate.

Stanley Baker is outstanding as Tom. It’s a perfect role for his idiosyncratic fiery Welsh temperament. Baker consistently expresses a potent mix of surface menace and suppressed tenderness. He cares, yet doesn’t really care. Baker’s wayward “devil may care” persona was always impatient to get things done and achieve a kind of class justice in a treacherous world. His acting had a fantastic edge. He was at his very best when directed by Cy Endfield and Joseph Losey: exhibiting a Celtic Brando-like power (minus any method acting) that gripped you by the throat and worth a quote from critic David Thomson here.

“Until the early 1960s, Baker was the only male lead in the British cinema who managed to suggest contemptuousness, aggression, and the working class. He is the first hint of proletarian male vigour against the grain….”

Patrick McGoohan was compelling in the role of Red. But unlike Baker he is a bit too self-consciously acting for effect. He was a highly individual and intense performer who was most famous for his TV work on Danger Man and, of course, the iconic The Prisoner. In The Prisoner he was always searching to find ‘No 1’. Whilst in Hell Drivers he is the foreman driver of the ‘No 1’ truck. After several viewings of Hell Drivers I’m beginning to think that Red is just a bit too much of a stereotyped baddie. McGoohan snarls his way through the film as if aping Lee Marvin on a bad day. Or prefiguring an imitation of Eli Wallach in a spaghetti western. Yet in spite of the hugely enjoyable over-acting, Red’s character doesn’t flaw the realism of Hell Drivers: it works to provoke the Tom character to discover some moral virtue behind his gritty attitude.

The third element of masculine force is Gino – finely played by Herbert Lom. Any caricature of an Italian abroad in a rough community, is avoided. True, he does have a Catholic side, in the form of a prayer-room point in the lodging house. But religious sentimentality, mama mias and a love of pasta are absent. Lom touchingly stresses the sensitivity and kindness of Gino. He acts as a feminine catalyst between the opposing forces of Tom and Red: pairing himself up with the tough Lucy (a strong performance from Peggy Cummins).

All the characters in Hell Drivers – including the minor supporting actors, such as a very young Sean Connery – keep testing one another. And not simply on a testosterone tough guy level. They’re challenged by the company’s demand for profit and hence their need for insanely reckless driving. Through an exposure of the cheating management, Red does eventually receive his come-uppance and Tom, a form of salvation, or more specifically he comes to his senses and might be a changed man.

The crisp photography of Geoffrey Unsworth; tight editing; expertly-used locations and a strong pace to the story make for an exciting film. Although the benefits of American materialism hadn’t yet fully hit British society, our cinema was invigorated by the intervention of outsider Cy Endfield (and soon after by Joseph Losey with Blind Date and The Criminal both starring an even more intimidating Stanley Baker). And what with Hammer’s Dracula and the British New Wave waiting in the wings, sedate manners trembled. ALAN PRICE©2018

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY | NETWORK

Macbeth (2018) ***

Dir.: Kit Monkman; Cast: Mark Rowley, Akiya Henry, Al Weaver, Dai Bradley; UK 2017, 12

Kit Monkman creates a MACBETH for our times: part-experimental arthouse-cinema, partly a futuristic version of Games of Thrones, his adaptation of the Scottish play is shot entirely on green screen, with background matte painting effects and CGI creating a fleeting world where the camera roves seemingly at will through multiple stages, the action unfolding simultaneously.

Although this film’s aesthetics are anything but realistic, but the acting is physical to the point of open brutality. Macbeth (Rowley) and Lady Macbeth (Henry) are madly obsessed with each other: their lovemaking and post-coital deliberations make them look very much like the Noirish coupling of Laurie and Bart in Joseph H. Lewis’ Gun Crazy: Sex and violence rule their lives in equal parts, and once again, it is the female who is more dangerous than the male. That said, Macbeth does not need any encouragement, he is, after all, a young, successful general. His relationship with Banquo (Weaver) is that of rivalry and hidden admiration. Both are entrenched in violence. But Macbeth not only murders centre stage, but also casually: the slaying of Macduff’s wife is shown at the margin of the frame (again shades of Lewis).

Diverse themes often intermingle: sex and battlefield scenes are woven into each other, the audience always alerted to new thrills that dovetail into one another. Sometimes we lose lose perspective altogether: is the moon inside our outside Macbeth’s bedroom? Then there is the projectionist/porter (Bradley) running a 1909 silent film version of the play directed by Mario Caserini. He seems to function solely in his role as keeper of the past while the main-action might be set any time in the future. Grey and green pre-dominate, the blood-red crimson spurts like arrows into the murky mire of Scotland’s winter. Still looking for a distributor, Monkman’s visionary version of MACBETH is a worthwhile addition to the Scottish play’s canon. AS

SCREENING FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY 23 APRIL 2018 | SHAKESPEARE’ BIRTHDAY HERE   

Ramrod (1947)* * * | Bluray release

Dir: Andre De Toth | | Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Don Defore   Western | US | 94′

In 1947 Hollywood produced two remarkable Westerns, Raoul Walsh’s Pursued and Andre De Toth’s RAMROD. Both films prefigure the popular psychological westerns of the 1950s. Their pressing concerns are troubled characters with conflicting desires. If Pursued is the western’s venture into guilt and trauma forcibly shaded by psychoanalysis, then Ramrod is a head-on prairie encounter with contradiction and moral duplicity. Each is strongly noirish: with Ramrod the more talky and perhaps, in terms of all its characters, the more morally conflicted. The casting of Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake points up the tension to come: a seasoned Westerner clashing with a devious femme fatale went very much against the grain of the late forties.

Connie Dickason (Veronica Lake) is the determined daughter of ranch owner Ben Dickason (Charles Ruggles) who is controlled by cattleman Frank Ivey (Preston Foster). This powerful man was lined up, by her father, for marriage to Connie. Yet the man she really loves is shamed by Ivey. Connie forms a gang. As does Ivey. Ranch foreman Dave Nash (Joel McCrea) is hired, along with Bill Schell (Don Defore) to help Connie. Bill’s methods bend the law. Whilst the manipulative Connie seduces Dave and Bill, organises a cattle stampede and pushes on to claim her land.

Unpredictability comes to the fore in Ramrod. Throughout its violence and machinations you are never quite sure who to trust next. Characters act in their own naked self-interest – getting land, getting a partner or getting-back at a parent. Yet Ramrod is a subtly written drama of moral ambiguity. Enhancing the complexity of the scripting is a dense and tightly focused cinematic design. It’s storytelling with numerous in-depth shots, often through windows, that are as dark and troubling as the many moves of the protagonists (A climactic shoot out, executed at night, and accompanied by Adolph Deutsch’s music, has a brooding power.)

De Toth was an expert director of westerns. If not in the same high class B picture league as Joseph H. Lewis, in terms of staging, there are times when he’s not far behind. It’s difficult for a western of moral probity to avoid a strained seriousness (Some later 50’s westerns strayed into this territory.) However Ramrod’s actors obviously relished their excellent script, without ever over-acting, for even the most minor supporting player delivers a carefully considered performance. The film contains sporadic and exciting action that’s appropriate to the plot and reinforces the reaction of people making hard choices over who next to betray, or not, and what property to grab. De Toth’s direction is consistently strong and seriously engaged.

Ramrod is occasionally over-complex and forbidding (Yet, even to say that is more to praise than criticise.) Persevere beyond the ‘closed-up’ opening 15 mins and Ramrod offers you considerable rewards. Such a thoughtful western of chamber music intensity doesn’t come along very often. Ramrod would make a challenging double bill with Pursued. The blu-ray presentation is far superior to its previous DVD issue. BFI Southbank should program a Western season highlighting De Toth, Walsh, Ford and Mann’s use of landscape as they delve nature and mirror frontier psychology. My suggested title – “In Pursuit of a Rugged Dream.” Alan Price©

OUT ON BLURAY | 5 MARCH 2018 | ARROW FILMS

Ice Cold in Alex (1958) | 4K Bluray release

 Dir: J Lee Thompson | Cast: John Mills, Sylvia Syms, Anthony Quayle | UK | 122’

1942: The Libyan war zone, North Africa. After a German invasion a British ambulance crew are forced to evacuate their base but become separated from the rest of their unit. Somehow they must make it to Alexandria, but how? Their only hope is a dilapidated ambulance named “Katy” and an irrational, alcoholic soldier known as Captain Anson. Facing landmines, a Nazi attack, suffocating quicksand and the relentlessly brutal and unforgiving Sahara desert, can Captain Anson face his demons and make the road to hell a journey to freedom? Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize and nominated for the Golden Bear Award at Berlin International Film Festival, the film was also nominated for 4 BAFTAs including Best British Film, Best Screenplay and Best British Actor for Anthony Quayle on its initial release. Directed by J. Lee Thompson (Cape Fear, The Guns of the Navarone) with one iconic set piece after the next and with career best performances from John Mills (Goodbye Mr Chips, Great Expectations), Sylvia Syms (The Tamarind Seed, The Queen) and Anthony Quayle (Lawrence of Arabia), ICE COLD IN ALEX is a suspenseful, invigorating journey which leaves film fans gasping for breath… and a beer.

Special Premiere Screening at Glasgow Film Festival
Thursday 22nd February, Glasgow Film Theatre 1, 12.40pm

New 4k restoration of ICE COLD IN ALEX (1958) released on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Download 19thFebruary 2018

 

Brotherhood of the Blades II * * * DVD release

Dir: Yang Lu | Action Drama | Korea | 120’

An action-packed prequel to the acclaimed 2014 original, starring CHEN CHANG (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Assassin), BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADES II is sumptuously set in the late Ming dynasty of China, where Shen Lian (CHANG), a loyal warrior of the Imperial Guard, is searching for the truth behind a conspiracy that framed him.

Brotherhood Of Blades is gorgeous to look and engrossing to watch, its historical narrative fraught with intrigue and moral ambiguity. And although we never feel for the characters they certainly keep us entertained in glowing set pieces involving intense action and intricate swordplay where the camera darts back and forth, often at ground level looking up to the skies or in intimate close-up. Lavish emerald landscapes sparkle like priceless gems jostling with opluent period interiors. Moments of silence intensify the delicate fight sequences with echoes of House of Flying Daggers. Not a masterpiece but a competently crafted and entertaining Korean martial arts thriller. MT

BROTHERHOOD OF BLADES‬ 2: THE INFERNAL BATTLEFIELD to DVD ‪on 12th February‬ courtesy of Thunderbird Releasing

New World (2013) | Bluray release

Dir.: Park Hoon-jung; Cast: Park Seong-ung, Hwang, Choi Min-sik, Lee ja-seng, Ji-hyo Song; South Korea 2013, 134′

Park’s ultra-violent, epic gangster movie is unfortunately all mouth and no trousers. Images of mass slaughter, however stunning – and Chung Chung Hoon certainly pulls out all the stops in this department – can never replace the gaping void left by an incoherent narrative that ultimately leaves most viewers yawning on the sidelines, or even checking their ‘phones. 

After the death of the senior boss of the gangster conglomerate Goldmoon, three men fight in a bloody war for his succession: Lee Jeong-gu (Park) seems to have the best chance, he at least appears to have his act together – more than can be said for the loose cannon Jeon (Hwang), who is an out and out psychotic. The third contender is Lee Jong-jae (Lee), who happens to be a policeman who has infiltrated the gang on orders of his superior chief Kwang (Choi). To make sure that Lee is keeping on the right side of the law, Kwang has ordered Lee’s pregnant wife to keep an eye on him, sending regular reports to the chief. But Lee is really in love with Shin-woo (Ji-hyoSong), who is also a mole set up by Kwang. After her cover is blown, Lee has to shoot her to save her from more torture. After Kwang himself is killed, the plot deteriorates even more, ending in its bloody conclusion. That the gangsters  behave like corporate junkies, when not hell bent on killing each other, is hardly a novelty after a while. Overall, Park has nothing new to offer, just a higher head count than his fellow directors. Shame about the gorgeous images, and the highly skilled professional work of all departments. AS

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA VIDEO MONTAGE SERIES | 18 JANUARY 2018

Birth of the Dragon (2017)

Dir.: George Nolfi; Cast: Yu Xia, Philip Ng, Billy Magnussen, Jingjing Qu, Jiu Xing; China/Canada/USA 2016, 95′.

A disappointing outing for director George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau), featuring a young Bruce Lee and his legendary fight with Shaolin master Wong Jack Man in San Francisco in 1964. Writers Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen J. Rivele are certainly no Philip K. Dick, the novelist of The Adjustment Bureau, and Nolfi seemingly appears only as good as the material he is presented with.

Recut from the version which ran at TIFF 2016, Birth features Steve (Magnussen), a young student of Bruce Lee (Ng)who soon leaves his training with Lee to join Master Wong Jack Man (Yu), who has fetched up in San Francisco after injuring a fellow competitor by delivering a forbidden kick. Wong wants to ‘cleanse his soul’ and become pure again, but is not particularly humble, and soon attacks Lee for his fighting style. The two thrash it out, with Wong sparing Lee’s life. Meanwhile, Steve has fallen for the waitress Xiulan (Jingjing), who is in thrall to a female crime boss (Jiu) who is threatening to put her into prostitution, if she doesn’t cut her ties with the young trainee. Lee and Wong cooperate, to set her free. And whilst the future Kung Fu King changes his fighting style to something less spectacular, Wong returns to his monastery. BIRTH has the feeling of an old-fashioned Hollywood gangster movie, underpinned by the backdrop of an idealised 1970s San Francisco. The “narrative” is as slight as the snake-hipped fighters, and everything is held together by the fighting numbers. For committed Lee/Kung Fu fans only. AS

ON RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM FEBRUARY 23, 2018

The Commuter (2017)

Dir.: Jaume Collet-Serra; Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern; USA 2018, 104 min.

In his fourth collaboration with Spanish born schlock-specialist Collet-Serra, Liam Neeson, now officially a senior citizen, is still winning every fight to defeat macho males young enough to be his grand children, in a thriller that barely breaks sweat.

Meanwhile COMMUTER‘S writers Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle have clearly binged on classic Hitchcock features to come up with an outlandish premise that suspends reality non-stop. Insurance agent and ex-NYPD cop Michael McCauley (Neeson) is fired from his job five years short of retirement. Commuting back to his home in Long Island, Michael gets an offer he can’t refuse – or his family will be held to ransom – from the enigmatic Joanna (Farmiga). She will give him $100 000 to identify and place a GPS tracker on a passenger who is not a regular commuter, but who has the McGuffin – a computer drive. After trousering an initial payment of $25 000, hidden in a ‘restroom’, Michael gets cold feet, and wants out. But Joanna is omnipotent, reaching Michael on every ‘phone he uses to call for assistance, and there’s worse: three people Michael had asked for help are killed by Joanna’s  unseen forces. Which begs the question, why does she need Michael at all? As the pace quickens, Michael’s past, in shape of his NPYD partner Alex Murphy (Wilson) and his ex-boss Capt. Hawthorne (Neill) muddy the waters even more. But all will be revealed when the baddies finally catch up with Michael and the rest of his commuters, who are an uninspiring bunch of carbon copies. But there’s no time for details that might actually make us think or feel for this motley crew of suspects (Latina nurse etc). And just as we’ve dropped off, the pyro-technical rail-crash finale then jolts us back to our senses, desperately trying to remember where we parked the car. AS

THE COMMUTER IS OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 12 JANUARY 2018

The Battle of Algiers | La Battaglia di Algeri (1966) Restored dual edition

Dir.: Gillo Pontecorvo | Cast: Yacef Saadi, Brahim Hadjadj, Jean Martin | Algeria/Italy | Historical drama | 121 min.

Gillo Pontecorvo (1919-2006) only directed five feature films during his active years as a filmmaker between 1957 and 1979, but shot more than feature documentaries. Having won the Golden Lion in Venice in 1966 for The Battle of Algiers, he returned to the Mostra as its director between 1992 and 1996, giving him a unique position in film history.

The Battle of Algiers is a milestone for two main reasons: firstly, Pontecorvo created a blueprint of terrorism, torture, guerrilla fighting and racial profiling which was still used by the Pentagon in 2003, at the beginning of the Iraq war. Secondly, Pontecorvo used his skills as a documentary filmmaker, mixing the observational style of the classic documentary with a newsreel like spontaneity. When the film was premiered in the USA, the disclaimer made clear that no newsreel segments had been included. The shock was so great, that The Battle of Algiers could not be shown in France for five years, and the British censors followed suit, after only one screening at the LFF in December 1966. Even after the delay, there where huge demonstrations in front of the cinemas who dared to show it. Meanwhile, the government in Algiers (and some film critics), protested that the French army, particularly their leader, Colonel Mathieu, were shown with too much sympathy.

The Battle of Algiers opens at the end in 1957: an Algerian resistance fighter discloses during torture the hiding place of his leader Ali La Pointe (Hadjadj) and three of his staff. La Pointe, who is holed up in a hiding place behind a wall, is being told by a voice- over “You’re the last one. It’s all over”. A huge regiment of French soldiers (symbolic for the whole army) is ready for the kill. A close-up of La Pointe’s desperate face fades and we are back in 1954.

Ali La Pointe is not at all a charismatic leader: he is an illiterate petty-criminal, who is radicalised in jail, after watching a resistance fighter die under the guillotine. Out of prison, he seems to like the violence which the FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale) insurgents are employing more and more against the French occupying army. He is very much an alien, comparable with the protagonists in Rome, Open City, whose neo-realism Pontecorvo used to perfection. And Djafar (Saadi), another leader of the movement, reminds us very much of the father in De Sicas’ The Bicycle Thieves. Compared with them, Colonel Mathieu (Martin) is a dashing figure, a true intellectual leader. Violence escalates, the battle sequences are shown in organised segments – the most famous starts with the clock showing 11.20, scored with Ennio Morricone’s percussive music. Three female guerrilla fighters put on Western clothes, preparing to attack three different locations with their bombs. A montage with the three women and the faces of the victims who will be blown up soon, remind us of early Eisenstein.

Pontecorvo and DoP Marcello Gatti (The Four Days of Naples) always create the impression that the scenes were spontaneously shot: the camera reacts to events, never going for the best exposé, but letting characters slip in and out of frames. The images vibrate with constant gunfire and bombs reminiscent of early days of the hand-held camera. The audience is right in the thick of the action. After over fifty years, the powerful images of Battle of Algiers are still ahead of the contemporary documentary-aesthetic. AS

AVAILABLE COURTESY OF CULT FILMS 5 FEBRUARY 2018

 

Hostiles (2017) ***

Dir: Scott Cooper | Writer:    Cast: Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi, Peter Mullan, Scott Shepherd Rory Cochrane, Jonathan Majors | Western | US | 133′

There’s a lot to be learnt from the legendary Western directors such as Sergio Leone, John Ford, Anthony Mann or  Howard Hawks. Incendiary themes of ethnic cleansing and Colonialism are always ways handled with a touch of charisma or even dark humour that Scott Cooper’s philosophical but often laborious tale of how the West was won, has failed to register. And although Cooper adds a modern twist that sees the US Army acknowledging its racism and   violence towards the frontier tribes, adding a modern twist of reconciliation between the age-old rivals: the white settlers and the Native Americans, HOSTILES is a film that completely lacks charm, although as sly slick of humour is almost perceptible in the final moments. The white characters are emotionally stoic and one-dimensional despite their generous screen time, whilst their Native American counterparts simply serve the narrative as silent underwritten cyphers. To his credit Big Chief exudes tremendous dignity by his presence alone. But has few lines.

HOSTILES is a stunningly mounted and often poetic widescreen frontier epic that thoughtfully explores the fraught tensions between white men and Native Americans, and remains reasonably engrossing throughout its slow-burning 132 minutes. There’s little subtlety to its depiction of the tribal types: Comanche are shown as brutish marauders whilst the Cheyennes appear to have hidden depths of spirituality, despite their bouts savagery. This is hard-edged stuff that opens with the Comanches burning down and looting a ranch belonging to a white family. The father is scalped, the three children shot dead while mother Rosalee Quaid (Pike) embarks on a sole journey for survival where she meets Christian Bale’s retiring Army caption Capt. Joseph Blocker who is tasked, against his will, with accompanying Chief Yellow Hawk and his family, and later a convicted felon across the arid wilderness to safety. Blocker is threatened with losing his pension, and has many reasons to hate the Chief for his barbaric acts towards white men. Few survive the ordeal and although Cooper’s premise attempts have the rivals bury the hatchet through comradeship during their travails, the transition from foe to friendship is unconvincingly portrayed: Pike’s character is one minute mourning her murdered kin, and only a few scenes later accepting an intimate olive branch provided by the Native American Haw.

HOSTILES is based on a ‘manucript’ penned by The Hunt for Red October writer Donald Stewart. And it feels progressive despite its later 19th century setting. One scene features a convivial dinner where Blocker sits through a bleeding Liberal speech delivered by the goodly wife (Robin Malcolm) of Peter Mullan’s Lt. Colonel Ross McCowan.  And there’s quiet contemplation to be found in DoP Masanobu Takayanagi’s glowing landscapes and Max Richter’s lowkey atmospheric score that allow breathing space amidst the worthiness of it all. Rosamund Pike shows a woman’s capacity to thaw and adjust emotionally to her tragic circumstances but then Christian Bale’s crusty Captain offers her protection and potentially something more promising between the sheets once his buttoned up exterior feels the warmth of her appeal. Shame therefore that the Native Americans were so scalped of personalities here despite the initial promise of a progressive Western. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 5 January 2018

https://youtu.be/wuZcyScmW_k

 

Berlinale: Generation 2018

Generation 2018: On true fairy tales and magical realities

Last year’s Generation strand featured some really hot titles, proving that youth cinema is capable of surprising and entertaining the older generation – not just its key audience. In its 41st edition, Generation reinforces its reputation for presenting ambitious new discoveries in the international contemporary film scene to young people told at eye level.

16 feature-length films have already been selected for the competition programmes Kplus and 14plus. In the diverse cinematic formats characteristic of the section, narratives follow their young protagonists through magical worlds of imagery, creating their very own realities that make the contradictions of the fragile adult world visible in subtle ways. The complete 2018 Generation programme will be publicised in mid-January.

Generation 14plus

303 |  Dir: Hans Weingartner | Germany | World premiere

303 tells the story of two university students, Jule (Mala Emde) and Jan (Anton Spieker) who leave Berlin together in an old camper on a road trip south, but for different reasons. As they philosophise on the world and themselves in passionate discussions, director Hans Weingartner maintains a natural closeness to the two young people against breathtaking backgrounds. After his contribution for the episodic film Germany 09, 13 Short Films About The State Of The Nation (Competition 2009), Weingartner, who was also a GWFF Best First Feature Award jury member in 2006, presents his second film at the Berlinale.

Cobain | Dir: Nanouk Leopold | Netherlands / Belgium / Germany | World premiere

After Wolfsbergen (Forum 2007), Brownian Movement (Forum 2011) and Boven is Het Still (Panorama 2013), Dutch director Nanouk Leopold will be represented at the 2018 festival in the Generation 14plus competition. In her characteristic style of quiet radicalism, her newest film follows 15-year-old Cobain as he wanders through the city in search of his self-destructive mother. On his way he runs into her old friends, social workers and the methadone clinic. In his feature film debut, Bas Keizer gently and stirringly embodies the young man who must grow up far before his time.

Danmark | Dir:  Kasper Rune Larsen | International premiere

When 16-year-old Josephine finds out she’s pregnant, she sleeps with laconic Norge and tells him he’s the father. What follows is a wary approach in which questions on responsibility and commitment become increasingly important for the two young people. In his feature film debut, in attentively registered gestures and looks, and keenly observed bodies, faces and things the two protagonists say or don’t say, Kasper Rune Larsen paints a perceptive portrait of young people with deep respect for their wishes and fears, their mistakes and desires.

Güvercin (The Pigeon) | Dir: Banu Sıvacı | Turkey | World premiere

Only on the roof of his parents’ house, above the alleys of a slum in Adana, with his beloved pigeons, can Yusuf find peace, and himself. Finding a foothold in the dystopian world outside is more difficult. Banu Sıvacı’s feature film debut – which she also wrote and produced – follows Yusuf in sharply composed imagery through difficult times. His expressions and the twists and turns of his body open up his very own inner world that has lots to tell about the outside one.

Les faux tatouages (Tattoos) Dir: Pascal Plante | Canada  | International premiere

In Les faux tatouages (Tattoos), Pascal Plante tells the story of young love – tenderly, but without drifting into pathos. Misfit Theo, played by Anthony Therrien (lead in Corbo, Generation 14plus 2015), meets Mag on his 18th birthday, and she invites him to spend the night with her. Music is the language they have in common: Framed by wild punk rhythms and filled with youthful passion, a relationship unfolds whose intensity is only increased by its unavoidably approaching end. With great candour and precision, Plante captures the hopes and dreams of young people on their path into an uncertain future.

Para Aduma (Red Cow) | Dir: Tsivia Barkai | Israel |  World premiere

Director, Berlinale Talents alumna and Jerusalem native Tsivia Barkai was already a guest of Generation in the 2006 14plus competition with her first short film Vika. In her feature film debut, she tells the story of patriarchic order, and youthful desire and rebellion. Benny, a young woman, lives in East Jerusalem and sees her father’s religious, utopian nationalism with increasing scepticism – unlike the secret embraces of her girlfriend Yael. A story told in pictures as powerful as the stormy yearnings of its heroine.

Unicórnio (Unicorn) | Dir: Eduardo Nunes | Brazil  | International premiere

The mysterious drama by Brazilian director Eduardo Nunes develops the story of 13-year-old Maria, who lives alone with her mother in rural isolation. When a young man moves into the neighborhood with his herd of goats, their lives are thrown off balance. Using intoxicatingly immersive images, Nunes transmits the radical language and magical realism of author Hilda Hilst into a mystical, fairy-tale world in an imposing widescreen format.

Virus Tropical | Columbia / France | Dir: Santiago Caicedo | European premiere

Paola is growing up in Quito, Ecuador, as the youngest of three sisters. Dreams burst, companies fail, love grows and withers. In his feature film debut, director Santiago Caicedos translates the autobiographical story of the Ecuadorian comic illustrator Powerpaola into fast-paced, graphically daring, animated images. Emancipatory protest and a declaration of love combine to form an ironic perspective on contemporary Latin America.

Generation Kplus

Allons enfants (Cléo & Paul | DIR: Stéphane Demoustier | France | World premiere

Three-and-a-half-year-old Cléo is the reigning hide-and-seek champion. But then one day she forgets which path she took in the park. Suddenly the world is full of strangers staring at their smartphones. Cléo sets out on her own in the hustle-bustle of Paris in search of her brother Paul, who is only slightly older – and lost as well. In tender proximity to its tiny protagonists, this laconic cinematic fairy tale by Stéphane Demoustier turns the daily urban doldrums into a marvelous cosmos of wonderful things, places and encounters.

The Incredible Story of the Giant Pear | Dir:  Philip Einstein Lipski, Amalie Næsby Fick, Jørgen Lerdam | International premiere

Mitcho and Sebastian are quite surprised when they fish a message in a bottle out of the water one day. Inside is a letter from the mayor J.B., who vanished without a trace, and a seed that grows into a giant pear overnight. The pear turns into a sailboat and suddenly the anxious Sebastian and the hydrophobic Mitcho find themselves in the middle of the ocean with a mad professor. Based on the picture book by Jakob Martin Strid, this fast-paced, magical animation by a trio of directors tells the story of an adventurous journey to the mysterious island where Mayor J.B. is now believed to be located.

My Giraffe | Dir: Barbara Bredero  | Netherlands / Belgium / Germany | International premiere

Patterson’s best friend has a long neck and soft, brightly-spotted fur. His name is Raf, he was born the same day as Patterson, and he is: a talking giraffe. Now the two of them are turning four, and soon it’ll be their first day of school. Only animals aren’t allowed at school. Inspired by the classic Dutch children’s song and poem by Annie M.G. Schmidt, and told with a wink, this film is an imaginative story on value and flux in an unusual friendship.

El día que resistía | Dir: Alessia Chiesa | Arg/France | World premiere

They play hide-and-seek, read to each other, roughhouse and tumble with their dog Coco: At first glance, the siblings Fan (8), Tino (6) and Claa (4) lead an unburdened childhood life. But they are completely alone, and the forest is just outside, and wasn’t there something about a big bad wolf? With ample sensuality, Berlinale Talents alumna and Argentina native Alessia Chiesa’s feature-length debut unfolds into a dreamy but increasingly gloomy world.

Gordon och Paddy (Gordon and Paddy) | Dir”: Linda Hambäck | Sweden | International premiere

Told in wildly popular Scandinavian whodunit style, frog police chief Gordon, voiced by Stellan Skarsgård, and his assistant Paddy (Melinda Kinnaman) uphold the law of the forest, track down nut thieves and protect forest residents from the fox. Courteousness is legal and dirty tricks are illegal. But that’s always a question of perspective, as this absorbing animation shows using oodles of charm and attention to detail, by filmmaker Linda Hambäck, born in South Korea.

Les rois mongols (Cross My Heart) | Dir: Luc Picard | Canada  | European premiere

Montreal, October 1970. Twelve-year-old Manon’s poverty-stricken family breaks apart: His father has cancer and his mother is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. When Manon and her little brother are to be taken to a foster family, she makes a daredevil plan. Featuring stirring actors and skillfully linked to the real-life upheavals, this film manages to create a moving portrayal of those times, simultaneously exposing the lies and lack of understanding in the grown-up world in tragic and humorous ways.

Sekala Niskala (The Seen and Unseen) | Dir: Kamila Andini | Neth / Austral / Qatar | Euro prem

In Sekala Niskala (The Seen and Unseen), Indonesian director Kamila Andini, who presented her debut film The Mirror Never Lies at the Berlinale (Generation 2012) searches for answers to the question of how to say goodbye to a beloved person. Shaped by the Balinese understanding of Sekala – the seen, and Niskala – the unseen, Andini gives the world experience of a ten-year-old girl and her very ill twin brother an imagery of remarkable expressive power.

Supa Modo Germany | Dir: Likarion Wainaina |  Kenya | World premiere

This drama by Kenyan director Likarion Wainaina, co-produced by Tom Tykwer, tells the inspiring story of nine-year-old Jo. In her acting debut, Stycie Waweru embodies with touching earnestness the terminally ill girl who dreams of being a superhero. Against all odds and battling the time left her, a whole village takes it upon themselves to make Jo’s last wish a reality: to make a film and star in it. Wainaina succeeds in creating a deeply moving observation of the comforting value of imagination in the face of the finiteness of a still young life.

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | GENERATION PLUS | 15-25 FEBRUARY 2018

Blade of the Immortal (2017)

Dir: Takashi Miike | Writers: Hiroaki Samura, Tetsuya Oishi | Action Thriller | Japan | 140′

Seasoned manga director Takashi Miike seems to be live forever like his hero Manji played by Takuya Kimura in what is purported to be the Japanese director’s 100th film. How can any artist be original with this body of work behind him, Indeed, BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL lacks the inventive touches of his earlier work but it’s certainly enjoyable and as highly polished as Majii’s extensive weaponry. Adapted from Hiroaki Samura’s manga of the same name, it follows a Shogunate samurai warrior who is endowed with immortality due to the poisoned chalice delivered on him by a white-veiled Buddist nun in the opening scenes. This curse – or boon – depending on how you look at it, is delivered in the form of ‘sacred’ bloodworms scattered on his fatal wounds inflicted during a fight to avenge his sister’s death at the hands of the ruthless Itto-ryu, a school of fighters led by the weirdly tattooed Anotsu (Soto Fukushi). In this way he is rendered impervious to lethal wounds – which heal at the drop of a sword – severed limbs cleverly finding their back to his body. Initially this sounds just the ticket for a Shogun warrior, but as time goes by he gets sick and tired of the whole charade until he meets cute Rin (teen star Hana Sugisaki), a determined tomboy who iis also seeking revenge for her parents who were also slain by the Itto-ryu. This is flesh on the bloody bones of the saga, which limps on in a gore-fuelled second act which never really develops its existing immortal characters but just keeps on introducing us to other ghoulish weirdos including Sabato Kuroi (Kazuki Kitamura) and mysterious monk Eiku Shizuma (Ebizo Ichikawa) who appears to possess an antidote to the bloodworms  in a series of subplots during its 140 minutes of blood-letting and limp-lopping tempered, with occasional stabs of humour amid the mass slaughter. All good clean fun. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 DECEMBER 2017

 

Trophy (2017)

Dir.: Shaul Schwarz, Christina Clusiau; Documentary; Uk/Namibia/South Africa/Zimbabwe/USA 2017, 108 min.

Directors and DoPs Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau (A Year in Space) showcase the inconvenient truth about big game hunting, partly against their own will, in this informative documentary. In filming the Big Game hunters, poachers, ecologists and breeders in action and listening to their comments, they have taken, in my opinion, a shameful stance in siding with the hunters, claiming their slaughtering is all part of ‘conservation’. But images do not lie: Trophy shows the barbarism of hunting, whatever PR comments the human predators make in their defence.

Schwarz and Clusiau (“we had to be open-minded, empathic and curious”) kick off with Philip Glass, a Texan who breeds sheep on his ranch in San Angelo. He is a “believer” and lifelong hunter who travels to Africa to kill the “big Five”: Buffalo, lion, leopard, elephant and rhino. To make sure, this spirit stays in the family and he teaches his son to hunt – something the filmmakers coyly describe as “a rite of passage”.

We then visit Las Vegas for the yearly meeting of The Safari Club International Convention (SCI) in Las Vegas, where around 25,000 people buy their hunting trips. SCI organises the trips, which cost on average between 25,000 and 100,000 USD. At the convention one can also buy guns, safari gear and trophy insurance, making it a one-stop shop for this racket which, according to the filmmakers, “started with a father-son-rite of passage relationship which is now part of a larger cycle.”

The case of John Hume, a South African rhino breeder who owns Buffalo Dream, Ranch, is a little more ambivalent. Hume has around 1500 rhino, whose horns he trims every two years, regularly subjecting the animals under anaesthetic. In 2009 the South African government ordered a rhino horn moratorium which resulted in a sharp rise in poaching. Hume won the case, and is now the proud owner of five tons of horns, which are worth million’s of Dollars and are now for sale in South Africa. Whilst Hume is hardly a philanthropist, he is less heinous than the poachers, who kill the rhinos brutally before selling the horns.

The entire weight of  Glass’ bravado and bible-quoting (“Humans should have dominion over animals”), as well as his distain for “people who believe in evolution”, comes down on the filmmakers when they show an elephant crying pitifully for seemingly ages after be he has been shot by Glass. This scene alone contradicts everything Schwarz and Clusiau have to say about Glass and his like. Whilst Schwarz agrees with Clusiau “ I had a hard time with the elephant as well. I had a hard time with controlling what I think about Phil and what I think about people like him”. But in an interview Schwarz repudiates himself: “I don’t think Philip is a bad guy.” Then Schwarz goes on the defensive, stating “that even if Philip is an ass, does this completely kill the discussion how we should think about conservation? And does Philip hunting, because I, as a viewer don’t like him, disqualify his hunting as a form of conservation?” And Clusiau states in the same interview: “I agree with Shaul and don’t think Paul is a bad person. I appreciate that all the characters in the film, fully believe in what they are doing. I may not agree with their methods, but for me it’s more a question to if these methods help conserve”.

The myth about hunting as a form of conservation is best repudiated in Kenya, where the vicious ‘sport’ has been banned. Kenya has the most beautiful parks in Africa and tourism keeps their existence in economical terms, whereas South Africa has gone the opposite way: animals are just a commodity, ready to be sacrificed for private profit. Give Trophy a watch and draw your own conclusions: do you have to be cruel to be kind?. AS

 

 

The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale (2017) | Bluray release

Unknown-1Dir; Park Hoon-jung | Cast: Choi Min-sik, Jeong Man-sik | Action Adventure | South Korea | 139′

New World (2013) director Park Hoon-jung sets his ambitious Colonial epic in the impressive region of South Korea’s Jirisan National Park where veteran star Choi Min-sik gamely pits his wits against a real-looking CGI tiger, a metaphor for the era’s Japanese oppressors, in a film feels like Korea’s answer to The Revenant. Although THE TIGER gets rather bogged down in  fantasy snowdrifts halfway through its bulbous running time, there is plenty to admire in the fabulous snowy wastelands with an historical backdrop adding intellectual ballast to the cut and thrust of the wild outdoors. Tiger-wise the mighty beast is amongst the most authentic in the mechanical world, head and shoulders above the other ‘animals’ that took part in this enjoyable mix of nature and history. Certainly a Korean outing to relish. MT

BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | 6 November 2017

 

The Merciless (2017)

Dir: Byun Sung-hyun | Cast: Him Si-wan, Sul Kyung-gu | Crime Thriller | South Korea | 117′

Byun Sung-hyun’s The Merciless looks absolutely stunning as it opens on the waterfront where a man is celebrating his release from prison with his gangland mentor as a series of revelations about their ambitious past slowly unfurls in this dramatic and stylish thriller that often feels a bit too clever for its own good.

Jo Hyun-su (Yim Si-wan) is the young criminal and Han Jae-ho (Sul Kyung-gu) his aspirational father figure in this noirish South Korean exploration of like-minded friendship between felons. As long as you don’t thing too much it slips down as easily as a lychee cocktail.

Although this sounds like a contradiction in terms, the two have high hopes of rising to the top the criminal underworld. Hyun-su sons proves himself to the older Jae-ho (Sol Kyung-gu)  by saving his life in a knife attack and this loyalty leads to them working together once they are back in the real world. But when push come to shove their motives are very different. Jae-ho is desperate for a chance to kill his boss, Chairman Ko (Lee Kyoung-young) who was behind the attempted prison hit. Meanwhile, Hyun-su is tasked with taking down a enterprise linked to the Russian mafia, in an operation led by the masterful Chief Cheon (Jeon Hye-jin) who is bent on putting Ko and his associates in the klink.

This is a colourful and tonally cohesive genre thriller which have echoes of Infernal Affairs. Visually it’s lushly and vibrant but narratively there are drawbacks. Performance-wise too there is much to enjoy and the rapport between the leads crackles with charismatic, especially in regard to Yim Si-wan (a Korean pop singer who also goes by the name of Siwan). And although the film is more style over content, it’s a good-looking piece of filmmaking that slightly outstays its welcome at nearly two hours. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | CANNES REVIEW

Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) | Bluray release

35223429050_d904c3ca5e_zDir: Henry Levin | Pat Boone, James Mason, Arlene Dahl | Fantasy Drama | US | 132′

James Mason, Pat Boone and Arlene Dahl are the stars of Henry Levin’s ambitious and magnificently-mounted science-fiction adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic novel with its terrific special effects. JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH was considered Avantgarde for the 1950s but is still stunning with the Carlsbad Caverns as its setting, despite outstaying its welcome at over two hours.

In 1880 Edinburgh, Sir Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason) discovers a bomb in a piece of lava rock with a code suggesting the existence of a new world at the Earth’s core. He consults an expert, Professor Goteborg, who investigates the theory on his own unleashing a competitive mission  to Lindenbrook’s and his sidekick, student Alec McEwen (Pat Boone). But Goteborg suddenly dies and his widow Carla (Arlene Dahl) joins Mason’s group along with the musclebound Hans (Peter Ronson) and his pet duck Gertrude. Boone has a penchant for breaking into song on every occasion as the intrepid foursome descend into the nadir where romance also features in a fantasy foray that clings closest to Verne’s original than any other version.

There is much to enjoy here with the lost city of Atlantic, giant mushrooms. mammoth dinosaurs and (prosthetic) lizards that tower over the superb ensemble cast. Cheesy in the best possible way, this is tongue in cheek entertainment in the true spirit of Verne’s original, even for today’s jaded palette. MT

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | 18 SEPTEMBER 2017

The Vault (2017)

Dir.: Dan Bush; Cast: Francesca Eastwood, Taryn Manning, Scott Haze, James Franco, Q’orianka Kilcher; USA 2017, 92 min.

It’s easy to see what Dan Bush had in mind with The Vault: melding the bank heist genre with some gruesome Zombie action looked a great idea. Unfortunately, he gives away the plot in the off-commentary at the very start. Instead of suspense and thrills we get what we expected; and in spite of a strong ensemble cast, the suspense – on which both genres rely – is minimal.

Sisters Leah (Eastwood) and Taryn (Manning) are helping their brother Michael (Haze) to pay back his enormous debts to some vicious gangsters, by staging a bank robbery. The concept of a bank robbery today seems quite antiquated, and we soon learn why: the siblings are totally irrational in their planning, their execution, and thei family dynamics. Vee is an out-and-out psychopath; Michael flips between guilt and violence – making Leah the sanest of the lot (which doesn’t say much). The trio’s reactions are the most promising aspects of this slack thriller. Bank employees Susan Cromwell (Kilcher) and Ed Maas (Franco) are drawn into the powerplay of the would-be robbers, who are soon contacted by police officers outside the building. A narrative along the lines of Dog Day Afternoon, would have worked better, instead Maas tells the trio about a huge underground vault with six million Dollars in the cellar of the bank. When it emerges that the notes from the pitiful score of 70 000 Dollars are banknotes from the early 80s when the bank was the victim of a bloody heist, we realise what will happen after Michael forces his way into the vault….

This is bland and conventional stuff to look at and by way of its storyline – in the resulting incongruence of the genre collision we lose any interest in the protagonists’ fate. AS

NOW OUT ON RELEASE

https://vimeo.com/226969325

American Made (2017)

Dir.: Doug Liman; Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright; USA 2017, 115 min.

Doug Liman’s (Bourne Identity, The Wall) biopic of Barry Seal (1939-1986) could easily be mistaken for a Tom Cruise vehicle, in which the recently much maligned star plays a drug smuggler and money launderer for the CIA, putting on his megawatt smile and cheesy charm way through two hours of ludicrous mayhem. On the other hand, this feels like yet another Hollywood rewrite of American history.

We are introduced to a Barry Seal, who is naïve, but just a bit too greedy for his own good, when he starts to work for the CIA in the late ’70s, helping various suspicious South American groups to lay their hands on weapons and drugs – both seemingly necessary to fight communism in the sub-continent. Led by agent Mont Schafer (Gleeson), Seal, who once was the youngest pilot working for TWA, soon meets the Medellin Cartel and its main protagonist Pablo Escobar: After nearly coming to blows both sides see the advantages here and Tom – sorry – Barry is soon developing a lucrative side-line in drug-tracking – which naturally led to arms-dealing – for the Colombians, allowing him to trouser some pocket-bulging benefits. But soon everything goes bad: Barry is sucked into the Iran-Contra affair, with leading man Oliver North and a stonewalling White House led by Ronald and Nancy (‘Say No’) Reagan. Seal gets away from an Arkansas court, even though his guilt is proven, and gets a 1000 hour community work sentence. But the past catches up with him in a parking lot of the Salvation Army in his hometown of Baton Rogue, Louisiana in 1986.

Shot by DoP Cesar Charlone (Blindness) with competence but no imagination in the manner of all major Hollywood features, we are treated to two hours of escapism: just the right sort of juvenile nonsense without any impact, that might lead us to forget where we parked the car.

Not much to write home about – but looking into the CV of the real Barry Seal the picture changes dramatically. Born in Baton Rogue to a father who was an active Klansman, young Barry was in love with flying, and joined the Civil Air Patrol. In 1956/7 he met a certain Harvey Lee Oswald, and three years later became a member of “Operation 40”, a group of Cuban exiles, who where sponsored by the CIA and had been founded by then vice-president Richard Nixon. The group not only participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion, but staged assassinations in the USA and plots in many South American countries well into the 80ies, when American Made starts. And a sworn statement of his wife Deborah states “that Barry flew a get-away plane after the assassination of John F. Kennedy out of Dallas”, in which Cuban exiles played a significant role. An American made hero, indeed – but not the funny guy we are led to believe. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Born Free (1966) | Eureka dual format release

31546231111_8a447ac512_zDir: James Hill | Writers: Joy Adamson, Lester Cole | Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers, Geoffrey Keen, Peter Lukoye, Omar Chambati | Adventure Biopic | UK | 95min

BORN FREE is a fondly remembered childhood classic that captured our imagination and vast appetite for nature programmes of every description. A story of courage and love, nature, and a relationship unlike any other filmed, it epitomises man’s close bond with the wild and the animal kingdom.

Virginia McKenna will always be remembered primarily for her role as Joy Adamson, the woman who raised a lioness and eventually set her free in the vast golden savanna of central Africa. Highly acclaimed for its Technicolour cinema vérité style cinematography and for John Barry’s rousing score (that scooped a brace of Oscars for Best Original Music and Best Theme Tune – shared with Don Black who wrote the lyrics),  it follows the lives of game wardens Joy and her husband George (Bill Travers) who are forced to kill a menacing lion and lioness but end up adopting their three cubs, re-homing two of them in zoos but keeping the third – a female named Elsa – who becomes part of their family – until reality forces them to re-consider Elsa’s future. Gut-wrenchingly poignant and life-affirming for its factual but never sentimental narrative, the film was also an enormous hit at the box office – the sequel Living Free was less successful financially but starred another quintessential English duo Nigel Davenport and Susan Hampshire. MT

NOW ON BLURAY DUAL FORMAT COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

Atomic Blond (2017)

Dir: David Leitch | Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones | Action Thriller | 115′ | US

Charlize Theron tries to save MI6 while the Berlin Wall tumbles in David Leitch’s visually arresting contribution to the espionage genre that often takes itself too seriously trumping internecine intrigue with vitriolic violence. There’s one impressive scene but you’ll have to wait until the final moments to enjoy it so the first hour or so will feel in retrospect like treading water – albeit squally Neon-lit and stormy water.

As the heroine of the piece Lorraine Broughton, the blond (and occasionally brunette) –  bruised and battered – bombshell possesses the requisite steely resolve to convince audiences of her integrity but is often forced to curb her characteristic verve – while displaying her unrivalled sex appeal in scenes where she’s not crossing keys or juggling fake passports in this action-packed affair from the director of stunt cult classic Fight Club (1999). ATOMIC BLOND is based on Antony Johnson’s comics and Theron stars alongside a sterling British cast of James McAvoy, as her sidekick; Toby Jones as her handler; and a rather underwritten Eddie Marsan as a Russian defector.

We first meet Theron’s MI6 agent freshly bruised in a bath of ice. She is in Berlin for a progress report with her local bosses (Jones and John Goodman) updating them on her work to flush out a confidential list of British spies operating on the Continent. From thence the plot withers in a thriller that can only be described as Besson (pre-Valerian) meets Bond. At the end of the day, ATOMIC BLOND is really just a vehicle for Charlize Theron in a rather sketchy narrative that relies on action and her saucy kit to drive its rather sketchy ‘plot’ forward, seducing you with stylistic technique so you won’t notice the rather slim storyline which is just a prelude so sit back and enjoy the ride to the fabulous finale. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 2-12 AUGUST 2017 | ON RELEAE NATIONWIDE 11 Aug

 

 

Land of Mine | Under Sandet (2015)

Dir.: Martin Zandvliet; Cast: Roland Moller, Laura Bro, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, Emil Buschow, Oscar Buschow, Louis Hofman; Denmark/Germany 2015, 100 min.

Denmark is one of the few countries emerging from WWII with a measure of credit: mainly for its resistance against Nazi Germany and particularly its defence of its Jewish population. But writer/director Martin Zandvliet (A Funny Man) has uncovered a post-war incidence which somehow tarnishes the unblemished humanistic record of this Scandinavian country.

Set on the Western Danish coast just after the end of the Second World War, LAND OF MINE tells the story of Sergeant Rasmussen (Moller) in charge of a group of German teenage soldiers commanded to clear the coast of about two million mines placed by the German who expected the Allies (wrongly) to land there. Sergeant Rasmussen fosters open hatred towards the Germans: he obviously has been witness to the atrocities of the Nazis in his country.

Near the barracks, Karin (Bro), a Danish woman lives with her little daughter and supports the sergeant’s hostile attitude towards the POWs. For some reason, the teenagers are not being fed and Rasmussen starts to steal provisions for them – initially to help them work more efficiently. But after the first casualties, Rasmussen becomes aware that these young conscripts are hardly the experienced Nazi soldiers and SS troopers whose murderous regime he had to live under during the war. Rasmussen relaxes his regime, even gives the young men a day off. But this all changes when his dog is blown up by a mine in a coastal district declared “clean” by the Germans. More teenagers are killed before they risk themselves to save the life of Karin’s daughter, who has veered off into an un-cleared section of the beach. When his superior Lt. Ebbe (Foolsgaard), a hardliner, wants Rasmussen to transport the four survivors to clear another district, the Sergeant – who had promised the boy that they could go home – has to make a decision.

LAND OF MINE is an essay on forgiveness: highly controversial, since the relatives of the victims of the Nazi-terror are still alive, together with some survivors of the concentration camps. But Zandvliet makes clear that these teenage conscripts had no choice – and whilst the higher echelons of the Nazi party and army fled before the liberation, these young soldiers were left behind. Over 2000 were made to pay the debt for their elders, in clearing the mines, more than half of them were injured or killed during the process. Moller’s Rasmussen is a fine character study: his emotional changes show a decent man who is still suffering from the trauma of the occupation, but is still willing to give his humanistic Ego a chance, even against his own military authorities. DOP Camilla Hjelm Knudsen, the wife of the director captures a desert-like landscape where some of the alienated and isolated teenagers would sometimes rather commit suicide than go on living. Never didactic, LAND OF MINE keeps the audience engrossed with the gripping shifts of emotion for all parties concerned. AS

SHOWING AT CINEMAS FROM 4 AUGUST 2017

Locarno Film Festival 2017

IMG_3877Known for its edgy and eclectic selection of international independent titles, LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL this year celebrates its 70th Anniversary in the town’s Piazza Grande in temperatures that often sizzle in the late 30s promising a scorching experience and adding a surreal touch to Carlo Chatrain’s inventive programming.

With Olivier Assayas heading the jury proceedings will be more exciting than ever at the lakeside extravaganza, which this year has a distinct fantasy flavour, mingling Hollywood classics with more

The 70th celebration kicks off with Noemie Lvovsky’s drama TOMORROW AND THEREAFTER, starring Mathieu Amalric. And Kevin Merz’ musical biopic tribute GOTTHARD – One Life, One Soul will close the jamboree on 12 August.

2_lola-paterOther Piazza Grande titles include ATOMIC BLOND with Charlize Theron and James McAvoy; and WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY? starring Glenn Close, Noomi Rapace and Willem Dafoe.

The main competition includes Denis Cote’s TA PEAU SI LISSE; Bing Wang’s MRS FANG; Raul Ruiz’ LA TELENOVELA ERRANTE; Ben Russell’s mining film GOOD LUCK and Serge Bozon’s MADAME HYDE starring Isabelle Huppert and Romain Duris. Other buzzy titles include LUCKY starring Harry Dean Stanton and David Lynch; GOLIATH by Dominik Locher; and WAJIB by When I Saw You scripter Annemarie Jacir.

scorpions_2-resStars from the independent film firmament attending this year include Mathieu Kassovitz, who has been awarded the 2017 Excellence Award; Adrien Brody, who will receive a Pardo d’Honore and Nastassja Kinski receiving a Lifetime Award. One of India’s most celebrated film stars Irrfan Khan will join Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani for their love story revenge drama THE SONG OF SCORPIONS, and veteran Fanny Ardant will attend with her new transgender-themed film LOLA PATER. Vanessa Paradis will also be on the Piazza Grande in Samuel Benchetrit’s comedy drama CHIEN about a man who becomes a submissive pet.

In a programme that features the latest European titles from Germany, Austria, Italy, Romania, Turkey, Slovenia and Belgium – not to mention Britain and the host country Switzerland –  the side-bars are also promising some hidden gems, as was the case in this year’s Cannes 70th celebration. Of particular interest will be Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s follow-up to The Strange Colour of your Body’s Tears (2013): LAISSEZ BRONZER LES CADAVRES! a thriller which stars Elina Lowensohn.

In the SIGNS OF LIFE strand Radu Jude (Aferim!) will be showing his latest, a black&white historical documentary that explores Romania’s past through recently discovered photographs THE DEAD NATION. Bosnia Herzogovina’s Boris Mitic offers IN PRAISE OF NOTHING, a ‘feelgood’ documentary filmed worldwide by 100+ DoPs and narrated by Iggy Pop. Nelson Carlo del Los Santos Arias feature debut COCOTE is a drama from the Domenican Republic that examines religious cults that challenge the central character’s Christian beliefs. Brazil, Taiwan, Argentina, Columbia, Ukraine, Korea, India, the US and Canada will also be represented. In the CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE section, standouts include 3/4 from Sofia’s Last Ambulance director Ilian Metev; Pedro Cabeleira’s psychedelic drama VERAO DANADO set in a Lisbon steeped in summer torpor; DISTANT CONSTELLATION,  Shevaun Mizrahi’s documentary that follows the eccentric inhabitants of a Turkish retirement home and SEVERINO, an obsessional love story from Brazilian director Felipe Hirsch and starring Alfredo Castro (No, The Club).

But probably most inviting of all is the extraordinary JACQUES TOURNEUR retrospective featuring over 20 of his films including some rare and lesser known titles. There are also retrospectives for this year’s awarded stars:  Nastassja Kinski; Fanny Ardant, Matthieu Kossovitz and Adrien Brody/

COMPETITION LINE-UP

969151 As Boas Maneiras | Good Manners | Brazil | Marco Dutra | 132′

Clara, a lonely nurse from the outskirts of São Paulo, is hired by mysterious and wealthy Ana as the nanny for her unborn child. The two women develop a strong bond, but a fateful night changes their plans. 

965473Charleston | Romania | Andrei Cretulescu | 119′

A couple of weeks after the fatal car crash of his wife, Ioana, Alexandru is drunk and alone as he celebrates his 42th birthday. He receives an unexpected visit from Sebastian, a shy and younger man, who had been Ioana’s lover for the past five months. Sebastian wants Alexandru to help him overcome the despair caused by the woman’s death.

971753On The Seventh Day | Jim McKay | USA  Spanish, English | 97′ 

A group of undocumented immigrants from Puebla live in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. They work long hours six days a week as bicycle-delivery guys, construction workers, dishwashers, deli workers, and cotton-candy vendors. On Sundays, they savor their day of rest on the soccer fields of Sunset Park. José, a bicycle delivery man, who is young and talented, hardworking and responsible, is the soccer team’s captain. When his team makes it to the finals, he and his teammates are thrilled, but his boss throws a wrench into the celebration when he tells him he must work exactly on the day of the final. José tries to reason with him and replace himself but all his efforts fail. If he doesn’t work on Sunday, his job and his future will be on the line.

971501Gemini | US | Aaron Katz | 93′

A heinous crime tests the complex relationship between a tenacious personal assistant and her boss, a Hollywood starlet. As the assistant travels across Los Angeles to unravel the mystery, she must deal with a determined policeman. At the same time, her understanding of friendship, truth and celebrity is deeply questioned.

971960The Asteroids | Italy | Germano Maccioni

An industrial, endless, alienating province. Once a florid one, now deeply marked by the economy crisis. A province made up of broad fields and abandoned warehouses. This is the universe in which Pietro and his friend Ivan, nineteen year olds in conflict with their family and with school, gravitate. In the background are a series of thefts in churches, carried out by the elusive “candelabra gang”, and a large asteroid looming above, monitored by the astronomy station in the area since it is about to pass very close to Earth. So close that a rather weird friend, obsessed with astronomy and philosophical issues, is certain it will plummet into the planet, wiping out mankind. And while the “end of the world” approaches, Ivan convinces Pietro to take part in one final theft.

972206Good Luck | Ben Russell | France/Germany | 143′ | B&W

Shot on Super16mm, Good Luck is a portrait of two mining communities operating on opposite sides of a hostile world: the state employees of a 400m-deep underground Serbian copper mine and the Maroon laborers of an illegal gold mining operation in the jungle tropics of Suriname.

973010Travelling Soap Opera | La Telenovela Errante | Chile | Raul Ruiz /Valeria Sarmiento | 80′

“The film revolves around the concept of soap opera. Its structure is based on the assumption that Chilean reality does not exist, but rather is an ensemble of soap operas. There are four audiovisual provinces, and the threat of war is felt among the factions. The political and economic problems are immersed in a fictional jelly divided into evening episodes. The entire Chilean reality is viewed from the point of view of the soap opera, which acts as a revealing filter of this same reality”. (Raúl Ruiz)

962175Laissez Bronzer les Cadavres | France/Italy/Belgium | Cattet / Forzino

The Mediterranean, summer: azure sea, sun beating down… and 250 kilos of gold stolen by Rhino and his gang who’ve found the ideal hideout in a deserted village, cordoned off from its surroundings by an artist suffering creative block. But when two cops turn up unexpectedly, this little paradise, formerly the site of orgies and wild happenings, will turn into a hallucinatory, brutal battlefield.

mv5bnzkymdy0ndityzy0nc00yjq1ltkzotytmje1nwewm2nmzgu1xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntezndk3ndc_v1_sy1000_cr006771000_al__jpg_191x283_crop_q85Lucky | US | John Carroll Lynch | 88′

Having outlived and outsmoked all his contemporaries who inhabited his off-the-map desert town, the fiercely independent Lucky, a 90-year-old atheist, finds himself at the precipice of life, thrust into a journey of self-exploration, leading towards the so-often unattainable enlightenment.

973045Madame Hyde | France/Belgium | Serge Bozon | 95′

Mrs. Géquil is an eccentric teacher despised by her colleagues and students. On a stormy night, she is struck by lightning and faints. When she wakes up, she feels different. Will she now be able to keep the powerful and dangerous Mrs. Hyde contained?

962022Mrs Fang | Doc | Bing Wang | China | 86′

Fang Xiuying was a farmer born in Huzhou, Fujian in 1948. She suffered from Alzheimer’s for the last eight years of her life. By 2015, her symptoms were already very advanced and her treatment in a convalescent home was ineffective, so it was discontinued in June 2016 and she returned home. The film follows her ordeal first in 2015, and then in 2016 during the last ten days of her life.

969503Quin Ting Zhi yan | Xu Bing | China/US | 81′

Each of us is captured on surveillance cameras, on average, 300 times a day. These all-seeing “eyes” observe Qing Ting too, a young woman, as she leaves the Buddhist temple where she has been training to become a nun. She returns to the secular world, where she takes a job in a highly mechanized dairy farm. There, Ke Fan, a technician, falls in love with her, breaks the law in an attempt to please her and is sent to jail. On his release, he can’t find Qing Ting and looks for her desperately until he figures out that she has reinvented herself as the online celebrity Xiao Xiao. Ke Fan decides to revamp himself.

962038Ta Peau si Lisse | Denis Cote | Canada | 94′

Jean-François, Ronald, Alexis, Cédric, Benoit and Maxim are gladiators of modern times. From the strongman to the top-class bodybuilder, to the veteran who has become a trainer, they all share the same definition and obsession with overcoming their limitations. They are waiting for the next competition, working hard in the gym and following extreme diets.

962055Winter Brothers |Denmark, Iceland |Danish English | 94′ 

 Winter Brothers follows two brothers working during a cold winter, their routines, habits, rituals and a violent feud that erupts between them and another family.

Wajib | Annenarie Jacir | Arabic | 96′

Living in Nazareth, Abu Shadi is a divorced father and a school teacher in his mid-sixties. His daughter is getting married and he has to live alone until his son – an architect that lives in Rome for many years now – arrives to help him with the wedding preparation. As the local Palestinian tradition requires, they have to hand-deliver the invitation to each guest personally. As the estranged pair spends days together, their fragile relationship is being challenged.

9618479 Fingers | F J Ossang | French | 99′ | B&W

In the middle of the night, Magloire smokes a cigarette in an abandoned train station when the police show up for an identity check. He starts running with no luggage and no future until he meets a dying man from whom he inherits a fortune. Subsequently, Magloire is chased by a gang and – having nothing to lose – he becomes not only their hostage, but also their accomplice.

IMG_3903GOLIATH | Dominik Locher | Switzerland | 85′

A modest young couple’s relationship is put to the test when Jessy’s unplanned pregnancy causes David to question his feelings of masculinity and identity in contemporary Switzerland.

 

IMG_3905DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN? | Travis Wilkerson | US | 90′ 

When Wilkerson sets out to explores the mystery surrounding the murder of a black man by his great-grandfather in 1940s Alabama, he discovers something he hadn’t bargained for.

 

IMG_3906FREIHEIT | Jan Speckenbach | Slovakia/German/English | 100′

A mother goes away, leaving her husband and their two children in limbo. She is driven by a force she cannot ignore: freedom. In Vienna, Nora wanders through a museum, succumbs to a flirtation and then thumbs a lift to Bratislava. Nora conceals her origin behind small lies, changes her appearance, finds work as a chambermaid and makes friends with the young Slovak woman Etela, a stripper, and her husband Tamás, a cook. Meanwhile in Berlin, Philip tries to keep his family and job as well as his affair with Monika going. Against his own convictions, he, a lawyer, defends a xenophobic youngster, struggles with the role of single parent. Philip finds an – albeit unconscious – ear for his worries in the figure of a coma patient… The freedom Nora is longing for becomes Philip’s chains.

PIAZZA GRANDE – all World Premieres unless stated

Amori Che Non Sanno Stare Al Mondo | Francesca Comencini (Italy)

Atomic Blonde | David Leitch (US) (Euro Premiere)

Chien | Samuel Benchetrit (France/Belgium)

Demain Et Tous Les Autres JoursNoémie Lvovsky (France)

Drei Zinnen | Jan Zabeil

Good Time | Ben Safdie, Joshua Safdie  (US) (Cannes Premiere)

Gotthard – One Life, One Soul | Kevin Merz (US)

I Walked With A Zombie | Jacques Tourneur (Classic)

Iceman | Felix Randau (Germany

Laissez Bronzer Les Cadavres | Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani

Lola Pater | Nadir Moknèche

Sicilia! | Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet

Sparring | Samuel Jouy

The Big Sick | Michael Showalter (Sundance Premiere)

The Song Of Scorpions | Anup Singh

What Happened To Monday? | Tommy Wirkola

CINEASTI DEL PRESENTE | COMPETITION | World Premieres

3/4 By Ilian Metev (Bulgaria)

Abschied Von Den Eltern | Astrid Johanna Ofner (Germany)

Beach Rats | Eliza Hittman (US) (International Premiere) 

Cho-Haeng (The First Lap) | Kim Dae-Hwan (Korea) (International Premiere)

Dene Wos Guet Geit | Cyril Schäublin (Swiss German)

Distant Constellation | Shevaun Mizrahi (USA)

Easy | Andrea Magnani (Italy)

Edaha No Koto (Sweating The Small Stuff) | Ninomiya Ryutaro (Japan)

Il Monte Delle Formiche By Riccardo Palladino (Italy)

Le Fort Des Fous By Narimane Mari (France/Greece/Qatar)

Meteorlar By Gürcan Keltek (Turkey)

Milla |  Valerie Massadian (France/Portugal)

Person To Person | Dustin Guy Defa (US) (International Premiere)

Sashishi Ded (Scary Mother) Georgia/Estonia)| Ana Urushadze

Severina | Felipe Hirsch (BraziL)

Verão Danado | Pedro Cabeleira (Portugal

2017 LOCARNO FESTIVAL LINEUP | AUGUST 2 -12 2017 

 

 

 

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Dir.: Matt Reeves; Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Karen Konoval, Amiah Miller, Terry Notari, Steve Zahn; USA 2017, 140 min.

In trying to make a ‘serious’ blockbuster, director/co-writer Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) has certainly achieved his intellectual intention. But the running time of 140 minutes is simply not justified by a narrative which too often treads water plundering Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and a biblical symbolism that takes us back all the way to the 1951 epic Quo Vadis.

WARS’s production values are nevertheless stunning, particularly the CGI images of the beasts whose war for planet earth is faring badly, led by its chief Ape Caesar (Serkis). The US troops, under the command of ‘The Colonel’ (Harrelson), a psychotic sadist, are driving Caesar’s army and civilians into the woods: extinction is a distinct possibility. After soldiers have killed Caesar’s wife and eldest son, the leader is bleeding tears of revenge and goes to hunt The Colonel down aided by Maurice (Konoval); Rocket (Notari) and Bad Ape (Zahn). On their way to The Colonel’s camp in the mountains, where large numbers of Apes are imprisoned, the group picks up a young mute girl, who they call Nova – a nice reference to the Linda Harrison character of the same name in the original 1968 Planet of Apes. When they reach the camp, Caesar is captured immediately and interrogated by The Colonel. Caesar is informed that he had to shoot his own son, afflicted by an illness that robs humans of their higher cognitive functions and the ability to speak. The Colonel is using the Apes to build a wall to resist the imminent arrival of US forces – but a reason why is never given. By the time these troops arrive, Caesar slips effortlessly into the Moses role, whilst Nova and the young Apes frolic around.

To be frank, Reeves has chosen the wrong genre to show this politically correct internal battle between Caesar and The Colonel: whilst the Colonel is (like Kurtz in Apocalypse Now) unhinged, Caesar dreams that his former opponent Koba (Stalin’s nom-de-guerre in the underground) appears to him; thus helping him to forsake personal revenge in the end. And we do not need signs like “Ape-ocalypse Now” in the military compound, since Reeves references his pet film often enough – right up to the helicopter formation during the battle scenes.

DoP Michael Seresin (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and composer Michael Giaccino (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) add terrific entertainment value, but ultimately the film fails the litmus test: our interest starts to wane after only 90 minutes (in the most comfortable of seats) and we are still required to sit through another fifty. Yet again, it boils down to less is more. Reeves’ effort to marry showmanship with a philosophical debate on the virtues of pacifism is doomed because, like all anti- war movies, the opulent fighting scenes are the beating heart of this hollow and gruelling ‘epic’. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 11 JULY 2017

Christopher Nolan Presents | BFI

To showcase DUNKIRK British director Christopher Nolan has curated a series of films that inspired his new feature. title. CHRISTOPHER NOLAN PRESENTS has been personally curated by the award-winning director and will offer audiences unique insight into the films which influenced his hotly anticipated take on one of the key moments of WWII.

Preview: Dunkirk + intro by director Christopher Nolan

imagesNetherlands-UK-France-USA 2017. Dir Christopher Nolan. With Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh. RT and cert TBC. 70mm. Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Dunkirk opens as hundreds of thousands of British and Allied troops are surrounded by enemy forces. Trapped on the beach with their backs to the sea they face an impossible situation as the enemy closes in.  We’re delighted to screen Nolan’s much anticipated vision of an event that shaped our world.

Tickets £24, concs £19.20 (Members pay £2 less)

THU 13 JUL 20:15 NFT1

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GREED 

USA 1924. Dir Erich von Stroheim. With Gibson Gowland, Zasu Pitts, Jean Hersholt. 132min. 35mm. PG. With live piano accompaniment

Hollywood’s more serious stabs at realist fiction emulate the social and psychological nuances of the 19th-century novel, and no one has taken American film further down that road than Stroheim. Shot on location in San Francisco and Death Valley, the film was cut to less than a third of its original nine hours, but remains extraordinary for its unflinching vision of the corrosive power of money.

SUN 2 JUL 15:10 NFT1 / SUN 9 JUL 14:15 NFT3

SUNRISE: A Song of Two Humans

USA 1927. Dir FW Murnau. With George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston. 94min. 35mm. With score. U

Murnau’s foray into American cinema sees him construct a world free of geographic and social specifics – a dreamlike rural landscape and a brash cityscape that is everywhere and nowhere. Made at the end of the silent era, it pioneered the use of synchronous sound on film, for Reisenfeld’s score as well as such sound effects as traffic, whistles and church bells. Sunrise stands as a haunting fable – a dream of crime, love, loss and redemption.

MON 3 JUL 20:40 NFT2 / SAT 8 JUL 18:20 NFT2 / WED 12 JUL 20:50 NFT2

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT

All Quiet On The Western FrontUSA 1930. Dir Lewis Milestone. With Lew Ayres, Louis Wolheim, John Wray. 133min with restored soundtrack. 35mm. PG

All Quiet on the Western Front is rightly recognised as one of cinema’s most enduring and emotive portrayals of the tragedy of the Great War. This epic film concerns a generation of German schoolboys who – exhorted by their patriotic teacher – enlist enthusiastically but are ultimately destroyed in the war. Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s classic novel, the film proved highly controversial and was banned in many countries. Review

SUN 2 JUL 17:20 NFT3 / THU 6 JUL 18:00 NFT3

Considering All Quiet on the Western Front

TRT 90min

During WWI, Lewis Milestone, a recent Russian émigré to the US, made films for the Signal Corp, and this experience undoubtedly informed his 1930 Hollywood masterpiece, All Quiet on the Western Front. Film historian Kevin Brownlow (who interviewed Milestone about his film career in the 1960s) will be joined by film professional Mamoun Hassan to discuss – alongside film clips and a rare trailer – the history and achievement of what is considered to be the greatest anti-war film of all time.

Tickets £6.50

THU 6 JUL 20:40 NFT3

FOREIGN CORRESPONDANT 

nullUSA 1940. Dir Alfred Hitchcock. With Laraine Day, George Sanders, Joel McCrea. 119min. 35mm. PG

Made partly to raise the American public’s awareness of the Nazi threat, this picaresque espionage adventure follows a US journalist to London and Holland to cover a mooted peace treaty; instead, with the help of a diplomat’s daughter, he uncovers a conspiracy. Set pieces abound, including one at Westminster Cathedral and a windmill that conceals a sinister secret.

SAT 1 JUL 15:20 NFT1 / SUN 22 JUL 15:10 NFT3

 

THE WAGES OF FEAR  Le salaire de la peur

nullFrance-Italy 1953. Dir Henri-Georges Clouzot. With Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Véra Clouzot. 147min. 35mm. EST. PG

Watched by a hungry vulture, a child plays with cockroaches in the dusty street of a South American shantytown. So begins one of the most nerve-wrackingly suspenseful films ever made, as four desperados take on a suicidal mission to drive two trucks full of nitro-glycerine along precipitous, pot-holed roads. As the tension mounts, this journey to hell is propelled to its misanthropic conclusion by a truly unsettling score.

SAT 15 JUL 18:00 NFT1 / SAT 22 JUL 17:40 NFT3

THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS La battaglia di Algeri

Battle of Algiers (2)Algeria-Italy 1966. Dir Gillo Pontecorvo. With Jean Martin, Yacef Saadi, Brahim Hadjadj. 121min. 35mm. EST. 15

Algiers functions as both the site and symbol of struggle in this dazzling reconstruction of nationalist opposition to French occupation during the 1950s. The Old City nurtures and shelters the guerrilla fighters who, despite brutal reprisals, repeatedly venture from it to attack the colonial might of the new ‘European’ city.Battle of Algiers is an award-winning masterpiece of political cinema. Full review

TUE 4 JUL 18:15 NFT3 / SUN 9 JUL 20:10 NFT1

RYAN’S DAUGHTER 

UK 1970. Dir David Lean. With John Mills, Sarah Miles, Robert Mitchum. 194min (+ interval). 70mm. 15

With a harsh critical response at the time of its release, Ryan’s Daughter is a triumph of sensual storytelling for David Lean. Robert Bolt’s script reworks Hardy-esque formulae into a story about romantic excess and moral cowardice, set during the Troubles of 1916, woven into a vision of damnation. Freddie Young and John Mills won Oscars®, and deservedly so.

SUN 16 JUL 15:15 NFT1 / WED 19 JUL 19:00 NFT1

ALIEN

nullUK-USA 1979. Dir Ridley Scott. With Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm. 116min. 35mm. 15

The Alien phenomenon began here as the crew of the Nostromo are woken from stasis by the ship’s computer and grudgingly sent to investigate a transmission of unknown origin. They discover a deadly alien species and as the crew are picked off one by one, Ripley takes her place as the ultimate sci-fi heroine. This iconic classic features designs from HR Giger and a brilliant script by Dan O’Bannon.

SUN 23 JUL 20:15 NFT1 / SAT 29 JUL 20:45 NFT1

CHARIOTS OF FIRE 

ChariotsUK 1981. Dir Hugh Hudson. With Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Ian Holm, Nicholas Farrell. 123min. 35mm. PG

Hugh Hudson’s visually magnificent, emotionally exhilarating account of the struggle by Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell to compete on their own terms at the 1924 Olympics seemed to herald a new highpoint in British cinema and was a hit at the Oscars®. With fine use of slow motion, Chariots of Fire tugged at the heartstrings of a nation. Interview with film’s producer Mr Al Fayed 

SAT 15 JUL 15:20 NFT3 / SUN 23 JUL 17:40 NFT1

SPEED 

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USA 1994. Dir Jan de Bont. With Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper. 116min. 35mm. 15

This blockbuster hit has non-stop, edge of the seat thrills and spills. Reeves turns in a strong performance as the hero, a SWAT cop dealing with a crazed bomber who has wired up a bus to explode if the speed drops below 50mph. Bullock shines as the feisty passenger at the steering wheel. A thoroughly enjoyable roller-coaster ride of a movie.

TUE 25 JUL 20:50 NFT1 / SUN 30 JUL 17:20 NFT3

UNSTOPPABLE

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USA 2010. Dir Tony Scott. With Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson. 98min. 35mm. 12A

With the poster tag line reading ‘1 million tonnes of steel, 100,000 lives at stake, 100 minutes to impact’, Tony Scott’s final film as a director is about a runaway freight train, a retired railroad engineer and a rookie conductor who must figure out a way of trying to avert disaster. It’s a well-made, suspenseful thriller that works as a great companion piece to Speed.

SAT 29 JUL 17:50 NFT3 / MON 31 JUL 20:45 NFT1

Crown Heights (2017) | Sundance London 2017

Dir.: Matt Ruskin; Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul; USA 2017, 94 min.

Writer/director Matt Ruskin’S conventional portrait of Colin Warner is emotionally convincing. The Black teenager was wrongly convicted of murder as an eighteen-year-old, and had to spent 21 years in prison, before being released due to the efforts of his his best friend.

In 1980, Colin Warner (Stanfield), a Trinidadian emigrant, worked as a car mechanic in New York, and stole cars in his spare time. He had a stable home life and no record of violence. When two detectives arrested him, he thought it was down to his car heists – but to his surprise, he was accused of murdering a young man in Flatbush. Without motive, murder weapon or any physical evidence, Warner was convicted of Murder in the Second Degree, and was incarcerated in a High Secirity prison, to serve 15 years to life. The only “proof” in the trial was an “eye-witness”, a 15 year old boy, who cut a deal with the police for a crime he committed, in exchange for him naming Warner as the shooter. In prison Warner soon lost his temper, beating a warden which resulted in him spending two years in solitary confinement. Whilst he later calmed down, this incident cost him his parole in 1995. Due to the efforts of his friend Carl King (Asomughan, a co-producer), who risked his job and marriage, the truth finally emerged, and Warner was finally freed in 2001, to live in freedom with his wife Anoinette (Paul), whom he had married in prison.

CROWN HEIGHTS reminds us that miscarriages of justice in cases of black men are a regular affair. Ruskin enriches his drama with clips of speeches by Reagan, Bush sen. and Bill Clinton, all of them proudly announcing new and tougher laws aimed at the presumed violence carried out by minorities. It is only logical that King, asked by Warner, why he is working so hard for the truth, answers: “This isn’t just about you, it’s bigger than that. It could have been me”. DoP Tim Gills sticks with reliable images of social realism, and Lakeith, who was in contact with Warner, succeeds in giving us an absorbing emotional rollercoaster of twentyone years. AS

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL LONDON | 1-4 JUNE 2017

Wonder Woman (2017)

​Dir: Patty Jenkins | Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, David Thewlis | US | Adventure Drama

IMG_3790That sound you can hear right now is hundreds, if not thousands, of film writers and critics breathing a huge sigh of relief that they won’t need to think too hard about the positives in DC’s newest reboot of Wonder Woman. With a cast straight out any fanboy and girl’s dreams and more roles for women over 40 than you can shake a stick at, WONDER WOMAN is not only a welcome break from the usual male-centric superhero movies, but it also presents its audience with a truly engaging and thoroughly enjoyable storyline. Staring Israeli actress Gal Gadot and directed by the excellent Patty Jenkins (Monster, 2003), the film manages to cleverly avoid the usual pitfalls of big summer blockbusters by offering up a plethora of very likeable characters and a wonderfully engaging plot. Fans and foes alike will have to admit that DC has finally got a big hit on its hands, and the fact that this was a female lead superhero movie is even sweeter for some.

​Diana (Gadot) lives on a mythical island inhabited by beautiful Amazonian warrior women, which has for centuries been hidden away from the prying eyes of the modern world. When American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands on the island with tens of German soldier in his pursuit, Diana goes to his rescue and helps free him from the wreckage of his war plane. Together, they hatch a plan to leave the island, him to go back to his top secret mission and her in search of Ares God of war, whom she believes is responsible for the current World War. Staring Robin Wright as the Amazonian warrior Antiope and Connie Nielsen as Diana’s mother Hippolyta, the film spends a rather unnecessary amount of time setting up the mythical story behind our heroine, but once it gets going, there’s no stopping it. Chris Pine manages to be both charming and insufferably smug, his performance is beautifully nuanced and commendably comedic at his own character’s expense.
​                                                                                                                                                                             Whether WONDER WOMAN is, as some have said, a feminist treatment of a classic story, remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, Gal Gadot not only puts in a brilliant performance, but also presents a whole new generation of little girls and boys with a badass alternative to the usual male counterparts. On the whole, the film is very silly in parts, but this does nothing to put a dampener on the proceedings. I would dare anyone not to be entertained, at least by its witty dialogue and touching storyline. A sure hit for DC and Warner Brothers. LINDA MARRIC.

WONDER WOMAN IS ON GENERAL RELEASE 1 JUNE


​​

The Last Face (2016)

Director: Sean Penn

Cast: Charlize Theron, Olivier Bardem, Jean Reno

117min | Action Drama | US

Actor turned director Sean Penn brought his well-crafted but empty action film to the competition line-up in Cannes Film Festival. Many booed and there was slow clapping. Charlize Theron leads and partly narrates this wartorn saga which has not yet been picked up leaving us in no doubt at to its popularity in the harsh world of the film market where the best films are either pre-sold or snapped up within minutes of their press screening in a voraciously competitive marketplace, where the Hollywood eye is on the money. And this is a Hollywood-style movie.

Unspooling in just under two hours THE LAST FACE throw us into the harsh realities of civil war in Africa where Theron plays well-respected Doctor Wren Petersen who divides her time between her office at the UN Human Rights Department and the killing fields of Liberia where the love of her life Dr Love (Javier Bardem) slaves overtime to patch up and save broken bodies in his work for a NGO relief agency. With its melodramatic score and bleeding heart overtones THE LAST FACE is the last word in worthiness with a capital W. That these high-minded and privileged white people should be seen falling in love while they dedicate their lives to ‘poor black people’ is a premise that is both condescending and hackneyed and explicit references to female injuries, rape and pillage (“she was ripped from her vagina to her anus and yet she’s still dancing) feel both crass and strangely misogynistic, reducing women to the level of animal specimens and robbing them of the little dignity they undoubtedly deserve in this humiliating scenario where refugees merely exist to serve the narrative as the inevitable casualities of war, rather than real people with backstories.

Javier Bardem and Jean Reno give their utmost along with a quality ensemble cast, but there is nevertheless an undertow of male superiority in the film’s blatant denegration of Dr Petersens’s character which comes in the opening scenes where, in voiceover, she admits to being the daughter of a man who desperately wanted a male heir, and never felt she existed until endorsed by the love of a ‘good’ man. Whatever happens next brings nothing original to the party and the patent lack of interest in this overblown gorefest – that poses as entertainment – should send Penn sculttling back to the drawing board for some new ideas. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 12 MAY 2017

Mindhorn (2016)

Dir: Sean Foley | Cast: Julian Barratt, Steve Coogan, Russell Tovey, Andrea Riseborough, Simon Callow, Harriet Walter, Kenneth Branagh, Simon Farnaby, David Schofield | UK | Comedy | 89min

If you liked Alan Partridge or Alpha Papa then MINDHORN will appeal. Washing over you like a cloud of laughing gas there are scenes are so hilarious it’s impossible to remain dignified, others so cringingly embarrassing you will never wear lycra again – let alone tight jeans. Some of it’s self-indulgent and some of it’s just mind-boggling grotesque, but there’s a poignancy too that touches on emotional frailty and the pangs of regret that often surface as we stare back at photos of the past.

MINDHORN is the first feature of TV veteran Sean Foley who has a keen sense of comedy, assembling a accomplished cast of Andrea Riseborough, Kenneth Branagh, Steve Coogan and Simon Callow in his big screen debut. Some of the humour has echoes of TV hits such as John Morton’s Twenty Twelve. It will certainly put you off organising that trip to the Isle of Man – if you were toying with the idea. Seemingly stuck in the Seventies, the island is portrayed as a misty, rain-soaked backwater full of twee tearooms, mildewed caravans, ghastly Civic concrete buildings and mock Georgian manors the English seem unable to escape from. Into this retro retreat steps Julian Barratt as Richard Thorncroft, a pot-bellyed actor who’s lost his touch but not his self-belief (or his skin tight polo-neck and ‘slacks’. He’s joined by his nemesis Simon Farnaby who co-wrote the script and appears as Clive Parnevik, also consigned to scrap heap, a raddled has-been who never really was anything but a stuntman of dodgy origins. A loose narrative gives our comic heroes a vehicle to entertain us with their witty one-liners in the worse possible taste. Barratt’s comic timing in the Police Custody room scene is one of the funniest things you’ll see this year.

Thorncroft is helping the Police with their hunt for a killer called the Kestrel (Russell Tovey) who slips in and out of their grasp. The Kestrel has a mental age of nine and is a keen fan of Mindhorn, believing his to be a real detective. Thorncroft also bumps into his ex love Patricia Deville (Essie Davis) who’s now a ‘serious’ journalist since he walked out on her years before. A man of strong passions and even stronger rivalries he’s also made some enemies, insulting almost everyone on the Isle of Man, including Steve Coogan’s medallion man country club owner Peter Eastman who, from a bit part in ‘Mindhorn’, has spawned a more successful series called Windjammer, and has also been involved with Patricia (now married to Parnevik). Foley’s well-filmed comedy is all extremely silly and outlandishly gross for its sleek running time of 89 minutes. You’ll either be bewildered by the awfulness of it all, or laughing your head off in disbelief. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 5 MAY 2017

SCREENING PART OF THE BFI’s LOCO FIOM FESTIVAL 4-7 MAY 2017

Drunken Master (1978) | Eureka Dual format release

32005911183_ee9db1e688_zDir: Woo-Ping Yuen | Writers: Lung Hsaio, See-Yuen Ng | Action Comedy | 111min |

Cult classic DRUNKEN MASTER is possibly Jackie’s Chan’s finest film bringing him fame on the international stage and reinvents the genre with a comedy twist as Kung Fu’s answer to Bruce Lee’s more serious player. As the lewd Hellraiser Freddy Wong he is out of order until his father hires Sam Seed’s ‘Drunken Master’ to pull him into shape teaching him a secret fighting style and some impressively exuberant moves – the restaurant scene showcasing the most hilarious. After a tricky start the two find mutual respect and common ground against the Tae Kwando arch villain Hwang Jan Lee or “Thunderfoot” as he’s known in the criminal Martial Arts fraternity. At the end of the day it’s all good fung. MT

The Masters of Cinema DRUNKEN MASTER from 24 April 2017.

Man Down (2015)

Dir.: Dito Montiel | Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Kate Mara, Gary Oldman, Jai Courtney, Charlie Shotwell | US | 91 min.

There have been many films about post traumatic stress disorder, but the plight of American veterans returning from far-away battlefields since the days of the Vietnam War in the early ’60s has been more or less neglected by successive governments. On the big screen, the efforts have also been mixed to say the least, and Dito Montiel (A Guide to Recognizing your Saints) has tried to come up with an original approach, which proved in the end – again – not wholly satisfying.

The four-stranded narrative is centred around two GIs returning from a tour of Afghanistan: Gabriel Drummer (LaBeouf) and Devin Roberts (Courtnay), and flips between the pre-war memories of Gabriel, featuring his wife Natalie (Mara) and his son Jonathan (Shotwell); the traumatic war experience; a lengthy interview with councillor Peyton (Oldman), who tries to help the suicidal Gabriel; and finally, the return of the two buddies to a (seemingly) apocalyptic America, where Gabriel tries to find his wife and son.

There is certainly a soft streak in the original Gabriel before “the fall”: Learning that his cute was bullied by his school peers, after they overhead him saying to his mother “I love you”, Gabriel arranges a secret code with Jonathan: They will say “Man down” instead of “I love you”. Devin is much more uncompromising, he basically drags Gabriel into joining the Marines; the scenes in the Lejeune base camp of are conventional, featuring the nominal OTT drill sergeant. But nothing prepares the soldiers for the real war in Afghanistan, where combatants and families often live under one roof and leads to a gruesome incident, from which Gabriel does not recover, in spite of a lengthy session with Peyton. When the two return to their hometown, they find a country devastated by war.

Only in the final part do we learn about the true nature of the denouement, even though, in hindsight, the clues have been there all along. In attempting to tell the story in four different strands, Montiel often loses coherence. DoP Shelly Johnson’s visuals (Wild Card, Hidalgo), particularly of a ravaged America, go a long way, to keeping our interest going, but plot-wise MAN DOWN is often opaque, particularly with regard to the true nature of the relationship between Natalie and Devin during the weeks before Devin joined Gabriel in Afghanistan, due to a broken arm. LaBeouf is tries his best to impress, but is really the weak link – not given helped by the script enigmatic script. MAN DOWN simply lacks the direction to do the topic justice: trying to be avant-garde does not lead to an immersive experience in a story hampered by too many contradictions and unsolved equations. AS

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 31 MARCH 2017

The Man who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) | Eureka Bluray release

Dir: John Ford | Writer: James Warner Bellah | Cast: James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brian, Andy Devine | 123min | US | Western

“Senator Ransom Stoddard returns to Shinbone for the funeral of a pauper and tells an enquiry reporter the true story of the man who shot Liberty Valance.”

That is Peter Bogdanovitch’s summary of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, to be found in his interview book with John Ford. This is not the movie pitch that Ford gave to his producer Willis Goldbeck at Paramount, but its Fordian straight talking will do, or maybe won’t do, for it disguises the complex inner movement, contradiction and irony of this thoughtful late masterwork. Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country (1961) and Siegel’s The Shootist (1976) both exude the same penetrating melancholy found in classic Westerns yet neither have the same philosophical reflection on American history and politics. For The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance asks the question, “What really civilised the Wild West – the law book or the gun?” The answer could well be ‘both’. For if violence was a prerequisite for conspicuous heroes back then (or maybe still now?) dutiful lawmaking quickly accompanied it.

As the real Valance story opens in flashback, Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) and his gang hold up a stagecoach and rob the passengers. Newly qualified lawyer Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) is savagely beaten up and his law books are damaged. Apart from Valance’s sadistic glee (relished by Lee Marvin) the reasons for his violence are never quite made obvious. Valance is a ‘bad man’ who yields a silver whip that he frequently unleashes on bar room tables. Although Ford and his scriptwriters don’t create a stereotyped baddie, Valance is not subtly drawn. At another level, he exists as a symbolic force – a miscreant unable to accept civilising change. Not helped by a cowardly marshal Link Appleyard (Andy Devine) who is running away from arresting Valance. A clue to his power lies in his name. Liberty = freedom, whilst Valance suggests health and strength. It’s going to be difficult for Stoddard and rancher Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) to put down the larger than life monster Valance, who is a pale reflection and distortion of the violence in their own democratic natures.

Lee Marvin does ham up his role, conveying an untrammelled egoism, but shrewdly disciplines his part. Andy Devine’s conversion from a foolish marshal to wiser old man never quite convinces. And Edmond O’Brien’s performance as Shinbone’s newspaper editor is a strong case of over-acting, but gloriously entertaining. To balance up the moral focus, we have John Wayne, James Stewart and Vera Miles, all at their brilliantly serious best as the winners and losers from Valance’s death.

The Man who Shot Liberty Valance is filmed im black and white (and the muted grey tones bring out its sadness.) Apart from the visual economy of the street gunfight, Valance is not one of Ford’s most beautiful looking films. For this is an intimate chamber piece. The film is driven by much dialogue as it explores its characters and their fate in a story of disenchantment, regret and lost aspirations.

Critics and teachers have written on this film, which along with the original story written by Dorothy M. Johnson, has now become an aid for teaching American history. Indeed one of the best moments in Valance is the classroom scene where James Stewart attempts to instruct the barely literate residents of Shinbone in Politics. Yet history lessons to one side, the film’s most quoted line is “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” In our new age of so-called ‘Trumpism” you can take this to mean fake news, or simply the fact that the film Western has consistently exalted romance and archetypes of good and evil (Though Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller from 1971 and Penn’s The Missouri Breaks from 1976 go elsewhere in disparaging and breaking with those requirements).

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a questioning and tragic work: yet its vision is too organic and conservative to upturn Western conventions. A death in the community and its political and personal consequences concern it more.

“Nothing’s too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance.” says the railwayman to Stoddard on leaving Shinbone. And really nothing’s too good for John Ford the great poet who so deeply shaped our view of the American West. Deservedly cited as one of the best westerns ever made, now the Blu – Ray edition allows you to fully experience its elegiac power. Alan Price.

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY 

Lone Wolf and Cub series (1972-74) | Criterion UK Collection

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The cult series of six films based on the internationally best-selling Japanese Manga Comics explore the vengeful antics of the shogun’s executioner Itto Ogami (Tomisaburo Wakayama) who is Japan’s answer to Charles Bronson. Roaming the countryside with his beloved boy offspring Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa) this is a chanbara sword and blood fest par excellence, delivering stylish thrills and a body count that beggars belief, played out in searingly violent and gracefully choreographed action sequences contrasting with tender moments between father and son. A must for collectors.

Sword of Vengeance; Baby Cart and the River Styx; Baby Cart to Hades; Baby Cart in Peril; Baby Cart in the Land of Demons; White Heaven in Hell have been impressively remastered for bluray in sparkling 2k restorations.

AVAILABLE ON 27 MARCH 2017 | COURTESY OF CRITERION UK

Wild River (1960) | Dual Format release | Eureka Master’s of Cinema

Dir: Elia Kazan | Writer: Paul Osborn | Cast: Montgomery Clift, Lee Remick, Jo Van Fleet, Albert Salmi, J C Flippen | 110min | Drama | US

The prologue to Elia Kazan’s Wild River, set in 1931, is black and white documentary footage depicting the Tennessee river flooding the county. A voiceover explains that The Tennessee Valley Authority wanted to dam the river but some residents living in homes on the banks and islands refused to move. From this touching if auspiciously New Deal propaganda opening WILD RIVER unfolds onto the screen in cinemascope and colour, giving us a melancholic story of change: the obdurate old against the rapid new, the individual versus the community, all entangled with questions about tradition and the positive side of progress.

TVA agent Chuck Glover (Montgomery Cliff) arrives from Washington to try and persuade Ella Garth (Jo Van Fleet) to move from Garth Island. It will soon be flooded but she refuses to leave. Glover meets Carol Garth (Lee Remick) and asks for her help to persuade the old woman to leave. She is a widow and single mother of two. Carol and Chuck fall in love. Chuck also develops a love and understanding of Ella and her connectedness to the land.

WILD RIVER has a classic simplicity. Kazan’s marvellously quietist direction digs deep into the complexities of this very American tale of ‘rugged individualism’ The early sequence of the Garth’s’ first meeting with Glover illustrates Kazan’s mastery at establishing his characters’ hopes and fears. Glover arrives at the farm and says he would like to talk to Ella. She says nothing, gets up from her rocking chair and goes indoors. Chuck then addresses Carol. She looks at him, revealing a slight hint that the stranger has awakened something inside her. Then she too remains silent and moves away. Chuck sees her six year old daughter sitting on the porch. Yet before he can befriend her she’s called in by her mother.

Glover threatens to uproot the Garths but they are staying put. We are made to feel the opposition of sense versus sensibility as Kazan draws out both the tenderness and danger of the encounter. It is a most basic confrontation, comprised of subtle glances and body language, yet so carefully and judiciously edited, introducing conflicts and hopes that the film will later develop (Note the exquisite framing and the moment when the front door is closed on Garth to evoke Ford’s The Searchers.)

WILD RIVER’s atmosphere is enhanced by Elsworth Fredericks’s photography. He and Kazan create lyrical compositions that are thoughtful and reflective even in the film’s moments of violence. Whilst Kazan’s direction of the romance between Montgomery Cliff and Lee Remick manages to achieve a screen chemistry up there with Marlon Brando and Eva Maria Saint in On the Waterfront. Such great acting, along with Jo Van Fleet’s superb performance (Remarkable for the fact that she was then aged forty five and made up to play a stubborn eighty year old woman of great dignity.)
“The most dangerous erosion is not to the land – it’s when your capacity for living gets eroded.”

Chuck refers here not only to the threat of social change, but ironically also his own inability to bond with Carol, who deeply loves him. For Wild River is a meditative film about the ambivalence of change and progress; with emotional loss being more intense than any material gain. Along with On the Waterfront, America, America and East of Eden Kazan is here at the height of his powers. ALAN PRICE

ON DUAL FORMAT BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTER’S OF CINEMA

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Dir.: Chad Stahelski; Cast: Keanu Reeves, Riccardo Scarmarcio, Claudia Gerini, Ian McShane, Ruby Rose, Common; USA 2017, 122 min.

Doubtless creating a new action franchise, director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad return Keanu Reeves as a super-hero killing machine – with a new dog and an even larger kill quota.

After a sort of overture, in which Wick fights a gang of Russian mobsters who have stolen his beloved Mustang, he settles in his new home with his canine friend. His retirement does not last long: Santino (Scarmarcio), an Italian member of the Camorra, asks Wick to kill his sister Gianna (Gerini), producing a blood token for help, signed by Wick for assistance rendered in the past.

In Rome, Gianna takes her own life in the bath, Wick watching, making small talk. But Santino is double-crossing Wick, sending his killers after our hero, amongst them is the mute Ares (Ruby Rose), a martial arts fighter who communicates in sign language. Returning to New York, every beggar and street tramp seems to be on Santino’s pay roll, not to mention Cassian (Common), Gianna’s body guard, who is out for revenge. After killing Santino in the New York Continental, a sort of violent free exclave for gangsters, Wick is given an hour’s grace by its proprietor Winston (McShane), before the Camorra and “The High Table” will up the seven million bounty on Wick’s head, ready to chase him in Chapter 3.

JOHN WICK is A perfectly choreographed dance of the dead; the body count is so astronomical viewers might expects the combo meter to appear any time in the right hand corner of the screen – this is a video game indeed. There are jarring moments, when Wick remembers his dead wife, but overall Wick is left do what he is best at: killing with ease, death seems to be painless. Coming nearest to a pure, classic Hong Kong product of the past, the irony of a 52-yer old hero causing mayhem will be lost on testosterone-driven audience. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 17 FEBRUARY 2017

Lies We Tell * * * (2017)

Dir.: Mitu Misra; Cast: Gabriel Bryne, Sibylla Deen, Jn Uddin, Harvey Keitel,Mark Addy, Reece Ritchie, Emily Atack, Danica Johnson, Harish Patel, Harvey Virdi; UK 2017, 109′.

First time director Mitu Misra tries, perhaps too hard, to construct a complex narrative that leaves too many loose ends to be convincing.. On the other hand, Misra offers a vey honest portrait of the underbelly of the Pakistani Muslim community in Bradford.

When crime lord Demi Lamprose (Keitel) dies, his chauffeur and general dogsbody Donald (Bryne) has to clear his luxury flat, forcing his fledgling solicitor lover Amber (Deen) to move out immediately. As Donald, Byrne rocks his signature hangdog look: estranged from his wife after the death of their daughter Amy, he gets involved with Amber, who has a troubled past -and present, for that matter. At sixteen she was forced to marry her cousin KD (Uddin) in Pakistan, and he is now a high profile gangster in Bradford. Having raped Amber, he tries to marry her 16 year old sister Miriam (Johnson), whose parents are only too willing to give her away, since the bounty from the marriage will cover their debts. It also emerges that Amber was pimped out to by her father to Lamprose for the same reason. When Lamprose’s son Nathan (Ritchie) wants to ‘inherit’ Amber from his father, Amber’s troubles get out of hand. She  successfully disrupts KD and Miriam’s marriage – and KD goes on to marry his pregnant girl friend Emily (Atack), whom he abuses, bloody revenge killings conclude this saga.

DoP Santos Sivan steers clear of bleak social realism and instead uses shadows and innovative angles for his noir images. The nightlife, ‘sponsored’ by KD is from another planet compared with the tradition of Amber’s family, both parents clinging to a religion they have great difficulty in following. Ambers’ workplace is cold, clean and white, a place she somehow finds comforting. Perhaps seedy KD is a little bit over the top in his nastiness, but Misra coruscating portrait of organised crime and this male-dominated culture, fed from both second-hand western macho images and Muslim religiously motivated misogynist ideology, feels very real. There are some great performances, particularly from the reliable Bryne and Deen, and in spite of structural difficulties, LIES WE TELL is always gripping. In the end, the brutal honesty of Misra’s arguments outweigh the flaws of this convoluted chronicle. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 2 FEBRUARY 2018

Hacksaw Ridge (2016) | Venice 2016

Dir: Mel Gibson | Biopic drama | US | 102min

Hacksaw Ridge is one of the most violent and gory films about pacifism ever made. But there again, its director is Mel Gibson. Based on the true story of a war hero and conscientious objector from Virginia, it is a film full of cliches and contradictions that still manages to move and inspire with its heartfelt and plausible narrative underpinned by the simple message of sacrifice and faith.

In common with Gibson’s unflinching dramas: Apocalypse, Braveheart and The Passion of Christ, Hacksaw ridge is long on a brutal battle that takes place on the blood-drenched battlefields of Okinawa. Shot in Australia, Gibson and his scripters Shenkkan and Knight create a narrative that embodies all that the United States strives for, particularly in the light of the Trump era.

Andrew Garfield succeeds in the leading role of a gentle but decent man who is first seen as a weak coward who adheres to his pacifist principles, but who later goes on to achieve greatness in battle eschewing violence: he will not carry a gun due to his religious beliefs as a Seventh Day Adventist. In reality, Desmond Doss came from a poor and dysfunctional background in rural Virginia but was keen to join the war effort believing he could do so as a medic. Naively believing he would go straight to the battlefield in a white jacket and stethoscope, it soon emerges that training and combat is part and parcel of the war effort.

At home in Virginia, Doss Senior (Hugo Weaving) is a hardbitten alcoholic and First World War veteran who balks at the idea of Desmond enlisting. But a childhood accident, where Desmond nearly kills his brother, has made a big impression and he is determined to avoid conflict. When he enlists for Pearl Harbour he comes across initially as a pain in the neck by upholding his stringent religious scruples. This premise is clearly going to set the men from the boys in the abuse he receives from his comrades (Sam Worthington and Vince Vaughn) that leads to a ludicrous court martial on the grounds of his refusal to bear arms and undergo the requisite training.

But when he gets to the battlefield his true grit emerges, as limbs are blown off and blood gushes in some startling combat sequences, filmed by DoP Simon Duggan and edited by John Gilbert, this is a heartfelt and inspiring action drama that will leave you upbeat and in a positive frame of mind about the power of peaceful conviction.. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 27 JANUARY 2017

Lion (2016)

Dir: Garth Davis; Cast: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, Sunny Pawar, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Abhishek Bharate, Divian Ladwa, Priyanka Bose | Australia | drama | 118 min.

Garth Davis co-directed the TV-Miniseries Top of the Lake with Jane Champion and now turns his hand to Saroo Brierley’s autobiography A Long Way home with Luke Davies adapting it for the screen as a sprawling emotional drama that sometimes crosses into soap-opera territory. Davis’ advertising background – among his credits the Toyota “Ninja Kittens” – makes this a slick and visually ravishing watch with DoP Greig Fraser (Foxcatcher) conjuring up amazing images, particularly in Calcutta.

Newcomer Sunna Pawar (young Saroo) is spellbindingly gorgeous as the young boy who in 1986 is separated from his mother Kamla (Bose) and sister Shekila, after talking his older brother Guddu (Bharate) into taking him away from their rural home to help on a building site. But Saroo falls asleep at the station and wakes up in a decommissioned train, taking him 1000 miles away to Calcutta. There he avoids child-snatchers and ends up in an orphanage. Saroo cannot speak the local Bengali, and his Hindi dialect is insufficient to express the name of his village or his mother. Roughly half-way into the film, Saroo ends up in Tasmania, Australia, where Sue Brierley (Kidman) and her husband John (Wenham) adopted him. Saroo is an exemplary son, relieved to find a home of emotional and material wealth after his traumatic time in Calcutta. But Mantosh, the second boy adopted by the Brierleys, is unable to cope with his past and is proving a handful.

The plot skips forward about 20 years to when Saroo (Patel, star of Slumdog Millionaire) has left the home where Mantosh (Ladwa) is now self-harming and troublesome. Saroo takes a course in hotel-management in Melbourne where he meets Lucy (Carol co-star R. Mara) a lover of Indian food. Tasting a childhood sweet one day he realises that his hometown is not Calcutta. His search for his hometown is the weak link in the narrative, his traumatic experience is seen as an hero’s adventure, rather than an ordeal. Although this is underlined by the breathtaking images, showing Calcutta in high-resolution fly-over shots, the emphasis is on the thrills, rather than the terrible danger Saroo experiences there.

There is simply not enough darkness in Saroo’s Calcutta abandonment years – and when he finally enters the Brierley’s home in Tasmania, he appears blasé about the sensational new home comforts  – such as the ‘fridge and television, rather than awestruck. He also seems to lack an inner life whereas Mantosh is a far more believable character. Apart from skimming over this relationship with Mara, it is never explained Saroo waits so long to look for his birth mother – the sweet he remembers from his childhood can hardly be the first or sole reminder? It is stringent – and rather lazy – in this context, that Google Earth is just another star in the visual high-tech extravaganza. It would have been more interesting and convincing to show the search for her son from Kamla’s perspective, without the intrusion of computers. LION triumphs despite these plot-holes: a powerful and sumptuously photographed tear-jerker with a happy ending, despite its lack of teeth. AS

NOW OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 20 2017 | VUE, PICTUREHOUSE, EVERYMAN, CINEWORLD NATIONWIDE

 

 

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) | Bluray and download release

Dir: John Carpenter | Cast: Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Tony Burton, Charles Cyphers, Kim Reynolds | Thriller | US | 91min

John Carpenter’s prescient action thriller Assault On Precinct 13 burst on the screen in 1976, sending out a warning message that no one was safe in our increasingly violent world.

Inspired by Howard Hawk’s Rio Bravo (1959), Carpenter’s pared down indie stars a terrific Austin Stoker as police officer Ethan Bishop who is commissioned to work in a rundown backwater of Los Angeles in a station threatened with closure. The action kicks off when a little girl (Kim Richards) buys an ice cream from a nearby vendor in a blue truck. Going back to change the flavour, she is shot dead by vicious sniper who immediately leaves the scene. It emerges he escaped from the police bus that stopped in the area after one of the prisoners felt sick. Teaming up as an unlikely duo, Bishop sets to work with the smart-assed criminal Napoleon Wilson (Darwin Joston) to defend the police station as it comes under attack from a gang of nihilistic felons seeking revenge on the death of one of their members by LAPD. With no power and telephone lines to the station, the place becomes a dark and dangerous crime scene, as circling police cars wonder what the hell is going on. In this lean, mean crime thriller. Joston turns in an effortlessly cool performance as Napoleon, saying very little apart from demanding a cigarette with the comment: “I am an arsehole, you can’t take everything away from me”. At first the two women characters are weak but Laurie Zimmer soon finds her metal as Leigh, a police woman who gives as good as she gets. Carpenter’s own intermittent score kicks up enough energy and spunky tension as the bullets fly in the claustrophobic semi-darkness of this man-made Hell. ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 is a tightly scripted 1970s crime classic which made Carpenter one of the luminaries of genre filmmaking. MT.

CELEBRATING ITS 40TH ANNIVERSARY ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 IS RELEASED ON BLURAY DVD IN A BLACK CASE COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT FROM 9 JANIARY 2017

The Wailing (Goksung) 2016

Dir.: Na Hong-jin; Cast: Kwak Do-won, Hwang Jung-min, Jun Kunimura,
Chun Woo-hee, Kim Hwan-hee, Moo Myeong); South Korea 2016, 150 min.

Director/writer Na Hong-jin (The Yellow Sea) imagines a monstrous journey into the occult – gigantic not only in length, but also in narrative and aesthetic over-kill. What makes THE WAILING bearable in spite all of the hocus-pocus, is the performance of lead actor Kwak, whose police officer Jong-Goo is more of a loafer than an enforcer, bringing some comic relief to the often gruesome proceedings.

Set in the same rural environment as many of the famous South Korean detective mysteries like Memories of Murder, Jong is introduced at the breakfast table with his wife and daughter, eating leisurely before setting out to investigate a multiple murder – as if this would be a routine case in his tranquil village. As it turns out, Jong doesn’t need to worry, because the culprit, the father of the slain family has been already caught. Soon more gruesome killings occur, and Jong sets out into the woods, to look for the chief suspect, a Japanese stranger (Kunimura), who has been spotted eating animals. But in spite of employing a shaman (Il Gwang), Jong does not get any nearer to the solution of this mysterious murder spree, which starts to dominate his dreams, But worse is to come when his daughter (Hyo-jin Kim), is affected by the illness. Then a strange woman (Moo) starts throwing stones at the detective, before warning him that the Japanese is not the culprit. In the end, THE WAILING ends as it began: as a riddle about religious obsession: which is really the devil behind the mass slaughter – and poor Jong has to come up with the right guess, to save his daughter.

THE WAILING is not a traditional horror movie, it does not rely on jump-scares (only once) or use sound as a harbinger of approaching evil – it more or less sucks the audience in, just like the virus spreading in the village. This is a story about desperation, the helpless Jong (and the audience) trying to find a rational solution for the crimes. There is contamination, affected victims vomit constantly: bodily and psychologically possession is the name of the game. But in the end, this endless cycle of new victims and new suspects is tiring: the self-indulgence of the director takes it toll – not only in running time, but in the narrative structure of film. DoP Kyung-pye is able to create to create two separate worlds: the mundane village life, to which Jong clings too long for his own good, and the jungle of the woods, from where evil spreads. It is ironic, that after such an exhaustive tour-de-force the main emotional impact should be deflation. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 25 NOVEMBER 2016

One Million Years B.C. (1966) | bluray release

optbd2967_2dDir: Don Chaffey | Cast: Raquel Welch, William Lyon Brown, John Richardson, Raquel Welch, Percy Herbert, Robert Brown (Akhoba) | 101min | Fantasy drama | US

English director Don Chaffey cut his teeth during the fifties and early sixties on TV titles such as The Avengers and The Prisoner. Going on eventually to make films for children such as Pete’s Dragon and Jason and the Argonauts, his One Million Years B.C. (1966) reached cult status as one of Hammer Films’ most expensive and profitable ventures. A remake of the Hal Roach(1940) outing, itself originally inspired by Man’s Genesis (US, d. D.W.Griffith, 1912), the film was also notable for its use of American talent, notably Raquel Welch (rocking a furry bikini) as the sensationally attractive cave-girl Loana. The film sealed her iconic status as a sex symbol. And even today, her name is synonymous with sexual allure and voluptuousness. Welch’s stunning physicality and beautiful bone structure is one of the main attractions here. But the film is also notable for Ray Harryhausen’s impressive special effects of giant tortoises and lizards blended with stop-motion animation images of real creatures, known as the “dynamation process”. Chaffey’s had already used this in Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and it feels actually more plausible than current day CGI monsters.

Filmed in the craggy volcanic landscapes of Lanzarote ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. is so bad, it’s actually rather good. And authentic in its appeal. The film’s politically incorrectness has an ingenuousness that seems entirely acceptable and weirdly plausible as nowadays many men actually do grunt and gesticulate, having lost the power of articulate speech. The slim narrative is irrelevant but largely boils down to an evergreen scenario: man falls out with his father, gets out a bit more and makes his name in the world before returning to care for his dad and take over the family home. So what’s changed? Well here the characters are fit, tanned and rather gorgeous. ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. is appealing, watchable and honest. MT

CELEBRATING ITS 50 YEAR ANNIVERSARY | 4K RESTORATION OUT ON DOUBLEPLAY DVD AND BLURAY FROM 24 OCTOBER | COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL.
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Voir du Pays (Stopover) | LFF 2016

Dir.: Delphine Coulin, Muriel Coulin: Cast: Ariane Labed, Soko, Ginger Romain; France/Greece 2016, 102 min.

Sisters Delpine and Muriel Coulin (17 Girls) surprise us with a tense yet reflective portrait of French women, fighting in the army alongside men. As one would expect, misogyny, in all forms, from verbal to violent, is at the centre of this captivating film that stars Ariane Labed and Soko.

Set on the island of Cyprus in the autumn of 2012, just before newly elected President Hollande would withdraw French troops from the Afghan war, STOPOVER follows a battalion of French soldiers returning from a tour of Afghanistan. Before they go back to their families, the army has set up a demob camp in a luxury hotel as an antidote to PTSD.

For two close friends, Aurore (Labed) and Marine (Soko), who grew up together in Lorient, and joined the army together these three days will decide their future (“Lorient is an army town, what else was there to do?”). Together their debate the aftermath of conflict: “What the hell was I doing in Afghanistan” – but they will both reach differing conclusions by the end. After their arrival in the hotel, they are annoyed to have to share their room with a third person Fanny (Romain), but soon the daily remedial sessions – with help of virtual reality simulations – take over. All the soldiers have reacted differently to the hostilities, most of them are traumatised by the loss of their friends. It is that the three days merely scratch at the surface, the whole exercise is just a placebo. The men are sexually frustrated, at first voicing their repressed anger at the women soldiers, then, after the trio drives off with some local men, the violence explodes. Two of the women get off with Cypriots, and after the French soldiers follow them to a local restaurant, there is talk about “taking our women and our wine”. Knives are drawn, before the French soldiers drive off. On the way to the hotel, they kill a goat and one of the soldiers tries to rape Aurore “I show you that I have balls, but you don’t”. Marine just comes in time to save her friend. On the flight to France, Aurore asks Marine why she is fighting – Marine’s answer “defending France, Europe”, which is not enough for Aurore any more.

The French title Voir du Pays means “see the world”, a slogan the Army uses to seduce recruits to join. Aurore and Marine have seen little outside Lorient before they embarked on their army careers. But the directors make it clear that women experience fighting on a different level: Marine can’t get the image of her dead compatriot out of her head. “It goes round like a loop”, she tells Aurore. On the other hand, some of the male soldiers are thirsty for more battle. Aurore’s statement regarding her male fellow soldiers: “They need an enemy”.

DoP Jean Louis Vialard creates a fake world in the hotel in stark contrast to what have happened in Afghanistan. Once again leads Ariane Labed and Soko are impressively convincing in this watchable and resonant war drama which won Best Script in the Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes 2016. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 5-16 OCTOBER 2016

War on Everyone (2016)| Berlinale 2016

Director: John Michael McDonagh

Cast: Michael Peña, Alexander Skarsgård, Theo James, Tessa Thompson, Caleb Landry Jones

98min | action drama | UK

John Michael McDonagh’s rip-roaringly irreverent cop buddy movie is largely a vehicle for the combined talents of Alexander Skarsgaard and Michael Pena who play the glib twosome and Glen Campbell who provides the musical hits. Short on laughs but long on cinematic scenery, WAR ON EVERYONE is very much a curate’s egg. Crashing cars and waging war on international crims the duo manage to upset everyone, as the title would suggest, but their bad boy blunders all boil down to boredom in a patchy comedy that exposes the police force as a bunch of warm-hearted racist thugs. But there’s nothing new there. WAR ON EVERYONE works best in its filmic scenes where Glenn Campbell’s iconic hits provide golden moments for the starry Skarsgaard (the camera loves him) and his bouncy love interest who have great fun between the sheets and up against walls. Spectacular widescreen visuals of the desert and snowy Iceland provide the background to the duo’s pursuit of a criminal gang of vicious paedophiles. McDonagh’s loose ‘cops and robbers’ narrative stitches it all together with a script that is gloriously politically incorrect; kicking over the usual hackneyed racial slurs in a formulaic plotline. But hey; there’s plenty to enjoy im this blistering britflick if you just switch your mind to autopilot and enjoy the ride. MT

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS | REVIEWED DURING BERLINALE 11-21 FEBRUARY 2016 | FOLLOW OUR COVERAGE BERLINALE 2016

 

Embrace of the Serpent (2015)

Dir: Ciro Guerra | Cast: Nilbio Torres, Antonio Bolivar, Yauenku Miguee | 122min | Adventure Drama |  Colombia

Colombian writer|director Ciro Guerra’s third feature is a visually stunning exploration to a heart of darkness that echoes  Miguel Gomes’ Tabu or Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde or even Nicolas Roeg’s Belize-set drama Heart of Darkness (1993).

A backlash on the negative impacts of organised Religion and Colonialism, Embrace of the Serpent‘s slow-burn intensity has a morose and unsettling undercurrent that threatens to submerge you in the sweaty waters of the Amazon River whence its token German explorer, Theordor Koch-Grunberg (Jan Bijvoet) meanders fitfully in search of a rare and exotic flower with restorative powers.

Impressively mounted and elegantly shot in black and white (by DoP David Gallego) this arthouse masterpiece was dreamt up by scripters Guerra and Jacques Toulemonde, who base this imagined drama, told in parallel narrative, on the diaries of two explorers travelling through the Colombian jungle in the early part of last century between 1900 and the 1940s. Theodor and Evan (Brionne Davis) are guided by the rather fierce figure of a shaman called Karamakate (played by Nilbio Torres and later by Antonio Bolivar) the sole survivor of a native tribe which perished due to invasion.

Karamakate knows the intricate tribal nuances and the subtleties of the local fauna but is filled with latent hatred for the explorers who he blames for destroying his forefathers. Despite this he cures Theodor, virtually bringing him back to life with potions distilled from the vegetation which is alarmingly shot through a pipe at high speed into the German’s nostrils. With the Shaman they encounter a fallen Catholic mission and a poor worker with a severed arm who begs to be put out of his misery.

For all the magnificent beauty of this wildly lush and desolate forest with its flowing river, there are signs of human destruction. Scored by Carlos Garcia’s haunting ambient soundtrack this is a peaceful, if slightly overlong, meditation on the havoc man has wreaked on his own species and the planet. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER 

Paths of Glory (1958) |Bluray dual format | Kubrick’s early classics

Dir: Stanley Kubrick

Cast: Kirk Douglas, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Meeker, George Macready

USA 1958, 87 min.  War Drama

PATHS OF GLORY was Kubrick’s first foray into the battlefield, based on the true story of French soldiers refusing to obey orders. Anti-war films often fall into the trap of somehow glorying the war action and showing the heroism of the soldiers. But there is nothing heroic about Kubrick’s men in the trenches: in all their human frailty, they are afraid of pain rather than death. The film opens in half darkness and eerie silence, a mixture of fog and smoke, the black and white images forging together in chiaroscuro perfection, each frame painstakingly composed. A long and haunting tracking shot meanders through a trench in the run-up to battle, witnessing the terror etched on soldiers’ faces as they prepare for the onslaught. In contrast, the generals meet in elegant drawing rooms, full of antique furniture and the opulent ballroom scenes anticipating the ones in Visconti’s Il Gattopardo.

Kubrick’s narrative is set during the third year of WWI. The French General Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) hints to his subordinate, General Mireau (George Macready), that he might become a three-star general if he leads a successful attempt to capture a heavily armed German position, called “The Anthill”. Mireau knows that this is a near impossible task, risking the lives of the 8000 men under his command. But he soon convinces himself:  “But, by god, we might just do it!” Colonel Dax (Douglas), having protested against the attack, is leading the action on the battlefield, which turns out to be the disaster he was afraid of.  In the end Mireau even orders his own artillery to shoot on his own men, but his orders are refused. To save his promotion, Mireau finally orders three ordinary soldiers (drawn by lots) to be shot for cowardice, since his plan of attack was “perfect”. Dax defends the three in a military tribunal, but even though more evidence of incompetence of the planning comes to light during the trial, the men are condemned and executed.

Paths_of_Glory_2 copy

The class structure of society, mirrored in war, is demonstrated by the scene of the three condemned men in the cell awaiting their execution: one complains, that the cockroach will be longer alive than himself, having more contact with his wife and child than himself. His fellow victim-to-be squashes the cockroach with the words: “Now you have the edge on him”.

The camera captures the two-level of this ”upstairs-downstairs” scenario perfectly: the hectic action scenes, and the dolly-shots of the ball scenes only one example of the variety. Douglas is superior as the repressed soldier, who only finds his human identity, after being confronted by his murderous superiors. The final scene of PATHS OF GLORY is as unexpected as brilliant: in a pub, a group of French soldiers are celebrating, when a German girl, a prisoner, is forced onto a make-shift stage to sing “Ein treuer Husar”: the soldiers hum the familiar melody, not knowing the German text. A startling ending to an impressive production, which obliged the French authorities to ban the film until 1975. It was also banned during Franco’s Spanish dictatorship, an embargo which lasted until 1986, ten years after his death. Once again Kubrick’s work was to have profound effects that rippled through the Western World: a fitting tribute to the Great War that changed the World forever. AS

OUT ON RELEASE COURTESY OF EUREKA ON 19SEPTEMBER 2016

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Anthropoid (2016)

UnknownWriter\Director.: Sean Ellis

Cast: Jamie Dornan, Cillian Murphy, Charlotte Le Bon, Anna Geislerova, Toby Jones, Jiri Semek

120min | Czech Republic/France/UK, 120 min.

Three years after success with his multi-award winning thriller Metro Manila. Sean Ellis turns his focus back on Europe with an ambitious WWII thriller ANTHROPOID, based on the assassination of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, acting Reichs Protector of Bohemia and Moravia. His death has been planned by the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, and was carried out by two Czechoslovakian soldiers, trained by British SOE Forces in London, on May 27th 1942 in Prague and was a turning point in WWII. The event has been the subject of several feature films, notably the Czech production of The Assassination, and Operation Daybreak. HHhH (Himmler’s Brain is called Heydrich), based on the novel by Laurent Binet, directed by Cedric Jiminez to be released later this year.

Heydrich, chief organiser of the Final solution at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin in January 1942, was soon to be ordered back to Berlin by Hitler, to be promoted to run all occupied countries, setting him up as The Führer’s heir. Heydrich was by far the most intellectually competent member of the Nazi leadership, which he proved in his position in Prague, carrying out his reign with stick (nearly completely liquidating the Czech resistance movement), and carrot, paying the Czechoslovakian workforce decent wages to raise their productivity in the factories – unlike his compatriots, who literally starved to death the foreign workers in the countries under their control.

Sean Ellis acts as his own DoP, as well as writing, directing and producing and has chosen the name of the operation, Anthropoid, for his version of the campaign. A hand-held camera retains a gritty, indie feel to the piece which is shot in intimate close-ups and on the widescreen, offering magnificent vistas of Prague. The assassination endeavour was riddled by bad planning, hampering the progress at nearly every stage. When Jan Kubis (Dornan), Josef Gubcik (Murphy) and Karel Kurda (Semek) parachute into the Czech countryside, Jan and Josef are separated from Karel. The two are injured and have lost their equipment but soon have to deal with two traitors, before they even set out for Prague. There the underground agents, led by Jan Zelanka-Hajsky (Jones), are aghast at the proposal to kill Heydrich. They are aware that a successful attempt would bring revenge from the Germans – as it happened, over five thousand Czechoslovakian citizens lost their lives in the Germans reprisals, among the nearly the whole village of Lidice. But Kubis and Gubcik are adamant, and finally Zelanka gives in and supports the trio, Kurda having joined them after a visit to his family. Jan falls in love with Maria, Josef with Lenka (Geislerova). The women are very different: Maria emotional and full of histrionic outburst, trying to deny the danger they are in; Lenka, the daughter of an officer, has no illusions about the outcome as is calm and controlled.

The scenes in the countryside are feels like a noir-western: darkness prevails, the environment is as hostile as the human opponents. Prague is magnificent, full of twilight and foggy mystery; human relationships are fragile, but again, it never really gets light, shadows linger everywhere. The grandiose finale in the church is again a return to the western motive: the Alamo, were the brave outlast the enemy, superior only in numbers, for an eternity, before darkness falls. Performance-wise Cillian Murphy as Josef is the standout: strong and full of integrity while retaining his vulnerability in the scenes with Lenka. Toby Jones makes a believable and utterly sober, always reinventing himself as her with a fine portrait of Uncle Hajsky, and Hana Frejkova makes an appealing Mrs Lukesova, who shelters the pair while they plan their mission.  Ellis crafts his central characters carefully and appealingly in the early domestic-based scenes and we invest in them enough to care what happens at the denouement. ANTHROPOID is an exercise in resistance: the human spirit triumphs over all obstacles, as in Lang’s Hangmen also Die, the tyrant is caught by fate as much as human struggle. AS/MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 7 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

Venice International Film Festival | Competition titles | 31 August – 10 September 2016

CochwLhXgAApL_kThe 73rd edition of Venice International Film Festival runs this year from 31 August until 10 September stealing a march on Toronto with a sparkling array of some of the most innovative arthouse world premieres of the year together more mainstream fare competing for the coveted GOLDEN LION.

Under the auspices of Jury President Sam Mendes, Venezia 73 presents the following films in Competition»

ANA LILY AMIRPOUR – THE BAD BATCH
USA, 115’

Amirpour’s follow-up to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, this dystopian love story is set in Texas amongst a community of cannibals and features locals alongside stars Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey and Giovanni Ribisi. Amirpour’s regular award-winning DoP Lyle Vincent and musical collaborator  Andrea von Foerster should make this another entertaining watch.

Une Vie © TS Productions 4STÉPHANE BRIZÉ – UNE VIE

Brize’s screen adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s first novel is a pessimistic study of love and loss seen through the eyes of a Normandy woman in the late 1888s. Starring Judith Chemla, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Swann Arlaud, Yolande Moreau it is a French Belgian co-pro.

DAMIEN CHAZELLE – LA LA LAND (cover picture) USA, 127’

Chazelle’s follow-up to the ubiquitously popular Whiplash is an LA-set love story again music is the theme – this time full on Jazz. Stars Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANSDEREK CIANFRANCE – THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS
Usa, Australia, New Zealand, 133’

Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz are the troubled trio in this lighthouse-set story about an Australian couple who adopt a baby discovered in a lifeboat. With Alexandre Desplat doing the score this promises to be a sweepingly romantic love on the rocks affair with some inventive visuals from Macbeth (2015) DoP Adam Arkapaw.

El ciudadano ilustre 1MARIANO COHN, GASTÓN DUPRAT – EL CIUDADANO ILUSTRE
Argentina, Spain, 118’

Award-winning Argentinian directors Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat are best known in their native country particularly for their dark comedy thriller The Man Next Door. Oscar Martínez, Dady Brieva, Andrea Frigerio, Nora Navas, Gustavo Garzón star in this Golden Lion hopeful about a Novel prize winner who visits the town and meets the real people who have been the inspiration for his novels, with some spectacular revelations.

Spira mirabilis 1MASSIMO D’ANOLFI, MARTINA PARENTI – SPIRA MIRABILIS
Italy, Switzerland, 121’

Anyone who saw the documentary ‘Never Ending Factory of the Duomo’ at Locarno last year will be looking forward to this latest documentary offering from the prize-winning Italian director.

 

t0602charo2LAV DIAZ – ANG BABAENG HUMAYO (THE WOMAN WHO LEFT)
Philippines, 226’

Another slow and thorough drama from Diaz this time offering a leading role for veteran Philippina actress Charo Santos-Concio. John Lloyd Cruz also stars.

La región salvaje 1 © Manuel Claro Martín EscalanteAMAT ESCALANTE – LA REGIÓN SALVAJE
Mexico, 100’

Fans of the Mexican director will be thrilled to see that he is back in the competition line-up with another gritty drama from the wilds of his often violent homeland starring Ruth Ramos, Simone Bucio, Jesús Meza, Edén Villavicencio.

Nocturnal Animals 3 © Merrick Morton Universal Pictures InternationalTOM FORD – NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
USA, 115’

A Single Man director and former Gucci impresario Tom Ford’s latest drama is set in California with a starry cast of Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher and Laura Linney. It centres on an art gallery owner who is haunted by the violent subtext of a thriller written by her ex-husband. With Oscar-nominated DoP Seamus McGarvey behind the camera and Ford helming, this should be a good-looking and glamorous affair.

Piuma 5 © Antonello&MontesiROAN JOHNSON – PIUMA
Italy, 98’

British filmmaker, writer and actor Roan Johnson directs an Italian cast in this drama starring Luigi Fedele, Blu Yoshimi Di Martino, Sergio Pierattini, Michela Cescon, Francesco Colella.

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ANDREI KONCHALOVSKY – RAI (PARADISE) 130′

The Russian auteur was last in Venice in 2014 with his Green Drop award-winning drama Postman’s White Nights which is still waiting for a UK release. This Russia Germany co-pro follows three people whose paths cross during wartime: Olga, a Russian aristocratic member of the French Resistance, Jules, a French collaborator and Helmut a senior SS Officer. It stars Julia Vysotskaya, Christian Clauss, Philippe Duquesne, Victor Sukhorukov, Peter Kurt and is shot by ace DoP Aleksandr Simonov (Cargo 200, The Stoker, Heaven on Earth).

CocaSGWWAAAq4XhMARTIN KOOLHOVEN – BRIMSTONE
Holland, Germany, Belgium France, GB, Sweden, 148’
Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Emilia Jones, Kit Harington, Carice Van Houten

Winter in Wartime was Koolhoven’s beautifully crafted and touching wartime drama that never got a UK release but is available for less than a £1 on amazon. This promises to be an epic Western drama that boasts Spain, Hungary, Germany and Austria amongst its settings for a tale of religious vehemence, as the title would suggest.

CocaufJWcAA1veEEMIR KUSTURICA – NA MLIJECNOM PUTU (ON THE MILKY ROAD)
Serbia, GB, Usa, 125’

This film has be mired in controversy for several years, so if nothing else, it will be interesting to see it finally on the big screen. Monica Bellucci was last in Venice in 2014 for Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders and is always worth watching. Emir Kusturica, Sloboda Micalovic, Predrag Manojlovic also star in a drama that is billed as “3 periods in the life of a lucky milkman who ends up as a monk” . Go figure.

Jackie © Stéphanie Branchu copyPABLO LARRAÍN – JACKIE
Usa, Cile, 95’
Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt

Eclectic casting here will certainly make Larrain’s drama an intriguing watch if nothing else. But with his latest films Neruda and The Club still resonating amongst critics and audiences, it’s a tribute to the young Chilean director that he has finally made it to the Venice competition line-up with a biopic drama that explores the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy’s days in the immediate aftermath to JFK assassination. Surely it will be better than the last film that tackled this subject at Venice, Peter Landesman’s Parkland.

Coca343XgAQfBvmTERRENCE MALICK – VOYAGE OF TIME
Usa, Germay 90’

Malick is back with a docudrama that may not prove to be as divisive as his recent efforts To The Wonder and Knight of Cups. This sets out to be an examination of the birth and death of the Universe with narration by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Photographed by The Revenant‘s DoP Paul Atkins it should at least offer an eyeful so watch this space. Hopefully no more swirling through sunlit beaches by scantily clad nymphs…but you never know.

CocbcOlWcAAeYm1CHRISTOPHER MURRAY – EL CRISTO CIEGO
Chile, France, 85’

A drama set in a remote backwater of the Chilean desert is Christopher Murray’s third feature – the leading actor is Michael Silva who made his big screen debut in Neruda and here he plays Rafael aka Christ. He is also ‘blind’  Bastian Inostroza, Ana Maria Henriquez, Mauricio Pinto also star.

IMG_2734FRANÇOIS OZON – FRANTZ
France, Germany, 113’

After his gender-bending comedy drama The New Girlfriend, French maverick François Ozon will be in Venice to present a black and white WWII romantic drama starring Pierre Niney (Yves Saint Laurent) and Paula Beer as a couple who meet at the grave of her fiance. Marie Gruber, Ernst Stötzner, Cyrielle Claire provide support.

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GIUSEPPE PICCIONI – QUESTI GIORNI
Italy 120’

Margherita Buy is Italy’s answer to Isabelle Huppert although she tends to take on softer more tentative characters as here where she plays Adria in Giuseppe Piccioni’s literary adaptation of Marta Bertini’s novel about four provincial university friends and their trip to Belgrade, where one of them has a mysterious friend and an possible job opportunity.

Arrival 2DENIS VILLENEUVE – ARRIVAL
Usa, 116’

Set to be the action film of the late summer, premiering at Venice before opening Toronto. Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker lead a starry cast in this Sci-Fi adventure that takes place after alien crafts land across the globe inciting the military to bring in an expert linguist to discover whether they are goodies or baddies.

CoccZmtXYAARypN.jpg-largeWIM WENDERS – LES BEAUX JOURS D’ARANJUEZ (3D)
France, Germany, 97’

Wim Wenders certainly enjoys filming in 3D, this being his second foray – his first Everything Will Be Fine – was met with mixed reviews as to why he’d used the medium for a standard drama that explored the aftermath of a domestic tragedy. Experimental to the last, this stars Reda Kateb, Sophie Semin, Jens Harzer and  Nick Cave who find themselves in the contempo Spanish city of Aranjuez dealing with a complex set of moral and sexual dilemmas. Judging from his previous 3D affair this should be torrid and colourful. MT

WATCH THIS SPACE FOR FURTHER ADDITIONS TO THE COMPETITION LINE-UP | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 31 AUGUST – 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

Black (2015)

Writer|Directors: Adil El Arbi, Bilahh Fallah

Cast: Sanaa Alaoui, Martha Canga Antonio, Aboubakr Bensaihi, Sanaa Bourasse

95min | Thriller | Belgian

BLACK is true to its title; a dark and sassy thriller with a poetic twist that follows two vying gangs of disenfranchised Black teens through one of the most dangerous quartiers of Brussels wreaking destruction in their wake as they murder, pillage and thieve their way to Hell. Based on Dirk Bracke’s novels Back/Black, this timely drama brings to mind City of GodWest Side Story and Romeo and Juliet, and is the feature debut of Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah whose only fault is the reinforcing of societal misogyny through camerawork that focuses much more on the female form during acts of violence than that of the male, and this is particularly evidenced during during Mavela’s rape.

Calling themselves The Black Bronx and the Moroccan boys, the two gangs are vehemently at loggerheads and composed of non-professional actors who add a touch of reality and bite to proceedings. When a love affair develops between rival gang members Mavela (Martha Canga Antonio) from the Bronx gang, and Marwan (Aboubakr Bensaihi) from the Moroccans, it brings out the best in the young North African and a chance for redemption that continually seems to slip through his fingers as luck is never on his side: ‘you can take a gangster out of the ‘hood, but you can’t take the hood out of a gangster’. Meanwhile, Mavela must choose between love and loyalty. There are other strands to the narrative that keep the action moving and the tension nicely tight in an intelligently scripted and grittily authentic urban drama that never outstays its welcome and modest 95 minute running time. MT

BLACK is released in UK cinemas & on VOD from Friday 19th August.

The Wave (2015)

Director: Roar Uthaug

Cast: Kristoffer Joner, Thomas Bo Larsen, Ane Dahl Torp

104min | Norway  | Drama

Norway’s mountains and fjords provide a magnificent setting for the country’s first natural disaster film and the Norwegian Academy Awards 2016 Foreign Language hopeful.

Starring Kristoffer Joner and Ane Dahl Torp, THE WAVE is based on the probability of a massive rockslide and resulting tsunami destroying the fjord’s shoreline community. There are echoes here of The Poseidon Adventure and The Impossible as director Roar Uthaug takes a visual cue from the ice-bound landscapes of his homeland for a well made but rather stolid affair whose tonal watchwords are restrained panic rather than the unbridled hysteria or even heightened melodrama which characterised its Hollywood predecessors.

With a modest €6 million budget (part-financed by Danish funds) THE WAVE still manages to be a thrilling rollercoaster employing every cliché in the book with a large chunk of ‘Jarlsberg’ chessiness to deliver a tale that takes place in the small community of Geiranger. Geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) is responsible for reporting rockslide changes with his prefessional crew. The previous slide happened in 1905, but disaster is always imminent in this perilous but impressive location; the sound of klaxons giving the community ten minutes to flee to higher ground.

Kristian and his highly capable wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) are on verge of moving to Oslo for an oil company – Statoil?. The kids are not altogether pleased with the change as teenage son Sondre (Jonas Oftebro) – unusually for a boy his age – likes the peace and safety of the location: little does he know how exciting his life is about to become.

The screenplay adopts the classic three-act form: Uthaug takes time to familiarise audiences with the set-up in this traditional provincial town where the family are wrapping things up for the move ‘to pastures new’. Kristian senses that all is not well, however, and a last visit to the early warning centre has him fearing the worst. His warnings to ex-colleagues that evacuation may be prudent all fall on deaf ears as the season will shortly be in full swing. Meanwhile, Idun goes on duty in the chintzy local tourist hotel, while Kristian takes Julie for a last night at their old home as disaster lies only hours away. Dozing over a late nightcap of whisky on the rocks, as heavier rocks head towards him, and these are not going to just chill his drink. D.P. John Cristian Rosenlund’s superb widescreen visuals bare witness to the village’s rude awakening and his hand-held camera judders through the fleeing footfall as a thundering avalanche of boulders cascade into the fjord throwing up a tsunami of ash-filled breakers as the sky turns obsidian black.

Joner and Dahl Torp gives performances of surprising strength and complexity for a film of this genre. Dahl Torp comes out on top, very much the Nordic heroine of the piece, leading the men with icy determination and laudable calm, given the circumstances. For a hotel receptionist, she appears to have a thorough grounding in physics, casualty-level resuscitation techniques, not to mention the lungs of a whale.

Despite its clichés and practical implausibilities, there’s a great deal to enjoy here although it’s somehow doubtful that Norway will be coming home with the Oscar. Let’s just hope that if disaster does strike, a woman like Idun will be around to save the day. MT

SCREENING DURING THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 7 -18 OCTOBER 2015

The Shallows (2016) | Infierno Azul

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Cast: Blake Lively, Oscar Jaenada, Angelo Josue, Lozano Corzo, Jose Manuel, Brett Cullen

87min | Action Thriller

Billed as the most terrifying shark thriller since Jaws, THE SHALLOWS doesn’t quite push the boat out in the same way as Steven Spielburg’s seminal seventies shocker, but for a slick 87 minutes it serves up a shot of adrenaline that will see you through the summer’s torpid cinema selection. Certainly filmic and well-constructed with some taut and tricky action scenes THE SHALLOWS makes great use of its tropical Australian seascapes and Blake Lively’s considerable charms as a stunning actor and capable action woman.

Catalan director Jaume Collet-Serra is known for a string of decent but untroubling thrillers, amongst them Unknown and Orphan, and this glossy bikini-buster is a welcome addition to his workmanlike repertoire, it slips down easily offering light entertainment unlikely to take the enjoyment out of your relaxing holiday swim in the sea; whether it be in the Med or a more exotic location.

Essentially a one-hander THE SHALLOWS is carried through on Lively’s perfectly formed shoulders as Nancy. a Mermaid-defyingly devastating surfing heroine who exudes a sensual, sweet-smiling vulnerability as a dropout medical student who is taking time out to kick back after a tough year. A backstory as tight as her buttocks contextualises her life: Mum also loved the beach but has recently died and she is close to her sister and father back home on the ranch in Galveston Texas. She arrives on a remote palm-fringed beach courtesy of her hungover companion Carlos and flirts with a bevvy of surfing buddies on her way to ‘blue hell’ (the film’s Spanish title is Infierno Azul) after tripping through the shallows in her neoprene wetsuit and gold jewellery (which later comes in handy when surturing her thigh). The rest is pretty much formulaic but tenderly told: nasty shark threatens, mermaid is injured but avails herself of her medical training to add spice to this compulsive survival against the odds narrative that incorporates a Friends of the Earth subtext.  Ultimately THE SHALLOWS is less of a  shark shocker and more a guide to surviving against the odds by using our instincts in harnessing nature’s protective forces. Amid a flurry of wetsuits, blonde tousled locks, twisted limbs, sharks teeth and gulls wings, Anthony Jaswinski somehow crafts a convincing storyline to keep us amused for the duration and although the finale comes as no surprise it’s somehow enjoyable getting there. MT

THE SHALLOWS IS ON GENEAL RELEASE IN AUGUST 2016

The Intent (2016)

Dir.: Femi Oyeniran, Kalvadour Peterson

Cast: Dylan Duffus, Tayo ‘Scorcher’ Jarrett, Jade Asha, Sarah Akokhia

UK 2016, 104 min.

Directors/writers/producers Femi Oyeniran and Kalvadour Peterson exploit every stereotype of black-gangland in this East London crime thriller. THE INTENT is as foul-mouthed as it is simplistic and self-indulgent.

Led by the trigger-happy Hoodz (Jarrett), the TIC gangland violence soon erupts from weed peddling into robbing shops and post offices. Officer Lee Biggins (Duffus) tries to infiltrate the gang, but his superior, Sergeant Rebecca Smith (Akokhia) cannot work out if Biggins has changed sides. After Naema (Asha), witnesses the brutal killing of her mother in a TIC robbery in their shop, she discovers a mask worn by the gang in her boyfriend’s apartment and goes to the police, but Smith cannot prove anything, having to rely on the dithering Biggins.

DoP Scott Sandford has done a professional job, slow motion and jump-cuts dominating, but he cannot save a banal narrative which uses cardboard cutouts instead of personalities, the result overstays its welcome by at least 20 minutes. Like the whole exercise, the acting is over the top, in a senseless self-parody. Ultimately it seems the filmmakers’ immaturity has rubbed off on the whole project, dangerously reinforcing every single prejudice about black youth in the inner city. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 22 JULY 2016

The Deer Hunter (1978) | Tribute to Michael Cinimo

Dir.: Michael Cimino

Cast: Robert De Niro, John Cazale, John Savage, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep

USA1978, 182 min.

Michael Cimino only directed seven feature films, yet he can claim to have put a maximal impact on film history – even if not always for the right reasons. His third feature HEAVEN’S GATE (1980) bankrupted the production company United Artists, but he will be even more remembered for THE DEER HUNTER. Only his second film is nevertheless caused a world wide political storm – and garnered five “Oscars”, including “Best Director” and “Best Film” in 1979.

Whilst THE DEER HUNTER was premiered on 8.12.1978 in New York, the film had its international coming out at the Berlin Film Festival in February/March 1979. Even before the screening, the Soviet delegation protested about the film and wanted it withdrawn. After very mixed reviews, the Soviet delegation withdrew all their films and walked out, followed by Cuba and the rest of the East European countries, including the jury members Vera Chytilova (Czechoslovakia) and Pal Gabor (Hungary); a third, Julie Christie, left well before the end of the festival. (Ironically, nine years earlier, the festival was abandoned, after the Jury president, the American director George Stevens walked out in protest against the Anti-Vietnam war film “o.k.” by the West-German director Michael Verhoeven, shown in competition).

Seeing THE DEER HUNTER thirty-five years later after the great scandal (festival director Wolf Donner was pushed to resign), it surprises how quaint the first third of the production is: the scenes in the little Russian-orthodox enclave near Pittsburgh, with the steel mill and the church as centre points, are overly idyllic and the male protagonists acting out the rituals of arrested development, with the occasional casual violence against women thrown in. Frank Capra would have loved this version of small town America. But therefore, the shock of the bestial North-Vietnamese torturers in the middle part is far greater, as if the movie would have started with this segment. The chaos of the last war years is again shown out of the perspective of the American soldiers: victims to the end. Part three, back home, trying to put the broken lives together, seems to be more sober, until the very end, the rendering of “God Bless America” by the survivors (plus Meryl Streep’s Linda, the token woman of the narrative) shows patriotism as it worst.

Peter Biskind (“Vanity Fair”) wrote in 1978: “..that the political agenda of THE DEER HUNTER was something of a mystery. It may have been more a by-product of Hollywood myopia, the demands of the war-film genre, American parochialism and simple ignorance than it was the pre-meditated right-wing road map it seemed to many”. Pauline Kael argued: “The impression a viewer gets is that if we did some bad things there we did them ruthlessly but impersonally; the Vietcong were cruel and sadistic”. And John Simon in the “New York Magazine” summed it up for all: “This film is only an extension of the old Hollywood war movie lie. The enemy is still bestial and stupid, and no match for our purity and heroism; only we no longer wipe up the floor with him – rather, we litter it with his guts”. Today, after Iraq and Afghanistan, we might point to THE DEER HUNTER more with sadness than anger. AS

MICHAEL CIMINO 1939 – 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Raman Raghav 2.0 (2016) |Cannes Film Festival Directors’ Fortnight 2016

Director: Anurag Kashyap  Writers: Anurag Kashyap, Vasan Bala

Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Vicky Kaushal, Sobhita Dhulipala

Writer-director Anurag Kashyap is best known outside India for his dazzling gangster saga Gangs of Wasseypur that took the LFF by storm in 2012. His latest crossover outing is an arthouse thriller with a Bollywood signature premiering at Cannes Film Festival’s auteur side-bar Directors’ Fortnight.

RAMAN RAGHAV spins the common perception that criminals and cops have sociopathic tendancies in common. Stained by a violent misogynist streak, this is a nevertheless a strangely captivating story not least for its sizzling snapshot of modern Mumbai – a city that seethes with a sleepless outdoor population making it an ideal setting for a crime thriller. Taking its name from an infamous ’60s serial killer Raman Raghav, who killed 41 people on the streets Mumbai, this violent and rambunctiously rowdy film is fuelled by a pulsating energy and punctuated by Ram Sampath’s electronic score. With violence aplenty but hardly any gore, the director inculcates an atmosphere of palpable fear from the opening scene where we first set eyes on our narcissistic abusive anti-hero Raman (Nawazuddin Siddiqui in ferocious form). But he is not the only character wielding a weapon – a bloodied car-jack that he drags along behind him noisily – Detective Raghav, investigating the crimes, has a licence to kill that is equally illicit.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui carries the film with glaring eyes and a gleeful disassociation from the terror wreaked in his brutal killing spree: murdering just for the pleasure of it, indiscriminately and abundantly as a reflex action. Siddiqui’s greedy smile and peacock preening make him a hateful criminal as Raman in total contrast to his portrayal of a lowly office clerk in The Lunchbox, this is more in the style of Sonu Duggal in Miss Lovely.

Vicky Kaushal, who played the romantic teenager in last year’s Un Certain Regard entry Masaan, is also a nasty piece of work here as the gorgeously handsome Raghav Singh Ubbi, a coke-snorting detective who terrorises his girlfriend Simmy (Sobhita Dhuliwala in a poorly underwritten role) and arrives on the crime scene before heading off for another fix. Discovering that his pusher has been murdered, his reflex action is to take out an intruder and snaffle a package of drugs, firmly establishing him as another villian rather than the hero of the piece in the audiences’ eyes. Although he rises to the occasion, Kaushal doesn’t quite muster the requisite charisma or grist for the part.

The killing rampage goes on bruised by vibrant bursts of Bollywood-style electronic vibes as the terrible two slither in and out of each other’s clutches. Both men are killers in a crime wave that showcases the inner workings of the city with an authenticity that seems grittier and more visceral than the Mumbai of Slumdog Millionaire yet with a striking psychedelic aesthetic that makes it wicked to watch, the only thing lacking here is some strong female guts. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016 | UN CERTAIN REGARD

 

 

 

 

Overlord (1975) | Criterion Collection UK Bluray release

Director|Writer: Stuart Cooper

Cast: Brian Stirner, Davyd Harries, Nicholas Ball, Julie Neesam, Sam Sewell, John Franklyn-Robbins

83min | War Drama | UK

Stuart Cooper directed this impressionistic Second World War drama that follows a young British soldier from his home town to the D-Day beaches of Normandy. The soldier is Tom Beddows, a polite young man who could have inspired a poem by Wilfred Owen in the Great War. Played here by Brian Stirner (A Kind of Hush), Beddows naively takes a copy of Great Expectations with him to read in his spare time, conjuring up the general impression that the war would be some kind of a temporary blip in everyday life – little did they know.

This is a searingly poignant portrait of an ordinary soldier behind the guns and bluster of the war machine where anonymous death features daily in terrifying scenes and in silent moments where a Spitfire floats over the distant sea below before unleashing a tirade of torpedoes, and savage fires devastate towns and buildings. Stanley Kubrick’s regular DoP John Alcott’s shocking images of soldiers trying to clamber onto the rocky shoreline will remain burnt into the memory and are deftly interwoven with archival footage of giant metal Catherine Wheels rolling along the beaches to explode landmines and cut through barbed wire. Stuart Cooper spent several years compiling the archival and filmed footage in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum. A score of classics such ‘The Lambeth Walk’ lend a nostalgic and sometimes comforting atmosphere to the otherwise pitiful tragedy that unfolds.

Private Beddows meets a girl (Julie Neesam) at a dance. They chat and start to fall in love in a touching way, glad to share human tenderness in the midst of violence. At night, we see the young soldiers talk and smoke in bed as their potential fate gradually dawns on them: “Cannon Fodder – that’s what we are”. But there are lighter moments too as Beddows receives a birthday fountain pen from his parents and writes back to tell them about a trip to the cinema to see Celia Johnson in This Happy Breed. All this is intercut with horrifying footage of war plane flying treacherously overhead the countryside below. One hellish sortie sees an aircraft mercilessly shooting on a train as it puffs its way along a summer cornfield. Tom says goodbye to his parents telling them of his fear but acceptance of death and at never coming home again. He will miss his dog Tina. The final scene takes the form of a dreamlike sequence as Tom runs along the French beaches, imagining the girl embracing and undressing before him as her shadowy figure is reflected in his eyes. But it is not to be. MT

OVERLORD takes it title comes from an operation code word for an invasion sortie during wartime. Restored in a new 35mm print, OVERLORD is a different kind of war film; touching the psyche with a heart-rending sadness and melancholy evoked by Wilfred Owen: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity”. MT

OVERLORD won the Silver Bear at Berlin | AVAILABLE FROM 6TH JUNE 2016 | CRITERION UK —

Phaedra(s) | The Barbican

Director: Krzysztof Warlikowski | Dramaturgy Piotr Gruszczynski

Performed by: Isabelle Huppert, Agata Buzek, Andrzej Chyra, Alex Descas, Gael Kamilindi, Norah Krief, Rosalba Torres Guerrero, Gregoire Leaute

220min | Drama | Poland | France

It seems fitting that one of Greek tragedy’s most controversial figures should be played by one of film and stage’s most enigmatic French actors, Isabelle Huppert, who makes a rare London appearance to play three roles (Aphrodite, Phaedra and Elizabeth Costello) in Krzysztof Warlikowski’s radical and visionary French Polish production which bewilders and bewitches despite occasional longueurs.

His PHAEDRA(S) takes the form of three versions of the Greek myth, blending fresh material from Lebanese-Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad with the provocative text of Sarah Kane’s brutal ‘Phaedra’s Love’ and extracts from J M Coetzee’s novel ‘Elizabeth Costello’.

In 2010, Warlikowski cast Huppert in his version of A Streetcar Named Desire and this captured his imagination to create her three incarnations here as she morphs seamlessly from the sexually manipulative Aphrodite taking revenge on Hippolytus, then switching to Phaedra and finally to the perverse Elizabeth Costello.

Hot on the heels of her intoxicating performance in Paul Verhoeven’s outré ‘rape comedy’ ELLE, that premiered at Cannes in May, Huppert struts provocatively around the stage in a range of raunchy rigouts from Dior, Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent and Givenchy during an evening that perpetually teeters on the brink of elegant outrage. During the opening scenes she strips down to her blood-stained undies before girating in angst-ridden love-sickness on a bed, throwing up into a sink and fatally climaxing in the arms of her step-son Hyppolyte 1, a coltishly exotic Gaël Kamilindi who slinks in as a black dog.

In the second and most protracted segment, Andrzej Chyra (In the Name Of) plays Hippolyte as a bored and bloated playboy sulking in a sliding glass enclosure (representing his regal quarters) where he is entertained by the intoxicatingly rhythmic dance routines of Rosalba Torres Guerrero while Hitchcock’s Psycho plays in the background, in the first of the production’s three references to the film world. Jessica Lange’s lobotomy scene in Clifford’s Frances (1982) plays during the final Coetzee segment along with Pasolini’s ’60s allegory Teorema, which cleverly draws a parallel with Silvana Mangano’s chic but sexually frustrated Milanese mother. In final strand Huppert plays conference speaker Elizabeth Costello who disdains Chyra’s intellectually arrogant interviewer during a conference debate that uses Frances, German Romantic poet Höderlin who incorporated Greek tragedy into his 19th century works, and Racine’s 17th century version of Phèdre as its pivotal conversation points. Of the three parts, this is possibly the most amusing but also the most challenging.

In sharp contrast to the starkly elegant stage sets (marbled walls, chrome shower heads and contemporary low level Italian furniture) and haute couture, the cast bravely submits to the full complement of human physical and emotional degradations: crying, pleading, throwing up, bleeding and crawling on all fours with open legs.

Isabelle Huppert’s coruscating emotional intensity ranges from the sarcastically perverse Costello to the proud posturing of Aphrodite and the clipped sardonic diction and soulful sobbing of Phaedra, making us scorn and then pity her characters within minutes. Amusement jostles shock and contempt. Agata Buzet (11 Minutes) is potently feline and as Phaedra’s real daughter Strophe. And there is a dizzying dance from Guerrero. Complimented by Pawel Mykietyn’s arresting atmospheric score this is an often bewildering but ultimately rewarding production. MT

PHAEDRA(S) | BARBICAN THEATRE EC2 | TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE

 

Pride and Prejudice Zombies (2016) | Home Ent release

Director: Burr Steers

Cast: Charles Dance, Sam Riley, Lily James, Jack Huston, Lena Headey

107min | UK | Horror drama

Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is a household classic successfully adapted for screen on various occasions. Zombie films such as Shaun of the Dead have also garnered much popularity, so why not meld the two together in a lavishly mounted period romp with a solid British cast and you cannot fail to win at the box office, right?

Wrong. With the best intentions Seth Grahame-Smith has over-complicated his script for P&P Zombies: this stylish low-budget affair has all the right credentials: ravishing settings; decent actors; (Charles Dance, Sam Riley, Jack Huston) and some sumptuous costumes and accoutrements – and created a fantasy horror that imagines the appearance of zombies in the quaint 19th century location of Hertfordshire (well-known for its Wicked Lady – but she was very much alive).

Lifting vast swathes of the original page and blithely inserting the word ‘zombie’ in an opening scene, he contrives a zombie tale that pales into insignificance compared to the original, thus bleeding the film dry of any amusement with the absurd and insulting premise the aristocracy rise up and wage war on their zombie interlopers whilst the proles are ravaged to death.

Lizzie Bennet (Lily James) and Mr Darcy (Sam Riley) fall in love while trying to combat the enemy who talk and even think, making them irritating to outmoeuvre as well as difficult to quell. Despite his young age, Sam Riley’s acting chops seems to have peaked and he is sullen and buttoned in the role of Colonel Darcy, rather than dashing and suave. Lily James, meanwhile, shines as gutsy go-getter Lizzie Bennet. The straight scenes come alive thanks to a patrician Charles Dance and darkly dishy Jack Huston, but Austen devotees will not appreciate the original vixen Lady Catherine DeBourgh (Lena Headey) becoming a feisty zombie slayer in this version, which nevertheless retains its early 19th century period detail down to last bonnet with some sexy lingerie peeping through.

The problem with P&P Zombies is that not even the solid cast and Steers’ competent direction can make sense of the cumbersome and rather silly storyline which is mired down in zombies’ mess whenever it tries to offer something fresh and entertaining.  If you’re going to re-make the original then at least make it original – and entertaining. MT

OUT ON DVD | HOME ENT FROM 27 June 2016

 

55 Days in Peking (1963) | Bluray release

Director: Nicholas Ray  Script: Robert Hamer

Cast: Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, David Niven, Flora Robson, John Ireland, Harry Andrews, Robert Helpmann

154min | Action Drama | US

55 DAYS IN PEKING is an action drama depicting the 1900 Boxer Rebellion: an ethnic cleansing exercise to purge China of its foreign element. The film opens as British Consul, Sir Arthur Robertson (an excellent David Niven) and US Marine Major, General Matt Lewis (a convincing Charlton Heston) join forces to lead a resistance movement, expecting military relief to arrive within days. And although the film shows the rebels laying siege to the compound with nationalism ultimately winning through, the film lacks a coherent Chinese perspective – so why should we bother watching it today? Well mainly because it’s not simply a 1960’s history lesson.

Firstly, this is a Nicholas Ray film. Ray was a great outsider director, who made 55 Days at Peking hoping to make the money for more personal projects (Sadly, the film made no money). Secondly, it’s a thoughtful historical film coming at the tail-end of Hollywood’s wide screen epics (El Cid, Spartacus, and The Fall of the Roman Empire et all). Thirdly, 55 Days employs real extras and utilises superbly designed sets to create an authenticity that is more conducive to action/adventure film-making than today’s CGI. And finally the film’s principal scriptwriter is Philip Yordan, a highly intelligent writer who worked regularly with Nicholas Ray.

Unfortunately the biggest problem with 55 Days at Peking is that Ray collapsed on set and wasn’t allowed to finish the film. Andrew Marton, Ray’s second unit director, took over. The film then sags somewhat in the middle. Yet the battle scenes remain very exciting (remember Andrew Marton directed the thrilling chariot race in Wyler’s Ben-Hur). Ray was always a master of wide screen detail – Rebel Without a Cause, Party Girl and King of Kings being notable achievements. However Ray’s subtle eye for dense imagery and power of expressive composition, especially for the interiors of the court with the Empress (a commanding Flora Robson), is later on missing.
The most emotionally engaging scene of the film is when Matt Lewis (Charlton Heston) has to tell a young Chinese/American girl Teresa (Lynne Sue Moon) that her US marine father has been killed. Lewis’s awkwardness and repression contrasted with Teresa’s openness and honesty is very touching. Suddenly it’s the Nicholas Ray of Rebel employing sensitive and nuanced direction. Given that Ava Gardner (playing a Russian Baroness) and Charlton Heston are the film’s leads, apart from their first encounter, there is no real passion or screen chemistry between them. Gardner’s performance feels somewhat detached. Perhaps because too many of the Andrew Marton directed scenes were condensed.

Although flawed 55 Days at Peking is never as bad as its reputation would have you believe. It’s an intelligent film that lovers of Ray’s work and ’60s epics must see. A film that promised so much, yet sadly resulted in Ray never again directing a major feature film. Alan Price.

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY

 

Goat (2016)

Director: Andrew Neel  Writers: David Gordon Green et al

Cast: Virginia Gardner, Nick Jonas, Ben Schnetzer, Danny Flaherty, Jake Pickering, Austin Lyon

96min |  US | DRAMA

US director Andrew Neel’s men only testosterone-fuelled fraternity tale is, as you’d expect, long on bolshy male-bonding and short on characterisation. Rather more in the mould of The Riot Club than 22 Jump Street, it follows teenager Brad (Ben Schetzer) on the first year at Cincinnati’s Brookman College after a vicious mugging has left him under par and psychologically scarred during the summer vacation. Although his elder brother Brett (Nick Jonas) is there to watch over him this proves to be offer consolation once he arrives in the macho environment where he undergoes a violent initiation routine of hazing.

This film offers a trenchant and unflinching look at all-male environments where uncotrolled aggression and bullying go unchecked while posing as brotherhood and eventually reach outlandish proportions and tragic consequences. Although Neel makes us feel the blunt force of this relentless brutality he gives us little in the way of backstory or textural context to make us care about any of the individuals cooped up in a macho web of tribal warfare, based on Brad Land’s 2004 memoirs and scripted by David Gordon Green.

Ben Schnetzer gives a resonating performance as the young man determined not to let his masculinity crumble in the force of circumstances; his whole college persona and social life and seems to hang on a successful outcome in the initiation war. For many GOAT may prove almost unwatchable at times but Neel keeps the tension taut and the undertone lyrical with a few Latin phrases and occasional moments of introspection amid the stark realism and Ethan Palmer’s handheld camerawork in an around the Ohio countryside. Arjan Miranda’s atmospheric score punctuates the action in an arresting indie drama. MT

SUNDANCE LONDON | FULL PROGRAMME

 

Close Encounters of the Third Kind | Director’s Cut (1998) | Re-release

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Richard Dreyfus, Francois Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon

35mm | Fantasy Drama | US | 137min

Combining scenes from both the 1977 original version and the 1980 Special Edition, Close Encounters, released in the same year as the first Star Wars film, proves that director Steven Spielberg, at 28 years old, was a child of the 1950s: Close Encounters being a compendium of SF films from his teenage years, feeding on the fears of the Cold War.

Electrician Roy Neary (Dreyfuss) encounters an UFO on the road while investigating a widespread power cut. Somehow believing that he is in secret contact with aliens, he tries to rebuild the scene of his encounter, so that he can meet them. His wife Ronnie (Garr), his three children and the whole neighbourhood is convinced that he is going mad. In a parallel narrative, four year old Cary Guffey runs away from home in the middle of the night and is picked up by a spaceship, leaving his mother Jillian (Dillon) desperate to regain her son. Roy and Jillian meet and with the help of the US military and the French scientist Claude Lacombe (Truffaut), make contact with the spaceship. Although Jillian is only too happy to be re-united with her son. Roy, whose family has left him, is overjoyed to join the aliens on their journey home.

Spielberg takes his story seriously delivering some slapstick scenes, particularly when Roy is going overboard with his quest for meeting the aliens. These creatures are rather benign yet somewhat enigmatic. After landing in a secret field in Wyoming for the final sequence, they deliver the sailors of the navy ship Cotopaxi, which is found empty in the Gobi desert, and some crew from WWII planes, before taking the grateful Roy in exchange. Spielberg’s explanations are rather diffuse, being a mixture of religious and philosophical ramblings.

The final segment in the desert is stunning, but also includes a lengthy quote from Hitchcock’s North by North West, when Roy and Jillian try to climb a mountain, very much in the manner of Eva-Marie Saint and Gary Grant. Overall, one never has the feeling that writer/director Spielberg offers his own take on SF, unlike Kubrick’s vision in 2001. Close Encounters reallt belongs to DoP Vilmos Zsigmond (who won the only Oscar of all the many nominations the film garnered), special effects supervisor Dalton Trumbull and composer John Williams.AS

OUT NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 27 MAY 2016 Courtey of Park Circus Films

 

Streetdance Family (2016)

Director: Debbie Shuter, Adam Tysoe

87min | Documentary | Germany/Italy.

When fourteen year old Ethan, the son of filmmakers Debbie Shuter and Adam Tysoe, joined the ‘Entity Allstars’, an Under-16 Street Dance crew of twenty Hip-Hop dancers in Barking, his parents decided to film the journey without realising that it would take them from their home in Barking via Luton and Rimini (Italy) to Bochum (Germany). Here in September 2014 they were the first British team to take on the World Champions of the IDO (International Dance Organisation) in the Junior Streetdance category.

The directors called this a “passion project” – and quite rightly so. The young dancers, their parents, the choreographer, the juries and even the IDO president of the British section all infuse Streetdance Family with a spirited emotional impact on a level with the competition itself. To start with, Tashan Muir, a big burly man and the crew’s dance coach, saw himself “like a re-incarnation of Noah”. Helped on by Pater Adjaye, the religious undercurrent was very clear, and Muir certainly had all the qualities of a religious leader. Unfortunately, some of the dancers’ parents could not always keep their emotions under control, and made life for their children difficult. Petty quarrels erupted, some parents being not very good role models when it came to conflict resolution. It led to one of the main dancers missing the Bochum finals. To make matters more difficult Derek Povey, the President of the British Section of IDO, walked around the competition places, seemingly unhelpful to the course of Entity. Still, Muir held the group together and when they reached the final of the competition, he instilled an “us-against-the-world” underdog feeling in his troupe.

Being his own cinematographer helped Tysoe to capture the spontaneity and often also the chaos of the events. The rollercoaster ride is pure cinema-verite, recalling Jean Rouch documentaries about tribal rituals: with Entity coach Muir acting as the chieftain, putting his dancers into a trance-like attitude where they believed they could overcome all obstacles. The filmmakers tried not to be judgemental when it came to parental misbehaviour – resulting in early cuts when tempers flew. Overall, Streetdance Family retains a gritty indie feel, either by accident or design, and in the process achieves a hyper-realistic intensity, and an affectionate tenderness for the young dancers. AS

OUT NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 27 May 2016

Easy Rider (1969) | Bluray Release

Director: Dennis Hopper  | Writers: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Terry Southern | Cast: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Antonio Mendoza, Phil Spector, Luana Anders, Sabrina Scharf, Sandy Brown Wyeth | 95min | Adventure drama | US

Taking its name from a Bob Dylan number EASY RIDER is the ultimate road movie where two hippies journey across South Western America in a bid to discover themselves and freedom (“What the hell is wrong with freedom? That’s what it’s all about”). What starts as an easy-riding peaceful mission in the spirit of Woodstock, rather than the menace associated with the lawless hoodlum biker gangs of the ’60s, EASY RIDER is not entirely devoid of tragedy by the time the dudes roll into their destination of New Orleans.

Peter Fonda rocks a ‘stars and stripes’ jacket and rides a classic long-barrelled motorbike. While Dennis Hopper opts for the Native American look with tasselled buckskins, full moustache and hippy hair. Gliding through big country landscapes, canyons and mountain ranges they enjoy hospitality where they can, teaming up Jack Nicholson, as a loquacious, well-heeled but naive alcoholic, who joins them on their trip but sadly bites the dust when the trio hit more hostile terrain. The journey includes a visit to a whorehouse where the pair indulge in grass and LSD, all shot in 16m. Hopper’s direction is for the most part fluid and the script trenchant in its depiction of gratuitous violence that occasionally takes on a poetic twist.

The upshot? A visually sumptuous and enjoyable romp that hints at philosophy and folklore, engaging cult and new audiences alike with its musical backdrop redolent of a freeweelin’ America of the ’60s. MT

NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY, DVD AT THE NEW LAUNCHED CRITERION UK LABEL

Scott of the Antarctic (1948) | Bluray DVD and EST release

SCOTT_BD_3D-thumbnailDirector: Charles Frend

Cast: John Mills, Harold Warrender, Derek Bond, Reginald Beckwith, James Robertson Justice, Kenneth Moore, Diana Churchill

105min | Adventure | UK

Here Charles Frend directs one of Ealing Studios’ most impressive productions featuring a sterling British cast and using Robert Falcon Scott’s diaries to recreate in meticulous detail the fatal 1910 expedition to the South Pole. Keeping the doomed mission alive, Herbert Ponting’s actual expedition footage has been used along with location camerawork to re-inspire a journey that was fraught with setbacks. Together with Arne Åkermark’s studio recreations, shot in Technicolor by Jack Cardiff, Osmond Borradaile and Geoffrey Unsworth, this gives a remarkable visual account of what actually happened during those fateful months, 0ver a 100 years ago. Sombrely scored by renowned British composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, in what later became  known as his Sinfonia antartica.

The audience is naturally well aware of the outcome of the tragedy and so SCOTT OF THE ANTARCTIC makes for a patriotic and pitiful watch rather than a tense one. A chronological narrative gradually unfolds showing how a series of errors of judgement led ultimately to the negative outcome: largely attributed to inadequate financing and supplies, the use of unreliable motor sledges instead of dogs and the failure to gauge the weather conditions. Despite this, the film makes a fitting tribute to the abiding stoicism, courage and innate good nature of the British team who obeyed orders, never once complaining, despite their bitter disappointment which could so easily have been turned to triumph with greater preparation and awareness. MT

 

Ran (1985) | Shakespeare’s 400th Birthday

Director: Akira Kurasawa

Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Mieko Harada, Yoshiko Miyazaki

162min  | War Drama | Japan

RAN is an epic undertaking of extraordinary ambition and the most expensive Japanese film created at the time. Exquisitely delicate, poignantly moving and brutally violent, the wartime drama was Akira Kurasawa’s final masterpiece, his third Shakespeare adaptation – a jidaigeki re-imagining of the literary legend of King Lear – it vibrantly depicts the devastating abdication of a 16th century Sengoku-era warlord in favour of his three sons.

According to tradition, Lord Hidetora (a boldly physical performance from Tatsuya Nakadai) leaves his kingdom to his eldest son, banishing his youngest and most loyal. Tragedy ensues as the eldest son turns against him, encouraged by his wife,, the evil and untrustworthy Kaede (Mieko Harada). Operatic in tone and set on a plain of black volcanic ash, the violent widescreen battle scenes take on a mystically powerful resonance as they play out in silence accompanied by Woman of the Dunes composer Toru Takemitsu’s original orchestral score.

Kurasawa cleverly melds moments of serene beauty – the Buddhist prayer scene on the castle, and Hidetora sleeping under the blossoms of fruit tree – with those of coruscating terror: the horrific blood-soaked images of the burning castle on the slopes of Mount Fuji set against the armies of soldiers who swarm around like coloured ants. There is a searing beauty to the vehement scene where the scheming virago Kaede threatens her brother in law with a symbolic sword, before violently seducing him, demanding he kill his wife and marry her. Much of her performance and that of Hidetora was influenced by Noh theatre, which emphasizes the ruthless, passionate and single-minded nature of these characters. Harnessing the wildness of the weather and some magnificent scenic Japanese locations, RAN – meaning Chaos – was for the most part filmed in long shots with very few close-ups. It also featured hundreds of handmade costumes which took years to design and craft by award-winning designer Emi Kada. Akira Kurosawa is regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema. RAN is one of the jewels in his glittering 57 year career. MT

OUT IN SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 1 APRIL | BFI 24 April | BLU-RAY DUAL FORMAT COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA | 2 May 2016

Bastille Day (2016)

Director: James Watkins    Writer: Andrew Baldwin

Cast: Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Kelly Reilly, Charlotte Le Bon

92min  | Thriller | UK

Idris Elba is the standout in this hard-hitting Paris-based terrorist actioner with breath-taking rooftop chases reminiscent of Polanski’s Frantic. BASTILLE DAY never takes itself too seriously providing upbeat adrenaline-charged thrills throughout its well-paced running time.

Elba plays Sean Briar, tasked with investigating a lethal terrorist conspiracy set to unfurl during the annual French festivities. Going agains his orders, Briar recruits Michael Mason (Richard Madden) for his expert pickpocketing skills to help quickly track down the source of the corruption. But he soon realizes that Mason is just a pawn in a much bigger game and is also his best asset to uncover the large-scale operation.  As a 24hr thrill ride ensues, the unlikely duo discover they are targets and must rely upon each other in order to take down a common enemy.

Rocking an authentic American accent Elba inspires confidence as the butch FBI operative, deemed “reckless” by his bosses, but using this to his advantage as he punches forward in a situation that demands an off-piste style of detective work; very much in the same mould as his character in TV series Luther.

And he is a busy man. Apart from co-composing the film’s theme which he also sings (!), he finds himself pitting his wits against Madden’s unlikely crook: a performance that fails to impress along with that of his vapid love interest Charlotte Le Bon (The Walk), who falls victim to his rapacious skills and also gets caught in the firing line as an unwitting bomb mule.

Despite its low budget credentials BASTILLE DAY gets out and about with Tim Maurice-Jones’ uplifting panoramic vistas of the French capital and an ambitious opening sequence that manages to meld London into the mix with surprising aplomb.

Scriptwise too, this is a well-written affair with a twisty plot echoing 36, Quai des Orfevres and sadly recalling the recent tragic Bataclan Paris attacks (out of respect, the film’s release was  delayed). Weakest in its characterisation of Mason and his female sidekick (Le Bon), who are dwarfed by the powerful presence of Elba, BASTILLE DAY is still fun and entertaining with some dry-edged humour that carries it through to a cracking finale. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 22 APRIL 2016

The Sweeney: Paris | Antigang (2015)

Dir.: Benjamin Rocher; Cast: Jean Reno, Caterina Murino, Thierry Neuvic

92 min | Action Drama | France 2015, 92 min.

Not even Jean Reno can save Antigang – a straight remake of the The Sweeney, a British film made in 2012, starring Ray Winstone – which was itself based on the popular ITV Series of the same name from 70s. Benjamin Rocher (Goal of the Dead) fails to come up with a semi-macho plot on his own so his ‘scriptwriters’ dived deep enough into the bargain basement of violent back titles to give him an excuse to show off this brainless joyride. Led by Reno as Serge Buren, this gang of Parisian cops enjoy violence at least as much as their law-breaking counterparts. Widescreen images by DoP Jean-François Hensgens are the staple feed of commercials and when you think it can’t get worse – one of Buren’s side kicks, whose partner is expecting a child, is asked what he will call the baby: “Serge, it’s a nice name for a girl too”. Yup – let’s hear it for the boys! AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Calamity Jane (1953) | Sing-a-Long

Director.: David Butler

Cast: Doris Day, Howard Keel, Allyn McLerie, Philip Carey, Gale Robbins

101min  | USA | Western (Sing-along version)

Director David Butler (1894-1974) was a major Hollywood filmmaker who brought successful family entertainment to the silver screen during the 30’s, 40’s and ’50s with cult classics such as Bright Eyes, Leave it to Beaver and Road to Morocco. In the ’60s he moved on to major TV work with series Twilight and 77. Sunset Strip, adding 90 directing credits to his name.

In Deadwood City, deep in the frontier territory of Dakota, men rule supreme. So it’s hardly surprising that the gun-toting, whip-cracking Calamity Jane (Day) tries to garner attention from her male counterparts – with mixed success. She saves the life of Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin (with whom she is secretly in love), liberating him from the Sioux and claiming “I understand why the Indians don’t want to give up this mountain country, it is so beautiful”. But the men of Deadwood want a real woman with feminine qualities and after travelling to Chicago to find such a ‘dame’ in celebrity singer Adelaid Adams, Jane mistakenly brings back the artist’s dresser, who promptly snatches Danny from under her nose.

There are cringeworthy moments galore in this comedy musical, particularly when Katie re-styles Jane’s home while the duo sing “A Woman’s Touch”. The ebullient Day overcomes most of this with her spirited and rambunctious performance, based on the real life character of Martha Jane Canary, a ‘scout’ who lived in the second half of the 19th century. The glorious technicolor images are a feast for the eyes – shame about the rather obvious back-projections. Writer James O’Hanlon can rightly claim he is the father of the central scene in John Ford’s Who Shot Liberty Valance (where John Wayne shoots the villain for John Stewart), in exactly the same way that Howard Keel shoots Jane’s glass out of her hand. The sing-along version is a great opportunity for audiences to join in with Doris Day’s gutsy heroine.

THE SING-A-LONG VERSION SCREENS NATIONWIDE FROM 8 APRIL 2016

 

Eddie the Eagle (2016)

Director: Dexter Fletcher.  Script: Simon Kelton, Sean Macaulay

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Taron Egerton, Tom Costello, Jack Costello, Jo Hartley, Keith Allen, Tim McInnerny

106min | Comedy Biopic | UK

Gentling lampooning Britain’s sporting prowess, Dexter Fletcher champions the ultimate British heroic failure through his story of Michael Edwards, a nerdish West Country plasterer who, from humble beginnings and a startling lack of talent, financed himself to represent us in the 1988 Winter Olympics, eventually carrying the torch, and winning the Nation’s heart with his own brand of sad-sack charm.

Well made and watchable in Fletcher’s capable hands; Maclaulay and Skelton’s embellishment of the true facts nevertheless stretches our imagination to breaking point with a misguided though timely portrait of self-delusion emblematic of the today’s cult of celebrity where average kids  brim over with self-confidencd, egged on by their obsessed parents, to imagine they are more talented than they actually are. Edwards ain’t no superman, he’s just everyman – and that’s what made him an inspiration to Joe Average. But Eddie’s real life is funnier and more surreal than these scripters’ absurd imaginings – which sadly are a jump too far.

Apart from the script, there’s a problem with the casting: Taron Egerton’s Eddie is not endearing, he’s just plain irritating. As a kid Jack Costello’s Eddie is cute; as a grown-up Egerton’s Eddie fails to win any prizes – rocking Mrs Brown style glasses (and a Les Dawson grimace), his curly hairdo brings to mind Kevin Keegan and his waddling posture, Daffyd Thomas (‘the only gay in the village’) – which does him no favours at all: he’s also portrayed as being a teetotal, sexless dork who is ripped to pieces by the more experienced Scandinavian skiers (Finnish skier Matti Nykanen is played by Edvin Endre); he even passes up a quasi-flirt with willing and sultry Cougar bar owner (Iris Berben).  The real Edwards did at least have stunt experience, where here he tackles 40 and 70 metre skiing ramps as a total ingenue who simply dusts himself down after some stratospheric and neck-breaking jumps – seen from his own POV as the jumper. Hugh Jackman has been wheeled in (to garner US box office support) as his fictional coach Bronson Peary – an alcoholic has-been who is now driving a snowplow and tries to teach Eddie how to jump by likening the experience to sex – clearly lost on Eddie. But in fairness, Egerton cools his jets once Jackman is on board, becoming marginally less annoying and more plausible. That said, the film does the real Edwards no favours – the maxim holds that truth is stranger than fiction and the need to embellish it is at best bad taste and and at worst, a downright crying insult to the man himself. To cut to the chase, Edwards finally makes it to the Olympics amid George Richmond’s inventive set pieces. A well-chosen score featuring Thin Lizzy, Hall & Oates and Holly Johnson) adds grist to our appreciation of the film’s more creatively quirky moments. MT

NOW OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE from 1 APRIL 2016

 

Rossellini and the War Trilogy

Rossellini’s War – an exploration of a 20th century war trilogy by Alan Price

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There are very few war trilogies that dramatise and document a nation’s history throughout the significant stages of a war. The most famous is probably Andrej Wajda’s trilogy: A Generation, Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds chronicling Poland’s occupation. The least well known trilogy is Rossellini’s early fascist war achievement: The White Ship, A Pilot Returns and The Man with the Cross, all set in Italy. For the British we have the Humphrey Jennings’s documentaries, Fires were Started, Listen to Britain and Diary for Timothy. Although not officially regarded as a trilogy, it is possible to make out interesting thematic links. As for the American cinema, Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front, A Walk in the Sun and Pork Chop Hill have been lumped together but they are set in different wars and countries, Germany in WW1, Italy in WW2 and Korea.

When it comes to Rossellini’s Rome, Open City, Paisà and Germany Year Zero; we have two films that deal with Italian Fascism and Nazism’s effects on Italian society plus a third film about the civilian population of post-war Germany. So does the description trilogy really apply here too? Maybe not as a comprehensive war history for the Italians but, perhaps more interestingly, how Rossellini – having established neo-realism along with other hybrid elements – allowed himself to question this label and depart from an obvious neo-realist agenda. The term neo-realist is often misleadingly applied to Rossellini’s films of the 1940s. Certainly his films are very real, acutely placed on the streets and vibrate with his mix of professional actors and ordinary people. Yet consider his style of neo-realism. It embraces moments of Expressionism, heightened naturalism, Brechtian theatricality and an anguished challenge replete with spiritual yearning and existential doubt.

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Certain critics of Rossellini once complained that his neo-realist principles were betrayed in Germany Year Zero (1949) and abandoned thereafter. And that Rossellini, the serious filmmaker, was diminished. Surely this criticism can be compared to the early sixties view that Bob Dylan’s renouncing of folk music was an artistic mistake. Did Bob  Dylan ever completely abandon folk: he was always far bigger than just a folk singer. Whilst Rossellini (even more than De Sica) was seen as the godfather of a ‘pure’neo-realism and was, until quite recently, never forgiven for supposedly abandoning his principles, so much of Rome Open City (1945) has a vivid documentary realism, especially in the famous sequence where fascists raid a block of flats as they search for resistance fighters. The photography, editing and camerawork, despite Rossellini’s poor film stock and equipment are very impressive. Later films like The Battle of Algiers (1965) or even Gomorrah (2008) owe much to Rossellini’s staging.

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Yet even the verisimilitude of Rome, Open City is punctured by absurdist comedy. The resistance worker priest, played by Aldo Fabrizi, pretends to reside over the last rites of an old man who is not dying at all. He has been knocked unconscious from a blow to his head by a pan. The soldiers arrive just before weapons have been hid under the man’s bed. After this ‘comic relief’ Rossellini presents us with the tragic death of Pina (Anna Magnani). She is shot running after the truck carrying her lover Francesco (Francesco Grandjacquet). The arbitrary nature of her killing is one of the most iconic depictions of death in cinema history. It is a civilian death amidst the ‘fog of war’ and is heartbreaking. Of course this is quintessential neo-realism. Yet Pina’s death is not only juxtaposed between the humorous (almost Hollywood) business with the priest, but followed by a female informer having a lesbian relationship with an older German woman – this could be seen as a reaction against the middle-class, escapist “white telephone films” of the thirties – and the horrific torture of resistance worker Manfredi (Marcello Pagliero). The later is a scene that is aesthetically in the manner of a Renaissance painting of a crucified Christ. Not forgetting other elements of melodrama that propel the film, Rome, Open City is a hybrid of styles departing from its neo-realist base.

images-1A great disruption of narrative is present in Paisà (1946), most noticeably in its second act: A drunk, black American GI (Joe from Jersey) tries to communicate with a young Italian boy but neither can speak each others’ language. Staged in an almost Brechtian manner; Joe, seated on a pile of rubble, bemoans his lot in the army. Gradually sobering up he says, “I don’t want to go home. Home’s a shack.” and then falls asleep. The young boy steals the GI’s boots. The next day, Joe discovers the boy and forces him back home in order to retrieve his boots. Home turns out to be a desolate network of caves where families are living in dire poverty. Feeling both guilty about war’s destruction and also empathetic – his shack and their caves will still be around a long time after the war –  the GI forgets his shoes, gets back into his jeep and drives away. Such narrative abruptness continues throughout Paisà up to the film’s climax on the River Po, where the resistance fight it out with the German army.

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Rossellini is a master at directing the physical displacement of individuals and the movement of crowds in wartime. Yet his raw, disconcerting documentary-like and awkward breakage of action in Paisà isn’t simply adhering to some neo-realist manifesto for filmmakers, but continues as a prominent force in Rossellini’s post war films with Ingrid Bergman. Here in his controversial film Stromboli, Ingrid Bergman’s flight from the intolerable conditions of the island of Stromboli creates another form of rupture. Her spiritual breakdown asks for some sort of belief in order for her to continue living. Rossellini’s next film Europa 51 sees Bergman depicted as a quasi-martyr/saint/Christ like figure who is adored by a neo-realist crowd of poor people that might have strayed out of De Sica’s Miracle in Milan.(right) 

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Germany Year Zero (left), the final film of his rough trilogy, is set in post-war Berlin as the city’s population attempts to survive the cities economic and material destruction. At the time his audience and critics were upset and confounded as to why Rossellini had shifted focus to the fate of the former enemy. This was certainly a bold and controversial thing to do. An interesting comparison to make would be with D.W.Griffith’s film Isn’t Life Wonderful (1924, depicting the homelessness and ration queues of Germany after their defeat in WW1). Yet Germany Year Zero’s harsh neo- realism masks a darker psychological tragedy. The devastated cityscape of Berlin has a bleak and often surreal nightmarish look. The film depicts the reality of survival: selling a gramophone record of Hitler’s speeches to British soldiers, an old man goes into hospital to receive more food than can be provided at home, and the slaughtering of a horse by crowd desperate to eat. Yet the film’s most disturbing story is the physical death of a child, alongside of the spiritual death of a boy denied a proper childhood.

imagesThirteen year old boy Edmund (Edmund Meschke) is placed under extreme pressure by his bartering for goods on the black market. He’s an innocent child turned into a hunter/scavenger enduring the impositions and demands of his family and neighbours to supply their needs. The child has become an unwilling ‘father to the man’ in a world where a new man or woman, untainted by Nazism, has not yet been born. Edmund is covertly persuaded by an ex Nazi school teacher and pederast that the weak most perish and the strong survive. At this point the film makes an audacious departure from neo-realism. Without resorting to crude melodrama, Rossellini shows Edmund poisoning his father. Patricide as a release from the burden of care and the strengthening of the family is hardly a prominent concern of neo-realism.

The last twenty minutes of Germany Year Zero (1948) features some of the most sublime scenes ever committed to film. Edmund wanders the ruined streets to his death. His suicide is a devastating critique of a morally bankrupt society. The real poison is not the one he has given to his father (that act is bad enough) but the taint of an ideology that cannot yet allow its children to live as normal children (There are scenes of groups of children conniving on the black market or about to be sexually abused).

images-2Rossellini does not give us a political Marxist analysis of Edmund’s fate. His death is oddly serene (in tone very like the death of the peasant girl Mouchette in Bresson’s Mouchette). Edmund’s suicide is a terrible act of despair, yet not totally bleak, for there’s a hint of spiritual renewal for others after Edmund as a woman in the street holds the boy’s dead body in a religious manner.

The subject of Rossellini’s War Trilogy is certainly War. Yet Rossellini: the Known and Invisible Consequences of War (cumbersome though that sounds) might be a more apt description. How can fighters and civilians move intelligibly through the chaos of war; can the bringing of peace mean authentic renewal? Germany Year Zero, the most disturbing of these three masterpieces, poses that question.

ROME, OPEN CITY is screening at the BFI on 29 January 2022 | introduced by Dr Julia Wagner | Also on BFI Player

 

Remember (2015) |

Director: Atom Egoyan

Cast: Christopher Plummer, Bruno Ganz, Dean Norris, Martin Landau,

95min  Thriller  History

Atom Egoyan still has the power to pull an emotional punch, and even though REMEMBER doesn’t quite hit the highs of Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter it is a classy war-themed thriller with a relevant twist to its tightly scripted tale of revenge.

Christopher Plummer’s towering performance transforms this rather stolid affair into an emotional tour de force as Auschwitz survivor Zev Guttman who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and confined to a home after the death of his second wife Ruth. With time on his hands and the help of his fellow inmate Max (Landau) he hatches a plan to hunt down a former concentration camp guard Rudy Kurlander who lives under an assumed name in the USA. Rudy’s journey takes him from Canada to Ohio, then Idaho where he finds out that the Kurlander in question has already died. But his son (Norris), a state trooper, is an ardent Nazi like his father. who just  a cook in the SS. Finally, in California, where Zev’s son Charles (Czerny) catches up with his father, henseems to have found the right man – but his name is not Kurlander.

REMEMBER’s rather formal structure is given an inventive, surprise-ending and Plummer holds our attention with his utterly believable turn as a dementia-ridden family man with a killer instinct, clearly homed during his war experiences and although Egoyan’s strict linear narrative takes some of the suspense away, he transforms little details into meaningful images: observations of the modern consumer world seen through the eyes of a septuagenarian make this feel real and even humorous, breaking up the sombre subject-matter. REMEMBER is old-fashioned but engaging – just the right film to see with the whole family on a Sunday afternoon. AF

ON RELEASE FROM 19 FEBRUARY 2016 |REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | now SHOWING AT LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2015

 

The Finest Hours (2016)

Dir: Craig Gillespie; Cast: Chris Pine, Casey Afflick, Holliday Granger, Eric Bana, Ben Foster

118 min. Drama  USA

Set off the coast near the town of Chatham, Massachusetts in February 1952, THE FINEST HOURS tells the story of the “most daring sea rescue operation in history.” Whilst director Craig Gillespie (Fright Night) has come with some stunning images, the script somehow fails to bind the three main narrative strains together.

After a not particularly exciting courtship, Bernie Webber (Pine), a member of the Chatham Coastal Guard, is asked by Miriam (Granger) to marry her. The young man stutters to say no, but soon agrees to a wedding in April. But on February 18th two oil tankers break up near Cap Cod and Webber leads a small rescue boat with a crew of three, among them his mate Richard Livesey (Foster), to rescue the thirty odd seamen of the SS Pendleton, since all the other coast guard boots were helping the SS Fort Mercer.

The action shifts from the rescuers to the men on board of the Pendleton. Miriam accuses the strict Chief Warrant Officer of the Coast Guard, Daniel Cluff (Bana), of scarifying her future husband and his crew in a suicide mission. Indeed, some of Webber’s friends suggest that he should not leave the harbours, telling Cluff that he would not be equipped to overcome the 25 metre high storm waves. But Webber has none of it and reaches the Pendleton more by luck than judgement. After the majority of the survivors are on board the small rescue boat, one of the crew suggests to Webber to leave and come back for the rest of the seamen later. But Webber stays strong and what follows nect is nothing short of a miracle. “We are all going to die or to live”.

THE FINEST HOURS works best during the battle on board the Pendleton. Ray Sybert (Afflick), runs the ship to ground, against the will of some the men who want to use the life boat. The inside of the split tanker looks like a scene from Dante’s inferno, with the men working hard to keep the ship afloat. Miriam encounters some resentment from other citizen’s of Chatham, regarding a failed rescue mission of the past. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the small rescue boat is enhanced with dramatic effects. Overall, the CGIs help to make some memorable images: DOP Xavier Aguirresarobe captures the chaos and despair on the Pendleton with mesmerising panorama shots, creating a hell on the five levels of the ship cut in half. But the script lacks any coherence, with wooden acting reducing THE FINEST HOURS to an old-fashioned ‘boys own’ adventure yarn without any properly explored characters. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19 FEBRUARY 2016

 

Wild Orchid (1989) | Dual format release

Director: Zalman King   Writer: Patricia Knop

Cast: Jacqueline Bisset, Mickey Rourke,  Carré Otis, Assumpta Serna

115min   Romantic Drama | Soft Porn | US

Zalman King was an American filmmaker known for his sensual dramas that incorporated a rich vein of sexuality verging on soft porn. After a seasoned career as a television actor he stepped behind the camera with a handful of hot and heavy romantic dramas including the breathtaking 9½ Weeks, whose erotic intensity will remain seared into the memories of many female filmgoers in the mid eighties. Certainly a film to blow the January blues away WILD ORCHID, is a tale of torrid passion and erotic taboos intermingling with the corporate world, epitomising the high octane headiness of the era and heightened by the fabulous photography of the undervalued Gale Tattersall in some blindingly exotic locations. Elevated by an exuberant and classy turn from Jacqueline Bisset, it also features the dynamite duo Mickey Rourke (9½ Weeks) and Carré Otis (a model) who went on to consummate their onscreen chemistry in a brief (but no doubt sex-fuelled) marriage.

Set in the sun-soaked splendour of Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, the story is a simple one saucily scripted by King’s wife and collaborator Patricia Knop. A pretty young lawyer Emily Reed (Otis) lands a dream job working on a multimillion property deal with hotshot entrepreneur Claudia Lirones (Bisset). But, as oft is the case, the girl is highjacked by her hormones in the hot and heady atmosphere of Brazil and drawn into a web of sexual fantasy by Wheeler (Rourke), a suntanned, seductive sleeze-bag who has previously seduced Lirones and still has her under his spell. Harmless on the surface, like many a male siren, Wheeler turns deadly once his own emotions are enflamed in the sultr

A Touch of Zen (1970) | DVD blu-ray release

The Daddy of all martial arts films, King Hu’s impressive A TOUCH OF ZEN has been sparklingly restored to its full glory in this Ming Dynasty masterpiece. Perhaps the most influential wuxia outing, it showcases the genre’s golden age and its magnificent set pieces and thrilling fight sequences incorporating Peking Opera wizardry and traditional characters without feeling dated, thanks to King Hu’s clever staging. What starts in the realms of fantasy slowly becomes a political thriller and finally a mystical drama featuring a Zen Buddhist monk called Hui-Yuan. Absolutely breathtaking. MT

AVAILABLE IN A LIMITED EDITION (2000 UNITS) THREE-DISC DUAL FORMAT EDITION FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE UK ON 25 JANUARY 2016 courtesy of MASTERS OF CINEMA EUREKA

 

 

 

Fixed Bayonets! (1951)

Dir.: Samuel Fuller

Cast: Richard Basehart, Gene Evans, Michael O’Shea, Richard Hylton

USA 1951, 92 min.

There is a shot of Samuel Fuller on set, cigar in one hand, raised automatic pistol in the other; it looks like he’s going to fire his pistol, instead of shouting “Action!”. The photo could have been taken on the set of FIXED BAYONETS!. Whilst a real war was raging in Korea with losses on the American side mounting, 1951 saw Fuller shooting a combat film about the war, in a studio covered in snow.

Fuller saw active service during the Second World War and he later wrote: “My yarn included stuff I’d lived through on the front lines; such as the risk of frostbite in freezing weather; an officer’s misgivings about having to order his men into danger and a soldier’s fear about pulling the trigger. ‘You take care of her’, says one of my characters, looking at his M1, ‘and she’ll take care of you’. I’d heard my sergeant say that again and again. There is nothing romantic about the infantry. If you survive, you’ll be proud of having been a foot soldier, until the day you die”.

As it turned out, the army showed FIXED BAYONETS! in their training schools. ThE unwilling hero is Corporal Denno (Basehart), part of a company of 48 men – pretending to be the whole division – so that the rest can retreat in safety. Denno is not too keen on killing, but when all his superiors are killed he has to reluctantly take over the command of his unit. Fuller again: “I know there is nothing dirtier than rear-guard action, but in his case it’s 48 men – unlucky men, maybe –giving 15000 men a break. The 48 men must use their ingenuity to pretend to be a much larger force, in order to buy needed time”.

This does not sound a heroic story, and even though the soldiers call the enemy “Reds” and “Commies”, they are never caricatured or demonised. Very much in the style of Steel Helmet an independent production of the same year which got Fuller the contract at Fox (“Zanuck being the only mogul who was not interested in money”), FIXED BAYONETS! tells the little stories which go to make up the film: such as Denno being told by Sergeant Rock (Evans) “You are not aiming at a man. You are aiming at an enemy, once you are over that hump, you are an infantry man”. The scene where a man is rescued from a minefield is both suspenseful and ironic – Fuller never let’s the audience forget the sheer terror of war.

Shot on a single set, a mountain covered in snow, Lucien Ballard’s black-and-white photography is stunningly evocative, particularly the crane shots which are not –as often happens – used for effect, but to keep the focus on the terror to survive. In a small, non-credited role, we catch the first glimpse of a certain James Dean. AS

NOW OUT ON DUAL FORMAT COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA 

www.amazon.co.uk 

Grazing the Sky (2015) | DVD release

images-1Writer|Director: Horacio Alcala

Cast of the Cirque Du Soleil | Documentary | Mexico | 87min

Imagine if all you ever wanted to do was dance with a circus wheel. That was Jonathan’s dream. Bailing on his English literature studies, he joined the Cirque Du Soleil and the circus ‘Cyr Wheel’ is now his life. Directed and produced by Mexican film-maker Horacio Alcalá, GRAZING THE SKY uncovers the secret world of circus dancers as they explore their passions and the motivations behind their highly-skilled craft.

Interviewing for a production of Cirque Du Soleil, a Canadian iniative that has now become famous everywhere with its various permutations and themes, Mexican helmer Horacio sets out to discover new recruits for the troupe’s production. We meet these performers in audition, offering their artistry from their respective discplines interwoven with their various ethnic backgrounds from Palestine, Holland, Spain, Canada, Brazil. On the other end of the journey, Australian gold-medal gymnast, Damian Istria, about to retire from Cirque Du Soleil after a life-time career.

GRAZING THE SKY does take itself a bit too seriously at times, coming over a tad inauthentic: the artists opine about their “passion” as if they’re reading a script, rather than talking naturally and this gives the documentary the feel of a glossy filmed advertisement for Cirque de Soleil. It also gives the impression that the performers are somehow looking at their craft as a therapy that has saved their lives rather than a serious professional vocation, which clearly it is.. That said, the technical credits are superb with slick and inventive cinematography from David Palacios, giving the piece an intense and magical feel at times. The idea started as the brainchild of Patrick Flynn, Company Manager for Cirque Du Soleil, and shines a light on the many ways that dancers find their vocation into today’s circus industry – a far cry from the past where the only way in came from family connections.

But the dancers do become a family of sorts, bonded by shared experience and expression that takes them all over the world where they perform the various techniques with equipment from Saar Rombout and the Cyr wheel, with which Jonathan Moss is now one of the top dancers. The only other criticism here is the lack of footage for the other Cirque Du Soleil skills such as juggling. But Horacio’s documentary offers worthwhile insight into the contemporary world of the 21st century circus: the travelling caravans and performing animals have (thankfully) now moved on. MT

OUT ON DVD from January 25th 2016

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Breakdown (2016)

Dir.: Jonnie Malachi

Cast: Craig Fairbrass, Emmet J. Scanlon, James Cosmo, Olivia Grant, Amanda Wass, Rab Affleck

UK 2016, 110 min.

What happens if a contract killer has a mental breakdown and wants to leave the profession? First time director and writer Jonnie Malachi answers with a brutal, cliché ridden and poorly acted piece of film full of bad taste and gratuitous violence. The only redeeming feature is an occasional involuntary joke it throws up.

Alfie (Fairbrass) is a contract killer with a decent family and a home straight out of House & Garden. His wife Catherine (Grant) and teenage daughter Maya (Wass), are there to be protected by him – mainly from his employers, a nasty gang called ‘Homefront’. The boss, Albert (Cosmo) is furious when Alfie suddenly blacks out, due to remorse, while torturing a victim in front of a chuckling client. Albert finishes the job and Alfie has to kill a whole gang to keep the rather disappointed client happy, Alfie’s best friend and college, Connor (Scanlon) lusts after Catherine and is only too ready to slip into Alfie’s shoes. Luckily for Alfie, the mighty ‘Homefront’ consists only of six, rather incompetent members, and with the active participation of his family in his revenge killing-spree, Alfie could be all set up for a happy-end. DOP James Friend makes it easy for the audience: soft lensed action means family life; hard colours represent action – of which there is a lot – just enough to kill any idea that this apology for a film could be taken seriously in any way. AS

AT SELECTED CINEMAS ON 15 JANUARY. DVD DIGITAL FROM 18 JANUARY 2016

The Revenant (2015)

Director Aléjándro G. Iñárritu   Writers: Mark L Smith  Cinematographer: Emmanuel Lubezki

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson, Forrest Goodluck, Brendan Fletcher

156mins |  Adventure  | US Mexico

Mighty and mystical THE REVENANT is a harrowing tale of revenge and survival that touches on the emerging arrogance of the early 19th frontiersmen towards the local Native American tribes they discover as they pushed westward. Magically poetic and brutally savage it travels beyond the realms of mainstream American filmmaking with every frame evoking the mystery of the ancient with the mastery of modern visual techniques. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and his DoP Emmanuel Lubezki have created a glorious and visceral portrait of man’s struggle to survive in the wilderness and his obduracy in overcoming the natural world. Leonardo DiCaprio carries the film in a performance infused with his charismatic strength and vulnerability. The other great performance is from Nature itself.

Iñárritu and his team inhabit the open space for most of the film’s 156 minutes’ running time, during which both ethereal silence and feral sound is a key player. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s atmospheric score occasionally  adds an ominous twist here and there as the Lubezki’s camera slinks around at a snail’s pace uniting man, nature and beast in one magnificent revolving universe and savouring melting ice peaks; iridescent sunsets; floating mists: prowling paws; even the breath of its striving hero as its clouds the intimate lens: this is a film to savour for its moments of peace; its echoes of the wild and its pitiless ferocity. The director showcases nature as its most hostile and majestic: at one point a rifle shot actually triggers a distant avalanche: Kubrick and Konchalovskiy would be proud.

Set in 1823 in the Rocky Mountains, twenty years after the first expedition to America’s unknown western portion had been sent by Jefferson (to draw up a new map of the territory and establish trade with the local Native American tribes) Iñárritu and Smith’s script is based on real people, as well as loosely on those from Punke’s 2002 novel, which charted Glass’s gruelling, monosyllabic journey more precisely.

The story opens as a local Pawnee tribe is savagely routed by a group of white fur trappers. Iñárritu refreshingly uses arrow warfare as a swift and deadly savage twist on the usual ‘smoking guns and war hammers’ mode. Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is a frontiersman travelling with his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) and Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), and valued because he has had the benefit of Pawnee culture (through his dead wife whose spirit we see in regular existential and dream sequences as she encourages him to “keep breathing”) and is equipped with a grasp of the lingo, customs and lay of the land.

But the drubbing severely curtails their fur trading mission and with winter’s arrival and their strength and supply of pelts sapped, misfortune continues to dog the party: Glass has the misfortune to be mauled by a recalcitrant mother grizzly bear (an extraordinary piece of ultra-realism) while taking a pot shot at one of her cubs, in a scene that is both shocking and faintly humorous. Despite Captain Henry’s doctoring attempts, Glass’s wounds prevent him from walking and, with Henry going on ahead, he has to be carried by a cantankerous John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and a pubescent Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) who abandon him to die, half buried in a shallow grave. Glass’ struggle to survive takes over the coruscatingly eventful second act and this is where DiCaprio emerges an action hero harnessing his precious knowledge of the terroir to scavenge, scrape and scrounge his way across the wilderness.

As Fitzgerald, Tom Hardy is the weakest link in the cast in performance that’s almost outstanding in its tawdriness compared to his previous offerings. Spouting incoherent, bumbling gibberish in a non-descript accent from under his headscarf, he fails to alarm or even excite as the antihero, dragging down every scene he inhabits. As Glass makes his way to the fort, Fitzgerald’s duplicity emerges, forcing him to de-camp for a second time, Glass in hot and heavy pursuit: “I ain’t afraid to die anymore. I’d done it already”.

You might be forgiven for thinking that Alfonso Cuaron’s hand is involved in THE REVENANT. There’s the same doggedness about the human struggle and the same mystical, ethereal quality that elevates the action/adventure premise to some more meaningful; although Iñárritu’s piece lacks the whiff of humour that lightened Gravity – forgive the pun. Gleeson is both honest and appealing as the Captain, adding a faint air of charm and gentility to the proceedings.

Locations-wise we’re transported to Canada and finally remote snowy regions of Argentina, where the final scene takes place in untouched snow and using the chilling sombreness of natural light, thanks to Lubezki’s short lens wizardry. THE REVENANT is a film that stimulates all the senses: watch, look, listen, feel and be awed. MT

NOW ON NETFLIX

 

A War (2015) | Krigen | Venice Film Festival 2015

Director | Writer: Tobias Lindholm

Cast: Pilou Asbaek, Tuva Novotny, Soren Malling, Dar Salim, Dulfi Al-Jabouri, Alex Hogh Andersen

110min  Drama  Denmark

Tobias Lindholm’s sober, realist and human study of a Danish officer serving in Afghanistan  generates the same slow-burning power as A Highjacking, his previous thriller. There are no gimmicks here; and no tricky endings. The straight, linear narrative poses an honest question: what is an ordinary Danish soldier doing fighting a war thousands of miles away that has nothing to do with Denmark?

And there are no winners in this war, only losers. And how can anyone, in the cold light of a Copenhagen day, hope to understand the real issues facing commanding officers under pressure to follow orders while keeping their men safe, as well as defending a civilian population from a different culture who face danger from their own people, The Taliban.

Somehow this modest arthouse indie that focuses on ethical and moral dilemmas manages to generate more simmering tension than most other war ‘epics’ from the other side of the Atlantic that have attempted to blow our minds – and their own budgets.

Claus Petersen (Pilou Asbaek from A Highjacking) is a Danish company commander in his mid thirties with a wife and three young kids. Drafted to Afghanistan, he is in charge of a small troop who quickly become his own family: they spend every hour in close proximity getting to know one another, through thick and thin. Back home, his own family strive to life a normal life as his wife Maria (Tuva Novotny) struggles with their kids. The two narrative strands move in tandem, often comparing the dangers in the field with the stresses back home: this may seem far-fetched and ridiculous, but to those involved, their daily life is every bit as vital and pressurised: a soldier could get his arm blown off; a kid could swallow a plastic toy. Essentially a peace-keeping force, the Danish band are fully aware that they could die at any moment and this danger strikes quietly but brutally in the opening minutes of the film. Their protegés are not their friends – and could potentially be their lethal enemies. Although they have a duty of care to Afghans, they cannot offer them shelter from the Taliban in their own quarters.

When one day a particularly demoralised soldier takes a bullet in the neck, Petersen makes a decision that will lead to serious legal consequences – in a similar vein to Mads Mikkelsen’s character Lucas in The Hunt, another of Lindholm’s screenplays. Here, under pressure on moral grounds, Petersen must fight his corner in a testing courtroom in Copenhagen with the same integrity and serious commitment as he did in the battlefields of Afghanistan. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL RUNS UNTIL 12 SEPTEMBER 2015

 

 

Spartacus (1960) | DVD release | Kubrick’s early classics

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Writer: Dalton Trumbo, based on the novel by Howard Fast

Cast: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, Tony Curtis

Historical Epic / USA / 197 mins

It is purely fortuitous that Spartacus finds itself in the Kubrick collection, as it was Kirk Douglas who had nurtured this film, produced by his own company Bryna, with Kubrick suddenly enlisted at a weekend’s notice after Douglas fell out with and fired his original choice as director, Anthony Mann. The footage Mann shot – the opening scene on the rock quarry – remains in the film. For Kubrick, currently at a loose end having been dropped by Marlon Brando from his projected western One-Eyed Jacks, it represented both the 30 year-old auteur’s first and last contact with large-scale Hollywood production (he settled in Britain in 1961) and the only time he was to function as a director for hire presented with a script, production and cast he had had no say in setting up; with Kirk Douglas firmly in control as a back seat driver. The two went their separate ways on bad terms, and Kubrick would always disparage SPARTACUS; although it’s arguably a good deal better than the films over which he had full creative control after 1970 and – to damn it with faint praise – towers over all the other Hollywood historical epics of the era.

According to Douglas, Kubrick had liked the script by the then blacklisted Dalton Trumbo sufficiently to offer to take the writing credit himself on the film as a ‘front’. Trumbo himself eventually received the sole screenplay credit, based on a 1951 novel written in prison by fellow blacklistee and champion of the underdog Howard Fast. The result is an intoxicating exercise in muscular Hollywood liberalism charting the rebellion against their Roman masters in 73 B.C. by a group of slaves led by the eponymous Spartacus, “dreaming the death of slavery 2,000 years before it finally would die”. The famous finale where Spartacus’ army rally round their commanding officer by shouting out in unison that “I’m Spartacus” was doubtless deeply cathartic for both Fast and Trumbo.

Saul Bass’s monumental title sequence, with the help of Alex North’s pounding music, already tells us that something special is in store; and what follows doesn’t disappoint. In the title role, Kirk Douglas’ broad shoulders provide ample support for the film as a whole, Laurence Olivier is a patrician, English-accented villain in the classic tradition as Crassus, and Jean Simmons glows as usual as Varinia, although given little to do other than provide Spartacus with a happy domestic life between battles and bear him a son. Tony Curtis is also good, if rather too obviously Tony Curtis (right down to his character being called Antoninus). Charles Laughton and Peter Ustinov both enjoyably portray a pair of wily old rogues (the latter earning one of the film’s four Oscars in the process), and Charles McGraw and Woody Strode in particular stand out among the gladiators themselves. Filmed in Super Technirama-70 at a cost of $12,000,000, SPARTACUS was Universal’s most expensive production to date and was the studio’s biggest financial hit to date. It stands today as a monument to classic big budget filmmaking from Hollywood’s Golden Age at its most confident and vital. RICHARD CHATTEN

NOW OUT ON DVD | and AMAZON VIDEO

 

In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

Director: Ron Howard   Writer: Charles Leavitt (screenplay), Rick Jaff and Amanda Silver.

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw,

A vengeful killer whale; swashbuckling heroes; exotic islands and the legend of the Moby Dick:.Sounds like the perfect Christmas film, doesn’t it? But despite sterling efforts on all fronts, Ron Howard’s epic adventure IN THE HEART OF THE SEA manages to be curiously devoid of tension or even drama, doggie paddling its way to a deep and dark demise. This impressively mounted affair, taken from a real-life survival story that served as one of the key inspirations for Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick”, sets sail with the best of intentions and a starry cast. Yet from the point where the good ship Essex embarks from Nantucket on a whaling mission with its trusty crew, you couldn’t care tuppence if any of them returned to tell their gruelling tale.

Despite the magnificence of the Nantucket whaling ship, built like a cathedral to withstand the ocean’s onslaught, the story feels strangely less horrific that of the simple sailing boat that met its fate in JAWS. According to legend, the vessel was initially laid low by tumultuous seas and later destroyed by a mammoth sperm whale in 1820. Flatly adapted from Nathaniel Philbrick’s non-fiction book by a solid crew of accomplished writers, the film attempts to rekindle man’s epic struggle against the laws of nature which ultimately reign victorious.

The film opens as Herman Melville (played by Ben Whishaw), arrives at the Nantucket home of old sea salt Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson complete with an unsuccessful ‘Grecian 200o’ makeover), a former ‘Essex’ boat hand who has who lived to tell the tale, but didn’t – as we discover from his humourless wife .Buttoned-up emotionally since the harrowing tragedy, Nickerson is a broken man, but Melville demands a de-brief in exchange for a fist full of dollars.  Flashing back to 1820, we meet the young Nickerson (Tom Holland) as he begins his apprenticeship on the 21-crew whaler. Mission: to bring back as much whale oil as possible – a vital source of domestic energy before the discovery of West Texas Intermediate and fracking.

On board, the young patrician captain George Pollard Jr. (Benjamin Walker), comes into conflict immediately with his brassy first mate, Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth). Hemsworth (Avengers) cuts an experienced and confident dash here but his hybrid accent is practically unintelligible and he is as unlikeable as his supercilious boss. Matters are not helped by second mate Matthew Joy (Cillian Murphy), a rather seedy close buddy of Chase but lacking both on the moral fibre and stsmina front. Pollard’s inexperience is blamed for most of the setbacks that occur on the fateful voyage.

Doing his best to evoke the salty seafaring sortie to those of us sitting in the cinema, Howard and his dp Anthony Dod Mantle send us ducking and diving among the waves, often from a bird’s eye view and sliding along the deck, to the point of queasiness,  as we attempt to focus on the action as Chase leads his dingy party as they savagely harpoon the exuberantly playful and defenceless whale colonies. The sight of blood and gore hitting the decks is reminiscent of Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s visceral documentary LEVIATHAN (2012).  At this point Nickerson is forced to enter the body of the moribund whale in a nauseous bid to salvage the best quality oil.

But it’s only when the ship enters remote waters of South America that the crew comes face to face with the real monster – a battle-scarred white whale as big as the boat itself, impressively crafted in all its CGI splendour. From then on, the venture becomes a harrowingly pitiful blow by blow account of 90 days stranded at sea – apart from a brief sojourn on a desert island – where we care even less as these ciphers’ bodies disintegrate. But while weird excrescences and straggly beards appear on their faces, they fail to achieve any redemption or moral epiphany; weirdly, Chase sports designer stubble whereas Pollard grows a full Afro hairdo as they score points off one another and indulge in the fine art of cannibalism.

Meanwhile back at base, Melville is fading as he tediously attempts to extract his best-selling tome from Nickerson’s bleeding heart revelations and we are forced uncomfortably to countenance his wife’s declarations of unconditional love.

The final scenes deal with the unscrupulousness of the business brains behind the shipping industry as Pollard’s elders attempt to stifle the real story, for fear of losing out financially. And it is their tight-lipped, starchy rectitude that embodies IN THE HEART OF THE SEA. Unappealing and unsatisfying as a drama, it has all of the right elements in place but, through a strange quirk of alchemy, falls entirely flat as an experience. MT

OUT ON BOXING DAY 2015

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Sherpa (2015) Netflix

Dir: Jennifer Peedom | 99min  Documentary Thriller | Australian

April 18th, 2014 will go down as the worst day in the history of Everest when the Sherpas finally called time on their uphill struggle with mountaineering visitors.

The fascination with climbing Everest is a passion that seemingly knows no bounds for wealthy foreigners whose life ambition is to scale the World’s highest mountain. Summit, Touching the Void, Everest and Beyond the Edge have told of the dangers and elation of reaching the summit. SHERPA explores the conquest from the perspective of its much-maligned native Himalayans – the Sherpas. An ethnic group from Nepal’s mountain region, they are, for the most part, Tibetan Buddhists. Nomadic settlers they are physically and genetically adapted to life at high altitudes due to their blood’s unique haemoglobin-binding capacity and doubled nitric oxide production. From childhood they develop an intimate knowledge of the region and their compact, muscle-bound physiques enable them to carry large loads in this oxygen-poor environment.

Award-winning Australian documentarian Jennifer Peedom is no stranger to perilous outdoor themes with her previous films: Solo and Miracle on Everest, both riveting accounts of challenging endeavours. SHERPA takes a humanist angle, documenting the plight of Everest’s unsung heroes and valiant enablers of every mountaineering endeavour by those that visit their native region.  With little left of their traditional farming subsistence, most Sherpas now make their living from ‘guiding’, which although lucrative for the Nepalese, is actually quite meagre in Westerners’ eyes.

For the Sherpa, Mount Everest is known as Chomolungma and is a spiritual place. The Government forbids the use of helicopters to ferry supplies to the summit so this has to be done by Sherpas and donkeys. Today’s ‘clients” expect a high standard of comfort with flat-screen TVs and morning tea served by the Sherpas at their various stations on the way up, and down. There is literally a ‘swarm’ of climbers making the ascent in a queuing system with log-jams and bottlenecks not dissimilar to the morning rush hour.

The best way to ascend the peak is via the Southern face whose most dangerous section is the Khumbu IceFall. Sherpas work during the night offering prayers to the mountain spirits before they cross this hazardous stretch of terrain, and they to have cross it frequently in order to ferry supplies from Base Camp to camps higher up, strategically placed to allow clients time to acclimatise to the altitude. Early on the morning of April 18, 2014, 16 Sherpas died on this Icefall – more in one day than had ever been killed in an entire year. Peedom’s film captures the chaos from Base Camp on fateful  occasion.

The visuals are simply stunning recorded by two high-altitude specialist cinematographers Renan Ozturk and Ken Sauls, and some aerial helicopters. The narrative then flashes back several weeks as Phurba Tashi, the Sherpa in charge, reluctantly says goodbye to his family: he may never come back alive suffering the same fate as his sister-in-law, but the family needs the money to survive.

Commentary from various experts offers context: mountaineering writer Ed Douglas and Tenzing Norgay’s sons are the most informative. Being Buddhists the Sherpas are intuitive and non-confrontational but in extremis they will protest, and a scuffle that broke out in 2013 between a group of clients and Sherpa guides where we see an American climber swearing at a group of Sherpas.

Russell Brice, who runs a large travel firm organising mountain tours (costing around 50,000 US dollars), is eager to stand by his clients, many whom are making second and third attempts, but also respects his Sherpa guides and ultimately has to make a choice between the two after the disaster takes place at the start of a busy season. Phurba Tashi choses a path of enlightenment. Jennifer Peedom’s account of what happened is simply astonishing. If ever there was a documentary thriller, this is it. MT

NOW ON NETFLIX | SHERPA WON THE GRIERSON AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY | LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2015

 

Bjornoya | Bear Island (2014) Prime Video

Wri|Dir: Edda Grjotheim, Inge Wegge | 78min | Action Doc | Norway

A snowboarding and surfing trip to Bear Island in the Barents Sea seems like a foolhardy idea even by Norwegian standards, but highly entertaining as we soon discover.

The three cheerful brothers- Hakon, Markus and Inge (who looks surprisingly like Jesse Eisenberg) set off on their daredevil mission all kitted up to nines with cold weather gear and prepared for the elements.

A jaunty soundtrack accompanies the doc’s extraordinary live action sequences showing the guys to be fit, well-prepared and genial despite the seriously scary weather conditions. Getting on like a tent on fire, (they kindle a wood fire under canvas to light their stove) they even get up early one bone-numbing morning to swim naked in the sea.

Cinematically this provides some sublimely eerie images of perma cold conditions, floating mists – the only brightness coming from the brothers’ high tech suits. There are some inventive moments with the camera occasionally grazing the ground, split screen shots, time-lapses and slo-mo adding a comtemplative, dreamlike touch that contrasts well with the brothers’ high energy, feel good vibe. No sibling rivalry here.

The awe-inspiring remoteness of the freezing terrain is surprisingly devoid of animal life – an arctic fox scampers by foraging for food, and seal blubber slips onto the menu eventually to make things authentic, clearly not something the boys would have wished for with its nauseous taste of cod liver oil. On a more alarming level, they notice the constant stream of plastic floating towards the North Pole – one even tries some Sprite left in one of the sealed bottles.

Masochists, nature enthusiasts and extreme sports fans will love this arthouse doc that travels to the Northern tip of Europe. But body-boarding in the frost laden waters of the Barents sea feels so hostile and bleak that the trip takes on endurance test proportions – not only for the cast – who do their best with endlessly chipper commentary. That said, there is a naked beauty and a balletic rhythm to this documentary that marks the directors out to be a talented pair who will hopefully go on to produce more of this kind of ‘extreme sport in remote locations’ fare that’s entertaining when one can appreciate it from somewhere warmer. MT

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO 

Day of the Outlaw (1959)

Dir.: Andre de Toth

Cast: Robert Ryan, Tina Louise, Burt Ives, Alan Marshal, David Nelson

USA 1959, 93 min.

André de Toth (1913-2002) was one of the ‘B-Movie’ directors of Hollywood, admired by the French Nouvelle Vague: his austere films featured ambivalent heroes for whom even a happy-end could only be ambiguous. Widely known only for his 3-D feature House of Wax (1953) – a considerable achievement, since de Toth had lost an eye in a childhood accident – the Hollywood films of the Hungarian emigrant have very much in common with the work of Robert Siodmak, Max Ophuls and Fritz Lang.

Born into Hungarian nobility as Endre Antal Miksa de Toth in 1913, de Toth directed five (!) features as Endre Toth in Hungary in 1939, before he went to London to work for his compatriot Alexander Korda in London. In 1942 he went to the United States where he started his Hollywood career with Passport to Suez in 1943. A year later he married Veronica Lake, and had two children before their divorce in 1952. That same year De Toth directed his only A-Feature, the Gary Cooper vehicle Springfield Rifle.

His B-Pictures, mostly Western and film noirs, feature heroes suffering from violence, betrayal and an exterior space which makes their tasks even harder. These heroes are almost catatonic, they seem to glide in slow motion into their conflicts. In true Noir fashion (de Toth’s Western are as Noirish as his urbane films) the hero stands alone, his interactions with the environment forcing him to make choices. Spaces, like the snowy mountain in Day of the Outlaw, are complex and often treacherous, the hero (in this case Robert Ryan’s Starrett) being forced to unite with the environment against his enemies. But, like the audience, “the landscape acts as a mute witness to and stage for the entwined actions of the characters”. De Toth’s characters seem to question how long they have to suffer for the wrong choices they have made in the past. De Toth’s cinema has a blunt anti-romanticism, which borders on a deeply unsettling morbidity.

The cattle baron Blaise Starrett (Ryan) is set for a shoot-out with the farmer Hal Crane (Marshal), because the latter wants to fence in his land, this way stopping Starrett’s cattle from grazing. The situation is complicated by the fact that Crane’s wife Helen (Louise) was once Starrett’s lover, and offers herself to Starrett, if he (being the much better shot) would refrain from the duel with her husband. Starrett declines the offer and the two men face each other when a gang of outlaws enters the tavern, led by the renegade Union officer Jack Bruhn (Ives). Whilst Bruhn, who is injured (the local vet removes the bullet from his chest), wants to save the women of the little hamlet from his brutal and sadistic troop, Starrett tries to guide the women away from the marauders, but is stopped and beaten up. It’s obvious that Bruhn will not live very long to keep his gang in check, and Starrett leads him and his men into the snowy wilderness, pretending that he knows a pass though the mountain.

De Toth recalls “the producers did not understand where I was heading – a sphere I had been exploring for some time: is it worse being the jailer, instead of the prisoner? Is it worse being incarcerated by the white snow in white silence, or by the blankness of black silence? Which of the human flock would fall apart first under the tightening band of their communal deep freeze?” De Toth also had to fight the producers to shoot the film in black and white: “It was a story of tension and fear, survival in a prison of snow. Had I shot it in colour, the green pine trees covered with snow, the soft glow of candles, the dancing tongues of flames in the fireplaces would have radiated warmth and safety, and the joy of peace on earth. A ‘Merry Christmas’ card from fairy-tale land”.

DOP Russell Harlan (To Kill a Mocking Bird, Rio Bravo), had already shot seven films for Howard Hawks and his images here are again striking; together with Robert Ryan’s towering performance, they inspire his film which culminates in a cat-and-mouse game in the snow, one of the cruellest moments of the film – only surpassed by a wild dance scene where the outlaws are ‘allowed’ by Bruhn to dance with the town’s women; manhandling them brutally in scenes that teeter on the brink of rape. The camera follows them in epicyclic circles, like a machinegun covering a war scene. DAY OF THE OUTLAW shows that male violence of all kinds is ready to erupt at any time, for whatever reason. Ryan’s Starrett, who was only a moment away from killing Crane, is well aware of his propensity for savagery when he is riding out with the outlaws into the snowy mountain. AS

NOW ON DUAL FORMAT BLU | DVD COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

 

Unbranded (2015)

Director: Phillip Baribeau

105mins | Documentary| US

Best described as a Western Documentary Phillip Paribeau’s UNBRANDED sees four young wannabe cowboys, fresh from college, follow their dream on a wild adventure along a 3,ooo mile backbone of the Mexico borders to Canada.

Their chosen method of transport is by mustang, just a folksy word for the wild horses (that were originally imported into the country 500 years ago by Spanish conquistadores) and whose cause the boys are promoting: Over 50,000 of the beasts are looking for adoptuion in holding facilities. Since 1971, the horses have been protected on the land and there is controversary as to whether they are over-breeding – as rangers claim, or are under threat. But under the AML guidelines (Appropriate Management Levels), the territory can only support 23,000 mustangs and there are currently over twice that amount, 60% are in Nevada alone, and therefore their existance is potentially untenable, aacording to so,e. Fortunately, the horses’ cause has been considerably enhanced by the doc winning the Audience Award at Hots Docs in Toronto.

Audiences may find the idea of a rites of passage journey exhilarating but occasionally the boys complain of boredom and resort to reading on horseback during their journey, ironically ‘Shades of Grey’ is the book of choice for one man – casting considerable doubt on his abilities to meditate and ruminate on greater things in this magnificent countryside of Utah, Montana, Oregon

Ben Masters leads the five month expedition through some of the most glorious scenery known to mankind and Dp  camerawork is simply stunning to behold offering unbridled footage of national parks such as the Yellowstone and the Glacier. But the major challenge comes from the mustangs themselves who are fiercely wild and independent and, most of the time, an unknown quantity offering plenty of dramatic tension in this entetaining and informative film, scored by a Sergio Leone style original soundtrack. But for those looking for fast-moving action sequences there may be some longeurs: this is more about quiet meditation and being at one with nature.

The story kicks up briefly for some 4th of July celebrations including a tradional rodeo and cut throats shaves all round for the boys, in Jackson. But Ben claims to be “glad to get out of there”  as they continue their journey. Donkeys join the group but there are also losses on the mustang front and eventually the trip proves tiring as food supplies start to offer poor variety on the nourishment front. “No matter how beautiful a country is, at some point it becomes a test of endurance,” and this particularly the problem when the troop have to take the long way round, in the case of private ground. And arguments break out as the tensions start to surface. But Ben Masters’ endeavour is ultimately about promoting the horses fight for survival so that every man and beast can successfully share the natural beauty and ressources of this spectacular part of the world.

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 27 NOVEMBER 2015

 

 

Black Mass (2015) Netflix

Dir: Scott Cooper | Cast: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Joel Edgerton, Corey Stoll, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott | 122min  Crime Thriller  US

In Scott Cooper’s Boston gangland thriller Johnny Depp plays vicious psychopath Whitey Bulger who, like his English counterparts the Kray Brothers, was also very fond of his mother.

This is Scott Cooper’s first foray into the big time and he handles it competently – if not a little derivatively – largely due to a strong cast of talent in which Depp is the star turn. This is a saga of multiple murder, revenge and betrayal underpinned by a long-standing relationship between gangland boss Bulger and his childhood mate John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who for many years leads the unsuccessful police investigation into the capture of the arch felon.

With scrappy nicotine-tinged hair, brownish teeth and an icy stare that embodies evil, Depp provides compelling viewing as the terrifying James “Whitey” Bulger, a criminal who menaced everyone who knew him around South Boston from the 1970s until 1994, when he went into hiding for nearly 16 years before finally being run to ground in California. In his weak defence, he claimed to be ‘in league’ with the Feds to rid Boston on the Italian mafia.

The action sequences are intercut with interview testimonials given by members of Bulger’s mob to provide a tightly-scripted and absorbing account of events and add superb structure to the storyline. It emerges that Bulger was a long-term criminal in ‘Southie’ (South Boston) and also served time in Alcatraz. His enemies, the Angiulo family of North Boston, are the reason the FBI, under the auspices of John Morris (David Harbour) and Connolly, eventually persuade Bulger to secretly team up against their mutual enemy and this provides Bulger with an opportunity to flex his muscles largely without interuption until Corey Stoll (a masterful Fred Wyshak) takes over as a federal prosecutor determined to nail Bulger, once and for all.

The ubiquitous but stalwart Benedict Cumberbatch finds his way into the storyline as Whitey’s brother Billy who happens to be Massachusetts’ most powerful state senator. There is also a brief cameo role for Dakota Johnson as his steely wife and mother to Whitey’s only child, a six-year-old boy who dies from an allergic reaction to an injection.

Cooper’s production looks slick and authentic with some excellent interior sequences as well as plenty of shootouts in the rainy streets of a seventies Boston provided by Masanobu Takayanagi’s well-crafted cinematography. In support roles, Adam Scott and Kevin Bacon are stern and long-suffering as federal agents in this war against an enemy which seems to come from all directions. But this is ultimately Depp’s film and he gives a commanding performance that is one of the most convincing of his career. A charismatic seventies score from Jerry Goldsmith or Bernard Hermann would have put some icing on this rather bland cake, but that is sadly too much to expect here. MT

| BLACK MASS IS NOW ON NETFLIX

The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008) | LKFF 2015

Directed by Kim Jee-Woon

Cast: Kang-ho Song, Byung-hun Lee, Woo-Sung Jung

South Korea | 139mins | Action Adventure Comedy

Kim Jee-Woon put all his experience into this rip-roaring ‘Oriental Western’ set in the 1940s Manchurian desert where lawlessness rules and many ethnic groups clash, three Korean men fatefully meet on a train.

Part tribute to Sergio Leone’s wide-angled masterpieces and part historical tribute to the Korean struggle for independence from Japan, it features brilliant set pieces, action scenes, comedy and great performances from Korea’s top acting talent-  it was also one of the most expensive movies in South Korean cinema history. The action unfurls in the vast plains of the East but should we call it an “Eastern”? It’s a style that has really caught on since 2008 and embodies the wacky humour and verve of the Korean spirit combined with Jee-Woon’s masterful technical expertise. The sheer dynamism of this film will blow you away – ridiculous fun!  Meredith Taylor ©

SCREENING DURING THE LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2 -15 NOVEMBER  2015

Sunset on the Sarbin River (1967) | LKFF 2015

Director: Chung Chang Wha

Cast: Shin Young-Kyun, Kim Hye-Jung, Nam Goong Won, Yoon Il-Bong

12omin  Action Drama  Korea

Filmed in black and white, this ambitious if overlong pro-Korean anti-imperialist action drama blends humour, romance and brutality in the melancholy story of an earnest Korean student, his name japanised as Musumoto, who feels compelled to join the Japanese Imperial Army and do his bit for the War. Doing rather well, he is promoted to officer in charge and transferred to Burma where his platoon is visited by the famous  “teishintai” or ‘comfort’ women. On the way to the front the troops are betrayed to the guerillas of the new independence army by a solitary single mother with whom Musumoto reluctantly falls in love. But when her child is accidently killed during manoeuvres by troops under his command, her guerilla husband swears revenge on the hapless officer who, despite his valiant efforts, remains the miserable and thwarted Korean hero of the piece. Chung Chang Wha crafts an intelligent, emotional and perceptively humorous tribute to Korea’s fierce national pride at being subjected to Japanese Imperialism during the Second World War. MT

LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2 -14 NOVEMBER 2015

Shane (1953) | Blu-ray release

Dir.: George Stevens

Cast: Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Jack Palance, Brandon de Wilde, Emile Meyer, Elisha Cook jr

USA 1953, 118 min.

SHANE is the middle part of George Stevens ‘American Trilogy’, preceded by A Place In the Sun (1951) and followed by Giant (1956). He filmed Jack Schaefer’s novel as an archetypical conflict between cattlemen and homesteaders in the modern West; a theme that was to be taken up again in Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider and Michael Ciminos’ Heaven’s Gate.

Sometime after the enactment of the Homestead Act in 1862, Shane (Ladd), a professional killer, meets a pioneer homestead family, the Starretts, in Wyoming. Over dinner, they discuss the plight of the families fighting the brutal cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Meyer). Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) offers Shane a job and the latter accepts. Starrett’s wife Marian (Jean Arthur in her last role, her only colour film), develops a rather ambivalent relationship with Shane: on the one hand, she does want Shane to teach her son Joey (de Wilde) how to shoot, on the other hand she looks at Shane in a way which speaks of an emotional conflict. Jack Wilson (Palance), a killer hired by Ryker, taunts “Stonewall” Torrey (Cook jr.) a proud Confederate soldier, and provokes him to a duel which Wilson easily wins against the un-experienced farmer. At Torrey’s funeral, many of the farmers want to sell their land to Ryker, but in the end, Starrett convinces a majority to fight and tragedy ensues for all concerned.

An underrated director, Stevens he was a stickler for detail and had started his career as a DoP. SHANE was shot between July and October 1951, but Stevens took his time over the editing and the film was eventually premiered in April 1953. The film’s budget of 3.1 M$ was so considerable (particularly for a Western), that Paramount tried to negotiate with Howard Hughes to take SHANE off their books, but Hughes pulled out. In the end SHANE made a very decent profit. Strangely enough, the two macho heroes of the film both had their problems: The scene in which Ladd teaches the young boy how to shoot, runs to 116 takes. And when Palance jumps on his horse, it turns out, that the actual shot was of him dismounting the horse, played in reverse. In another scene, Palance was supposed to gallop into the town on his horse, in the finished film, the horse walks slowly towards the camera. And in the grand finale in the bar, when Ladd shoots Palance twice, one can see him blinking. In the rather sentimental good-bye scene at the end, de Wilde crossed his eyes and stuck his tongue out. Ladd was so angry that he told the boy’s father: “Make that kid stop, or I’ll beat him over the head with a brick”.

But SHANE is still a very modern film, as the following dialogue proves: when Shane teaches the boy how to shoot, Marian interrupts: “Guns, are not going to be part of my son’s life”. Shane argues, that “a gun is a tool, not better or worse than an axe, shovel or any tool.’”And: “A gun is as good as the man using it.” But Marian insists that everyone would be better off if there weren’t any guns, including Shane’s. AS

OUT ON 30 NOVEMBER 2015 | LIMITED FIRST RUN EDITION FEATURING TWO BLU-RAY SET (2000 COPIES) | STANDARD EDITION ONE-DISC SET AVAILABLE ONCE STOCK OF THE LIMITED EDITION IS DEPLETED | COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

The Red and the White (1967) | Csillagosok, katonak | UCLSSEES Centenary

Director: Miklos Jancso    Writer: Gyula Hernadi

Cast: Jozsef Madaras, Tibor Molnar, Andras Kozak, Jacint Juhasz, Tatyana Konyukhova, Nikita Mikhalkov

90min   Drama War  | Hungary/USSR

Miklos Jancso (1921-2014) was not only the leading Hungarian director of his generation – if not the greatest Hungarian director of all times (as Bela Tarr claims) – his films, which spanned over seven decades from 1958 to 2010, influenced European Art House cinema particularly in the 60s and 70s. and he went on to win the Director’s Prize at Cannes in 1972 for Red Psalm and the Golden Lion at Venice in 1990.

Most of his films rely on long takes; a choreography of movement which is vey much like a ballet and rural settings where horses often dominate humans in their impact and a very allegorical approach. Whilst he was accused of formalism and Nationalism under Stalinism, he was always very critical of his fellow countrymen, whom he accused of having chosen a brutal and radical path in their history, coupled with abuse of power. Scathing about the younger generation of post-Stalinist Hungary, he makes fun of their crass materialism in Lord’s Lantern in Budapest (1999).

The original title of THE RED AND THE WHITE, which reads in translation as “The Stars on their Caps”, expresses Jancso’s intention much more so than the English title. A co-production between the USSR and Hungary, the drama was supposed to be a triumphant celebration of the October Revolution of 1917. How anybody could expect Jancso to fulfil these expectations is astonishing – and the result was anything but a revolutionary triumph: Jancso set the film in 1919 during the Russian Civil War, when Hungarian volunteers served in the Red Army.

Set around a landscape near the Volga, the film starts with White Guards taking Red Army soldiers prisoner in a dilapidated palace full of Greek columns and featuring an orthodox church: representing a past era, which is gone forever. The Whites are not only satisfied with simply killing their prisoners, but they make a game of power of it: the prisoners have 15 minutes to escape, before the soldiers on horseback will chase them. The outcome is obvious, the first mass slaughter of The Red and the White reminds very much of The Hunger Games and other contemporary productions, were mass killings take the form of a pastime.

Women are the obvious victims of male violence: a young peasant women only just escapes being raped by a White Soldier. Later the nurses in a field hospital have to identify wounded communist soldiers to the Whites under duress. Violence is everywhere: the Red army soldiers are only marginally better off, they too have a lust for violence; killing not so much out of revolutionary fervour, but because they can. As usual, Jancso is not interested in individual psychological motivations, he paints a colossal picture of mass hysteria culminating in more and more revenge killings: the War is not the culprit here, but human nature. Whilst the fortunes of the fighters change, their only goal seems to be revenge once they are in control of the situation. THE RED AND THE WHITE is simply not an anti-war film, but a documentation of human failure: they crave power only to express themselves in violent behaviour.

Aesthetically Jancso creates the opposite of realism: the world shown is very much a beautiful nightmare, in which soldiers and horses run in and out the frame, sometimes even entering it from behind the camera. The long takes are choreographed like ballet scenes. We often see certain actions, but from somewhere else voices tell a different story, and there is the ambient sound  hear of different fights. There is an elegiac, enigmatic atmosphere of a nether-world, particularly in gentle scenes which end with  senseless violence: the officers of the White Guard ask the nurses to dance with them in the delicate rhythm of a beech wood – for a moment human relations are civilised again. This mystic scene in the middle of Hieronymus Bosch-like on-goings, shows for a moment the human soul. AS

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SCREENED TO CELEBRATE  THE 100 YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THE SCHOOL OF SLAVONIC AND EAST EUROPEAN STUDIES |  UCL | LONDON

Ode to My Father (2014) | Gukjesijang | LKFF 2015 2 -14 November

Dir.: J K Joun | Cast: Jeong-min Hwang, Yunjin Kim | South Korea 2014, 126 min.

A full-blooded epic, ODE TO MY FATHER spans over fifty years of Korean history. Full of overwhelming images from the chaos of the war; the danger of the mining, to the brutal war in Vietnam: all this is more enough for one film. Unfortunately, J K Joun too often drifts off into sentimentality, the action is tragic enough to impress without going over the top. Impressive performances and Byung-woo Lee’s powerful score save the drama offering a fascinating a overview of 20th Century Korean history from the personal perspective of one man.

We first meet our hero Yoon duk, as a boy in 1950 in North Korea, fleeing with his family from the Chinese army. An American warship takes some of the refugees, but during the chaotic scrambles to get on the ship, Yoon looses his sister Maksoon. His father tries to find the little girl, but is never seen again. The grown-up Yoon (Hwang) will mourn the loss of his sister for the rest of his life: he cannot overcome his guilt. The family settles in Busan, where they work for Yoon’s aunt Kkotbun in her grocery shop, which Yoon will inherit one day.

In West Germany in the Sixties, he works in a mine near Duisburg, just escaping an accident with his life, he falls in love with the South Korean nurse Youngj (Kim). The two marry and have children, but Yoon again goes abroad to fight against the Vietcong in the Vietnam War. A TV-show tries to re-unite families who lost each other during the turbulent Korean history, and Maksoon, who has been adopted by American parents, sees her family again, just before her mother dies. Yoon, who stubbornly does not want to sell his shop (which is being demolished to make space for a modern shopping centre), finally agrees to sell – for the first time in his adult life, he accepts defeat. AS

ODE TO MY FATHER IS THE GALA OPENING OF THE LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2015 | 2 -14 OCTOBER

 

Dragon Inn (1967) | Dual format Blu-ray DVD

Writer|Director: King Hu

Chun Shih, Lingfeng Shangguan, Chien Tsao, Feng Hsu

111min  | Wuxia Adventure | Taiwan

This cult classic action masterpiece, that finally comes to dual format blu-ray this Autumn, is the dazzling daddy of all the martial arts adventures combining as it does some magnificent set pieces and some of the most startling and gracefully performed action sequences ever committed to film, embodying the exotic essence of Taiwanese Wuxia and establishing the genre’s archetypes such as the Eunuch and The Swordswoman.

Director King Hu, was born in Beijing but left China for Hong King in 1949 where started his film career during the fifties, first as an actor and then as a writer and director. In 1967 he started his own studio in Taiwan where DRAGON INN was film and later selected, along with A Touch of Zen, as one of the 10 Best Chinese Motion Pictures of all time. It was later remade by Tsui Hark who cast Maggie Cheung (In the Mood for Love) and Tony Ka Fai Leung in the leads.

After the violent death of General Yu at the hands of his political rival Tsaio, the Emperors’s first eunuch, his two children flee to the western border where Tsaio’s secret police lie in wait to ambush them at the remote Dragon Gate Inn. But grandmaster Hsaio (Chun Shih) turns up at the inn to meet the owner Wu Ning, who emerges as one of the general’s lieutenants, and who has summoned Hsaio to help the children escape, aided and abetted by a brother and sister team of highly skilled martial-artists.

There is a rich painterly quality to this visually sumptuous affair that is both beguiling and gripping with its tense and elegantly-staged action sequences enhanced by a teasingly atmospheric original score by Award-winning composer Lan-Ping Chow (Come Drink With Me). The quality of the acting is also unusually sensitive and subtle for an action adventure outing and Hui-Ying Hua’s widescreen photography absolutely breath-taking. MT

OUT ON 26 OCTOBER 2015 | DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY DVD COURTESY OF EUREKA |  MASTERS OF CINEMA.

 

A Sicilian Dream (2015)

Dir.: Philip Walsh; Cast: Alain de Cadenet, Francesco Da Mosto; UK 2015, 70 min.

Between 1906 and 1977, the Targa Florio mountain road race in Sicily was much more than a mere sporting event: Much like the Siennese Palio, it was a play with death, performed in front of half a million spectators. Its history is part of the Sicilian identity: heroic, morbid but always glorious, a spectacle – one moment a dream, the next a nightmare. And Philip brings this vividly to life in his short documentary film

We discover how it was founded in 1906 by Vincenzo Florio, member of a cosmopolitan family, who outward-looking, wanted to bring Europe to Italy. The family was well-connected with local artists and authors, among them Count Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa, whose novel “The Leopard” was later filmed by Visconti. Many motives of novel and film reverberate in A SICILIAN DREAM. Vincenzo Florio, though the race would finally bankrupted him, realised the family dream of making Sicily centre stage: for decades the best drivers in the world drove the course, which was insane, with poor safety controls for the drivers – the first cars who drove the circuit did not even have front brakes! Even though the early years brought no tragedies, with spectators lining the course with petrol cans, since there were no petrol stations.

The anecdotes are endless, like the one of the English driver Cyril Snipe, who was so tired, that he stopped and slept for two hours before his mechanic woke him with a bucket of cold water. Snipe re-entered the race and still won. In 1926 the first driver was killed, and the fortunes of the Florio family went into reverse. But between the wars, the Golden Age of sports car racing, saw the local school teacher Nino Vaccarella win the race three times. Still a local hero, his appearance is one of the highlights of A SICILIAN DREAM. After the Second World War, the lack of security of a racing course, only used by donkey carts otherwise, signals the end of the race: the 1977 edtion is abandoned half-way through (and the race for good) after a car crashes into a large group of spectators.

The docu-drama format has wonderful images of the Belle Epoche, with scenes of Vincenzo’s early days, and racing rivalries. The archive films of the race make it look truly scaring, particularly the early years are stunning – the adventurous spirit of drivers and spectators are caught in scratchy black-and-white images. The two main protagonists, Alain de Cadenet and Francesco da Mosto (always so enthusiastic and simpatico) join in with the other classic vehicles in a commemorate race through the sun-blasted landscape. During the filming, De Cadenet meets the son of the farmer who saved his life during a race, pulling him out of the burning vehicle, this way achieving a way of closure.

A SICILIAN DREAM is a true piece of Sicilian history: untamed in its beauty, but nevertheless, to quote De Lampedusa, “it is not a country in love with real progress, but with its languidness and love for death”. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 23 OCTOBER 2015

 

Runaway Train (1985) | Blu-ray release

Dir.: Andrei Konchalovsky

Cast: Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, Rebecca De Mornay, Kyle Heffner

USA 1985, 110 min.

Produced by the (in)famous Israeli Golan/Globus production duo and their distribution arm Cannon Films, RUNAWAY TRAIN is one of the most international films ever made in Hollywood. The story itself was originally by Akira Kurosawa, the script trio of Djordje Milicevic, Paul Zindel and Edward Bunker kept very closely to the masters plans. Director Andrei Konchalovsky was the son of Sergey V. Mikhalkov (1913-2009), who, in 1942 got a phone call from Stalin, asking the popular children’s book author to write the text for the new Soviet anthem, composed by A. Alexandrov.

After spending ten years at the conservatoire, Konchalovsky, decided to became a filmmaker after a chance meeting with Tarkovsky (for whom he would later script Andrei Rublev). His debut film The First Teacher (1964) was praised, but as so often happened with the Soviet Censors, his second one was surpressed. After Sibiriada was awarded at Cannes in 1979, Konchalovsky emigrated to the USA, where he lived with Shirley MacLane before leaving her for Nastasja Kinski, who got him a contract with Cannon Film. Interestingly enough, Konchalovsky directed the Inner Circle in 1992, which tells the story of Stalin’s love for films and hatred for filmmakers, from the perspective of his private projectionist.

RUNAWAY TRAIN is told on three levels: There are the two prison escapees, Manny (John Voight) and Buck (Eric Roberts), who meet Sara (Rebecca De Mornay) on the train which, as the title suggests, runs into difficulties. A bickering dispatch team try to blame the accident on the computer system. And then there is Warden Barstow (Kyle Heffner, who is not much different from Manny – who was called a beast in prison – and joins the hunt in a helicopter, grimly determined to catch the criminals. The snowy, white desert of Alaska is perhaps the greatest star of RUNAWAY TRAIN: an eerie background to human story of delusion. The stunts were performed by the actors themselves, something which contributes very much to its success.

As Roger Ebert wrote after the premiere: “The ending of the movie is astonishing in its emotional impact. I will not describe it. All I will say is that Konchalovsky has found the perfect visual image to express the ideas in his film. Instead of a speech, we get a picture, and the picture says everything that needs to be said. Afterward, just as the screen goes dark, there are a couple of lines from Shakespeare that may resonate more deeply the more you think about the Voight character.” AS

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AT AMAZON

Desierto (2015) | LFF 2015

Director: Jonas Cuaron

Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo

94min |  Drama  | Mexico

Jonas Cuaron’s starkly magnificent but rather formulaic second feature shows that migrants can be just as aggressive as those whose borders they seek to cross. DESIERTO is a newsworthy arthouse piece that arrives just as the transmigration theme is bubbling up in every corner of the world. It’s a pity then that the narrative feels so reductive and deliberately provocative with so few surprises up its dusty sleeve. The young director’s last project was Year of the Nail but he recently co-wrote Gravity with his father Alfonso and this distinctly US indie-feeling drama has the same feel of otherworldly alienation to it: barbed-wire, dangerous snakes and thorny vegetation coalesce to create a setting that is both inhospitable and strangely alluring in its pared-down beauty. Damian Garcia’s visuals capture the laser-sharp luminescence of the clinical light levels that appear to cleanse any humane quality from the surface of its sterile landscape, not altogether dissimilar to that of Space.

Essentially a two-hander, DESIERTO stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Sam, a disenchanted US loner who has a certain elegance about him suggestive of some recent fall from grace. In his well-equpped truck, he has resorted to patrolling the hostile expanses of the arid wilderness between the Mexican and US borders, armed with his rifle and his trusty dog ‘Tracker’, who is trained to kill.

The characters here are all disenfranchised and Cuaron makes no attempt to have us warm to any of them: they are merely ‘the hunter’ and ‘the hunted’ and eventually we know exactly what is going to happen. As a group of young Mexicans venture across the border terrain from a broken-down truck, Sam picks them off with his powerful rifle, one by one,  or they are savaged by Tracker, until only two remain: Garcia Bernal’s Moises and a young woman, Adela (Alondra Hidalgo). Moises has been across the border before, but why he has not stayed in the US is left in the ether, although he does have a young son in the US, who he hopes to join. But Sam is not the only hard-nosed character here: when Maria is wounded, Moises leaves her by the roadside to die, callously claiming that he has a greater right to survive because of his son.

As a pounding electronic score beats down there are some deftly choreographed action scenes as this cat and mouse affair plays out in the searing heat of this sun-baked rockface, Death Valley-style (this is actually Baja California). DESIERTO leaves us meditating on the epithet ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’. But is this always the case? Economically wealthy countries appeal to those from poorer ones, seemingly offering Nirvana, but disappointment often ensues. Often life is far tougher is tougher in way that migrants hadn’t bargained for: loneliness, social isolation and other danger scan make them question whether to return to the warmth of their families in their less affluent homes where the enemy is ‘outside’ rather than ‘in’. Jonas Cuaron DESIERTO  could stand is a metaphor for modern life: that it can be tough for different reasons, whichever side of the fence you inhabit. MT

SCREENING DURING LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 7 -18 OCTOBER 2015

 

 

Colt 45 (2013) | DVD release

Director: Fabrice Du Welz

Cast: Ymanol Perset, Salem Kali, Gerard Lanvin, Joey Starr Alice Taglioni

85min  Crime Drama | France Belgium

This stylishly competent Parisian crime drama is Belgian filmmaker Fabrice Du Welz’ follow up to his rather more distinguished Cannes 2014 outing Alleluia. Set under the same grey skies as its edgier predecessor, COLT 45 is chockfull of impressive set-pieces and slick shootouts but Gaspar Noe collaborator, Benôit Debie’s suberb cinematography proves rather too glamorous for Fathi Beddiar’s throwaway script and plotlines. Decent performances from its solid French cast ensure that COLT 45 slips down easily though, if you’re looking for an uncomplicated late-night watch.

A romantic undercurrent is provided by Alice Taglioni (Paris, Manhattan) and Imanol Perset (Cub) as two detectives who fall for each other when the reserved but decent junior cop is fingered for a high level shooting operation that sends him into a stratosphere that will ultimately make a man of him. Training by night with crime master Gérard Lanvin (Chavet) and rapper Joey Starr (Milo) he keeps his day job in the police armoury division, but the going gets tough at night when the rollcall of robberies and deaths among his colleagues starts to take its toll on the young sharpshooter. Du Welz struts his stuff with impressive allure but this Gallic gunslinger is not amongst his most outstanding. MT

NOW OUT ON DVD from 11 November 2015

Sicario (2015) | Cannes Film Festival 2015

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro

If it’s a pounding nihilistic macho thriller you’re looking for, Denis does the job here with this Michael Mann style Mexican-themed drug-busting ‘actioner’. Once again the Americans are down on the Mexicans, this time due to their high-level drugs operation which is feeding a ready market from wealthy US buyers on American soil.

Josh Brolin is well-cast as a swaggeringly confident US official Matt Graver, who will lead a raid against a Mexican cartel safe house on the Arizona border near to Phoenix. With him is with his catatonic side-kick Alejandro (Benicio del Toro), who is still getting over the trauma of his wife’s brutal murder. Emily Blunt is the token female FBI Agent called in to add ‘intelligence’ to the operation. As Kate Macy, she appears to be highly skilled and professionally sure of herself but is soon cut down to size by Mr Graver’s snide banter that diminishes her sangfroid early on in THE proceedings during the raid which leads to an horrific discovery: Kate soon realises that she is involved in something way beyond her capabilities.

Blacked-out SUVs feature heavily in continuous convey scenes, as does a thundering doom-laden soundtrack from Johann Johannsson that adds menace to Villeneuve’s superb action sequences. Taylor Sheridan’s script performs well, delivering a straightforward Hollywood-style genre piece to add to the growing collection. MT

REVIEWED AT CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 8 OCTOBER 2015

Palio (2015)

Writer|Director: Cosima Spender  Writer: John Hunt

91min   Documentary  UK

Filmmaker Cosima Spender (Without Gorky) has picked a fortuitous year to document the Palio; a medieval horse race held biannually in Siena, Italy. Her two antagonistic protags are at logger-heads to win the race and one of them will succeed but will it be the young and vigorous newcomer or the skillful, long-time winner?

PALIO_Guillaume_Bonn_1 copyEntering the arena at breakneck speed, we instantly experience the high octane thrills of this ancient and intrigue-fueled 90 second spectacle with its hot-headed characters and magnificent setting in the Tuscan city. Playing out like a sporting classic with dramatic twists and turns and even the occasional tragedy, the contest is arcane and impossible to explain, let alone understand – but who cares – the thrill is all about the spectable, the horses and the ‘fantini’, as the riders are called.

Plucky veteran Gigi Bruschelli is in 40s and the winner of 13 Palios in the 16 years he’s been competing for his ‘contrada’, or local district. Only one man has beaten him in his record: Andrea Degortes, nicknamed Aceto (Vinegar), he has claimed the prize 14 times and is used to sitting proudly at the head of the every local dinner table, such is the respect the community affords him. Meanwhile, ambitious 28 year old, Giovanni Atzeni, is motivated by the Glory rather than the money – unlike most men of his age-group. Trained by Bruschelli, he is determined to be the victor in this year’s contest, held in the Piazza Centrale packed with an audience of around 70,000 spectators. Rife with bribery and purported corruption, the Palio is the central focus of Sienna during the months of July and August and occupies the players well beyond. Citizens, caught up with the excitement of it all, bay viciously from the crowd – the more successful the riders the worse the abuse. In contrast, competing horses are often rejected from the competition for being too fast or too slow in order to encourage a tight contest, in which the riders hit each other savagely with crops fashioned from dried ox penises. But, in the end, it’s all a game. Another retired competitor, Silvano Vigni, is content to run his farm in the magnificent Tuscan countryside whence he regales us with a potted history of the Palio, made even more resonant by his strong local accent.PALIO_Guillaume_Bonn_3 copy

Well-paced and with a twang of the exotic supplied by Ennio Morricone’s ‘Secret of the Sahara’ soundtrack, Spender’s PALIO conjures up  to heat of sunbaked Sienna with its colourful characters, glowing scenery, feudal intrigue and exhilerating thrill of the chase. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE IN SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 25 September 2015

 

 

Venice International Film Festival | 72th Edition | 2 – 12 September 2015

2015 is set to be a knock out year as VENICE FILM FESTIVAL claims its position as the oldest major international film festival, now celebrating its 72nd edition and championing a glittering array of independent and arthouse films. Unlike Cannes 2015, that promoted its own actors and filmmakers, Venice has chosen an eclectic mix of international talent drawn from veteran auteurs to sophomore filmmakers. Under festival director, Alberto Barbera and an erudite competition jury lead by Alfonso Cuaron, including such luminaries as Pawel Pawlikowski, Hsaio-hsien Hou, Lynne Ramsay, Elizabeth Banks and Francesco Munzi, the competition line-up sparkles with renewed vigour showcasing independent film talent and stealing a march on Toronto which neatly overlaps the Italian festival by two days, leaving the Canadians to show the blockbusters which will come to Britain very shortly anyway, for those who follow them.

1-11MINUTES-actorWojciechMECWALDOWSKIPresiding over the jury in 2001, Veteran Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski will be back in Venice with his long-awaited follow-up to Essential Killing, another thriller called 11 Minutes (left).  This time the setting is Warsaw, with a strong Polish cast led by Richard Dormer, Piotr Glowacki, Andrzej Chyra (In the Name of) and Agata Buzek. Sangue del mio sangue 1

The Italians have four films in the competition line-up this year: Marco Bellocchio presents Sangue del mio Sangue (Blood of my Blood (right) which knowing the director’s strong visual aesthetic with doubtless be a stylish vampire outing, set in the village of Bobbio (Emilia Romagna) and starring the ubiquitous and pallidly delicate Alba Rohrwacher. Giuseppe M Gaudino is not well-known outside his native Italy but his latest film Per Amor Vostro may well change things. Sicilian director, Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), once again casts Tilda Swinton in crime thriller A Bigger Splash which is set on the volcanic island of Pantelleria (south of Sicily). It has Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson and Ralph Fiennes who play an assortment of interconnecting lovers in a game of mystery. Juliette Binoche will be on the Lido as the main star of Piero Messina’s drama The Wait, essentially a two-hander where she gets to know Lou de Laâge (Breathe) who plays her son’s fiance as they both await his arrival at a Sicilian villa. I Ricordi del Fiumi  (Out of Competition) by Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio is a documentary about the platz, the large shanty town where over a thousand people of different nationalities live on the banks of the Stura river, in Turin. The area was recently the object of a major project to dismantle it and move part of the families into normal homes and the film documents life in this slum during the last few months of its existence, with its anguish, drama, hopes, life.

EQUALS VFF 01 ∏Jaehyuk Lee

Having shot their cinematic bolt at Cannes this year, the French are thin on the ground in competition repped by Xavier Giannoli with Marguerite, a drama starring Catherine Frot (Haute Cuisin) and Christa Théret (Renoir). Christian Vincent (La Séparation) who has cast Sidse Babett Knudsen (The Duke of Burgundy) and Fabrice Luchini in his comedy drama L’Hermine.

From Turkey comes Emin Alper’s second feature, Abluka (Frenzy). The sophomore filmmaker is best known for his striking 2012 widescreen drama Tepenin Ardi (Beyond the Hill) which was outstanding for its atmospheric ambient soundtrack and searingly authentic performances from Mehmet Ozgur and Reha Ozcan.

Heart of a Dog 1

From across the Atlantic, musician and actor Laurie Anderson will be in Venice with her latest drama, Heart of a Dog (right). Cary Fukunaga has cast Idris Elba in his actioner based on the experiences of a child soldier in the civil war of an unnamed African country: Beasts of No Nation. And where would Venice be without an animation title? Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman provide this in the shape of Anomalisa which features the voices of Jennifer Jason-Leigh, David Thewlis and Tom Noonon in a stop-motion film about a man crippled by the mundanity of his own life. Drake Doremus (Breathe In) presents Equals (above left) a sci-fi love story set in a futuristic world where emotions have been eradicated. The US crowd-pleaser, it will star none other than Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult and Bel Powley. Veterans Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau and Bruno Ganz lead in Atom Egoyan’s latest thriller Remember that looks back at a dark chapter of the 20th century through a contempo revenge mission. Australian Sue Brooks is the other female director In Competition with her drama Looking for Grace starring Odessa Young (The Daughter/Locarno) in the lead, supported by Radha Mitchell (Man on Fire) and Tom Roxburghe (Van Helsing).

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On the hispanic front, Mexico’s entry is Desde Alli (Out of There), the debut feature of filmmaker Lorenzo Vigas which stars Alfredo Castro (No). Pablo Trapero’s El Clan offers up a gritty slice of Argentine history in a drama that explores the true story of the Puccio Clan, a family who kidnapped and killed in Buenos Aires during the 80s.

Russian director Alexandr Sokurov’s La Francophonie: The Louvre Under Occupation studies the Second World War “from a humanitarian point of view” but the director is unlikely to attend the festival, according to sources. Israel’s Amos Gitai looks to politics for inspiration in his title: Rabin, The Last Day, and China’s Zhao Lang offers us a documentary Behemoth (left) which looks intriguing.

Danish

And last, but never least, Tom Hooper flies the flag for Britain with The Danish Girl, his screen adaptation loosely based on David Ebershoff’s book about the 1920s Danish artist, Gerda Wegener, whose painting of her husband as a female character led him to pursue the first male to female sex-change and become Lili Elbe. Eddie Redmayne leads a starry cast of Alicia Vikander, Ben Wishaw and Matthias Schoenaerts in this Copenhagen-set drama. MT

72TH VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015 | LIDO DE VENEZIA 

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Director: Guy Ritchie

Cast: Hugh Grant, Alicia Vikander, Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Jared Harris, Elizabeth Debicki, Luca Calvani

117min  UK/US Action comedy

The Man From U.N.C.L.E was an iconic 60s TV series whose cool characters and Cold War credentials will remain burnt into the memories of devotees of Adam Adamant and The Saint. Guy Ritchie and his scripter Lionel Wigram attempt to update and re-badge the spy thriller as a Euro-trotting upmarket macho mens’ comedy caper with sexy ‘birds’ dressed up to the nines and glib guys in poorly-tailored suits; what we get is a Chavish dollop of Eton mess.

There are some really good ideas: the early 60s production detail is spot on and so is the female haute couture – but for the most part it’s a self-indulgent romp that lacks form, charisma and, crucially, clout. Male leads Henry Cavill (Napoleon Solo) and Arnie Hammer (Illya Kuryakin) are supremely dull and, worse still, rather fond of themselves: Critically, they lack the style and suave charisma of Robert Vaughan and McCullan despite their breezy male model modishness. The only entertaining performances come from a pert and pint-sized Audrey Hepburn-styled Alica Vikander, and Hugh Grant as a British intelligence chief Waverly, who walks through his role with the consummate ease of a craggy test pilot.

The original storyline is loosely intact with Napoleon Solo as an American agent in a Cold War East Berlin who is tasked with tracking down a missing nuclear scientist whose perky tomboy daughter Gaby (Vikander) plays an unlikely female car mechanic in the capital. But her chicly sinister Daddy (Christian Berkel) now appears to be working for an Italian nuclear power magnate who is seeking to gain control of the world. Naturally,  the CIA and KGB want to control the world so, in order to bring the Italian super-magnate Alexander Vinciguerra (a simmering Luca Calvani) down to size , Solo is ordered to collaborate with Kuryakin, who, in a bizarre twist, is  forced to go undercover as an architect.

As Illya, Armie Hammer  is all pouty and gorgeous as the truculent Soviet spy (cum architect) who grudgingly falls for Gaby. As Solo, Caville’s main problem is fitting into the confines of his tailoring without popping out and looking gauche, an endeavour which doesn’t entirely succeed, leaving him glib. The constant hotchpotoch of action-scenes and lacklustre dialogue feel more tedious than tense as we are subjected to an onslaught of style over substance: in this mesmerising mess of European milieux, it’s very much ‘the price of everything versus the value of nothing’. The feline Elizabeth Debicki (Vittoria Vinciguerra) is the one to watch on the elegance front as she glides stealthily through her domaine, like Gustave Dore’s wife of (Alexander Vinceguerra’s) Bluebeard; delivering her lines with insuciant aplomb: she is a joy to behold.

Guy Ritchie’s caper has some clever ideas and it certainly whisks you away to some fabulous hotspots: Rome, Berlin, Goodwood, and Naples to name but a few.  But the overall impression is a scattergun of entertaining, stylish and laughable moments that lacks any formal discipline to deliver a satisfying experience: At one point the whole thing feels like an extended advert for Cinzano Bianco – without ice or the slice. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 14 AUGUST 2015

 

Lauda (2015) | DVD | VOD release

image013Dir.: Hannes Schalle

Documentary; Austria/UK 2014, 90 min.

On the 1st of August 1976 the Austrian Formula One racing driver Nikki Lauda was involved in a horrendous accident on the Nürburgring during the German Grand Pix. Pulled out of the burning car by fellow drivers, he suffered severe burns to his face and damaged to his lungs from inhaling toxic gases. He was lucky to survive, but only six weeks later he raced again at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza.

In Hannes Schalle’s big screen debut, we find out that Lauda was born in 1949 into an upperclass Viennese family who were appalled at his choice of profession. His grandfather wanted him to make the headlines in the business rather than the sport pages, and this wish eventually came true when, after his retirement as a racing driver, Lauda founded an airline which he later sold to “Austrian Airlines”.

There is a lot of love for Lauda from his fellow racing drivers, but the three times world champion is the only one showing a little detachment to his erstwhile profession, questioning the validity of 36 Grand Prix garnering the lion’s share of the media headlines over the racing weekends. Unfortunately, Schalle concentrates on these endless talking-head interviews with fellow drivers whose main focus, apart from Lauda, seems to be the security arrangements, or lack of them, before the 90s. (Lauda had argued to boycott the 1976 German Grand Prix, but was out-voted by his fellow drivers.)

Whilst this is clearly a valid point to make, the subtle nuances in road and car safety improvements are both overwhelming and inane to an audience not familiar with racing. When Schalle interviews Lauda’s first wife, Marlene Knaus, she observed that she was  “married to three different Nikki’s”; unfortunately the filmmaker does not elaborate more on this remark. Thus, Lauda: The Untold Story, stays exactly this way: we learn next to nothing about a man from privileged background, who risked his life as a racing driver in the early years of his career, paying with borrowed money to secure a gilded place in racing posterity. AS

NOW OUT ON DVD and VOD from 6 July 2015

Tokyo Tribe (2014) | DVD Blu release

Dir.: Sion Sono

Cast: Ryohei Suzuki, Young Dais, Nana Seino, Riki Takeuchi

Japan 2014, 116 min.

Since his European breakthrough with COLD FISH (2010), Japanese director’s Sion Sono’s film’s have increasingly done  away more with any meaningful narrative, relying on pure shock value as in his recent out WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? (2013). It is therefore no surprise, that TOKYO TRIBE is an all singing/all-fighting/dancing/rapping box of tricks – and the rapping skills are dim to say the least – full of energy and spectacular fighting scenes, but vacuous to the extreme.

Based on a best-selling Manga-cartoon, TOKYO TRIBE features the city in the non-so-distant future, where 23 gangs rule their territories, coming down aggressively on any rival tribes that strays onto their turf. Sadistic, and occasionally cannibalistic, Lord Buppa (Takeuchi), directs the warfare between the other clans, hoping to claim dominion over the whole city. And when his day of ‘victory’ arrives, girls are dragged into Buppa’s dining room, desperate to become his prostitutes or even a tasty snack for his lunch.

Among them is the enigmatic Sunmi (Seino), who turns out to be the daughter of Buppa’s family priest. Sunmi is quite vanilla about being taken as a love object (even though she does not succeed): Not surprisingly, her father wants to sacrifice her as a virgin to Satan. Meanwhile, Buppa’s henchman Mera (Suzuki), shirtless and muscle-proud, hates Kai (Dais), for the simple reason that the latter has a bigger penis (!) and he tries to lure members of Kai’s tribe, peaceful loving hippies, into his palace, so he can do away with Kai. But the latter unites all the other gangs under his and Sunmi’s leadership and fights a successful battle against Buppa’s men. One of Buppa’s wives accompanies the mayhem singing wonderful Handel arias, but she too is sucked into a giant fan, which does away with the Buppa clan, including Buppa’s son Nkoi, who kept an array of living furniture. A car with chandeliers as headlights and a couple of earthquakes complete the mayhem.

This widescreen spectacle on a giant studio stage starts off as an exhilarating bandwagon but after a while, neither the cast nor he audience is able to sustains this high level maelstrom of activity as outrageous peaks and waves of activity follow each other fast, like breakers on a stormy beach, leaving no pause to contemplation in the permanent frenzy. The inadvertent humour adds to a feeling of a monstrous, but utterly empty production, super-fast food for the boy’s own brigade who have left their brains and their consciousness behind them in the ticket foyer. AS

NOW ON DVD | Blu-ray

 

Stones for the Rampart (2014) | Kamienie Na Szaniec

Dir.: Robert Glinski

Cast: Tomasz Zietek, Marcel Sabat, Kamil Szeptycki

Poland 2014 | 111 min | Action drama

Robert Glinski’s drama, a remake of Jan Lomnicki’s Operation Arsenal from 1978 is based on the non-fiction novel by Aleksander Kaminski, first published underground in 1943 during the Nazi occupation of Poland, before it became a book on the curriculum of every Polish school after the war.

Kaminski based his chronicle on the clandestine fight of “Grey Rank” members, the equivalent of Poland’s Boy Scouts, who took up arms against the occupiers. Glinski positions his three heroes, Rudy (Zietek), Zoska (Sabat) and Alek (Szeptycki) in the centre of the action: first the three friends form their own “Grey Rank” unit, trying to sabotage the Germans, before they buy weapons and become part of the “Home-Front” Army, the official Polish resistance force, coordinated by the Government in Exile from London.

The main thrust of STONES FOR THE RAMPART is the liberation of their leader Rudy from the Gestapo. Whilst Rudy is tortured, Zoska and Alek make an exhaustive attempt to get permission from the Home Army to free him: the professional soldiers are not so keen to risk the lives of the resistance fighters. Finally, Rudy is sprung, but tragedy ensues for this brave trio.

Whilst the heroism of the young men deserves to be remembered, they also deserve a more subtle concept without so many clichés. Glinski’s all-out action approach gives too little room for the individuals and their rather complex family lives to be developed to their full potential. This ‘all-guns-blaring’ style with its bloody overkill in the torture scenes lacks subtlety and a decision to cast cute but histrionic girlfriends for our heroes, further trivialises the piece and leads to some prudish sex scenes. Glinski’s stone-age aesthetics together with over-simplistic dialogue, simply doesn’t do the real fighters any justice. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 17 APRIL 2015

The Salvation (2014)

Director: Kristian Levring

Writers: Anders Thomas Jensen

Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Mikael Persbrandt, Douglas Henshall, Jonathan Pryce

92mins  | Drama | Western | Denmark/US

I first discovered this burnished beauty smouldering in the out-of-competition section last year at Cannes: It’s always gratifying to see a great film that hasn’t had any buzz, pre-festival, and THE SALVATION was one of those outings – but with Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green what could possibly go wrong? Suffice to say, we’ve certainly found the next Clint Eastwood in Mads, who rocks a similar look in this Danish-styled Once Upon a Time in the West, from Dogma director, Kristian Levring. Mads plays Jon, a former soldier who immigrated to America after the Danish-German war in 1864. With his gung-ho swagger and just enough buttoned-up anger to keep the action taut and macho throughout. This glowering, sun-burnt saga also has echoes of High Noon, but was actually shot in South Africa by award-winning lenser Jens Schlosser.

When Jon’s wife and son are brutally killed on their arrival from Denmark; the modest, law-abiding outsider turns hurt into hatred, by taking the outlaw’s life in return, and in the process unleashed the fury of a notorious gang leader, Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), driving him to seek retribution. His own wife, Eva Green seethes in a stunning speechless part (as Princess), rendered mute by an Indian’s weapon. With a zippy running time of 92 minutes, this is a slick and enjoyable ride through the Wild West of the 1870s: The Danish angle works well with the xenophobic locals of that era, bringing a fresh new angle to the evergreen theme of transmigration. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 17 APRIL NATIONWIDE

Cannes Film Festival| Projections for 2015 | 13 – 24 May 2015

In a months time the World’s most well-known film festival will once again be rolling out the Red Carpet and bringing you the latest in World cinema. Meredith Taylor speculates on this year’s programme hopefuls, ahead of Thierry Frémaux’s official unveiling in mid-April.

salt

Joel and Ethan Coen will Chair the Jury this year, so let’s start with American cinema. Todd Haynes’ glossy literary adaptation from Patricia Highsmith’s novel Salt: CAROL (below) has been waiting in the wings since being a possible opener for last year’s VENICE Film Festival. Starring Cate Blanchett it is a glamorous choice for this year’s Palme D’Or. Terrence Malick made his entrance earlier this year at BERLIN with the divisive (amongst critics) drama Knight of Cups and it’s possible that his next film, a documentary on the creation of the Earth, VOYAGE OF TIME, will be ready to grace the Red Carpet this May. Narrated by Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt, this mammoth project is currently in post production. Cannes habitué Jeff Nichols also has a new film, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, a father and son Sci-Fi road movie starring Adam Driver and regular collaborator, Michael Shannon, who discovers his boy has special powers. For star quality, Cannes thrives on US stars, and who better to add glitz to the Red Carpet than George Clooney. He stars in Brad Bird’s  TOMORROWLAND, a Sci-Fi adventure that also has Hugh Laurie. Gus Van Sant’s THE SEA OF TREES, a story of friendship between an American and a Japanese man (Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe) is another possible contender. William Monahan’s lastest, a thriller entitled MOJAVE, (Mark Wahlberg and Oscar Isaac) could also bring some glamour to the Croisette. Natalie Portman’s will bring her Jerusalem set screen adaptation of Amos Oz’s memoir A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS to the Croisette. It is a drama featuring an Israeli cast including herself, as his on-screen daughter, Fania Oz.

imageMost of this year’s films will be come from Europe and Italy has some brand new offerings from their côterie of well-known directors. Nanni Moretti was last on the Croisette in 2011 with his comedy drama WE HAVE A POPE, this year he could return with another drama co-written with Francesco Piccolo, MIA MADRE, in which he also stars alongside the wonderful Margherita Buy (Il Caimano) and John Turturro. There is Matteo Garrone’s long-awaited THE TALE OF TALES, adapted from Giambattista Basile’s 17th Century work and featuring Vincent Cassel and Salma Hayek in the leads. Another literary adaptation from Italy, WONDERFUL BOCCACCIO, is a drama based on The Decameron: the tales of ten young people who escape to the hills during an outbreak of Plague in 14th century Italy. A stellar cast of Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes and Matthias Schoenaerts appear in Luca Guadagnino’s latest, A BIGGER SPLASH, a thriller that unravels in Italy – when an American woman (Tilda Swinton) invites a former lover to share her villa with onscreen husband Ralph Fiennes, sparks fly, particularly as Matthias Schoenaerts is the love interest.  After Cannes success with The Great Beauty, Paolo Sorrentino could be back with YOUTH (La Giovenezza), a drama of trans-generational friendship that takes place in the Italian Alps with a starry cast of Rachel Weisz, Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda and Paul Dano. Definite Red Carpet material. And Marco Bellocchio could well be chosen for his latest historical drama L’ULTIMO VAMPIRO which stars Italian actress of the moment, Alba Rohrwacher – recently in Berlinale with Vergine Giurata.

The Scandinavians could well be on board with Joachim Trier’s first anglophone outing LOUDER THAN BOMBS, a wartime drama in which Isabelle Huppert plays a photographer. Tobias Lindholm’s follow up to the nail-bitingly  rigorous A Highjacking, is A WAR. It has Søren Malling and Pilou Asbaek as soldiers stationed in Helmand Province, with echoes of Susanne Bier’s war-themed drama Brothers. Russian maverick Aleksandr Sokurov could present LE LOUVRE SOUS L’OCCUPATION, the third part of his quadrilogy of Power, following Moloch (1999) and Taurus (2001) and filmed in the magnificent surroundings of the Parisian museum. And Greeks could bear gifts in the shape of THE LOBSTER, Yorgos Lanthimos’ dystopian love story set in the near future and forecasting a grim future for coupledom, with Léa Seydoux, and Colin Farrell. There’s also much excitement about the long-awaited follow up Portuguese director, Miguel Gomes’ Tabu, with his 1001 NIGHTS, a re-working of the legendary Arabian tale; certainly destined for the auteurish “Un Certain Régard” sidebar together with Polish auteur Andrzej Zulawski’s Sintra-set COSMOS, a literary adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’ novel and starring Sabine Azéma (the former partner of Alain Resnais).

macbeth-Further afield, it’s unlikely that Taiwanese fillmaker Hou Hsiao Hsien THE ASSASSIN will be ready to grace the ‘Montée des Marches’ but from Thailand, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s drama fantasy, CEMETERY OF KINGS, could well make it. Kiyoshi Kurasawa’s JOURNEY TO THE SHORE is in post production. The Japanese director is best known for award-winners, Tokyo Sonata and The Cure. Many will remember Australian director Justin Kurzel’s incendiary thriller debut SNOWTOWN, and his recent drama THE TURNING that is now on general release. His latest outing MACBETH (right) featured strongly in the Film Market at Cannes last year, starring Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender, so it could well enter the fray. For star quality and sheer impact MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (below) will make a blast onto the Riviera. Starring Britons Tom Hardy and Nicholas Hoult and the lovely Charlize Theron, the fourth in George Millar’s action thriller series could will certainly set the night on fire, in more ways than one.

 

SUNSET-SONG-premieres-images-du-nouveau-Terence-Davies-avec-Agyness-Deyn-47013From England there is Donmar Warehouse director, Michael Grandage’s GENIUS, a biopic of the book editor Max Perkins, who oversaw the works of Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe and F Scott Fitzgerald. Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Jude Law all take part. Asif Kapadia has two films currently in production: ALI AND NINO starring Danish actress, Connie Nielsen and Mandy Patinkin, and adapted for the screen by scripter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) from a book by Kurban Said. But his anticipated biopic on the life of Amy Winehouse UNTITLED AMY WINEHOUSE DOCUMENTARY is sadly not quite ready for screening. Other British titles could include Ben Wheatley’s HIGH RISE, a Sci-Fi drama based on J G Ballard’s eponymous novel centred on the residents of a tower block and starring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Millar and Jeremy Irons. Veteran director Terence Davies could also be back in Cannes representing Britain. In 1988, he won the FIPRESCI Prize for his autobiographical drama Distant Voices, Still Lives. His recent work SUNSET SONG, (above left) is a historical drama based on the book by Lewis Grassic Gibbon and stars Agyness Deyn (Electricity) and Peter Mullan (Tyrannosaur).

 

Cannes PicAnd last but not least, the French have plenty to offer for their legendary ‘tapis rouge’. Cannes regular Jacques Audiard’s DHEEPAN is the story of a Sri Lankan Tamil warrior who escapes to France and ends up working as a caretaker, Gaspar Noé’s first film in English, a sexual melodrama, in which he also stars, LOVE, is ready for the competition line-up. Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s BELLES FAMILLES is the latest vehicle for Mathieu Amalric to showcase his talents. After his stint at directing made the Un Certain Régard strand in the shape of Blue Room, he appeared in the recent English TV serial ‘Wolf Hall’. Here he plays a man who is sucked back into his past while visiting his family in Paris. Marine Vacth (Jeune et Jolie) and veterans André Dussollier and Nicole Garcia also star. And what would Cannes be without Philippe Garrel’s usual contribution. This year it will be L’OMBRE DES FEMMES, a drama co-written with his partner, Caroline Deruas. Palme D’Or Winner 2013, Abdellatif Kechiche, latest film, LA BLESSURE, starring Gérard Depardieu, it not quite ready to be unwrapped. But the well-known star may well appear on the Croisette with THE VALLEY OF LOVE, Guillaume Nicloux’s California-set saga which also stars the luminous Cannes regular Isabelle Huppert, never one to shirk the Red Carpet. I’ll be bringing more possibilities as the filming year takes shape, so watch this space. MT.

CANNES INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL TAKES PLACE FRM 13 MAY UNTIL 25 MAY 2015

 

The Signal (2015)

Director: William Eubank

Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp, Laurence Fishburne, Lin Shaye

97min  US  Sci-Fi Thriller

Deep in the countryside, three ramblers cross paths with a strange and unworldly encounter in William Eubank’s slick indie that starts as an compelling weird Sci-FI mystery thriller but gradually joins the highway to mainstream city, veering off the path of arthouse intrigue.

Nic and Jonah (Brenton Thwaites and Beau Knapp) are MIT students who seem to be involved in a computer virus dispute with someone called Nomad. When Nic agrees to take his girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke) back to University across country, Jonah goes to share the driving because Nic seems to be on crutches. On their way they pick up intelligence that may lead them to Nomad’s whereabouts. Against their better judgement, they take a detour into the desert.

This takes them through some glorious widescreen visuals and a retro vibe as we cruise zen-like along in the fields  of big mountain country, enjoying David Lanzenberg’s gorgeous cinematography until arriving at nightfall at an abandoned shack in the middle of nowhere. And this is where proceedings go pear-shaped as the mood becomes edgy and sinister. Haley is abducted by an alien-like being before and they all space out and loses control. Nic gradually comes to his senses in a space-age hospital staffed by men in white overalls. He can’t feel his legs.

The doctor in charge of Nic is Wallace Damon (Laurence Fishburne). Apparently Nic and his friends came across an “extraterrestrial biological entity,” and it is vital for Nic to remain within the confines of the hospital for his own safety. But Nic, in a performance of palpable paranoia (by Thwaites), is not convinced and desperately tries to escape the sinister surroundings and endless white corridors and weird doctors. In vain. Then after an eerie dreamlike sequence of events where he is unable to move and is pursued by a very spooky-looking Fishburne as the doctor, Nic takes charge and breaks away from the hospital along a series of narrow tunnels and finally to freedom. But his troubles are far from over. Despite a delightfully off the wall turn from Lin Shaye as a religious nutter, this Sci-fi mystery fails to deliver the satisfying denouement that we’re hoping for as our interest gradually wanes in the last half hour. It’s watchable and wacky all the same and Nima Fakhrara’s ethereal soundtrack lends a surreal atmosphere.  MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 27 MARCH 2015 | DVD FROM 13 APRIL 2015

 

 

The Gunman (2015)

Director: Pierre Morel   Writer: Don MacPherson

Cast: Mark Rylance, Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Ray Winstone, Melina Matthews

115min  Crime Drama  US

Sean Penn has put his own cash and writing skills into this ultra violent crime caper in which he plays the leading role as a reformed hitman looking for redemption. With the aid of a news footage montage THE GUNMAN gives flimsy lipservice to wrongdoings in the Democratic Republic of Congo where, as Jim Terrier, Penn forms part of a security task force protecting local mining works, while moonlighting for his own interests as a mercenary and ‘shooting star’.

Big names such as Javier Bardem, Ray Winstone and Idris Elba are wheeled in to attract audiences, but while performing with competence, their characters feel as dissipated and washed out as cowboys in the last chance saloon. Mark Rylance, who fleshed out the character of Thomas Cromwell in the recent BBC outing, Wolf Hall, is sadly miscast as a field operative turned turned violent villain, promoted to a glamorous desk job with an office overlooking the Thames – it’s a role that leaves him nowhere to go with his acting chops apart the odd snide glance. For an action blockbuster, THE GUNMAN is sadly short on eye-candy in the male department (Penn is starting to look like Iggy Pop with mega-muscles) and the only female lead is Jasmine Trinca (Miele) who while being cute as Annie, fails to convince as a ‘remarkable woman’ that two grown men are supposed to kill for (Terrier and Felix (Bardem). Aside from macho posturing, THE GUNMAN is also distinctly short on humour – a few wise cracks or a witty turn of phrase wouldn’t go amiss in this hard-hitting gun-slinger, where everyone takes themselves so seriously. But what the globe-trotting thriller doesn’t stint on is location candy. Kicking off in the Congo (actually South Africa), helmer Pierre Morel (Taken et al) whisks us around the World with breathtaking skylines of London and Barcelona ‘by night’ and the striking Catalan countryside for a showcase shoot-out in a rustic Finca.

The action opens in the Jungle where Terrier, a long-in-the-tooth toughie who lusts after ‘Médicins Sans Frontières’ style field doctor Annie (Trinca), emerging shower-fresh and pouty each day for her arduous task of tending the natives whom Terrier has gunned down the night before, after his day job as a good guy (even fitting in a spot of surfing to flex his veiny pecs). The tousle-locked and trim of derrière Annie (we are treated to a rear view of her semi-clad bod) also has an ardent admirer in the shape of Terrier’s associate Felix, who cleverly assigns her lover to assassinate the Congo’s mining minister (Clive Curtis) in a cavalcade. After killing him point blank, Terrier is forced to leave his sultry sweetheart in Felix’s clutches. Not surprisingly, he swears to protect her in the comfort and safety of his own bed.

Fastforward nearly a decade and Jim has returned to Africa to train the locals to operate their own mines. But a few have lived to tell the tale of his sharpshooting former ways, and emerge from the undergrowth to get their revenge. Luckily, his side-kick, Eugene (Ade Oyefeso), saves his life during their ambush, forcing him to track down his past and eliminate his pursuers on a peripatetic trip down memory lane. Back in London, he hooks up with his former associate – a now be-suited Cox (Mark Rylance) and another in Barcelona, a clichéd and bedraggled cockney, Stanley (Winstone), who offers Spanish back-up in the shape of a few old veterans straight out of the Civil War – but nothing gives by way of ‘intelligence’ with these muchachos and we never meet them again after they are sighted, somewhat off guard, in a tapas bar). What Terrier does spy in Barca is Annie kissing Felix through the window of their Gaudi-styled apartment, and it later transpires that they are adopting their first child; Felix having become an aid campaigner. But no sooner have the champagne toasts been downed on their parental celebration, than Annie is sweeping Terrier into bed for a spot of extra nuptual nookie. She then invites Terrier to the couple’s country pad where Felix has a few too many, and Terrier confesses his pent-up lust for killing, suppressed in the intervening years: “I want to hunt – whatever’s in season – I just need to shoot something”.

By now, we’re growing slightly bored of this toxic trio of on-off lovers: the tiresome Terrier and the jealous and jilted philanthropist – and the political agenda seems to have taken a back seat. To spice things up Morel stages a massive shoot-out ruining the newly-appointed Finca, seriously frightening the horses and killing Felix in the ensuing mayhem, so putting an end to Annie’s tawdry bed-hopping between the two macho males. Terrier comes up trumps and rescues her to fight another day.  As the narrative limps on, Idris Elba convinces as an Intepol executive in a cutesy cameo which, even he winces to deliver, and we also discover, through a hospital visit, that Terrier has a brain injury. But, like a trouper, he makes short shrift of this minor inconvenience to battle on in the desperate denouement that takes place in a Barcelona bullfighting ring (despite the fact that the sport was banned in 2012?). Flavio Labiano’s fabulous aerial camerawork offers awesome visuals of the Catalan capital while the plot is flogged to death in the corridors of bovine slaughter, and by the finale we are truly glad to see the back of them all and this overlong debacle. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 20 MARCH 2015

 

The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927) | The Great War Anniversary (1914-18)

Director: Walter Summers    Screenwriter: Frank Bowden, John Buchan

With Roger Maxwell and Craighall Sherry

111mins    Silent Historical Drama    UK

Silent films rely heavily on facial expression, mood and musical score to convey their message in a meaningful and dramatic way, quite apart from their cinematography. Directed by Walter Summers, this exhilarating 1927 war film, restored by the BFI to celebrate the anniversary of the The Great War (1914-18), tells the story of a naval battle that ends in resounding victory for Britain against the Germans following on from the appalling British defeat at Coronel, off the Chilean coast, in 1914.

Summers’ epic conveys not only a  sense of derring-do, but also of palpable terror evoked in the magnificent seascapes and roaring waves as big as mountains, as the enemy onslaught is depicted in mammoth ships seen on the attack in remarkable battle sequences. The courage of the soldiers and integrity of their leaders is the result of clever casting and masterful performances, making The British Navy something we can still be proud of to this day. A fitting tribute to our Naval forces. MT

NOW ON DVD

 

 

 

The Misfits (1960)

Dir.: John Huston; Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, Thelma Ritter; USA 1960, 120 min.

Nearly four month in production, shot in chronological order, THE MISFITS was the most expensive black and white film in 1960, costing 4$m, roughly 31$m in todays money. A stellar cast helmed by John Huston at the zenith of his career, and written by the intellectual giant of the era Arthur Miller – whose script was based on his own short story, what could go wrong? Even Henri Cartier-Bresson was on board, leading a team of nine photographers shooting in the Nevada desert. The result seemed disappointing at the time, even though today THE MISFITS is very much a cult outing, appreciated much more that it was forty- five years ago.

Roslyn (Monroe), a newly divorced night club dancer, fancies the “simple” life away from the city. Unfortunately she meets two cowboys (Gable and Wallach) and a rodeo rider (an intense Monty Clift ), who catch horses with lassoos, just like in the good old days. The men are a cynical bunch, full of macho values and more often drunk than sober. Roslyn soon discovers the reason for their bravado: the men are fully aware the mustangs they catch, are destined for the abattoir, soon to be dog food. Having flirted with the whole trio, Roslyn goes for Gay (Gable), the oldest and most stable, also, perhaps because of his humanity – after one of the most shocking scenes ever committed to film, involving wild horses being savagely rounded up – Gay decides to let the horses escape, even though he knows his career is finished. THE MISFITS is an elegy for an America long lost, profit is the only game in town, and Huston’s poetic masterpiece is a long good-bye, shot in alluring black and white by Russell Metty. The grainy pictures somehow recall a ‘romantic’ Hollywood lost to colourful, spectacular super-productions. THE MISFITS has stood the test of time, a worthy forerunner for many “late Westerns” of the eighties and nineties, which confront a rotten the present with a make-belief past: fables for grownups.

The melancholic atmosphere almost presaged doom, spilling into real life: Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller lived in different hotels during the shooting, and were divorced shortly afterwards; Miller would soon marry Inge Morath, one of the nine photographers present. Montgomery Clift would die an untimely death after a serious accident; Monroe would never finish another film, and Clark Gable suffered a fatal heart attach before the premiere. MT

NOW OUT ON BLURAY | DVD

Thief (1981)

Dir.: Michael Mann

Cast: James Caan, James Belushi, Tuesday Weld, Robert Prosky

USA 1981; 122 min.

For his feature debut THIEF Michael Mann (Manhunter, Miami Vice) delivers a perfect action movie and a philosophical discourse on the unattainability of the American Dream. Frank (Caan), a middle-aged professional safe breaker who has honed his skills in jail and now wants to press a button and settle down to a ready made family and a financially secure life. To remind him of his goal, he carries a postcard with cut-out motives of middle class happiness. In order to achieve this, he has to do a last caper. But instead of working with his own crew, he agrees to work with Leo (Prosky), a big crime lord.

Frank’s choice of a woman, the vulnerable, disillusioned and poorly paid Jessie (Weld), demonstrates his powers of projection: he wants to save her as much as himself. Needless to say, things don’t go according to plan. Frank’s personal life changes in 24 hours: he loses a father figure, who “told him everything about the job”, who dies of a heart attack after spending too much time in jail – Frank can’t make good his promise to spring him loose. His substitute father figure, Leo, procures a baby for the couple, after they are turned down at an adoption agency. The preparations for the job take Frank’s mind off family life; his trust in Leo is unshakable, as is his near religious belief in a happy, carefree life after crime.

The success of the heist brings in millions of dollar in form of small diamonds, but then Leo presents Frank with just $85000, the amount missing a zero at the end of his agreed share. Strangely, Leo presents an intact family life as an excuse for cheating Frank, who, after watching one of his men killed by Leo’s hired men, goes into an all-out war with Frank and his numerous enforcers. Even though action scenes dominate through pure force, Frank’s loneliness is the central aspect of THIEF. Even in the company of his men, he is the lone wolf – he takes his responsibility for them very seriously, a sort of “Pater Familias” in the crime world. His relationship with Jessie is founded on his wishful thinking, that they can both escape their past. Leo turns from a benevolent godfather into a brutal killer, whilst still keeping his identity as a family man – Frank, so skilful at work – is too naïve to see Leo’s game right from the beginning. Frank is the real outlaw, fit for any Western.

Well-cast and fabulously crafted, Donald E Thorin’s camera-work is brilliant, long shots show the city of Chicago as a decrepit background, Kentish Town on a bad night. It never really gets light, and the night drives are exceptionally emotive. Caan and Weld are a couple lost in their dreams for a future they were never made for, and Prosky’s Leo is one of the best all-time baddies. Frank Hohimer’s novel is the basis for this sleazy chronicle of unobtainable respectability. AS

A LIMITED SLIPCASE EDITION OF THIEF IS NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY INCLUDING TWO VERSIONS OF THE FILM, THE ORIGINAL THEATRICAL CUT AND AN EXTENDED DIRECTOR’S CUT. £19.99 COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS. 

 

Son of a Gun (2014)

Director: Julian Avery

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Alicia Vikander, Brenton Thwaites

118min   Action Drama

The only reason to see SON OF A GUN is Ewan McGregor’s performance that sweeps this raunchy crime caper off its feet and wipes the floor with everyone else in the cast. McGregor plays Brendan, a venal gangster serving time, who befriends the new kid on the jail block, JR, (Brenton Thwaites) rescuing him from the clutches of a rival gang behind bars. But there’s no such thing as a free luncheon voucher, and once JR is out in the open again, he’s  forced into a series of trials on behalf of Brendan, who keeps him firmly under the cosh to aide and abet his own escape and then compete in a complex gold heist. Despite providing beefy goodness and sultry arm candy for Alicia Vikander’s underwritten nubile Russian moll (Tasha), Thwaites is upstaged by Ewan McGregor at every turn as the plot finally melts to slurry in the Australian sun. McGregor emerges the victor on every level here. Well he would, wouldn’t he. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 30 January 2015.

Trash (2014)

Director: Stephen Daldry  Writers: Felipe Braga, Richard Curtis, Based on the novel by Andy Mulligan

Cast: Rooney Mara, Martin Sheen, Wagner Moura, Selton Mello, Christiane Amanpour (herself)

114min   Adventure drama  UK

Stephen Daldry made a speculative trip to Brazil with a small film crew. Heading for Rio’s famous favelas, he came across a group of local kids living off the landfill sites. TRASH is their astonishing story.

After a sizzling chase sequence where a man chucks his wallet out of his window onto a skip before being captured and fatally beaten by the Police, we meet 14-year-old Raphael Fernandez (newcomer Rickson Tevez) who finds the wallet while foraging. It contains a wad of cash, a photo of a little girl and a locker key. Delighted, at such a scoop he hides the wallet when Police arrive next morning announcing a reward for its retrieval. Along with his best friend Gardo and a sewer boy called Rato, Raphael sets off to find the mystery behind the wallet’s contents and a set of figures written on the photo – are they lottery numbers or a secret code?  Solving the riddle turns into a dangerous fight for survival as the boys discover the Police are prepared to kill them unless they give up the wallet and a ledger containing information about corrupt Government officials. Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara provide ballast as a couple of unconvincing local do-gooders (a Catholic priest and an aide-worker) who only serve to secure financing and distribution for this entertaining chase movie, which apparently works as comedy to Brazilian audiences – speaking volumes from a social point of view!

There are some similarities here with Slumdog Millionnaire and Ciudad de Dios but the best thing about Daldry’s well-made movie is the genuine appeal of the local boys – all untrained newcomers who can barely read or write in their native tongues let alone speak English. But Daldry has mastered the art of working with children, as we saw in Billy Elliott and although TRASH is a less-convincing outing, it nevertheless amuses with a fearsome pace for most of its run-time – although at nearly two hours, it occasionally feels as sprawling as the endless favelas themselves. The script is in the safe hands of Richard Curtis (Love, Actually) and loosely-based on Andy Mulligan 2010 novel.

Rickson Tevez (Raphael) is screen dynamite as the ‘heart of gold’ hero who triumphs through inventiveness and perseverance delivering a message of hope and serving as a fabulous role model for young kids of today. The other standout is Gabriel Weinstein, who plays the ‘sewer boy’ with charm and considerable aplomb. Selton Mello, the detective leading the chase, is consistently sinister while also portraying the modern face of the Brazilian middle class and there’s also a deftly-placed cameo from Christiane Amanpour to keep the whole thing tethered in the reality of this real human interest story which, despite its tragic backstory, ends on a positive note. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 30 JANUARY 2015

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Point and Shoot (2014)

Dir.: Marshall Curry; Documentary with Matthew Vandyke, Marshall Curry

USA 2014, 83 min Documentary

In 2006, twenty-six year old Matthew Vandyke left Baltimore, Maryland bound for a “crash course in manhunt”. A ‘germophile’ Matthew was suffering from OCD and his journey would take him via Spain and West Africa to Afghanistan, filming himself on his motorcycle. After returning to Maryland, he made a second foray in 2011 accompanied by friends he made in Libya on his first visit. The purpose was to topple the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

Marshall Curry (STREET FIGHT) introduces us to Vandyke via childhood videos, showing an average kid wanting to be a hero. The adult Matthew, in contrast, is timid and fearful but gains an MA. When he goes on his first journey, he is supported in his action by his fiancée, who later brands him “a coward”, after he almost gives up his trip early on due to an accident. In Gibraltar we get the first inkling how POINT AND SHOOT will develop when we see him pointing at US soldiers, declaring “it was how I imagined it in a script”. During the whole film, Curry lets his protagonist get away with this ambivalent attitude: “I fight with two hands: gun and camera”.

When returning to Libya, Curry never mentions that Matthew’s complete lack of military training and inability to speak Arabic made him more of a burden than a help to his co-fighters – particularly since Matthew had overcome his OCD, but not his fear of hurting others. But instead of pointing this out to Vandyke in the talking-head interviews in Maryland, Curry falls for Matthews line: “The Arab spring challenged (my interpretation of) what it was to be a man”.

Captured by Gaddafi forces, Vandyke spent nearly six months in a gruesome prison. Instead of making this terrible experience the centre-point of this documentary, Curry uses animated flashbacks designed by Joe Posner, to portrait his hero’s suffering. The Arab world is shown exclusively out of Vandyke’s American perspective – making it an exotic place where Vandyke (calling himself for a while Max Hunter) is the intrepid explorer and adventurer – very much in the mould of Matthew’s role model, the Australian Alby Mangels, a second rate ‘Crocodile Dundee’ character. The crux of all this is summed up in a post-fighting scene when one of the Arabs tells Vandyke; “I send your body home in a posh coffin as a souvenir for your mother”. This is ‘Boys-Own’ talk, and has nothing to do with a serious quest for manhood. Time after time, Curry does not question Van Dyke letting him get away with the self-portrait of a “real man”.

Camera work is uneven, even during the second journey the audience is treated to a impressive travelogue. And nobody mentions that Libya today is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Instead we get the impression of a US version of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ – liberating the Arabs from the front. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 16 JANUARY 2015

Unbroken (2014)

Dir.: Angelina Jolie

Cast: Jack O’Connell, Miyavi, Domhnah Gleeson, Finn Wittrock

USA 2014, 137 min.

After Land of Blood and Honey Angelina Jolie chooses another war theme for her second film as a director: UNBROKEN is the biopic of Louie Zamperini, US long distance runner and celebrated survivor of a Japanese prison camp. In choosing war and sport, the two predominant interests in the American way of life, Jolie secures a wide audience together with her populist approach, assuring the title moderate box office success (at least in the country of origin).

The action opens in WWII when Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) is part of a bomber crew over Japan. Their first outing is succeeds by the skin of its teeth but on their next mission they have to crash-land in the ocean. Apart from Zamperini, only Phil (Gleeson) and Mac (Wittrock) survive. They have to tackle sharks, storms and hunger – in a pool, that has ‘studio’ written all over it . Before they are picked up by a Japanese vessel, we learn in flashbacks some of Zamperini’s life story: a youthful delinquent, he was told by his brothers to toe the line; they showed him how to put his unrest into a career as a long distance runner. He excelled and was on the US team for the Berlin Olympics in 1936, finishing third in the 5000 m race, but running the fastest last lap. This fame seems to work against him in the prison camp, where the commander Takamasha Ishihara (Miyavi), singles Zamperini out to degrade him in front of his fellow prisoners. Since we knew that our hero would live to be 97, little suspense is created.

To read in the end credits that Joel and Ethan Coen have co-scripted this overlong patriotic vehicle, seems absurd. UNBROKEN is the anti-Coen brothers film. Told at a snake’s pace, with lumbering action scenes and sentimental childhood memories of an America long gone (if it ever existed in the first place), this is aesthetically a throw back to Ben Hur, with which it shares some of the religious undertones. Jolie relies on her PD department (and the budget) to save anything worthwhile. Ideologies apart, this is one of the worst hagiographies in film history: every question asked is answered with the most simplistic solution. Jolie leads us back into a time, where men were simply good or bad (no prize for guessing which side wins in UNBROKEN), and their athletic prowess was the only criterion to be considered. In this context, the main leads succeed admirably, and the camera tries its best to recreate the best moments from past films. UNBROKEN is like a stodgy, overcooked and tasteless Christmas dinner and will be served to you ‘warmed through’ from Boxing Day. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM BOXING DAY

 

 

Stingray Sam | Sundance Org | January 22 – February 1 2015

Programme coming soon. Until then we’ll leave you with a treat from the archives

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2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) | Days of Fear and Wonder

Dir.: Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack; UK/USA 1968; 141 min.

Who better to define Science Fiction than Arthur C. Clarke, co-author of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, on whose short story of the same name Kubrick’s film is based: “Science fiction is something that could happen – but usually you wouldn’t want it to. Fantasy is something that couldn’t happen – though often you wish it would”. This rather cautious outlook is also at the heart of Kubrick’s film, which does not engage us with the thrills of conventional Sci-Fi films – neither Clark nor Kubrick could come up with plausible aliens and the film is the better for it – presenting, rather, a visual/philosophical treaty. To start with, 95 of the 141 minutes are without dialogue, dominated by classical music and/or images – the dialogue could have easily been written on the inter-titles used in silent films. Needless to say, there are no statements or solutions just questions about a future, which remains enigmatic and open to all sorts of interpretations in the final images.

The first Homo-Sapiens opens the proceedings: some apes are thrilled by the appearance of a strangely glittering monolith – inspired by his awe. One of them uses a bone as tool, jubilantly throwing it into the air, where it transforms into a spaceship. Part two opens with the discovery that the same monolith has been found on the moon. It transpires that it is sending electronic signals to Jupiter. We witness space flights, as ordinary and routine as rail travel. Part three is set in 2001, when a secret mission is send to Jupiter, to find out if Aliens are responsible for the signals from the moon. There are five astronauts on board of the spaceship; three of them are scientists, kept in coffin-like boxes, put into an artificially induced coma. Commander Bowman (Duella) and his deputy Poole (Lockwood) are keeping an eye on the instruments, but their work-rate is minimal, since the super-computer HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain), who is infallible, is in charge of the journey. When Bowman and Poole find out that HAL is malfunctioning, they huddle in a closet to resolve the matter, but HAL is able to lip read and tries to do away with the whole crew. Firstly he kills the three scientists, then he cuts Poole’s air supply off when he is out in space. Bowman tries to rescue him but HAL sabotages his efforts. The computer than locks the space ship, to leave Bowman in space, but the commander outsmarts him and switches him off, HAL pleading like a human, for his life. After a journey illuminated by whirling colours, Bowman ends up in a flat full of Louis XV furniture, where he quickly grows old and dies. At the foot of his bed stands the monolith like a sentinel.

Music plays a central role in decoding the film: The opening scene is dominated by Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathrustra” (a re-occurring theme of the film; the docking sequences of part two are accompanied by the Johann Strauss’ waltz “An der schönen blauen Donau”; Bowman’s and Poole’s lonely life on board of the spaceship is mournfully underscored by Aran Khatchaturian’s “Gayane’ Ballet Suite and György Ligeti’s Requiem is the leitmotif of the whole film.

Even after 46 years, and without any CGI, the images of A SPACE ODYSSEY are still fresh and do not give away the real age of the film. Kubrick used simple tricks, like the scene with the ballpen in the spaceship, which seems to float, but was in reality only glued to a plate of glass. The images of the astronauts floating in space were achieved with circus equipment and models in real size, filmed against a black background, the camera shooting from the floor upwards. This way, the ropes under the ceiling were hidden by the body of the stuntman; the audience has the illusion, to watch him floating from a sideways position.

Music and visuals are dominating; the underlying philosophical questions, particularly the role of the computer, are very topical and evergreen and overall 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY still feels modern and wonderful to watch. AS

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UK Korean Film Festival 2014 | 6-21 November

A_GIRL_AT_MY_DOOR_2 copyThis year’s Korean Film Festival will focus on the work of maverick filmmaker Kim Ki-duk, who is best known for his controversial titles such as PIETA and MOEBIUS. The UK premiere of his Venice Festival hopeful ONE ON ONE will also screen during the festival. The opening night film: Yoon Jong-bin’s KUNDO: AGE OF THE RAMPANT, is a 19th century ‘Robin Hood’ style Kung-Fu thriller about a militia group of bandits – Kundo – who rise up against their unjust nobility, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.

Cult classics will again feature this year with a selection from the archives under the ‘K Classics’ strand such Ki-young Kim’s shocking melodrama THE HOUSEMAID (1960).

Other films worth watching are Seong-hoon Kims’ A HARD DAY starring Baek Jong-hwan, and July Jung’s A GIRL AT MY DOOR, which was nominated in the Un Certain Regard strand at Cannes this year. THE KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 6-15 IN LONDON AND 16-21 NATIONWIDE. Tickets and schedule available here

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Cold in July | Interview with Jim Mickle | DVD Blu release

Filmuforia talked to Jim Mickle about his 80s-set noir thriller adapted on the novel by Joe R Lansdale:

Matthew Turner (MJT): How did the project come about, first of all?

Jim Mickle (JM): I read the book – I picked it up at a used book store – I’d been a fan of [author Joe R Lansdale]’s – read it in one night and fell in love and thought, ‘I want to make a movie that makes me feel how this book feels, this sense of discovering this crazy mish-mash of genres, dark tough guy characters – I want to make a movie like this’.

CIJ_STILL-438 copy

MJT: I thought the structure of the film was very interesting, in that it starts as one thing, but becomes something else. How much of that is reflected in the book?

JM: Very much. Very, very, very much. We did it in slightly different ways – at times we had to do a slower transition between things or at times do a more abrupt transition, but it was very much that in the book – that was what I fell in love with, I kept hitting moments where you sort of settle into a story. You realise how interactive watching a movie is, in a way, or reading a book – any kind of receiving a story – when you start to settle into something and think, ‘Great, you know, this is cool, this is Cape Fear, sort of revenge thing, cat and mouse, great, I’m into that!’ And then as soon as that shifts into something else, it just sort of changes all expectations. You realise how lazy I think we are as audience members, because you have expectations and you want things to meet those expectations and when something doesn’t or it shifts it becomes this really challenging experience. But I just loved it and that was something we wanted to carry over into a film.

MJT: Are you worried about film reviewers spoiling too much of it?

JM: Yeah. Yeah. I think there’s a way to talk about it that’s sort of like that, you know, that it starts off as Cape Fear and then becomes two or three other films by the time it stops. I like that, in any reviews I read of any movie, I usually read the first part and then skip the synopsis and go to the end, to sort of see what’s going on. So I hope people stick with that, but for the most part, people have been pretty good about being coy about what they talk about. Except the New York Times- the New York Times gave us this shit review that was just – all they did was just summarise the entire movie, plot point for plot point! It was like, ‘How lazy can you be?’ And then offered no opinion about the movie whatsoever. It was like, ‘Great. So you basically just printed a list of spoilers and called it a review of our movie’. So that can be frustrating, you know.

MJT: This is a hell of a role for Don Johnson. Was that all on the page? How much did he bring to it?

JM: The energy of the character was on the page, much of his dialogue was on the page. Much of it was in the book. We transcribed some of that, or tried to find ways to paraphrase stuff, obviously. And he’s a very talkative character, which doesn’t always work in movies, so we had to pare that down. He added a lot on top of that, so there was a lot where he sort of got into that mode. He improvised a lot and I think that was really strong for comedy – I think when that stuff feels natural and not forced it’s good, so we let him improvise a lot. Some of my favourite stuff in there is him, you know, that line about, ‘I need a goddamn drink, I haven’t even had my coffee yet’. Little asides and stuff like that were all Don. That bit with the old phone – we sort of gave him the phone and said ‘Go’ and he came up with all that stuff, so yeah. It was sort of like, once you have him, you sort of need to capture that larger than life persona and not try to keep it in a box.

CIJ_STILL-400-2 copyMJT: How did the cast all get involved? And did you have them in mind for the parts?

JM: No, not at all. I try not to write stuff or be thinking of stuff with certain people in mind, because you fall in love with stuff too easily. I think it’s better to get the script exactly where it needs to be and then start to think, ‘Alright, who could facilitate the script’ rather than – my writing partner Nick a lot of times will think of people and I think that paints you into corners a lot of times. So, no, I always sort of had this idea of sort of like a Texas Everyman, I kept describing him as like McConaughey in Frailty, like a 35 year old, sort of [blue collar worker], could work as a trucker, could work in a field, who knows where. So [Michael C. Hall] we met at a party in Sundance and at that point he had read the script and really liked the script. So we talked about it at Sundance and I had always pictured – I had always had a hard time accepting Dexter, because I always thought of [Michael] as his Six Feet Under character, so it took a while to really buy that and I thought, ‘I’ll never accept him as this guy!’ And the reality was just the opposite – I think he was highly qualified to play an Everyman because he had spent his entire life playing these dark characters with a lot going on. He got to finally play somebody that was very normal. So we met him at Sundance, sort of fell in love there and then the movie, I think we came to the Cannes Film Festival last year, financing happened, we landed in New York the next day, sent the script to [Sam Shepard] and Don and both of them signed on very quickly after that. After years of having a very hard time finding money and actors who would even read it, all of a sudden it was instantly – everything kind of fell into place.

MJT: Did you encourage the actors to read the book?

JM: I did, yes. I did and then I realised it was probably not the greatest idea, because there are a lot of things where we zig left where the book zagged right. And so I think [Vinessa Shaw] read the whole thing, which is great, because I think she was able to – we had to really pare her character down, which sucked, because her character’s a big part of the book and a big part of the journey they go on. And in order to keep it focused on Michael and to really make it a two hour movie instead of a four hour movie, we really pared it down to more his story, but what was great is I think she read it and really got a sense of who her character was and fill in a lot of the gaps and stuff, so that was really great. Don and Sam did not – I remember Don saying, rightly so, that the book is not the script and the script is not the movie and the movie isn’t the movie until you edit it, which I think is very true. And so he was very careful to make sure that he wasn’t – I think it’s easy to say, ‘Well, in the book, this happens!’, you know, and he would say, rightly so – but that’s not reflected in the movie and so it can be very hard to remember what’s what.

MJT: Johnson’s having this kind of amazing late career resurgence that reminds me a bit of William Shatner, making these kind of iconic appearances. How conscious of that was he?

JM: Good question. He has a very strong sense of self and a very strong sense of who his audience is, who his demographic is. He has a very clear, very accurate idea of how he comes off, which is really great.

[Digi-recorder fault meant that interview cut out at that point. Spotted it a few minutes later and resumed].

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MJT: Did you cut anything out that you were sorry to lose?

JM: There was. In the book, there was Vinessa’s character that I was – there was a really strong sense of the husband / wife journey that happened in that book that we really had to boil down to Michael’s sort of discovery as a man. That, I was sorry to see go, but I don’t think it would have worked in the movie. There’s a lot of scenes with Jim-Bob in the book, he gets introduced in a much different way and he comes in earlier, he’s involved in the digging of the grave scene and that kind of stuff, that was great. Miss a lot of that stuff. There’s about twenty minutes of deleted scenes that will be on the DVD and they’re all great scenes but as much as I love them, there’s always a reason why stuff gets cut. So we just watched some of them to do a commentary on them and as I watched, I thought, ‘It’s so funny that anyone ever thought this needed to be in the movie’, but in almost every case, there were scenes that were like, ‘We can not cut that out of the movie, it needs to be there!’ I just find that interesting, that the things that get cut are the things that, usually, on the page, are the things you think you need the most.

MJT: What was the hardest thing to get right, overall?

JM: Good question. I think the rhythms, because even if something works and has a certain energy and pace and rhythm in the book and even though when they work in a script, once you get to the actual movie experience, there is a different way to ingest that. And so that was something that was constantly being shaped the entire time, you know, how long do you spend here, how quickly do you move through things. And it took a long time of back and forth with a lot of test audiences to really get a sense of when there was too much of something. And I still see people that feel like there’s too much of something and not enough of something else, but that is a tough thing. It’s really hard to stay objective to that when you’re editing something and something you know for that long. So that was always a tough thing.

MJT: Had you seen Blue Ruin? I noticed its director [Jeremy Saulnier] had a thank you in the credits.

JM: Yeah. I love that movie. And Jeremy was there at our first screening. He read the script and gave some really great notes at the script stage and then he came and watched the first cut and I just remember him being like, you know, ‘Take a deep breath – it’s going to get there. This movie isn’t it,  but take a deep breath, it’s going to get there.’ We had met on our first movies in 2007, we were at South By Southwest and we kept bumping into each other at festivals with Murder Party and Mulberry St and then last year, We Are What We Are played Director’s Fortnight with Blue Ruin and we sort of rekindled and met back up. He was very helpful and I think we’re a little bit of a support group for each other in many ways.

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MJT: What makes Texas so perfect for Texan Noir? And why are we seeing the rise of it now?

JM: Well, I think it always was there, I mean, I think there’s a lot of – I mean, even like Jim Thompson’s stuff and Cormac McCarthy is a little bit further east of there, but I think there always was that and I think there’s a sense of nostalgia in America, probably that dates to the cowboys, old west sort of vibe that I think a lot of people link to Texas, even though it was happening in a lot of other places. I think there’s still a strong connection to that and I think there is a lot of leftover nostalgia for those kinds of stories and that sense of morality. I think that happens a lot. And I think there’s a big sense of pride in Texas, both self-pride – I’m always amazed that everyone from Texas has a great sense of self-confidence, in a very cool way. And also a confidence and a pride in their state and I think that makes for strong-willed people and strong-willed characters and I think they’re always interesting, when you put them into these kinds of stories. I think there’s a great sense of lawlessness there that, in society, sucks – in society, Texas is like the state that keeps popping up and causing problems and you keep sort of having to [give them a] smack on the head and keep them in line. But in movies, that’s great, that’s a great character to have. It’s very open, it’s gigantic, there’s a million different areas of it, you know, you have the dusty plains of the west and you have the more sort of Bayou country pine tree green luscious spot like East Texas, where our movie is set, so there’s a lot of interesting thematic stuff and then visually, I think it’s just great. You know, Paris, Texas, Sam Shepard, when you need a story about a guy who’s lost in this open world, you go there.

MJT: That was a happy coincidence, casting Shepard, then?

JM: Yeah, it was, it was. Because originally I had always thought of Cold in July as a sort of 1989 western set in the suburbs, so I would always listen to the Paris, Texas soundtrack, Ry Cooder’s steel guitar, I would always listen to that soundtrack every time I’d read the script and just try to dive back into it, get into the head of it and then it’s one of those happy evolutions is, you know, we ended up being nowhere near that, musically, at the end of the day.

MJT: Do you have a favourite Texan noir movie?

Blood Simple. (1984)

JM: Blood Simple.

MJT: What’s your next project?

JM: We’re doing a TV show called Hap and Leonard, which is a continuation of Cold in July in some ways. Joe R. Lansdale, who wrote that novel, it’s a book series he has of two bumbling idiots who crime-solve in the late 80s in East Texas. So we’re working on that right now and there’s two films that I’m working on right now, one a much bigger film and one that’s sort of a quieter, subtler, sort of Hitchcockian thing. Trying to have a couple of different things out there and see what works first, as opposed to what we did with Cold in July, which was fall in love with one idea and fall into depression when we thought it wasn’t going to work.

MJT: Does that mean you’re sort of moving away from horror movies?

JM: I don’t know ‘moving away’ – I don’t have a strong ability to structure things from the outside, you know? So it’s been now a matter of reading a lot of scripts, reading a lot of books, trying to develop my own stuff and with Nick and it’s really hard to control that. So I’ve been responding to just the best material, whether it’s horror or science-fiction or action or whatever. It’s been really focussing on that and also, I think, being in a weird spot where we’ve done – we’re getting a great release here in the UK with Cold in July, which I’m so thankful for and so thankful to Icon for. And in the US we’ve had a great release, but the whole model of distribution there is changing so much, so we came out Memorial Day weekend, against X-Men, you know, and we came out with zero advertising, on a couple of screens. And that was the movie I thought was going to be sort of our breakout film, it was really going to make some noise. So it’s been like a little bit of an existential thing of, like, what do independent filmmakers do anymore? How do you get stuff out there? Part of that is a move towards television, I think, because that’s a place where you can do things that don’t have to be laden with superheroes in order to make it connect with an audience. But it’s tough, it’s really tough, because I think if you do horror, everyone wants it to be really, really cheap horror, so they can turn it around and make gangbuster dollars – you know, unless it’s Paranormal Activity, it’s not successful. And so I feel like every couple of years, when we start to do the rounds with talking to studios or Hollywood executives, it’s always, ‘It’s very much ‘The Conjuring’, that’s what anyone says that just means, ‘Some people go into a house and some supernatural shit happens’, that’s code for that. It used to be, ‘It’s Paranormal Activity-inspired’, which was everyone’s way of saying it’s found footage. So I think in horror, it’s really hard to do anything different, it’s really hard to do anything that’s challenging in any way. There used to be a little more receptiveness, I think to financiers who were willing to back something like that and I think now we have a lot of ideas of things that we want to do like that, but you need a lot of money to do it, and then once you start talking about that, then you shift very quickly out of those movies and fall into fifty million dollar plus summer blockbusters that have to be remakes or sequels or based on previous intellectual property and that sort of thing. So it’s trying to find what’s going to succeed, what’s going to feel like, yes, it was worth spending two years slaving on this, what’s going to feel sustainable and I don’t know what’s sustainable right now in movies other than television.

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COLD IN JULY IS OUT NOW ON DVD, BLU-ray AND ON DEMAND

Half of a Yellow Sun (2013) -DVD

Dir.: Biyi Bandele

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Joseph Mawle

Nigeria/UK 2013, 111 min.

Olanna (Newton) and her twin sister Kainene (Rose) celebrate Nigeria’s independence in October 1960 with their upper-class parents and a future minster of the government. They are expected by their parents to thrive in the new elite, but whilst Kainene stays with the family clan, British educated Olanna moves with her boyfriend Odenigbo (Ejiofor), a radical academic in the eastern city of Nsukka. Kainene falls in love with the British journalist Richard (Mawle). For all his revolutionary talk, Odenigbo is very much in thrall of his mother, who calls Olanna a witch and manipulates her maid into seducing her son while he’s drunk.  Olanna, who beds Richard as revenge for this unfaithfulness, later forgives her boyfriend and  adopts the baby resulting from Odenigbo’s one-night stand finally gaining the respect of her future mother-in-law. These domestic scenes have a soapy quality to them that feel at odds with the overall political context of the piece, and the ensuing shift to high melodrama when the couple’s wedding is interrupted by an air raid on the outbreak of civil war (which started in 1967) feels over-sensationalised compared with what has gone before, despite the intensity of feelings, which were understanding running high at the time. We are unprepared for this sudden shift in tone, which feels overly dramatic given the low-key amorous jostling and domestic ups and downs of the first half of this debut feature.

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That said, Bandele is clearly at pains to reflect the fervour of the Igbo nation, that, feeling threatened by the central government in Lagos, eventually rises up to become the independent Republic of Biafra. During an extremely bitter, three-year war Olanna and her husband are forced to flee more than once from the advancing troops of the central government. In the last months of the war the sisters are reunited, but Kainene, who helps to run a refuge camp with her husband, is lost in the chaos of atrocities.

This is playwright Bandele’s screen debut. He has worked with the Royal Court and the RSC, and although he creates an intense melodrama reflecting the bitter feelings generating by colonialism set against the relationship of the two couples: Bandele seems to side with Kainene, who argues that the civil war is not a direct result of colonial repression, but a war of resources. But it is harrowing to see how helpless these people are in their individual ways: their education and intellect in creating a civilised society, negated and brushed aside by forces beyond their control. They belong viscerally to the Igbo nation yet intellectually to the past – the war has obliterated this past and everything everything that once had meaning. It is ironic to hear the voice of Biafra’s leader Odumegwu Ojukwu, an Oxford graduate, asking for “a fight to the last man” – just as many educated white men before and after him.

Thandie Newton dominates HALF OF A YELLOW SUN, somehow playing the rest of the quartet into the background. Her Olanna is the driving factor of the narrative, carrying it mesmerizingly forward. Whilst the action scenes are sufficiently brutal, they do not overshadow the political implications: this is not a simple anti-war film, but one that argues from a reasoning, as well as emotional perspective. The camera is not always as innovative as possible, but overall the film gives enough startling images, reflecting the vibrant landscape and creating a palpable sense of place and ample food for thought without degenerating into a didactic, sterile thesis.

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Now on DVD

 

 

 

Pioneer (2013) -DVD

2001408_Pioner_still_1189-240912-PIONER-FrilandFilm-Foto-ErikAavatsmark_nor_print copyDirector: Erik Skoldbjaerg

Writer: Nikolaj Frobenius and others

Cast: Wes Bentley, Stephen Lang, Aksel Hennie, Jonathan LaPaglia, Jorgen Langhelle, Andre Eriksen

111 min  Thriller  Norway

Erik Skoldbjaerg – best known for Insomnia (1997) delves back into Norwegian history here with a tense thriller that accurately reflects the gritty social realism of the seventies oil scene. Based on a conspiracy theory of sorts surrounding the American research projects that part-funded Norwegian upstream crude oil pipelines back in 1981, the action centres around three diving engineers working under pressure (both time-wise and in a tank) to prepare for construction to begin. They are brothers Petter (Aksel Hennie), Knut (Andre Eriksen) and colleague Jorgen (David Jorgensen). Tragically one of them will not emerge to tell the tale and the land-based team deny any responsibility on their part, implicating Jorgen who (conveniently) has a history of seizures. It is left to Petter to investigate his brother’s death and support the family while in a state of deep mourning. What emerges from his findings is that Jorgen’s illness stems from faulty gas supplies provided by (none other than) the Americans, but can he prove this? In a masterful and gripping performance, Aksel Hennie pits his wits against the weight of pressure from the American team and the slightly stiff handling of the narrative. At times confusingly teetering between Petter’s understandable mental instability and his increasingly distorted view of events. Pioneer cleverly explores the political conspiracy theory at work in this dour and suspenseful thriller that takes it time to convince but manages to surface in the end. MT

On DVD

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Branded to Kill (1967) Koroshi no Rakuin

Director: Seijun Suzuki

Cast: Jo Shishido, Anne Mari, Mariko Ogawa, Koji Nanbara

Japan, 1967, 98 min.

Born in 1923, Suzuki, albeit a B-picture director, has found a great following in Europe particularly in Italy, where he has had two retrospectives. The man who said he could edit a film in one day (and shoot five a year, as he did in 1960), was fired from the “Nikkatsu” studio in 1967, after he delivered BRANDED TO KILL, having been told to “make something more conventional” after the wild excesses of TOKYO DRIFTER (1966). BRANDED TO KILL was anything but conventional, and the studio fired him. Whilst his followers (among them Nagisa Oshima) protested and organised screenings of Suzukis films, the studio “confiscated” his films. Suzuki later went to court and won, but he was blacklisted for ten years and could only work for TV. In 1977 he returned to his still prolific cinema output.
BRANDED TO KILL is the story of Hanada (Shishido), who is ‘Number Three’ in the Japanese hierarchy of professional killers. This being upwardly-mobile Japan, Hanada wishes nothing more than to become the ‘Number One’, and when he is approached by the mysterious, beautiful Miskao (Mari), with a kill-or-be-killed contract, he is only too happy to oblige. But when he misses his target, because a butterfly nestles on his gun site, Misako orders Hanadas wife Mami (Koji Nanbara), to kill her husband. But somehow Hanada gets there first, killing his wife and then meeting the mysterious ‘Number One’ killer, who challenges him to a duel for the top spot. When they take a break from plotting to kill each other, the two are bound literally together: eating, sleeping, etc. After he learns that No. 1 has killed Misako, Hanada is looking forward even more to the duel in a boxing ring, when Misako, on crutches, but very much alive appears…..

The wonderful monochrome scope photography alone is enough to fall in love with this film (never mind the narrative), using light and shadow, as in the best American noir-pictures. The jazz music background reminds of Malle’s Lift to the Scaffold, and some of he philosophical exchanges between husband and wife (“We are both beasts, and will die together as beasts”) are existential Antonioni. The original re-framing of conventional shots (due to lack of budget and time) remind of the young Godard. The action scenes are surrealistic absurd (Jarmusch used them later for “Ghost Dog”). Everything about BRANDED TO KILL is eclectic, not on purpose, but equally by choice and chance. Luckily for us, in spite of his ban, Suzuki returned to his old form in the 80s, shooting Pistol Opera in 2001, a sequel to BRANDED TO KILL.

IN SELECT CINEMAS- 25th JULY 2014

DUAL-FORMAT RELEASE BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE – 28th JULY 2014

The Driver (1978) – blu-ray release

dri1978_co_tra_007 copyDirector/Writer: Walter Hill

Cast: Bruce Dern, Ryan O’Neal, Matt Clark, Ronee Blakley, Isabelle Adjani

91min  Thriller  US

Marked by its taut minimalism and sombre tone, this tightly-plotted action thriller is the second feature of writer turned director Walter Hill, and recently inspired Nicolas Winding Refn’s hit Drive.  Essentially a two-hander (Isabelle Adjani also appears as the sexily aloof femme fatale in a show-stopping black rig-out), it has Bruce Dern as a cop determined to outwit the skills of champion getaway driver Ryan O’Neal. A series of masterful car chases offers some of the most exciting footage ever committed to film and showcases Hill’s uncanny ability to compose superb action-sequences while engineering a narrative fraught with inventive double-crossing and protags who consistently ignore danger in their psychopathic quest to outwit one another. Shot through with a neon-hued aesthetic and performances as slick and deadly as sharpened steel, this is a must-have blu-ray to update your 70s collection. MT

NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY FROM 14 JULY 2014

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Lone Survivor (2014) DVD/Blu

Director/Writer: Peter Berg

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Yousuf Azami, Ali Suliman, Eric Bana, Alexander Ludwig

121min   Action Drama    US

Inspired by the novel by Marcus Luttrell

Peter Berg’s  hard-hitting Afghanistan drama, LONE SURVIVOR,  is based on the true story of Navy SEAL,  Marcus Luttrell.  In 2005, he was the sole survivor of Operation Red Wings when 20 soldiers were killed in a mission to take out a Taliban leader. If you’re wondering whether you need to see another film based on this intractable conflict, the answer is resoundingly – Yes. Apart from being set in some of the World’s most captivating mountain scenery (Afghanistan’s Kunar Province); it also has some of the most technically skilful fight sequences that have ever been filmed.  And after his rather glib outings in 2 Guns, Pain + Gain and Broken City, Mark Wahlberg’s performance as Marcus Luttrell’s evokes his inherent moral decency and integrity as a soldier, making it a moving portrait of camaraderie and courage in battle.

The story opens as the Navy SEALs are being put through their paces on the training ground, where they are encouraged to be aggressive, pugnacious and above all, to win.  Arriving in the mountain location, dialogue stuffed full of cheesy male bonding chat about wives and kids back home and the usual war-mongering cant along the lions of ‘America is great’, soon subsides when a chance meeting with a shepherd leads to their wooded hideout being uncovered, leaving them exposed to high-skilled local guerrillas in a Taliban stronghold.

Lone Survivor is a brutal body-blow of a film with some devastating gun and aerial battle scenes.  Subtle and moving performances from Mark Wahlberg (as Mark Luttrell) and Ben Foster (as Matthew “Axe” Axelson) also make this an immersive account of real-life warfare which engages our sympathies, while keeping us on the edge of our seats – some scenes are gruesomely difficult to watch.

LONE SURVIVOR shows how the might of the American War Machine is not a match for the deftness, skill and local knowledge of the Taliban fighters. And despite their high-level military strategising, this makes the American forces look embarrassingly inadequate, using a mallet to crack a pine-nut.

Berg’s screenplay here is far and way superior to previous outings Battleship and Lions for Lambs,possibly because in being inspired to rise to the challenge of committing the glory and ultimate sacrifice of these courageous men to perpetuity on celluloid, he speaks from the heart.  There are digs at the American government on military funding and the subject of budget cuts and lack thereof.  As war movies go, LONE SURVIVOR is a meaningful film that deserves attention. MT

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Road (2014)

Dir.: Michael Hewitt, Dermot Lavery

Documentary, narrated by Liam Neeson

UK/Ireland 2014, 102 min.

ROAD is a documentary about successful – but tragic – Northern Irish motorcycle racer brothers Joey and Robert Dunlop and Robert’s sons William and Michael, who are following in the footsteps of their father and uncle, both killed in their late forties whilst racing.

Narrated by Liam Neeson, this production is faithful to the events and the intricacies of this intrepid sport, but leaves too many questions unanswered. Joey (1952-2000) was eight years older than his brother Robert, who quite obviously hero-worshiped his older brother, who, was a five-times TT Formula One World champion and celebrity in Northern Ireland. The brothers grew up in Ballymoney, County Antrim, where road racing was very popular. Seeing the rather doleful landscape, the popularity of this dangerous sport seems obvious: racing on a motor cycle at 200 miles an hour makes you forget everything, the effect is much more powerful than a drug, and one understands somehow why the brothers continued racing into late middle age; whilst motor cycling, like most sports, is the prerogative of the young man.

The images of the landscape flying by – the camera fixed to the helmet of the driver – are intoxicating, but the danger is clearly underlined when one of the drivers crashes violently, and the screen suddenly turns black. This imminent danger of death has to be overcome by every driver, not only for the races themselves, but the countless practice runs (Robert Dunlop was killed during practice for the 2008 North West 200 Race). It takes a very special person to handle this pressure, particularly when racing for nearly three decades, as Joey and Robert Dunlop did.

In its reluctance to research anything substantive about the brothers, or at least trying to, lays the fundamental weakness of this film. We learn nothing about the society in which the Dunlop’s lived: politics, culture and religion are never mentioned. Considering the continuous tensions in Northern Ireland this is a stark omission. Family life is hardly mentioned, only in passing, and when related to the racing activities. But it is obvious, that the women of the clan had to bear the burden of the upheaval of racing and deaths. Whilst even Joey and Robert talk about their “selfishness” – the sport taking them away from their families – but the filmmakers never question this side of the biography. In concentrating nearly exclusively on their sporting achievements, they short-change the brothers and their sons. Whilst we see Michael and William forcefully getting into the starting line of the 2008 North West Race, only days after their father Robert was killed (they were both banned because of their emotional state, Michael would eventually win this race), we hear hardly anything about their feelings. And Joey’s charity work for Romanian orphans in the 80ies and 90ies, for which he was awarded the OBE in 1996, is mentioned like a footnote. But, we ask ourselves, why did he undertake these expeditions alone – again, why did he leave his family behind, why was he such a loner? The way the film is structured, we conclude that the Dunlop’s are either heroes or suicidal maniacs – both of which they are obviously not. Simply too much is left out for us to make up our minds – a shame, because they deserve that we know more about their tortured souls. AS

ROAD IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6TH JUNE 2014

 

 

Beyond the Edge (2014)

Director: Leanne Pooley

Writers; Leanne Pooley and Matthew Metcalfe

Cast: Chad Moffitt, Sonam Sherpa, John Wraight, Daniel Musgrove

100min   Documentary

If you’ve ever wanted to climb Mount Everest, Leanne Pooley’s documentary is a chance to experience at first hand the thrill and danger that many have gone through to conquer the summit since that first fatal attempt back in 1924.  Re-enacting the incredible journey to the top, using a skilful blend of archival footage and interviews, Pooley frames her documentary in its historical post-war context, recreating the world as it was sixties years ago, with a well-thought out introduction to the backgrounds and personalities of the individual climbers and the equipment used in the expedition organised by leader, Colonel John Hunt.

We all know that New-Zealander and Bee-keeper, Sir Edmund Hillary and sherpa, Tenzing Norgay were the first men to stand on the summit (the iconic image is of Tenzing), but this documentary shows how it happened and sheds light on the particular conditions prevailing at the time. One of the strengths here is the lack of narration other than the words of the expedition team. Using actors (with climbing training) to portray the real-life mountaineers and rarely seen footage amassed from archival interviews and photos, the doc takes us, step by step, as Hillary and Tenzing battle upwards conveying their numerous setbacks. Illustrating their strength of personality and extraordinary motivation to form a successful team, it shows how not only as climbers but also as men, these two remarkable people stood out from the crowd and persevered on an almost impossible mission.

In user-friendly 3D technology, (incorporating 16mm colour footage and 35mm stills) the dazzling camera-shots lean over dangerous precipices, killer ravines and terrifying crevices to share the mind-blowing experience of these fearless men. Climbing gear has an authentic feel and Pooley explains the science and practicalities of mountaineering and human endurance. She also explores the human psyche with universal appeal in this brave doc that flags up Hilary’s legendary words: “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” MT

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BEYOND THE EDGE IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 23 MAY 2014

A Touch of Sin (2013) Bfi Player

Writer/Director: Jia Zhangke | Cast: Zhao Tao, Jiang Wu, Wang Baoqian, Luo Lanshan | 133’  | Drama | Mandarin/Cantonese/English

A TOUCH OF SIN has more than a touch of anger and a sneering contempt for modern China’s moral bankruptcy brought on by rapid urbanisation. More visually stylish than the director’s naturalist forerunners, and more appealing to Western audiences, this eventful wuxia road movie threads together four real stories from the pages of the contemporary Chinese press. Vibrant and glistening with vehemence for the splashy affluence of contemporary China, it satirises a country where donkeys, oxen and even tigers now jostle with migrants, Western cars and state of the art modernity.

The story opens in the Northern agricultural province of Shanxi, where a simple man called Dahai, (Jiang) is understandably put out by the sudden opulent wealth and new-found kudos of the town’s mayor – who has recently trousered profits from the sale of a local coal mine. This unleashes an angry backlash of brutality that runs from North to South, expressed by ordinary people smarting from the rape of their country: a migrant worker coming home for New Year; a receptionist at a sauna who is attacked by a rich client; a factory worker who finds himself out of work. Representing the decent values of traditional China, this army of resentment fights a losing battle against the inexorable march of capitalism in modern China. MT

A TOUCH OF SIN IS NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD

 

 

Traffic Department (2013) Drogowka Kinoteka 2014

TRAFFIC DEPARTMENT (DROGóWKA)

Dir.: Wojiech Smarzowski

Cast: Bartlomiej Topa, Julia Kijowska, Izabel Kuna, Marcin Dorocinski

Poland 2013, 118 min..

Wojiech Smarzowski (The Dark House) is arguably the most sought after director in contemporary Poland. TRAFFIC DEPARTMENT  feels like a Polish version of ‘The Wire’, surging forward at a breathless tempo. Bartlomiej Topa plays Ryszard Krol, one of seven friends who serve as traffic cops in Warsaw’s police force. They take bribes, have sex whenever possible and never seem to sleep. Krol is having a steamy affair with his colleague Madecka (Julia Kijowska), but when he finds out by accidence, that his wife is having her own extramarital affair with his friend and colleague Lisowski (Marcin Dorocinski), he goes berserk. After a drunken bender, he ends up in a brothel where he looses consciousness. He wakes up the next morning beaten-up in his car, Lisowski has been murdered during the night and traces of his blood are  found in Krol’s car by the police, during routine inquiries.

Krol and his corrupt officer friends race through the action, even before Krol is forced on the run, the narrative feels frenzied and venal. This is a hard-edged thriller and we are not spared gruesome details of traffic accidents; visits to sordid, but expensive brothels, in contrast to the squalid flats occupied by the officers and their families – not an excuse, but perhaps a reason for their immoral earnings. In spite of the serious tone – contemporary Poland is shown as an ugly cess pit – the director always finds a way for subversive, dark humour: when officer Petrycki, who is always getting freebees from whores, is getting a blow-job in the back of a car driven by Krol, the latter has to brake sharply to avoid running over a group of nuns on a zebra crossing, causing the prostitute to take a mighty bite out of Petrycki’s organ, landing him in the nearest A&E.

Whilst the camera excels in the dominating action sequences, we are drip-fed with little details, that explain the motives of main characters. The light is diffuse at daytime, but most of the film is shot at dusk and dawn, giving the film a noirish element. Editing leaves us with very few calm moments, only when interacting with his football mad son, Krol seems to take a breather. Traffic Department is a butch thriller with muscular, spontaneous performances from all concerned; even the women. It does look like Smarzowski used mostly first takes, adding an authentic feel. Whilst not re-inventing the “wrong man” scenario, Smarzowksi has shown enough bravado to put his own stamp on the genre. AS

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SCREENING DURING KINOTEKA 2014 AT VARIOUS VENUES IN LONDON 25 APRIL UNTIL 30 MAY 2014

Easy Money II Hard to Kill (2014) DVD/Blu

Director: Babak Najafi

Writer: Maria Karlsson  From the novel by Jens Lapidus

Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Matias Varela, Dragomir Mrsic, Fares Fares, Madeleine Martin, Dejan Cukic, Joel Spira

99min   Sweden   Crime Thriller

The first part of Daniel Espinosa’s catchily titled Snabba Cash (Easy Money) throbs with brutal energy from its impressive opening sequence to the bitter end.  The Swedish-based crime thriller (from the book by Jens Lapidus), put him on the map and launched the big screen career of Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman. Some of the original cast join helmer Babak Najafi’s sequel that elaborates the story, cuts the running time,  but loses some of the original’s stylish edgy velocity.

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In EASY MONEY I, business student turned coke smuggler, JW, (Kinnaman) was heading for jail after a drug conviction. Three years later he’s institutionalised with the crippled Mrado, (shot in the closing moments) whose relationship with his little girl seems increasingly dreamlike.  During the time inside, the two crims have buried the hatchet and formed a strong bond. In a bid to return to an honest living, Joel has developed trading software, attracting potential investors. Mahmoud (Fares Fares) is in debt to Serbian gang leader Radovan (Dejan Cukic), while Jorge (Matias Varela), also involved with Radovan, is working another potentially lucrative drugs deal worth 10 million.  The love interest this time around switches from JW’s posh Swedish blond, Sophie (Lisa Henni) who’s given him the boot, to Jorge’s budding crush with one of Radovan’s prostitutes Nadja (Madeleine Martin). And when JW discovers that his well-healed ex-colleague and poker partner Nippe (Joel Spira) has stolen his software idea, a recidivist life with Mrado seems to be the only thing now on the cards.

In the hands on Babak Nataji, this thickly-plotted second part (there’s a third coming up) is less believable and more given over to happenstance and stylised melodrama (a car crash that traps the booty in the boot, conspiring crims fetching up in adjacent locations); but also highly immersive in its exploration of Stockholm’s inter-racial underworld.

Nataji keeps the balls in the air and us on our toes reading the English subtitles and following the blood-soaked turmoil as it twists and turns towards tragedy. Joel Kinnaman makes a convincing felon, retaining a scintilla of class in his steel-blue eyes, but Mrdo’s switch to back to psychopath-mode (in the closing moments) feels rather too facile. The rest of the cast are suitably vicious and Madeleine Martin’s turn as Nadja is fearlessly feisty. Ultimately this is a study in one man’s final descent into Hell after crossing a landscape of petty criminality.  In Part II, JW goes from being a decent guy on the margins of society to fully-fledged bad boy in a treacherous snake-pit of venality. Will he redeem himself in the final part of the trilogy? From the look of his eyes in the showdown with Sophie, all bets are on. MT

EASY MONEY: HARD TO KILL IS NOW ON DVD/BLU-RAY and iTunes

EASY MONEY III: LIFE DELUXE is coming soon.

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Orca – The Killer Whale (1977) DVD

CHARLOTTE copyDirector: Michael Anderson  Writer: Luciano Vincenzoni  Producer: Dino Di Laurentis

Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Richard Harris, Bo Derek, Will Sampson, Keenan Wynn

88min  US  Adventure Thriller    Soundtrack: Ennio Morricone

The phenomenal success of seventies ‘natural horror’ hit JAWS led to a proliferation of visceral monster movies and one of the most popular was Dino Di Laurentis’s 1977 outing ORCA, based on the book by Arthur Herzog.

Packed with goodies such as Charlotte Rampling, Richard Harris and Bo Derek, there’s even an edgy soundtrack from Ennio Morricone (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly).

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In a lecture theatre, a smouldering and commanding Charlotte Rampling tells us how a killer whale’s brain is possibly more complex than a human’s: it also shares a penchant for revenge.  With these frightening facts in mind, Richard Harris (as Captain Nolan) sets off in his rickety boat to do battle with the mighty beast whose pregnant mate he has earlier butchered for fun. Today, animals rights activists would be up in arms but anyone who likes animals will cringe and shudder in pain as Harris literally hoses the dead whale fetus off his decks, amid ferocious squealing – and that’s just from fresh-faced boat-mate Bo Derek, who injures a leg in the incident. Despite a stiff warning from American Indian, Umlak (Will Sampson/Poltergeist) Richard Harris and his team (including la Rampling) is forced to pursue the revenge story to a bitter, tragic and totally ludicrous end.  MT

NOW OUT ON DVD FROM 14 APRIL 2014

 

War (2002) Voyna Alexsei Balabanov Series

Director/Writer: Aleksei Balabanov

Cast: Sergei Chadov, Ian Kelly, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Sergei Bodrov, Giorgi Gurgalia,  Evklid Kyurdzidis

120min   Russian with English subtitles   Drama

There is an upbeat cynicism to Aleksei Balabanov’s tale of Chechen gangsters that feels bracingly authentic and unashamedly pragmatic. Tightly-plotted yet unpredictable, the story unfolds from the interrogation cell of Ivan Yermakov (Sergei Chadov), a Russian soldier who has returned from a mission to release English and Russian hostages taken by Chechen rebels in the aftermath of the fall of Grozny in 2000.

Amongst the captives is John Boyle (Ian Kelly), an effete, almost comical, whingeing British actor (think a ginger John Cleese), who has been touring with a Shakespeare play and his girlfriend Margaret (a fabulously stoical Ingeborga Dapkunallit); Russian, Captain Medvedev (Sergei Bodrov) and a Jewish businessman.

After the ritual decapitation of an unnamed Russian soldier (to cries of “Allah Akhbar” and actual audio footage from a  internet video), the hostages are finally taken away and holed up in a remote mountain enclave.  But the gangster leader, Aslan Gugayev (a fiercely convincing Giorgi Gurgulia), wants money from the West and so releases John, sending him off to London to raise the ransom of £2 million. Failure will result in Margaret’s death although once in Whitehall, John predictably draws a blank with the ‘powers that be’, both Russian and British. Then an executive from Channel 4 offers to put up £200K  in return for John’s video footage of the mission. A further £400k comes from John’s own coffers.

Sergei Chadov’s debut is a quietly stunning portrayal of Sergeant Ivan: canny, sardonic and impeccably organised with a cigarette rarely out of his mouth, he leaves a grim postwar future in his home town of Tobolsk, but his decision to accompany John back to Chechnya is swayed more by a sense of national duty to Captain Ruslan and his family than the prospect of being compensated for his efforts by a slice of John’s cash. And although John appears weak and ineffectual, when the chips are down he makes a wise choice in hiring the honest and reliable Ivan, who emerges a figure worthy of national pride and heroism. Through shrewd decision-making and gung-ho aplomb, the pair make their way back via Vladikavkaz (for equipment), later enlisting the help of Chechen shepherd Ruslan (Evklid Kyurdzidis), a rival of Aslan’s tribe, who is kept under the cosh by Ivan but whose knowledge of Chechen mores proves invaluable on their final leg of the journey back to the Chechen camp to do business with the gangster rebels.

Dark humour seeps through the stark realism of this satisfying story; well-told, brilliantly put together and easy to follow in its straightforward narrative structure. The only sadness is that Aleksei Balabanov won’t be telling anymore stories from the rich and eventful history of his native Russia. MT

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WAR IS PART OF THE ALEKSEI BALABANOV SERIES AT THE SLOVO FESTIVAL, WHICH RUNS COURTESY OF ACADEMIA ROSSICA DURING FEBRUARY AND MARCH 2014. FOR THE FULL PROGRAMME VISIT the Website

 

Non-Stop (2014)

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra and Joel Silver

Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong’O Gwen, Anson Mount, Linus Roche, Michelle Dockery, Corey Stoll

106min    Action/Thriller    US

Based on a story by John W Richardson and Chris Roach.

Probably not a film to see before a flight or evening during one, NON-STOP is one of those ‘what happens when’  films that, if nothing else,  takes you through the paces of an emergency crash landing from 40,000 feet.  You have been warned.  Fans of Liam Neeson’s particular brand of gentle giant physicality will see him turning cold-blooded killer in this claustrophobic whodunit from Jaume Collet-Serra and Joel Silver (of Matrix and House of Wax fame). He plays Bill Marks, a whisky-swilling, bleary-eyed air marshall, tortured by an unhappy personal life and an uncertain future. Travelling ‘undercover’ on a plane to London from New York, he’s faced with the unenviable task of dealing with a series of menacing and mysterious text messages effectively blackmailing him to organise, with the airline, a transfer of USD150 million into a bank account or risk having a passenger killed, every twenty minutes.

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Not a bad premise thus far, although the cliche’d  dialogue hardly sets the night-flight on fire: “I hate flying; the lines; the crowds; the delays”: Does anyone actually find these exciting? But some appealing characters and witty repartee could still make this a journey with some thrills. No chance there either. After a cheesy bit of bonding with a little girl on her maiden solo flight, Bill finally settles down with a neurotic passenger Jen  (Julianne Moore). She plays one of those irritating people who desperately wants the window seat and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, making you wish you could upgrade to club class. A few rows down sits a deeply unlikeable NYPD Officer (Corey Stoll);  a devout Muslim doctor complete with skullcap (Omar Metwally), and a mousy stewardess (Michelle Dockery) who’s pale and shaky from a vegetable fast. Great. In lieu of some edgy interrogations with potential suspects, the dialogue is driven forward by text messages between Neeson and the mystery ‘perp’ on a special intranet.  None of this throws up any tangible clues and soon everyone on the plane is a potential culprit, and Neeson gets heavy with his uncooperative colleague, Hammond (Anson Mount) in the loo, breaking his neck in a surprisingly violent altercation. Push follows shove, none of it very edifying although there are plenty of bland, red herrings in the inflight catering, and a pilot who pops his clogs mysteriously (Linus Roche).

Jaume Collet-Serra, who also made the impressive Orphan, House Of Wax and the awful Unknown, tries to keep his vehicle buoyant with frequent fisticuffs and eventually stages a dramatic CGI-enhanced landing sequence, which is more fascinating than frightening (oxygen masks DO fall down as promised, and people DO faithfully adopt the brace position).  But this is a flight that even Julianne Moore can’t save, and Liam Neeson’s closing moments (where he tries to inject a scintilla of romance into the equation) will have you rushing for the sick bag. MT

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NON-STOP IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 28 February 2014

The Monuments Men (2014) Berlinale 2014

THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014) ***
Director: George Clooney   Writer: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Robert M Edsel
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Dimitri Leonidas
Original score: Alexandre Desplat     118min   US    Drama based on the novel by Bret Witter

George Clooney has made a brave and enterprising bid to shine a light on one of the most important episodes of Art history – the looting of paintings and artworks by the Nazis during their retreat in the Second World War.  The resulting historical drama, in which he also stars as art historian Frank Stokes, (a fictionalised version of George Stout) along with a fine cast of Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, and High Bonneville, is rather too worthy for its own good. This is Clooney’s 5th big screen outing and sees him and his colleagues setting out to France in 1944 where they discover the Russians are also hot on the trail and intend to keep to uncovered treasure as spoils. Cate Blanchett is magnificent as a bluestocking curator under the Nazis, who at first is unwilling to cooperate but finally falls for Damon’s charms and gives access to the archives.  The search goes underground and there is much ranting and raving in rhetoric about the supreme value of Art, driving home the salient points with vehemence, as if Clooney underestimates the intelligence of his audience, although naturally he has the best orating.  Production values are slick and strong and Alexandre Desplat’s score is well-pitched and surprisingly moving, but ultimately this is a rather artless drama that sacrifices suspense for altruism.  Possibly a documentary would have been a better way to raise the profile of this injustice. MT,  120mins  US IN COMPETITION

THE MONUMENTS MEN IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 14TH FEBRUARY 2014 NATIONWIDE.

Alexei Balabanov Retrospective February – May 2014

Alexei Balabanov Retrospective:

Brother / Брат

In celebration of late and great Alexei Balabanov, Russky London KinoKlub are running through the major works of one of Russia’s most incredible and uncompromising cult directors  Between 1 February and 25 May, this retrospective will chart the director’s work, from the darkly comic to the shockingly caustic –BROTHER , BROTHER 2, OF FREAKS AND MEN, WAR, MORPHINE, IT DOESN’T HURT ME, CARGO 2000, STOKER and ME TOO._broStoker_Major(Mikhail Skryabin)_3

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The Patrol (2013)

Dir.: Tom Petch; Cast: Owain Arthur, Nav Sidhu, Ben Righton, Daniel Fraser, Nicholas Beveney

UK 2013, 85 min.   Drama

Afghanistan, Helmand Provence, 2006: A patrol of seven British soldiers are fighting an unseen enemy. The two officers in charge are out of their depth, equipment and supply are not up to scratch. As a result of a faulty body armour, one of the soldiers is wounded and later dies in hospital. Finally the men revolt and the lieutenant, who has just become a father, sides with the soldiers. The mission, set originally for three days, but lasting well over ten days, is finally  abandoned. The soldiers have no clear objectives: they can’t protect the civilian population, who sees them as intruders, and they know that the Taliban will return when they are gone. The events shown are a microcosmos of the British involvement in this war.

TOM PETCH  served for eight years in the British army and his view of the fighting conditions the soldiers find themselves in is highly critical. The camera shows unrelenting spaces of sand in which the soldiers are viewed as ants, trying to find an enemy which hides, and will take their positions, the moment they have gone. They are supposed to support the community of poor dwellers in their primitive houses, but all they do is endanger them, when they mistake a football for a grenade. Petch shows the boredom, the repetitions and the resignation of the man, and the useless hurrah-patriotism of the Captain. Everything is as real as possible, but herein lays the main problem of this film. Anybody having watched countless hours of TV news is able to imagine the dreadful, monotonous slug of this war, with all the shortcomings the soldiers are suffering from. What the film shows is honest, non-judgemental, unquestioning of the doubtless bravery of the soldiers involved, but all these facts are known to a huge majority. But a simple reconstruction of the fighting conditions is (as shown here) is not enough to create strong emotional or intellectual reactions in the viewer. What we would have liked to have known is what sort of people sign up to the army, in which physical and psychological condition do they leave the army – if they leave alive at all. Three Prime Ministers have sanctioned this futile war, calling the same people who fought the Russian Army in the 80s insurgents, but the public reaction is muted to say the least. And however heartfelt this film may be, it does not help to stir up any badly needed outcry against this war. AS

THE PATROL IN ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 7 FEBRUARY 2014

 

The General (1927)

Dir.:Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman

Cast: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender

Silent; USA 1926, 89 min.

Based on a true incident in 1862 during the American Civil War, THE GENERAL stars Keaton as Johnny Gray, a train driver who tries to enlist in the Confederate Army, mainly to impress his sweetheart Annabelle Lee, whose father and brother enlist immediately. But Gray is more useful to the Southern cause as a train driver than a soldier, and he is rejected in spite of many (comical) efforts. Annabelle, a proud Southern woman is enraged: She will only talk to him again when he is uniform. Soon the dastardly Yankees kidnap the two things Gray loves most: Annabelle and his locomotive ‘ The General’. He swiftly steals another steam engine and pursues the enemy, eventually freeing Annabelle and his locomotive

THE GENERAL is not a comedy, it is an adventure film with comical features, which might explain its lack of success at the box office since the audience expected a traditional Keaton comedy. Another reason for the classic’s poor box office on its original release may be the fact that the film shows the Southern cause  favourably, which will have alienated audiences in the North and East of the USA. But it is Keaton’s work as his own stuntman that’s the most admirable feature of the outing. Whilst wearing his famous poker face bereft of any emotions, he jumps onto driving locomotives, crawls over the roofs of carriages and lumbers wood from carriages into the furnace, whilst the train drives at top speed. He does all this not in a very heroic manner, on the contrary, all his actions teeter always on the brink of failure. Sometimes they even go wrong, for reasons of oversight or clumsiness. Most of the film was shot outdoors in Oregon because the narrow-gauge railroad tacks that were able to accommodate antique locomotives were still in use at the time. It is a miracle that the Keaton/Gray venture succeeds in the end – against all odds of the situations and his own capabilities. He is ‘everyman’s’  hero, triumphing mainly because he expects even worse obstacles on the way ahead.

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THE GENERAL was a turning point for Keaton, because it lost him much creative control over his career due to the film’s financial failure and resulting in him having to move to MGM. During filming costs kept rocketing. One scene alone (when the Yankee train drives over a burning bridge, which collapses, sinking the train in the water below) cost 42, 000 dollars at the time of production – we can easily add two zeros at today’s cost. The train was actually left in the water, becoming a tourist attraction.

Adapted from William Pittenger’s book “Daring and Suffering: A History of the Great Railroad Adventure” and subsequent memoirs, THE GENERAL has a narrative that keeps the audience engaged all the time and there is always something happening in a tempo that is relentless, even by today’s standard: ‘Action packed’ is not an overstatement. The camera is very mobile, integrating the landscape at all times, and showing Keaton as a small but resilient character, turning the role of prey into hunter. In spite of context of war, the directors never glamourise the army, but make fun of its structures and hierarchies. A visually stunning achievement, with a magnificent musical score by Carl Davis, that remains entertaining  nearly 90 years after its creation. AS

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Restored by The Cohen Film Collection, THE GENERAL is back in cinemas from 24 January 2014, opening at BFI Southbank, as part of a larger Keaton retrospective, and selected cinemas nationwide.

Interview: Sean Ellis and Jake Macapagal (Metro Manila)

Whilst on holiday in the Philippines in 2007, British filmmaker Sean Ellis witnessed the two drivers of an armoured truck having an argument. As Ellis explains: ‘They had M16s and guns, and looked like they were going to shoot each other. It ended with one of them kicking the truck, getting in and driving off. And I started to think that it could be a scene from a movie’. Developing the idea from there, Ellis’ imaginary movie became his third feature film, Metro Manila, a ‘slowburn thriller’ about the events that transpire after Oscar (Jake Macapagal) moves to Metro Manila from the provinces, in search of a better life. 

Alex Barrett spoke to Ellis and Macapagal about the making of the film.  

AB: Sean, what was it like for you working in the Philippines? I don’t necessarily mean practically, but as someone that’s effectively an outsider coming in – what was that experience like, and how did that effect the way you directed the film? 

SE: There was some weird ‘reverse racism’, as they call it. And it is weird. Some people won’t work with you because you’re white, and they expect to be paid American fees, and it was like ‘well, this film is in Tagalog, it’s not an American film’. So [it was hard] just to get people to take me as one of their own, and pretend that I was Filipino. And the heat was pretty difficult. Very oppressive.

JM: Humid.

SE: Trying to work – carrying cameras all day – it’s kind of tough.

JM: I think the challenge is also the bureaucracy. You have to know a lot of people in the government and the community, so you can pay them off and get licences. And if you don’t get the licence, you can just shoot guerrilla style. So those are the challenges, but at the same time, it’s pretty exciting because, you know, everyone was excited to shoot with Sean.

454397055BS00156_Moet_Briti copyAB: And what was that like for you, having someone who is an outsider come in?

JM: It didn’t… I’ve worked here in the UK, I’ve worked in international productions. Sean just happened to be British. I got on with him since the first time we met each other. I really respected his vision and his love of cinema. And you can tell, because he gives you that space to…[turns to Sean] I’m talking like you’re not here [laughs]. He gave me the space to just discuss things and develop the character, and just try to deal with the journey. The first question he asked me after he offered me the role was ‘are you willing to take the journey with me?’ Which was pretty exciting.

AB: Sean, you’ve spoken elsewhere about your desire to bring authenticity to the project, and I’m wondering how you went about trying to get that. Did you do research? Did you spend a lot of time there? And Jake, were you able help Sean bring that authenticity to the project? 

SE: It was definitely an organic process, and being immersed into the culture you can’t help but take everything that you’re seeing and try and use it in some respect. And I think what’s interesting about a Westerner going to the Philippines is that they would see things that Filipinos just take for granted and see every day. I was very open to seeing these things for the very first time and using them.

JM: We were discussing that a lot of times. The thing with Sean is that he’s like a curious kid, you know? The way they think, the way they go in this direction and that direction…that’s what we did.

AB: The real-life story of Reginald Chua is integrated into the narrative of the film. How did you come across that story, and what did that blend of fact and fiction mean for the project? 

SE: Well, in the first two weeks I was there I was doing the preproduction for the film, and I was immersing myself into the Filipino culture. I was doing a lot of research, and meeting a lot of people, talking about their lives and how it all related to the script, trying by osmosis to bring that authenticity into the project, and I met with a director called Quark Henares, who’s actually become a friend of mine. Quark said ‘it’s a similar situation to this Reginald Chua’, so I said ‘who’s that?’, and he said ‘oh, you know, this desperate guy, caught in a bad place, who ended up robbing a plane, taking everyone’s money and jumping off using a parachute from his father’s silk factory’…

JM: A homemade parachute.

SE: I found this article online and I read it and the last paragraph of it said ‘Reginald was found four days later buried up to his waist in mud surrounded by money, with the silk parachute of his father’s factory bellowing in the wind behind him’. I was so struck by that image that I couldn’t help but put that in the film. It felt like a bookend to me, so I bookended the film with this image, and used it as a parallel fable to explain some of Oscar’s backstory, and also as a way of sort of tying up his climax in the third act. You know, the fact that Oscar has learnt quite a lot from Reginald, or as we call him Alfred Santos. Alfred was in a similar situation but hadn’t thought it all the way through to the end, whereas I think Oscar learnt from that and thought it out through to the end.

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AB: Jake, how did the incorporation of factual elements help you with the development of your character, and the way you approached building that role? 

JM: Most of my characterisation was just really based on… I just imagined myself in that situation. And I think it’s something that most Filipinos experience. I know how it is to have no money. And as an actor as well, you wait on jobs. But I sort of just put myself in the situation. I mean, I don’t have to look very far. It’s in my neighbourhood, it’s out there in the streets. You know, people wake up and the only thing they think about is what they’re going eat that day. This is – and I’m not blind to that – part of our Metro Manila, of our society. So I just took it all in. When we went to the slums, my first reaction was ‘how can anyone survive that?’, but then eventually you get used to it and you think ‘oh yeah, this is the way they live’. You don’t have to do method for that.

SE: I was quite struck by actually how big hearted the people of the slums were and how generous they were, and actually, weirdly, weirdly, how happy they were.

JM: Yeah, it’s really odd.

SE: I’m not saying that’s the secret to life, but what I’m saying is that, when you have nothing, life is very simple, you know? Like Jake said, your needs are ‘find food for that day’, you’re not worrying about updating your fucking Facebook account, or who said this or this promotion, or whatever.

JM: Living for the moment, they just live for the moment.

SE: It’s just very simple. They live very much in the moment. There’s an honesty to that, and it’s actually a very beautiful thing when you meet people that live very much in the moment. So it was a very joyful time to actually spend with those people. They were excited, weren’t they?

JM: All the kids were following you around, right? I mean, it made us comfortable, gave us a comfortable atmosphere.

AB: Sean, I wanted to ask you: one of the things I thought was quite extraordinary about the film is the lyricism that it has – it’s almost meditative. But when you actually look at it, it’s very quickly cut and the shots are very short. So I was interested in how you were able to strike upon that kind of pacing, where it’s very quickly cut, but also very lyrical. And I was wondering if it was planned, or if it was found in the edit room? 

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SE: You have to remember that this is a film that’s been designed as a subtitled film. It’s not a foreign film that then has subtitles slapped on it after the edit is finished. So it was very much part of the process of being able to cut the film, knowing that people would be reading what you put up on the screen as a subtitle, which then meant that once it disappears their eyes go back to the image. And once their eyes go back to the image, that’s when you give them the information or the detail that they need to see. And then when the character starts speaking again, then they’re drawn away from what’s happening on the screen to reread the subtitles. So we were very conscious that we were making a film where you would be reading subtitles, and that did affect the structure and the approach to the edit. It is a pretty furious edit. I mean, there is a lot of detail in it, there’s a lot of quick cuts away to detailed stuff. And we did a lot of coverage on this, as opposed to some of my other films which were very stagnated and still. But I think what happens when you have quite a fast edit, when you suddenly don’t cut, the audience notices it. When they’re actually on one shot for quite a long time, it becomes elongated time, in some respects, you’re sort of like…It’s like a dance, you’re going quick, quick, slow. Quick, quick, slow. And I guess that gives it that lyricism that you’re seeing.

AB: I think the lyricism also comes from the cinematography. We don’t have much time left, but could you maybe talk quickly about the way you approached the cinematography, and the lighting especially? 

SE: We didn’t have a great resource of equipment. We didn’t have much time. So my approach was documentary style filmmaking. And the two reasons being: first of all, it’s very quick, and you can move very fast, and you can get a lot of coverage that way. And secondly, it gives you the code of documentary filmmaking – so it added a realism to the fiction, because you’re used to seeing documentarians finding their focus and being handheld, and this gave the family [in Metro Manila] a sense of realism, I believe. You felt you were actually following a documentary of a family migrating from the provinces to the city. So it’s sort of a two-fold, two-pronged attack.

 

AB: Jake, could you talk about how it was for you to act within this documentary approach? Do you think it helped your performance? 

JM: Yeah, because you feel like you’re not conscious of the camera. I mean, it’s just following us on the journey. And the more you spend time with that, with Sean, you can just get used to that. As an actor, your job is to get to the objective and understand what the director is trying to get you to do, to move from A to B. So as an actor, I just concentrate on what it is he wants, which is great when it’s someone following you around with the camera. You can trust that.

SE: It also meant a lot less stopping and starting.

JM: Yeah.

SE: There’s a lot of waiting around on film sets normally, but we were pretty furious with what we were doing, so Jake didn’t have much time to sit around and get pedicures. [Laughs].

JM: Yeah, no time for that. I suppose as well it’s like the rote memory way, when you just keep on doing it. I don’t know if Sean was doing that consciously, but the way he does it, you don’t think anymore, until you get the right balance, and he says ‘okay that’s right’.

SE: I have a bad habit, actually, of talking while they’re acting.

JM: But it’s kind of good, in a way, because you know that you’re doing ok. You don’t … Because the camera will pick up if there’s a doubt in your eyes. ‘Am I doing this right?’ – the camera will pick it up. But if one hears ‘okay, that’s good, can I get one more’, it gives you a guide that’s useful to follow.

SE: You know, it’s all ‘just go back two words’, ‘say those two words again’, ‘just do it again’, ‘go back three words’.

JM: Yeah, yeah.

SE: I think it just drums out any notion of, like, ‘now act’, because you’re redoing redoing it, redoing redoing it. Breaking it down, you know?

JM: And maybe because you get tired, all of a sudden you’re just less conscious, and then [claps hands] that’s what he wants.

AB: Unfortunately it looks like we’re out of time, but thank you very much. 

JM: Thanks.

SE: Thank you.

METRO MANILA won BEST FILM at the BEST INDEPENDENT FILM AWARDS, SEAN ELLIS WON BEST DIRECTOR AND THE FILM IS BRITAIN’S SUBMISSION TO THE ACADEMY AWARDS 2014

Easy Money (2010) Snabba Cash | Netflix

Dir: Daniel Espinosa | Original novel: Jens Lapidus | Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Matias Varela, Dragomir Mrsic, Lisa Henni,
Mahmut Suvakci | 124min  Crime Drama

Joel Kinnaman found fame in the US version of The Killing. Here, as JW, he plays a hard-edged working-class economics student and drug-dealer, living a double life amongst the elite of Swedish society who hang out in parties like the one in Festen.

Originally called Snabba Cash, this is actually a screen adaptation of the best-selling ‘Stockholm Noir Trilogy’ by a Swedish novelist, Jens Lapidus. For some reason, the film has taken a while to come to the mainstream but you may have caught it at the London Film Festival back in 2012, in the aptly named “Thrill” section.

To fund his lifestyle JW finds a way to earn ‘easy money’ through a cocaine ring headed up by the nefarious hitman Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic, a real-life crim). His fate is inextricably linked with Jorge, a drug dealer who we meet escaping from prison in the exhilarating opening sequence.

Stylish and gripping with a dynamite score, Easy Money successfully blends edgy Nordic Noir with upmarket glamour. JW is persuasive and slick as a Swedish sociopath slipping easily between romantic dates with his chic blond girlfriend and the gritty millieu of Serbian and Spanish low-life in a thriller that blends tension, brutal violence and sympathetic characterisation to produce a winning combination that makes compelling viewing. If you only see one film this weekend, make it Easy Money. MT

EASY MONEY IS ON Prime Video | Netflix

 

7th Russian Film Festival 2013

S E V E N T H   R U S S I A N   F I L M   F E S T I V A L   2 0 1 3 

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This November sees the London Russian Film Festival return for its seventh incarnation.  Celebrating modern achievements in Russian filmmaking, the festival brings an eclectic mixture of critically revered documentaries and feature films to the capital – many of which are UK premiers fresh from the Kinotavr, the largest national film festival in Russia (also known as Sochi Open Russian Film Festival).  Iconoclastic filmmaking and Ostalgie have converged to fashion a new primary language in Russian filmmaking, with Academia Rossica’s annual festival providing a platform for these fresh, exciting voices to be heard. Many of these films engage in re-writing definitions of community and national identity in Russia, reconstructing history and the ideological foundations of post-Soviet society; bequeathing UK audiences with a fresh and invigorating cinematic experience.

ElenaRelocated from the faded neon grandeur of London’s Apollo cinema to the iconic Empire in Leicester Square, this year’s event exhibits a period of transformation for the festival – including the addition of a new competition strand. Previous line-ups have included a wealth of contemporary Russian cinematic talents such as; Andrei Zvyagintsev’s ELENA, Aleksei Balabanov’s Me Too and Pavel Lungin’s The Island as well as less well-known, yet more culturally specific oddities such as last year’s 207-minute sprawling epic Chapiteau Show – a brazenly charismatic film comprised of four interwoven narratives bookended with musical vignettes that acted as a beguilingly surreal examination of changing values to sex, love and friendship in contemporary Russia.

Bite the dust2This year’s inaugural LONDON LION Award will be contested by 10 films, each hoping to be crowned ‘Best Film of the Russian Film Festival’.  The festival’s opening gala film, Otdat Kontsy’s Bite The Dust, is one of the favourites for this year’s award. An apocalyptic comedy about an ominous astronomical phenomenon that threatens to wipe out humanity, Kontsy’s latest endeavour purportedly plays out in a typically sardonic Eastern European fashion. A riff on the playful question of “what would you do if you had 24 hours to live?” Bite the Dust celebrates the simple pleasures of everyday life whilst taking a caustic swipe at capitalism. The juxtaposition of the bombastic narrative framework of Hollywood blockbusters and the distinctively whimsical comedy of Russian cinema acts to show the disparity between materialism in Eastern and Western culture – albeit in a blithe and capricious manner.

Another highlight in this year’s competition strand includes Aleksandr Veledinsky’s The Geographer Drank His Globe Away. Based on Alexei Ivanov’s novel of the same name, Veledinsky’s third feature recently won the main prize at this year’s Kinotavr and is a curious romantic drama about a hopeless biologist who takes a job as a geography teacher in a provincial town before finding love under peculiar circumstances.  Other promising additions to the program include Natasha Merkulova and Aleksei Chupov’s Intimate Parts, a no-holds-barred exploration of class secrets and attitudes to sex told through a series of interwoven narrative strands and Marina Migunova’s Mirrors, a dramatized biopic about Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva and her tragic trajectory through a life comprised of despair, loss and betrayal.

 

Three film’s competing for the festival’s LONDON LION Award have already benefited from screenings at UK Film Festivals. Kirill Serebrennikov’s clinically sterile and ironically passionless thriller about obsession and revenge Betrayal, premiered in the competition strand at the Venice Film Festival before arriving at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this year. Whilst Serebrennikov’s opaque drama may be one of the better known inclusions in this year’s program, it’s also one of the most inaccessible.  Yusup Razykov’s Shame (Styd) received its UK premier at this year’s London Film Festival yet sadly went largely unnoticed: not by us. A maritime tragedy that echoes the contentious Kursk submarine catastrophe through the lives of the women left behind, Razykov’s Shame works to expose the anomalous assumptions of womankind in patriarchal Russia. Another London Film Festival premier that deserves to be seen by a larger audience is Vital Mansky’s Pipeline, a powerful exploration of the wealth divide in Russia. An ethnological observation of social cultures across the route of the Urengoy–Pomary–Uzhgorod pipeline which runs through Russia (from Western Siberia all the way to Koln, Germany) like an infected vein of capitalist greed.

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Judging by the festival’s retrospective of his work, Mansky could be seen as the Russian Alex Gibney; a master documentary filmmaker whose work has been presented across the globe. His charismatically aloof persona is thankfully not reflected in his probing examination into the inchoate stage of post-Soviet Russia. Mansky is the president of Artdokfest (the Moscow Documentary Film Festival) and his works speaks passionately and intelligently about modern-day issues inside and outside of Russia. Alongside Mansky’s better known work, such as his documentary about the Dalai Lama, Dawn/Sunset, the festival will also be screening Private Chronicles; Monolog, Patria O Muerte and Broadway; The Black Sea. Mansky will also be in attendance at this year’s festival, having curated this year’s documentary strand – with Evgenia Montana Ibanes’ topical account of opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov imprisonment and hunger strike.  March, March With Your Left! a noticeable highlight in an always enlightening strand. PATRICK GAMBLE

More information, including full details of the festival’s program and how to book tickets can be found on the Academia Rossica website

London Korean Film Festival 2013 7-15 November 2013

South Korean films have achieved international recognition since Lee Chang-Dong won best director at Venice Film Festival in 2002 for his film OASIS.  Going from strength and now in its 8th successful year the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) 7-22 November, is a nationwide celebration of contemporary and classic Korean cinema, with a selection of highlights also showing in Oxford, Bradford and St Andrews between 16-22 November.

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Huh Jung will be in London this year to present his successful debut, a low-budget home invasion thriller HIDE AND SEEK at a special gala premiere at Cineworld Haymarket on 6 November 2013.

SOL Kung-gu will also be in town to present a special preview of LEE Joon-ik’s latest film WISHa drama that cronicles a true-life tragic crime that shook Korea

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T H E   L A T E S T   F I L M S   F R O M   2 0 1 3

Director KIM Sung-su will be presenting his latest film, THE FLU, a disaster thriller on the scale of CONTAGION that charts the spread of a dangerous epidemic that threatens the Korean Peninsular.

JANG Cheol-soo’s comedy spy drama SECRETLY, GREATLY is the story of three undercover North Korean spies living in the South who are forced to undertake a mission ‘impossible’.  Also worth a watch is JEONG Keun-seob’s kidnap thriller MONTAGE.

There’s is a chance to catch up on the recent standouts: YIM Soon-rye’s family comedy SOUTH BOUND, actor turned award-winning director YOO Ji-tae’s MAI RATIMA, which won the Jury Prize at the Deauville Asian Film Festival and FATAL, LEE Don-ku’s a drama that played this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

Also from Berlin 2013 comes E J-yong’s BEHIND THE CAMERA, An experimental mockumentary about remote filmmaking that blurs the line between fiction and reality, BEHIND THE CAMERA sees the director cast himself as a filmmaker attempting to make a film via Skype in Los Angeles. Without the director’s physical presence on set, will the production spiral into chaos? The film explores the production process and elements of reality shows.

Best know for his chaotic action movie THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE WEIRDKIM Jee-woon is a talented filmmaker whose distinctive and skilful storytelling style is told using an original visual language.  He will be in London to present a special programme of his favourite short films showcasing his unique visual style, including a Q&A where he will talk about his latest short project ONE PERFECT DAY (2013).

DAY TRIP, Park Chan-kyong’s recent drama is a venture from the joint creative team of PARKing CHANce, the collaboration between the media artist and his world renowned  auteur brother PARK Chan-wook.

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K O R E A N   C U L T   C L A S S I C S

Other highlights to watch out for are cult classics PUBLIC ENEMY (2002) a crime thriller from Kang Woo-suk, who will be in London to attend a ‘directorspective’ of his successful outings along with his latest film FISTS OF LEGEND (2013) an urban action drama.

Other cult classics in the retrospective are TWO COPS (1993), SILMIDO (2003), MOSS (2010), and the acclaimed sequel PUBLIC ENEMY RETURNS (2008).

To celebrate the 60th Anniversary since the Korean War Armistice, three classic Korean war films depicting the strife and the effects on families, friendships and the soldiers who fought, are also screening: SHIN Sang-ok’s THE RED SCARF (1964) and LEE Man-hee’s MARINES ARE GONE (1963) and LEE Kang-cheon’s PIAGOL (1955).

The festival closes on the 15 November with a drama starring HOUSEMAID’S, YOUN YuhJung who plays the family matriarch in a story that explores the shifting dynamics when three adult children return to the fold, BOOMERANG FAMILY.  She will present the Closing Night Gala alongside her co-stars. 

LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2013 WILL RUN FROM 7-15 NOVEMBER IN LONDON AND 16-22 IN OTHER UK VENUES.

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French Film Festival UK 7-30 November 2013

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This popular festival is now 21 and celebrates its coming of age with an anniversary selection including restored versions of Jacques Demy’s LOLA, UK premieres and tributes to Maurice Pialat, Bernadette Lafont and Louis de Funès with the London screenings taking place at Cine Lumiere.

Primarily focused on bringing new French film to the provinces, the Festival highlights include Francois Ozon’s teenage prostitution drama, JEUNE ET JOLIE; Bruno Dumont’s CAMILLE CLAUDEL, 1915 starring Juliette Binoche in a tour de force as the artist in exile; Alain Gomis’ poetic goodbye: AUJOURD’HUI with its soft and sensuous visuals set in Senegal and Philippe Beziat’s rousing documentary: BECOMING TRAVIATA that follows a diva through rehearsals at the Aix En Provence outdoor opera season. MTTonnerre-001 copy

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The Long Way Home (2013)

Dir.: Alphan Eseli; Cast: Ugur Polat, Nergis Ozturk, Serdar Orcin;

Turkey 2013, 112 min.  Turkish with English Subtitles   Drama

Alphan Eseli’s debut film THE LONG WAY HOME, a gruelling masterpiece centring on the aftermath of the battle of Sarikamis in Eastern Anatolia, in which 90, 000 Turkish soldiers were killed in the WWI battle with Russian soldiers in 1915. Eseli’s heart-felt narrative is based on long stories which his late Grandfather (a survivor of said battle) told him when he was a child. The film is dedicated to him.

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Long panoramic shots open over a snowy landscape: a man tries to coax a horse pulling a carriage up a mountain, but the horse expires of exhaustion. A symbolic beginning to a film which will test the audience’s sensitivity to the limit – and sometimes beyond. The man mentioned is Saci Bey, an officer wearing civilians. He is trying to find a way to the city of Erzerum, where he is to deliver Gul Hanim and her daughter Nihan (relatives of a high ranking politician) to the authorities. The trio is forced to continue on foot and Saci Bey, always the gentleman, carries the girl for long periods of their arduous snowbound trecks. When all seems lost, they reach a village which has been set on fire and hide in one of few habitable places. Later they are joined by Coban Ali, who survived the plundering of the village, and a teenage girl from a neighbouring village.

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After the glaring shots of endless snow the images change to a claustrophobic existence, only a meagre fire lightens the room where the survivors huddle. Hunger is the worst enemy, and Coban Ali tries to convince Saci Bey to start the walk to Erzerum. But the officer is reluctant: he once lost his soldiers, because he didn’t prepare them for a snow battle. The class distinction between villagers and the three members of the upper-class are subtle but always obvious, especially when Nihan gives the peasant girl her gloves, and Coban Ali reprimands her “for having airs, because the lady gave you gloves”.

The modus vivendi is eventually disrupted when two soldiers arrive with a dying officer. One of the soldiers kills the officer and this mood of nihilism makes way for  the delirious finale where Nisan’s mother is forced to into the mêlée.

 

Eseli’s camerawork is impressive and the outdoor scenes are lively, the long panning shots always broken up with intimate POVs. The haunting music is by Mihaly Vig, a regular composer for Bela Tarr. The Long Way Home is a gruelling drama but Eseli never resorts to pure realism, creating a poetic disturbing atmosphere. AS

 

Starred Up (2013) 57th BFI London Film Festival

Dir: David Mackenzie, Cast: Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend

UK 2013, 100 min.  Action Drama

‘Starred Up is a term used in the British prison system, where a juvenile offender, who is particularly violent is sent to an adult prison, and not a juvenile correction institution. The ‘starred up’ young man in this film is played by Jack O’Connell (The Liability). He lands in the same prison as his father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn), who was more or less absent during his childhood and has his hands full trying to curb Eric’s tendency to violent reactions at the slightest (imagined) provocation.  In a turn of superb strength Jack O’Connell  has to prove his over-the-top aggression from the opening sequences. Oliver (Rupert Friend), an understanding voluntary therapist, whose group Eric joins, tries to curb the young man’s tendency to violent reactions at the slightest (or imagined) provocation, but looses his distance from the men he is supposed to help. After Eric attacks a sadistic prison warden, he has to leave, and father and son embark on another string of unbridled attacks.

It goes without saying that violence is part of any prison film, but Mackenzie here overdoes his share of gratuitous violence and gradually it looses its function becoming the norm in a feature that lacks texture and tension with the dire cinema-verite style accentuating the grittiness: repeating the prison procedures over and over again has a tiring and repulsive effect that distances us from the narrative with the continuously sweary verbal exchanges, become tedious and lack style in comparison with other films of this genre such as Audiard’s The Prophet. The protagonists fall into simplistic categories and are paired up for easy recognition: the sadistic chief prison warden versus the understanding therapist; young, unformed Eric, always on the outlook for violence, versus the more mature father, trying to control himself, at least sometimes. That said, O’Connell and Mendelsohn both give their emotions full throttle in performances of considerable skill.

David Mackenzie is unable (or unwilling) to reign his ideas in and goes completely over the top, losing control of the action because he fails to maintain distance to structure his narrative. There is no grey, only black and white. STARRED UP is self-indulgent; lacks artistic direction, simply stating one argument with the same images repetitively, undermining any message the director wants to convey. The actors are the only saving element of this film, whose grimy, conventional aesthetics don’t help us to connect. Andre  Simonoviescz

STARRED UP IS SCREENING AT THE 57TH BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL ON 10, 11 AND 12 OCTOBER AT THE OWE2 AND HACKNEY PICTUREHOUSES RESPECTIVELY

 

 

70TH VENICE FILM FESTIVAL Daily Update WINNERS 28 August-7 September

GRAVITY  ***       OUT OF COMPETITION

Gravity Cuaron Seven years after Children of Men, Mexican Director Alfonso Cuarón’s GRAVITY 3D swirled silently into Venice with a distant murmur of astronauts talking via satellite in space.  George Clooney (Matt Kowalksy) gradually floats into view, as sauve in a space-suit as he is in Gucci tailoring.  With his co-pilot Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), he injects much-needed humour into this claustrophobic but technically brilliant sci-fi drama that follows a stricken space-ship as it floats towards the Earth’s orbit with its surviving astronauts. The pair float helplessly amid a welter of emotionally-charged memories of the World they left behind.  A pithy script and Emmanuel Lubezki’s ethereal visuals make this a worthwhile experience for the art house crowd and Sandra Bullock is surprising moving as a co-pilot who has nothing left to live for but every reason to survive.. MT Tracks

TRACKS ***      IN COMPETITION

Take the Australian outback, three wild camels, a black labrador and a woman with a mission and you’ve got John Curran’s drama inspired by the true life of Robyn Davidson, who walked from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean in 1977.  During this breathtaking travelogue of painful and sweaty trials and tribulations, she makes some interesting discoveries about survival and herself: that she wants to be alone.  Mia Wasilowski gives an exultant performance as Robyn, not the most pleasant of characters, but certainly dogged and single-minded in her pursuit of a dream. It also has Roly Mintuma as her Aboriginal guide and Adam Driver as the photographer who fails to win her heart. Despite looking for solitude, Robyn bemoans her deep loneliness at every step of the way and although the scenery is beautiful, the woman herself remains a cypher. MT

La Belle VieLA BELLE VILLE ****        GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI

Jean Denizot’s feature debut LA BELLE VIE is a classicly told, ravishingly-shot, rites of passage idyll set in the rolling countryside of the Loire River. Based on a true story of two boys on the run with their father, who has flouted French custody laws, it paints him as a loving but also mentally abusive man. Newcomer, Zaccarie Chasseriaud, stands out as the youngest boy, Sylvain, whose desire for a proper life and a girlfriend finally bring matters to a dramatic head.

WOLFSKINDER ****       ORIZZONTI Wolfskinder_1

Poignantly brutal and achingly beautiful, Rick Ostermann’s Second World War survival drama follows the plight of four young German orphans fleeing the Red Army through the stunning countryside of Lithuania. Levin Liam leads the group in the role of Hans whose innate gentleness and determination shine through against the odds in a performance of subtle complexity and depth for such a young actor.

LAS NINAS QUISPE ***      SETTIMANA DELLA CRITICA Haunted by sadness, mistrust and a hostile political climate, three sisters herd goats in the high planes of seventies Chile as they contemplate their bleak future.  Sebastian Sepulveda’s debut is a plaintive affair shot through with human tenderness and a captivating sepia-tinted aesthetic. Joe

JOE **          IN COMPETITION

David Gordon Green’s last outing, Prince Avalanche, was one of the standout comedies of Berlin this year. Here in JOE he casts Nicolas Cage as a brooding ex-con with a heart of gold. And Cage doesn’t disappoint, bringing forth a performance of echoing intensity alongside Tye Sheridan’s abused teenager.  But where MUD succeeded in the ‘sins of the father’ dynamic, JOE never really comes together as a cohesively absorbing drama.

NIGHT MOVES ****     IN COMPETITION

A Simple plan to blow up a damn has far-reaching consequences for three environmentalists in this explosive psychological crime thriller with a moral twist from MEEK’S CUTOFF director, Kelly Reichardt. Jessee Eisenberg leads a dynamite cast of Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard. Chilling and memorable MTNight PHILOMENA-1

PHILOMENA ****          IN COMPETITION

STEVE COOGAN AND JEFF POPE WIN BEST SCREENPLAY

Stephen Frears takes this heart-rending adoption story, overlaid with Steve Coogan’s lightly comedic touch, to produce an inspiring drama that raised the roof on the fourth day of Venice Film Festival.  Judy Dench plays Philomena Lee, a stalwart Irish mother who harks back to her lost son on his 50th birthday.  World-weary journo, Martin Sixsmith (Coogan,who also acts and produces), takes up her story and their instant chemistry leads to a moving, funny and entertaining film with universal appeal and likely box-office success. MT Child of God_1 copy

CHILD OF GOD **     IN COMPETITION The James Franco production line continues with this adaption of a Cormac McCarthy novel about an angry loner in sixties Tennessee.  Scott Hare gives his all to the role of Lester Ballard in a drama that blends necrophilia, defecation (and every other bodily function) with washed-out landscapes and unimaginative camerawork depicting one man’s descent into Hell. If you like your dramas ‘warts and all’ then this is one to go for.

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THE WIND RISES *****         IN COMPETITION

Another enchanting piece of Japanese Anime from Studio Ghibli, this time a delicately- drawn story of Wartime aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the amazingly effective ‘Zero’ fighter during WWII.  THE WIND RISES is particularly special because its director and writer, Miyazaki Hayao, is well-known for being behind the most successful films: Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo. What starts as a largely biographical story of Jiro’s childhood, training and early career gradually transforms into an endearing love story when he finally meets his sweetheart while saving her umbrella in a gale. The two have previously met during an earthquake, (the Great Kanto disaster of 1923) wonderfully depicted in the early part of the film but now the visuals reflect lush and flowery country landscapes including almond blossoms, billowing meadows, breathtaking cloud formations and sunsets. As usual with Ghibli, the dreamy visuals often belie a heart-rending or serious storyline, and THE WIND RISES is no different, underpinned as it is by Jiro’s personal tragedy and the Wartime context of conflict and geographical disaster.  Immersive from start to finish, THE WIND RISES is a stunning piece of filmmaking accompanied by a richly-textured narrative that will delight regular devotees as well as those still unfamiliar with the genre. MT

Via Castellana Bandiera_1 FOTO UFFICIALEVIA CASTELLANA BANDIERA ***  (A STREET IN PALERMO)   IN COMPETITION

ELENA COTTA – BEST ACTRESS – COPPA VOLPI

Emma Dante is known in Italy for her theatre work.  Here, she directs and also stars as a lesbian woman who won’t give way to the oncoming vehicle in a narrow street, while on the way to a wedding with her partner (Alba Rohrwacher – Sleeping Beauty). But the driver of the other car (Elena Cotta) is well-known locally for her stubbornness.  A noisy and argumentative film that serves as a metaphor for Italy’s more general ills.

Miss Violence_3 copyMISS VIOLENCE ***        IN COMPETITION

THEMIS PANOU – BEST ACTOR – COPPA VOLPI

As Greek tragedies go this one is a slow-burning, pastel-tinged affair: Brooding with malevolence and bristling with suspicion from the opening sequence involving the suicide of a young girl during a family birthday, to the final half hour of shocking revelations as the toys are thrown out of the pram.

p5630 copy copy copyPARKLAND **             IN COMPETITION

Peter Landesman’s attempt to examine the fall-out of JFK’s death from the perspective of those involved in his final hours,  fails in bringing anything new to the table with a motley selection of characters from the backstory. Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother is a particularly nasty piece of work played by Jacki Weaver. Paul Giamatti is compelling as the guy who shot the amateur footage on CIne and Zac Ephron plays an earnest young doctor who fails to save his life and Billy Bob Thornton also stars.

The Sacrament_4 copyTHE SACRAMENT **              ORIZZONTI

Based on a true story about a cult community in Georgia, Ti West’s mockumentary is a well-intentioned but unconvincing thriller with a strong central performance from Amy Seimetz (Upstream Color).

 

Die Frau des Polizsten (The Police Officer's Wife)_1 copyTHE POLICE OFFICER’S WIFE ***    IN COMPETITION

SPECIAL JURY PRIZE WINNER

This three-hour film takes an epistolary format to slowly flesh out the married life of a policeman, his wife and their infant daughter, in a small German town.  Beautifully drawn, with detailed and appealing use of the local countryside to give context, it serves as testament to the subtle but corrosive effect of modern life on one couple’s relationship. Director, Phillip Grõning has served as Venice Orizzonti Jury President in 2006. MT

The Zero TheoremTHE ZERO THEORUM **      IN COMPETITION

Terry Gilliam is back with a psychedelic mish-mash of mysogyny and male musings: THE ZERO THEORUM is a mathematical formula that seeks to determine whether life has meaning, as seen through the eyes of Christophe Waltz’s middle-aged geek in a dystopian town of the future. Waltz is perplexed and benign in the role as he’s badgered to settle down by Melanie Thierry’s blonde piece of fluff who taunts him  to commit in various states of undress (a typical male fantasy from the warped mind of a commitment-phobe). It’s online, corporate Hell so just hope that we never get there . An acquired taste to divide audiences: I’d give it a miss unless you love his films.

LOCKE ****            IN COMPETITION

Steve Knight’s in-car drama nevertheless offers plenty of action-packed thrills in this ‘one-hander’ for Tom Hardy. He plays a father and engineer whose life unravels as he races South on the M1 to meet the latest of his offspring while managing a complex building project. All conducted over the telephone from his BMW, he talks to his wife, his lover, two teenage sons and members of his building team: the traffic police would have a field day but they’d probably thoroughly enjoy this seat-clenching thriller that could be re-named ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik”.  Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson and Tom Holland plays the telephone roles.

TOM AT THE FARM ****       IN COMPETITION

Tom Ö la ferme ∏ Clara Chapardy copy copyQuebec wild child Xavier Dolan roars backs into form with this screen adaptation of a play by Michel Marc Bouchard. Set in the open prairies of Canada’s farmland, Dolan plays the main character, Tom (sporting a curious corn-like mop of blond hair), a gay man who turns up at his lover Guillaume’s funeral not only to discover that the family is unaware of his existence but also unwilling to accept Guillaume sexuality.  With a great support cast that features Evelyn Brochu (Cafe de Flore) and Pierre-Yves Cardinal, this visually exciting and unpredictable thriller follows a linear narrative but otherwise challenges perceptions and reality at every step of the way as Tom becomes caught up in a web of lies, deceit and homoerotic desire.

THE CANYONS – SEE MY REVIEW.

Moebius_5 copyMOEBIUS **              OUT OF COMPETITION

The human psyche is a twisted and  tortured affair according to Kim Ki-duk who brought his latest outing to Venice after winning the GOLDEN LION in 2012 with PIETA.  The subject is still family dynamics but there’s a father involved this time. His random infidelity gradually leads to family breakdown after his son sees him in a restaurant with his lover.  MOEBIUS, whch was banned by the censors in his homeland of Korea, features just about everything from humiliation and rape to autoeroticism and demonstrates show how easy it is to unlock evil in the human mind and turn decent people into animals. Disturbing and graphic MT

The Unknown KnownTHE UNKNOWN KNOWN ****            IN COMPETITION

In this, the first of two documentaries competing for the Golden Lion, Oscar-winning director Errol Morris looks at Donald Rumsfeld’s engaging personal recollections of his time in office. Seen through cine footage of state tours with the Kennedy’s and his private musings with members of the administration, Morris succeeds in capturing an ‘innocence’ here that has long gone from contemporary politics. Fascinating for anyone who remembers the era or who has an interest in American political history. MT

EASTERN BOYS ****                   BEST FILM – ORIZZONTI 

Accomplished scripter, Robin Campillo (The Class, Foxfire), takes a random group of illegal immigrant young men from Eastern Europe and constructs an unpredictable and unflinching thriller set in the suburbs of Paris. It revolves around a gay Frenchman (Olivier Rabourdin) in his fifties and his unexpected adventure with one of the teenagers (Kirill Emelyanov). Watchable and absorbing, this was one of the best films in the festival this year.

p5954 copyA PROMISE ****   OUT OF COMPETITION

Patrice Leconte’s haunting and fabulously romantic drama with Belle Epoque overtones is set in a German industrial town before the Great War. It stars Alan Richman in a subtle performance as an ageing steel magnate whose wife (Rebecca Hall)  falls for his young assistant. Based on a novel by Austrian Stefan Zweig, one of the most famous writers during the 1920s and 30s.

L'intrepido_3 �Claudio Iannone copyL’INTREPIDO ***    IN COMPETITION

Billed as a comedy, Gianni Amelio’s competition entry has few laughs but some bittersweet moments. It stars Antonio Albanese as an industrious and enterprising middle-aged man who deserves the Golden Lion for his admirable work ethic and old-school values during the current economic crisis in Milan. Dogged by bad luck and a truculent son, he is a tribute to his generation, setting a shining example in this worthy, uplifting but overlong feature. MT

WalesaWALESA. MAN OF HOPE *****         OUT OF COMPETITION

What an amazing contribution Andrzej Wajda has made to Polish and World film. Here, he brings an important, well-crafted and watchable docudrama about the life of Lech Walesa and his single-minded efforts to improve freedom for ship-workers in Gdansk during the latter part of the seventies and early eighties. Skilfully editing archive footage to blend with visuals depicting police riots and clashes, it elegantly envelopes the love story of Walesa and his wife Danuta into this gripping episode of Polish political history shot through with occasional moments of dry humour. MT

JalousieJEALOUSY ***   IN COMPETITION

Louis Garrel stars as….Louis Garrel in an out of love in this slim drama which also stars Anna Mouglalis and centres around a family split apart by infidelity and financial insecurity.  Phillippe Garrel is a Venice regular and has one the Silver Lion twice for J’ENTENDS PLUS LA GUITARE and REGULAR LOVERS.

p5512 copySTRAY DOGS **   IN COMPETITION

GRAND JURY PRIZE WINNER

Taiwan is experiencing a building boom that is displacing and disenfranchising the inhabitants of Taipei, who scratch around to make ends meet. Tsai Ming Liang’s drama is set to divide critics and possibly audiences. Will appeal to the most ardent art house devotees of long, lingering shots and close-up footage.

ANA ARABIA ***  IN COMPETITION

Israeli director, Amos Gitai, filmed this insight into a small community of Jews and Arab outcasts in one single 85-minute shoot. It provides a fresh and authentic slice of life in a contemporary border enclave.   Ana Arabia_1

THE ROOFTOPS ***  IN COMPETITION

Set in his own neighbourhood in Algiers, Merzak Allouache’s lively multi-stranded narrative feature brings another modern-day look at life in an Arabic culture to the competition.

THE REUNION ***   SETTIMANA DELLA CRITICA

BEST DEBUT WINNER

Actor Anna Odell’s debut feature in which she plays a striking lead, is a psychological drama that looks at the dynamics of power and bullying within friendships.  Taking a class reunion meeting up 20 years after school years, it examines how individuals can be ostracised in the classroom leading to mental issues later on in life. Impressive and watchable. This film won the FIPRESCI Award at Venice 2013 for Best Newcomer.

Amazonia_4_-___2013_Le_Pacte_Biloba_Films_Gullane copyAMAZONIA *****           OUT OF COMPETITION

AMAZONIA is Brazilian helmer Thierry Rogobert’s enchanting and eye-popping 3D docudrama set entirely in the Amazon jungle.  It concerns Kong, an endearingly cute cappucine monkey, who is stranded after a plane crash deep in the rain fores of Brazilian.  From the opening sequences we instantly bond with Kong and, as his bewildered little face looks up at the camera, we want to protect him on his journey to fend for himself in the wild.  Apart the ambient sounds of rain and random predators, Rogobert’s film is entirely unscripted and provides audiences with a rich visual canvas of vibrantly colourful and exotic flora and fauna on which to meditate. David Attenborough eat your heart out!.  MT

 SACRO GRA ****     IN COMPETION          GOLDEN LION WINNER

Gianfranco Rosi’ documentary is a well-crafted and peripatetic affair that tells the story of a famous ring road ‘Grande A’ that surrounds Rome.  Literally meaning ‘Holy Grail’, it dabbles in the lives of the many characters who live around this major highway offering a selection of random vignettes cutting across the social  divide.  Accompanied by an evocative soundtrack, Rosi’s observational style allows the viewer to muse and meditate on this fascinating slice of urban life. Sacro-GRA

 

 

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