Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

Incredible But True (2022)

Dir/Wri: Quentin Dupieux | 
Cast: Alain Chabat, Léa Drucker, Benoît Magimel, Anaïs Demoustier, Stéphane Pezerat
i | France, Comedy 74′

The age of electronic penises has finally arrived according french filmmaker Quentin Dupieux whose latest high-concept absurdist comedy sees two suburban couples trying to turn back the clock and pursue the dream of eternal youth with hilarious and disastrous consequences.

Middle-aged house-hunters Alain (Alain Chabat) and Marie (Léa Drucker) are captivated by a modernist villas in a leafy location near Paris and immediately move in. The house has a life-changing feature in the shape of a trapdoor to the basement: enter and you take three days off your life, while moving 12 hours forward. Marie is sceptical but soon becomes obsessed with going through the trapdoor and gradually the rejuvenating effects are noticeable. Alain struggles on with a difficult client, hoping not to lose his wife to a younger man. Meanwhile his boss and close friend Gérard (a paunchy Benoît Magimel) has an intriguing new toy to play with of his own. Invited chez Alain and Marie with his much younger girlfriend Jeanne (Anaïs Demoustier in bleach blonde mode), the two are desperate to share their cheeky secret about his new Japanese “electronic penis”, remotely operated by an iPhone.

Dupieux – also known as his DJ alter ego Mr Oiseau – certainly has a vivid imagination and his films get weirder and wackier with each passing year, Deerskin and Mandibles being recent examples. But although his ideas are plausible this blend of surreal and lowkey sci-fi feels out of place with the second-rate suburban settings and pedestrian characters, and the punchy plot lines are never full realised as they are for example in comedy sci fi outings such as Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man or the Korean comedy Miss Granny. Incredible But True is light-hearted fun that never takes itself seriously with a few laughs along the way thanks to some strong comedy performances before resorting to ludicrous back-to-back montage sequences in a rushed final showdown. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE | BERLINALE SPECIALS 2022

 

 

 

Men (2021)

Dir: Alex Garland | Cast: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinear, Paapa Essiedu | US Fantasy horror

English director Alex Garland (Annihilation) dices with horror and comedy in his weird and wonderful hybrid set in a picturesque village in the depths of the English countryside where the male of the species appears in various guises – none of them favourable.

A secluded English country house with manicured gardens should be the perfect place to recuperate for a woman whose ex husband (Essiedu) has just committed suicide. But the Herefordshire hideaway where Harper (Buckley) seeks solace is more akin to the sinister Cornish village of The Wicker Man , and the owner, Geoffrey (Kinnear), an uppercrust oddball, is a dead ringer for TVs Harry Enfield complete with buck teeth and dandruff and a penchant for cavorting stark naked in the grounds. Other incarnations in his repertoire include the famous ‘loadsa money’ lookalike; a leery, misogynist vicar; and a schoolboy who looks like Anthony’s Hopkins’ puppet Corky from Magic.

Clearly Garland had a big budget to throw at this production that takes a tokenistic swipe at toxic masculinity, and gives lip service to domestic violence. But it does no favours for Jessie Buckley who is left incredulously hung out to dry with her character, a ballsy career woman who feels completely out of place in this meaningless ‘Midsomer Murders’ style charade, she seems to be in a different film.

For a time Buckley lends credibility to the film’s initial shock value but then our patience wears thin as Kinnear gets the more gratifying job of pulling different disguises out of his pantomime box of tricks. The overriding comedy element soon punches a hole in any vestigial tension the film has tried to instil, leaving Harper’s tragic backstory somehow diminished by the garish absurdity of the rest of the antics, and leaving us not sure whether to laugh or scream. A bizarre but watchable film. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 3 JUNE 2022 

 

Murder Party (2022)

Dir: Nicolas Pleskof | Cast: Alice Pol, Eddy Mitchell, Miou Miou, Pablo Pauly, Pascale Arbillot, Zabou Breitman, Adiren Guionnet | France, Comedy 93′

With the jaunty wit of US TV sitcom ‘Caroline in the City’ and the colourful look of Wes Anderson’s this inspired comedy drama is the feature debut of TV writers Nicolas Pleskof and Elsa Marpeau.

It follows Jeanne, an architect and engineer, whose latest scheme is the redesign of a 19th century mansion and home to the Daguerres, a strange family at the head of a board game empire. Enlisting the help of her mother Josephine (Miou Miou) to put the final touches on the model Jeanne motors into the countryside to meet the scion Cesar Daguerre, a morose moustachioed monster decked out in tartan whose fortune comes from toys and games. 

But Jeanne’s presentation doesn’t go down well and Cesar challenges her to a round of Russian roulette that goes mysteriously wrong, the whole family finding themselves locked in the walled and crenellated confines of their home to play the ludicrous ‘murder party’. This involves a series of announcements over the tannoy goading them to decipher the riddles in a bid to track down Cesar’s ‘murderer’ before they in turn ‘die’.

Jeanne is the only dispassionate player and has no time for all the hysteria that ensues. Alice Pol is brilliant as the spunky Jeanne striking just the right balance between kookiness and steely control. Joining forces with his Cesar’s son Theo (Pauly) she finds herself dealing with a family hellbent on settling long-standing scores, bringing to mind the mischievous playfulness of Francois Ozon’s Eight Women set in a scenario reminiscent of Bruno Podalydes’ Le Perfume de la dame en noir. The riddles are entertaining and take their inspiration from Agatha Christie, Cluedo or even Trivial Pursuit but the repercussions are often sinister so it’s down to outside Jeanne to save the day. Driven forward by a furious percussive score and some artful camerawork from Gilles Porte and Jeremie Duchier’s set design this is an amusing tragicomedy that doesn’t pretend to be anything deeper. MT

ON RELEASE IN FRANCE from 9 March 2022

 

Licorice Pizza (2021) Best Original Screenplay BAFTA

Dir/Wri: Paul Thomas Anderson | Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Will Angarola, Ben Safdie, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Skylar Gisondo | US Comedy Drama,131′

The excitement and enthusiasm of being a teenager in search of the American Dream is captured in this satirical trip down memory lane set in the early 1970s during the politically turbulent years of Vietnam and the Watergate scandal.

Paul Thomas Anderson follows a string of memorable and diverse classics: Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love, Phantom Thread and There Will Be Blood with a soulful romantic comedy that unfolds in California’s San Fernando Valley where Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour) is a chubby spirited high school actor experiencing first love with his much older crush Alana Kane (Alana Haim), a gutsy Jewish girl with plenty of chutzpah and an overbearing father.

Much more than just a punchy coming of age story Licorice Pizza is a nostalgic journey through America in the Nixon era with echoes of Taxi Driver and The Graduate – and the same grainy look – and a soundtrack of iconic recalling a time where opportunities were endless and brushing up against Hollywood stars was still possible in the everyday scheme of things before they became a protected species. And the teenage realisation that they are just flawed, ordinary people, not gods to be aspired to gives the film some of its most enjoyable scenes.

Gary is not held back from pursuing Alana despite his puppy fat and pubescent acne. His inherent self-belief and entrepreneurial flair soon sees him capitalising on ‘start-ups’ involving pinball machines and the famous craze for water beds: a doomed endeavour involving a celebrity client in the shape of Bradley Cooper’s egocentric Jon Peters is one of the funnier detours the film takes, and there’s a surprisingly sinister undertone to Alana’s episode with Ben Safdie’s aspiring political candidate. This adds a dose of tension to her on/off relationship with Gary making it feel all the more genuine in its avoidance of sentimentality both in sunny and sombre moments – the two of them always feel real and endearingly human in their spiky single-minded belligerence. A bit of an odd couple at first Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman’s gradually emerging on screen chemistry is why the film is so compulsively watchable.

The film goes to unexpected places but always keeps us onboard with its compelling teenage love story that is charming, quirky and totally unpredictable – just like real life. We are drawn further and further into Gary and Alana’s world with its soap-opera elements in a narrative so rich and surprising it could go on forever.

Another part of the film’s success – and a great deal of the subversive fun – comes from trying to guess the real people behind the made up names (apart from Jon Peters): Sean Penn’s character Jack Holden and John Michael Higgins’ Jerry Frick are so familiar yet there’s a inclusive quality that makes them feel absolutely right for the era, whoever they are. Featuring a seemingly endless cast of well-tuned interconnecting characters Liquorice Pizza builds an entire world in the Valley that is both intimate and far-reaching in its scale. MT

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY EE BAFTAS 2022

The King’s Man (2021)

Wri/Dir: Matthew Vaughn | UK, Action Comedy, 130’

Ralph Fiennes and Rhys Ifans lead a magnificent cast in this entertaining if occasionally ridiculous romp, a historical re-write riffing on an eponymous secret spy organisation active in preventing global conflict during the First World War .

Don’t worry if you haven’t followed the other episodes this stand alone comedy sees Fiennes’s back again as the dapper aristo Orlando Oxford, a patriotic pacifist war veteran who rapidly converts to killer mode when his family is slowly decimated by the war effort.

After his wife is killed by a stray bullet in the opening scenes Oxford actively discourages his only son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) from enlisting in the army – but boys will be boys. Aided and abetted by his game comrades Djimon Hounsou (who plays the token black guy) and Gemma Arterton (the token female with an unfeasible Yorkshire accent), Fiennes plays a chivalrous James Bond-style gentleman hero, impeccably suave in Savile Row suiting, and dashingly daring til the end.

Tonally off-kilter for most of its running time – patriotically reverent melodrama making an awkward bedfellow to ‘boys own’ rambunctiousness and silly humour, there are some rip-roaring set pieces, notably the hair-raising hike up a stratospheric mountain-side to find the home of a storied cashmere-bearing goat.

Rhys Ifans is terrific as the anti-hero Rasputin – although the accent is definitely more Gary Oldman’s 1992 Dracula than the sinister Russian mystic. There are various subplots that feel totally redundant to the main thrust of the narrative – a resentful Scotsman whose identity is only revealed at the end (who even cares?). A bit of a mess then, but a really enjoyable one. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Goodbye Morons | Adieu les cons (2021)

Dir.: Albert Dupontel; Cast: Virginie Efira, Albert Dupontel, Nicholas Marie, Jackie Berroyer, Bsstian Ughetto, Marilou Aussilloux, Josephine Helin; France 2020, 87 min.

Winning no fewer than six César’s at this March’s ceremony, Goodbye Morons is populist and playfully anarchic hitting just the right tone despite the odd cliché.

Comedy meets tragedy in the lives of three people: a dying woman and a suicidal software programmer in charge of national security who team up with a blind archivist to locate the woman’s long lost child.

Forty-three year-old hairdresser Suze Trappet (Efira) has fallen victim to the longterm hazard of aerosol hairsprays used in her saloon. But making contact with her son, given up for adoption, is her main priority before she goes. What follows is a fraught and hilarious struggle to see the teenage Alter Ego (Helin), assisted by soft-ware developer Jean-Baptiste Cuchas (Dupontel) whose attempts to end it all, after being sacked, only end up injuring a colleague in the next room.

Blind archivist Monsieur Blin, already a victim of police brutality, comes to Suze and JB’s rescue and their research leads them to Dr. Lint (Berroyer), the obstetrician who delivered young Suze’s baby boy. But Dr. Lint is suffering from Alzheimer’s and lives in a care home. To make matters worse his handwritten diaries are illegible, only his wife can decipher them. Eventually the trio finds success of sorts but this happy-end is overshadowed by a showcase showdown in true ‘Thelma and Louise’ fashion.

DoP Alexis Kavyrchine uses all the tricks in the book with his avant-garde electronic surveillance methods. Nobody is safe from the government, thanks to JB, but turning the tables on them proves counterproductive. Once again the comedy lies in the ridiculous red-tape. Dupontel melding machines with the mindless men in charge. A comedy enforcing a barbed message: our technicians are even less humane than the systems themselves. AS

NOW ON RELEASE AT CURZON CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

Shiva Baby (2020)

Dir.: Emma Seligman; Cast: Rachel Sennott, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed, Molly Gordon, Danny Deferrari, Dianna Agron; USA 2020, 77min.

Rachel Sennott is the star turn in Emma Seligman’s inspired featured debut Shiva Baby. She is Danielle, a Jewish woman caught up in her parents’ plans to get her a husband – or at least a job – in this hilarious comedy.

During happier times we see Danielle in bed with her sugar daddy, Max (Deferrari), who will save her from the woes the world has in stall for her. But that was then. A Jewish funeral get-together (Shiva) provides an ideal networking opportunity for the family’s machinations, never mind that one of their loved ones has actually died.

So parents Debbie (Draper) and Joel (Melamed) head off to the Shiva, Danielle making a last unsuccessful attempt to learn the name of the deceased. Still not having made her way in the right circles, her parents are well aware of the seriousness of the task that lies ahead: Danielle is earning a pittance as a ‘babysitter’ but the fruits of her labours seem to stem from another, more dubious source. Professional ambitions are still unclear university-wise, and her parents are covering all the bills.

Friendships are fraught – she had a stormy relationship with Maya (Gordon) who is also at the Shiva. Debbie warns her daughter “not to experiment today”. But before Danielle has time to internalise this parental guidance and critique (“You look like Gwyneth Paltrow on food stamps, and not in a good way”), enter Max, followed by his wife Kim (Agron) and baby daughter Rose. The lovers can’t agree on their opening gambit, “where did the two of you meet”, finally settling for ‘schul’ (the synagogue). It soon turns out Kim is the major breadwinner in the family, and she carps half-jokingly about her husband’s penchant for expensive restaurants.

Meanwhile, Daneille’s parents have cornered Max in the hope of an internship for their daughter. Kim joins the conversation, expressing the need for a babysitter – Debbie praising her daughter’s (non-existent) experience. Danielle mislays her ‘phone number in the bathroom, having sent Max a rather daring selfie. Maya finds the phone but promises to keep schtum: “I don’t want your parents to know their daughter is a whore.” After much bickering and desert-guzzling, nervous exhaustion finally takes over as furtive hands find each other in the back of a crammed car.

Seligman gets away with her not very likeable heroine in a mishmash of sharp-elbowed characters trying to get into pole position on the back of each other. Danielle hasn’t the slightest idea what she wants from life – apart from not ending up like the rest of the Shiva crowd. Her only virtue is a foggy idea about feminism – something that doesn’t follow through in her relationship with Maya.

DoP Maria Rusche takes her lead from Robert Altman in crowd scenes that zero in on the individual players, a bleached-out aesthetic echoing Danielle’s efforts to stay sane. Editor Hannah A. Park keeps the encounters lined up, the interplay amusing and insightful. Shiva Baby is funny, but the humour is as sharp as the lemons the characters chew on, Seligman bringing the curtain down while the going’s still good. AS

IN SELECT UK CINEMAS FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY
WITH SPECIAL Q&A
9 JUNE 2021  ON MUBI FROM 11 JUNE 2021

A New Kind of Love (1963)

Dir: Melville Shavelson | Cast: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodwood, Thelma Ritter, Eva Gabor | US Romantic Comedy 100′

One of the funniest things The Marx Brothers ever did was attempt to pass themselves off as Maurice Chevalier singing the title song of this ghastly misfire to bluff their way through customs in Monkey Business (1931). Over thirty years later Chevalier here puts in an appearance to briefly warble it himself; which simply demonstrates that they did this sort of thing better in the thirties and that Paul Newman couldn’t play comedy.

Rehashing the old chestnut that short hair and a suit equals frumpy, and that tarting herself up and plonking on a blonde wig and several pounds of slap automatically makes an already delightful woman irresistible. The plot resembles a leering cross between Ninotchka and Two-Faced Woman on which glossy Technicolor photography by Daniel Fapp and fanciful colour effects by George Hoyningen-Heune have been squandered. And it all thinks it’s a lot cleverer and sophisticated than it actually is. Years later they used one of the photos to headline the Cannes Film Festival, bringing the film back into the collective conscience, so that served a purpose of sorts. Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

The Man Without a Past (2002) Now on Prime Video

images

Dir\Writer: Aki Kaurismaki: Cast: Markku Peltola, Kati Outinen, Sakar Kuosmanen; Finland/France/Germany 2002; 97 min.

Like many auteurs of his generation, Aki Kaurismaki is entirely self-taught. After a working life spent as a postman and film critic amongst other things, he turned his hand to film-making in the eighties and has been incredibly successful in his endeavour, producing his own films and distributing them through his own company Alphaville, and even showing them at his own arthouse cinemas in Finland. Often working with his elder brother Mika, they have shaped the face of Finnish cinema, crafting one-fifth of the Finnish film industry’s total output since 1981.

In love with the past and Finland’s lugubrious hard-drinking working classes, often down on their luck – anything post 1980 does not interest Kaurismaki visually and he made this retro look his trademark. The Man Without a Past sees him create another antihero, this time the director doesn’t even give him a name, in the credits he is just ‘M’.

M (his beloved Markku Peltola) arrives one Spring evening in Helsinki, with a small suitcase. Resting on a park bench he nods off and is attacked by three young men, who leave him for dead. Coming round in a rain-soaked stupor, he makes his way to A&E where retrograde amnesia is diagnosed. Discharged from hospital and homeless, he makes his way to a container site where he rents a place to rest his head from a conman called Antilla (Kuosmanen). The geezer exploits those down on their luck. His ‘fierce’ dog Hannibal turns out to be submissive, snuggling up with M on his bed. All this plays out with Kaurismaki’s classic blend of eccentric situational humour which is light on dialogue and heavy on innuendo.

M can’t remember a thing about his life but when he catches sight of a couple of metal workers down near the port he feels a strange affinity to their daily grind, leading him to believe he was a welder in a former life. Turning to the Samaritans for help, he falls in love with Irma (Outinen) and a new lease of life. Soon he’ part of a swing band with the local Samaritans, and manages to secure some welding work. But his luck turns sour when he gets caught up in a bank robbery and this brush with the police leads to his identification. It soon emerges he was married, but his wife divorced him on account of his gambling. When M travels back to his home town by train he finds her living in their former marital dwelling with a boyfriend. M is only too relieved he doesn’t have to fight it out with his rival, returning back to Irma in Helsinki and eventual revenge.

Kaurismaki’s classic absurdist humour is an acquired taste and The Man Without a Past is one of the best examples. When M cooks dinner for Irma in his container, she asks politely “Are you sure, I can’t help”. His deadpan response is: “I think it’s ruined already”. Later when an electrician has helped him connect his container to a power source, M asks how he could return the favour. The man answers matter of factly: “If you see me lying in the gutter face down, turn me on my back”.

Kaurismaki is best compared with Preston Sturges and his comedies of the 30s; his heroes are like the actors Buster Keaton used to preferred, “they can’t raise their voice, their only reaction are furrowed brows”. DOP Timo Salminen, who shot nearly all of Kaurismaki’s films, shows Finland as a morose country where suicide, poverty, hunger and alcoholism is rife. All this is borne, (according to the director) “out of the change in society from a mainly agricultural country, to an industrialised one – many feel rootless and alienated from the country, in a place where high rise blocks and unemployment kill the soul. ” This, and his beloved band music, are the touchstones of his film career that started in 1991.

The Man Without a Past won the Grand Prix at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, Kati Outinen best actress. AS

 

Rotterdam Film Festival 2021 – a hybrid two-parter

 

The 50th celebration of Rotterdam Film Festival (IFFR) will take place in two parts, kicking off in the first week of February followed a physical event from June 2-6, 2021,

A light-hearted comedy opener seems fitting for this special edition: Anders Thomas Jensen’s Riders of Justice  stars Mads Mikkelsen and Nicolaj Lie Kaas. The first week of the festival is dedicated to The Tiger Competition this year feature 16 titles (a larger competition line-up for the future) , Big Screen Competition and its Ammodo Tiger Shorts and Limelight sections which will see 60 titles taking part. Other talent in competition includes Benoît Jacquot, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Mosese, Dea Kulumbegashvili and Nicolás Jaar.

The Tiger Competition winner will be announced on 7 February by a (virtual) jury headed this year by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese joining IDFA’s artistic director Orwa Nyrabia, visual artist and filmmaker Hala Elkoussy, critic Helena van der Meulen and film producer Ilse Hughan.

Taking over from IFFR’s artistic director Beyro Beyer, Vanja Kaludjercic has faced a challenging year where filmmakers “have gone above and beyond to complete works in challenging circumstances, and there has been no shortage of great films looking for a home at IFFR”.

Once again the selection aims to ‘encapsulate IFFR’s spirit as a platform for the discovery of visions that pique our curiosity and capture our imagination. The sheer determination of these striking new voices is exhilarating, and I’m proud that we can bring an outstanding selection to our film-loving audiences in new ways that captivate the collective spirit.”

This is reflected in the one-off festival re-design in response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which is expected to keep much of Europe under full or partial lockdown in the early months of 2021. In a very welcome move, IFFR has awarded US director First Cow director Kelly Reichardt the festival’s honorary Robby Müller Award named after the late Dutch cinematographer and granted to a filmmaker who has ”created authentic, credible and emotionally striking visual language throughout their work”. The festival has been a platform for her features Old Joy, Meek’s Cutoff and Wendy And Lucy. 

TIGER COMPETITION |  1-7 FEBRUARY 2021

Agate Mousse (Lebanon) world premiere
Dir. Selim Mourad

Bebia, à mon seul désir (Georgia, UK) world premiere
Dir. Juja Dobrachkous

Bipolar (China) world premiere
Dir. Queena Li

Black Medusa (Tunisia) world premire
Dir. ismaël, Youssef Chebbi

A Corsican Summer (France) world premiere
Dir. Pascal Tagnat

The Edge of Daybreak (Thailand/Switzerland) world premiere
Dir. Taiki Sakpisit

Feast (Netherlands) world premiere
Dir. Tim Leyendekker

Friends and Strangers (Australia) world premiere
Dir. James Vaughan

Gritt (Norway) international premiere
Dir, Itonje Søimer Guttormsen

Landscapes of Resistance (Serbia/Germany/France) world premiere
Dir. Marta Popivoda

Liborio (Dominican Republic/Puerto Rico/Qatar) world premiere
Dir. Nino Martínez Sosa

Looking for Venera ( Kosovo/Macedonia) world premiere
Dir. Norika Sefa, 2021

Madalena
Dir. Madiano Marcheti

Mayday (US) international premiere
Dir, Karen Cinorre

Mighty Flash (Spain) world premiere
Dir. Ainhoa Rodríguez

BIG SCREEN Competition

Archipel (Canada) world premiere
Dir. Félix Dufour-Laperrière

Aristocrats (Japan) international premiere
Dir. Sode Yukiko

As We Like It (Taiwan) world premiere
Dir. Chen Hung-i & Muni Wei.

Aurora (Costa Rica, Mexico) world premiere
Dir. Paz Fábrega

Carro Rei (Brazil) world premiere
Dir. Renata Pinheiro

The Cemil Show (Turkey) world premiere
Dir. Bariş Sarhan

Drifting (Hong Kong) world premiere
Dir. Li Jun

The Harbour (India), world premiere
Dir. Rajeev Ravi

The Last Farmer (India) world premiere
Dir. M. Manikandan

Lone Wolf (Australia) world premiere
Dir. Jonathan Ogilvie

The North Wind (Russia) world premiere
Dir. Renata Litvinova

El perro que no calla (Argentina) European premiere
Dir. Ana Katz

Sexual Drive (Japan) world premiere
Dir. Yoshida Kota

Les Sorcières de l’Orient (France) world premiere
Dir. Julien Faraut

The Year Before the War (Latvia) world premiere
Dir. Dāvis Sīmanis

Limelight (World Premieres)

Dead & Beautiful (Netherlands, Taiwan) world premiere
Dir. David Verbeek

Mitra (Netherlands) world premiere
Dir. Kaweh Modiri

IFFR | 1-7 FEBRUARY | 2-6 JUNE 2021

 

Dinner for One (1963)

Dir: Heinz Dunkhase, Franco Marazzi | Cast: Freddie Frinton, May Warden,

As we bid a less than fond farewell to 2020, families throughout the German-speaking world and Scandinavia will be gathering around their TV sets to enjoy butler Freddie Frinton getting progressively more sozzled in this 18 minute record of an old music hall sketch by Laurie Wylie and recorded in Hamburg by the German Station NDR on 8 July 1963; which has been regularly screened on German TV every New Year’s Eve since 1972.

Ironically nobody in Britain under the age of sixty has probably ever even heard of Freddie Frinton (1919-1968), while those old enough probably recall him co-starring with Thora Hird in the popular TV sitcom ‘Meet the Wife’. None would be more surprised than Frinton himself that more than half a century after his death he’s a household name in Germany, and the enquiry “The same procedure as last year?” (in English) is considered a thigh-slapper.

Even though performed in English and available for over twenty years in a colourised version it took nearly fifty years finally to be broadcast in Britain on Grimsby’s local channel Estuary TV in 2017. If you didn’t see this article until the New Year (like I did when The Guardian thoughtfully first wrote about it about in the edition of 1 January 1998), don’t worry. It’s now on YouTube! Richard Chatten.

NOW ON YOUTUBE

A Shot in the Dark (1964)

Dir: Blake Edwards | Wri: Blake Edwards, Harry Kurnitz, Marcel Achard | Cast: Peter Sellers, Britt Ekland, George Sanders, Herbert Lom, Tracey Reed | US Comedy, 102′

At work most of my colleagues only vaguely knew who Peter Sellers was; usually responding with the faintest glimmer of recognition when I said he played Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films. That A Shot in the Dark – filmed before The Pink Panther had even been released – was the only one starring Sellers not to have ‘Pink Panther’ in the title – it’s actually based on a 1960 farce by Marcel Achard called ‘L’Idiote’ which was a big hit on Broadway the following year with a young William Shatner in the role that became Inspector Clouseau – gives a clue as to why it’s so much funnier than the series that came much later.

The film’s long and tortuous production – the plug had already been pulled on an initial film version directed in 1962 by Anatole Litvak; while pre-release tinkering is evident from two editors being named in the credits and the brevity of the roles of well-known actors like Ann Lynn and Moira Redmond in the film itself – and the fact that Edwards swore (after it wrapped) that he would never work with Sellers again, would evidently make a fascinating book in it’s own right; and the two only reluctantly worked together again after both were starved into burying the hatchet after a long run of flops during the intervening ten years.

As for the film itself, the virtuoso pre-credits sequence outside the Ballon house demonstrates what a class act Edwards was in those days; while it has a script literate enough for George Sanders to invoke ‘Macbeth’. (The dancer, shown in close-up commenting in Spanish on her partner’s dancing in the flamenco club, is informing him that he is unique). And the scene in the car stuck in Parisian rush-hour traffic is more literally like a nightmare than anything even Hitchcock ever devised. Andrew Sarris approvingly observed that it “lurches from improbability to improbability without losing its comic balance”.

Both George Sanders and Herbert Lom (of course) are hilarious, the latter later becoming the real star of the series; and all the way down the cast list Sellers is surrounded by first-rate talent, all like Sellers himself (and later series regulars like Andre Maranne and Burt Kwouk) looking shockingly youthful. It’s also good to see Graham Stark playing straight man to Sellers for once.

Had Sellers died from the heart attack he suffered the following spring this would have made a wonderful swansong; instead his last completed film was The Fiendish Plot of Dr Fu Manchu. ©Richard Chatten

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES

Toni Erdmann (2016) **** Mubi

Director: Maren Ade| Cast: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Huller, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Putter | 142min | Comedy | Germany

This quirky and hilarious satire from German  filmmaker Maren Ade is a European arthouse  classic that celebrates the intergenerational gap with humour rather than strife.

Maren Ade explores whether comedy is the right way to fix family issues – or whether we should just try to be more sympathetic and understanding. In a film that runs just short of three hours, she achieves a blend of situational comedy, embarrassing incidents, pervy sex scenes and even a good old German nudist party in the style of Ulrich Seidl or even Aki Kaurismaki .

TONI ERDMANN‘s hero is Austrian: Peter Simonichek plays Winifried, a divorced music teacher who loves playing inappropriate practical jokes on his friends but his latest pranks involve his adult daughter Ines  (Sandra Hüller). We first meet Winifried in the throes of arranging a surprise musical tribute to an old colleague’s retirement. But not everyone likes surprises or to be part of this harmless fun, least of all his serious-minded daughter who has to be at the top of her game as management consultant in the competitive macho world of Romania. When she realises her father has been up to his tricks in a bid to poke fun at her childless state and perceived loneliness, it’s already too late to block his impromptu visit in Bucharest, after the death of his dog Willi leaves him footloose and a bit down in the dumps.

As a little girl she loved his tomfoolery, but his casual arrival at her offices in fancy dress, makes her extremely irritated. Rejecting his bid to offer fatherly appreciation, Winifried then starts to behave like a stalker, popping up at Ines’ dinner dates pretending to be his alter ego ‘Toni Erdmann’ complete with wig and grotesque false teeth which he claims are from cosmetic dentistry “I wanted something different – fiercer”.

Only a woman can appreciate the intricacies of life in the competitive corporate world where women are supposed to “go on shopping trips” when they travel with their CEO husbands. Rather than hanging with the guys after work, poor Ines is forced to show the women round the shops while the men ‘kick back’ over drinks. Extremely galling. At one point she tells her boss “if I was a feminist, I wouldn’t tolerate guys like you”. Ade’s script is really spot on, brilliantly manipulating this father daughter relationship and drawing some subtle and intricately-played performances from Simonischek and Huller, who start as polar opposites in their frosty stand-off but gradually grow more sympathetic and human during the course of the film. Beneath Winifried’s silliness lies a heart of gold, he appreciates the real world but has withdrawn from it to reflect  and his daughter emerges to be far more caring and worldly than he gives her credit for.

Winifried’s old dog Willi sets the furry leitmotive for rest of the film, and he pops up in various shaggy wigs and even a full blown Bulgarian scarecrow outfit. The irony comes from the way Ines intuitively manages her difficult colleagues and local friends; her secretary Anca is the only sympathetic female character and there are some really poignant scenes at the end where Ines and her father finally let their guards down to acknowledge that blood really is thicker than water. MT

NOW ON MUBI  | WINNER OF THE FIPRESCI AWARD CANNES 2016

Moscow that Weeps and Laughs (1927) Devushka S Korobkoy

Dir: Boris Barnet | Cast: Anna Sten, Vladimir Mikhaylov, Vladimir Fogel, Ivan Samborsky, Serafina Birman | Silent Comedy Drama, 60′

The Russian silent cinema does it again with this wonderful comedy also known as Girl With A Hatbox, and starring Anna Sten. She’s such a delight that one watches this film in awe at the near-genius with which Samuel Goldwyn managed to transform her during the thirties into such a pudding – and one of Hollywood’s biggest industry jokes – attempting to mold her into a second Garbo.

Moscow-born Boris Barnet was of British extraction and directed this second feature at the age of 24 having already trained as a doctor. His first film Miss Mend (1926) was over four hours long, this runs at a watchable 60 minutes capturing much of the detail of life in a bustling Soviet city in the same vein as Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera which would follow two years later.

The film is a portrait of female empowerment. Contrary to the Soviet ideals of the day, money-making and personal enterprise are seen as key to happiness through the eyes of Sten’s Natasha, a lively business-like young woman living in the country with her grandfather, making hats which she sells to a milliner’s shop in Moscow. The hats are high-fashion, the shop owner ‘Madame Irène’ elegantly exotic and high-living. The action is fast-moving – there’s a lottery ticket, a lovelorn young station master, a penniless student (a fluid mover with fetching Petrushka-type felt boots), a lovable old granddad out of many a communist propaganda film, and a pompous husband. Above all there’s a tremendous feeling of fun. A romantic angle sees her pursued by two suitors: an incompetent railway employee from her local train station far outside snowy Moscow whence she commutes everyday to her millinery shop; and a good-looking student whose rent she helps to pay.

Barnet throughout makes dynamic use for comic effect both of the frame and of the movement of characters within it, both indoors and out in the snow; an additional bonus being the fleeting views of twenties Moscow provided in some of the outdoors scenes. The entire cast throw themselves into the proceedings with infectious gusto; and one would have liked to have seen more of Eva Milyutina as the maid, Marfusha. Richard Chatten.

NOW ON KLASSIKIONLINE

AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

 

 

The Ladykillers (1955) ****

Dir: Alexander Mackendrick | Drama | UK 83′

Celebrating its 65th Anniversary The Ladykillers was the last of the legendary Ealing Comedies., a subversively amusing caper that proves the undeniable civilising force of charming female influence. The female in question is Katie Johnson’s Mrs Wilberforce, a genteel little old lady who agrees to let a suite of rooms in her St Pancras abode to a ghoulish looking ‘musician’ with unfeasible dentures (Alex Guinness). As we soon discover, his intentions are far from honourable when joined by a motley crew of what turns out to be rather gentlemanly crooks: Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom, Cecil Parker and Danny Green. The Ladykillers reflects on the kindness of strangers – but reminds us never to look a gift horse in the mouth – in a world that sadly no longer exists.

In a role originally intended for Alistair Sim, Guinness looks almost macabre as Professor Marcus, whose plan to dupe the seemingly naive Mrs Wilberforce into being part of a heist goes pear-shaped after the crew rob a security van. But the heist is just a vehicle for darkly amusing antics that involve a parrot, a tea party and a strange old house facing St Pancras Station in Euston Road, but now no longer exists.

This gothic caper is far superior to the Coen Brothers’ 2004 remake, the humour derived from Mrs Wildberforce’s typically English way of derailing the gang’s activities with her innocent requests for assistance, and offers of cups of tea. Meanwhile they try to conceal their sculduggery by posing as a farcical string quartet, though they are unable to play a note and are in fact miming to a recording of Boccherini’s Minuet. In the end the gang pull off the robbery, but none of them could have predicted that their greatest obstacle to escaping with the loot would be their well-meaning hostess. 

The Ladykillers was the last Technicolour three-strip film shot in Britain and went on to win Best British Screenplay for William Rose and Best British Actress for Katie Johnson, in the film that made her a star at the grand old age of 77.

Restoration-wise a 35mm Technicolor print was used as a reference for the colour grade to ensure the new HDR Dolby Vision master stayed true to the films original 1950s ‘Colour by Technicolor’ look. In total the remaster benefitted from over a 1000 hours’ worth of 4K digital restoration to achieve a sparkling new digital print. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 23 OCTOBER 2020 | UHD, BLU-RAY/DVD includes Forever Ealing Documentary narrated by Daniel Day-Lewis and BBC Omnibus Made in Ealing (1986) featuring interviews with Alexander Mackendrick and William Rose.

American Pickle (2020) ***

Dir: Brandon Trost | Cast: Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Molly Evensen, Eliot Glazer, Kalen Allen, Sean Whalen, Jorma Taccone, Kevin O’Rourke, Marsha Stephanie Blake | US Comedy 90′

Seth Rogen gives not one but two clever performances – as a Brooklyn techie and his Eastern European immigrant great-grandfather – in this upbeat and intelligent cultural satire bringing to mind Fiddler on the Roof.

An American Pickle underlines just how far we’ve come in the political correctness stakes. Notions of family rivalry and what it takes to succeed in in life are served as a refreshing cocktail of black humour, the weight behind the storyline offering home truths and caustic observations and making this comedy worthy of serious consideration, although Simon Rich’s script based on his novella Sell Out slightly loses its sting in the final stages.

In the Hollywood style opening scenes Seth Rogen plays a fiery but likeable downtrodden Polish peasant Herschel Greenbaum who accidentally falls into a vat of pickling brine in the Jewish community of Schlupsk during the Cossack invasion of 1919. Re-surfacing perfectly preserved in present-day New York (please suspend your disbelief) he meets his tech-designer ancestor Ben, a subdued singleton who has spent his last five years develop0ing an app, and is now looking for investors.

Director Brandon Trost has worked with Rogen before in comedies such as This is the End, The Night Before, The Interview. This latest is fraught with Jewish jokes and immigrant references but the strong theme of hard work and perseverance against the odds rings true more than ever before and resonates with the tough times we’re all going through.

Herschel Greenbaum fetches up in Brooklyn ‘penniless’ and moves in with great grand-son Ben, determined to pay his way by inventing home-cured pickles using rainwater, recycled jars and gherkins thrown out by neighbouring restaurants. This ‘natural’ product this goes down a treat with the ‘woke’ locals (Eliot Glazer and Kalen Allen), and soon he’s making a few dollars.

Determination and self-belief keep him going and spur him on to buy the local Jewish cemetery where his wife Sarah (Snook) is buried, and where construction workers put up a billboard for Russian vodka. The thought of ‘Cossacks’ invading once again is the motivating force for his beef. When the workers refuse to remove the sign, a punch-up ensues and he and Ben find themselves in prison custody, scuppering Ben’s chances of securing finance from ethically conscientious investors. Furious, Ben hits back at Herschel and secretly shops him to the ‘health and safety’ authorities, Herschel losing his pickle livelihood on the grounds of consumer safety.

There is much to enjoy in the tussle between Herschel’s old-fashioned hard-grafting verve and his more passive aggressive modern relative Ben and the family rift drives this feel good comedy forward showing that in the end blood is always thicker than brine. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 7 AUGUST 2020

 

 

 

 

 

Las Ninas Bien | The Good Girls (2018) Mubi

Dir.: Alejandra Marquez Abella; Cast: Ilse Salas, Flavio Medina, Paulina Gaitan; Mexico 2018, 93 min.

Alejandra Marquez Abella’s flawed sophomore feature is a social anthropologist’s dream: based on characters by Guadelupe Loaeza, a group of bitchy competitive Mexican wives whose the crowning glory is having Julio Iglesias for dinner. Sofia, leads the cast of mere cyphers in an episodic narrative that drains out patience even with the modest running time.

Sofia (Salas) is desperate to deny her Latin American heritage. Sending her three children off to summer camp, she warns them “don’t hang out with Mexicans”. A European background is what she and her female rivals long for. In the social whirl, Sofia’s parties are epic productions,  funded by her husband Fernando (Medina) whose   family is of Spanish heritage. Everything is a competition for Sofia, the smallest bum note could lead to a loss of face among her female friends. But we are in the early 1980s, and the Mexican Peso suddenly bottoms out. As Sofia and her circle rely on imported goods, this is a major catastrophe all round. So when credit cards get politely refused and the servants don’t get paid, doom is imminent. To make matters worse, Sofia’s arch rival, the noveau-riche Ana Paula (Gaitan), is still quids in. Her default-position is resigned acceptance, but with the Peso tumbling further, even this seems beyond the pail.

Salas is always brilliant, cool and contained, she carries the film as much as possible. DoP Daniela Ludlow succeeds in conjuring up this lush environment of petty mini-me’s in meltdown, keeping everything close and personal, despite the widescreen format. As a chick-flick study of vanity and self-deceit this is promising but lacks emotional depth and an absorbing dramatic arc. AS

NOW ON MUBI

My Mother | Mia Madre **** | Mubi

Director: Nanni Moretti | Cast: Margherita Buy, John Turturro, Giulia Lazzarini, Nanni Moretti, Beatrice Mancini, Stefano Abbati, Enrico Ianniello | 106min  Italian/US  Drama

Nanni Moretti returns to his autobiographical style of The Son’s Room, for this family drama Mia Madre. This is not just a bittersweet tale of an old woman gradually slipping off her mortal coil surrounded by her son (Moretti) and daughter (Buy) in a Rome hospital. Wry humour and confrontation are injected into a story which explores the relationship between a director who is making a film while her mother is dying in hospital. Margherita Buy plays the director and John Turturro, her leading man.

Although Mia Madre lacks the gut-wrenching emotion of his Palme D’Or winner, The Son’s Room, this is another beautifully-evoked family story that brings subtly-nuanced intimacy, maturity and humour to the everlasting theme of grief and loss.  Nanni draws from his own life story and the piece is very close to home: Moretti lost his own mother while filming Habemus Papam. Essentially a four-hander, Buy is brilliantly cast here as an anxious, highly sensitive and driven professional who finds herself dealing with a teenage daughter while also moving out of her boyfriend’s flat. But the more she tries to be objective the more her filmmaking and her personal life collide. Moretti is understated as her brother Giovanni, in a laid back role that sees him languishing in the quiet resignation of his mother’s final hours. Margherita Buy is gentle yet gloriously neurotic as she describes her film about industrial conditions as “full of energy and hope” to her sceptical mother Ada (the veteran stage actress Giulia Lazzarini) who, despite the physical fragility of age, has clearly still retained her marbles and incisiveness of days as a teacher, in a full and well-rounded life that’s drawing to a satisfactory close. By contrast Margherita’s life is full of uncertainty, doubt, trauma that feels very real today.

John Turturro plays her lead actor in her film – an American ‘star’ Barry Huggins, who lightens the constant hospital visits and high octane emotion with his scatty take as a factory owner tasked with mass redundancies, while also struggling with his own demons as an actor. Full of insight and restraint, Mia Madre provides surprisingly enjoyable, grown-up entertainment. MT

NOW ON MUBI

A Rainy Day in New York (2019) **** Streaming

Dir: Woody Allen | Timothee Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Liev Schreiber | Comedy 92’

Woody Allen films are like proverbial buses: if you miss one another is sure to come along soon after, but here’s one you won’t want to miss with its bittersweet riff on the mystery of love and attraction.

A Rainy Day In New York is a typical Woody Allen comedy that follows two young lovers on the verge of graduation. Elle Fanning (Ashleigh) and Timothee Chalamet (Gatsby) provide fabulous entertainment as a couple of loved up Ivy Leaguers whose weekend trip to Manhattan goes pear-shaped. If you’re a Woody Allen you won’t be disappointed – this is a reliable, but not outstanding, largely to casting flaws.  But there’s so much energy, and Chalamet and Fanning exude charm in spades: she the excitable ingenue, he the subversive and surprisingly deep-thinking rich boy. The film has proved a global success on the  since its digital release.

Situational comedy wise the storyline keeps on rolling as it gathers momentum, at times feeling rather like Max Ophuls’ La Ronde, and the farce element is strong in satirising American privilege and celebrity culture along with the nouveau riche. Veteran DoP Vittorio Storaro (Wonder Wheel) assures another good-looking watch, whether it’s sunny or raining.

The plot is simple: budding journo’ Ashleigh has been granted a celebrity interview with world weary film director Rolland Pollard (Liev Schreiber). In her excitement to secure an unexpected scoop with the troubled auteur she misses a romantic lunch planned by Gatsby, and then finds herself entrancing both the film’s writer (Law) and the main star Francesco Vega (Diego Luna). Leaving a swanky nightclub on Vega’s arm, she is captured by the celebrity news channels who announce her as his new lover, as Gatsby watches on horrified, and annoyed. This clever indictment of fake news also gives Woody a chance to hit back at unfounded rumours surrounding his own love life, in the light of the #metoo narrative. Meanwhile lovelorn Gatsby runs into the hard-edged sister of a girl he once dated (Selena Gomez as Shannon) who invites him to be her love interest in a short film shoot involving a kiss. But the course to true love never runs smoothly and Gatsby has his overbearing mother (Cherry Jones) to contend with, and mothers are often the most difficult women to satisfy in a man’s life.

Chalamet and Fanning’s star turns aside, there are vignettes from an unrecognisable Jude Law as a screenwriter Ted, and Rebecca Hall as his ex. Cherry Jones is captivating as Gatsby’s mother who sheds a light on his character’s subversiveness. Woody subverts expectations in a romcom where the morally questionable characters are the women rather than the men. There is a cheating wife, the morally questionable young woman, and the savvy adventuress – the only sleazy ball  is Vega’s Latin lover, the other males are rather tortured souls such as Gatsby friend Alvin played by an insignificant Ben Warheit. Selena Gomez is one-dimensional as the ‘New York bitch’, her onscreen chemistry with Gatsby so unconvincing it actually ruins the film’s denouement.

Woody Allen’s is master storyteller who enjoys spinning a romantic yarn and sticking to his own tried and trusted formula. He’ll be remembered for his endearing comedies and for being one of the few New Yorker directors who actually moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan – rather than the other way round. MT

A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK is on release on 5 JUNE 2020


 

Eeb Allay Ooo (2020) **** We Are One Fest

Dir.: Prateek Vats; Cast: Mahinder Nath, Shardul Bhardwaj, Nutana Sinha, Sahsi Bhusan, Nitin Goel, Naina Sarffin; India 2019, 98 min.

That well worn phrase “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry” best describes Indian filmmaker Prateek Vats’ feelings about the current state of his homeland. Monkeys have holy status in Delhi, just like the cows, and the local authorities certainly know how to handle their growing  population with kid gloves, as we find out in this impressive and whimsical comedy.

Eeb Allay Ooo follows Vats’ 2017 documentary A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings (about a hundred-year old bodybuilder), which won him a Special National Film award. And he uses his documentary background to great effect in this story about a young migrant in Delhi.

Anjani (Bhardwaj) has recently arrived in the capital and is living with his pregnant sister Didi (Sinha) and her policeman husband Shasti (Bhusan) in a ramshackle flat on the outskirts. Anjani is one of the many unskilled workers looking for a job. But soon Shasti finds him work keeping the herds of monkeys away from government buildings. All this requires training, and this comes from expert monkey handler Mahinder (Nath) who teaches Anjani how impersonate the monkeys’ arch enemy the langur, by shouting “eeb-allay-ooo” which scares them away. But Anjani is actually quite scared of the monkeys, and on the quiet, he uses a sling shot to chase them away. He also dresses up as a langur, but this doesn’t go down well with his boss and he nearly loses his job as a result. Tragically, locals don’t respect Mahinder’s methods either, despite her gentleness, and she is killed by a mob defending the monkeys..

Meanwhile things are not going well for the family. Shasti has been given a rifle in a promotion at work, but is afraid to use it, hiding it under his clothes when he cycles around on patrol. It comes in handy during a major row with one of Didi’s contractors Narayan, and he chases the guy away. Depressed about his work situation Anjani sinks into a clinical depression, and gives Shasti’s gun away. The last sequence sums up everything that has taken place before: there is something fundamentally wrong in a society where monkeys roam free and are protected due to their holy status, while humans are trapped by economic circumstances.    

DoP Saumyanda Sahi’s impressive camerawork creates a fabulous sense of place, particularly his long shots showing Anjani’s arduous journey home. The majestic elegance of the government palaces, contrasts starkly with the poverty in the outer suburbs. The social realism here is poetic rather than didactic, always keeping a fine balance between comedy and social commentary, making Eeb Allay Ooo an enjoyable but bittersweet satire. AS

WE ARE ONE FESTIVAL | BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 20 FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020

 

 

Woman at War (2018) **** Mubi

Dir.: Benedict Erlingsson; Cast: Haldora Geirhardsdottir, Johann Sigurdason, Juan Camillo Roman Estrada; France/Iceland/Ukraine 101 min.

Benedict Erlingsson’s follow-up to Of Horses and Men is an energetic eco-warrior drama that sees a feisty woman taking on the state of Iceland with surprising results. Lead actress Haldora Geirhardsdottir has an athletic schedule, running all over the rugged  countryside, with helicopters and drones circling overhead.

Halla Haldora (Geirhardsdottir) lives a double life: one minute she is a mild-mannered physical therapist and choir leader, the next she’s roaming the countryside, bringing down electricity pylons with a bow and arrow and wire cutters. The only person aware of her war against the multi-nationals’ new technology is Sweinbjorn (Sigurdason), who works for the government and sings in her choir. She gets support from a local farmer, who could be a distant relative, and has a sheep dog called ‘woman’.

But her adventures have more severe repercussions for Juan Camillo (Estrada), who is under suspicion himself for bringing down the pylons. Another running gag in this amusing drama involves three women wearing the Icelandic national costume, who stand at the wayside during Halla’s adventures; a trio of musicians playing drums, the tuba and accordion. Halla’s twin sister Asa, also played by Geirhardsdottir, is a yoga teacher and is about to set off for an ashram in south-east Asia, when Halla gets the news that her adoption application has been granted. As a result four-year old Nika, whose whole family has been wiped out in the Ukraine conflict, is now waiting for Halla to pick her up. But misfortune intervenes.

With a magnificent twist at the end, Woman at War is a stormy but often amusing affair. There are echoes of Aki Kaurismaki, with 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 super-fit middle-aged woman in the central role.

Making good use of the stunning country side, DoP Bergsteinn Björgulfsson’s widescreen images and towering panorama shots are truly magnificent, along with the road movie sequences that showcase Iceland’s wild scenery. Perhaps a little too generous on the running time, this feature combines hilarious scenes with a well-structured narrative and a convincing female heroine. AS

FROM FRIDAY, 3 MAY 2019 | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL SACD WINNER 2018

Battle of the Sexes (1960) *** Home Ent release

Dir: Charles Crichton | Cast: Peter Sellers with Robert Morley, Constance Cummings and Donald Pleasence | UK Comedy 84′

Comedy genius Peter Sellers gives one of his best performances in this famously sharp-edged satire on sexual politics in the 1950s workplace.

The sleepy staff of Macpherson’s traditional Scottish tweed firm get a rude awakening when young Macpherson (Robert Morley, Theatre of Blood) hires a feisty American efficiency expert Angela Barrows (Constance Cummings, Blithe Spirit). She advocates new-fangled horrors like automation and – ghastliest of all – ‘synthetic fibre’.  Can nothing stop her? Nothing, perhaps, but meek accountant Mr Martin (Peter Sellers). Beneath that placid surface, still waters run deep; to balance the books, he decides, he must erase the ‘error’.

Made just after I’m All Right, Jack, this misleadingly titled version of James Thurber’s The Catbird Seat transposed to fifties Scotland was both Peter Sellers’ final character part (recalling his elderly projectionist Percy Quill in The Smallest Show on Earth) and his first starring role as a shuffling old accountant driven to thoughts of murder by American efficiency expert Constance Cummings.

It’s more a battle of cultures or of generations in the vein of an Ealing comedy than of the sexes; as befits Michael Balcon’s maiden production for his newly formed company Bryanston. Directed by Ealing veteran Charles Crichton, it is also considerably enhanced by the glacial black & white photography of the rabbit warren in which Sellers works and on the streets of Edinburgh by Oscar-winning cameraman Freddie Francis fresh from Room at the Top. R Chatten

Blu-ray/DVD release on 20 April 2020 with simultaneous release on BFI Player, iTunes and Amazon

5qMhRR8I

 

 

 

 

The Old Dark House (1932)

Dir: James Whale | Wri: Benn Levy/J B Priestley | Cast: Boris Karloff| Charles Laughton | Eva Moore | Gloria Stuart | Melvyn Douglas| Raymond Massey | Horror / Comedy |US  75′

James Whale’s greatest film was arguably The Bride of Frankenstein but The Old Dark House comes a near second with its spine-tingling blend of thrilling suspense piqued with deliciously dark humour, cleverly sending up the horror genre in a subtle and brilliant way, thanks to Benn W. Levy’s script based on J B Priestley novel, Benighted. The storyline is secondary to spirited performances from a superb cast led by Raymond Massey, Mervyn Douglas and Gloria Stuart as a trio forced to take refuge in a macabre household presided over by sinister siblings (Ernest Thesiger and Elspeth Dudgeon). Things go bump in the night and Boris Karloff plays the monstrous hirsute butler off his rocker – hinting at an early version of Frankenstein himself. But it’s the quirky characterisations that make this supremely entertaining, along with an eerily evoked Gothic atmosphere. Another threesome soon emerges – a ménage à trois between Charles Laughton’s bumptious  Yorkshire mill-owner and his gal (Lilian Bond) who is chivalrously courted by Douglas whispering sweet nothings in the gloaming. Good fun all round. MT

New 4K restoration of THE CHILLING LOST CLASSIC from the director of FRANKENSTEIN, THE INVISIBLE MAN & THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN | and on dual format from 21 May 2018 COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS of CINEMA | ALSO SHOWING AT THE CINEMA MUSEUM, LONDON on FEBRUARY 23  

 

 

The Distinguished Citizen (2016) ****

Dirs: Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn | 118min | Comedy Drama | Argentina

When an Argentinian Nobel prize winner returns to the village of his birth he discovers a lawless Wild West, or has he just become “over-civilised”.

This pithy premise underpins the latest from Argentinian directors Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn. It stars Oscar Martinez (of Paulina and Wild Tales fame) as the world-weary and emotionally avoidant author Daniel Mantovani, who returns to a remote village about six hours drive from Buenos Aires, to accept a medal. Having left there many years ago, he never felt the impetus to go back having made a successful writing career in Europe where he lives in palatial splendour in the lush hills of Barcelona’s Tibidabo.

Written by Gaston’s brother Andres Duprat, THE DISTINGUISHED CITIZEN is a tightly-scripted, insightful and often hilarious satire with echoes of Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll’s 2004 comedy Whisky with similar themes of parochial pettiness and cultural awareness. The tone is always light but touches upon some dark home truths. The elegant framing and architectural sensibilities makes this a visual pleasure, Maria Eugenia Sueiro’s interiors reflecting a faded seventies aesthetic.

The film opens as Daniel is delivering a trenchant rebuke at the acceptance ceremony mocking the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm. Fast forward five years and he is on the plane to BA where a taste of his future tribulations arrives when his airport taxi driver breaks down in a field, hours from Salas, forcing him to spend the night in the middle of nowhere round a campfire lit with one of the pages from his recent novel. The following morning that same book comes in handy as lavatory paper – and we all realise where things are going.

The narrative unspools in five parts – for no specific reason – as Daniel goes back in time to a homespun and unsophisticated community stuck in the past. This motley crew respond entirely inappropriately treating him like a local soap star rather than an intellectual introvert. He bumps into his old girlfriend Irene (Andrea Frigerio) who is now married to his butch friend Antonio (Dady Brieva), a mean dancer and an even meaner game hunter – a talent that plays out in Daniel’s hasty departure in the final scenes. The film centres on the small-town mentality that really rears its ugly head as the story develops, the inhabitants gradually turning the writer from hailed hero to vilified outsider in their collective mean-spiritedness.

This is an enjoyable and intelligent piece of cinema, dark and deadpan situational comedy arises out of bizarre encounters and bitter ironies (much in the same vein as those of the recent Toni Erdmann). The film leaves us with some memorable maxims to reflect on. “making things simple is an artistic kindness” is a choice takeaway from the role and often poignant indie gem . MT

Argentinian Film Season: El ciudadano ilustre (The Distinguished Citizen) (2016)

WINNER COPA VOLPE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016 | BEST ACTOR | OSCAR MARTINEZ

 

The Good Liar *** (2019)

Dir: Bill Condon. US. 2019. 110mins | Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Russell Tovey  

Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen clearly had fun filming this over-baked conman melodrama with its ludicrous twists and turns. It’s enjoyable. But you can’t take it seriously.

They first meet on the internet. A couple of old timers back in the dating game again, the usual platitudes aired in a swanky restaurant on their first meeting: “You look better than your photo” that kind of thing. Ian McKellen is rain-jacketed old roue Roy. Mirren, a well-preserved grand dame called Betty (hardly!) with a penchant for pussy bows – or that’s what we’re led to believe. You see how it’s all shaping up once Roy gets to grips with Betty’s financial credentials. And wonder how soon he’ll get his paws on her loot. Mirren and McKellen are mildly entertaining – but that’s not enough to justify a running time of nearly two hours.

Adapting Nicholas Searle’s novel, Condon and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher get to work on establishing Roy’s modus operandi when ripping off rich clients, with his financial partners. He’s clearly schmoozing Betty along the same lines but with romantic overtures – and a gammy leg – in the hope of appearing a charming old geezer just looking for love. Betty appears to be falling for Roy but she’s no fool. And neither is he, despite their genteel appearances.

The fly in the ointment is Betty’s doting grandson Stephen (Russell Tovey), a specialist in German history who develops an amusing animosity towards the crafty old gent. Especially when Betty offers Roy the spare bedroom after seeing him max out on his limping routine.

The two then embark on a misjudged mini-break to Berlin, on one of Betty’s dodgy dividends. And here the story gains another string to its bow, and a pretty contrived one at that. So much so that it beggars belief when Condon weaves a wartime plot line into the mix leading to an unfeasible finale. For the whole thing to work, Condon should have made a more sinister, hard-nosed drama rather than this archly curious comedy. As Roy so cleverly points out, “this feels like drowning in beige” MT

ON RELEASE FROM 8 NOVEMBER 2019

 

 

Clockwise (1986) ****

Dir: Christopher Morahan | Wri: Michael Frayn | Cast: John Cleese, Alison Steadman, Sharon Maiden, Stephen Moore, Chip Sweeney, Penelope Wilton, Joan Hickson

Cleese plays a toned down version of his iconic hotel owner Basil Fawlty in this whip smart comedy drama brilliantly written by the great English playwright and author Michael Frayn.

It sees a clock-watching comprehensive headmaster Mr Stimpson (Cleese) finally go off the rails after perpetually brow-beating and berating his pupils and staff with a loud speaker. Heading for a vitally important Headmasters’ Conference in Norwich, he first boards the wrong train then leaves his speech in the carriage. This leads to a major misunderstanding with his wife when he goes hell for leather in a female pupil’s car in order to make it to the conference across the summery East Midlands countryside in time for the keynote speech.

Michael Frayn is famous for his pithy writing skills and is supported by a well-known British cast making this all highly entertaining. But Cleese tops the hilarity bill as the masterful headmaster whose calmly pragmatic approach always teeters on the brink of barely suppressed hysteria as desperately tries to make it in time dressed at one point as a monk. But it’s his final modish rig-out that will have you in hysterics : “I can take the desperation, it’s the hope…”.

CLOCKWISE is the film that inspired Cleese to make A Fish Called Wanda and won him the Evening Standard Peter Sellers Award for Comedy in the year after its release. MT

ON BLURAY, DVD and DOWNLOAD | 19 NOVEMBER 2019 from STUDIOCANAL

 

Musicals! | The Greatest Show on Screen | Winter season 2019

BFI MUSICALS! THE GREATEST SHOW ON SCREEN is the UK’s greatest ever season celebrating the joyful, emotional, shared experience of watching film musicals on the big screen. Highlights of the season, The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939) in Belfast Cathedral; a festive screening of White Christmas (Michael Curtiz, 1954) in Birmingham Cathedral; and a tour of Russian musicals to London, Bristol and Nottingham

BFI Musicals will also feature a touring programme of 12 musicals  such as Gold Diggers of 1933; First a Girl (Victor Saville, 1935), Guys and Dolls (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1955), A Star is Born (George Cukor, 1954), Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972), Top Hat (Mark Sandrich, 1935), Carousel (Henry King, 1956), Sweet Charity (Bob Fosse, 1969), Pakeezah (Kamal Amrohi, 1972), Cabin in the Sky (Vincente Minnelli, 1943) and Singing Lovebirds (Masahiro Makino, 1939).

Three classics on release this season are – Singin’ in the Rain on 18 October; Tommy on 22 November and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg on 6 December. The re-releases will screen at venues across the UK, ensuring that audiences the length and breadth of the country will be able to join in the celebration of all things song and dance.

https://youtu.be/1t6L-HU9Amg

UK Jewish Film Festival 2019

UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2019 TAKES PLACE 6 NOVEMBER – 21 NOVEMBER 2019 ACROSS CENTRAL LONDON VENUES AND 20 TOWNS AND CITIES ACROSS ENGLAND

UK Jewish Film is delighted to announce the 23rd UK Jewish Film Festival, which will run from 6th – 21st November at 15 cinemas across London. A UK tour of festival highlights to 20 towns and cities across England, Scotland and Wales will run until 12th December.

This year’s programme, comprising 96 films, plus Q&As and discussions with directors, actors, politicians, journalists and others, is the largest Jewish film festival programme in the world. The film programme includes 8 world premieres, 1 European premiere, 40 UK premieres, and films from 24 countries, including 23 films from the UK.

The diverse range of films in this year’s programme includes Oscar tipped satire from Fox Searchlight Pictures Jojo Rabbit which will be the Closing Night Gala along with the Centrepiece Gala being The Operative which stars Martin Freeman and Diane Kruger which will receive its UK premiere at the festival.

Further highlights include Synonyms which was awarded the Golden Bear at this years Berlin International Film Festival, documentary The Human Factor which is directed by Oscar nominated documentarian Dror Moreh and Israeli filmmaker Itay Tal’s intense portrait of motherly obsession God of the Piano. Meanwhile Norwegian teenager Esther finds herself caught up in the Nazi occupation in Ross Clarke’s award-winning drama The Birdcatcher

A documentary strand includes Amos Gitai’s  A Tramway in Jerusalem and Advocate a look at the life and work of Jewish-Israeli lawyer Lea Tsemel who has represented political prisoners for nearly 50 years.

There will also be a chance to revisit a some cult classics such as the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, When Harry Met Sally and even Fiddler on the Roof!

Festival tickets can be purchased via the UK Jewish Film website here:
https://ukjewishfilm.org/festival/uk-jewish-film-festival-2019/

 

That’ll be the Day (1973) **** Home Ent release

Dir: Claude Watham, Wri: Ray Connelly | Cast: David Essex, Ringo Star, Keith Moon, Robert Lindsay, Rosemary Leach | UK Drama 91′

Bad boy David Essex was a teenage heartthrob back in the 1970s. With his twisted grin, blue-eyes and cheeky swagger he was a little bit louche in contrast to David Cassidy’s fresh-faced boy next door. But the camera loves him as Jim MacLaine, the perfect teen hero in Claude Whatham’s seamy coming of age drama about wannabe rock ‘n’ roll stardom in a post-war suburbia where England is still rather down on its knees, gloomily captured by legendary DoP Peter Suschitzky. Leaving school just before the end of term exams Jim soon finds himself in the Isle of Wight working in a holiday camp, and then joins the travelling fair where he meets his mentor in the shape of a game Ringo Star with his mellow Merseyside burr. Rosemary Leach doesn’t get much of a role as Jim’s mother, but she certainly makes her mark as the face of maternal disillusionment in this poignantly atmospheric trip down memory lane. MT

NOW COMING TO DVD, Bluray and DIGITAL together with cult classic STARDUST (1974) | 21 OCTOBER 2019

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.

Technoboss (2019) Locarno Film Festival 2019

Dir: Joao Nicolau | Miguel Lobo Antunes | Portugal/France | Drama 112mins

Joao Nicolau’s musical bittersweet tragedy could be described as the sentimental swan song of a technophobe – quite literally. It witnesses the slow death of a salesman, but this Willy Loman is defiantly not going to give up without a struggle. Luis Rovisco (Lobo Antunes) is an endearing old buffer who is nearing retirement after dedicating his life to one company. His marriage is over so a paperback book keeps him company on lonely nights on the road, when he’s not bursting into impromptu bouts of song at every opportunity.

Naturally, he suffers the usual aches and pains of late middle age. And rather like Victor Meldrew he finds technology challenging to say the least: bank codes and car-parking barriers often get the better of him. But he’s no fool when it comes to dealing with old-fashioned paperwork and his verbal dexterity and negotiating skills serve him well and could run rings around many a digital native when it comes to servicing his clients.

Newcomer Miguel Lobo Antunes throws himself into the role with gusto and is totally unselfconscious in this inventive musical hybrid – which takes a bit of getting used to, and may not appeal to everyone with its slightly 1970s look. Although the film is overlong, Nicolau’s characterisation keeps us engaged because Luis feels like a real person – he may even be someone you know. His natural joie de vivre and charisma is infectious as the story wears on, Luis embodying the ideal salesman with his positive manner. And when he meets up again with a previous flame in the shape of a rather reluctant Lucinda (Luisa Cruz), who works in one of his regular haunts romance may even be on the cards again: If he can close any sale, let’s hope it’s this one. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | COMPETITION | 7 -17 AUGUST 2019

 

In Bruges (2008)

Dir: Martin McDonagh | Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Clemence Poesy | Irish/UK Drama

I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much and so continuously as watching In Bruges. The sheer outrageousness of it all is enough to raise a smile whenever you think back to it. Although Woody Allen’s All Time Crooks and most of his other comedies certainly beat it on wisecracks and clever dialogue, Martin McDonagh’s script epitomises the sheer pissed-offness of a couple of sweary Dublin hitmen who fetch up in the Belgian town after failing abysmally to bring off a job set for them by their ridiculously snarling boss Ralph Fiennes (as Harry) – playing out of character – in his finest comedy hour.

There’s nothing to be proud of in the sweary humour but it’s infectiously funny for most of the film’s running time. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play Ray and Ken, who have been ordered to lie low after the fiasco – in Bruges. Shoot the breeze, enjoy the architecture and wander round generally taking in the atmosphere. To makes matters worse they are to share a tiny, twin room in a B&B – but milling about just isn’t their style, it queers their pitch and generally leaves them back-footed, appalled at themselves and each other, the whole situation is ludicrous, and they moan and rant as they mooch about aimlessly, quite out of place in this quaint, romantic hideaway where everyone else is enjoying themselves. Not them.

Martin McDonagh’s directs with easy aplomb. Farrell explodes when a man with an American accent complains about their cigarette smoke – although smoking was still quite legal at the time, in Bruges. Farrell then meets sexy single girl Poesy, and the story reaches a natural, successful conclusion. A real one-off, but a memorable one where everyone rises to the occasion. MT

OUT ON BLURAY ON 19 APRIL COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT FILMS

The ‘Golden Age’ of Mexican Cinema (1933 – 1964)

Mexican cinema has more than proved its worth in the last few years with a new generation of talent in the shape of Alfonso Cuarón, Carlos Reygadas, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Amat Escalante and Michel Franco. These directors have brought us a glittering array of daringly inventive and cinematically bold fare, Roma being the first Mexican film to win an Oscar in 2019.

So Mexico has always had a distinctive style of its own and a rich culture to draw on. It what was one of the first countries to embrace new film technology, and did so back in the late 1890s when the country’s first filmmaker and distributor Salvador Toscano Barragan (1872-1947) introduced the first moving images using a cinematograph camera which had been been invented in France in 1895. Toscano also opened Mexico’s first cinema in Mexico City in 1897. As a documentarian he specialised in the Mexican Revolution, drawing on a rich vein of dramatic potential. 

But the Golden Age (1933-1964) was to come decades later during the 1930s when Mexican cinema all but dominated the Latin American film industry, and even rivalled Hollywood in its quality and prodigiousness. And it was largely Europe and the US’ preoccupation and involvement with the Second World War that allowed Mexico to step into the breach with their own feisty brand of rousing romantic and revolutionary melodramas and musicals, which provided a much needed antidote to the war-themed fare being produced elsewhere – although their own films where far from light-hearted and happy, often ending in tears, vehemence and bitter recrimination. 

Fernando de Fuentes 1936 outings Allá en el rancho grande, and ¡Vamonos con Pancho Villa! (1935) were considered not only to be the first films of the Golden Age but arguably two of the finest Mexican features ever made. Emilio “El Indio” Fernández was one of the most prolific directors of the era, his love story Enamorada (1946) will always be remembered for Maria Felix’s role as an aristocratic woman falling for Pedro Armendariz’s rebel leader during the Revolution in 1917. In 1943 the one of the greatest love stories ever told, Wild Flower, brought together Fernandes. photographer Gabriel Figueroa, actor Pedro Armendariz and actress Dolores del Rio. They also made Maria Candelaria (1943) which won the Palme d’Or, and The Pearl (1947) which went on to win a Golden Globe. But in contrast to Hollyward, Mexican studios never had total power over their stars, allowing them to develop their own careers, define their own personalities and select their material accordingly. 

While Fernandez and Del Rio were hugging all the limelight, Gabriel Figueroa (1907-1997) was defining the aesthetics of Mexican Cinema in its most glorious period, and he didn’t stop there. Figueroa photographed 212 feature films, starting his career in 1932, when he shared camera credits with the great Eduard Tisse for Sergej M. Eisenstein’s ¡Que Viva Mexico! (1932). The epic visuals are certainly influenced by Eisenstein’s work. The Mexican landscape is celebrated in long, carefully composed shots. Figueroa’s penultimate feature was Under the Volcano (1984), directed by John Huston – the two had already made Night of the Iguana (1964). 

Fernandez and Figueroa would work together on 25 features. Both ‘El Indio’ and Figueroa established the character of a ‘Mestizaje’, a mixed race identity which Fernandez, whose mother was Native American, carried around proudly all his life.

Maria Candelaria (1944) saw the quartet reunited, Salon Mexico (1949) was another iconic work by director and cameraman. The hits Victims of Sin (1946) and Enomrada (1951) are also shown in this short retrospective.  By the Mid-1950 they went different ways; La rebellion de los Colgados (based on B Travern) was their last great success; even though their last collaboration was Una Cita de Amor in 1958. Figueroa would go shooting several Bunuel features like Los Olividados, Nazarin, La Joven and El Angel Exterminador.

One of them Pedro Infante (1917-1957) would go on to become a screen idol in that he represented all the qualities most highly cherished and sought after in a true Mexican hero: that of being a dutiful son, a firm friend and a romantic lover. In Nosotros los pobres (1947) he fulfils all these attributes, securing himself an everlasting place in the heart and soul of the Mexican public, and crowning it all by dying when he was only 39, in a plane crash.

Another popular star was Arturo de Cordova (1908-1973) who often played tormented men driven to distraction, his suave elegance and drop-dead good looks making him highly popular with female audiences and winning him 4 Ariel awards during the 1950s. He often played alongside his wife Margi Lopez (who was actually born in Argentina). Lopez’s best film was Salon Mexico (1950) and she won an Ariel for Best Actress as ravishing dancer Mercedes Gomez who reeks revenge on her pimp (Alfredo Acosta) when he tries to double-cross her. 

Another Idol who died young was Jorge Negrete 1910-53) although he made the best of his acting and musical talents during a career that lasted from 1930 through to his death. After enrolling in the military, Negrete made his way into singing opera, his recording of ‘Mexico Lindo e Querido’ is now considered the country’s unofficial anthem. Despite his short life, he married twice – Maria Felix and Elisa Christy – and also lived with the co-star of ten of his 44 films: Gloria Marin.

For her own part Maria Felix (1914-2002) (left) was a real stunner with a strong and vibrant personality, perfectly suiting her for femme fatale roles – most famously creating that of remarkable Dona Barbara (1943) in which she captured the public’s imagination, ensuring her place in the Golden Age firmament for posterity. 

But perhaps the best known star outside Mexico was Dolores del Rio (1904-83) (top left) who epitomised Mexican female beauty, and actually rose to fame in Hollywood during the 1920s and early ‘30s. She returned to Mexico becoming even more popular in standout hits Wild Flower and Maria Candelaria. 

Directors such as Alberto Gout, Alejandro Galindo, Julio Bracho, and Juan Bustillo Oro were also popular and successful during this Golden Age. Their talents stretched across the board from screwball comedy to country and urban dramas offering audiences a well-rounded view of the Mexican people, their intriguing history and culture. It  was only when television came along to challenge their dominion and their hold over the nation’s viewers, that the Golden Age started to wane. MT

SALON MEXICO | JULY 2019 | BFI SOUTHBANK

The Dead Don’t Die (2019) ***

Dir: Jim Jarmusch | Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray | 103′ US Fantasy Horror

The peaceful town of Centreville finds itself up against it when the (un) dead start rising from their graves in Jim Jarmusch’s first zombie escapade.

THE DEAD DON’T DIE sees most of the starry cast ripped apart or thoroughly the worst for wear by the time we get Sturgill Simpson’s catchy title tune on the brain for the journey home. But this audience pleaser will certainly go down in history with the best of them – but my money’s still on Shaun of the Dead for sheer deadpan weirdness of the cult classic kind.

The police are the first to notice untoward goings on. Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) are alerted to local power cuts and watches going awry in sleepy Centreville. And Jarmusch brings the same deadpan humour to bear as did Edgar Wright, the dead coming alive in the eerie torpor that many claim is due to climate change.

The town’s cop trio is made up by token female Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevigny), and Danny Glover’s Hank Thompson is the token black resident who makes it possible for Buscemi’s Farmer Miller to add the requisite element of racial abuse. Other denizens include Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), who gets to flex her Scottish credentials with a hefty samurai sword. The younger generation are there in the shape of Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez, Austin Butler and Luka Sabbat who roam around their numbers gradually multiplying as the story staggers on. Then there’s a classic village loner (Tom Waits) who seems to go under the zombies’ radar, perhaps because he’s so like them.

But a wry nonchalant bonhomie permeates this dozy undead drama and maybe Jarmusch is alluding here to the dumbed-down society we live in nowadays – their unaware, don’t care attitude is the most darkly worrying aspect. Crafty old Jarmusch is using his zombie outing as a wrapper to satirise all our current ills. Even the authorities seem brain dead with Tilda giving the only sparky thrill to the piece as the slightly unhinged oddball. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Patrick | De Patrick (2019) Bfi Player

Dir: Tim Mielants; Cast: Kevin Janssens, Josse de Pauw, Hannah Hoekstra, Jemaine Clement Katelinje Damen, Ariane van der Velt, Pierre Bokma; Belgium 2019, 97 min.

Peaky Blinders’ Tim Mielants won the directing prize at Karlovy Vary for this subversive tragicomedy that takes place in a Belgian nudist camp fraught with scheming machiavellians.

In his late thirties the naive main character Patrick (Janssens) is still living with his father Rudy (de Pauw) and blind mother Nelly (Damen). They run a summer camp fraught with  scantily dressed, middle-aged holiday-makers. Rudy is on his last legs but his son has no aptitude for business, and so he relies on Herman (Bokma), whose wife Liliane (Van Welt) projects her lust on the undersexed Patrick.

Into this bizarre environment comes Natalie (Hoekstra) whose unfaithful musician boyfriend Dustin (Clement) immediately strikes up a relationship with another adoring female. So Natalie decides to turn her attentions to Patrick whose sideline as a joiner now becomes central to the narrative, and the tool of his trade, a hammer, one of the main protagonists. When Rudy dies, Herman and Liliane plan to take over the place, declaring Patrick ‘not fit for purpose’, in running the camp’s affairs – not least because his hammer was the weapon of choice in a catastrophe that cost the commune their entire funds. It soon emerges that the hammer was also the weapon used in a murder in Brussels.

Even though the naturalists proclaim to be progressive, they are really straight out of the 1950s. Mielants’ humour does not always come off, and De Patrick often feels repetitive – the running time could be tightened up a tab. But there are enough contradictions to keep the show on the road, and Janssens makes for a brilliant anti-hero. AS

NOW ON IPLAYER | BEST DIRECTOR WINNER | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Support the Girls (2018) ****


Dir.: Andrew Bujalski; Cast: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Shyna McHayle, James Le Gros, Brooklyn Decker, Lea DeLaria; USA 2018, 89 min.

Andrew Bujalski  pays homage to working class feminism in his raucous comedy caper.

Set in a joint called Double Whammies, run by a largely absentee owner, it features a cast of skimpily clad women waitresses although the real work is done by Lisa, who keeps staff and customers at bay. We meet Lisa Conroy (Hall) already distraught before her day begins. She has too much on her plate: a rotten marriage, an interfering boss and a rapid staff turnover. Her deputy Dannyelle (McHayle) and the boisterous Maci (Richardson) have to keep staff and customers happy, they range from flirtatious to downright rude, and get two minutes attention per table, and you may touch a customer, but not squeeze him – one of the rules Lisa tries to get over to the ingénues of the day.

One of the waitresses has problems at home, another was mixed up in an attempted robbery of the place. And today, they discover a would-be robber in the ventilation pipes. He is wedged in, and Lisa has to call the cops to have him freed – and arrested. Then the sound system breaks down. But that it is not the end of Lisa’s woes: the TV system is down too, and there will be no wrestling matches on ESPN for the mainly male clientele. But Lisa puts the angst of the future behind her – at least for the time being – because the present has too many problems. All the male characters are a misogynous bunch, let alone a butch lesbian (DeLaria) who supports the crew.  

DoP Matthias Grunsky’s camera is very intimate, but also conveys Lisa’s isolation. The feature is dedicated to ‘Mothers’ – and while Lisa may be childless, the rest of her crew definitely qualifies, all shouting their frustration from the roof of the ManCave building: they remain indomitable and Regina Hall is outstanding in this breezy and understated comedy of survival. AS

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 28 JUNE 2019

 

The Captor (2018) **

Dir: Robert Burdeau | Cast: Ethan Hawke, Noomi Rapace, Mark Strong | Drama 90′

Ethan Hawke dominates this strangely placid bank robbery drama spiked by absurdist humour and based on a real event in 1970s Stockholm that gave birth to the medical condition (Stockholm syndrome). It was back in 1973 that criminal Jan-Erik Olsson (Hawke) donned a jaunty cowboy hat and strolled cockily into the main branch of Kreditbanken. Clearly on drugs, he has a field day as the Easy Rider robber and even finds love with the unlikely bland bank clerk Bianca (Repace is a real discovery in the role).

The capable cast desperately try to enliven this curious caper eking out their thin characterisations – but to no avail. Boring and monotonous for the most part the humour almost succeeds but eventually even that starts to run out of steam. Burdeau seems happy to let Strong and Hawke run wild as the shouty criminals but there’s no real dramatic heft in this hammy heist. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 21 JUNE 2019

Midnight Sun Film Festival 2019 | 12-16 June 2019

Celebrating its 34th year the Midnight Sun Film Festival presents a niche selection of this year’s features and documentaries, along with musical evenings and master classes in its luminous setting of Sodankylä, Finnish Lapland. 

At the top of the list of new films is Berlinare’s Golden Bear award, Nadar Lapid’s Synonyms, a weird and wacky drama about a young Israeli in Paris. French Canadian Denis Cotê will also be in the Arctic Circle this June with his enigmatic portrayal of a village, Ghost Town Anthology. along with Claire Denis and her latest High Life, a sci-fi drama starring Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche. And one of the gems of San Sebastian 2018  will be also join the party, Rojo, a film from Argentinian director Benjamin Naishtat, captures the existential angst of the military dictatorship of the 1970s.

Portuguese director Rodrigo Areias will present the Finnish premiere of his documentary film about a fishing village in the Azores, Blue Breath. One of festival’s top documentaries was a favourite at this year’s Sundance. Honeyland from directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov, explores the life of ”the last female wild beekeeper”.

From last year’s Karlovy Vary Festival there will also I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians, Romanian’s top director Radu Jude’s distinctive analysis of the country’s history and the present. Belarus is sadly not well known for its cinema, let alone its strong female characters, so Darya Zhuk’s Crystal Swan  offers a chance to sample the creative efforts of both its lead and director. Meanwhile, There will also be a chance to see Kazakh cult film director, Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s colourful melodrama The Gentle Indifference of The World.

Masterclasses and specialties

One of the festival’s guest film maker, Kent Jones, will be presenting in his masterclasses films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller The Lady Vanishes, as an expert of Kazakhstan’s New Wave of the 90s, Jermek Šinarbajev’s true rarity, Revenge (above).

What do we know about the films of the Baltic States? The artistic director of the heartfelt Riga International Film Festival, Sonora Broka, will be leading the audience to the joyful cult film specialties from musical films to erotic horror: included in the ”Baltic 101” theme will be Estonian director Rainer Sarnet’s November, Lithuanian Arünas Zebriünas’s The Devil’s Bride and Latvian Vasili Massi’s The Spider as well as Ronald Kalnis’s Four White Skirts.

Finland’s internationally best known festival curator, Mika Taanila will return to Sodankylä once again presenting not only the newest short film treasures of experimental films from all around the world, but also in a special show, the legendary short film sensation Christmas on Earth, by the shooting star of the 60s underground, Barbara Rubin, complemented with Chuck Smith’s documentary Barbara Rubin and the Exploiding NY Underground.

Music films and auteur portraits

Traditionally, music films and documentaries about filmmakers with production samples are a part of the programme at MSFF. The great actor Ethan Hawke has once again been behind the camera and directed a successful biography Blaze about Texas singer legend Blaze Foley. Airbek Daiyerbekov’s The Song of The Tree is a unique Kyrgyz musical. This time jazz is represented in two elegant documentaries: Leslie Woodhead’ssinger portrait Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things and Eric Friendler’s It Must Schwing: The Blue Note Story.

MIDNIGHT SUN FILM FESTIVAL | 12-16 JUNE 2019

 

Beyond your Wildest Dreams: Entertainment cinema during the Weimar years

BFI Southbank and various venues nationwide will mark the centenary of the Weimar Republic with a major two-month season running from Wednesday 1 MaySunday 30 June; BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS: WEIMAR CINEMA 1919-1933 celebrates a ground-breaking era of German cinema showcasing the extraordinary diversity of styles and genres in Weimar cinema, which conjured surreal visions in the sparkling musicals Heaven on Earth (Reinhold Schünzel, Alfred Schirokauer, 1927) and A Blonde Dream (below, Paul Martin, 1932) and gender-bending farces such as I Don’t Want to Be a Man (Ernst Lubitsch, 1918).

“Ein blonder Traum”
D 1932
Lilian Harvey

In this first foray into the Weimar era we will try to analyse the mainly escapist features of the period, leaving out the prestige projects of Lang and G.W. Pabst, covered in Rudi Suskind’s comprehensive documentary From Caligari to Hitler, and have a look at the B-features which were part and parcel of the growing film industry in Germany, leading to a rapid rise of new cinemas, particularly in the urban centres. Director/producer Joe May, who gave Fritz Lang his big break (before also emigrating to Hollywood) was not only was responsible for mega-productions like Das Indische Grabmal, but, among the 88 features he directed, were small comedies like Veritas Vincit (1918), in which transmigration of the spirit is used, to tell a love story. E.A. Dupont’s Varieté (1925) was a celebration of the music-hall, but was not modern at all: it sounded more like an epilogue than a resume. Karl-Heinz Martin’s From Morning to Midnight (1920) was in contrast a very expressionistic film. Set in Japan, it tells the story of a bank teller, who uses the money he steals on sex-workers, before committing suicide. The Love Letters of the Countess S. (Henrik Galeen, 1924) was typical for a series of films, which dealt with love affairs at aristocratic courts. Comedy of the Heart by Rochus Gliese (1924), also falls in the category ‘scandalous love affairs of the monarchs’. Blitzzug der Liebe (1925) directed by Johannes Gunter might not be well known, but its narrative is very typical for the genre: Fred loves Lizzy, but does not want to marry her. Lizzy makes him jealous, by asking the gigolo Charley to court her. But Charley is in love with the dancer Kitty, who is fancied by Fred. A double wedding solves all problems. Max Reichmann’s Manege (1927) is a sort of minor variation of Varieté , set in the world of the circus. Dupont again is responsible for Moulin Rouge (1928), one of many Varieté  remakes. Ein Walzertraum (1925) by Ludwig Berger and War of the Waltz 1933) by the same director, are, like Two Hearts in Walzertune (1932) by Geza von Bolvary part of many features shot in Vienna, featuring the music of the Strauss family. Karl Grune’s Arabella (1925) is a rather more intriguing endeavour showing the life of the titular horse from its own POV. The Erich Pommer production of Melody of the Heart (Hanns Schwarz, 1929) was one of the first sound features; DoP Karl Hoffmann lamented: “Poor camera! No more of your graceful movements. Chained again”. Even the grim reality of unemployment featured in comedies such as The Three from the Unemployment Office (1932) directed by Eugen Thiele, a plagiarism of his more famous The Three from the Petrol Station (1930). Director Karl Hartl, who would later be a standard bearer of the Nazi regime, showed potential in The countess of Monte Christo (1932), in which a poor film extra (Brigitte Helm) is mistaken for the star, having a great time at a luxury hotel. The final mention should go to Hans Albers, the action man of the German cinema, his career lasting from the Weimar era, via Goebbels and the III. Reich to the post WWII cinema in the Federal Republic: he starred in four Erich Pommer films: FPI Doesn’t Answer, a U-Boot Sci-fi adventure directed by Karl Hartl and scripted by Curt Siodmak and based on his novel of the title; Monte Carlo Madness (Hanns Scharz, 1931), Quick ( 1932, directed by Robert Siodmak, who would soon emigrate) stars Albert as a womanising clown and The Victor (Hans Hinrich/Paul Martin, 1932), where Albers rather ordinary telegraphist develops into a fearless hero. AS

BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS: WEIMAR CINEMA 1919-1933

 

It Must Be Heaven (2019)

Dir/Wri: Elia Suleiman | Cast: Elia Suleiman, Tarik Kopti, George Khleifi, Nael Kanj, Gregoire Colin, Vincent Maraval, Stephen McHattie, Gael Garcia Bernal | Comedy 97′

Best known for Chronicle of a Disappearance (2009), and Divine Intervention (2002) actor and filmmaker Elia Suleiman uses a blend of burlesque and sobriety in this droll observational comedy set in his native Nazareth, Paris and New York.

There is no narrative to speak of here, just a series of amusing vignettes plucked from everyday life epitomising the sheer ridiculousness of the ‘new normal’ in our increasingly paranoid world.

The common threads that run through this calming rather meditative feature focus on police harassment and surveillance, and weird behaviour of the general public. It’s a less stylised version of Roy Anderson’s cinema style. As the serene star of the show Suleiman conveys all this with a lightness of touch and elegant framing that brings out the life’s banality in all its glory.

The opening scene in Nazareth follows a solemn Easter procession of Orthodox faithful towards a some sacred wooden doors that are supposed to open at the priest’s command. Sadly, the people on the receiving end decide not to play ball, and we watch the priest give them merry hell from the other entrance, removing his mitre to facilitate his angry tirade. .

Arriving in Paris, Elia gawps at the beautiful girls from the safety of a pavement cafe. Having coffee the next day, police arrive and measure the place up, to make sure it conforms to government guidelines. Thankfully it does, and they depart poker-faced. On the way back to his apartment, a strange muscle-man stares at him disconcertingly in the metro, before performing a regular routine with a beer can. Back in his apartment, Elia looks out of the window to see three police officers inspecting a parked car, their choreographed movements on ridiculous electric scooters, are a recurring comedy motif throughout.

The next day, Elia runs into two Japanese tourists who ask if he’s ‘Brigitte”. Although this seems an innocent question on their part, the irony of the situation is clearly lost in translation, and they interpret his walking quietly away with bewilderment.

One of the best scenes involves a meeting with a film producer that is both polite, euphemistic and ironic – given the situation. Elia then runs into his friend Gael Garcia Bernal, played by the Mexican star himself. But his attempts to introduce Elia to a female producer ends abruptly: “It’s a comedy about peace in the Middle East,” says Bernal. “That’s already funny,” she replies without really thinking. In New York the mood turns more hostile. Everyone seems to be carrying guns, even the women. His Palestinian identity is greeted with either genuine amusement, or hostile suspicion.

This cinematic gem works it lowkey magic, Sofian El Fani’s widescreen camera allowing us to take in the big picture, on a global scale in pastel long takes. Uncluttered by trivia, the message is even more meaningful, Suleiman’s simple yet resonant musings are a joy to behold. MT

NOW ON RELEASE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | FIPRESCI PRIZE WINNER | MAY 2019

The Best Years of a Life (2019) **** Cannes Film Festival 2019

Dir: Claude Lelouch | France Drama, 90′

Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant are back together again 53 years later in Claude Lelouch’s sequel to Un Homme et Une Femme. 

Claude Lelouch’s cult classic with its breezy romantic score by Francis Lai is one of the most popular French films ever made. Even the title harks back to that “ou la la! moment when your French lover sweeps you off your feet in a cosy bistro savouring a post prandial Cointreau.

Well that was back in 1966 but this sequel feels surprisingly slick and contemporary. Now in his 80s, ex racing driver Jean-Louis Duroc (Trintignant at 89, for the un-initiated) is in a swish Normandy care home – infinitely more appealing than the ones BUPA charges £100k a year for, even the staff are sexier.

The Best Years of a Life (Les Plus Belles Années d’une Vie)sees Jean-Louis considerably more dishevelled but the cheeky twinkle in his eye is still there as he flirts with his carer and wanders around the foothills of dementia – or is he just having us on?. Meanwhile his long-lost love, a well-preserved Anne Gauthier (Aimée, an amazing 87) is running a small shop and enjoying her daughter and granddaughter. His son Antoine (Antoine Sire, now grown up since his childhood role) persuades Anne to visit his father. Jean-Louis pretends not to recognise her at first – she is still the diffident one, and he is still a bit of a rascal. Lelouch, now 81, clearly understand Jean-Louis, and his script is insightful and extremely convincing for anyone who has a father of this age. And as the two go back down memory lane, Lelouch cleverly splices extracts from the original film: the lovers cavorting on the beach and laughing with their kids. Lelouch has even added footage of an exhilarating drive through Paris in the early hours of the morning, and layered it over images from his other films. In a way this is the director’s chance to bring his 1966 film back to life and offer a plausible and authentic conclusion to the story, attracting nostalgic older audiences – and even inquisitive new ones. And although the previous sequel, A Man and a Women: 20 Years Later (1986), was not a success, this seems to have considerably more depth and understanding.

A great deal of the film is pure nostalgia, but there’s humour too and it flows along pleasantly without any awkward moments – the flirty bits do happen as men of this generation get older. You have to remember – they grew up in a completely different century.

The Best Years of a Life was made in just under two weeks, showing how the veteran director and his ageing stars are still capable of being impressive. And with its timely themes and the impressive car sequence it competes favourably with anything in the competition line-up. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14-25 May 2019

Le Daim (Deerskin) 2019

Dir: Quentin Dupieux | Cast: Jean Dujardin, Adêle Haenel, Albert Delpy, Pierre Commé | Comedy Drama, France 77′

The apparel doth oft proclaim the man, says Polonius and the apparel in Quentin Dupieux’s new film Deerskin doth certainly proclaim Jean Dujardin’s Georges pretty oft.  We first meet Georges in that typical midnight-of-the-soul location: a motorway service station. He is feeling a sudden contempt for his corduroy jacket, trying to stuff it down the toilet. Apparently in the immediate aftermath of a marital breakdown, Georges splurges a huge sum on a second hand 100% deerskin jacket with tassels. Not since Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread has a man been so taken with a sartorial item. Georges’ new jacket is tight for him and weird, and yet he’s so excited about being the height of what he calls “killer style”.

Holing up in a remote mountain hotel, Georges starts to film his jacket with a camcorder (thrown in as part of the jacket deal) and hold conversations with the garment with Dujardin doing both voices. On one level, Georges seems like a pitiable middle-aged man in the midst of a crisis: his bank account is frozen; his wife tells him he no longer exists and he even resorts to eating out of a bin. And yet Georges is armoured by his own delusions which quickly turn psychotic. Befriending a local bartender Denise (the ubiquitous Adêle Haenel), he convinces her he is making a film, which gels with her own ambition to be an editor. But the filmmaking pose is only a way toward securing his more ambitious goal – a dream he vocally shares with his jacket – of eliminating all other jackets; and therefore all other jacket wearers.

It is testament to Dupieux’s skill and the utter commitment of his two leads that Georges madness somehow feels grounded in an ordinary world. And yet it’s a world of ordinary madness. There are no police around and no consequences to the violence, even though Georges doesn’t seem to be hiding the bodies. In fact, he’s filming the killings and Denise is onboard, enthused enough by the footage to start financing the movie herself. Albeit occasionally dense – he doesn’t seem to understand computers – Georges has a fiendish talent for improvisation and the same could be said of the film. Its twists and turns, its toying with expectation, keep the shuttlecock of lunacy airborne long enough for Georges to get himself kitted out with more deerskin products and the movie to turn in some hilarious moments of violence.

Although more recently seen as a straight dramatic actor Haenel has proven comedy chops and she makes Denise both a credible foil and accomplice to Georges. But the power of the movie comes with Dujardin’s performance, which is detailed and astute, comic and unnerving. Dujardin shows Georges to be a vain preening man – he asks women in a bar if they were talking about his jacket – who demands attention and insecurely needs to be the boss. It’s like he’s playing American Psycho via David Brent.

The film is a portrait of toxic masculinity weirdly stripped of its most common denominator: misogyny. Georges doesn’t care for anyone except himself and his jacket. Deerskin is a reductio ad absurdum of male obsession and vanity and it is all done in “Killer Style”.  John Bleasdale

NOW IN CINEMAS | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Quinzaine des Réalisateurs

The Dead Don’t Die (2019) Cannes 2019 ****

Dir: Jim Jarmusch | Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray | 103′ US Fantasy Horror

The peaceful town of Centreville finds itself up against it when the (un) dead start rising from their graves in Jim Jarmusch’s first zombie escapade.

THE DEAD DON’T DIE is the first festival opener to also vie for the Palme d’Or in the main competition this year at Cannes. Jarmusch has won all sorts of awards in previous editions – The Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award (Broken Flowers); Best Artistic Contribution (Mystery Train); The Golden Camera (Stranger than Paradise); and Coffee and Cigarettes III was awarded the Best Short film in 1993 , but he’s never actually taken home the top prize. And it’s possible he will with this flip but fun affair with its slim but subtle undercurrents.

Most of the starry cast are ripped apart and end up thoroughly the worst for wear by the time we get Sturgill Simpson’s catchy title tune on the brain for the journey home. But this audience pleaser will certainly go down in history with the best of them – but my money’s still on Shaun of the Dead for sheer deadpan weirdness of the cult classic kind.

The police are the first to notice untoward goings on. Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) are alerted to local power cuts and watches going awry in sleepy Centreville. And Jarmusch brings the same deadpan humour to bear as did Edgar Wright, the dead coming alive in the eerie torpor that many claim is due to climate change.

The town’s cop trio is made up by token female Mindy Morrison (Chloe Sevigny), and Danny Glover’s Hank Thompson is the token black resident who makes it possible for Buscemi’s Farmer Miller to add the requisite element of racial abuse. Other denizens include Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), who gets to flex her Scottish credentials with a hefty samurai sword. The younger generation are there in the shape of Caleb Landry Jones, Selena Gomez, Austin Butler and Luka Sabbat who roam around their numbers gradually multiplying as the story staggers on. Then there’s a classic village loner (Tom Waits) who seems to go under the zombies’ radar, perhaps because he’s so like them.

But a wry nonchalant bonhomie permeates this dozy undead drama and maybe Jarmusch is alluding here to the dumbed-down society we live in nowadays – their unaware, don’t care attitude is the most darkly worrying aspect. Crafty old Jarmusch is using his zombie outing as a wrapper to satirise all our current ills. Even the authorities seem brain dead with Tilda giving the only sparky thrill to the piece as the slightly unhinged oddball. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 14-25 May 2019 | IN COMPETITION

Sundance London 2019 | 30 May – 2 June 2019

Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival brings a selection of films to London, screening at at PICTUREHOUSE CENTRAL from 30 MAY – 2 JUNE 2019. Here is a selection of the features and documentaries scheduled:

THE LAST TREE/ United Kingdom (Director/Screenwriter: Shola Amoo) – Femi is a British boy of Nigerian heritage who, after a happy childhood in rural Lincolnshire, moves to inner London to live with his mum. Struggling with the unfamiliar culture and values of his new environment, teenage Femi has to figure out which path to adulthood he wants to take CAST: Sam Adewunmi, Gbemisola Ikumelo, Denise Black, Tai Golding, Nicholas Pinnock 

LATE NIGHT U.S.A. (Director: Nisha Ganatra, Screenwriter: Mindy Kaling) – Legendary late-night talk show host’s world is turned upside down when she hires her only female staff writer. Originally intended to smooth over diversity concerns, her decision has unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women separated by culture and generation are united by their love of a biting punchline. Cast: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Paul Walter Hauser, Reid Scott, Amy Ryan

THE NIGHTINGALE Australia (Director/Screenwriter: Jennifer Kent) – 1825. Clare, a young Irish convictwoman, chases a British officer through the Tasmanian wilderness, bent on revenge for a terrible act of violence he committed against her family. On the way she enlists the services of Aboriginal tracker Billy, who is marked by trauma from his own violence-filled past. Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie

HAIL SATAN? U.S.A. (Director: Penny Lane) – A look at the intersection of religion and activism, tracing the rise of The Satanic Temple: only six years old and already one of the most controversial religious movements in American history. The Temple is calling for a Satanic revolution to save the nation’s soul. But are they for real? 

THE FAREWELL U.S.A., China (Director/Screenwriter: Lulu Wang) – A headstrong Chinese-American woman returns to China when her beloved grandmother is given a terminal diagnosis. Billi struggles with her family’s decision to keep grandma in the dark about her own illness as they all stage an impromptu wedding to see grandma one last time.  CAST: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo

THE DEATH OF DICK LONG U.S.A. (Director: Daniel Scheinert, Screenwriter: Billy Chew) – Dick died last night, and Zeke and Earl don’t want anybody finding out how. That’s too bad though, cause news travels fast in small-town Alabama. CAST: Michael Abbott Jr., Virginia Newcomb, Andre Hyland, Sarah Baker, Jess Weixler 

CORPORATE ANIMALS U.S.A. (Director: Patrick Brice, Screenwriter: Sam Bain) – Disaster strikes when the egotistical CEO of an edible cutlery company leads her long-suffering staff on a corporate team- building trip in New Mexico. Trapped underground, this mismatched and disgruntled group must pull together to survive. CAST: Demi Moore, Ed Helms, Jessica Williams, Karan Soni

ASK DR RUTH  U.S.A. (Director: Ryan White) – A documentary portrait chronicling the incredible life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor who became America’s most famous sex therapist. As her 90th birthday approaches, Dr. Ruth revisits her painful past and her career at the forefront of the sexual revolution. 

THE BRINK U.S.A. (Director: Alison Klayman) – Now unconstrained by an official White House post, Steve Bannon is free to peddle influence as a perceived kingmaker with a direct line to the President. As self-appointed leader of the “populist movement,” he travels around the U.S. and the world spreading his hard-line anti-immigration message

Tickets on sale Tuesday 23 April; priority booking from Friday 19 April

Find out more at picturehouses.com/sundance

 

How I Won the War (1967) *** Blu-ray release

Dir: Richard Lester | Writer: Charles Wood | Cast: John Lennon, Roy Kinnear, Michael Crawford, Michael Hordern, Jack MacGowran | UK Comedy 109′

In 1967 John Lennon took a break from the band and travelled down to Almeria in Southern Spain where he still managed to write the lyrics for Strawberry Fields Forever while starring in Richard Lester’s surreal comedy. Aside from its merits, the film was always going to be a talking point and would ultimately become a cult classic and one of the most appealing anti-war satires. Based on Patrick Ryan’s book, Charles Wood’s script sends up the British Army in a way that is both harmless and enjoyable.

John Lennon exudes an easy charisma as the bespectacled Private Gripweed, eclipsing Michael Crawford in his role as the incompetent Lieutenant Goodbody leading his troupe of hapless soldiers into active service in Europe and North Africa during the Second World War. Roy Kinnear, Michael Hordern and Jack MacGowran complete the wonderfully witty and watchable cast. MacGowran also polished off another dark comedy role that year starring in Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers. Lester’s direction often misfires but in a way that is retrospectively endearing given the nostalgic nature of the subject matter – cricket. A lovely, amusing walk down memory lane. MT

AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY from 20 May 2019 COURTESY OF THE BFI

 

Cannes Film Festival –

Thierry Frémaux (now general delegate) has unveiled the 2019 official selection. And this year’s Cannes looks to be a glittering number with plenty of real stars gracing the Croisette (Elton John, Isabelle Huppert, Tilda Swinton and Claude Lelouch), four female filmmakers in the main Competition line-up which strikes a good balance of well known auteurs and new filmmakers – and some promising British Films: Dexter Fletcher’s biopic Rocketman; Asif Kapadia new documentary about his hero Diego Maradona, and another dose of dour social realism from Ken Loach. Cannes and Netflix are still at loggerheads – in the best possible way – but where would Cannes be without a little controversy to hit to headlines…

The four Palme d’Or hopefuls directed by women are— Mati Diop’s Atlantique (she was memorable in Simon Killer);Jessica Hausner’s Sci-fi-ish debut Little Joe stars Ben Whishaw and Emily Beecham in a story set in the world of genetic engineering (left); Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire (with its all female cast) and Justine Triet’s Sibyl a psychotherapist themed drama which has distinct echoes of Ozon‘s l’Amant Double. Infact, 13 of the 51 filmmakers (about 25%) are women. And Thierry intends to continue with the trend.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won the festival’s directing prize for Babel in 2006 will head up the jury. This year’s official poster (above) pays tribute to the director Agnès Varda, who died last month at age 90, and features an image from her final film La Pointe Courte. And for the first time ever, the opening film Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die will also play in competition. Styled as a zombie comedy is has a superb cast: Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloë Sevigny and Tilda Swinton.

Also in the main competition is Pedro Almodovar with Pain and Glory described as a fictionalised auto-biopic. He’s be nominated before but never won the Palme so it would be a feather in the Oscar winner’s cap. Canadian Xavier Dolan is back with a Quebec-set drama Matthias and Maxime. Il Traditore is Marco Bellocchio’s drama about Tommaso Buscetta the first mafia informant in 1980’s Sicily. Ira Sachs’s Frankie is set in the bewitching town of Sintra which will add another dimension to the story starring festival doyenne Isabelle Huppert along with Brendan Gleeson, Marisa Tomei, Greg Kinnear and Jérémie Renier. Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu tries his hand at comedy with The Whistlers which unites him once again with Vlad Ivanov (Hier and Sunset). Ladj Ly is the only first time filmmaker on the comp list and he brings a drama expanded from his 2017 short entitled Les Miserables about the Seine-Saint-Denis anti-crime brigade. Veteran favourites The Dardennes Brothers will be there will Muslim-themed Young Ahmed. Malick’s A Hidden Life (aka Radegund) explores the life of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian conscientious objector to the Third Reich who was executed in 1943 and contains final performances from Michael Nqyvist and Bruno Ganz, sadly no longer with us.

Other directors returning to competition include Oh Mercy, a Roubaix-set crime drama from Arnaud Desplechin and a family drama from South Korea’s Bong Joon-ho (Okja). And Cannes regular Kleber Mendonça Filho co-directs his latest (with Juliano Dornelle), a horror film entitled Bacurau.

Un Certain Regard sidebar has films from Catalan auteur Albert Serra – Liberté – and The Wild Goose Lake, a Chinese thriller by Diao Yinan (Black Coal, Thin Ice). Bruno Dumont’s follow up to Maid of Orleans story Jeannette (2017) is simply called Joan of Arc. 

And where would Cannes be without the megastars of the Riviera? Double Oscar-winning Claude Lelouch claimed the Palme d’Or back in 1966 with the iconic Un Homme et Une Femme. And he follows this up with the same classic duo in The Best Years of a Life (Out of Competition) uniting Jean-Louis Trintignant with Anouk Aimée. Veteran heavyweights Abel Ferrara and Werner Herzog also join the party.

TV-wise there will be a chance to sample Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s 10-parter  Too Old to Die Young. Venice started the TV-streaming service trend, and Cannes has now joined the bandwagon.

Thierry Frémaux left the press conference with his usual cheeky promise that other titles will soon be announced. And everyone was excited to hear that these could include Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood exploring the final years of the Golden Era with a starry line-up of Al Pacino, Leonard DiCaprio, Dakota Fanning and Margot Robbie.

For the time being no Netflix films will be included in the Palme d’Or competition, indeed the streaming giant does not have a film ready in time to be presented this year. Martin Scorsese has declared that special affects have delayed his entry of The Irishman which was very much on the cards for Thierry Frémaux and Pierre Lescure, and will now most likely appear at Venice.

Other regulars and possible contenders are Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems and the latest from Noah Baumach and Ad Astra from James Gray. So watch this space. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 14 -25 MAY 2019

Jury

Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Elle Fanning

Maimouna N’Diaye

Kelly Reichardt

Alice Rohracher

Enki Bilal

Robin Campillo

Yorgo Lanthimos

Pawel Pawlikowski

 

The Caretaker (1963) **** Bfi Flipside

Dir.: Clive Donner; Cast: Alan Bates, Donald Pleasence, Robert Shaw; UK 1963, 105 min.

A play that changed the face of modern theatre and made Harold Pinter’s name, The Caretaker remains one of Pinter’s most famous works. Featuring original production cast members Donald Pleasence and Alan Bates, the film adaptation is sensitively directed by Clive Donner (Rogue Male) and was shot by Nicolas Roeg. It will be released by the BFI in a Dual Format Edition on 15 April 2019, presented with a variety of extras, and on iTunes on 29 April.

The Caretaker was also an early version of celebrity crowdfunding, with Elisabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Noel Coward among the co-producers. With clear echoes of Joseph Losey’s The Servant from the same year (Pinter also scripted, based on a novel by Robin Maugham), The Caretaker is a power play as well as a psychological menage-a-trois. But whilst the titular servant in the Loosey film wins the battle with his master and his fiancée, the title character in The Caretaker looses out against the alliance of two brothers.

Hobo Mac Davies aka Bernhard Jenkins (Pleasence) is picked up from the street by Aston (Shaw), who takes pity on him on a frosty night, and invites him into the dilapidated home he , shares with his brother Mick (Bates). But having set foot in his bedsitter room, which has been used as a dumping ground for broken domestic appliances, Davies turns out to be opportunistic and aggressive at the same time: bullying the hyper-sensitive Aston, who has been the victim of electro-shock treatment during his teenage years. Davies also spins him a porkie about having to get to  Sidcup, to retrieve his ‘papers’ – a bogus excuse which provides a rich vein of humour. Despite being a tramp with no possessions or any way of financing him life, he has a high opinion of himself, and is extremely demanding and choosy finding fault in Aston’s generous attempts to accommodate him: particularly with regards to footwear. Alan Bates plays Aston’s cocky older brother Mick (Bates), who dreams about tuning the ramshackle house into a luxury penthouse – whilst Aston had mentioned a much more realistic project to Davis: the building of a shed in the garden, where Aston could use as a workshop. But Davis soon enthrals Aston with his stories of follies de grandeur – and the need to get to Sidcup to fetch his ‘references’. Private Eye’s column ‘Great Bores of Today’ could have been based on Pinter’s hilarious road references.

Even though, Mick throws a few coins at Davies feet, which the in the room is a small Buddha statue, which Aston cherishes. Trying to get to grips with Davies, Mick smashes the stature, whilst the former tries to get Aston to give him control over the household, relegating his brother. A knife suddenly turns up, but slowly the brothers form an alliance against Davies. Aston throws him out of the house, but even though Mick picks him up in the morning, after a Davies is shivering from the cold, Aston turns his back literally on Davies, who has returned to the house: Aston keeps out the light blocking from the window and condemns Davis to the darkness he came from.

Richard Donner (Here we go around the Mulberry Bush) directs the sparse action with great sensitivity, but DoP Nicolas Roeg steals the show, using all tricks in the trade to conjure up always new light and shadow games, in which the three protagonists are caught like in a spider’s web. Pleasance is really creepy as the ever-changing Davis, and Bates acts out his his psychotic tendencies with menace. But Robert Shaw makes the strongest impression, as the permanently tortured victim of intrusive medical treatment, which has robbed him of any idenity. AS

Dual Format Edition (DVD/Blu-ray) release on 15 April 2019, and on iTunes on 29 April

   

One, Two, Three (1961) ***

Dir.: Billy Wilder; Cast: James Cagney, Pamela Tiffin, Arlene Francis, Lilo Pulver, Horst Buchholz, Howard St. John; USA 1961, 108 min.

When Wilder adapted Ferenc Molnar’s stage play from 1929 with his regular writing partner I.A.L. Diamond, he wasn’t to know that real life would interfere dramatically with his film set in the divided German capital. But on the day after filming a scene at the Brandenburg Gate in August 1961, when Wilder was putting his feet up at the Kempinski on the Kurfurstendamm, the Wall went up. And Wilder and his team had to scramble over to Munich, where the Brandenburg Gate was re-erected in a studio for a cool $200 000. No wonder, the feature bombed at the box-office: nobody could see the fun any more.

Cagney is CR McNamara, boss of Coca-Cola in West Berlin, but angling for a return to the HQ in Atlanta. Top dog Hazeltine (St. John) entrusts him with his 18 year-old daughter Scarlett (Tiffin), who comes to stay with McNamara and his wife Phyllis (Francis) in their West Berlin home. After Scarlett asks Phyllis “if she had ever made love to a communist”, Phyllis answers in the negative, but adds “I once necked a Stevenson Democrat”. So Scarlett goes on to make sure she’s succeeds, falling in love with communist agitator Otto (Buchholz). CR is successful in having the relationship terminated, “torturing” Otto with American hit songs. But it then turns out Scarlett is pregnant, and CR’s new task is to re-model Otto into a good capitalist, before the Hazeltine parents arrive.

The change from a comedy to a tragedy killed the film off. At its premiere in West Berlin it was slaughtered in the press, the chief critic of the “Berliner Zeitung” writing “our hearts are crying out, but Wilder only sees the funny side”. But when the feature was re-released in 1985, it went on to play for a whole year in West-Berlin’s cinemas.

This was supposed to be Cagney’s last film (he returned with Ragtime in 1981), and his staccato voice delivered the gags memorably. DoP Daniel L. Fapp (West Side Story) films the divided city impressively in black-and-white and Andre Previn’s score underlines the fricative heel-clicking of the Germans, who see in CR just another “Leader”. It may not be Wilder’s finest hour, but it’s very much worth a look in. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 15 APRIL 2019 courtesy of EUREKA

Khrustalyov, My Car (1998) ***** Bluray

Dir: Aleksei German | Wri: Joseph Brodsky | Comedy Drama USSR, 147′

Named after the apocryphal exclamation of Soviet security chief Lavrentiy Beria as he rushed to Stalin’s deathbed, this raucously, rip-roaring ride through Soviet history captures the anticipation and anxiety in the Moscow air, as the Soviet despot lay dying.

In January 1953, the Vladimir Ilin’s camera thrusts us right into a surreal snowbound Moscow where Stalin still rules like the ‘man of steel’ of his nickname. An alcoholic military surgeon, General Yuri Georgievich Klensky (Yuri Tsurilo), finds himself a target of the “Doctors’ Plot”: the anti-Semitic conspiracy accusing Jewish doctors in Moscow of planning to assassinate the Soviet elite. Captured, arrested and marked for the gulags, Yuri enters an Hieronymus Boschean hell where characters abuse each other, one stubbing a cigarette out on another. Sexual acts are degenerative and ubiquitous but caught off camera, dialogue random as the characters come and go, fight and wrestle in the dizzying dystopia. At one point Yuri wipes his nose and moustache on his wife’s fur coat. The fractured narrative of this demonic, chaotic, histrionic yet delicately poetic dark comedy captures the madness of a desperate era where everyone had lost the plot.

Filmed in high-contrast monochrome by Vladimir Ilin and directed by Aleksei German (Hard to Be a God), Khrustalyov, My Car! went on to win multiple awards long after its premiere at Cannes where it picked up the Palme d’Or. wildly provocative when it was screened at the 1998 Cannes film festival, despite being championed as the best film of the festival by the president of the Cannes jury that year, Martin Scorsese. A one-of-a-kind collision of nightmare and realism, German’s film is presented here in a new restoration with a wealth of illuminating extras. MT

ON BLURAY 29 APRIL 2019 COURTESY OF ARROW 

Vladimir Ilin won Best Cinematographer at the NIKA Awards 2000

 

Mr Topaze (1961) **** BFI Flipside

Dir: Peter Sellers | Wri: Pierre Rouve | Cast: Herbert Lom, Billie Whitelaw, Leo McKern, Peter Sellars, John Le Mesurier, John Neville, Joan Sims | Michael Gough | Comedy Drama | 97′

Peter Seller’s debut as a director is a rather lyrical bittersweet 1960s version of a Marcel Pagnol play adapted for the screen by Pierre Rouve with wit and insight. Playing the lead with a drôle debonair melancholy, Sellers is a well-meaning provincial teacher desperate to do the right thing and marry his love Ernestine (a foxy Whitelaw). He prides himself on his integrity but puts his foot down at giving higher marks to the grandson of a wealthy baroness (Martita Hunt). He is fired (by Leo McKern) as a result, and then led astray by Herbert Lom’s snide and corrupt government official, Castel Benac, who with his mistress and actress Suzy (Nadia Gray cutting a dash in a series of soigné rigouts) intend to set up a dodgy financial business using Topaze  (“He’s an idiot I like him”) as the malleable managing director. The moral of the tale is that money is power. And Topaze eventually discovers this.

At the time Sellers was going through a divorce and relied on the film to keep him said. But despite his time of trauma, the film’s success lies in its happy ending that confirms what many have discovered. It’s not the money that makes you happy but the freedom it offers: So when Topaze is asked “Has money bought you happiness? he answers “I’m  buying it now!”.

First entitled I Like Money (a song by Herbert Kretzmer gracefully performed by Nadia Gray swathed in furs) the film was chosen by the British public in an online vote in 2016 to be digitised by the BFI National Archive. It certainly proves its crowd-pleasing qualities with some enjoyable performances from Gray, McKern and Le Mesurier, although Sellars sadly reigns himself back too much leaving Lom to shine as the comedy standout. MT

DUAL FORMAT EDITION (BLURAY/DVD) ON 15 APRIL 2019 

Everybody Knows (2018) ***

Dir: Asghar Farhadi | Cast: Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Barbara Lennie, Ricardo Darin | Drama

Penelope Cruz is the star turn of the off kilter drama. Returning to Spain from Argentina with her two teenagers, Laura is back to celebrate her sister’s Irene’s wedding. Husband Alejandro (Ricardo Darin) soon follows, and she also reconnects with an old boyfriend (Bardem) as events take a less sunny turn.

Farhadi (A Separation) directs from a script written in Farsi and translated into Spanish, which he learnt phonetically.Tepid as a psychological thriller with a telenovela-esque twist, the film’s strength and most of its attraction lies in the three dynamic central performances and the picturesque 16th century setting in the town of Torrelaguna (Madrid) which is very much a character in itself, gloriously brought to life in Jose Luis Alcaine’s zinging images. Everybody Knows provides fascinating insight into traditional Spanish country life, exposing deep fault-lines of internecine resentment, provincial pettiness and mean-spirited grudges.

The plot revolves round a secret “everybody knows” (except Laura herself) about former flame Paco (Bardem) who was devastated when she left. The whole affair seems connected to a local kidnapping that took place years previously, revealed in some newspaper cuttings that just happen to be left around in Irene’s bedroom. Soon, menacing letters start to arrive demanding money, and threatening Irene not to contact the police. This unpleasantness also lays bare a long-standing dispute between Laura’s curmudgeonly father and Paco going back years.

Laura’s absence has kept all this at bay but now it comes into full focus, re-opening old family wounds that had never really healed. Strangely nobody seems to acknowledge or discuss the perpetrators of the original kidnapping, and although this slight plothole is glossed ovrr by the polished performances of the strong cast, still remains a nagging question mark in our minds.

This is a mildly intriguing drama that rolls on despite its narrative flaws which are significantly diminished by the undeniable slickness of Farhadi’s confident direction and complemented by the lead trio in brilliant form. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 8 MARCH 2019

Irma la Douce (1963) **** Tribute to Andre Previn (1929 – 2019)

Dir.: Billy Wilder; Cast: Shirley MacLaine, Jack, Lemmon, Lou Jacobi, Bruce Yarnell; USA 1963, 149 min.

Three years after The Apartment, Wilder re-united Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon, along with his DoP Joseph LaShelle and PD Alexander Trauner (Les Enfants du Paradis) for this funny, endearing feature, set in Paris. Irma looks dated with its stagey Sixties settings and florid interiors, and it’s not quite as biting as the black-and-white New York satire, but Irma La Douce was nevertheless Wilder’s last original work: re-makes and self-indulgence dominated the last, rather shallow seven films until 1981.

Andre Previn won the Oscar for Best Music Score for his original compositions. Irma La Douce is based on the play by Alexandre Breffort, Wilder and his regular co-writer I.A.L. Diamond tell the story of sex-worker Irma (MacLaine), who falls for disgraced ex-cop Nestor Patou (Lemmon), whose attempts to reform the local call girls lose him his job.  Irma’s pimp  His aim in life was to reform the district’s call-girls. But after losing his job, he tries to make an honest woman out of Irma, who gives all her earnings to her pimp Hippolyte (Yarnell), who Patou beats up. angry about this state of affairs that he floors the pimp – and is terrible surprised that Irma now wants to work for him. Bartender Moustache (Jacobi) lends him 500 Franc, so he can play his own double, an English Lord, who only wants to sleep with Irma. But whilst Patou spends the nights with Irma, he has to work during the day in an abattoir, carrying dead pigs. Finally, he has to kill the Lord off – but now, his ex-colleges are wanting him for murder.

Today, Irma is a little quaint, and certainly a little too long at two-and-a-half hours running time. But at the time, it was very brave. The Hays Code was not fooled, and called the feature “a coarse mockery of virtue”. And the Catholic Church send priest to the shooting, wanting to make sure, that no blasphemy happened during the wedding scene. But apart from the above mentioned production values – including Andre Previn’s score – the feature belongs to MacLaine and Lemmon, who just have enough empathy which each other, to pull the unbelievable story off. As for Wilder, he was, for the last time the “Bürgerschreck” (the bogeyman of the establishment) he so badly wanted to be. AS

Amazon  https://amzn.to/2S2SA23 Zavvi http://po.st/Zbg2UO

RELEASE DATE 18 MARCH 2019

https://youtu.be/spQpwM97ea0

Cinema Made in Italy 2019 |

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY is back in London to kick off the Spring with the latest crop of Italian films. The 9th edition takes place at Cine Lumiere and is supported by Istituto Luce Cinecitta and the Italian Cultural Institute.

LORO ****

Director: Paolo Sorrentino Cast: Toni Servillo, Elena Sofia Ricci, Riccardo Scamarcio, Kasia Smutniak, Euridice Axen, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Roberto De Francesco, Dario Cantarelli, Anna Bonaiuto | 150′

Paolo Sorrentino’s savage political satire is a powerful portrait of controversial Italian public figure Silvio Berlusconi and his inner circle. | UK release date: 19 April 2019

EUFORIA ***

Director: Valeria Golino | Cast: Riccardo Scamarcio, Valerio Mastandrea, Isabella Ferrari, Valentina Cervi, Jasmine Trinca, Francesco Borgese, Francesco Pellegrino, Andrea Germani, Marzia Ubaldi | 120′

Valeria Golino’s second film as a director explores brotherly love through two very different siblings. It stars her on/off partner Riccardo Scamarcio as one of two brothers brought together through adversity when one falls dangerously ill. Matteo is a man of means in central Rome, Ettore is a primary teacher in their provincial hometown. Beautifully photographed in the eternal city, Euforia ultimate predictability is rescued by the strength of its dynamic performances.

RICORDI? ***

Director: Valerio Mieli | Cast: Luca Marinelli, Linda Caridi, Giovanni Anzaldo, Camilla Diana, Anna Manuelli, Eliana Bosi, David Brandon, Benedetta Cimatti, Andrea Pennacchi, 106′

After success with her debut Ten Winters this touching love story explores the ups and downs of this emotional journey for two young lovers Luca Marinelli and Linda Caridi.

LUCIA’S GRACE (Troppa Grazia) ***

Director: Gianni Zanasi | Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Elio Germano, Hadas Yaron, Giuseppe Battiston, Carlotta Natoli, Thomas Trabacchi, Daniele De Angelis, Rosa Vannucci, Elisa Di Eusanio, Davide Strava | 110′ 

Alba Rohrwacher blazes through this upbeat ecumenical drama that sees single working mother Lucia juggling her life between motherhood, an emotionally exhausting romance, and her work as a land surveyor. When she discovers that an ambitious new building project will have devastating effects on the locale, she debates whether to challenge the project when up pops a mysterious woman, claiming to be the Madonna and offering to support Lucia in flagging up her concerns, and suggesting the construction of a church as an alternative. This whimsical affair offers cheap laughs as an alternative to trusting its strong psychological elements, but Vladan Radovic’s lively camerawork and a strong cast carry it through in the end.   

THE GUEST (L’Ospite) ****

Director: Duccio Chiarini | Cast: Daniele Parisi, Silvia D’Amico, Anna Bellato, Federica Victoria Caiozzo aka Thony, Milvia Marigliano, Daniele Natali, Guglielmo Favilli : 96′

Sofa-surfing is the theme of this coming of age drama about the ups and downs of modern day love and commitment phobia. Guido (Daniele Parisi) is a 38-year-old academic who is writing a pot-boiler on Italo Calvino. But his girlfriend girlfriend (Silvia D’Amico) is having none of it, and puts an end to their flagging relationship forcing him to out of his cosy existence to face some uncomfortable truths through the experiences of lodging with his friends and family. Insightful and enjoyable  .

THE MAN WHO BOUGHT THE MOON ( L’Uomo che compró la Luna) ***

Director: Paolo Zucca |Cast: Jacopo Cullin, Stefano Fresi, Francesco Pannofino, Benito Urgu, Lazar Ristovski, Angela Molina |  103′

This off the wall spy-themed buddy movie from Sardinia stars Jacopo Cullin as a secret agent tasked with investigating a claim that one of his compatriots has bought the Moon as a gift for his girlfriend. Teaming up with his fellow Sardinian Badore (Benito Ugo) the pair set off to infiltrate the Sardinian community and investigate the ludicrous idea in a surefire but engagingly silly caper.

WHEREVER YOU ARE (Ovunque Proteggemi) ***

Director: Bonifacio Angius |Cast: Alessandro Gazale, Francesca Niedda, Antonio Angius, Anna Ferruzzo, Gavino Ruda, Mario Olivieri | 94′

Bonifacio Angius won the Junior Jury Award at Locarno for Perfidia (2014) and returns with this impressively perceptive drama about a middle-aged ‘mammalone’ with a drinking problem. Burning a hole in his mother’s pocket with his failed singing career, he has a mental breakdown and is taken to hospital, where he meets Francesca (Francesca Niedda), a young mother with drug issues. The two fall madly in love and set off on an eventful odyssey to redeem each other by reclaiming Francesca’s daughter who has been taken in to care. 

NOTTI MAGICHE ****

Director: Paolo Virzì |Cast: Mauro Lamantia, Giovanni Toscano, Irene Vetere, Giancarlo Giannini, Eugenio Marinelli, Marina Rocco, Paolo Sassanelli, Roberto Herlitzka, Regina Orioli, Andrea Roncato, Giulio Scarpati, Simona Marchini, Annalisa Arena, Ornella Muti, Jalil Lespert, Paolo Bonacelli | 125 ‘minutes

Ornella Muti makes a welcome return in Paolo Virzi’s playfully affectionate black comedy that explores the mysterious drowning of a film producer in the River Tiber. The main suspects are three young aspiring scriptwriters, and their outlandishly spirited alibis form the basis of an entertaining exploration that takes us back to the golden years of Italian cinema and a moving and magical trip through the backstreet of Rome

THE CONFORMIST (Il Conformista) *****

Director: Bernardo Bertolucci | Cast: Jean-Louis Tritignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin, Enzo Tarascio, Fosco Giachetti, José Quaglio, Yvonne Sanson | 118′

A wonderful chance to see this classic cult thriller adapted from a novel by Alberto Moravia. Set in 1938, it tells the story of an aristocratic would-be fascist who is sent to Paris to murder his former, anti-fascist philosophy tutor. Jean-Louis Tritignant is supremely sinister in the role of Marcello Clerici, whose demeanour is an eternal reminder of the banality of evil. It was an instant hit when it was released in 1970, and some say it is one of the most poetic and influential films ever made, beloved by film-makers the world over.

WE’LL BE YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL (Saremo Giovani e Bellissimi) ***

Director: Letizia Lamartire | 92 minutes)

In the early 1990s, 18-year-old Isabella (Barbora Bobulova) was a pop star. Two decades later she’s still on the road singing the same old songs with her son Bruno (Piavani) on guitar. But nothing can last for ever and soon the ties that bind will also unravel in this bittersweet and often poignantly moving musical love story.

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY | LONDON 2019 | 26 FEBRUARY – 3 MARCH

 

Old Boys (2018) ****

Dir: Toby MacDonald. Wri: Luke Morris and Luke Ponte | UK, Sweden. 2017. 96mins | Alex Lawther, Denis Ménochet, Jonah Hauer-King, Pauline Etienne | 96′

Alex Lawther plays a game of emotional subterfuge in this gentle comic riff on Cyrano de Bergerac set in the rolling West Susssex downs where he is a gifted public school boy at Caldermount (actually Lancing College).

The feature debut from director Toby MacDonald sees sweet but scrawny scholarship pupil Amberson (Lawther) caught in a low-key love triangle between Agnes (Etienne) and the brawny but brainless Winch(Jonah Hauer-King); Both puplis have the hots for the only girl in this ‘boys own’ setting, where pubescent hormones are running wild, but looks – not personality – hold the key to success. Amberson is totally humiliated by his lowly position on the school’s pecking order. Creatively driven his schtick is doodling in pencil and his heroes are Kubrick and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (“love is not looking at each other, it’s looking in the same direction”).

There’s a whiff of familiarity with the subject matter that suggests from the early scenes of boarding school ‘absurdism’ that the filmmakers have been here before. And this ribbing humour and taut script will appeal to young and older audiences alike. Lawther holds court throughout with his particular ‘old head on young shoulders’ vulnerability. The twenty something star of Ten Things I Hate About You feels mature beyond his years, with his subtle knowing glances and emotional depth.

The boys endure endless bouts of brutal banter and physical privation in the spartan school surroundings. Sports are de rigueur: cricket, rugby and a game called ‘streamers’ which takes place in the nearby river. Brimming testosterone levels go into overdrive when Agnes arrives on the scene with her frustrated father Babinot, the new French master (Denis Ménochet in fine form). And Amberson, the butt of the ‘streamers’ contests, meets her head-on wearing a pair of sodden pyjamas.

Although the two form a tentative friendship, Agnes only has eyes for Winch, who can’t string two words together, let alone satisfy his pubescent urge to ask the girl out. So it falls to Amberson and his gift of the gab to broker a deal between the love-struck teens. He crafts a series of contemporary billets doux on cardboard placards, filming Winchester reciting these on a video recorder (it’s still the ’80s). This effort on his friend’s behalf gains Amberson instant brownie points with the most popular boy in the school, and his social capital instantly goes into the ascendent. Secretly ruing his vicarious romantic overtures, Amberson then takes a poignant back seat in the proceedings, while Winch woos the wilful French girl, with hilarious results.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this occasionally amusing and rather old-fashioned film with its echoes of Gregory’s Girl. The direction and editing could be tighter but it’s an impressive debut feature and carried peerlessly by Alex Lawther. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 22 FEBRUARY 2019

.

The Lady Eve (1941) *****

Dir: Preston Sturges | Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Eric Blore, Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, William Demarest | US Drama 94′

In one of Preston Sturges’ most enjoyable romantic dramas Barbara Stanwyck (1907—90) dusts down her comedy talents to play an opportunistic con woman with a chink of humanity still glinting in her steel-plated armour. As one of a trio of classy card sharks Jean embarks on a tantalising tease to snare the awkward heir to a brewery fortune, but falls for him along the way.

Henry Fonda is the dapper but rather dopey heir to millions, Charles Pike, whose life has been devoted to snakes until he gets ensnared by Stanwyck’s feminine charms on a cruise liner making its way back from South America. Disarmed by Charles’ gallant but rather clumsy charisma, Jean mends her ways in a performance that sees her as a crook, but also a seductress with a vulnerable streak into the bargain. Travelling with her father (Charles Harrington and his valet), Jean is suddenly aware that playing her cards right is more important now that ever, and her father advises her accordingly: “Don’t be vulgar, Jean. Let us be crooked, but never common.” But Henry Fonda plays the most redeeming characters in this delicious drama. He remains vulnerable and sincere throughout because, like all young men who are madly in love, he remains focused on the void in his heart that only Jean can fill.

Stanwyck is terrific in this screwball comedy romance where she is funny but also graceful and sardonic. After seducing Charles she then toys with his heart as the narrative unspools in  unexpected ways that add to the dramatic tension despite the modest running time. After boy meets girl and then loses her, boy then falls for another girl who is really the same one – when Jean poses as “Lady Eve Sidwich.” Here the film moves on from its seaborne setting to Charles’ family pile in the country where another crook in the shape of her “uncle” Sir Alfred McGlennan Keith (Eric Blore), agrees to accommodate Jean, allowing her to complete her seduction and her swindle. Meanwhile, Charles’ trusty bodyguard Muggsy (William Demarest) has already rumbled Jean’s game: ”It’s the same dame!”. But Charlie can’t – or won’t – believe him, and follows Jean in her trap, amid a series of pratfalls, like a faithful love-struck puppy..

Barbara Stanwyck (1907-90) was one of the most hard-working actresses of her era  (Golden Boy, Stella Dallas, Baby Face) but always wanted a comedy role and Preston Sturges (1898-1959) eventually gave it to her and she excels herself throughout. Fonda manages to be comical while exuding a strong masculine presence. And his looks and stature are elegantly showcased by Edith Head’s impeccable designs. The script, based on a story by Monkton Hoffe, is wittily adapted for the screen by Sturges and there are hilarious scenes especially during the country visit. As Peter Bogdanovich said himself “You can’t get a better romantic comedy than The Lady Eve”. MT

COMING TO THE BFI AND ARTHOUSE CINEMAS 15 FEBRUARY 2019

Sundance Film Festival | Award and Winners 2019

Sundance announced its awards last night after ten extraordinary days of the latest independent cinema. Taking place each January in Park City, snowy Utah, the festival is the premier showcase for U.S. and international independent film, presenting dramatic and documentary feature-length films from emerging and established artists, innovative short films, filmmaker forums. The Festival brings together the most original storytellers known to mankind. In his closing speech President and Founder Robert Redford commented: “At this critical moment, it’s more necessary than ever to support independent voices, to watch and listen to the stories they tell.” Over half the films shown were directed by women and 23 prizes were awarded across the board including one film from a director identifying as LGBTQI+

This year’s jurors, invited in recognition of their accomplishments in the arts were Desiree Akhavan, Damien Chazelle, Dennis Lim, Phyllis Nagy, Tessa Thompson, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Yance Ford, Rachel Grady, Jeff Orlowski, Alissa Wilkinson, Jane Campion, Charles Gillibert, Ciro Guerra, Maite Alberdi, Nico Marzano, Véréna Paravel, Young Jean Lee, Carter Smith, Sheila Vand, and Laurie Anderson.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary/China | Dirs: Nanfu Wang/Jialing Zhang,

 photo by Nanfu Wang.

ONE CHILD NATION After becoming a mother, a filmmaker uncovers the untold history of China’s one-child policy and the generations of parents and children forever shaped by this social experiment.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic/USA | Dir/Wri Chinonye Chukwu

 

photo by Eric Branco

CLEMENCY: Years of carrying out death row executions have taken a toll on prison warden Bernadine Williams. As she prepares to execute another inmate, Bernadine must confront the psychological and emotional demons her job creates, ultimately connecting her to the man she is sanctioned to kill. Cast: Alfre Woodard, Aldis Hodge, Richard Schiff, Wendell Pierce, Richard Gunn, Danielle Brooks.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary: Dirs: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov | Macedonia

HONEYLAND – When nomadic beekeepers break Honeyland’s basic rule (take half of the honey, but leave half to the bees), the last female bee hunter in Europe must save the bees and restore natural balance.

The Souvenir| photo by Agatha A. Nitecka.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic | UK | Dir/wri: Joanna Hogg

THE SOUVENIR: A shy film student begins finding her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man. She defies her protective mother and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship which comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams. Cast: Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton.

The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, | USA  Dir: Rachel Lears:

KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE — A young bartender in the Bronx, a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, a grieving mother in Nevada and a registered nurse in Missouri build a movement of insurgent candidates challenging powerful incumbents in Congress. One of their races will become the most shocking political upset in recent American history. Cast: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, U.S.A. Dir/Wri: Paul Downs

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON — A woman living in New York takes control of her life – one city block at a time. Cast: Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery, Micah Stock, Alice Lee.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary/Austria: Dir: Richard Ladkan

SEA OF SHADOWS/Austria – The vaquita, the world’s smallest whale, is near extinction as its habitat is destroyed by Mexican cartels and Chinese mafia, who harvest the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, the “cocaine of the sea.” Environmental activists, Mexican navy and undercover investigators are fighting back against this illegal multimillion-dollar business.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic/Denmark Dir: May el-Toukhy

QUEEN OF HEARTS — A woman jeopardises both her career and her family when she seduces her teenage stepson and is forced to make an irreversible decision with fatal consequences. Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Gustav Lindh, Magnus Krepper.

 

The Audience Award: NEXT, Alex Rivera, Cristina Ibarra

THE INFILTRATORS / U.S.A. (Directors: , Screenwriters: — A rag-tag group of undocumented youth – Dreamers – deliberately get detained by Border Patrol in order to infiltrate a shadowy, for-profit detention center. Cast: Maynor Alvarado, Manuel Uriza, Chelsea Rendon, Juan Gabriel Pareja, Vik Sahay.

The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary | USA Dirs: Steven Bognar and Julia

AMERICAN FACTORY  — In post-industrial Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opens a new factory in the husk of an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand blue-collar Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.

The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic U.S.A. Dirs: Joe Talbot, Screenwriters: Joe Talbot,

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO — Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont, Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary NOR | Dir: Mads Brüggerwas

 photo by Tore Vollan.

Cold Case Hammarskjöld / Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium — Danish director Mads Brügger and Swedish private investigator Göran Bjorkdahl are trying to solve the mysterious death of Dag Hammarskjold. As their investigation closes in, they discover a crime far worse than killing the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic | Spain (Dir/Wri: Lucía Garibaldi,

THE SHARKS / Uruguay, Argentina – While a rumour about the presence of sharks in a small beach town distracts residents, 15-year-old Rosina begins to feel an instinct to shorten the distance between her body and Joselo’s. Cast: Romina Bentancur, Federico Morosini, Fabián Arenillas, Valeria Lois, Antonella Aquistapache.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic USA | Dir: Pippa Blanco

SHARE— After discovering a disturbing video from a night she doesn’t remember, sixteen-year-old Mandy must try to figure out what happened and how to navigate the escalating fallout. Cast: Rhianne Barreto, Charlie Plummer, Poorna Jagannathan, J.C. MacKenzie, Nick Galitzine, Lovie Simone.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Moral Urgency| USA | Dir: Jacqueline Olive

ALWAYS IN SEASON — When 17-year-old Lennon Lacy is found hanging from a swing set in rural North Carolina in 2014, his mother’s search for justice and reconciliation begins as the trauma of more than a century of lynching African Americans bleeds into the present.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Emerging Filmmaker USA : Liza Mandelup

JAWLINE — The film follows 16-year-old Austyn Tester, a rising star in the live-broadcast ecosystem who built his following on wide-eyed optimism and teen girl lust, as he tries to escape a dead-end life in rural Tennessee.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing USA : Todd Douglas Miller

APOLLO 11 — A purely archival reconstruction of humanity’s first trip to another world, featuring never-before-seen 70mm footage and never-before-heard audio from the mission.

U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography | U.S.A. Dir: Luke Lorentzen

MIDNIGHT FAMILY / Mexico/DOC — In Mexico City’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, the Ochoa family runs a private ambulance, competing with other for-profit EMTs for patients in need of urgent help. As they try to make a living in this cutthroat industry, they struggle to keep their financial needs from compromising the people in their care.

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019

Edgar Pêra – A genuine original | Retrospective IFFR 2019

There is no filmmaker like Edgar Pêra (b.1960). His work may be an acquired taste but it is always inventive and Avant-garde referencing his heroes in creative ways and keeping the past alive. The Portuguese auteur often pays tribute to Dziga Vertov, Branquinho da Fonseca and Fernando Pessoa – but always in an ingenious way – transforming their ideas into bizarre and refreshing features, some will screen in a retrospective at the Rotterdam International Film festival 2019

Edgar Henrique Clemente Pêra first studied psychology, but soon realised his vocation in Film at the Portuguese National Conservatory, currently Lisbon Theatre and Film School.  But it was the work of Russian director Dziga Vertov that made him pick up a camera in 1985, and his strange visual style and quirky dark humour found an outlet in twisted arthouse fare that is completely unique. He has made over 100 films for cinema, TV, theatre dance, cine-concerts, galleries, internet and other media, and his latest mystery drama Caminhos Magnetiykos screens at Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2019.

His love of music influenced his work in the mid 1980s, and he filmed Portuguese rock bands in a Neo-realist, ‘neuro-punk’ style. In 1988, Pêra shot a film in the Ruins of Chiado, a neighbourhood in the heart of Lisbon, decimated by a large fire that year. In 1990 Reproduta Interdita was shown at the Portuguese Horror Film Festival, Fantasporto. In 1991, his documentary short raised the profile of Portuguese modernist architect Cassiano Branco – The City of Cassiano, (Grand Prix Festival Films D’Architecture Bordeaux). But from thereon his penchant for the weird and radically different took over.

In 1994, Pêra’s first fiction feature Manual de Evasão LX 94/Manual of Evasion (for Lisbon 1994 Capital of Culture), channelled the aesthetic legacy of soviet constructivist silent films, with what the filmmaker called “a neuro-punk way of creating and capturing instantaneous reality”. The film has divided the critics in Portugal and abroad. It will be also screened at the retrospective Rotterdam Film Festival 2019.

In 1996 Edgar Pêra started an ambitious project which would take four years to edit. The surreal comedy feature entitled, A Janela (Maryalva Mix)/The Window (Don Juan Mix), premiered at the Locarno Festival in 2001. From then on Pêra’s work, veered towards a more emotional style, but still kept the emphasis on non-realist aesthetics and eccentric humour. Pêra’s 2006 retrospective at Indie Lisboa won the festival prizes for Best Feature, Best cinematography and Audience Award: Running at just over an hour,: Movimentos Perpétuos/Perpetual Movements is a cine-tribute to legendary Portuguese guitar composer and player Carlos Paredes. Critic and programmer Olaf Möller wrote that “Pêra is too different from everything which we regard as ‘correct’, ‘valid’ within the culture of film, ‘realistic’ in a cinematic, socio-political way. Put more precisely: Edgar Pêra is different from everything that we know about Portugal”.

O Barão  is an adaptation of Branquinho da Fonseca’s short story, premiering in 2011 at the International Film Festival Rotterdam it won the Gold Donkey Award. In 2011 he also started experimenting with the 3D format. His most controversial film yet, Cinesapiens is a short drama, a segment of 3x3D , described by our critic Michael Pattison as “an assaultive triptych that caused walkouts when it premiered at Cannes in 2013”. It forms part of a trio with two other films by Jean-Luc Godard and Peter Greenaway at La Semaine de la Critique in Cannes.

In 2014 Pêra directed two 3D films, Stillness and Lisbon Revisited. Stillness was considered by many as  “astonishingly offensive”. Lisbon Revisited, with words by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, premiered at the Locarno Festival. Pera’s first commercial success came in 2014 with pop comedy feature Virados do Avesso/Turned Inside Out. This was followed by Espectador Espantado/The Amazed Spectator, a “kino-investigation about spectatorship” which premiered at Rotterdam Film Festival, 2016 and was also the title of his PhD thesis. In 2016 his Delirium in Las Vedras, about the Portuguese Carnival in Torres Vedras, premiered in Rotterdam and São Paulo 2017.  And in 2018, O Homem-Pykante Diálogos Kom Pimenta, about the poet Alberto Pimenta, was shown for the first time at IndieLisboa. Caminhos Magnéticos/Magnethick Pathways, starring Dominique Pinon, will also be shown during his retrospective this year at Rotterdam International Film Festival.

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019

London Unplugged (2018) ***

Dirs: ‘Dog Days’(George Taylor), ‘Felines’ (George Taylor), ‘Unchosen’ (Nicholas Cohen, Ben Jacobsen), ‘Club Drunk’ (Mitchell Crawford), ‘Mudan Blossom’ (Qi Zhang, Natalia Casali and Kaki Wong), ‘Pictures’ (Rosanna Lowe), ‘Little Sarah’s Big Adventure’ (Andrew Cryan), ‘Shopping’ (Layke Anderson), ‘The Door To’ (Andres Heger-Bratterud), ‘Kew Gardens’ (Nicholas Cohen) Interlink segments (Nicholas Cohen) | UK Drama | 78′

London Unplugged is a portmanteau exploration of female centric stories, some more convincing than others, but all of them focusing on London’s diverse communities. Tied together by Nicholas Cohen’s cinematic interlinking segments, the various vignettes are a refreshing take on the usual themes of opportunity, compromise and loneliness that make up modern living in one of Europe’s most eclectic capitals.

George Taylor’s mysterious opening story ‘Dog Days’, sees two strangers connect in a waterside frolic. Likewise light-hearted is Mitchell Crawford’s remarkable animation entitled ‘Club Drunk’ describing the goings on in a playground after dark. Layke Anderson’s ‘Shopping’ is an enjoyably insightful one-hander that takes place in a sex shop, and offers a feel-good message.

There are the usual economic, racial and migration stories, amongst them Nick Cohen and Ben Jacobson’s ‘Unchosen’ which sees a hapless Iranian refugee fighting for asylum in the chosen city of his dreams. The plight of the homeless is explored with humour in Qi Zhang, Natalia Casali and Kaki Wong’s ‘Mudan Blossom’. Whilst “Pictures’ is a musically-themed piece that follows a struggling singer living on the breadline, based on a 1917 short story by Katherine Mansfield.

By contrast, George Taylor’s ‘Felines’ feels forced and rather amateurish, despite Juliet Stevenson’s efforts to portray a cat-loving carer. The film finishes with Nick Cohen’s  ‘Kew Gardens’, another literary adaptation this time from Virginia Woolf. Cohen’s discursive, episodic story of a real-life female athlete brings the whole thing together neatly although rather soullessly, providing an undercurrent of positive and negative, as she runs from east to west expressing the upbeat and the downbeat vibes of the metropolis. MT

VARIOUS ARTHOUSE VENUES FROM FRIDAY, 18 JANUARY 2019

Stan & Ollie (2018) ****

Dir: Jon S. Baird | Cast: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly | Comedy Drama

When Stan & Ollie begins, the eponymous duo – that is, Laurel and Hardy themselves – are flying high. It’s 1937, and they are major Hollywood stars – but they are also under contract to producer Hal Roach and, as a result, are being underpaid. Ollie is broke, suffering from an expensive divorce and a gambling addiction, while Stan feels hard done by. He wants to own their films, like Chaplin owns his, and suggests they ask Roach for a better deal. Ollie, however, is content to carry on, not wishing to rock the boat – he has debts to pay, and can’t risk alienating Roach. So, instead, he splits acrimoniously from his long-term partner, and makes a film for Roach without Stan beside him.

16 years later, now ageing and ailing, the duo reunite for a stage tour of the UK, hoping the trip will help them launch production on a film about Robin Hood. As the tour gets underway, they perform in small venues to even smaller audiences. In an attempt to turn things around, they hit the publicity trail and, in doing so, remind the public of their appeal. Audiences soon grow, but old resentments and failing health threaten to undermine the stability of their newly revived success.

As Stan and Ollie, Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are superb, perfectly capturing the infectious energy that made Laurel and Hardy so likeable, while simultaneously conveying the gamut of emotions that occur as their fortunes rise and fall. Though their loving wives (brilliantly portrayed by Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson) do their best to care for the men, and get many of the film’s funniest lines while doing so, it’s the bromance between Stan and Ollie that forms the heart of the film, turning their bittersweet story into a touching meditation on friendship, show business and the art of getting old. The pair are driven by a compulsion to create, even as circumstances – and their own health – conspire against them. As Ollie himself puts it, what else are they going to do?

Throughout the film, the ageing comedians are confronted time and again with comments about how wonderful it is that they’re still going after all these years, and still doing the same material over and over. Such backhanded compliments perfectly encapsulate the poignant tone of the film, but the words also ring true – as Stan & Ollie proves, even after all these years, the material still works. Alex Barrett

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

The Upside (2017) ***

122’Dir: Neil Berger | Cast: Brian Cranston, Nicole Kidman | Kevin Hart | US Drama | 

Neil Berger’s slick big budget remake rides roughshod over some serious themes and its own narrative flaws, but thanks to Brian Cranston at the wheel central role. But after a clunky first act, The Upside does improve, and culminates in an enjoyable drama.  

Cranston plays philosophical, philanthropic, paraplegic Philip who has amassed a small fortune the hard way, but is now confined to his glossy Manhattan penthouse due to a hang-gliding accident. But not only is Cranston’s Philip richer and more sassy, he’s also streets ahead in the acting stakes compared to his co-stars Nicole Kidman who plays an obsequious business manager, and Kevin Hart his full-time carer. The Upside is always going to come up and finish second to the original which was the most successful French language film of all time in Spain, Germany, Denmark, Brazil and Mexico to name a few countries. This was all largely due to the intensively moving way it presented its subject matter.

Phil is mainly depressed because he’s recently lost the love his life and the film opens with the tawdry search for someone to look after him now she’s gone. But when the crass and bungling Dell appears on the scene his bullishness somehow strikes a chord with Phil, even though the ex-con appears entirely unsuitable for the job. It soon emerges that Phil’s made the right choice. Dell’s down to earth attitude (think Eddie Murphy’s Trading Places) and refusal to be politically correct chimes with Philip’s own maverick qualities: the two have great chemistry as fearless, free-thinking individuals, and that’s why they hit it off together in this inspirational drama about friendship, forgiveness and the indomitable human spirit.

The Upside hits some high notes with its breath-taking setting: New York has never looked so majestic in widescreen skyscapes and the glitzy interiors of Phil’s lavish home. The Bronx too looks commanding and this is where predictably we meet Dell’s chuntering girlfriend and his sparky son . And there are some well-choreographed car chases with Dell at the wheel of Phil’s fleet of Ferraris and Porches. There’s humour to be had in the situational nuances: Phil’s po-faced neighbours are lampooned and so are his bathroom facilities (a shower that speaks German). Nicole Kidman is glacially prim and proper as the house manager, and certainly doesn’t convince as Phil’s potential love interest. But we soon realise he’s a true romantic who loves women and being in their company. And he’s started an old-fashioned ‘pen-pal’ courtship into the bargain.

Even though The Upside (and the original French film) is loosely based on a real story, the formulaic narrative leaves nothing to the imagination and very much toes the party line that Dell is a ‘jackass’ who’s taken the easy life of crime, and now suddenly starts admiring classical opera and developing painting skills akin to Jean Michel Basquiat. Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist, Limitless) and screenwriter Jon Hartmere have some insightful comments to make and there are a few laughs, but that doesn’t negate the film’s racial undertones, and or the slightly glib treatment of Phil’s infirmities. The Upside slightly manipulates with its charming glibness but Cranston gives things a much needed shot of nuanced dynamism, and this is what ultimately makes The Upside fly. MT

OUT on 12  JANUARY 2019

New Year, New Films | 2019 in focus

2019 gets off to an impressive start with two extraordinary arthouse dramas both releasing in January. Timothée Chalamet plays a young man struggling with addition in Felix Van Groeningen’s  A Beautiful Boy and Saoirse Ronan gives a dynamite performance as the tragic Mary Queen of Scots in a mesmerising historical epic from theatre turned screen director Lisa Rourke. There’s plenty more to look forward as the New Year gets under way, here are a selection of arthouse features and documentaries releasing in 2019.

Bergman: A Year in the Life 

The focus of Jane Magnusson’s European Award winning documentary is 1957, arguable the zenith of  Ingmar Bergman’s career when he released two on his most acclaimed dramas The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, a TV film and four plays. It’s an impressive film that reflects Bergman’s mammoth contribution to the world of film and theatre. 25 January 

Burning 

Some critics went wild for this psychological thriller from South Korean director Lee Chang-dong. Certainly alluring, the enigmatic arthouse piece is based on a story from Haruki Murakami about a barn-burning weirdo and his struggle to win the girl of his dreams. 1 February 1st

Birds of Passage

In his follow-up to Embrace of the Serpent Ciro Guerra is joined by his wife Cristina Gallego for this arthouse chronicle of the emergence of the drugs trade in his native Colombia. Spring 2019

Can You Ever Forgive Me? 

Melissa McCarthy takes plagiarism to extraordinary ends as Lee Israel, a New York writer struggling to make ends meet – eventually by criminal means. Marielle Heller and Nicole Holofcener offer up an absorbing dark comedy drama that also stars Richard E Grant. Opens February 1st

Sometimes Always Never 

One of my favourite British films this years was this amusingly cheeky indie drama – it will make you laugh and contemplate your own life too. Love, ageing, loneliness and emotional fulfilment all deftly intermingle in a ‘detective’ drama about a father (a thoughtful Bill Nighy) and his two sons, one of whom has disappeared. Set in the rain-soaked Ribble Valley, there’s a soft melancholy to the muted visuals and the quintessentially English storyline, crafted by Frank Cottrell Boyce (The Railway Man). A subtle film film but an enjoyable one.

Border

Writer John Ajvide Lindvist’s arthouse oddity has the same fresh originality as his vampire thriller Let the Right One In, ten years on. The Swedish social satire is a romantic parable that blends fantasy, mystery and horror and won the top prize at this year’s Cannes ‘Un Certain Regard’. March 8th

High Life

Claire Denis is the latest auteur to try her hand with a Sci-fi drama. And she succeeds. This one stars Robert Pattison and Juliette Binoche and premiered at Toronto to wrapt applause. Early spring 

On the Basis of Sex

In the second film about noted US jurist Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG is already on release)– Felicity Jones stars as the fearsome feminine judge and activist who has broken down barriers since the 1950s, and continues to do so with her subtle charm and incisive intellect. February 8th   

Float Life a Butterfly

Carmel Winters’s won the FIPRESCI Discovery Prize in a drama that follows the ambitions of a young and feisty boxing enthusiast (Hazel Doupe) in 1960s Ireland. Spring 2019

Green Book

Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen star in this enjoyable road movie that delighted critics both at Marrakech and Toronto. It follows a suave African-American pianist (Ali) and a New York bruiser (Mortensen) to America’s Deep South on a voyage of discovery – of themselves and the racial tensions of the 1960s. 1 February 2019 

The Young Picasso 

Exhibition on Screen chronicles the early years of the Spanish painter, from his birth in Malaga to  his international recognition in Paris in his mid thirties. Informative and a must for art lovers. 5 February 2019

Greta

Isabelle Huppert had a low profile in 2018, but she’s back with a vengeance in Neil Jordan’s critically divisive drama that explores the relationship between a young girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and Huppert’s lonely widow. 19 April 2019

The Irishman

When Martin Scorsese offered a lifetime Tribute to his great friend Robert De Niro at Marrakech Film Festival , The Irishman was the talk of the town. Scorsese’s latest film will be releasing on Netflix, 

The Mule

Another Hollywood luminary – now in his 90s – Clint Eastwood will hit cinemas at the end of January 2019 with his 143rd film – in which he also stars. The Mule is a high-octane thriller set in the US drug trade  January 25th

The Sisters Brothers

Jacques Audiard casts Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly in this sensitively-scripted buddy movie that sees the titular brothers embark on a Wild West odyssey, based on Patrick deWitt’s western novel. Skilfully avoiding a macho approach, this is insightful and great fun. April 5th

Woman At War

Benedikt Erlingsson follows his unusual equine-themed drama Of Horses and Men with another innovative tale from his native Iceland that sees an ambitious eco warrior in the shape of a middle-aged woman strike out for the environment. 3 May 2019

Too Late to Die Young

Dominga Sotomayor’s languorous Chilean family drama was a big hit at Locarno 2018, and takes place during the summer of 1990 while the country was making a dangerous bid for democracy.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino latest, another highly-anticipated controversial caper tackles the thorny theme of Hollywood during the Charles Manson era. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio star. July 26

The Woman in the Window

Based on A J Finn’s bestseller, Joe Wright and Tracey Letts create an intriguing crime thriller that explores urban angst, loneliness and voyeurism in contempo New York. Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman and Amy Adams star.

The Lady Eve

We can always rely on the classics, especially when Preston Sturges, Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck are concerned. Re-released by Park Circus this screwball comedy with a social message  is possibly one of the most enjoyable films you’ll see in February, and makes for perfect Valentine viewing. 15 February.

BEST INDIE AND ARTHOUSE FILMS TO LOOK OUT FOR IN 2019

 

 

The Favourite (2018) *****

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos. UK/Ireland/USA. 2018. 119 mins.

The Favourite is going to be a firm favourite with mainstream audiences and cineastes alike. This latest arthouse drama is the Greek auteur’s first to be written by Deborah Davis and Aussie 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 female treachery.

Set around 1710 during the final moments of Queen Anne’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. Besides its period setting, The Favourite coins a world with exactly the same credentials as our own Brexit and Trump era.

Sparklingly witty and endlessly amusing this is a film that could play on forever yet still feels fresh and invigorating even after two hours. There is a charming subtlety and lightness of touch that is saucy and arch but never gross or uncouth with its references to Restoration Comedies of the era: Marivaux, Pope and Swift – while feeling completely contemporary and dernier cri.

Twenty years in the making with Lanthimos attached to the project since 2009, The Favourite is based on an original screenplay by Davis developed by Australian writer McNamara and is guilded by luminous performances from Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone amd Olivia Colman (as the Queen). Stone is a distant cousin of Weisz’s Lady Marlborough and comes to the court rather down on her luck and looking for protection. Slowly she weedles her way into the crippled and ailing Queen’s affections in a triumphant trajectory of treachery.

Colman plays Queen Anne (who reigned until 1714) with vulnerability and charisma as a whiny, insecure monarch. The Duke Of Marlborough has just won a crucial battle gainst the French during the War of Spanish Succession. The Whigs are gaining ground against the landowning Tories under Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult is superb).

The whole affair centres around the battle for power between these three women who are pivotal in the success of life at court and subsequently the country. The sumptuous interiors are shot in candlelight adding intrique and a Gothic frisson to Robbie Ryan’s stunning camerawork, his fish-eye lenses evoking a sense of menace and claustrophobia. Sandy Powell creates some seriously sexy costumes and the glory is topped off with an occasionally discordance original score from Purcell, Handel Vivaldi and British composer Anna Meredith, MT.

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | BEST ACTRESS: Olive Colman | Grand Prix Venice 2018

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

 

Mug – Twarz (2018) Bfi player

Dir: Malgorzata Szumovska | Michal Englert | Cast: Mateuz Kosciukiewiczz, Agnieszka Podsiadlik | Drama | Poland

In this salacious social critique of her homeland, filmmaker Malgorzata Szumovska captures the zeitgeist of rural Poland with a strangely moving story involving a scruffy metalhead builder who is forced to reevaluate his life after a tragic accident at work.

Twarz means mug/face in Polish. It refers to the central character Jacek (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz), who still lives in the lakeside town of Western Polish town of Świebodzin with his petty, provincial family. Despite best intentions to move to London with his floozy fiancée Dagmara (Gorol), Jacek is put off by his brother in law’s zenophobic stance on things and Brexit doubts. Only his sister seems to be on his side.

Jacek is building something he believes in – a statue of Christ the King, and the tallest representation of the saviour so far. But a dreadful fall derails his future and his face is so badly injured that he needs life-changing surgery: the local priest (Roman Gancarczyk), his fiancée Dagmara, and the rest of the family will have to chip in to the expensive medical bills. And the result may be quite different from the Jacek they knew and loved. And the after effects are quite different, although by no means as bad as the family feared. That said, even his mother (Anna Tomaszewska) refuses to accept his new look (cleverly photographed by Michal Englert who also co-wrote the script). But when Dagmara shuns him, her rejection strikes to core of his being as a lover and man. Only his sister (a superb Agnieszka Podsiadlik) is there to help with his rehabilitation.

Szumovska cleverly navigates tonal nuances from realism to comic fantasy in a film that is competently performed, utterly compelling and thematically rich with its reflection on consumerism, identity and prejudice. The film also tackles religious belief and the nature of human suffering symbolised by Jacek’s dignified forbearance under the gaze of an all-seeing Jesus Christ. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER from 15 OCTOBER 2021 | SILVER BEAR GRAND JURY PRIZE BERLINALE 2018
PRESS CONFERENCE 

Atoll K (1951) *** Bluray/DVD release

Dir: Leo Joannon | Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy | Comedy Drama | 98′

ATOLL K marked the big screen comedy return of Laurel and Hardy in 1951. It was also their swan song. The much loved duo were lured back during a European stage tour to take a trip of another kind – this time involving a ramshackle voyage to the Pacific to save Stan’s island inheritance. The odyssey was actually filmed off the coast of the French Riviera and was an ambitious attempt to add a satirical twist to their well-known slapstick scenarios. It  certainly showcases their versatility and inventive comedy talents. Atoll K (the French title) also comes as a welcome ‘Laurel and Hardy’ refresher in the wake of a new feature film: Stan & Ollie, that arrives in the New Year and stars Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly.

After 1945 Laurel and Hardy had found new popularity with audiences deprived of their films who during the war years. The comedy duo had signed up with 20th Century Fox and MGM for a series of movies, but by the end of the 1940s their career had ground to a halt after a long association with producer Hal Roach. Atoll K (also known as Utopia and Robinson Crusoeland) was the result of a big budget French-Italian initiative, with the production to take place in France. But the project did not run smoothly, and filming took over a year – from Spring 1950 to the following April – instead of the projected 12 weeks. To make matters worse, there were artistic and communication issues between Laurel and the director, who could only speak French. Lancashire born Laurel was diabetic and suffered severe complications during shooting, further hampering the production. And with seven writers contributing to the script, it’s hardly surprising the storyline drifts rather, despite some great comedy moments revolving around the usual setbacks and mishaps during a voyage that’s stormy – both on and off the boat. Despite its flaws this buried treasure from archives provides solid gold entertainment. MT 

ON RELEASE FROM 3 DECEMBER 2018

Embargo (2017) *** Utopia Portuguese Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Antonio Ferrera; Cast: Filipe Costa, Claudia Carvalho, Laura Matos; Portuga/Spain/Brazil 2010, 83 min.

Antonio Ferrara specialises in stories of the absurd – his 2018 feature The Dead Queen is based on a historical novel about a 14th century Portuguese king who had his mistress disinterred, so that she could become Queen. Embargo is a far lighter affair that follows Nuno, a madcap inventor.

Based on the novel by Jose Saramago, Ferrara pictures his hero Nuno (Costa) in the midst of a fuel crisis in contemporary Portugal, selling his revolutionary shoe scanner to everyone who shows a mild interest. He works part time on a hot dog stand, and his long-suffering girl friend Margarida (Carvalho) has to labour full time and look after their two children. Even though Nuno is hellbent on making his device a commercial success customers, nobody has any idea what practical use it could have. Eventually after various trials and tribulations, Nino is sacked from his day job and goes on the hunt for a toy rabbit, to make his daughter Sara (Matos) happy.

Nuno is a loafer par-excellence. Charming and funny, he could be the ideal companion – if he could earn a living. But his obsession with his machine takes over more and more of his life. Made on a shoe string budget, this debut of Ferrara is a labour of love, where crew and cast made up for the lack of budget with much enthusiasm and passion, even. There are some holes in the narrative, but Embargo is fun to watch, without the claim of being anything but light entertainment. AS

http://www.utopiafestival.org.uk

Marrakech Film Festival 2018 | This year’s line-up..

The Marrakech International Film Festival has now revealed its 17th edition line-up  which runs from 30 November until the 8 December 2018.  

The competition focus is on international independent cinema, showcasing the latest from the Middle East: Mohcine Besri’s URGENT, Nejib Belkhadhi’s LOOK AT ME, and THE GIRAFFE from Egyptian filmmaker Amed Magdy. These will compete alongside sophomore and award-winning titles from this year’s international festival circuit. The 14 titles include London Film Festival winner JOY (Sudebeh Mortezai), Warsaw Film Festival awarded IRINA (Nadejda Koseva) and ALL GOOD (Eva Trobisch) which won the Best First Feature prize at Locarno 2018. Six of the films competing for the Marrakech Etoile d’Or (Gold Star) are directed by women.

The festival opens with a gala screening of Julian Schnabel’s AT ETERNITY’S GATE (above) starring Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh. There will also be another chance to see Alfonso Cuarón’s Venice Golden Lion winner ROMA, Peter Farrelly’s GREEN BOOK which stars Viggo Mortensen, and Nadine Labaki’s CAPERNAUM, which won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

There will be 17 special screenings including Gonzalo Tobal’s THE ACCUSED and Paul Dano’s WILDLIFE. Also on the specials list is EXT. NIGHT the latest drama from Ahmad Abdalla (Microphone (2010), Heliopolis (2009). Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego’s enchanting BIRDS OF PASSAGE will also be there (below).

A new strand entitled THE 11th CONTINENT aims to highlight local Moroccan fare in its Panorama section. Amongst others there will be the recent Cannes Doc Alliance winner SRBENKA, Brazilian documentary THE DEAD AND THE OTHERS, Lee Chang-dong’s Cannes breakout hit BURNING, Austrian historical drama ANGELO fresh from San Sebastian, and my personal favourite Locarno 2018 thriller TEGNAP (YESTERDAY) . 

The outdoor screenings in the famous JEMAA EL FNA square will include Martin Scorsese’s Dalai Lama drama KUNDUN (1997), Brian De Palma’s THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987), Youssef Chahine’s ALEXANDRIA, AGAIN AND FOREVER (1989) and there will be classics from Agnes Varda, Martin Scorsese, Robin Wright and Robert De Niro in the tributes section. MT

COMPETITION

GOOD GIRLS (Las niñas bien) | Mexico By Alejandra Márquez Abella

JOY | Austria By Sudabeh Mortezai

DIANE | USA By Kent Jones

THE LOAD (Teret) | Serbia, France, Croatia, Iran, Qatar By Ognjen Glavonić

THE CHAMBERMAID (La camarista) | Mexico By Lila Avilés

RED SNOW (Akai yuki) | Japan By Sayaka Kai

LOOK AT ME (Fi ‘ainaya  Regarde-moi) | Tunisia By Nejib Belkhadhi

IRINA | Bulgaria By Nadejda Koseva

VANISHING DAYS (Màn yóu) | China By Zhu Xin

URGENT (Tafaha al-kail | Une urgence ordinaire) / Morocco, Switzerland By Mohcine Besri

ROJO | Argentina, Brazil, France, the Netherlands, Germany By Benjamín Naishtat

AKASHA | Sudan, South Africa, Germany, Qatar By hajooj kuka

THE GIRAFFE (La ahdun hunak) | Egypt By Ahmed Magdy

ALL GOOD (Alles ist gut) | Germany By Eva Trobisch

THE MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 30 NOVEMBER – 8 DECEMBER 2018

Shoplifters (2018) ****

Writer/Dir: Hirokazu Koreeda | Cast: Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Sosuke Ikematsu | Drama | South Korea |121′

Hirokazu Koreeda’s portrait of parenting, After the Storm, has much in common with this perceptive and often ambiguous satire about a family of small-time crooks and the misguided theft they commit for compassionate reasons, but with devastating consequences. SHOPLIFTERS is a worthwhile addition to the auteur’s preoccupations with family life, father and motherhood – both real and imagined, and is possibly his best work so far.

In Tokyo, part-time workers Osamu (Lily Franky) and his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) complement their meagre income with a sideline in shoplifting. Aided and abetted by son Shota (Kairi Jyo), they often swipe groceries from the local store near the flat they share with fellow grifter Noboyu (Sakura Andô), teenager Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) and grandma Hatsue (Kirin Kiki), who turns the most lucrative tricks of the lot.

One day they take pity on an abused and timid teenager called Juri (Miyu Sasaki), offering her board and lodging in their already cramped home. This simple act of kindness is the catalyst for change in the family dynamic unleashing previously hidden motivations that range from short-sightedness to self-aggrandisement, and even narcissistic pride.

A tonal shift from upbeat bonhomie to gloomy sadness takes place in the film’s third segment when the family anticipate their emotional loss and start to fear the backlash of their rash altruism, and its damning formal retribution. Kore-eda and his cast bring out  tremendous pathos in this well-meaning family, and while we feel for them as do-gooders, – in the true sense of the word – they are crucially also law-breakers. And this is the J B Priestleyan crux of this upbeat and cleverly-crafted caper reflecting the subtle nuances of Japanese society. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 21 November 2018 | CANNES WINNER | PALME D’OR 2018

Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back) (2018) **

Writer/Dir.Tom Edmunds. UK. 2018. 90 mins

A watchable British cast explore the meaning of life in Noirish comedy that never quite catches fire despite some powerful elements. Dead in a Week is the feature debut of writer/director Tom Edmunds whose his message certainly has evergreen appeal: ‘love makes the world go round in life’s comedy of errors, and we leave stage when we’re least expecting it.’

Aneurin Barnard stars as William, an aspiring writer and lifeguard who has tried nine times to kill himself. The latest attempt – from a London Bridge – is swiftly averted by Tom Wilkinson’s passing hitman Leslie who describes himself as a one-man euthanasia clinic – a clever idea and one that could easily take off in today’s grim world. For the princely sum of £2,000 he offers to kill the soulful writer within a week, paid upfront, “for obvious reasons”. Leslie’s offer has a ring of sincerity to it, and once the two have come to an arrangement, William’s creative juices go into overdrive, galvanised into penning a paper back-style crime thriller chronicling the whole affair.

Leslie’s Raymond Chandleresque pretensions are the only thing saving him from his dreaded retirement in suburbia with a wife whose only raison d’être is needlepoint (She: “I’ve come out of my comfort zone to do a cushion cover, He: “isn’t that more comforting?”). The problem is, Leslie face the sack unless he keeps up his quota of kills for The British Guild Of Assassins. In a zeitgeisty subplot the Eastern Europeans are encroaching on his market, with Ivan (Velibor Topic) recently winning, ‘Hit Man Of The Year’. Leslie is a worried man.

Meanwhile, love comes to William in the shape of his pulchritudinous publisher Ellie (a persuasive Freya Mavor) and suddenly ‘living’ seems a better option than dying. But can he get out of his contract contract with Leslie, who is hell bent on killing him, for his own reasons.

Despite his thoughtful and often hilarious premise, Edmunds never quite manages the film’s changes of tone and mix of styles. A sweary interlude with Leslie’s bolshy boss at the Guild (Christopher Eccleston) feels completely out of place with Leslie and Penelope’s twee domestic idyll that’s more Seventies TV soap opera than this modern day angry outburst. And William’s Byronesque existentialism is convincing but rather too profound for the comedy treatment it’s given. Tom Wilkinson’s deadpan performance of exasperation and tetchiness is a convincing portrait of middle- aged angst and one of the drama’s strongest assets.

On the downside Dead In A Week makes flippant side-swipes at dementia, ageing and even motor neurone disease (a tasteless Michael J Fox joke) and the pace starts to slacken when the story becomes more convoluted. These flaws are largely down to inexperience. Edmunds has some good ideas, he should trust his instincts and avoid over-complicating his plot lines. Dead In A Week’s flippant tone is often too derogatory for themes expressed by its thoughtful characters in a drama that rather toys with very real trauma. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FORM 16 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

The Marvellous Mabel Normand **** BFI Comedy Genius 2018


The BFI’s upcoming COMEDY GENIUS SEASON features a new set of four shorts starring the queen of silent comedy, Mabel Normand.

Mabel Normand (1892-1930) had a short but eventful life: she was a pioneer of Silent Movies as a star actress (in 220) and director (in 10) between 1910 and 1927. Working alongside Charlie Chaplin, she ended up saving his career at Mack Sennetts’ Keystone – the producer wanted to sack him. Normand also developed Chaplin’s ‘tramp’ screen personality. But she was, more or less, accidentally involved in the murder of William Desmond Taylor and the shooting of Courtland S. Dines, as well as being a friend (and co-star) of ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, whose life was a series of scandals. Normand suffered for a long time from TB, interrupting her career and leading to her early death at the age of 37.

Mable’s Blunder (1914) 

Dir.: Mack Sennett, Cast: Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett, Harry McCoy, Charles Bennett, Eva Nelson; USA 1914, 13 min.

Mable’s Dramatic Career (1913)

Dir.: Mack Sennett; Cast: Mable Normand, Mack Sennett, Alice Davenport, Virginia Kirtley; USA 1913, 14 min.

His Trysting Places (1914)

Dir.: Charlie Chaplin; Cast: Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Mark Swain, Phyllis Allen; USA 1914, 32 min.

Should Men walk Home (1927) 

Dir.: Leo McCarey; Cast: Mabel Normand, Creighton Hale, Eugene Pallette, Oliver Hardy; USA 1927, 35 min

Mabel’s Blunder is a screwball comedy of cross-dressing. Mabel (Normand) bizarrely ends up being fancied by her fiancée (Bennet) and his father Harry (McCoy) – in a bizarre turn of events that naturally sees her compromised and embarrassed.  But things get worse when the fiancée’s sister (Nelson) arrives and is also keen on her own brother. Far too fond – in the eyes of Mabel- who doesn’t realise what’s going on, and suspects she has a rival. Mabel changes into male clothing and teaches both men a lesson. Directed by Mack Sennett, this is a turbulent but elegantly comic sketch.

Sennett was also the director of Mabel’s Dramatic Career, in which Normand plays a maid in love with the young Master of the house (Sennett) whose mother (Davenport) really prefers a real ‘lady’ for her son. Mabel is dismissed, but makes a career in the movies. This leads to great unhappiness on the part of the son, when he see his ex-flame on the cinema screen. The final scene is a showcase showdown.

In His Trysting Places Charlie Chaplin directed himself and Normand as couple who fall foul of a comedy involving a mix-up in coats. Chaplin is supposed to get a bottle for the couple’s daughter, but takes the wrong coat in a pub. Mabel finds a letter for a rendezvous in the pocket. She throws a fit. At  the same time, the owner of the coat (Swain) meets his girl friend  (Allen) in the park. She finds a baby-bottle in his coat pocket, and suspects that he has a child with a rival. The helter-skelter of the solution is mad slapstick but hilarious and brilliantly timed.

Should Men Walk Home, directed by Leo McCarey (for producer Hal Roach) is Normand’s penultimate feature. Also known as Girl Bandit, Mabel plays an upmarket lady robber, who together with her friend (Hale), tries to rob a wealthy man during a party. A detective (Pallette) stumbles through the film, always missing the clues, whilst Oliver Hardy has a small, but poignant role as a guest. When it comes to farce, McCarey was one of the best directors, and the finale even features an underwater sequence. Avantgarde and beautifully carried off.

SCREENING AS PART OF BFI’s COMEDY GENIUS season NATIONWIDE from 9 November 2018

Microhabitat (2017) **** London Korean Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Jeon Go-woon; Cast: Esom, Ahn jae-hong, Choi Deok-moon, Kang Jin-ah, Kim kuk-hee, Kim Jae-hwa, Lee Sung wook; South Korea 2017, 104 min.

Jeon Go-woon’s spirited road movie sees a city girl determined to keep her independence while her friends cow-tow to tradition in contemporary Seoul. The original title ‘Little Princess’ better describes this thoughtful story of materialism versus spiritualism.

Miso (a brilliant Lee Som) may be getting on a bit, but can’t afford to heat her tiny studio flat, on her salary as a housemaid. When the rent goes up together with the price of cigarettes, she makes a dramatic decision: to move out and indulge in her favourite brand of whisky, and to keep on smoking. But what price freedom? Her boyfriend Hans-sol (jae-hong) lives in a male-only dormitory, so she can’t go there – they even have to give up having sex. Schlepping around with her belongings, like a bag lady, Miso asks her former band members for help. First off is ambitious office worker Moon-yeong (Jin-ah). She is curt and unapologetic: “I am too irritable to lie with someone”. Next is former vocalist Roki-i (Deok-moon), who now lives with his old-fashioned parents. His mother is keen on the idea. Clearly Miso is the just the right match for her son: “she can clean, and that’s all a woman needs to do”. Roki-i’s certainly keen on Miso. But she can’t deal with being hemmed in with his family, so once again it’s time to move on. The next port of call is her girlfriend Hyeon-jeong (Kuk-hee) whose husband tells his wife “to shut up and cook”. And so it goes on.

Go-woon’s refreshing debut is very much a riff on the traditional versus the modern way of South Korean life. It contemplates the difficulties and isolation of the spiritual way of life, in contrast to the more easier and socially acceptable option of materialism. Freedom may be more nourishing for the soul, but is tough on the body: It’s all very well following your heart in your twenties, but the process becomes tougher as the years go by, and when old age looms around the corner. Esom’s former band-members had their flings with music in their twenties, but they have given up on an inner life, swapping it for opportunism – with different degrees of success.

DoP Tae-soo Kim’s images of Seoul are just breathtaking: the city glitters at night, but during daytime it looks rather drab –  just like Miso’s former friends. Shot in fifteen days, with a rather loose script – Go-woon wanted to convey the humour and absurdity during of the shoot. Microhabitat is a little gem: fast moving yet imbued with gentle insight. This intimate picture of a woman’s determination to follow her dreams at all costs is full of humour and irony. AS

MICROHABITAT OPENED THE LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2018

    

  

French Film Festival UK (2018)

A nationwide festival of recent and classic French film that takes place from 7 November until mid December 2018.

From cult classics such as Alain Delon starrer The Unvanquished (1964), to Jean Luc Godard’s Cannes awarded Image Book (2018) there are 50 films to choose from at various venues all over the UK from London to Edinburgh and Belfast to the provincial cities of Bristol and Dundee.

FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL UK 7 NOVEMBER UNTIL 16 DECEMBER 2018

UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

The 22nd edition of the  UK Jewish Film Festival this year runs from 8th-22nd November 2018 at cinemas across London, Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham, Brighton and Glasgow.

The programme features a Philip Roth Retrospective in tribute to the much loved author, with a screening of three cinematic interpretations of his work: Goodbye, Columbus; Human Stain and Portnoy’s Complaint.

Other strands include: The Alan Howard International Documentary Strand, Israeli Cinema, Made in Britain, European Cinema, Education Programme, The Sound of Silence providing a spectacular journey back to the 1920s with beautifully restored classic films, Across the World – from Argentina to Russia in 15 days.

Films in Competition for the Dorfman Best Film Award are: The Accountant of Auschwitz, Foxtrot, 2017/Samuel Maoz); Promise At Dawn (2017/Eric Barbier); Three Identical Strangers (2018/Tim Wardle); The Waldheim Waltz (2018/Ruth Beckermann/Berlinale Doc Winner); and Working Woman (Isha Ovedet/2018).

The jury presided by Michael Kuhn includes Anita Land, Clare Binns, Andrew Pulver, Henry Goodman and Michael Rose.

Best Debut Feature Award contenders are: Closeness (2017/Kantemir Balagov/FIPRESCI prize winner, Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2017); Doubtful (2017/Eliran Elya); Driver, Outdoors (2017/Asaf Saban); Red Cow (2017/Tsivia Barkai) and Winter Hunt.

Claudia Rosencrantz will lead this jury.

Up for Best Screenplay Award is: Budapest Noir (2017/Eva Gardos), Death of a Poetess (2017/Dana Goldberg/Ephrat Mishori), Foxtrot, Promise At Dawn, To Dust (2017/Shawn Snyder) and Winter Hunt. Jury headed by Nik Powell.

The Opening Night Gala on the 8th November at BFI Southbank is the UK Premiere of Working Woman, directed by Michal Aviad and starring Liron Ben Shlush, Menashe Noy and Oshri Cohen. This film has been nominated for the Dorfman Best Film Award. Released in 2018, this cautionary tale could hardly be more appropriate in the current climate, and follows an ambitious career woman who struggles with harassment in the work place.

The Closing Night Gala, Eric Barbier’s Promise At Dawn will take place on 22 November at Curzon Mayfair and stars Pierre Niney with Charlotte Gainsbourg (Best Actress Cesar Nomination) playing the overbearing Jewish mother in a powerful adaptation of Romain Gary’s memoir.

The Centrepiece Gala is the London Premiere of Three Identical Strangers, directed by Tim Wardle won the Special Jury prize at Sundance Film Festival and involves three men raised by their respective adoptive families within a hundred-mile radius of each other. These siblings Robert Shafran, Eddy Galland and David Kellman were oblivious to the fact that each had two identical brothers until a chance meeting brought them together, aged 19, for the first time since birth. MT

UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL | NATIONWIDE | 8-22 NOVEMBER 2018

Some Like it Hot (1959) *****


Dir: Billy Wilder | Writer: I A L Diamond | Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon | US Comedy Drama | 123’

Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, this classic of all classic comedies features an all-star cast of Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. The men play a couple of struggling musicians in the wrong place at the wrong time when they witness the Valentines Day Massacre. Finding themselves on the run from the mob, they accept a new gig out of town as part of an all-girl jazz troupe, where they will meet Marilyn Monroe. Dragged up and made-up they’re soon raring to go – but can they keep their act together?

Billy Wilder’s multi-awarded feature picked up the Oscar in 1960, for Orry Kelly’s costume design.

The film played at BFI London Film Festival 2018 and will open at the BFI Southbank and at selected venues across the UK courtesy of Park Circus.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (2018) **

Dir: Gus Van Sant | Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black, Udo Kier | Biopic | US 113′

Joaquin Phoenix plays a recovering alcoholic artist in Gus Van Sant’s latest drama. And it’s a gruelling journey padded with scenes of fuzzy humour, based on the autobiography of prolific cartoonist John Callahan whose drawings lighten the load. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot chronicles the aftermath of an accident which leaves him quadriplegic, his doodles providing a creative outlet for his bitter frustration and struggle to come off the wagon, in a reduced physical state. On and off screen lover-cum-nurse Annu (Rooney Mara) gives him affectionate support along with John (Joaquin Phoenix) his patron, gay philanthropist Donnie (Jonah Hill). Feelgood but toothless, Don’t Worry is also quite tedious to watch as the frequent flashbacks shows the before and after, Phoenix often wallowing in self-pity and milking his melancholy for all he can get. But there are amusing scenes where he rides his wheelchair in traffic and up skateboard ramps. When it comes to paraplegic comedy dramas, Kills on Wheels (2016) did it better, along with the outstanding Untouchable (2011).

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot tries to be touching and soulful in its portrait of loss and redemption. But despite its strong cast, it just adds insult to injury. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

My 20th Century (1989) Bfi Player

Writer/Dir: Ildiko Enyedi | Cast: Dorota Segda, Oleg Yankoskiy, Paulus Manker, Gabor Mate, Peter Andorai | Drama | Hungary/West Germany | 104′ 

Enyedi’s intoxicating sensual concoction trips lightly but engagingly over one of the most fascinating and transformative periods in world history – the dawn of the 20th century, seen from the intriguing feminist perspective of two Eastern Europeans, identical twins Dora and Lili, who are born in a simple country household on the evening Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb in 1880. With technology rapidly advancing, could women’s rights ever hope to keep pace?

The orphaned identical twins will take completely different paths in life to discover a world dominated by men where they both nevertheless manage to thrive through their guile and intelligence. One becomes the enticing courtesan/mistress of Oleg Yankoskiy’s Capitalist Z, the other plays take the road less travelled as a radical revolutionary militant. Dorota Segda plays both women in a delicate tour de force that embraces the different possibilities now open to womenkind in a brave new world where their increased agency offers a sense of hope at the turn of the century. She shows how women can succeed if they really put their mind to it.

Still only 34 at the time, Enyedi’s complex but languid fractured narrative seems to amplify the film’s dramatic potential while DoP Tibor Máthé’s sumptuous visual wizardry pays filmic tribute to cinema itself, with the support from the Hamburg Film Board.

Russian star Oleg Yankovsky (Nostalghia) provides romantic support to both women in the lead male role – his slightly exotic looks adding allure to the convincing love scenes. He plays the enigmatic Z. The magical elan of this fairytale-style is further enhanced by twinkling stars and a tinkly original score from Laszlo Vidovszky.

The thematically rich storyline features a variety of animals: a dog in a laboratory sees a vision of the future; a zoo-bound chimpanzee describes how it came to be captured. There is a definite sense of wonder, euphoria and discovery that reflects the true avant-garde nature of the early 1900s – never has art or culture been so radically ground-breaking in the intervening years.

Imaginative and endlessly fascinating to watch this extraordinary debut won Enyedi the Camera D’Or at Cannes in 1989. She continues to experiment on a more realistic but visionary level with On Body and Soul that won the Golden Bear at Berlinale 2017 and just recently at with the overlong but admirable Story of My Wife (2021). MT

4K restoration of MY 20TH CENTURY made possible by BFI awarding funds from National Lottery.

 

 

 

Dusty and Me (2016) ***

Dir: Betsan Morris Evans | Writer: Rob Isted | Cast: Iain Glen, Luke Newberry, Genevieve Gaunt, Ben Batt, Alan Bentley | UK Comedy Drama |94′

This innocuous enough caper and its spot-on 1970s styling will certainly resonate with the 50 plus crowd, but not sure who it’s aimed at – certainly not adults, but maybe adults with pre- teens?. In the opening scenes Ben Batt channels Reece Shearsmith (League of Gentleman) but Dusty and Me is not *that* sort of comedy – more a comedy of errors – the error being its distinct lack of teeth for a shaggy dog story, The dog in question is actually a Greyhound.

Derek ‘Dusty’ Springfield (Newberry) is a bright working class scholar who’s just broken up from his final term at boarding school in Leeds. Meeting him on the school’s gravel drive is his Sheepskin-jacketed older brother Little Eddie (Batt) in the family Jag. Hopefully his Oxbridge results will jettison him into pastures more promising than the schematic one that lies ahead back home: Chuntering old dad down the pub, mum is a modern day, toned down version of George & Mildred’s Yootha Joyce (you know where I’m coming from, if this was your era).

Footloose and fancy free awaiting the dreaded exam results, the disenfranchised Dusty befriends a Greyhound who runs like the wind, comically naming it Slapper, the two become close buddies. But then Dusty falls for the fragrant Chrissie (Genevieve Gaunt) who’s way out of his league – or so he thinks. The rest you can pretty much guess.

Dusty and Me is a heartwarming tale with a winning score of tunes from back in the day (there could have been a bit more TSOP), and a brash retro aesthetic that lovingly recreates a time when the blue Ford Capri was to die for along with loons, cheesecloth shirts, and scalloped collars. Any everyone spent their Friday night at ‘the pictures’. It’s a cheerful little family film – needing a bit more Vodka in its tonic. MT

NOW OUT ON RELEASE FROM 28 SEPTEMBER 2018

The Big Lebowski (1998) re-release

Dir.: Joel & Ethan Cohen; Cast; Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, David Huddleston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid, John Turturro; USA 1998, 117 min.

The twentieth anniversary screening of The Big Lebowski reminds us how unique the Cohen Brothers’ features once were, cramming modern classics like Fargo, Barton Fink, Millers Crossing and Blood Simple. into the first twelve years of their prolific output. But in the twenty years gone by since The Big Lebowski, there are just two productions standing out from the crowd: No Country for Old Men and A Serious Man (2009) – and really nothing much in the last decade, although The Ballad of Buster Scruggs looks amazing but it’s more a portmanteau of ideas than a story – and there’s was even a dud in the shape of Hail Caesar! 

The Big Lebowski is about three American men who have lost their way after the Vietnam War and are either totally inept and lazy: The Dude Lebowski (Bridges) lies in his bathtub for hours smoking weed with candles burning down; the bitter Walter Sobchak (Goodman), who knows everything better than anyone else, but is really just an incompetent bully, or the timid Theodore ‘Donny’ Kerabatsos who hides a deeply disturbed, childish soul. Being Americans and used to living in permanent denial, they hide their troubled personalities behind what they believe is a funny persona, but it’s really just sad. Their only way to hang on to real life lies is through their obsession with bowling, spending most of their time in the bowling alley, bickering and fighting with anybody who comes along. And Jesus Quintana (Turturro) is one of their adversaries, dressing in a lilac romper suit he’s even more obsessed with bowling than the other three. When some inept small-time gangsters mistake the Dude Lebowski for the millionaire of the same name, and urinate on his carpet (“it holds the rooms together”), The Dude seeks out his namesake (Huddleston), who is wheel-chair bound and dominated by his twenty-something wife Bunny (Reid) and his slightly older daughter Maude (Moore). After stealing an expensive Persian rug under the nose of Lebowski’s assistant Brandt (Hoffman), The Dude is soon visited by the latter, to deliver one million dollars to Bunny’s kidnappers. Clearly no kidnapping has actually taken place, the trio sets out to deliver the money, but fails miserably. Meeting Maude, who is into sexual therapy based on Reich’s theory of the Orgone, is interesting for The Dude, but the narrative passes our heroes by, and leaves them carrying the can – with tragic consequences.

The directors always manage to keep the comical elements true to life – a difficult task, considering that the three would-be-sleuths seem to overlook every clue being thrown at them. Their reduced and totally self-centred personalities leave them open to being exploited by anyone. But they stagger on, always on the outlook for an onslaught from their imagined enemies – which never comes in the way they imagined it will. Living in their world of total seclusion from reality, they create their own downfall – their self-destruction a symptom of their personality disorder. They generate a permanent world of slapstick: much sadder than it is funny, but it fits in with the wider picture of society the Cohens are painting: the self-inflicted trauma of the Vietnam War, never discussed and covered up by every president from Reagan onwards, has ruined the soul of a nation –  the three ‘blind mice’ in The Big Lebowski are only the first step towards Trump’s America. The audience might laugh – but the last laugh is on them. AS

THE BIG LEBOWSKI IS BACK ON THE BIG SCREEN COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS IN SELECTED TERRITORIES THROUGHOUT 2018 | For cinema listings and further details check here:

photo credit: UNIVERSAL PICTURES

 

The Good Girls | Las Ninas Bien (2018)** Toronto Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Alejandra Marquez Abella; Cast: Ilse Salas, Flavio Medina, Paulina Gaitan; Mexico 2018, 93 min.

Alejandra Marquez Abella structurally flawed sophomore feature is an anthropologist’s dream: based on characters by Guadelupe Loaeza, a group of bitchy, upper-middle class Mexican wives who fight over the best caterer at the crowning of their entire existence: having Julio Iglesias for dinner. Led on by lead Sofia, the rest are mere cyphers and the episodic structure doesn’t help in keeping viewers engaged for the ninety minutes.

Sofia (Salas), loathes her South-American heritage: and sending her three children off to summer camp, she warns them “don’t hang out with Mexicans”. A European background is really all she and her competitors crave for. Sofia’s parties are real productions, and she seems to have married her husband Fernando (Medina) largely  because of his family’s Spanish heritage. Everything is a competition for Sofia, the smallest detail could lead to a loss of face amid her rivals. But we are in the early Eighties and the Mexican Peso suddenly bottoms out. As Sofia and her circle rely on imported goods, this is a major catastrophe. So when credit cards get refused politely and the servants don’t get paid, doom is imminent. To make matters worse, Sofia’s only real competitor, noveau-riche Ana Paula (Gaitan), is still quids in. Her default-position is resigned acceptance, but with the Peso tumbling further, even this seems to be too much.

Salas is always brilliant, cool and contained, she carries the film as much as she is able to. DoP Daniela Ludlow succeeds in conjuring up this lush environment of petty mini-me’s in meltdown, always keeps everything close and personal, despite the widescreen format. As a chickflick study of vanity and self-deceit this would be brilliant – as a feature it lacks emotional depth and an absorbing dramatic arc. AS

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL | 6 – 16 SEPTEMBER 2018
 

The Nun (1966/67) ****

Dir: Jacques Rivette | Cast: Anna Karina, Liselotte Pulver, Francisco Rabal, Micheline Presle | Drama | France | 140′

Jacques Rivette is famous for his playful features such as Céline and Juliette go Boating, and his one and only excursion into mainstream fare, La Religieuse (1966), based on a Diderot novel, is also full of anarchic fun and was almost banned due to its salaciousness, but went on to be nominated for the Palme D’Or in the year of its making. Suzanne Simonin (Anna Karina), is incarcerated in a cloister against her will and soon falls foul of not one, but three Mother-Superiors who respectively treat her sadistically, tenderly, or as an object for plain lesbian lust – but Suzanne stays pure. This anti-clerical romp was very popular at the box office and served as a liberating force for Karina giving her the emotional impetus to finally divorce JL Godard after having completed their last collaboration, Made in USA, in the same year. AS

IN ARTHOUSE VENUES NATIONWIDE FROM 27 JULY 2018 with a HOME ENT release planned for September 2018 | COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

 

The Summer House (2018) Les Estivants | *** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. France/Italy. 2018. 127mins |

Actor-director Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s reworks familiar territory in her latest comedy drama where she plays a vulnerable woman obsessed with a feckless younger man. This time she adds farce to the histrionics sending herself up as the delightfully dizzy delusional central character. You have to admire her cheekiness in this well-observed but flimsy piece of fun.

At the beginning Anna (Tedeschi) is tottering over a Parisian bridge with her sulky lover Luca (Riccardo Scamarcio), on the way to a cafe. Joining them is a serious be-suited man and a divorce proceedings  immediately spring to mind: they are actually attending a film financing meeting where filmmaker Anna freely admits to rehashing her plot when questioned by the team. Considering arch re-hasher Frederick Wiseman is on the panel this comes as a feminist jibe and we actually warm to her, and if you’re a fan of her formula (A Castle in Italy etc) then The Summer House is for you.

The Summer House has the advantage of some seriously sumptuous settings: this time we visit the Cote d’Azur and a gorgeous belle époque Villa surrounded by lavender-scented gardens where her real mother Marisa Borini (resembling her other daughter Carla Bruni) plays her onscreen ma, and the daughter she adopted with Louis Garrel, Oumy Bruni Garrel, is Anna’s daughter – exuding all the saucy sense of entitlement you would expect. Co-scripted by Tedeschi, Agnès de Sacy and Noémie Lvovsky, this upstairs/downstairs affair features the problems of the staff along with those of the guests – although the characterisations are shallow and rather trite – and often descends into implausible farce failing dismally as an attempt to engage us in an exploration of the human condition in all its splendour and desperation.

Bruni Tedeschi’s younger partner Luca does not join them, after hinting at a new romance, so the start of the holiday is blighted by emotional telephone outbursts and the usual melodramatic meltdowns. Anna’s alcoholic sister Elena (Valeria Golino) tries her best in an awful role where she whines and whimpers between drunken episodes as the wife of the villa’s much owner, ageing businessman Jean (Pierre Arditi). Meanwhile, Lvovsky also stars as Anna’s divorced writing partner Nathalie who appears to be recovering from some failed romance in a role that never materialises into anything meaningful.

Ever brimming with hope that her romance with Luca can be reanimated, there is much humour to be had in the way Anna swings from kittenish charisma to snarling witchery, her frustration seething under a well-disguised gamine fluffiness. Tedeschi’s attempt to introduce a sexual molestation strand to the narrative falls on deaf ears – whether this is another jibe on the #metoo theme is left to our individual interpretation. Gorgeous to look at, if mostly exasperating, The Summer House is more of the same fresh air from a familiar face. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Emma Peeters (2018) Venice Film Festival 2018 | Giornate degli Autori


Dir.: Nicole Palo; Cast: Monia Chokri, Fabrice Adde, Stephanie Crayencour, Andrea Ferrol, Anne Sylvain, Jean Henri Compere, Abdre Ferreol; Belgium 2018, 90 min.

Nicole Palo’s second feature is a charming but fluffy comedy about a Belgian would-be actress plagued by her embarrassing parents and fashion faux pas. Shot idyllically, mostly in Belleville Monia Chokri’s portrayal of the titular heroine is an impressive performance. 

Emma (Chokri) is in her mid-thirties and has made the decision to throw in the towel on her acting career in Paris and radically also to end her life. After visiting a funeral parlour – wearing her usual faux-sheep coat and looking very sheepish indeed – she attracts the attention of the owner Alex (Adde), whose struggle with reality is just as troubled. A good-bye visit to her annoyingly banal parents (Sylvain/Compere) in Belgium is followed by several unsuccessful attempts to get rid of her cat Jim, who clings on (clearly loving her jacket). And her friends are no great help either: Stephanie (Crayencour) is a blond, vacuous version of Emma (but a success with men of all sexual orientations) and is only interested in her friend when she wants to borrow her tiny flat to sleep with married men. Her ‘best friends’ Bob and Serge, gay hairdressers, think that a new haircut may lift her spirits. After Mum and Dad turn up for an uninvited visit, we begin to understand Emma’s pain. And when Alex finally gives Emma the promised suicide pill, we know that a happy-end awaits all concerned: Stephanie is pregnant by Bob and/or Serge, and Emma will be the god-mother.

There are shades of the late Solveig Ansbach here (Queen of Montreuil), but without her love of detail and anarchic complications. Palo just goes for the most obvious laughs, using Belleville as a background and creating a succharine atmosphere. On top there are half-baked characters like Bernadette (Ferreol), a lonely old woman who not well-disposed towards Emma. At best this quirky comedy drama could be described as endearing. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI 4 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

C’est La Vie! ***

Dir: Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache | Cast: Jean-Pierre Bakri, Suzanne Clement, Gilles Lellouche | Comedy | France | 90′

Following their international success with Untouchable, Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache are back again – this time with a comedy that fizzes with feelgood fun largely due to lead Jean Pierre Bacri and his signature brand of deadpan no-nonsense insouciance. He plays wedding planner Max whose days are dedicated to making any wedding a big success – even when mayhem is threatening to take over behind the scenes. Meanwhile he’s juggling an unhappy wife and a demanding girlfriend (Suzanne Clément).

Joining him in this well-structured occasionally funny affair are Gilles Lellouche, Benjamin Lavernhe and Jean-Paul Rouve. Hélène Vincent makes the most of her cameo role as the mother of the groom. The story follows Max and his employees as they organise a sumptuous wedding in a magnificent 17th century château. Side-shows in the form of short sketches add interest to the central narrative which focuses on the lavish wedding preparations for Pierre (Lavernhe) and Héléna (Judith Chemla). Predictably, despite Max’s efforts to keep everything under control proceedings never go exactly to plan – to his chagrin.

Impeccable pacing aside, this is a mixed bag comedy-wise: some scenes are more amusing than others and there are some awkward moments. Gilles Lellouche makes a great success of his diva-like wedding singer as does Benjamin Lavernhe as the exacting groom. Less convincing is Rouve’s wedding photographer or Kevin Azais’ waiter with a sideline in off-duty policing. Bacri holds it all together with his superb delivery and timing as he tries to control his bolshy assistant Adèle (Eye Haidara). But the funniest scene is saved for the end as the party really kicks off when the groom’s efforts to surprise his new wife backfire – with hilarious results. MT

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.

Venice Film Festival 2018 | La Biennale

Alberto Barbera has announced a stunning line-up of highly anticipated new features and documentaries in celebration of this year’s 71st edition of Venice Film Festival which takes place on the Lido from 28 August until 8 September 2018. 30% of this year’s films are made by women which sounds more positive. Obviously the festival can only programme films offered for screening.

The festival kicks off on the 28th with a remastered 1920 version of THE GOLEM – HOW HE CAME TO BE (ab0ve) complete with musical accompaniment. This year’s festival opening film is Damien Chazelle’s biopic of Neil Armstrong FIRST MAN. There are 21 features and documentaries in the main competition which boasts the latest films from Olivier Assayas (a publishing drama DOUBLE LIVES stars Juliette Binoche), Jacques Audiard (THE SISTERS BROTHERS), Joel and Ethan Coen’s 6-part Western THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS, Brady Corbet’smusical drama VOX LUX; Alfonso Cuaron with ROMA; Luca Guadagnino’s SUSPIRIA sees Tilda Swinton playing 3 parts; Mike Leigh (PETERLOO), Yorgos Lanthimos with an 18th drama entitled THE FAVOURITE; Carlos Reygadas joins from his usual Cannes slot; and Julian Schnabel will present AT ETERNITY’S GATE a drama attempting to get inside the head of Vincent Van Gogh. Not to mention Laszlo Nemes’ Budapest WW1 drama NAPSZÁLLTA, a much awaited second feature and follow up to his Oscar winning Son of Saul.

The out of competition selection is equally exciting and thematically rich. There is Bradley Cooper’s directing debut A STAR IS BORN (left), Charles Manson-themed CHARLIE SAYS from Mary Herron; Amos Gitai’s A TRAMWAY IN JERUSALEM, and Zhang Yimou’s YING (SHADOW). And those whose enjoyed S Craig Zahler’s dynamite Brawl in Cell Block 99 will be pleased to hear that his DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE adds Mel Gibson to the previous cast of Jennifer Carpenter and Vince Vaughn. There will be an historic epic set in the time of the French Revolution: UN PEUPLE ET SON ROI features Gaspart Ulliel and Denis Lavant (who also stars in Rick Alverson’s Golden Lion hopeful THE MOUNTAIN) , and Amir Naderi’s MAGIC LANTERN which has the wonderful English talents of Jacqueline Bisset. And talking of England, Mike Leigh’s much gloated over historical epic PETERLOO finally makes it to the competition line-up

Documentary-wise there’s plenty to enjoy: Amos Gitai’s brief but timely A LETTER TO A FRIEND IN GAZA; Francesco Patierno’s CAMORRA which explores the infamous Italian organisation; Frederick Wiseman this time plunders Monrovia, Indiana for his source material; multi-award winning Russian documentarian Viktor Kossalkovsky will present his latest water-themed work AQUARELA; Ukrainian Sergei Loznitsa’s film for this year’s festival is PROCESS (he’s the Ukrainian answer to Michael Winterbottom in terms of his prodigious output) this time focusing on the myriad lies surrounding Stalinism.

Out of Competition there are also blasts from the past including a hitherto unseen drama directed and co-written by Orson Welles and his pal Oja Kodar, starring Peter Bogdanovich and John Huston; and Bosnian director Emir Kusturica is back after his rocky time On The Milky Road with EL PEPE, UNA VIDA SUPREMA. 

And Malaysian auteur Tsai Ming-liang also makes a welcome return to Venice with his drama YOUR FACE. A multi-award winning talent on the Lido, his 2013 Stray Dogs won the Special Grand Jury Prize and Vive l’Amour roared away with the Golden Lion in 1994 (jointly with Milcho Manchevski’s Pred dozhdot).

Venice has a been a pioneer of 3D and VR since the screening of GRAVITY which opened the festival in 2013 amid much mal-functioning of 3D glasses at the press screening, and this year’s VR features include an excerpt from David Whelan’s 1943: BERLIN BLITZ which will be released ithis Autumn. This VR showcase experience is an accurate retelling of the events which happened inside a Lancaster bomber during one of the most well documented missions of World War II using original cockpit audio recorded 75 years ago. The endeavour is expected to be released on the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Oculus Go, Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR and Windows Mixed Reality platforms. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 28 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 

 

 

 

Agnès Varda – Gleaning Truths | 3 – 5 August 2018

GLEANING TRUTHS: AGNÈS VARDA is a UK wide touring programme from Friday 3 August in Curzon Soho. Comprising eight films and spanning six decades, the season celebrates Agnès Varda’s work in the build-up to the release of Oscar nominated Faces Places on the 21 September. The tour follows on from the extensive BFI Southbank season in June and takes the work of this pioneering filmmaker to audiences across the UK. 

The touring programme is launching on Thursday 2nd August with a 35mm screening of Cléo from 5 to 7pm at the Curzon Soho, plus panel discussion on Film, Fashion, and the Female Gaze. The panel will be hosted by The Bechdel Test Fest, an on-going celebration of films that pass the Bechdel Test.

La Pointe Courte 

France 1955. Dir Agnès Varda. With Philippe Noiret, Silvia Monfort. 80min. Digital. EST. PG 

Agnès Varda’s first feature, a precursor to the French New Wave, signals her future stylistic and thematic interests. Set in a working-class fishing village, the story moves between the daily struggles of the villagers and a young married couple from the city contemplating their failing marriage. With stunning cinematography, this striking debut demonstrates Varda’s exquisite sensibility as a photographer. 

Cléo from 5 to 7 Cléo de 5 à 7

France-Italy 1962. Dir Agnès Varda. With Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray. 90min. Digital. EST. PG
In pop singer Cléo, Varda created an iconic female protagonist. Wandering the streets of Paris, Cléo goes on a journey of self-discovery as she awaits the results of an important medical test. Moving and lyrical, Cléo from 5 to 7 is Varda’s breakthrough feature and a French New Wave classic, best enjoyed on the big screen.

Le Bonheur 

France 1964. Dir Agnès Varda. With Jean-Claude Drouot, Claire Drouot, Marie-France Boyer. 80min. Digital. EST. 15 Thérèse and François lead a seemingly pleasant married life, until he begins an affair with another woman, supposedly to enhance their mutual enjoyment. In her first colour feature, Varda becomes not only an observer of human behaviour and a commentator on the sexual revolution of the 1960s, but also a painter, utilising her palette on screen to enhance the story to great effect.

One Sings, the Other Doesn’t 

France-Venzuela-Belgium 1977. Dir Agnès Varda. With Thérèse Liotard, Valérie Mairesse, Robert Dadiès. 120min. Digital. EST. 12A
Set against the backdrop of the women’s liberation movement, the film charts the friendship between two women over the course of 15 years. Suzanne and Pauline lead very different lives, but what unifies them is their commitment to women’s rights. A deeply personal film for Varda, it combines elements of a musical (with lyrics written by the director herself) with Varda’s usual blend of fiction and documentary.

Vagabond 

France 1985. Dir Agnès Varda. With Sandrine Bonnaire, Macha Méril, Yolande Moreau. 106min. Digital. EST. 15. A Curzon Artificial Eye release
A powerful and heartbreaking account of a defiant and free-spirited woman. Winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Vagabond is a cinematic landmark that introduced one of the most intriguing, complex and uncompromising female protagonists in modern cinema. Sandrine Bonnaire, who debuted in Maurice Pialat’s À nos amours, gives a remarkable performance as the independent and rebellious Mona, who drifts through the South of France. The first scene shows Mona’s death, and so Agnès Varda tells her story through Mona’s interactions with the cross-section of French society she met in the last few weeks of her life. These encounters reveal people’s preconceptions around women’s place in society, personal freedoms within social structures, and the value of work – issues that still resonate more than 30 years after the film’s release.

Jacquot de Nantes 

France 1991. Dir Agnès Varda. With Philippe Maron, Edouard Joubeaud, Laurent Monnier. 120min. Digital. EST. PG 

This is Varda’s first film celebrating her late husband, French filmmaker Jacques Demy. With her signature style of mixing fiction with documentary, Varda beautifully reconstructs Demy’s adolescence and his love of theatre and cinema, using his memoirs as reference. Initiated during Demy’s last year of life and released after his death, Jacquot de Nantes is a touching portrait of a talented filmmaker-in-the-making. 

The Gleaners & I 

France 2000. Dir Agnès Varda. 82min. Digital. EST. U
Armed with a digital camera, Varda travels through the French countryside and Parisian streets to celebrate those who find use in discarded objects. Throughout, she finds affinity as a gleaner of images, emotions and stories, and expands a poetic exploration of gleaning into an innovative self-portrait. This seminal work, referred to by Varda as a ‘wandering- road ocumentary,’ explores her creative process and approach to making film and art.

The Beaches of Agnès 

France 2008. Dir Agnès Varda. 110min. Digital. EST. 18
A cinematic memoir of Varda’s personal and artistic life, told by the director herself on the eve of her 80th birthday. In a witty and original way, Varda weaves archive footage, reconstructions and film excerpts with present-day scenes to chart her life, including childhood, the French New Wave period, and her marriage to Jacques Demy. Inventive, emotional and reflective, this autobiographical essay celebrates Varda’s artistic creativity and curiosity about life.

SCREENING AT CURZON LONDON 3-5 AUGUST 2018 LONDON

The Producers (1968) | Bluray

Dir: Mel Brooks | Cast: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Estelle Winwood | US Comedy | 90′

Mel Brooks’ debut feature is a flagrant  New York Jewish comedy so gross it is actually hilarious and hammy in the extreme – in the best tradition of American Burlesque. Set in Broadway is stars Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock a failing theatre producer forced to flatter a series of rich widows in order to finance his plays. When timid accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) is brought in to do his books, he inadvertently reveals to Bialystock that under the right circumstances, a producer could make more money with a flop than a hit. So Bialystock cajoles Bloom into helping him achieve this end and together they come up with what they consider to be a sure-fire disaster waiting to happen – a musical version of Adolf and Eva’s love story entitled ‘Springtime For Hitler’. 

Directed by legendary filmmaker Mel Brooks (Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles), and starring Zero Mostel (The Front), Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory) and Estelle Winwood (Murder By Death), The Producers was adapted for Broadway in 2001, starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, and went on to win a record 12 Tony Awards.

THE PRODUCERS new 4k restoration from the original negative screens nationwide on August 5 2018 in celebration of the film’s 50th anniversary. The Oscar-winning feature will also include a very special Mel Brooks introduction from Turner Classic Movies. MT

The Producers will be released in UK cinemas for one day only on August 5th, and then on DVD/Blu-ray/EST on September 10th 

Leo McCarey Retrospective | Locarno International Film Festival 2018

Although Leo McCarey (1898-1969) was feted during his career winning three Oscars and nominated for a further 36(!), he seems to have fallen out of fashion. Today he is remembered for just three features: The Marx Brother’s vehicle Duck Soup (1933), An Affair to Remember (1957), actually a remake of his superior Love Affair from 1937, and the The Awful Truth. To my knowledge, there are no book length biographies currently in print, rather odd, if you consider that McCarey directed 23 sound features. This year’s Locarno Film Festival offers a welcome opportunity to enjoy his work in a lavish retrospective dedicated to this Hollywood great.

After High School McCarey actually started out as a prize fighter before bowing to the will of his father and studying law at USC. Enterprisingly he then took over a copper mine, but the venture went bankrupt and his career as a lawyer also faltered. He next turned his hand to song-writing but athough he composed over a thousand songs during his lifetime, he would have been unable to make a living from it. Then in 1919 came his lucky break as assistant to Tod Browning at Universal. Later joining the Hal Roach Studio, he made it from gag man to Vice President. But more importantly, he was to pair Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in these ventures. McCarey checkered life experiences provide rich material for his films: Bing Crosby would play a failed songwriter in Love Affair, there is boxing content both in The Milky Way (1936) and The Bells of St. Mary (1945). Whilst liking “a little bit of the fairy tale” in his films, McCarey became a director of features just as the sound system was launching, giving him the opportunity to work with stars early on in his career. And there was always a steely side of reality imbedded in his escapist endeavours: The Kid from Spain (1932) with Eddie Cantor, Belle of the Nineties (1934) with Mae West, Six of a Kind (1934) with WC Fields and Milky Way with Harold Lloyd.

Often criticised for being ‘a director of great moments’, McCarey made it to the big times as a serious filmmaker in 1935 with Ruggles of Red Cap. Charles Laughton plays a British butler who has to serve two American ‘Nouveau Riche’ social climbers when his master ‘loses’ him in a card game. Ruggles is a blueprint for what would follow: the absurd interactions of protagonists who either try to help or undermine each other, but always with the same result: chaos.

In 1937 McCarey won his first Oscar for The Awful Truth. It stars Irene Dunne and Gary Grant (his first great success; he actually had a cunning resemblance to McCarey), as a separated couple, who try to help each other, finding a new partner, but only succeeding only in sabotaging their best efforts. It says a lot about McCarey, that he “would have rather won for Make Way for Tomorrow, shot in the same year. Make Way is the story of Lucy Cooper (Beulah Bondi) and her husband Barkley (Victor Moore) who find out on the day of their family re-union that their house is foreclosed. They move in with their middle-aged children, but separately: Mum with son George, Barkley with daughter Cora. This is, in spite of the observant humour, a real tragedy, and would inspire the great Japanese director Ozu for his Tokyo Story.

After winning his second and third Oscars for Going my Way (Best Original Script and Best Director), the story of a popular Irish priest Chuck O’Malley (Crosby), who is more interested in boxing and songs than the lecturing; Good Sam in 1948 marked the beginning of his decline. Between 1948 and his death in 1969 McCarey would only direct five more features: alcohol, drugs and illnesses taking their toll. Somehow the humanist got lost in the perfidious way of Un-American-House Committee witch hunts. My Son John (1952) is the sob story of a mother who discovers that her titular son John (Robert Walker, who died before shooting was complete), is a communist. Not much better is The Devil Never Sleeps (aka Satan Never Sleeps), his last feature from 1962 where a native Christian missionary woman in China is raped by a communist soldier, who later recants his ideology and helps her to flee the country.

Whilst McCarey’s detractors are entitled to point out that he is by no means an auteur in the sense of Hitchcock or even Capra (with whom he shares many parallels), this was mainly due to his to the width and charming versatility of McCarey’s career which started out in slapstick and in ended in social commentary. To McCarey images are mostly secondary; rhythm and sound dominate throughout his oeuvre. But the themes and motifs feature throughout make him unique in the canon of the American cinema. AS

LEO McCAREY RETROSPECTIVE | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 

Locarno 71 | Film Festival Preview

Artistic director Carlo Chatrian has unveiled his final line-up with an exciting eclectic selection of titles spanning mainstream and arthouse fare due to run at the picturesque Lake Maggiore setting from the 1st until 11th August 2018.

Piazza Grande will screen celebrated Filipino filmmaker Lino Brocka’s Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag alongside Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansmanactor, David Fincher’s Se7en and Blaze the latest film from actor turned auteur Ethan Hawke who is also to be honoured with an Excellence Award at this year’s jamboree.

There are two documentary premieres of note, screening out of competition, the first, Walking on Water (Andrey Paounov) explores the work of Bulgarian artist Christo whose Mastaba is currently gracing The Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park, the second is Etre et Avoir director Nicolas Philibert’s De Chaque Instant that looks at the life of nurses as they prepare for a lifetime of service. 

Amongst the feature debuts to world premiere is Aneesh Chaganty’s  Searching, and an animated film Ruben Grant – Collector from Slovenian artist, filmmaker and Berlinale winner Milorad Krstic, 

Hardly catching his breath since his last film Hong Sangsoo joins the International Competition line-up with Gangyun Hotel (Hotel By The River), Abbas Fahdel’s latest Yara, Radu Muntean’s follow up to One Floor Below – Alice T, Dominga Sotomayor’s Tarde Para Morir Joven, Sibel, from Turkish director duo Çagla Zencirci and Guillaume Giovanetti, and Britain’s Richard Billingham with his debut Ray And Liz.

Playing in the Filmmakers of the Present strand there is Siyabonga from South African directorJoshua Magor, a poetic feature showcasing the lavish landscapes of a nation riddled with poverty and crime.

This year’s Honorary Leopard is to go to Bruno Dumont who will present the world premiere of his mini-series Coincoin Et Les Z’inhumains screened on the Piazza after the award ceremony.

Retrospectives are always something to look forward to and Locarno 71 dedicates its classic spot to screwball comedy director Leo McCarey, with Carey Grant starrer The Awful Truth (1937) headlining the selection.

The Piazza Grande provides the biggest outdoor screening area in Europe and will be the setting for Vianney Lebasque’s festival opener Les Beaux Esprits and closing film I Feel Good from Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kerverne. MT

LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Swimming with Men (2018) **

Dir: Oliver Parker | Writer: Aschlin Ditta | Cast: Charlotte Riley, Rupert Graves, Rob Brydon, Nathaniel Parker,  Adheel Akhtar, Thomas Turgoose, Daniel Mays, Jim Carter | UK Comedy | 96′

Oliver Parker is clearly feeling for middle-aged men. His latest film is a  comedy that means well in tackling marriage breakdown and mid-life crisis from a male perspective. It sees Rob Brydon’s bored accountant Eric driven neurotic by his partner’s new success in politics (Jane Horrocks in fine form), while he sits on the sidelines, a disillusioned accountant – so what’s new?. The only thing that makes Eric happy is a dip in the local swimming baths where he bumps into a motley crew of jaded men also down on their luck, but not all past it. Agreeing to keep their personal lives strictly off-poolside, they gradually begin to find the life aquatic gives them a reason for living again. And limbering up with the encouragement of coach Susan (Charlotte Riley) they discover that swimming in sync is the answer to their woes, but not their flabby waistlines. So off they go to Milan.

Sound great, doesn’t it? And you could see where Parker was coming from. The problem is that the direction and writing are the only things out of sync in a comedy of woes that needed to be much tighter and funnier. There are some heartfelt performance from a brilliant British cast (Christian Rubeck is luminous as the token German),  and you can’t help feeling for these guys, particularly Luke (Rupert Graves) and (Thomas Turgoose). But there are hardly any laughs to be had from Ditta’s script, which mostly just feels embarrassingly over the top, or miserably maudlin, and too many lingering close-ups are nobody’s idea of fun.

SWIMMING WITH MEN | nationwide From July 6.

Volcano (2018)

Dir: Roman Bondarchuk | Writer: Dar’ya Averchenko, Alla Tyutyunnyk | Cast: Serhiy Stepansky, Viktor Zhdanov | Comedy Drama | 106′

Roman Bondarchuk honed his craft during the Maidan uprising as co-director of the documentary Euromaidan followed by Ukrainian Sheriffs his tragicomic look at  lawless village life. His feature debut is a visually alluring, darkly sarcastic, wildly nostalgic portrait of quiet desperation set in a surreal backwater.         

In one of the most impressively-crafted opening sequences of this year, Lukas (Stepansky) an OSCE interpreter from Kiev, disembarks from a ferry in a car escorting four delegates that promptly breaks down on the road to a conference in the city of Beryslaw (Kherson). With no mobile signal, he stumbles off despondently looking for help in what seems like a forgotten Ukraine, abandoned after the collapse of the Soviet Union, of which it had been a part. The only sign of modern life is a dam that provided electricity   but at a human cost in flooding local villages – to whose memory the feature is dedicated. 

Lukas soon finds himself in a dusty smallholding where he meets Vova (Zhadanov), an ageing veteran of the Soviet system, and once was the director of a fishing collective. “After 1989”, he complains to Lukas, “they grabbed everything and paid me off with glue, and there’s no market for it”. Vova sees Lukas as his ticket out of the daily misery. But the two women in his household are dead against him leaving: his possessive mother (Sotsenko), who drove away Vova’s wife accusing her of infidelity, and an attractive daughter Marushka (Deilyk), who is keen for to him stay, for other reasons. Desperate to break away from this timewarp, Lukas’ existential angst takes over and after losing his belongings at a raucous party, he is beaten up by two soldiers, waking up in a deep manmade hole in the ground, from which there is no escape. After Vova rescues him, Lukas will have to make a choice. 

VOLCANO is clearly a metaphor for the current status quo and the contradictions of modern Ukraine echo all around: “Weren’t you a hero of Maidan?”, Lukas demands to know from Vova. The answer is, of course “yes’, but the reality of everyday life in this war-torn country is anything but heroic: this is a society stuck in the dark ages of the early 20th century – despite mobile ‘phones. Wages are so low that hardly anyone bothers to work, living on bribes and petty crime. While hating the Russians for stealing their country, they ambiguously hark back to a time of order and stability, paid for by repression. 

DoP Vadim Ilkov catches this nostalgia evocatively on the widescreen, and the under-water shots of the flooded villages are particularly impressive. Bondarchuk directs with great sensibility, never denouncing his protagonists, who are seen as children asked to play adults in a world whose rules they do no understand any more. The director tells the slow-burning story of loss and self-determination: the traditions that once made them proud are distant memories as they cling on to the  void between a past and a present they fear, not to mention a future of more uncertainty. Moving and passionate. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 10 November 2021 | PREMIERED AT KARLOVY VARY 2018

Loves of a Blonde (1965) | Lasky Jedne Plavovlasky | Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018 |

Dir.: Milos Forman; Cast: Hana Brejchova, Vladimir Pucholt, Vladimir Mensik, Milada Jezkova, Josef Sebanek; Czechoslovakia 1965, 90 min.

Loves of a Blonde, the second feature film by director/co-writer Milos Forman, who died this April age 86, is a bleak comedy about sex – but mostly about the absence of it. But couched in this seemingly innocuous little gem is a subtle and subversive critique of Stalinism that kept Eastern Europe under the cosh – politically and socially – during the grim 1960s, before the Prague Spring – for a while – put an end to it all.

In a small Czechoslovakian town, dominated by a shoe factory, the Forman attempts to inject a little fun  by inviting some soldiers to a ball, dominated by women who outnumbered the male of the sex by a staggering 16:1 ratio. But instead of hunky young men, pot-bellied reservists came to town, and gave those women no satisfaction at all. But there is one exception in the shape of Andula (Brejchova), who falls for Milda (Pucholt) the band’s pianist of the band, who comes from Prague. During their ‘accidental’ encounter Milda almost injures himself, trying to shut the blind and after the tender one-night stand, the musician goes back to Prague, and back to his parents. But that’s not the end of it, when Andula turns up with her suitcase to py him a visit, the whole debacle turns into the most hilarious ménage-à-trois in film history.

Almost three generations of viewers have been cheered as well as moved by this amusing tale which bears all the attributes of modern storytelling – a plot without classical dramatisation, an open ending, and straightforward characterisation. Even very early on in his career, Miloš Forman had already proved he was capable of creating an impression of sheer authenticity.

Visually Blonde is un-remarkable, shot in creamy, grainless, black and white by DoP Miroslav Ondricek who accentuates the shadows and the claustrophobic interiors of this rather touching scenario, where the working class are seen as an amorphous mass, struggling to gain individuality in a system where instead of collective joy, grey misery dominates but with a solidarity that is strangely comforting despite its hopelessness. Forman would repeat his melancholy chronicle of stunning mediocrity in his next feature The Fireman’s Ball. AS

LOVES OF A BLOND | KVIFF OPENING FILM IN TRIBUTE TO MILOS FORMAN | 29 JUNE 2018 | FIREWORK DISPLAY 

  

 

New Directors for the Berlinale

The Berlinale turns over a new leaf as Carlo Chatrian takes over as artistic director and Mariette Rissenbeek as executive director of the International Film Festival starting in 2020.

Carlo Chatrian, born in Turin in 1971, is a film journalist and has directed the Locarno Film Festival since 2013, where he has proved that he can successfully curate and lead an art house audience festival. He stands for an artistically ambitious mix of programming and for a focus on discovering new talents. He and the new executive director, Mariette Rissenbeek, will head the Berlinale starting in 2020. Mariette Rissenbeek (born in Posterholt, The Netherlands in 1956) has long headed German Films, the information and advising centre for the international distribution of German films, as managing director. Her successful career in the film industry makes her the ideal choice for this position: She has many years of experience in working with all the important film festivals around the world and has an extensive network of national and international contacts in the film industry.

BERLINALE 2019 | 7 – 17 FEBRUARY 2019

 

Tim Robbins | Honoured at Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018

Oscar-winning Tim Robbins will be celebrated at this year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival with a Crystal Globe for his Outstanding Contribution to World Cinema as an actor, director, screenwriter, producer and musician. Robbins won his Academy Award for his performance as Best Supporting in Mystic River (2003) and was later nominated for a best director Oscar for Dead Man Walking (1995). 

Tim Robbins grew up surrounded by artists from an early age and began his acting career on the New York stage with the experimental theatre ensemble The Actor’s Gang, which under his guidance earned widespread audience acclaim and more than a hundred critics’ awards. 

This early success led to various roles in TV and a film career that flourished with his performance in Ron Shelton’s popular sports film Bull Durham (1988). Proof of his undeniable talent followed with his role in the drama Jacob ’s Ladder (1990), and Robbins went on to work with legendary indie director Robert Altman – taking the sardonic lead role in Altman’s The Player (1992) which won him a Golden Globe and the Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival. 

Honing his skills behind the camera, Robbins’ directorial debut was the impressive drama Bob Roberts (1992 left) which he scripted, co-scored (with his brother David), and also appeared in the title role, singing many of the songs himself.  And the following year he was back with Robert Altman to film Short Cuts (1993). The ensemble cast won a Special Golden Globe and also took home the Volpi Cup from the Venice Film Festival. 

There followed appearances in the Coen brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), another outing with Robert Altman (the comedy from the world of fashion Prêt-à-Porter, 1994), and his work with Frank Darabont on The Shawshank Redemption (1994), which was nominated for seven Oscars. In 1996 Dead Man Walking earned him an Oscar nomination for best director, while his partner Susan Sarandon won an Oscar for best actress. His next auteur outing, Cradle Will Rock (1999) above, which premiered at Cannes, explored the relationship between the individual artist and society during a tumultuous time in the U.S. though this time in another era. As with Dead Man Walking, Robbins produced, and the music was written by his brother David. 

After Stephen Frears’s romantic comedy High Fidelity (2000) and Michel Gondry’s bizarre Human Nature (2001) – based on a script by Charlie Kaufman – Robbins appeared in one of his most successful roles – in Clint Eastwood’s crime drama Mystic River (2004), for which both Robbins and lead actor Sean Penn won an Oscar and a Golden Globe. Recently Robbins has appeared in Marjorie Prime (2017) and HBOs The Brink (2016) and Here And Now (2018). 

KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL | 29 JUNE – 7 JULY 2018 | TIM ROBBINS WILL PRESENT BOB ROBERTS and CRADLE WILL ROCK and perform with his ensemble The Rogues Gallery Band. 

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.

 

 

King of Hearts (1966) ***

 Dir.: Philippe de Broca; Cast: Alan Bates, Genevieve Bujold, Pierre Brasseur, Micheline Presle, Jean-Claude Brialy, Adolfo Celi; France/Italy 1966, 102′

Director Philippe de Broca (1933-2004) was assistant director to Claude Chabrol and François Truffaut, before setting out to direct thirty features; which, like King of Hearts were mainly light-hearted entertainment, but this is notable for its legendary English star Alan Bates. The director’s most popular outing, The Man from Rio (1964), was a sparkling adventure escapade starring Jean-Paul Belmondo.

Set in the French town of Marville in the last days of WWI, Scottish Private Plumpick (Bates) is sent by by his buffoonish commander Colonel MacBiberbrook (Celi) to defuse a bomb in the city, evacuated by the Germans who have intercepted Plumpick’s carrier pigeons, and are waiting for him in the deserted town. Running for his life, Plumpick takes refuge in the local asylum, where the patients greet him with adoration after learning, from the Germans soldiers, that he was the King of Hearts. Soon the patients from the asylum change into fancy dress, imitating the French court and a real brothel. The courtiers, among them General Geranium (Brasseur) and The Duke De Trefle (Brialy), want to crown Plumpick in the derelict church. But he falls for the virgin whore Coquelicot (Bujold), having been introduced to her by Madame Eva (Presle). After defusing the bomb, Plumpick watches the patients celebrate his great ‘firework’. But the explosion brings the two fighting armies back, and the patients run back to the asylum, where they are joined by Plumpick, who, having survived the.

With bears, lions and cycling monkeys running wild in the town after being liberated from their cages by the patients, this is a riotous romp, even though it was a disaster at the box office in France. It also bombed in the USA, but during the Vietnam war it went down a storm on the campuses. It now feels dated but the great ensemble acting and the production values are first class. DoP Pierre Lhomme (Camille Claudel) and composer George Delerue (The Last Metro, Day for Night) also go to make this anarchic cult classic solid entertainment. AS

KING OF HEARTS in cinemas NATIONWIDE (UK & Ireland) on 8 June 2018

The Apartment (1960)***** 4K restoration

Billy Wilder’s comedy The Apartment takes us back to the ordered world of Mad Men when men still ruled the world and the workplace: but it didn’t always work in their favour. There’s so much to enjoy about the sly camaraderie and refreshing lack of political correctness that still make this a winner, and a reminder of the (sometimes) good old days.

And back in the day it won five Oscars at the 33rd Academy Awards, including for best picture, dynamite writing duo Diamond and Wilder (Jewish emigrés from Romania and Germany), The Apartment is a romantic comedy verging on melodrama that trips lightly over a scorching satire of the old school network that still exists today, in a much more covert way than even back then. The movie is positively bristling with social commentary but all of it dressed in a chipper sense of upbeat bonhomie. Sometimes its characters are vulnerable, lonely and frustrated but the humour skips on relentlessly always presenting its best face to a world that knew firmly where and how its bread was buttered, and accepted it with dignity and good grace.

And none more so than Jack Lemmon’s character C C Baxter, a hard-working, hard-done-by corporate servant, who thinks the best of everyone and everything, and is gifted with an enviable optimism and a indomitable will to survive. Lemmon brings an acute sense of comic timing and slapstick skill to his memorable performance. Wilder puts a positive spin on this immoral world knowing that his stock in trade was to entertain not to depress of deflate. Baxter is grafting his way slowly to the top, knowing that his ace card is his Manhattan home, a small but snug pied à terre that provides a priceless bolt hole for his bosses to conduct their extra-marital dalliances. But this cosy corner is somewhat of a poisoned chalice, as even Baxter will admit.

Meanwhile, Shirley MacLaine is the lift lady in the office building where Lemmon works, and is secretly dating one of his married bosses (Fred MacMurray) who makes use of the apartment from time to time. Miss MacLaine (Fran Kubelik) and Lemmon are both likeable losers, disillusioned romantics who finally fall for each other after bonding over Baxter’s meatballs after she tries to kill herself on Christmas Eve, spurned by MacMurray’s Mr Sheldrake (who finally gets his comeuppance at the hands of his secretary Miss Olsen (Edie Adams), one of the five philanders who make use of the apartment. The other are flippantly played by Ray Walston, David Lewis, Willard Waterman and David White. His next door neighbour Dr Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen) provides a vibrant vignette featuring the comforting Jewish doctor and his wife Mildred (Naomi Stevens), who save the day with their nous and matzah ball soup.

The script is full of perceptive moments and witty dialogue that plays on a verbal motif using the suffix ‘wise’; when Fran Kubelik asks Baxter if he wants candlelight over dinner, he replies: “it’s a must, gracious living-wise” and this goes on to hilarious effect, as Wilder and Diamond clearly enjoy themselves writing the multi-awarded script.

Joseph LaShelle’s black-and-white Panavision photography glows to great effect in the restoration, picking out the period details and the impeccable fashions of the day (Miss Olsen’s faux leopard hat and handbag combo and her cat’s eyes sunglasses are still on trend today) and this is all set to Adolph Deutsch’s imaginative score, with its jazzy tunes: an Ella Fitzgerald album cover on Baxter’s sideboard provides a perfect cultural counterpoint to an era where to be successful in the workplace was to be male and white; but that was ok. MT

4K RESTORATION by PARK CIRCUS and MGM from an original 35mm print in cinemas later this year. With thanks to Nick Varley and John Letham for Park Circus. 

 

Cannes Film Festival 2018 | On the Croisette – off the cuff update

Festival bigwig Thierry Frémaux warned us to expect shocks and surprises from this year’s festival line-up, distilled down from over 1900 features to an intriguing list of 18 – and there will be a few more additions before May 8th. The main question is “where are the stars?” or better still “Where is Isabelle Huppert” doyenne of the Croisette – up to now. The answer seems to be that they are on the jury – presided by Cate Blanchett, who is joined by Lea Seydoux, Kristen Stewart, Denis Villeneuve, Robert Guédiguian, Ava Duvernay, Khadja Nin, Chang Chen and Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Last year’s 70th Anniversary bumper issue seems to have swept in a more eclectic and sleek selection of features in the competition line-up vying for the coveted Palme D’Or. There are new films from veterans Jean-Luc Godard (The Image Book), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman) and Oscar winner Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War), and some very long films – 9 exceed two hours. Three female filmmakers make the main competition in the shape of Caramel director Nadine Labaki with Capernaum, Alice Rohrwacher with Lazzaro Felice and Eve Husson presenting Girls of the Sun. Kazakh filmmaker Sergei Dvortsevoy rose to indie fame at Cannes Un Certain Regard 2008 with his touching title Tulpan, and he is back now in the main competition line-up with a hot contender in the shape of AYKA or My Little One. 

Scanning through the selection for British fare – the Ron Howard “directed” (Thierry’s words not mine) Solo, A Star Wars Story stars Thandie Newton, Paul Bethany and Emilia Clarke but no sign of Mike Leigh’s Peterloo. And although Matteo Garrone’s Dogman is there and is a hot contender for this year’s Palme, the much-awaited Jacques Audiard latest The Sisters Brothers, and Joanna Hogg’s hopeful The Souvenir Parts I and II are nowhere to be seen- but Lars von Trier is still very much ‘de trop’ on the Riviera, or so it would seem. Thierry is still thinking about this one. And on reflection he has now added The House That Jack Built – out of competition.

Apart from Godard, there are two other French titles: Stéphane Brizé will present At War, and Christophe Honoré’s Sorry Angel – in competition, and these features will open shortly afterwards in the local cinemas – to keep the Cannois happy. The Un Certain Regard sidebar has 6 feature debuts in a line-up of 15. And the special screening section offers Wang Bing’s Dead Souls with its 8 hour running time  allowing for a quick petit-dej on the Croisette before the following days’ viewing starts!

It Follows director David Robert Mitchell will be in Cannes with his eagerly anticipated follow-up Under the Silver Lake. And Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke  brings another Palme d’Or hopeful in the shape of Ash is Purest White, starring his wife and long-term collaborator Tao Zhao.  First time director A B Shawky presents the only debut feature in the competition strand Yomeddine – a leper road movie from Egypt – and it’s a comedy!. Iranians Jafar Panahi (Three Faces) and Asghar Farhadi (Everybody Knows) also make the list – with Farhadi’s film starring Penelope Cruz and husband Javier Bardem and opening the festival this year.

So out with the old guard – Naomi Kawase included – and in with the new – is Thierry’s message this year. Let’s hope it’s a good one. And stay tuned for more additions and coverage from the sidebars Un Certain Regard, ACID, Semaine de la Critique and Directors’ Fornight. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8 -22 MAY 2018

COMPETITION LINE-Up

EVERY BODY KNOWS – Asghar Farhadi

AT WAR - Stéphane Brizé 

DOGMAN – Matteo Garrone

LE LIVRE D’IMAGE – Jean-Luc Godard

NETEMO SAMETEMO (ASAKO I & II) (ASAKO I & II) – Ryusuke Hamaguchi

SORRY ANGEL – Christophe Honore

GIRLS OF THE SUN – Eva Husson

ASH IS PUREST WHITE – Zia Zhangke

SHOPLIFTERS – Kor-eda Hirokazu

CAPERNAUM – Nadine Labaki

BUH-NING (BURNING) – Lee Chang-Dong

BLACKKKLANSMAN – Spike Lee

UNDER THE SILVER LAKE – David Robert Mitchell

THREE FACES – Jafar Panahi

ZIMNA WOJNA/Cold War – Pawel Pawlikowski

LAZZARO FELICE – Alice Rohrwacher

LETO – Kirill Serebrennikov

YOMEDDINE – A B Shawky

KNIFE + HEART – Yann Gonzalez

AYKA –  Sergey Dvortsevoy, director of Tulpan, winner of the Prize Un Certain Regard in 2008.

These two films by Yann Gonzalez and Sergey Dvortsevoy are both directors’ second feature. It will be their first time in Competition.

AHLAT AGACI (THE WILD PEAR TREE) – Nuri Bilge Ceylan, winner of the Palme d’or 2014 for Winter Sleep.

The Competition 2018 will be composed of 21 films.

SHADOW – Zhang Yimou (out of competition)

THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT – Lars von Trier (out of competition)

_______________________________________________

 71st CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8-20 MAY 2018

 

 

Sundance London 2018 | 31 May – 3 June

Once again Robert Redford brings twelve of the best indie feature films that premiered in Utah this January, with opportunities to talk to the filmmakers and cast in a jamboree that kicks off on the long weekend of 31 May until 3 June.

Desiree Akhavan picked up the Grand Jury Prize for her comedy drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post in the original US festival, and seven films are directed by women along with a thrilling array of female leads on screen, and this year’s festival champions their voices with Toni Collette (Hereditary) amongst the stars to grace this glittering occasion taking place in Picturehouse Central, Leicester Square. Robert Redford will also be in attendance.

An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn (Director: Jim Hosking,

Screenwriters: Jim Hosking, David Wike) – Lulu Danger’s unsatisfying marriage takes a fortunate turn for the worse when a mysterious man from her past comes to town to perform an event called ‘An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn For One Magical Night Only’.

Principal cast: Aubrey Plaza, Emile Hirsch, Jemaine Clement, Matt Berry, Craig Robinson

Eighth Grade (Director/Screenwriter: Bo Burnham) – Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school — the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year — before she begins high school.

Principal cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

Generation Wealth (Director: Lauren Greenfield) – Lauren Greenfield’s postcard from the edge of the American Empire captures a portrait of a materialistic, image-obsessed culture. Simultaneously personal journey and historical essay, the film bears witness to the global boom–bust economy, the corrupted American Dream and the human costs of late stage capitalism, narcissism and greed.

Principal cast: Florian Homm, Tiffany Masters, Jaqueline Siegel

Half the Picture (Director: Amy Adrion) – At a pivotal moment for gender equality in Hollywood, successful women directors tell the stories of their art, lives and careers. Having endured a long history of systemic discrimination, women filmmakers may be getting the first glimpse of a future that values their voices equally.

Principal cast: Rosanna Arquette, Jamie Babbit, Emily Best

Hereditary (Director/Screenwriter: Ari Aster) – After their reclusive grandmother passes away, the Graham family tries to escape the dark fate they’ve inherited.

Principal cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Ann Dowd, Milly Shapiro

Leave No Trace (Director: Debra Granik, Screenwriters: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini) – A father and daughter live a perfect but mysterious existence in Forest Park, a beautiful nature reserve near Portland, Oregon, rarely making contact with the world. A small mistake tips them off to authorities sending them on an increasingly erratic journey in search of a place to call their own.

Principal cast: Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Jeff Kober, Dale Dickey

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Director: Desiree Akhavan, Screenwriters: Desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele) –1993: after being caught having sex with the prom queen, a girl is forced into a gay conversion therapy center. Based on Emily Danforth’s acclaimed and controversial coming-of-age novel.

Principal cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle.

Never Goin’ Back (Director/Screenwriter: Augustine Frizzell) –Jessie and Angela, high school dropout BFFs, are taking a week off to chill at the beach. Too bad their house got robbed, rent’s due, they’re about to get fired and they’re broke. Now they’ve gotta avoid eviction, stay out of jail and get to the beach, no matter what!!!

Principal cast: Maia Mitchell, Cami Morrone, Kyle Mooney, Joel Allen, Kendal Smith, Matthew Holcomb

Skate Kitchen (Director: Crystal Moselle, Screenwriters: Crystal Moselle, Ashlihan Unaldi) – Camille’s life as a lonely suburban teenager changes dramatically when she befriends a group of girl skateboarders. As she journeys deeper into this raw New York City subculture, she begins to understand the true meaning of friendship as well as her inner self.

Principal cast: Rachelle Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, Jaden Smith, Nina Moran, Ajani Russell, Kabrina Adams

The Tale (Director/Screenwriter: Jennifer Fox) – An investigation into one woman’s memory as she’s forced to re-examine her first sexual relationship and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive; based on the filmmaker’s own story.

Principal cast: Laura Dern, Isabelle Nélisse, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Debicki, Ellen Burstyn, Common

Yardie (Director: Idris Elba, Screenwriters: Brock Norman Brock, Martin Stellman) – Jamaica, 1973. When a young boy witnesses his brother’s assassination, a powerful Don gives him a home. Ten years later he is sent on a mission to London. He reunites with his girlfriend and their daughter, but then the past catches up with them. Based on Victor Headley’s novel.

Principal cast: Aml Ameen, Shantol Jackson, Stephen Graham, Fraser James, Sheldon Shepherd, Everaldo Cleary

SURPRISE FILM! Following on from last year’s first ever surprise film, the hit rap story Patti Cake$, Sundance Film Festival: London will again feature a surprise showing.  No details as yet, but it was a favourite among audiences in Utah, and with just one screening this will be among the hottest of the hot tickets. The title will be revealed only when the opening credits roll. My bets are on Gustav Möller’s The Guilty, which picked up the World Cinema Audience Award back in January; or possibly Rudy Valdez’ drug documentary The Sentence, or it could even be Burden, which took the US Dramatic Audience Award for its story of a love affair between a villain and a woman who saves his soul. 

SUNDANCE LONDON RUNS FROM 31 MAY – 3 JUNE 2018 | TICKETS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Leisure Seeker (2017) ***


Dir: PAOLO VIRZÌ | Drama Italy / 112’ |cast: Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland

Paolo Virzi’s drama is based on the novel by Michael Zadoorian and stars Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland in a timely tale about an elderly couple looking for one last hurrah on a bittersweet final road trip that gives full throttle to Dylan Thomas’ redolent words: “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Those on their last legs will heartily appreciate the sentiment  embodied and expressed here with feeling by Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren, who share a palpable onscreen chemistry as the amiable pair embarking on their odyssey with the full knowledge that this is likely to be their last together, and is fraught with ups and downs, and memories both good and bad.

The English-language debut of Italian director Paolo Virzì (Like Crazy), The Leisure Seeker sees Ella (Mirren) dying of cancer and John (Sutherland) stumbling on the foothills of Alzheimer’s disease. Neither is remotely interested in quietly fading away in a nursing home or hospice, at least not until they are forced to. So they hit the road in their vintage car on a trip from Boston to Florida with John behind the wheel. This is a tribute to a life lived to the fullest by people who have are cognisant of their plight; it is never maudling or downbeat but admits the inevitable with grace and good humour. The film also offers up an eventful travelogue of this part of America, brimming with insight into how the world has changed as they pass through the cities that have shaped and punctuated their time together. Keats put it rather well when he said: “Live life to the lees” – it’s a quote that acknowledges a life lived pleasurably and with gusto, and this is the feeling that permeates this entertaining tribute, offering a little taster of what’s come for all of us, and a timely reminder to make the most of it while we can. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE |

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | IN COMPETITION

 

Let the Sun Shine In | Un Beau Soleil Intérieur ***** (2017)

Writer|Dir: Claire Denis, Christine Angot | Cast: Juliette Binoche, Gérard Depardieu, Valéria Bruni Tedeschi | 94min | Comedy drama

Claire Denis opened Cannes Directors’ Fortnight 2017 with her terrific comedy debut Un Beau Soleil Intérieur starring Juliette Binoche, Gérard Depardieu and Valéria Bruni-Tedeschi as Parisians keen to find love the second, third (or possibly even) twentieth time around. Previously known as Des Lunettes Noires, a more edgy and intriguing title that conveys the romantic pleasures of the time discretely known as ‘un certain age’, this drôle and triumphantly upbeat satire will make you chuckle knowingly, rather than laugh out loud.

Binoche plays Isabelle, a recently divorced mother in her early fifties keen to rediscover the buzz of sex and lasting love again and all the other things that make ‘la vie du couple’ worth living, after the pressures of raising a family or struggling to build a life. Surrounded by a series of smucks – to put it politely – she feels that romance is already a thing of the past. Isabelle is ‘special’ in that mercurial way that becomes amusingly familiar as Denis’ insightfully intelligent narrative unfolds. She has reached a time when wisdom and experience enriches everyday life, but when it comes to love we are still often teenagers. She welcomes the familiar routines of daily life, but so do the men she encounters, particularly one pompous banker (Xavier Beauvois) who is the ultimate control freak and is useless in bed, but she falls in love all the same, due to her newfound ability to tolerate the even the worst of what’s left men-wise. After the banker is clearly unable to leave his wife, Isabelle then moves on to Sylvain (Paul Blain), a louche and seedily sensual man she meets in a bar where they dance to they strains of “At Last’  – and of course you know it wont’t be. Then there is alcoholic actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who satisfies her sexually but is too fond of himself to really fall for her. Isabelle is looking for chemistry but also someone from her ‘milieu’, but at this stage in the game, most  available men are single for a reason: they are either geeks or deeply unattractive, but totally unaware of it. And ex husband François (Laurent Grevill) still serves as a ‘friend with benefits’, occasionally popping back on the scene, although her daughter is only glimpsed briefly.

Apart from the acutely observed witty script, the emotional nuances of Binoche’s performances are what makes this so enjoyable. UN BEAU SOLEIL never takes itself too seriously, and is a complete departure from her dramas such as Beau Travail and White Material, and is probably most like her 2002 outing Friday Night. And the final scene where she visits Gerard Depardieu’s psychic is such a perceptive interplay between clever dialogue and intuitive performances it’s a joy to behold. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE COURTESY OF CURZON | 14 APRIL 2018

 

 

 

I Got Life | Aurore (2017)

Dir.: Blandine Lenoir; Cast: Agnes Jaoui, Sarah Suco, Lou Roy-Lecollinet, Pascale Arbillot, Thibault Montalembert; France 2017, 89 min.

French cinema continues to cock a snoot at the popular myth that cinematic love affairs end in middle age with this typical Gallic story centred around 50 year old Aurore, whose daughters leave the nest, only to return, and whose best friend is a raving feminist. Aurore’s answer to all this is to go for broke and re-connect with the love of her life, after her husband leaves her in the lurch. I GOT LIFE  is a deft mixture of comedy, farce and feminism. The characters are stronger than the uneven plot, with an episodical structure not helping this rather lightweight affair, despite some great comedy turns. Agnes Jaoui is particularly good as the menopausal mid-lifer whose attempts at getting back on the career ladder have been scuppered by her husband clearing off – and taking with him her unpaid job as his administrator. A job in a bar turns out to be a disaster: the owner insisting on calling her Samantha, “because it’s more sexy”. A string of disasters happen, one after the other. First of all her oldest daughter Marina (Suco) tells her that she is pregnant (“you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did” Aurore mumbles – making herself about as popular as Marina’s expanding girth). Then her youngest daughter Lucie (Roy-Lecollinet) decides to decamp to Barcelona with her boyfriend, abandoning her studies. And being with best girlfriend Mano (Arbillot) is not always fun either: Aurore has has agreed to help Mano sell flats by pretending to be an interested client in a bid to attract some real applicants. But when events spiral out of control Aurore settles for the charms of her first love Totuche (Montalembert), her first love,  who turns up like a bad penny – as Marina’s gynaecologist doctor. And although Totuche is reluctant to play romantic ball second time around, it all pans out well in this watchable romcom, photographed by Robert Guediguian regular Pierre Milon (The House by the Sea). Sadly, the jokes are very much hit and miss. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 23 MARCH 2018

BFI Flare Film Festival | 21 March – 1 April 2018

London is the setting for the UK’s longest running LGBTQ film event which began in 1986 as Gay’s Own Pictures. Since then it has also become the largest LGBTQ film event in the UK with this year’s edition boasting 56 feature films, an expanded industry programme, selected films on BFI Player VOD service, and a series of special events and archive screenings. With its partner fiveFilms4freedom it offers LGBT short films for free across the world and promoted through the British Council’s global networks.

Opening the festival this year is Talit Shalom-Ezer’s poignant lesbian love story MY DAYS OF MERCY written by Joe Barton, who scripted TV’s Troy, and featuring Kate Mara and Ellen Page. The European premiere of moral fable POSTCARDS FROM LONDON is the closing gala, telling a revealing story of a suburban teenager (Harris Dickinson) arriving in the West End where he falls in with a gang of high class male escorts ‘The Raconteurs’. Set in a vibrant, neon-lit, imaginary vision of Soho, the film works as a beautifully shot homage to the spirit of Derek Jarman and a celebration of the homo-erotic in Baroque art, and is Steve McLean’s long-awaited follow-up to his 1994 Sundance and Indie Spirit-nominated drama POSTCARDS FROM AMERICA. This year ‘Second Chance Sunday offers the opportunity to watch the on-demand repeat screenings of the audience festival favourites.

Other films to look out for are Rupert Everett’s Oscar Wilde-themed passion project THE HAPPY PRINCE in which he also stars alongside Colin Firth and Emily Watson. Robin Campillo’s rousing celebration of AIDS activism 120 BPM. MAURICE, a sumptuous restoration of the 1987 adaptation of E M Forster’s gay novel starring James Wilby and Rupert Graves. THE WOUND, an illuminating South African story of initiation in a rural village.

On the documentary front it’r worth seeing TOMORROW NEVER KNOWS that explores how a transgender Alzheimer’s patient deals with the harrowing inevitable, and ANTONIO LOPEZ 1970 a compelling and vibrant portrait of the bisexual illustrator who changed the fashion world. 

Avant-garde Berlinale Teddy feature HARD PAINT presents a startlingly cinematic look at how a college drop-out deals with his needs, and Locarno favourite, a saucy Sao Paolo-set vampire drama GOOD MANNERS approaches its love story with hand-crafted tenderness and visual allure.

There will also be another chance to see Francis Lea’s Berlinale awarded GOD’S OWN COUNTRY; Billie Jean King’s thrilling account of her fight for equality in women’s tennis BATTLE OF THE SEXES and the one of the best films of 2017 CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. 

BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL | LONDON 21  March – 1 April www.bfi.org.uk/Flare

 

 

Four films by Sasha Guitry (1936-38)

The New Testament  (Indiscretion) | Dir.: Sacha Guitry; Cast: Sacha Guitry, Jacqueline Delubac, Belly Daussmond, Gerald Christian Zacher; France 1936, 96 min.

Let’s Go Down the Champs Elysées /Remontons Les Champs Elysées | Dir.: Sacha Guitry; Cast: Sacha Guitry, Jacqueline Delubac, Robert Pizani, Jean Perier; France 1938, 100 min.

My Father Was Right/Mon Père Avait Raison  | Dir.: Sacha Guitry; Cast: Sacha Guitry, Jacqueline Delubac, Gaston Dubosc, Paul Bernard, ; France 1936, 81 min.

Let’s Make a Dream/Faisons un Rève | Dir.: Sacha Guitry; Cast: Sacha Guitry Jacqueline Delubac, Raimu, France 1936, 96 min.

French director/writer Sacha Guitry (1885-1957) was prolific: he wrote 124 plays, directed 36 films, published over 900 strongly opinionated columns, and was also active as a painter and sculptor. Born in St. Petersburg to French parents, his mother soon left Sacha’s womanising father Lucien, after he more or less kidnapped young Sacha (who birth name Alexandre Georges Pierre) to take him on a tour of Imperial Russia.

 

As a result, Sacha developed a strong father obsession, even going as far as to marry Charlotte Lyses, one of his father’s many mistresses. He was married five times, his wives after Lyses were invariably decades younger. An outspoken misogynist, he once stated: “We cannot count on women to love their children”. During the German occupation of France, he lived a lavish lifestyle, very much in contrast with the rest of the French population. He also director De Jean D’Arc A Philippe Petain in 1943, trying to justify Marshall Petain, who led the Vichy government allied to Germany. After the liberation, he was jailed for collaboration, but later released without trial, his reputation was tarnished for good, but he blamed the media for his downfall.

The themes that repeatedly occur in his work are those of death and ageing. He was obsessed with hedonistic pursuits and his films were invariably centred on unfaithful love affairs amongst the rich and landed gentry. The women tended to come of worst in the scheme of things. In Lets Make a Dream, Guitry explores the Anna Karennina syndrome in a ‘grass is always greener’ affair with an unsuspecting female conquest. As The Lover/Seducer, delivering his lines like “bullets” – he goes off the idea of The Wife after he successfully luring her away,(Jaqueline Delubac, his wife from 1935-39 is the star of four films in this collection) and the couple fall asleep without making love. Next morning, The Husband (Raimu) turns up, but not to challenge him to a duel, as The Lover had feared, but to confess his own waywardness. The Lover then goes off the idea of marriage to The Wife.

The New Testament/La Noveau Testament (1936) is rather a stiff affair that struggles to escape the stagey feel of its original stage format. Thematically typical of these four features,  it stars Guitry as Doctor Marcellin a sanctimonious character whose is eventually foisted by his own petard over a Will and a complex love triangle involving his wife Lucie (Betty Daussmond) who is  having an affair with the son of the Doctor’s former lover. In the same vain is My Father is Right: Guitry is Charles Bellanger, a man who passes his mistrust of women onto his son Maurice (Bernard) and it comes back to bite him, after his wife Germaine (Daussmond) returns after 20 years. Let’s Go Down the Champs Elysees is actually Guitry’s history lesson and tribute fable to the famous Boulevard from 1617 onwards. Sadly it lacks the wit of Story of a Cheat with the narrative rigour of Pearls of the Crown, but provides some entertainment. There is a great double role for Guitry as the schoolmaster, lecturing his Secondory School class and as Louis XV, who is very much afraid of dying. Finally, Robert Pizani excels in the roles of the composers Richard Wagner and Jaques Offenbach. Of all features, Lets Go Down the Champs Elysees is by far the most filmic, which is hardly surprising, since Guitry was foremost a playwright and theatre director.

Outside France, Guitry’s work has not always travelled well. That said, his plays are still popular throughout France and regularly find a stage airing. AS

SACHA GUITRY COLLECTION | ARROW DUAL FORMAT

Kinoteka 2018 | 7 – 29 March 2018

London hosts KINOTEKA Film Festival for the 16th year running. This year celebrates 100 years of Polish independence with the latest cutting edge cinema and some lesser known archival gems now ripe for rediscovery, along with Q&As, masterclasses and musical entertainment. The festival also offers unique insight into Poland’s rich cultural history through cult classics, biopics, women in cinema and a drama from the liberated Nazi concentration camps. And some distinctly contemporary drama that captures the zeitgeist of Poland in the 21st century such as Rafael Kapelinski’s 2017 scabrously dark drama Butterfly Kisses.

The Opening Night Gala commemorates the life of Krzysztof Krauze and his fruitful partnership with wife/co-director, Joanna Kos-Krauze with a screening of Karlovy Vary Award-winning Birds Are Singing in Kigali, a film exploring the life of two women who escape the genocide in Rwanda. There will also be a another chance to see her 2013 biopic drama Papusza that follows the rise and fall of gypsy-poetess Bronislawa Wajs, widely known as Papusza. And Urszula Antoniak’s award-winning drama Beyond Words.

NEW POLISH CINEMA IS A WOMAN:

This year’s contemporary strand has a particularly focus on female directors. Anna Jadowska’s Wild Roses depicts a mother’s loneliness and struggle to come to terms with her life. Kasia Adamik’s Amok follows the true story of a committed murderer who incriminates himself by writing a novel revealing the killing. There will also be a chance to see the UK premiere of Maria Sadowska’s biopic Sztuka Kochania about the Polish sexologist Michalina Wislocka, who wrote the bestseller The Art of Loving – the first published guide to sexual health from behind the Iron Curtain.

#PL100INDEPENDENCE

This strand offers an opportunity to delve into the archives for some cult classic dramas, comedies and rare Polish silent films. Aleksander Hertz’s Bestia (1917) stars Pola Negri as a wild girl who escapes her parents’ clutches only attract the attentions of a married manJan Nowina-Przbylski’s black and white comedy Love Manoeuvres (1935) sees a couple desperate to get out of an arranged marriage, in a fitting double bill with Juliusz Gardan’s cross-dressing comedy Is Lucyna A Girl? (1934) about a young woman who defies social norms to become an engineer. The celebration will also include an immersive 1920s style ballroom party, featuring special cocktails and a DJ.

CELEBRATING JEWISH-POLISH CINEMA

This year’s festival showcases the rich contribution of Jewish talent in Polish cinema. Kinoteka joins forces with Polish National Center for Jewish Film, to screen a 1937 Yiddish film (Der Purimshpiler) The Jester. The Southern Polish interwar story follows a troubadour who who arrives  in a small village where he upsets the status quo by falling for his new employer’s daughter. Wartime is also the central theme in The Reconciliation, Maciej Sobieszczański’s post-war drama set against the backdrop of the recently liberated Nazi concentration camps that were then used by the Communist party to imprison and eliminate traitors.

Krzysztof Zanussi will be back again this year ‘in conversation’ about one of his earliest films, The Structure of Crystal (1969) (17 March, ICA). Andrzej Klimowski, one of Polish most celebrated graphic designers will be in town for a masterclass aimed at new and emerging filmmakers looking to create poster artwork. He designed this year’s festival poster.

SUPPER CLUB CINEMA

On 23 March, Kinoteka hosts a gourmet evening featuring the delicious cuisine of rising chef Flavia Borawska, accompanied by a film screening of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s classic Double Life of Veronique.

Closing Night Gala – Henryk Szaro’s epic love story The Call of the Sea (1927) has been digitally restored and will play with a specially-commissioned live score performed by a five-piece ensemble led by pianist and composer Taz Modi, at the Barbican.

FESTIVAL GUESTS 

Jakub Gierszał (TBC)

The leading man in three films in this years’ New Polish Cinema segment. In 2012, he won the EFP Shooting Star prize at the Berlin International Film Festival and since then has worked steadily in both Poland and abroad.

Joanna Kos-Krauze

With only four director and writer’s credits in her dossier, Kos-Krauze is already one of the most talked about Polish filmmakers working today. She tells truthful stories about times gone by and people who made a small but culturally significant impact. Kos-Krauze will introduce Papusza (2013) and take part in a Q&A following a screening of My Nikifor (2004) at BFI Southbank on Thursday 8 March.

Maria Sadowska

Director, writer and actress, Sadowska is a triple threat in the industry today. Her latest film, The Art of Loving will be screened at Regent Street Cinema on 11th March. The Story of Michalina Wisłocka (2017) was nominated for a Golden Frog and Golden Lion at the Camerimage and Polish Film Festivals respectively.

Krzysztof Zanussi

Director, writer and Polish film legend, Krzysztof Zanussi has been making films since he was nineteen years-old and now at seventy-eight he’s showing no signs of stopping. The director has eighty-one credits to his name so far, including Ether which he’s currently filming.

KINOTEKA 2018 | 7 -29 MARCH 2018

Cinema Made in Italy Festival 7 -11 March 2018

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY returns to London’s Ciné Lumière, showcasing the latest releases from Italy complete with film-maker Q&A sessions. This year’s line-up includes eight new Italian films and a 1977 classic title A SPECIAL DAY (Una Giornata Particolare), directed by the late maestro Ettore Scola and starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.

SCREENING PROGRAMME – CINEMA MADE IN ITALY 2018

RAINBOW – (UNA QUESTIONE PRIVATA)  6.30 pm  | 7 March           

Intro and Q&A with Paolo Taviani (director)

AMORI CHE NON SANNO STARE AL MONDO | 6.15 pm | 8 March

Intro and Q&A with Francesca Comencini (director)

HANNAH | 6.30 pm  | 9 March 

Intro and Q&A with Andrea Pallaoro (director)

LOVE AND BULLETS | 8.40 pm  | 9 March 

Intro and Q&A with Antonio and Marco Manetti (directors)

THE INTRUDER | 6.30 pm  | 10 March               

FORTUNATA | 8.40 pm | 10 March 

 

Intro and Q&A with Jasmine Trinca (actress)

A SPECIAL DAY | 2.00 pm | 11 March 

CINDERELLA THE CAT | 4.00 pm | 11 March         

Intro and Q&A with Alessandro Rak (director)

UNA FAMIGLIA | 6.30 pm  | 11 March 

Intro and Q&A with Sebastiano Riso (director)

VENUE AND BOX OFFICE INFORMATION

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY | LONDON 7-11 MARCH 2018 

 

 

 

Mug (Twarz) **** (2018) | Berlinale 15-25 February 2018 | Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize

Dir: Malgorzata Szumovska | Michal Englert | Cast: Mateuz Kosciukiewiczz, Agnieszka Podsiadlik | Drama | Pol |

In the latest salacious social critique of her homeland, filmmaker Malgorzata Szumovska captures the zeitgeist of rural Poland with a strangely moving story involving a scruffy metalhead builder who is forced to reevaluate his life after a tragic accident at work. 

Twarz means mug/face in Polish. And refers to the central character Jacek (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz), who still lives in the lakeside town of Świebodzin (Western Poland) with his provincial-minded and petty family. Despite intentions to move to London with his floozy fiancée Dagmara(Małgorzata Gorol), Jacek is put off by his brother in law’s zenophobic stance on things and Brexit doubts. Only his sister seems to be on his side.

Jacek is building something he believes in – the statue of Christ the King, which is currently the tallest representation in the World. But a dreadful fall derails his future and his face is so badly injured that he needs life-changing surgery: the local priest (Roman Gancarczyk), his fiancée Dagmara, and the rest of the family will have to chip in to expensive, ongoing medical bills for a man who may be quite different from the one they knew and loved. Even his mother (Anna Tomaszewska) refuses to accept his new look – which is by no means monstrous (cleverly photographed by Michal Englert who also co-wrote the script). But worse of all, Dagmara shuns him. Only his sister (a superb Agnieszka Podsiadlik) is there to help with his rehabilitation.

Szumovska masterfully manages the tonal nuances from realism to comic fantasy in a film that is competently performed, utterly compelling and thematically rich with its reflection on consumerism, identity and prejudice. She also reflects on religious belief an the nature of human suffering symbolised by Jacek’s dignified forbearance under the gaze of an all-seeing Jesus Christ. MT

BERLINALE 15-25 FEBRUARY 2018 | SILVER BEAR GRAND JURY PRIZE
PRESS CONFERENCE 

Damsel (2018) | Berlinale 2018

Dir: David Zellner | Nathan Zellner | Cast: Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, David Zellner, Robert Forster, David Zellner | Comedy Western | US | 113′

David and Nathan Zellner’s Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter was a strange and subtly humorous mid-West mystery drama that screened at Berlinale in 2014. The brothers are back at Berlin again this year with a full on comedy Western that totally upends conventions and challenges gender roles. It stars Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska and Robert Forster.

DAMSEL is playful and beautiful to look at in its stunning Goblin Valley Utah setting, but its efforts to be inventive is really what really appeals, apart from a brilliant off the cuff script and, despite from the gun-toting and the darker themes of lovelorn loneliness, there’s an upbeat frisky playfulness that has much in common with Cat Balloo and Altman’s McCabe and Mrs Millar.

The film opens as a jaded Christian missionary (Foster) is bemoaning his efforts to proselytise the Native Indians, While waiting for a stagecoach back East, a pithy tete a tete plays out with a young man (a thoughtfully appealing David Z) who’s heading West, after tragedy, to look for a new start.  Suddenly something weird then happens and a more carefree mood carries us  through to a windswept beach in Oregon where Samuel Alabaster (a jaunty Pattinson), has arrived with a miniature Palomino pony Butterscotch, and is making his way into a redneck town where he meets up with David Zellner as the newly-styled Parson Henry.

With his jaunty charm and chipper breeziness Samuel is a man a with a mission – he’s got a proposal in mind and wants the parson to come with him, offering a generous reward. The two head off to the remote home of Samuel’s true love Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) where, brimming with excitement, he intends to make her his bride. His cheeky bravado wins the parson’s trust during their eventful treck, but when they arrive at their destination, it soon becomes clear that Samuel has misjudged the mood romance-wise.

Penelope is a feisty individual but sadly she lack depth – and after the cheerful opening credits – where she’s seen dancing with Samuel in better days, Wasikowska soon becomes a storm cloud without a silver lining of any kind. David’s Parson Henry, meanwhile is a man looking for a mother, rather than a mission. He gives a sensitive performance but his character is so sweet and self-deprecating he’s rather to good for this world, and any other – for that matter. So Robert Pattison’s Samuel gets the juiciest role with he pulls of with great charm, and there are some terrific turns from the support cast. The Brothers’ quirky sense of humour is an acquired taste but its certainly unique and some of the comedic incongruity even echoes early scenes from Blazing Saddles. DAMSEL is a real breath of fresh air. MT

BERLINALE 15-25 FEBRUARY 2018

https://youtu.be/L6t07LFf5hQ

Isle of Dogs * * * * (2018) Berlinale 2018

Dir: Wes Anderson | Jason Schwartzman | With: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton | Comedy Animation | US

Twenty years into the future in an isle in the Japanese archipelago five dogs are relegated to the scrap heap quite literally – a landfill site is no place for man’s best friend. In this richly rendered riotously rhythmic animation, Wes Anderson’s social satire says: man may be master of the Universe but behind every good man is his dog. And every dog here certainly has its day.

ISLE OF DOGS is undeniably a Wes Anderson masterpiece, the finely groomed stop-motion animation chockfull of current day themes such as fake news and Asian ‘flu. The canines are canny and convincing each with its own cute character; in an entirely fitting celebration for the Chinese Year of the Dog. Scenes of sushi preparation, human kidney transplant and Dog flu serum injection are delightfully impressive, all set to Alexandre Desplat’s tick-tocking score.

With its screenplay by Anderson co-scripting with Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartman and Kunuchi Nomura, ISLE OF DOGS’ densely complex narrative beguiles and bamboozles, imagining a day when a dose of Dog Flu dispatches our furry friends to fend for themselves offshore, whereupon the mayor’s 12 year-old adopted son Atari, flies in to retrieve his beloved white guard-dog, Spots (voiced by Liev Schreiber). Delicate artwork raises a paw to Japanese masters Hagusai and Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki’s glowing Anime.

Naturally, dogs are pack animals led here by Edward Norton as Rex, with the runty Duke voiced by Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban is King; Bill Murray, Boss – and Scarlett Johansson the flirty blonde show-bitch Nutmeg. Tilda Swinton plays the TV-watching, Oracle with Harvey Keitel as Gondo. Brian Cranston’s Chief bings up the rear as the black stray who won’t obey. Meanwhile, Greta Gerwig plays a perky student protester, decrying the powers that be on the Japanese mainland.

There is never a dull moment in this often barking mad delight, all bristling with whip-smart wit and deadpan humour that Wes does so well. MT

 BERLINALE FESTIVAL 15-25 February 2018 | SILVER BEAR | BEST DIRECTOR

Green Book (2018) ****

Dir: Peter Farelly | Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Curry | Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardelini, Sebastian Maniscalco | US Drama | 130′

An African American classical pianist and his Italian working class driver travel towards better understand in this charismatically crafted road movie from Peter Farelly (Dumb and Dumber).

Green Book is the latest in crop of racially aware films and certainly one of the most moving and enjoyable. It sees the suave classical musician and a bulky Bronx bouncer continually at odds in a stylish road movie that travels to greater understanding in the US Deep South of the Sixties. Paradoxically, the bouncer is white, the pianist black. But it doesn’t end there. There is also a delicately handled homophobic issue at play. The movie is given extra mileage and a hint of humour by a distinctive duo of Viggo Mortensen and Ali Mahershala.

The title refers to Victor Hugo Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book, which was published annually from 1936-1966 to advise black travellers where they could safely graze and stay during the dangerous days of Jim Crow and the sundown laws. Nick Vallelonga bases his script on a real friendship that arose during a tour made by the regal musician Don Shirley (Ali) and his driver who remained close until their deaths in 2013. Being classically trained, the Jamaican-born Shirley could turn his hand to tinkling the ivories in any musical style from classic to impro music, and prides himself on his aristocratic background and fluency in several languages. But his Southern tour needs the protection of a white man and Viggo Mortensen’s straight-talking family geezer Tony Villalonga fits the bill.

In his latest drama Peter Farelly isn’t afraid to experiment or go to the dark side of racialism but also knows when to pull back. Sean Porter’s luminous cinematography really sets the night on fire with his glowing glimpses of New York, Alabama and Louisiana as the two motor south in their turquoise Cadillac.

Character-wise this is a knockout: Viggo Mortensen really inhabits the short-fused Italian who is never without a cigarette or a meal in his mouth. In contrast Mahershala exudes style and panache as the prim but troubled troubadour who lives in a penthouse above Carnegie Hall, decorated with his personal throne and elephant tusks. 

Musical references are plenty and Shirley “plays like Liberace but better.” and these musical sequences from Chopin to Jazz are so convincing we’re left wondering whether playing the paino is another of this Mahershala’s many talents. MT

Screening NATIONWIDE | MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 premiere

Locarno International Film Festival 2018

For the 71st Locarno Festival the British-Swiss design studio Jannuzzi Smith has created an abstract series of patterns to represent our symbol – the leopard. Drops of black ink spread on yellow paper, each forming one of the accidental compositions that will be used on posters, covers and animations for Locarno71.

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 1-11 AUGUST 2018

London Critics’ Circle Film Awards 2018

FILM OF THE YEAR
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM OF THE YEAR (left)
Elle

DOCUMENTARY OF THE YEAR (below left)
I Am Not Your Negro

BRITISH/IRISH FILM OF THE YEAR: The Attenborough Award
Dunkirk

DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR
Sean Baker – The Florida Project

SCREENWRITER OF THE YEAR
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

ACTRESS OF THE YEAR:
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

ACTOR OF THE YEAR
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name

SUPPORTING ACTRESS OF THE YEAR
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread

SUPPORTING ACTOR OF THE YEAR
Hugh Grant – Paddington 2

BRITISH/IRISH ACTRESS OF THE YEAR
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water/Maudie/Paddington 2

BRITISH/IRISH ACTOR OF THE YEAR
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out

YOUNG BRITISH/IRISH PERFORMER OF THE YEAR
Harris Dickinson – Beach Rats

BREAKTHROUGH BRITISH/IRISH FILMMAKER: The Philip French Award
Francis Lee – God’s Own Country

BRITISH/IRISH SHORT FILM OF THE YEAR
We Love Moses – Dionne Edwards

TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Blade Runner 2049 – Dennis Gassner, production design

EXCELLENCE IN FILM: The Dilys Powell Award
Kate Winslet

Property is No Longer a Theft (1973)***** Bluray release

Dir: Elio Petri | Writer: Ugo Pirri | Cast: Ugo Tognazzi, Flavio Bucci, Daria Nicolodi | Italy | Comedy Drama 126′

Property is No Longer a Theft is the final part of a trilogy by Elio Petri which comprises Investigations of A Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) and Lulu the Tool (1971) aka as Le Classe Operaia va in Paradiso. Bergman allowed himself a “faith” trilogy and Antonioni an “alienation” trilogy, so Petri, as a politicised filmmaker, delivers a “neurosis” trilogy. The inherent sickness of acquiring property, money and power is viewed from a darkly comic perspective: a corrupt Italian capitalism where the thieves, both legal and criminal, thrive and fall.

Total (Flavio Bucci) is a young bank clerk striving for a more meaningful existence beyond the daily grind of dealing with rich businessmen and their money. To get his own back on one of his clients – a wealthy but slightly dubious butcher (Ugo Tognazzi) – Total steals the meat man’s car, amongst other possessions, and kidnaps his young girlfriend Anita (Daria Nicolodi). Total’s motives are a crazed sense of social justice – punishing the rich butcher who he sees as representative of a corrupt class. Yet capitalism has rules that Total cannot break and he pays a severe price for his anarchic intervention.

Few films present us with a philosophy of theft. The emotionally-charged arguments in The Godfather 2 or spiritual tension in Pickpocket have a theoretical and philosophic power. Coppola depicts stealing as a natural activity. Bresson, as a means to find spiritual grace. Yet Petri presents us with a bitter and ironic escapade in ‘praise’ of a thieving world whose logic and highly normalised rules we cannot ignore.

A Brechtian/Godardian distancing effect interrupts his story, with monologues by his characters functioning as unreliable narratives. We criticise and examine their relationship with money and one another. These talks to the camera are filmed in a faintly sinister manner: leering, sweating people anxious to justify their actions whilst the sub-text is often a cry of pain. They’re vulnerable, very human and sometimes deeply sad. Without its comedy Property is No Longer a Theft might have been a tedious political diatribe against capitalism. Yet a brilliant and biting script makes for a compelling, even grotesque, experience as every mad attempt to justify the logic of stealing and owning is hilariously exposed.

Despite his humble role as the local butcher, Ugo Tognazzi’s character is an ill-educated, coarse and ego-driven man living a ‘nouveau riche’ lifestyle. He sexually abuses his girlfriend (Nicolodi’s Anita), who is partly complicit with his treatment and is strongly aware of how she functions in his and other men’s lives. In contrast, bank employee Total often appears deranged and deluded in his pursuit of justice.

Albertone (Mario Scaccia) is a burglar/professional actor employed by Total to rob the butcher. They’re caught by the police. Albertone dies during the interrogation. At his public funeral, a speech is delivered praising the criminal class over the legal class of thieves. Hyperbole is piled up in praise of Albertone, resulting in richly absurd comedy. The phrase “honour among thieves” has never been so superbly ridiculed in the cinema.

Property is No Longer a Theft is both very funny and very serious. It’s a bitter, radical and complex film about monetary contagion. Total suffers from itching, odd tics; always wearing gloves so as not to be physically contaminated by the touch of money. (There’s a great scene where he asks the bank manager for a rise. When refused he takes a banknote and burns it in front of his boss.)

“…in the struggle, legal or illegal to obtain what we don’t have, may fall such with shameful illnesses; they become plagued, inside and outside.”

Total’s opening speech sets the tone for the rest of the film. The characters’ almost farcical antics are captured by Petri’s acute eye for detail as Total purses his intension to be a “Marxist Mandrake”. The break-ins and bungled robberies are excitingly filmed. Fiercely exact editing and camerawork gives the film an exhilarating rhythm (accompanied by an off-centre and spiky score form Ennio Morricone)

Like Francesco Rosi, Petri is an almost forgotten director who urgently needs to be re-evaluated. Property hits all the capitalist bulls’ eyes and is a minor masterpiece, along with his feature debut L’Assassino (1961). More Petri please | ALAN PRICE© 2018

NOW OUT ON BLURAY FROM ARROW | 20 MARCH 2018

Last Flag Flying (2017) **

Dir.: Richard Linklater; Cast: Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston, J. Quinton Johnson, Yul Vazquez; USA | 124′

It’s difficult to believe that LAST FLAG FLYING was directed and co-written by the filmmaker of Boyhood, Richard Linklater. Based on the 2004 novel by Darryl Ponicsan, who also wrote Last Detail (1970), later filmed by Hal Ashby, This is a tired road movie which vehemently contradicts its opening message in the sentimental closing stages. ‘Doc’ Shephard (Carell) is looking for his Vietnam buddies Richard Mueller (Fishburne), now a Reverend, and Sal Neaton (Cranston), an alcohol dependent bar owner. Shephard wants their support in burying his own son, who has been killed in Iraq, where he was on a tour with the Marines. Doc, who was a paramedic, actually tried to talk his son out of his decision. So the trio set out to bury Doc’s son in Arlington, bickering among themselves and the government, old and new, who send the soldiers into one mess after another. Meeting Washington (Johnson), a fellow soldier of Shephard junior, it then transpires that the young man was killed whilst buying Coca Cola for his buddies (it was actually Washington’s turn) – not the heroic death the army suggested. But slowly, despite being put off by a robotic Colonel (Vazquez), the Vietnam veterans get into the swing of things, and in the end come to an agreement that the young soldier’s death was heroic after all, ”because we are an okay country, even if the government sends young people out to die in foreign countries”. Very much inferior to Ashby’s Last Detail, of which it is supposed to be a sequel, LAST FLAG FLYING is much too wordy, the characters are one-dimensional, and the trip with the coffin across the country feels somehow awkward. A very unfunny road movie, with a dubious final message. AS

SCREENING AT ARTHOUSES NATIONWIDE | 17 JANUARY 2018

Daphne (2017) | Home Ent release

Dir: Peter Mackie Burns | Writer; Nico Mensinga | Cast: Geraldine James, Emily Beecham, Nathaniel Martello-White, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor | Comedy Drama | 88′ | UK

DAPHNE is a fresh and believable comedy about a spiky young Londoner who seems at odds with everyone and everything in her life. Played with verve by Emily Beecham, who won ‘Best Actress in a British Film’ at Edinburgh 2017 for her feisty take on today’s young womanhood, Daphne is the impressive feature debut of Peter Mackie Burns (Come Closer) who has the maturity to give the film a tongue in cheek lightness of touch that makes it so watchable. Nico Mensinga’s sparky script is fraught with witty insights capturing the capital’s contemporary snarky vibe.

Part of Daphne’s problem is her fractious relationship with her worldly-wise mother – a wonderful Geraldine James. She is also loath to admit her interest in the opposite sex, and fearful of rejection, she makes each flirty encounter a battleground, a move that only encourages prospective boyfriends, particularly Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s Joe whose declaration of undying love sends Daphne running for cover, with a nonchalant ‘whatever’. To make matters worse, her job as a part time chef is going nowhere, especially Daphne down-spirals into self-destruction. We’ve all been there in various guises and DAPHNE certainly rings true. It’s a perky comedy drama that champions the kind of ennui emblematic of youth – boredom laced with episodes of vulnerability; a goalless existence borne with snappy impatience. Helped along by a breezy score from Sam Beste, DAPHNE is all about that mid-point in our twenties or thirties – that limbo-like state before we realise our full potential and where it could lead. MT

OUT NOW ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD | DVD FROM 22 JANUARY 2018 |

 

Women on Top | 2017

Hollywood may still be struggling with female representation as 2018 gets underway, but Europe has seen tremendous successes in the world of indie film where talented women of all ages are winning accolades in every sphere of the film industry, bringing their unique vision and intuition to a party that has continued to rock throughout the past year. Admittedly, there have been some really fabulous female roles recently – probably more so than for male actors. But on the other side of the camera, women have also created some thumping dramas; robust documentaries and bracingly refreshing genre outings: Lucrecia Martel’s mesmerising Argentinian historical fantasy ZAMA (LFF/left) and Julia Ducournau’s Belgo-French horror drama RAW (below/right) have been amongst the most outstanding features in recent memory. All these films provide great insight into the challenges women continue to face, both personally and in society as a whole, and do so without resorting to worthiness or sentimentality. So as we go forward into another year, here’s a flavour of what’s been happening in 2017.

It all started at SUNDANCE in January where documentarian Pascale Lamche’s engrossing film about Winnie Mandela, WINNIE, won Best World Doc and Maggie Betts was awarded a directing prize for her debut feature NOVITIATE, about a nun struggling to take and keep her vows in 1960s Rome. Eliza Hitman also bagged the coveted directing award for her gay-themed indie drama BEACH RATS, that looks at addiction from a young boy’s perspective.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, BERLIN‘s Golden Bear went to Hungarian filmmaker Ildiko Enyedi (right) for her thoughtful and inventive exploration of adult loneliness and alienation BODY AND SOUL. Agnieska Holland won a Silver Bear for her green eco feature SPOOR, and Catalan newcomer Carla Simón went home with a prize for her feature debut SUMMER 1993 tackling the more surprising aspects of life for an orphaned child who goes to live with her cousins. CANNES 2017, the festival’s 70th celebration, also proved to be another strong year for female talent. Claire Simon’s first comedy – looking at love in later life – LET THE SUNSHINE IN was well-received and provided a playful role for Juliette Binoche, which she performed with gusto. Agnès Varda’s entertaining travel piece FACES PLACES took us all round France and finally showed Jean-Luc Godard’s true colours, winning awards at TIFF and Cannes. Newcomers were awarded in the shape of Léa Mysius whose AVA won the SACD prize for its tender exploration of oncoming blindness, and Léonor Séraille whose touching drama about the after-effects of romantic abandonment MONTPARNASSE RENDEZVOUS won the Caméra D’Or.

On the blockbuster front, it’s worth mentioning that Patty Jenkins’ critically acclaimed WONDERWOMAN has so far enjoyed an international box office of around $821.74 million, giving Gal Godot’s Amazon warrior-princess the crown as the highest-grossing superheroine origin film of all time.

The Doyenne of French contemporary cinema Isabelle Huppert won Best Actress in LOCARNO 2017 for her performance as a woman who morphs from a meek soul to a force to be reckoned with when she is struck by lightening, in Serge Bozon’s dark comedy MADAME HYDE. Huppert has been winning accolades since the 1970s but she still has to challenge Hollywood’s Ann Doran (1911-2000) on film credits (374) – but there is plenty of time!). Meanwhile, Nastassja Kinski was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Honour for her extensive and eclectic contribution to World cinema (Paris,Texas, Inland Empire, Cat People and Tess to name a few).

With a Jury headed by Annette Bening, VENICE again showed women in a strong light. Away from the Hollywood-fraught main competition, this year’s Orizzonti Award was awarded to Susanna Nicchiarelli’s NICO, 1988, a stunning biopic of the final years of the renowned model and musician Christa Pfaffen, played by a feisty Trine Dyrholm. And Sara Forestier’s Venice Days winning debut M showed how a stuttering girl and her illiterate boyfriend help each other overcome adversity. Charlotte Rampling won the prize for Best Actress for her portrait of strength in the face of her husbands’ imprisonment in Andrea Pallaoro’s HANNAH. 

At last but not least, Hong Kong director Vivianne Qu (left/LFF) was awarded the Fei Mei prize at PINGYAO’s inaugural CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON film festival and the Film Festival of India’s Silver Peacock  for her delicately charming feature ANGELS WEAR WHITE that deftly raises the harrowing plight of women facing sexual abuse in the mainland. It seems that this is a hot potato the superpowers of China and US still have in common. But on a positive note, LADYBIRD Greta Gerwig’s first film as a writer and director, has been sweeping the boards critically all over the US and is the buzzworthy comedy drama of 2018 (coming in February). So that’s something else to look forward to. MT

CATE BLANCHETT WILL HEAD THE JURY AT 71st CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 8-19 MAY 2018

 

 

 

 

Brad’s Status (2017) ****

Dir/Writer:  Mike White | Cast: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fisher, Michael Sheen Luke Wilson | Comedy drama | US | 102′

This welcome addition to the intergenerational conflict genre sees Ben Stiller as a father fraught with past regrets and present doubts on a trips that threatens to sabotage the boy’s hopes for the future.

Although BRAD’S STATUS sounds like a maudlin affair, it turns out to be hilarious, insightful and upbeat. Written and directed by Mike White who also stars as one of Stiller’s old school friends – a gay man who has found the same success on screen as he has in real life – this could turn out to one of best comedies of 2018. Stiller plays Brad with a wealth of subtle mannerisms that succinctly convey the modern angst of his midlife crisis in what White terms as “whiteman’s first world problems”, but we all empathise with him in his constant social-media meltdown. Similar to Stiller’s recent role in Noah Baumbach’s Meyerowitz Stories – here he plays the father rather than the offspring, but he’s a man who is essentially happy with his middle class life as founder of a worthwhile nonprofit group who enjoys a stable marriage and a decent rapport with his talented teenager. But a touch of envy and ego creeps in when he ruminates over the perceived successes of his old friends. Brad feels deflated by their fame and financial status, but also at the feeling of being left out of an invitation to a recent reunion gathering, an omission that he puts down to the fact that: “it wasn’t friendship that bonded them, but a perceived level of success”, in a peer group where he feels the inferior member. All these anxieties are relayed in Brad’s stream of consciousness as the two make their way to Boston and Cambridge (Massachusetts). Son Troy is played thoughtfully by Austin Abrams.

Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson and Jemaine Clement also give flawless performances as his successful friends. The humour lies in the series of comedy scenarios showcasing their ‘perfect’ sex and money-filled lifestyles. In contrast  Brad ‘sees himself soldiering with his sad little life. And there’s a hint of amusing narcissism too in the way he ‘blames’ wife Melanie (Jenna Fisher) for being too content with her life and not being demanding enough about their choices. The only criticism here is the over-grating score. BRAD’S STATUS is a heart-warming film because Brad is just such a convincing character and one who chimes with us all as we overthink and reflecting on our lives, often to our own detriment. This is cleverly brought to a head by an incident involving Troy’s newfound friend (Shazi Raja), who confronts Brad with his own self-pity and solipsism in an ego-crushing moment that he had hoped might lead to an opportunity for an oldest-swinger-in-town flirtation. The final scenes navel-gazing as the regrets of the past meet the hopes for the future. It’s amusing and highly relevant in capturing today’s mood of mindfulness As Melanie so rightly says: “Be present, I love you”. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 5 JANUARY 2018

 

 

 

Top Ten Indie films of 2017

It’s that time of year again when we take a look back at a year’s worth of indie and arthouse films and remember some we enjoyed most. Meredith Taylor picks her Top Ten releases of 2017.

US DRAMA – CERTAIN WOMEN

The lives of three women intersect is this gracefully understated but convincing drama from US director Kelly Reichardt. Full of subtle insight and lasting resonance. Certain Women Meditates on contemporary life from the female perspective in an utterly enthralling yet low-key, often ambiguous way. Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and Laura Dern star

FOREIGN LANGUAGE DRAMA  – TONI ERDMANN

Filmmaker Maren Ade has created one of the most poignant and refreshingly humorous German arthouse comedy dramas of recent memory – it never drags despite its three-hour running time. Picturing the absurd and often awkward nature of family relationships, this is a life-affirming experience not to be missed, especially at Christmas time. After The Forest for the Trees and Everyone Else, Ade is working her way slowly but surely to the top as most of the most refreshing European writer directors around..

HORROR – THE EYES OF MY MOTHER

This sumptuously crafted thriller is compelling, twisted and terrifying in its quiet and light-footed depiction of loneliness and psychopathy. Nicholas Pesce’s debut is deeply enthralling from start to end (main pic).

UNREQUITED LOVE STORY  – SUNTAN 

There’s something sad and awkwardly compulsive about this cautionary tale of a misguided intergenerational liaison between a lonely man and a glib young woman who meet in an island paradise. One of the best recent dramas about delusional love and its grim aftermath that perfectly epitomises the sinking realisation of being ‘over the hill’ on a holiday fling, while still holding on to the dream . Slim and but beautifully scenic and deeply resonant in its evergreen theme.

ANIMATION – MY LIFE AS A COURGETTE

Claude Barras’ impressive stop-motion animation is a tender tale probing life’s saddest moments: not a kid’s film but one that chimes with the kid inside us. Heart-breaking yet uplifting at the same time, Celine Sciamma has cleverly scripted Gilles Paris’ sombre autobiography that is both a sensitive study in grief and an authentic portrait of children growing up, coming to terms with sadness and learning how to look after each other. A real gem.

THRILLER – HOUNDS OF LOVE

Based on a true story, this tortured and claustrophobic character study of evil and human depravity is set in a quiet middle-class Australian backwater. Showcasing the dynamite duo of Emma Booth and Stephen Curry as real life partners Evelyn and John White, this is a stunning debut from writer/director Ben Young.

LGBT DRAMA – CALL ME BY YOUR NAME 

Despite its awkward title, this charming drama was the breakout hit of 2017 for all audiences not just the gay crowd. Beguiling, mysterious and compelling, Sicilian director Luca Guadagnino conveys the claustrophobic August heat of the film’s Po Valley setting and the chemistry between leads Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet – who went on the win various awards – permeates every scene. This is Oscar material and deserves to be.

UK DEBUT – LADY MACBETH 

It’s rare that a virago creates mayhem and gets away with it in literature or film. But this is exactly what happens with Florence Pugh’s Katherine in theatre director William Oldroyd’s feature debut, based on classic Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. In 19th rural England, Pugh plays a young bride sold in marriage who falls desperately in lust with a worker on her impotent husband’s rural estate in North Yorkshire. Oldroyd maintains an unsettling dread throughout in a drama brimming with venomous malcontent.

UK COMEDY – MINDHORN 

If you liked Alan Partridge or Alpha Papa then Mindhorn will appeal. This is a comedy that washes over you like a cloud of laughing gas – if you’re in the right mindset: there are scenes so hilarious it’s impossible to remain dignified; others so cringingly embarassing you will never been seen wearing lycra again – let along tight jeans, or at least in the way Julian Barratt does as the main character Richard Thorncroft in this big screen debut for TV veteran Sean Foley. Thorncroft is a pot-bellied ‘has been’ who lost his acting talent but not his sense of self belief. The Isle of Man is pictured as a rain-soaked backwater full of caravans and twee tearooms.

BEST DOCUMENTARY – WATER AND SUGAR: CARLO DI PALMA, THE COLOURS OF LIFE 

Carlo Di Palma was one of the most influential cinematographers of the 20th century, influencing the careers of Antonioni and Woody Allen with talent, warmth and personal magnetism. His story is told in this memorable documentary that showcases the collaborative nature of filmmaking, showing how Di Palma’s warm approach made everyone he worked with even better.

TOP TURKEY – HAMPSTEAD

Hopkins’ fraud of a film is full of middle-aged cyphers floating around in a fantasy world of the Seventies where they meet for coffee mornings and discuss worthy causes. But in the real place, this lot passed on decades ago to be replaced by the likes of Hugh Skinner’s fundraising nerd or the smiling Romanians touting The Big Issue at every street corner. Robert Festinger’s script teeters from crass to cringeworthy with no laughs to be had, and a score that jars. Hampstead is utterly specious and hollow – even Diane Keaton can’t save it.

BEST CLASSIC BOXSET – FOUR FILM NOIR CLASSICS 

A fantastic box set that brings together dazzling high def print of some of the best films in the crime genre: THE DARK MIRROR (1946) starring Olivia de Havilland; Fritz Lang’s SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (1947) with Joan Bennett and Michael Redgrave; FORCE OF EVIL (1948) directed by the underrated Abraham Polonsky; and Cornel Joseph H Lewis’ THE BIG COMBO (1955); with its terrific score by David Raksin with dynamite duo Cornel Wilde and Jean Wallace. The dual format edition comes with a hardback book on the films. MT

ALL FILMS NOW AVAILABLE AT AMAZON, EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA, ARROW FILMS & VIDEO, ARTIFICIAL EYE and STUDIOCANAL | all films were shown on general release in 2017 

 

Kills on Wheels | Tiszta Sziwel (2015) | bluray release

Dir.: Attila Till; Cast: Zoltan Fenyvesi, Szabolcs Thuroczy, Adam Ferkete, Monika Balsai; Hungary 2016, 105 min.

Phantasy and reality coalesce in director/writer Attila Till’s (Panic) feature KILLS ON WHEELS, when a disabled trio become successful serial killers using their wheel chairs as a perfect camouflage. Casting aside taste and political correctness, Till unleashes his mayhem with tongue firmly in cheek in this a darkly comedic buddy movie.

Two disabled teenagers, Zoli (Fenyvesi), suffering from a spinal deformity, and Barba (Fekete), who has mild cerebral palsy, share a room in a care home where they are working feverishly on a graphic novel in which they overcome their disabilities and excel as heroes. Into their lives comes ex-fire fighter Rupaszov (Thuroczy): who looks like a grizzly bear and seems ill-fitted to his wheelchair. Straight out off jail, he is working as a hitman for a Serbian gangster. Rupaszov employs the boys as helpers, but his Serbian master asks him to kill them, getting rid of witnesses is his code of survival. Rupaszov nearly follows through, attempting to drown his helpless victims, before having second thoughts in this raucous comedy that is Hungary’s hopeful in next year’s Academy Awards.

There are two sidelines in the narrative: Rupaszov had a relationship with a nurse, who is now getting married, the ageing ex-fire fighter making a fool of himself at her wedding. Whilst this strand is well integrated, Till’s attempt at seriousness sits rather uneasily with the audience: Zoli needs a life saving operation, and his mother (Balsai) is willing to get the money from her divorced husband, Zoli’s father, who left soon after his birth. Not able to cope with a disabled child, he fled to Germany. Whilst his mother pleads in vain with him, Zoli would rather die than ask his father for anything. Luckily for him, the trio is getting more and more successful in their chosen profession…..

This rowdy and often violent caper is carried forward by the two disabled teenage actors Fenyvesi and Ferkete, imaginative images supplied by DoP Imre Juhasz. One of the assassinations on a beautiful square in Budapest is choreographed in the style of a ballet for wheelchairs. The Hungarian title means “From the button of my heart”, referring to the coming-of-age aspect of the narrative. Whilst everyone wants to see the disabled being more integrated in society, the choice of their liberating profession is somehow embarrassing, even though the merging of the graphic-novel into real life takes some of the sting out of it. In spite of its originality KILLS ON WHEELS is slightly repulsive, since the use of violence, however ingenious, is disturbing, relegating it the to the curio status – not withstanding its success at the Hungarian box-office. AS

DUAL FORMAT RELEASE ON 15 JANUARY 2018 | MONTAGE PICTURES RANGE | EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT

Brakes (2017)

DIR: Mercedes Grower | UK | Comedy | 85′

Shot on a shoestring budget over several years, this unconventional tragi-comedy compendium explores modern love for Londoners through a series of nine amorous encounters. Depressingly realistic and cringeworthy rather than funny or affecting, BRAKES starts well but is unable to sustain our enthusiasm beyond the half-way mark due to a lack of laughs, questionable production values, tonal uneveness and the overly episodic nature of the narrative. Some of the vignettes are dismal and feel staged rather than authentic.

BRAKES is the directorial debut of English actress Mercedes Grower and is cast from a selection of Britain’s top comedy and dramatic acting talent who do their best in the circumstances: Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh) alongside Paul McGann (Withnail & I), Julia Davis (Nighty Night), Kerry Fox (Shallow Grave), Steve Oram (Sightseers), Roland Gift (The Fine Young Cannibals), Peter Wight (Babel, Atonement), Kate Hardie (Mona Lisa), Seb Cardinal (Cardinal Burns) to name but a few.

The film received a Special Jury Mention for the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film at the Edinburgh Film Festival 2016 and has won audiences over at many festivals since, including LOCO London Comedy Film Festival and the inaugural ‘Cineramageddon’ event, curated by Julien Temple, at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. MT

BRAKES IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 24 NOVEMBER 2017

 

Lasciati Andare | Let Yourself Go (2017) | UK Jewish Film Festival 2017

Dir/Writer: Francesco Amato | Cat: Toni Servillo, Veronica Echegui, Valentina Carnelutti | Comedy | Italy |

A mildly amusing comedy that looks encouraging then rapidly goes downhill with Toni Servillo playing a sophisticated psychoanalyst who runs into problems due to his unavoidable sedentary lifestyle on the couch. Set in the upmarket surroundings of some plush Italian neighbourhood, Let Yourself Go starts brilliantly with a strong line-up and a convincing storyline: divorced but successful shrink, still involved with his attractive and intelligent ex-wife but foisted by his own ego – there’s no fool like an old fool –  throws it all away for a feckless and unsuitable younger woman and a lifestyle that doesn’t really ring true. The Great Beauty‘s Tony Servillo is far the best thing about this good-looking Jewish-themed comedy drama. He certainly raises a chuckle in the early scenes with his knowing glances and light-hearted disdain for most of his patients, and his wife who is agreeable and amusing. (Carnelutti in fine form). But after he meets the feisty fitness trainer Claudia (Echegui), the narrative becomes more ludicrous and far-fetched with some slapstick situational comedy that grows irritating because the initial laughs are based on a convincing scenario, whereas the later scenes are not. Amato has lost his own plot. MT

SCREENING DURING THE UKJFF | NATIONWIDE | 7 NOVEMBER UNTIL 27 NOVEMBER 2017

The Death of Stalin (2017)

Dir. Armando Iannucci. Fr-UK-Bel | Comedy Drama | 106′

Armando Iannucci’s stylish Soviet satire plays out like a classic Mel Brooks comedy. This light-footed but abrasively cynical dramedy lays bare the grasping sculduggery of Stalinist Russia with a humour as bleak and bracingly vicious as the Gulags where nearly 10-20 million people lost their lives between 1929 and 1953. Our story kicks off in Moscow, where the cockney-tongued Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) collapses in his state rooms, having suffered a fatal stroke.

Best known for The Thick Of It, In The Loop and Veep, Iannucci again exposes the ugliness of power and politics in a film that echoes the global crisis of faith in our leaders. But what really bolsters this lavish production is seeing so many fabulous actors all doing their stuff in enjoyable comic turns. Amongst Stalin’s coterie of counsellors there is Michael Palin (Vyacheslav Molotov); Steve Buscemi (Nikita Khrushchev); Simon Russell Beale (Lavrentiy Beria) and even Paul Whitehouse (Anastas Mikoyan); not to mention Dermot Crowley (Kaganovich). The humour lies in their need to pretend to be unanimously respectful of Stalin’s death while, behind the scenes, a farce plays out with  hilarious gags as they all jockey for position and copy with the petulant posturing from Rupert Friend and Andrea Riseborough as Vasily and Sventlana, Stalin’s kids.

Based on a graphic novel by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, THE DEATH OF STALIN also shows how ordinary people were casually abused and manipulated by the powerful elite – this is a fascinatingly caustic comedy plays up the pitfalls of a regime that replaced an equally unequal set-up of the Tsars, who at least had taste!. These characters are dead ugly and thoroughly unlikeable, swinging around the vast and vacuous corridors of power, exposing the same loathsome view of Russia that transpires in Andrei Zvyagintsev’s contemporary drama LOVELESS; clearly nothing has changed in the intervening years; the tone here is breezier, but just as back-biting.

Rupert Friend’s Vassily does sail a bit close to the wind in his silliness, but Jason Isaac steps in with comic astringency as Army Chief, Georgy Zhukov. On the whole these politicians are as frighteningly convincing as a species as Jeremy Corbyn or even Michael Gove. Steve Buscemi’s Khrushchev is a clever conniver who gradually gets his way through a process of stealth and self-pity. Witty and throughly entertaining. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 20 OCTOBER 2017

 

The Party (1968) | Bluray release

35826689030_bd8a0329f6_mDir: Blake Edwards | Cast: Peter Sellers, Claudine Longet, Jean Carson, Al Chacco | US | Comedy | 99′

Peter Sellers is the star turn as a bumbling Indian actor mistakenly invited to a glitzy Hollywood party in Blake Edwards’ ingenious comedy satire that showcases Sellers’ ability to be vulnerable and hilarious at the same time, his extensive range of signature accents getting an extensive airing from ‘Gunga Din’ to Italian and Russian, while causing the whole evening to implode. This was the only time Edwards directed Sellers away from the Pink Panther series but it’s a good’un. MT

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA.

 

The Lovers (2017) | Bfi London Film Festival 2017

Dir.: Azazel Jacobs; Cast: Debra Winger Tracy Letts, Aidan Gillen, Melora Walters, Jessica Sula, Tyler Ross; USA 2017, 97′.

Writer/director Azazel Jacobs (Terri) seems unable to make his mind up whether THE LOVERS should be a farce; a comedy character study, or simply a rom-com. In the end it falls between all stools, the capable cast is left with a banal script and even worse dialogue: the story of a married couple who fall in and out of love simply degenerates into an endless loop of boredom. Mary (Winger) and Michael (Letts) seem to have passed the sell-by-date in their marriage and have both taken lovers to relieve the daily tedium of their jobs. They can hardly stand each other at home, and their long-term lovers, Robert (Gillen), a so-so successful writer, and Lucy (Walters) a dancer and ballet teacher, are distraught with cajoling each one to commit to relationships that have no convincing backstory but seem to provide light relief. The prospect of a visit from Mary’s and Michael’s son Joel (Ross) and his girlfriend Erin (Sula) offers an ideal opportunity for a final showdown, and both promise their respective paramours that after the kids have left, they will throw in the towel.  But alas, a chance encounter in bed rekindles old flames, and even though the split seems final, it’s far from the end. Shot mostly in domestic and office locations, this has the feeling of a TV series of the 1970s, when bed-hopping was something new. But Mary and Michael, are so dull and suburban as characters: apart from sex they seem to have no other interests in their work, or the creative pursuits of their lovers. Finally it emerges that Michael was “once into music”, and to prove it, Michael shows he can still tinkle the ivories of their piano that became a sideboard. But soon, even this narrative string is discarded for more of the same old nonsense – involved Lucy actually hissing like a cat at Mary, who sits baffled behind the steering wheel of her car. Jacobs has realised the eternal truth: that longterm menage à trois, can only function as such and marrying a lover, creates another vacancy. Some relationships are clearly never meant to end, but you really can’t wait for this tedious merry go round to stop and let you off.  AS

BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 4-15 OCTOBER 2017

Funny Cow (2017) | BFI London Film Festival 2017

Dir: Adrian Shergold |  Cast: Maxine Peake, Paddy Considine, Tony Pitts, Kevin Eldon, Christine Bottomley | UK | 103′

After his evocative biopic Pierrepoint: The last Hangman, Adrian Shergold turned his talents to TV work but returns to the big screen with another English story. Maxine Peake stars in the central role of FUNNY COW, a Northern stand-up comedian fighting men and audiences during the 70s and 80s. There is a great deal of talk about Yorkshire, but Shergold’s film explores the negative and exploitative side of Bradford and Leeds, where women were traditionally seen but told to put a sock in it. The poignantly tragic-comic ‘Funny Cow’ attempts to see the humorous  side of this  world where men ruled violently and women were forced to be back-seat drivers, but the cliché-ridden realism leaves little to the imagination. Our heroine grows up on the backstreets and marries chauvinist Bob (Pitts), who neglects and beats her, like her mother (Bottomley), who has become an alcoholic. Finally, the stand-up has enough and leaves her husband, moving in with shy bookseller Angus (Considine), who introduces her to highbrow “culture”, which she rejects; at the same time finding Angus a bit too detached – love and attention are forever connected with the violence she and generations of working class women have suffered. But Funny Cow reconnects with another stand-up performer Danny (Eldon), who is alcohol-dependent and clinically depressed. When he can’t perform one day, the promoter grudgingly accepts Funny Cow as his replacement, warning her that the sexist audience, not used to female comedians, will “murder” her as she fights for career. Maxine Peake gives an engaging performance, gamely carrying the film through long, rather dreary passages, her drive and commitment making Funny Cow convincing, whilst she copes with Shergold’s  TV-film-like structure. They say the old jokes, are the best ones. Here the jokes also bear witness to an unamusing era in female history. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017

Double Date (2017)

Dir.: Benjamin Barfoot | Cast: Danny Morgan, Michael Socha, Kelly Wenham, Georgia Groome | UK 2017 | 89′.

Benjamin Barfoot’s spoof Slasher movie is murdered by Danny Morgan’s dreadful script and a flimsy narrative that cannot survive even 90 minutes. The feature debut sees two spooky sisters Kitty (Wenham) and Lulu (Groome) corralled into helping Jim (Morgan) lose his virginity on the final night of his twenties. But unbeknown to Jim and his best best friend Alex (Socha), the sister’s have an ulterior motive for seeking out male virgins – it involves body parts, but not those that immediately spring to mind. To say that the material is raw, is an understatement. Only DoP Laura Bingham (also a newcomer), comes away with any credit. Overall, Double Date ends up with a lot of blood but very few laughs. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY, 13 OCTOBER 2017

Person to Person (2017) | London Film Festival 2017

Dir: Dustin Guy Defa | Cast: Michael Cera | 89′ | US Comedy
Dustin Guy Defa’s slim dramady has that underwritten feel, starting off amusingly with diminishing returns and feeling very much like an expanded series of shorts, despite a perky cast and punchy soundtrack to boost it along. Exploring the trials and tribulations of its New York characters, we meet experienced journo Phil (Michael Cera) and his nervous sidekick Claire  investigating a suspected murder while running into Philip Baker Hall’s dodgy watchmaker. Meanwhile, shy teen Wendy is heading for a double date and music-loving Bene (Bene Coppersmith) tracks across town for a much-wanted purchase. His friend Ray (George Sample III) is in deep water over a video he posted of his girlfriend on the internet. Watchable but forgettable. MT
LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | 4 -15 OCTOBER 2017 | SUNDANCE REVIEW

The Big Sick (2017) | Sundance London Festival 2017

Dir. Michael Showalter | Cast: Holly Hunter, Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan | US, 2016, 119 mins

A thoughtful and daringly witty script with some surprising twists and turns make this cross-cultural romantic drama, based on the true life of Pakistani Muslim comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his onscreen American girlfriend, a real pleasure. Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon co-wrote the script that successful sends up terrorism, religion and racism. The film is given a gutsy kick up the pants by Holly Hunter, superb as Emily’s mother, sparring with onscreen husband Ray Romano.

There’s a lot going on here aside from Emily’s parents’ spicy show and Kumail’s Pakistani family backstory that plays out very much like At Home with the Kumars. The film opens as Kumail is working Chicago’s comedy standup circuit with a group of convincing and funny collaborators. Naive but well-meaning, and very much a metrosexual man, Kumail drives Uber taxis in the daytime and endures regular dinners with ‘suitable’ girls who “just stop by” the family home, courtesy of his overbearing mother. MA student Emily (Kazan) enters the picture, blond and very American, and neither wants a relationship, despite hot sex on their first date. They continue to see each other, enjoying the chemistry and growing closer each day until Emily calls time on their affair realising that Kumail must marry a Muslim woman. Clearly this is not the end – despite verbal assurances to the contrary – but Emily’s sudden illness and hospitalisation forces Kumail to reconsider his future and his life. Enter Emily’s frank and forceful parents (Hunter and Romano) who at first reject him and then recognise his dedication to their rather spoilt daughter. Kumail feels warm and comfortable in this close and protective family, not dissimilar to his own.

Despite its indie credentials this is a slick and polished affair, believable and utterly engaging from start to finish with its rich vein of humour, strong performances and timely storyline. In short, it’s a winner. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 28 JULY 2017

The Last Word (2017)

Dir.: Mark Pellington; Cast: Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, Ann’Jewel Lee, Philip Baker-Hall, Anne Heche, Thomas Sadowski; USA 2017, 108 min.

Director Mark Pellington does his best to direct a formulaic script from debut writer Stuart Ross Falk – and more often than not succeeds with the help of Shirley MacLaine and a great ensemble cast.

MacLaine plays cantankerous octogenarian ex-advertising executive Harriet Lauler living out her days in a sumptuous villa where her gardener, cook and hairdresser are constantly fall short of her expectations – and replaced by Harriet herself. Her instinct to control everything goes even beyond the grave: she enlists Anne (Seyfried), the obituary writer of the local paper in the fictional city of Bristol, to write a piece singing her praises. Unfortunately, the checklist Harriet presents to Anne does not quiet work out: the matriarch is neither loved by her family (ex-hubby and daughter), nor admired by co-workers. And there is absolutely nobody whose life she has touched for the better.

Caustic as always, Harriet tries to remedy this by finding somebody from the target group of “minority or cripple”. But when she encounters Brenda (Lee) in a home for children at risk, the little black girl is very much a match for Harriet. Anne was abandoned by her mother when she was three, and has developed at developed a thick skin for dealing with the likes of Harriet, but she takes a leaf out of Brenda’s book, and develops a friendly but firm approach to counter Harriet’s obsessional control. This all seems convincing but Harriet’s long-suffering daughter Elizabeth (Heche) and her forgiving ex-husband Edward (Baker-Hill) are not fully sketched out and sometimes reality is suspended: Harriet not only finding a job as a morning DJ for the local radio-station, but also managing to set up Anne with the boss of the station (Sadowski, Seyfried’s real life husband). And when Anne’s clapped-out Volvo gives up the ghost after an – aborted – meeting with Elizabeth, Brenda ends up sleeping between the two women in a motel room, after a moonlight bath in the near-by lake.

Still, MacLaine’s performance compensates and carries the film through its pitfalls. The hopeful message about the interaction of three very different generations of North American females is told with great panache, even though at times a little over-didactic. MacLaine’s unsentimental approach and witty, self-depreciating humour makes sure that the soppy side of THE LAST WORD never wins out. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 7 JULY 2017

A Man Called Ove | En Man Som Heter Over (2016)

Dir.: Hannes Holm; Cast: Rolf Lassgard, Bahar Pars, Ida Engvoll, Filip Berg, Chatarina Larsson, Börje Lundberg; Sweden 2015, 116 min.

Veteran director/writer Hannes Holm (Adam and Eve) offers up an thoughtful but contradictory portrait of old age. His central character is a bitter widower unable to adjust to life alone. His wife was clearly the guiding light in their lives, but further relationships seem fated in this well-meaning but ultimately crowd-pleasing drama that ends up trying our patience.

Adapted from Swedish bestseller by Fredrik Backman, the film starts off on a pleasingly droll note but long extended flashbacks take the pleasure and tension out of a storyline where the main-protagonist is either a curmudgeonly bastard, shouting at people and animals all day while his partner looks smiling radiant, or a beacon of tolerance – taking in a gay young man who has been disowned by this father. Somehow there are too many contradictions. Ove (like the director) is stuck in a  Sweden of the 70s, when things were (outwardly) more simple, and he and his close friend Rune (Lundberg) could have fun competing which each with cars from Volvo and Saab.

The same messages are put forward in a much more convincing film The Happiest Day in the Life of Oli Mäki, that won last year’s Certain Regard Prize at Cannes. If you have a choice, this is the one to go for.

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

 

Dying Laughing (2016)

Dirs: Lloyd Stanton, Paul Toogood | Doc | 89min

Well-known stand-up comedians share their insights and experience in this occasionally amusing compendium. DYING LAUGHING is not a funny film but there are moments of humour in the British-produced documentary dedicated to Garry Shandling, a comedian who died last year.

You may not recognise all the 50 comics who take part in rolling snapshot interviews, but all convey the dreadful awkwardness and moments of embarrassment when no one laughs in a venue sucked dry of all positive vibes. The film conjures up the hit and miss nature of being a stand-up;  the harrowing stage fright and elation of success. The overall tone is rather downbeat and introspective; the humour drole or dark rather than laugh out loud. Jamie Foxx talks of money cushioning the blow of a bad gig, and seasoned pro Jerry Seinfeld describes “a dead-silent room full of unhappy people”.

There’s no narrative as such, although clearly these guys are responding to a question we’re not aware of as viewers, but pick up the drift as the diatribes roll on. Sarah Silverman describes the loneliness of life on the road, and it’s clear that this is a vocation for the emotionally robust and thick-skinned. Not a choice but an unavoidable calling.

Eventually the agony and the ecstasy becomes routine as each one replaces the other in a string of personal reflections. A more condensed and better edited version would have made for a more impactful, and ultimately more entertaining watch. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 16 JUNE 2017

Slack Bay (2016) |Ma Loute

Director/Writer: Bruno Dumont

Cast: Juliette Binoche, Fabrice Luchini, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Jean Luc Vincent, Brandon Lavieville, Cyril Riguax

122min | Comedy | France

After success with P’tit Quinquin, Bruno Dumont is back with comedy of a different kind, an absurdist often grotesque turn of the 20th century melodrama which combines moments of poetic realism and is certain to divide audiences with its quirky brand of charm.

On a swampy coastal stretch of Britany a rotund police inspector (Cyril Rigaux) is investigating a spate of ‘mysterious’ disappearances possibly connected to a carnivorous local fisherman and his family of four kids, the eldest of whom is the titular Ma Loute (Brandon Lavieville). The arrival of the Van Peteghem family from Tourcoing signals the start of the summer holidays as the mannered aristrocratic family gain their family seat – a strangely 1930s style cement contruction called The Tymphonium – amid cries of euphoria over every aspect of local nature and particularly the splendid views. They are soon joined by Andre’s cousin Aude (a gloriously over the top Juliette Binoche), her cross-dressing son Billie (Raph) and her cousin or possibly second cousin as they seem to be an interbred  lot – apparently quite common amongst the ‘grand old families of Northern France’ –  which would explain the weird paternity that later emerges in the final scenes.

This is a charismatic and inventive curio of a film which will either delight you with its quirky humour and performances or send you home underwhelmed. The humour is very French and the best part is undeniably Guillaume Deffontaines’ perfect lensing and the magnificent seascapes which echo and re-create the lush vibrancy of those of Manet, Monet and Cezanne. Costume-wise too this is a sumptuous affair with perfect attention to detail both in the domestic settings on the resplendent beaches making this a visual feast not to be missed. Performances too are really outstanding. Fabrice Luchini ponces about with a contorted limp; Juliette Binoche faints and swoons with delight and horror and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi is simply graceful and restrained with an expression of discrete ecstacy that often dissolves in tender tears. It would be a shame to spoil the entire plot which reveals itself with delicous coyness. Suffice to say, there’s no director like Dumont for creating such a fabulous stillness and sense of place in his glowing compositions of the Brittany scenery and his deftness for combining period touches with elegant framing and a sense of magic and delicate poetry even in the more mordid aspects of this inspired comedy drama. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 16 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 Fisher King (1991) | Criterion Bluray Release

Dir: Terry Gilliam | Cast: Mercedes Ruehl, Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges, David Hyde Pierce | 137min | Comedy | US

When New York radio DJ Jack Lucas (Bridges) causes a listener to commit mass murder after a throwaway exchange on his programme, his life starts to implode. But the husband of a woman who died in the tragedy ends up being his guardian angel, three years on, rescuing him from his emotional abyss. Professor of medieval history and professional drop-out Parry (Williams) is also a free-thinking maverick who is inspired by the thought of finding the Holy Grail and claiming Lydia (Amanda Plummer) as his prize. In order to assuage his feelings of guilt, Jack sets out on a mission to help Parry achieve his dream. Funny in parts but far too long, Gilliam’s fantasy is part poetic drama, part inventive comedy swinging around deliriously in its spectacular Manhattan locations. Sprawling with wild and ridiculous antics this is an entertaining spectacle enriched by playful performances from Bridges, Williams and Ruehl who won an Oscar in the role of Jack’s lover Anne. Gilliam directs Richard LaGravenese’s witty script, creating a magical modern fairytale for all to enjoy. MT.

CRITERION BLURAY RELEASE 19 JUNE 2017

The Hippopotamus (2017)

Dir.: John Jencks; Cast: Roger Allam, Emily Berrington, Dean Ridge, Fiona shaw, Matthew Modine, Tommy Knight, Lynne Renee, Emma Curtis, Richard Glover, Gerald, John Standing; UK 2017, 89 min.

Based on a novel by Stephen Fry, director John Jencks (The Fold) and writers Blanche McIntyre and Tom Hodgson have come up with a pastiche on the “English Country House Mystery”, which is neither funny nor well-crafted. In fact, it’s pretty much a waste of time.

Just fired from his job as a theatre critic, irritable blunderer (and ex-poet) Ted Wallace (Allam), is asked by his god-daughter Jane (Berrington), who has been miraculously cured from leukaemia, to investigate the source of her cure. For this reason, Allam visits the country estate of the Logans, a family he was once close to Lord and Lady Logan (Matthew Modine, Fiona Shaw) have two sons, Simon (Ridge) and David (Knight), the latter Allam’s Godson. David is supposed to cure humans and animals alike, but Allam finds out the rationale behind the “miracles”: young David is sometimes apt to obtain sexual favours by masquerading as a faith healer – whilst the alcoholic Allam put a bottle full off whisky into the feeding bucket of a horse, which recovered on its own accord. When the light-hearted banter turns into something far more serious, the filmmakers lose the plot completely, when Jane’s mother Rebecca (with whom Allam had an affair) turns up out of the blue.

Complete with caricature appearances by Tim McInnery as the gay ‘Tunte’; Oliver Mills, Lynne Renee and Emma Curtis as the ‘French’ mother/daughter duo of Valerie and Clara Richmonde (sic), The comedy goes from bad to worse. DoP Angus Hudson undermines the project even further by letting his images look as pedestrian and third-hand as the narrative. Not even a persiflage, but just a caricature of itself, this is as tepid as it gets – even John Standing’s butler Podmore is mediocre. AS

THE HIPPOPOTAMUS IS ON RELEASE FROM 2 JUNE 2017

The Meyerowitz Stories (2017) | Cannes Film Festival | In Competition

Baumbach’s latest serio-comedy THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES asks the question: how do you manage a creative father who constantly puts you down?

Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler deal with their own neuroses while managing a creative father who puts them all down. Stiller is well-off LA lawyer Matthew Meyerowitz, a half- brother to failed musician Danny (Sandler) and non-entity Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) who live close by to their sculptor father (Hoffman) whose party piece is bringing the conversation back to himself.
Harold’s retrospective show brings the family back together in the Brooklyn home he shares with his fourth wife Maureen, a scatty alcoholic played amusingly by Emma Thompson. But the show is put in jeopardy when Dad suffers a brain trauma that makes his narcissism worse.
The siblings find a certain love-hate solidarity as they struggle with the inevitable fallout, all operating from a position of shame; Danny feels a failure as an artist, although he’s a good father. Matthew fails by not being an artist, despite being a financial success; Jean has emerged from Harold’s negligent parenting never achieving anything, in act of self-sabotage; and they’re all latently angry with each other. Baumbach’s clever script ensures there’s plenty of dry humour, and even open wrestling, to lighten things up. With entertaining turns from Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson and a soulful Adam Sandler as the underdog, this is a film that will feel poignantly personal for many.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 17 – 27 MAY 2017 | IN COMPETITION

The Other Side of Hope (2017)

Dir: Aki Kaurismäki | Finland / Germany | Finnish, English, Arabic | Drama | 98 min · Colour · 35 mm, 2K DCP

The grass is always greener on the other side especially when your business is failing or you live in a war zone. Aki Kurismaki’s latest film is an unapologetically upbeat story of dystopia in modern day Helsinski where two lives converge – that of Khaled, a Syrian refugee and stowaway on a coal freighter and Wikström, a Finnish travelling salesman peddling ties and men’s shirts. Treating his characters with even-handed sympathy and understanding Kurismaki evokes a realistic picture of the local refugee crisis as well as the economic malaise affecting contemporary Finland.

When Khaled claims asylum at the government offices, he is bathetically told: “you are not the first”. This is the start of many telling observations that give THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE its spry and ironic humour. Meanwhile Witstrom leaves his wife and his business and, after a win at the poker tables, buys a local restaurant business. When the authorities turn down Khaled’s application, he decides to remain, going underground in the Finnish capital where he gets duffed up by the ‘Finnish Freedom League’ before some friendly street musicians offer support. And soon Wikstrom offers him a job in his new concern where the classic Kaurismaki community muddle along with the waitress, the chef and his friendly Jack Russell.

Starring regular collaborators Sakari Kuosmanen, Kati Outinnen and Ilkka Koivula, THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE is witty and watchable and never takes itself too seriously in showing how the kindness of strangers goes along way to making the world a better place. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE 26 MAY | SILVER BEAR WINNER BERLINALE  2017| BEST DIRECTOR

Whisky Galore! (2016)

Dir: Gilles MacKinnon | Cast: Eddie Izzard, James Cosmo | Drama | UK

Alexander McKendrick’s 1949 screen adaptation of Compton McKenzie’s true story is an Ealing classic fondly remembered for its feisty depiction of the fearless folks of Todday Island in the Scottish Outer Hebrides and their attempts to recover the whisky cargo from a shipwrecked boat.

Quite why Gilles MacKinnon has decided on a remake of this popular arthouse gem is questionable given the high status it holds in the collective memory and the lacklustre cast he has selected to replace the originals: Basil Radford, Joan Greenwood, Gordon Jackson and James Robertson Justice.

The film is set during the Second World War when the Scottish Islands were a reasonably tranquil outpost in the war effort but impacted nevertheless by a serious dearth of whisky brought on by a breakdown of supplies. When a ship runs aground on a rocky outcrop, the residents club together to relieve the vessel of its precious liquid cargo. Hampered by a slowdown due to the Sabbath Sunday, the islanders are forced into ingenious ways of overcoming strict religious observances enforced by the local minister Macalister (James Cosmo). The only other spanner in the works is – naturally an Englishman – Captain Wagget (Eddie Izzard), who is tasked with maintaining order as Head of the Home Guard.

MacKinnon’s film beautifully evokes this period in history with painterly set design and some magnificent local scenery of the glorious location. Nigel Willoughby captures  summer on the island which glows with lush landscapes and wonderfully vibrant seascapes, clouds scudding by. Patrick Doyle’s original score compliments the narrative but the witty script falls flat on mediocre performances that lack the star quality needed to lift the film in Mackendrick’s brilliant 1949 league. The Home Guard appears to be modelled on the characters from Dad’s Army and are a pale imitation, borrowed again from another inimitable national treasure and cannot compete with Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier or Arnold Ridley. Some viewers may also be offended by the indelicate racial subtext that creeps into some of the dialogue and feels out of place for modern audiences.

That said, this is a decent if rather tame period piece, totally lacking drama but hopefully instrumental in reviving the treasured forties classic original. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19 MAY 2017

 

Manhattan (1979)

Dir: Woody Allen | Writer: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman | Cast: Diane Keaton, Woody Allen, Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep, Anne Byrne Hoffman, Michael Murphy | 96min | US | comedy romance

Woody Allen’s witty and insightful New York satire is a seamless pleasure. Scenes in the life of a divorced writer are accompanied by George Gershwin’s music and Gordon Willis legendary camerawork. MANHATTAN captures the essence of 1970s cinema serving as a tribute to an era where friends talked in person on a regular basis and people met face to face and fell in and out of love in before the advent of social media and mobile phones.

Allen plays Isaac the neurotic central character attempting to find the perfect start to his novel about New York, a city that unfolds in black and white splendour against the iconic score (Rhapsody in Blue) and snapshots of Times Square, Broadway and Central Park. What follows is a sinuous story of Isaac’s studious teenage girlfriend (Mariel Hemingway), his second ex-wife (Meryl Streep) and her lesbian lover, his close friend and confident Yale (Michael Murphy), and wife and spiky journalist lover Mary  (Diane Keaton).

image002

The performances are peerlessly natural yet preternaturally witty. Beautifully framed and edited, Gordon Willis will forever be remembered for his shots of the Manhattan skyline that bookcase each scene. Mariel Hemingway gives an open and honest portrayal of first love and captures with poignancy what every girl should say when her lover comes back to acknowledge he can’t live without her.

Another classic New York comedy Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale followed 16 years later. This heavier and more tortured film showed us that the world was already a much darker place. MT

MANHATTAN RETURNS TO CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 12 MAY 2017 COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS 

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

The King of Comedy (1983) | Bluray release

Dir: Martin Scorsese | Writer: Paul D Zimmerman | Cast: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard | US | Comedy | 109min

“At the bottom…yes that’s a perfect way to start.” advises Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) to Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) during a tense car conversation. Pupkin is a wannabe stand up comedian and fantasist who manages – with the help of stalker Marsha (Sandra Bernhard) – to gain entry into Lawford’s car and persuade him for a break in show business. When their plan fails they kidnap comedian Langford whose influence finally gets them the spot on Lawford’s TV show. The King of Comedy is all about whether Pupkin really manages to engineer a rise to the top or remain at the bottom of the heap. This all depends on how you view the film’s ambiguous ending. I wont reveal that but sketch in a little more of this remarkable film.

Apart from its thematic connection with Taxi Driver (Travis and Pumpkin are highly disturbed loners) it is hard to pin down THE KING OF COMEDY  as a Scorsese picture from its style. For me that’s a positive for it reveals a spontaneity and lightness of touch. Too often Scorsese films are flawed by their earnest tone. THE KING OF COMEDY’s absence of over-control, but superb fluid craftsmanship, makes for one of his best pictures.

Take the ease with which Scorsese directs De Niro in his attempts to have a meeting arranged by Langford’s office staff. Firstly they get his name wrong, calling him Pumpkin or Pimpkin.When their polite attempts to fob Pupkin off fail they review his audition tape and then reject it. Finally Pupkin has to be physically ejected, by the security staff, from the building. His attention seeking is very funny (I love the moment where De Niro, who won’t leave the reception area, calmly looks up at the ceiling and praises its architectural design.) De Niro has been criticised for playing Pupkin like a mannequin. Now there’s an element of this. That’s not detrimental but a spellbinding asset as we observe this embarrassingly creepy man. Sandra Bernhard has never done anything better. And Diahnne Abbott playing Rita, the bar woman Pupkin tries to seduce, is excellent as the desired queen of the king.

Yet it’s Jerry Lewis (the film’s only real and famous comedian) who deserves the loudest praise. Lewis doesn’t so much act as fiercely convey a relentless and difficult man – just check a recent Youtube ‘interview’ with the now 91 year old, for similar bloody minded obduracy. Lewis as Langford fights back with indignation and scorn refusing to be intimidated by – in his own word – the moronic Pupkin. Even Lawford’s humiliation at being kidnapped (taped to a chair to look like an Egyptian mummy) merely exacerbates his seething contempt for the kidnappers. Jerry Lewis delivers a magnificently mean and horribly unforgettable ‘performance’. It’s a master class in resistance to the sick celebrity seekers of the world.

THE KING OF COMEDY is a bitter take on shaping the American Dream. A film as dark-hearted as Frankenheimer’s Seconds and as downbeat as Rafelson’s The King of Marvin Gardens. Three great American movies about deluded aspirations. All would have made an amazing triple bill at the long gone and legendary Scala cinema. Now just devour this one at home, and be dazzled. Alan Price

The Love Witch (2016)

imagesDir/Writer: Anna Biller | Cast: Samantha Robinson, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Laura Waddell, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley | US | Fantasy Drama | 118min

Anyone who enjoyed TVs Bewitched will appreciate this hyperrealist technicolour drama where the harmless Elizabeth Montgomery is replaced by a mysterious modern day minx who mixes potions and plots to make men fall in love with her, forever. Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is gorgeously winsome and perfectly poised until she retreats behind closed doors to a boudoir bursting with lurid love games and sexy underwear and where she shamelessly seduces her prey leaving a trail of dying and distraught menfolk wondering what on earth happened. Anna Biller’s clever script has nailed men’s egos to a cross and brazenly exposed their deepest anxieties of losing control, falling in love and ‘drowning in the oestrogen’ of their new found perfect playmate. Set in an imagined kitsch community in 1960s California, there’s also a whiff of Chaucer’s Friar’s Tale and Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers to Biller’s dark and mocking humour which also has a pop at women folk and their machiavellian ways when it comes to romance. Weird and possibly the most watchable satire you’ll see this week. A cameo from the wonderful Agnes Moorehead would have been the icing on the cake. MT

C6wgY4VV4AAn_ng

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY, 10 MARCH 2017.

 

 

 

Elle (2016) |

Dir: Paul Verhoeven | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Anne Consigny, Laurent Lafitte | Drama | 130min |

Dutch auteur Paul Verhoeven’s first French-language feature came to the Cannes Competition with magnificent Isabelle Huppert in a star turn that has just won her a Golden Globe for Best Actress. Slick and seductive, when it isn’t being violent in its glossy arthouse depiction of rape and twisted mysogyny, this is an upbeat, almost chipper tale of contemporary life, piqued with mordant humour. But what else would you expect from a director who brought us Basic Instinct and Showgirls?

ELLE features several strong female characters who are well-equipped to deal with their lives with sophistication and a certain élan. Wittily adapted from Betty Blue writer Philippe Djian’s novelIa, Isabelle Huppert plays Michele Blanc, a sexy and savvy businesswoman who is stylish and perfectly in control of her faculties. A leader in her field of video games, she deals with a masked intruder, who rapes her viciously in her sumptuous Parisian house, by bouncing back with disdain and aplomb – despite some serious injuries – not least to her self esteem. Brushing herself down and disposing of her elegant black decolté she gets back to work immediately with a mission to uncover her assailant. But the incident has sparked a surprising change in the way she responds sexually to the men around her. In the Cannes Film Festival press conference, the cast and directors refused to be drawn into a discussions concerning the controversial implications of the rape scenes. Ms Huppert said her character responded in a way that served the film’s narrative, and the work was purely fiction.

Verhoeven keeps the tension taut throughout the film’s running time – just proud of two hours. And the suspects are diverse but don’t intrude into the other themes of this intelligent comedy thriller. There is her suave neighbour Patrick (Laurent Lafitte) a banker whose marriage to his devout Catholic wife (Virginie Efira) provides some grounds for humour; ex husband Richard (Charles Berling), a wannabe novelist; Robert (Christian Berkel), the husband of her best friend and business partner, Anna (Anne Consigny) who both have sexual dalliances with her during the course of this entertaining drama – even her petulant son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet), who is dating Josie (Alice Isaac) a minx with whom he is expecting another man’s child, falls under the spotlight.

Perversely, the film’s comedy surfaces from incidents that could be perceived as troubling or negative in misogynist terms, yet the female leads respond with such self-possession and insight that the rape brings out greater weaknesses in the male characters rather than the female ones and Michele choses to pluck success and inner strength from the jaws of possible failure. This is very much a French film with its exuberant family crises, sexual complexity in the way the sparky characters treat each other with an attitude that many many consider rude or offensive.

Visually the film is a delight with Isabelle Huppert sporting a sumptuous couture wardrobe ranging from classy elegance to  raunchy vamp. Academy award winner Anne Dudley’s original score pumps up the suspense adds gravitas but never detracting from the provocative atmosphere. MT

ON RELEASE AT PICTURESHOUSE FROM 10 MARCH 2017 | PREMIERED CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016

Love of My Life (2017)

Dir.: Joan Carr-Wiggin; Cast: Anna Chancellor, John Hannah, Hermione Norris, James Fleet, Katie Boland, Hannah Emily Anderson; Canada 2016, 105 min.

Writer/director Joan Carr-Wiggin (Happily ever After) has come up with a rather awkward narrative: after being told that she might only have five days to live, the heroine is forced to spend the remaining 120 hours in a déclassé rom-com with a cheating husband and an immature ex – not to mention two empty-headed daughters, who rush to find their life partners before Mum leaves this world.

Grace (Chancellor) is an architect in Toronto. Told by her doctor that her brain tumour might be inoperable, she reacts with stoicism. Not so her family: husband Tom (Fleet) cries non-stop and goes on drinking, feeling more sorry for himself than his wife. Enter Richard (Hannah, a popular author) and Grace’s ex-husband and father of their daughter Zoe (Boland). Richard suddenly realises that Grace is the love of his life, even though he left her for Tamara (Norris), who also lives in Grace’s family house.

Meanwhile, Tom goes on drinking – and sleeps with Tamara, who wants to prove that Tom is non-deserving of Grace’s love, Richard makes a play for Grace, who is already overwhelmed by the chaos of what may be her final hours. Daughter Kaitlyn (Anderson), whom Grace suspected to be a lesbian, suddenly finds “the right man”. But it turns out, that he is married, and (in one of the most embarrassing scenes) is cornered at his front door with his wife by Richard and Kaitlyn. When Richard finally gets Grace on her own for a restaurant tête à tête, a bizarre turn of events scuppers the whole affair.

You really have to feel sorry for the cast, trying their best to hold this all together without cringing. DoP Bruce Worrall, who shot the director’s previous outing: If I were You, cannot really save the day: nearly all the ‘action’ takes place in the studio, giving the feeling of filmed theatre: doors open, and people enter, speaking/shouting their lines and exit. Truly a missed opportunity to create a funny and intelligent comedy drama. AS

AT SELECTED VENUES FROM 17 FEBRUARY 2017

California Dreams (2017) | Woche der Critik 2017

Dir.: Mike Ott; Cast: Cory Zacharia, Kevin Gilger, Carolan J. Pinto, Neil Harley, Patrick Ilaguno; USA 2017, 85 min.

Director/writer Mike Ott (Lake Los Angeles) explores a personal, not to say idiosyncratic, view of actors on the (often imagined) fringe of Hollywood – always just a step away from realising their dream in Tinsel Town. Having set up auditions in a small town in California, Ott interviews them at length and discovers a great deal of sadness, but also perseverance against the odds.

First up is Cory Zacharia. The two first met working on a student film and this is now their fourth collaboration together. Cory, like all the others, has to do a scene from his favourite Hollywood film; Ott hoping to find out what makes them tick. Cory is in his late twenties with severe learning difficulties and lives with his Mum in a housing project in Lancaster/Cal. Having grown up as Jehovah’s Witness, he has difficulties regarding his sexual orientation: his mother had him locked up twice in mental institutions, after she found out that he had sex with men. His oppressive home life is reason enough to dream himself away to Hollywood. Cory also has a fixation with Finland, particularly the women there, who he imagines are waiting for him, fulfilling his dream of absolute and perfect love. But first he has to find a way to go to Berlin, to star in a film produced by a certain Herr Henning, who phones often and is angry that Cory has not found a way to pay for a plane ticket.

Next is Carolan J. Pinta who grew up in a musical family and had a career in commercials and TV as a teenager, but now lives in her car. She dreams about writing a bestseller which would be made into a big Hollywood film, finally winning her an Oscar: her acceptance speech performance is honed to perfection. Carolan takes her eighty pound boxer dog Lady Jenna Theresa where ever she goes.

Kevin Gilger aka The Dog, has been a professional actor since his childhood. For the past nine years he is impersonating Duane ‘Dog’ Chapman. Chapman plays a sheriff, who is chasing Cory all over the place, the pair are very close to the spirit of the Mike Sennett silent comedies.

And finally, Patrick Ilaguno was born in the Philippines, after emigrating to the USA he studied film at Long Beach City College, College of the Canyons and Cal State University LA. He is working at the Six Flags Magic Mountains car park, but always visits festivals in the region. Still a virgin, he hopes that a career in films will make him more acceptable to women.

In the end, Cory finds a (staged) truly Hollywood-like ending, in slow motion and with a rapturous music score. As Ott put it: ”This is a film about the dream of making it in Hollywood. That contrast between who we really are as people, and who we want to be in the hallucination that is cinema, is something I find so inspiring and at the same time heart breaking”.

DoP Mike Gloulakis finds the right images for all stages of this journey: Slapstick, Western and Romance genre photography confronts the hard, documentary style of the real life story of the protagonists. Ott carefully avoids sentimentality and judgement – he simply tells it like it is. AS

WOCHE DER CRITIK TAKES PLACE IN BERLIN DURING BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 |

Multiple Maniacs (1970)

Dir: John Waters | Comedy Drama | 93 mins |US

John Waters’ MULTIPLE MANIACS is a slim but grotesquely bloated comedy caper that could benefit from a general tightening up, not least where its portly central character Lady Divine is concerned. It’s 1970 and the pouting princess of porn is poncing around Baltimore in a petulant fit after she discovers her boyfriend Mr David is being unfaithful with a wannabe star in her own comedy circus, the Cavalcade of Perversions, a disgusting free travelling show that lures punters in on a promise of free access to the most disreputable acts of indecency.

What starts as a fairly harmless peep show rapidly descends into mayhem and even murder in Maryland as the libidinous Divine wreaks havoc in this cheap and tawdry affair made all the more so by its grainy bleached out visuals and racket of a soundtrack. Yet there’s a touching honesty to MULTIPLE MANIACS that makes us forgive the creaky acting and amateurish scene transitions. Made on a meagre budget of $5,000 it was Waters’ second full length feature following on from his 1969 comedy Mondo Trasho, yet doubled its money on the opening weekend clearly marking Waters out as a cult director in the making. The narrative is not as light-weight as it would initially have us believe:  Heavily influenced by the murders of Sharon Tate and her houseguests, Waters likens the freak show minstrels to the marauding gang of Mansons who rape and pillage with tragic consequences. MULTIPLE MANIACS is not for the faint-hearted but it’s still eye-stingingly ludicrous, particularly the episode with the giant crustacean. Raucous and surprisingly watchable. MT

MULTIPLE MANIACS is screening from a new restoration from Janus Films – this restoration will present the Pope of Trash’s full, un-cut version for the first time ever on UK screens.

IN SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS: 17th February 2017

Toni Erdmann (2016) |

Director: Maren Ade

Cast: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Huller, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Putter

142min | Comedy | Germany

Following in the wake of some quirky and enjoyable comedies at Cannes Film Festival this year was German filmmaker Maren Ade’s TONI ERDMANN, a European arthouse drama that celebrates the intergenerational gap between parents and children with humour rather than strife.

Maren Ade explores whether comedy is the right way to fix family issues or whether we should just try to be more sympathetic and understanding. In a film that runs just short of three hours, she achieves a blend of situational comedy, embarrassing incidents, pervy sex scenes and even a good old German nudist party in the style of an Ulrich Seidl film.

And in fact TONI ERDMANN‘s hero is Austrian: Peter Simonichek plays Winifried, a divorced German music teacher who loves playing inappropriate practical jokes on his friends and colleagues, with whoopee cushions and the like. We first meet Winifried in the throes of arranging a surprise musical tribute to an old colleague’s retirement. But not everyone likes surprises or to be part of this harmless fun, least of all his serious-minded daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller), a top management consultant in Romania. When she realises that her father has been up to his tricks in a bid to poke fun at her childless state and perceived loneliness, it’s already too late to block his impromptu visit in Bucharest, after the death of his dog Willi leaves him footloose and a bit down in the dumps. As a little girl she loved his pranks, but his casual arrival at her offices in fancy dress, makes her extremely irritated. Rejecting his bid to offer fatherly appreciation, Winifried then starts to behave like a stalker, popping up at Ines’ dinner dates pretending to be his alter ego ‘Toni Erdmann’ complete with wig and grotesque false teeth which he claims are from cosmetic dentistry “I wanted something different – fiercer”.

Only a woman can appreciate the intricacies of life in the competitive corporate world where women are supposed to “go on shopping trips” when they travel with their CEO husbands. Rather than hanging with the guys after work, poor Ines is forced to show the women round the shops while the men ‘kick back’ over drinks. Extremely galling! At one point she tells her boss “if I was a feminist, I wouldn’t tolerate guys like you”. Ade’s script is really spot on, brilliantly manipulating this father daughter relationship and drawing some subtle and intricately-played performances from Simonischek and Huller, who start as polar opposites in their frosty stand-off but gradually grow more sympathetic and human during the course of the film. Beneath Winifried’s silliness lies a heart of gold, he appreciates the real world but has withdrawn from it to reflect  and his daughter emerges to be far more caring and worldly than he gives her credit for.

Winifried’s old dog Willi sets the furry leitmotive for rest of the film, and he pops up in various shaggy wigs and even a full blown Bulgarian scarecrow outfit. The irony comes from the way Ines intuitively manages her difficult colleagues and local friends; her secretary Anca is the only sympathetic female character and there are some really poignant scenes at the end where Ines and her father finally let their guards down to acknowledge that blood really is thicker than water. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 12-22 MAY 2016 | WINNER OF THE FIPRESCI AWARD 2016

Why Him? (2016)

Dir.: John Hamburg; Cast: James Franco, Zoey Deutsch, Bryan Cranston, Mengan Mullally, Keegan-Michal Kelly, Griffin Gluck; USA 2016, 111 min.

WHY HIM? is just another chapter in the Meet the Parents saga, and director/co-writer John Hamburg tries very hard to succeed, forgetting that the success of any Rom-Com is measured by its light touch. But instead of a soufflé up comes a stodgy brew of clichés and didactic, overlong scenes, ramming home his points, afraid that the audience needs permanent reminders when to laugh.

From the sticks of their Ohio home the three Flemings – father Ned (Cranston), mother Barb (Mullally) and teenage son Scottie (Gluck) – set out to visit daughter Stephanie (Deutsch) in California for Christmas, where they hope, that the future son-in-law Laird (Franco), will make a better impression in person than in their introductory, rather disastrous Skype session. But Laird is even worse in person: a rich young man, worth all of 193 million bucks, he runs a high-tech labour in his futuristic house, where he insists on a strict New Age lifestyle, including a paper free environment, including the bathrooms. Since he is also fond of including at least two swear words in one sentence, a combative confrontation with Ned is guaranteed: apart from the normal Electra obsession with his sex-loving daughter, his printing business in Ohio is going bankrupt. Laird’s side-kick, Gustav, speaking with a very fake German accent, attacks his master violently at will, keeping him alert to any danger; prompting Ned to compare their relationship with the one between Closeau and Cato in the Pink Panther films – a symbol for Hamburg’s heavy-handed approach. Needless to say, the two males – mistaking their diverse obnoxiousness for candour – will end up in a brawl themselves, shattering the glass case in which an elk is preserved in his own urine, in the process. But fear not, the landing is very safe indeed.

Trying hard in every aspect –wanting to be funny, daring and original – WHY HIM somehow manages to be neither. To start with, Deutsch’ character is dreadfully under-developed. She is just an object for the men to fight over, and even though Stephanie rebels initially, she eventually finds her place in a united family business, featuring orgasm-inducing toilet water works, instead of ordinary loo paper. Her mother Barb is just an appendix to her husband, reminiscing about the past and moaning about a lack of sex. Yes, there are some funny ideas, but even the best suffer from Hamburg’s inclination not to cut any scene, before it has run its length – and more. The result is a near two-hour running time, including a rather sad appearance of two members of Mom’s and Pop’s favourite band Kiss, and Barb’s equally misplaced attempt of rivalling her daughter, when admitting to a ”hand-job for Ned” after the young couple had attended a concert of their favourite quartet. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM BOXING DAY 2016

Me, Myself and Her (2016) | Io e Lei | DVD | VOD

Dir: Maria Sole Tognazzi | Writers: Ivan Cotroneo | Cast: Margherita Buy, Sabrina Ferilli, Fausto Maria Sciarappa, Domenico Diele | Drama | 102min | Italy

Me Myself and Her is an upbeat and sophisticated romantic comedy that provides a thoughtful addition to the growing mainstream collection of lesbian-themed dramas, although the ending is sadly rather predictable. With shades of Portrait of a Serial Monogamist (2015) and La Belle Saison (2016) it is award-winning Roman director Maria Sole Tognazzi’s second collaboration with Margherita Buy who is just the right person to play the rather sensitive Federica, a woman in her fifties who finds herself living with her friend, who is also a lover Marina (Sabrina Ferilli) after a long marriage to a man. The idea is based on a book by Ivan Cotroneo who also wrote the script for I Am Love (2009) and Loose Cannons (2010).

Early on in the film Federica states: “I am not a lesbian” and this pivotal statement leads to the crucial premise of the film – that sexual orientation can be a moveable feast, not a cast iron condition. At different times of our lives, the sexuality we originally identify with may be called into question as attraction and compatibility often surprisingly become more a feasible state of affairs, whatever the sex of the person we’re attracted to. Margherita Buy and Sabrina Ferilli (The Great Beauty) are believable as a couple of straight-acting and accomplished women who feel comfortable living together, and loving together also works for them in their middle age.

While Federica’s sexuality is morphing into a different sphere, Marina is on also entering a different phase of her life on a career level: a well-known actress, she is now running a restaurant that gives all its daily uneaten food to charity. The difference between them however is where the problems arise. Marina is the more assertive one of the couple and is happily open about their arrangement, even to the Press, and that’s something that makes Federica uneasy as she doesn’t really identify as a ‘lesbian’. And meeting up with an old boyfriend Marco (Fausto Maria Sciarappa), Federica finds herself in bed with him and starts to reappraise her physical feelings for a man. But the affair moves too quickly, as she finds herself trapped between two dominant characters – Marina on one side, and Marco on the other. And both want to take over her life. And Federica is not sure whether she loves Marina or prefers Marco, although these two sexual perspectives are not really examined in depth in Tognazzi’s rather freewheeling, carefree narrative. Marina is also grappling with a personal dilemma of her own: should she take a part she’s been offered in a film that may take her away from Rome, or continue with her successful eaterie.

Despite the rather unoriginal ending, this is a drama that feels really convincing from a relationship point of view. Tognazzi’s two characters are not driven together by toxic dysfunctionality, but by their comfortable attraction and compatibility with one another, which at the end makes for a more satisfactory midlife union that sexual fireworks and slanging matches. MT

MY, MYSELF AND HER IS AVAILABLE ON DVD | VOD FROM WOLF VIDEO FROM 6 DECEMBER 2016 |

The Squid and the Whale (2006) | Criterion UK bluray release

Writer|Dir: Noah Baumbach | Cast: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline

Baumbach offers a wincingly painful black comedy that will resonate with us for its poignance and human truth. Based on his own experiences of his parents’ divorce, this subtle character-led drama bears all the thorns of traumatic breakdown where each party is left emotionally scarred for the rest of their lives, and particularly those who are innocent and free from negative baggage are now laden down with it.

Set in brownstone Brooklyn, New York City, during the 1980s there are echoes of Woody Allen films of the era, and Simon and Garfunkle tunes. This is a place of traditional values and literary underpinnings. May be it still is like this.

Jeff Daniels plays arrogant intellectual Bernard Berkman: a man who looks older than his years but whose books are no longer paying the family bills. His bluestocking hippyish wife Joan (Laura Linney) has been biding her time in waiting to leave him for years but, emboldened by her recent literary success, has found this the time to spread her wings – unfortunately in the direction of her youngest son Frank’s tennis coach Ivan (a smug Alec Baldwin).

The couple’s elder son is Walt is played by a febrile and outwardly cocky Jesse Eisenberg who has attempted to master his father’s intellectual confidence (erroneously referring to Kafka’s own works as Kafkaesque) but is still just an awkward and vulnerable 16-year-old virgin. Walt is close to his father whereas Frank (Owen Kline) sides with his mother, and is even more wet behind the ears, although spiky and truculent as he struggles with puberty.

After a vicious confrontation over writing issues, Joan and Bernard decide to part and organise joint custody of the kids in an unfeasible ‘every other night’ arrangement. Into the equation comes Bernard’s student Lili (Anna Paguin) who he unwisely invites to share his new home ‘across the park’ with Walt becoming a more regular over-night visitor than Frank. This pits man against boy on the flirting stakes and Bernard naturally pulls rank.

Daniels and Linney are both superb at evoking creative insecurity and how it impacts on the boys’ need for security and moral grounding at their delicate stage development. Clinging to both parents and then erupting violently and distancing themselves, the two manage to convey the hurt and bristling anger of incertitude and impending separation.

On the tennis court Bernard tramples on his younger son’s pride in his game, mercilessly thrashing him and admitting to ‘allowing him to win’ when he is himself defeated. The injured party in the marriage breakdown, Bernard also leaks inexcusable intimacies about his and Joan’s love life – seeking to get the boys on his side, with disastrous consequences for all concerned. Bernard is a wincing study of diminished masculinity, due to romantic and financial failure, and this brings out the worst in him as he is well aware of the shamefulness of his behaviour. The scene where he actually accepts Walt’s girlfriend’s contribution at the end of their joint restaurant meal nails humiliation to perfection.

THE SQUID AND THE WHALE is a joy to watch as we wallow deliciously in its unalloyed misery with each scene revealing more exquisite emotional torture. Totally devoid of American cheesiness, this is about the pare-down simplicity of the bare-boned truth. As bracingly refreshing a slap on the face with a frozen cod. MT

OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF CRITERION UK from 5 DECEMBER 2016

Punch-Drunk Love (2002) | Criterion UK release

Writer|Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don McManus, Luis Guzman

95min | Comedy Drama | UK

Adam Sandler is the star in Paul Thomas Anderson’s febrile and jittery black comedy romance in which he plays Barry, an emotionally buttoned-up novelty supplier in thrall to an after hours telephone chat line, suddenly emboldened and redeemed when he falls in love.

After the confident dramas Boogie Nights and Magnolia, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE feels like a cinematic volt face for Anderson, almost as if he has wandered into the realms of Northern European arthouse cinema of the 90s and decided to change his style, specially when the love interest here is Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves).

Drenched in its cold detached aesthetic, the film drifts into some unsettling themes and feels strangely prescient of a future where chatlines provide a subliminal twilight zone where men can get their rocks off while outwardly seeming as macho and in control and they ever were, in between random psychotic outbursts, which Sandler conveys in a deft performance of comic complexity.

Here in a cavernous warehouse somewhere in California, Barry is overworked and underpaid but has discovered a scam where he can earn a fabulous amount of air miles simply by purchasing a type of canned pudding in the local supermarket. And his family offers no sanctuary. Teased by his overbearing sisters, who taunt him with a story of how he once broke a window pane with a hammer, he confesses to his brother in law that his life is in emotional turmoil and he suffers from anger issues (preparing him for his role in Peter Segal’s comedy Anger Management).

On a date with Emily Watson’s empathetic but slightly predatory Lena Leonard (a friend of his sister), he gets so hot under the collar that he escapes to let off steam by trashing the restaurant lavatories, returning calmly to face the restaurant manager. This pent up and tortured scene finally ends with him surrendering and kissing Lena. But in a weird subplot, he is then bundled into a truck and attacked by extortion thugs, controlled by Philip Seymour’s bullishly livid businessman,

Emily Watson is well cast here as she comes across as slightly unhinged but also placid and conciliatory as Lena. After the kissing scene, Barry desperately calls directory inquiries for her number (cue psychotic outburst) before loudly interrogating her (“do you have a boyfriend, well when did you last have a boyfriend?”) from a telephone box on a noisy street full of passers-by.

Turns out she already fancied him from a family photo. So when he follows her on business to Hawaii everything goes swimmingly until they end up in bed, when calmly confesses to “wanting to smash her face up with a sledgehammer” as they quietly make love. But there are more sinister events that slowly unfold in this sinuously disturbing and bracingly refreshing comic film about latent male aggression and dysfunctional romance, brilliantly set to Jon Brion’s flighty and discordance score. MT

AVAILABLE ON BLURAY COURTESY OF CRITERION UK FROM 21 NOVEMBER 2016.

 

The Darkest Universe (2016)

Dir.: Tom Kingsley, Will Sharp; Cast: Will Sharp, Tiani Ghosh, Joe Thomas, Sophie Di Martino, Chris Langham | Comedy Drama | UK 2016, 86 min.

In a bid to be original Tom Kingsley and Will Sharp (Black Pond) deliver a hotchptoch of clichés in an indie drama which is inaccessible and sometimes hilarious – for all the wrong reasons.

Financial trader Zac (Sharp) is looking for his sister Alice (also co-writer) who has disappeared on a boat moored at Camden Lock, along with her boyfriend Toby (Thomas). Random flashbacks tell the story of the missing couple, who have both been unable to communicate properly with friends and family. But soon Zac’s story of “finding himself” takes over: Rejected by his girl friend Eva (De Martino), he cuts off his hair, produces maddening videos, which hardly help to find the missing couple, and visits Toby’s father Alan (Langham), in a country house where Toby grew up. There Zac discovers Toby’s cartoon story by entitled ‘The darkest Universe’, written for his sick mother, when he was little. Zac sinks deeper and deeper into a depression, blaming himself for Alice’ disappearance, having promised their dead mother, that he would look after Alice. The solution to their disappearance is about as nonsensical as the film itself.

DoP Will Hanke’s dreamy images of floating clouds are wasted on this amateurish production, which pretends to be enigmatic, and the actors try in vain not to sink to the level of script and direction – for which they are, at least partly, responsible. AS

ON RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE VENUES FROM 4 NOVEMBER 2016

The Small World of Sammy Lee (1963) Prime Video

Writer|Dir: Ken Hughes | Cast: Anthony Newley, Julia Foster, Robert Stephens, Wilfrid Brambell, Warren Mitchell, Roy Kinnear | UK | Drama | 107min | Cinematography: Wolfgang Suschitzky

Ken Hughes was an award-winning writer and director who made his name in the 1950s and 60s after winning an amateur filmmaking competition in the late 1930s at the age of 14.

This stylish comedy caper captures the zeitgeist of early Sixties Soho seen through the eyes of Anthony Newley’s snazzy strip club compere, Sammy Lee, who ducks and dives his way through the bookies’ clutches constantly on his tail for mounting gambling debts. Behind the cheeky vibe of the club, violence lurks on every corner: punch-ups, bloody noses, and slashed faces bear witness to the shadowy underworld of The Krays. Punctuated by jazzy vignettes from dancing girls singing the likes of “Unforgettable”, Kenny Graham’s trumpet score enriches an evocative portrait of one of the 20th century’s most iconic decades.

Ken Hughes directs with panache and the legendary Viennese cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky (Get Carter) showcases London’s Soho in luscious black and white. Sammy’s perky love interest is played by a dizzy blonde in the shape of Julia Foster. Warren Mitchell is almost unrecognisable as his brother and occasional bankroller Lee Leeman and Miriam Karlin (A Clockwork Orange) plays Lee’s glamorous but vituperative Jewish wife ((“you’ve never known a woman with more shoes”).

Slick and watchable, this snappily scripted mercurial film has plenty of dark moments and thrills up its sleeve. Newley acts his socks off, fast-talking, gestures flying rather like a diminutive Leonard Rossiter, as he goes around raising cash from his close Jewish friends and trousering it feverishly as he races against the clock to meet the bookies’ demands. Dennis Nimmo gets one of the funniest lines as the poshly-spoken gay Rembrandt, momentarily breaking the tension. And then comes a most fabulous scene as a Black duo (bass and piano) play velvety Jazz. Wilfrid Brambell, Roy Kinnear and Robert Stevens also star in this simply wonderful and unmissable gem of English filmmaking. MT

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

You are My Sunday | Tu Hai Mera Sunday (2016) | LFF 2016

Writer|Dir: Milind Dhaimade | Cast: Shahana Goswami, Meher Acharia-Dar, Avinash Tiwary, Suhaas Ahuja, Pallavi Batra, Nakul Bhalia Milind | 119min | Comedy drama | India

Advertising exec turned filmmaker Milind Dhaimade offers up a feelgood snapshot of modern Mumbai in this lively and watchable comedy drama that interlaces the lives of five ordinary young men who just want to be happy and play football at the weekends on Juhu Beach. At least, that’s the plan.

According to Dhaimade, not all modern Indians are striving, high-powered yuppies, and YOU ARE MY SUNDAY certainly proves his point. The humour here ranges from witty to hilariously dark and even raucous as Dhaimade hopes to show a new world of Indian independent cinema, with a charm and honesty that is truly representative of the urban youth – Speaking in a mixture of English and Hindu – they all still live with their families, apart from one who lives with some rats.

The story kicks off during one Sunday. The group are playing a freewheeling game of footie, when a senile old man called (Appa) joins in and accidentally kicks the ball into a nearby political rally. As a penalty, the five friends are banned from their Sunday routine game and their growing frustration gradually seeps into their private lives, even seriously disrupting their close friendship. All this all unravels in a light-hearted way thanks to some dry situational humour that confirms Dhaimade has his finger firmly on the international pulse.

Taking pity on Appa, one of the guys takes the old man home where he meets his forthright daughter (Shashana Goswami) and the attraction is instant. Being shy of her sparky intelligence, he then back-peddles until a tentative romance is kindled on a glorious beach where the mood turns dreamy and introspective, as he soulfully admits:”the problem with city life is there’s no place to enjoy the little things”. But suddenly having cold feet, he deep-sixes their dalliance and the action moves on, much to her disappointment. Meanwhile, another guy is having problems with his mother who keeps harping on about his single status – nothing new there – but he urges her to “relax”. YOU ARE MY SUNDAY works best in the scenes were Dhaimade’s wicked sense of humour runs free.  One involves a ridiculous incident underlining misogyny in the workplace where one of the guys is forced to defend his co-worker when she is given the sack, her boss trying to blame her for his own internet porn habit.

Well-performed and intelligently scripted, TU HAI MERA SUNDAY could benefit from tightening its slightly saggy middle section. That said,  film’s optimism and sheer joie-de-vivre, helped along by some really catchy musical choices, makes this a thoroughly enjoyable ride through the domestic life of contemporary Mumbai. MT

SCREENING DURING THE BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 16 OCTOBER 2016 |

 

The Greasy Strangler (2016)

Director: Jim Hosking  Writer: Toby Harvard

Cast: Michael St Michaels, Sky Elobar, Elizabeth De Razzo, Gil Gex

93min | Drama Comedy | US

Jim Hosking’s debut feature can best be described as repulsive; at worst – a simply awful con intended to perplex and intrigue audiences with its ambiguous title, the fantasy is none other than a repetitive series of vile visuals exploring the relationship between a dysfunctional father and co-dependent son who inhabit the seedy backwaters of Los Angeles. These grotesquely sordid scenes exist merely to flesh out a vapid narrative that serves no other purpose other than providing a salacious talking point between critic and cineaste, some of whom postulate that the feature may appeal to kids – which is frankly insulting, as most kids have a modicum of taste and know when they are being taken for a ride.

The plot is simply thus: Big Ronnie (St Michaels) and his son Big Brayden (Elobar) are forced into romantic competition over Janet (De Razzo) a pleasant participant in one of their bizarre walking tours while the murderous activities of the soi-disant serial killer the Greasy Strangler, play out in the hinterland.

Visually and technically The Greasy Strangler is well-crafted with Marten Tedin’s camerawork capturing the low-life lassitude of nighttime Los Angeles. Performances are lacklustre in an outing that transcends even the cult status of being camp or kitsch. Endless stomach-lurching bodily functions are frequently thrust into our gaze – if The Greasy Strangler were an exhibit it would smell like a fetid cesspit in downtown Dakar – that said – if you get your kicks from fetid cesspits in Dakar – this is your flick – and no offence to Dakar which has a delightfully dry year-round climate and some wonderful street markets. Catch the boat to the nearby island paradise of Gorée for its fascinating history and idyllic beaches!. MT

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS | SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL LONDON | 2-5 June 2016

 

Hell or High Water (2016)

Dir: David Mackenzie. Writer: Taylor Sheridan | Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine | 102min | UK/US | Crime Drama

HELL OR HIGH WATER is a rangy arthouse western with a witty political undercurrent courtesy of actor turned writer Taylor Sheridan who wrote Sicario. British director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) continues to impress with a Texas-set heist led by a laconic Jeff Bridges (with an undecipherable Texan drawl) And Texas is looking a bit tired round the edges as brothers Toby and Tanner (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) embark on the dodgy business of robbing banks. The humour sparks from their cynical repartee as they go through the motions of petty crime for paltry financial gain.

Toby and Tanner get down to business early in the morning so as to steal a march on the banking staff before they are really geared up for the day. This is a high-risk business, and they only take small amounts of untraceable bills so it’s not worth the bank’s while pursuing charges. Toby, a divorcé, was very much the apple of his mother’s eye and the sole beneficiary of her will, leaving him in control of a family property on oil land which he has signed over to his kids in trust. The bank heists have become a way of life rather than a desperate need, but he still goes through the motions to support his brother Tanner, a career criminal who got nothing in the Will, so there is a kind of irony in the plotline that spikes the dark humour.

Meanwhile, the Texas Ranger Marcus (Bridges) has his eye firmly fixed on their trail through his Wayfarer sunglasses. His partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) is a Native American and they share an affectionate relationship – this is the kind of film that doesn’t pull its punches – with some politically incorrect racial jibing – in the best possible taste. Marcus is on the verge of retiring but reticent to throw in the towel knowing that not much else awaits him but the inevitable, and the two of them  mooch around town checking in at the same old diner where the feisty old local waitress would certainly give them the cold shoulder if they went too far off the main menu selection by ordering the trout like some out-of-towner did back in 1987.

Nominated for a fistful of Oscars this is an upbeat crime thriller with some vicious dust-ups and convincing action scenes between Marcus, Toby and Tanner that feel at home in the sun-baked landscape of New Mexico and Arizona. MT

ON NETFLIX

Cafe Society (2016) | Cannes 2016

13227243_1104471159573819_1339233737504469676_o copyDirector|Writer: Woody Allen

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, Jesse Eisenberg, Kelly Rohrbach, Anna Camp, Steve Carrell, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll, Judy Davis, Paul Schneider, Ken Stott

96min | Comedy Drama | US

CAFE SOCIETY satirises showbiz and gangsterland America during the 1930s, all wrapped up in a bittersweet romantic love story for a young New Yorker seeking his fortune in Hollywood.

The tone is upbeat and the musical choices spot on as Woody Allen’s latest film opens the 69th Cannes Film Festival with a clever cocktail of razzmatazz and auteur-driven artistry. Sunlit and softly-focused, CAFE SOCIETY blends the hilarious humour of Small Time Crooks, the gorgeous sunsets of Manhattan, the wittiness of Annie Hall and romantic tenderness Husbands and Wives and whizzes it all into a 5-star cocktail where Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart spark like dynamite as young lovers Vonnie and Bobby who meet when the naive Jewish ingenue arrives at the offices of his uncle Phil, a big studio executive in Hollywood, where he fetches up jobless and friendless after leaving New York.

After Bobby turns down the advances of a first time hooker, also in Hollywood to make her name, a tender romance blossoms when Uncle Phil asks Vonnie to show Bobby the sights. It slowly emerges that Uncle Phil also has his finger in this romantic pie, promising to leave his wife Karen for the young brunette, in an on off affair that is celebrated when Vonnie, star struck by Phil’s power play, gives him a signed letter from Valentino for their one year paper anniversary. Meanwhile in New York, Allen plays up the other side of America where Bobby’s classic Jewish mother (a perfectly tart Shae D’Iyn) is keeping the homefires burning, in bitter disgruntlement with her loser of a husband (Ken Stott) “you don’t even have a Jewish head”, and her other son Ben (Corey Stoll), a financially dodgy nightclub owner who deep-sixes his rivals in liquid cement.

Splicing this tender but tragic love story with swipes at the Hollywood machine – “you wouldn’t know me –  I’m a writer”, and his beloved Jewish roots – “when a Jew cooks something it’s always over-done to get rid of the bacteria” – CAFE SOCIETY also offers some sublime musical choices from the vintage jazz world (often performed live) in what is Woody’s wittiest and most incisive film in a long time. Lensed by the thrice Oscar winning DoP Vittorio Storaro, this is a gorgeous film to look at as well as an enjoyable one to watch and the ups and downs of the romantic underpull keep things nicely taut in its modest running time. Jesse Eisenberg comes into his own as Allen’s alter ego, morphing seemlessly from a tentative “deer in the headlights” to a shrewd businessman but decent and disillusioned lover and Kristen Stewart is both vulnerable and alluring as the cunning love interest with her eye to the main chance. Steve Carrell is commanding as the power-punching megalith weakened by the lure of love. At 80 Woody Allen offers a happy ending in a story where the bad get their comeuppance, successful men make the best lovers, and clever women know the difference between the two. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 11-22 MAY 2016

War Dogs (2016)

Dir.: Todd Philips

Cast: Miles Teller, Jonah Hill, Ana de Ama; Bradley Cooper

USA 2016, 114 min.

Hollywood is full of directors who have never really grown up. Todd Philips, with his Hangover trilogy, definitely qualifies as a leading contender in this category – but with WAR DOGS he has his coming-out as an adult. And, even more surprisingly: his latest feature (co-written by him based on an article in Rolling Stone) is truly funny.

We meet David Parkouz (Teller), a college drop-out, selling quality bed-linen to nursing homes, whilst also working as a massage therapist in Miami Beach. This is not exactly the career he dreamed of and when he meets long lost school friend Efraim Diveroli (Hill), who runs a one-man conglomerate called AEY (which stands for nothing), trying to get into the arms business, David is only too keen to join.

We are in the middle of the Iraq war and the Pentagon, having given giant companies like Halliburton and Lockheed Martin countless no-bid mega defence contracts, wants to level the playing field somehow, and invites everyone to bid for the small fry contracts. Whilst Efraim obviously adores violence, his office wall features a big poster with Al Pacino in Scarface, shooting wildly. David, on the other hand, is a pacifist and he and his – soon to be pregnant – girlfriend Iz (de Ama), have been on many anti-war marches. After spending hours on the net, the duo finally lands their first contract: they have to smuggle Berretta guns from Jordan to an US unit Bagdad. The two have to cross the “Triangle of Death” – without being aware of it – but their 17000 $ reward makes it all worth it. At least for Efriam, because Iz finds out about David’s activities and leaves him with their daughter Ella. When David meets a shady arms-dealer (Cooper) in Las Vegas, AEY hits the big time: $ 300M worth of AK-47 munitions is rotting in an Albanian warehouse. The only hitch: it was manufactured in China, which means it is on an embargo list, and can’t be used by the US military. But David and Efraim have another brilliant idea: they re-package the munitions, making them products of a neutral country. The whole exercise takes months, after which, Efraim, always with an eye for extra-profit, “forgets” to pay the Albanian helpers, which will have consequences.

One could call WAR DOGS a comedy of terror. Instead of a buddy movie we get the opposite: Efraim, always trying to be everything to everyone, has cheated his way through life by mirroring people’s needs. He uses them constantly, pretending to be something he is not. David is naive, and obviously in need of a friend, so that he glorifies their High School past. Whilst Efraim is aware of the danger all the time, always pretending that everything is will be alright, David only wakes up to the many threats of their ”business” in stages. In short: David has something to lose (his family), while Efriam, the chameleon, has no close ties with anybody – apart from himself. Male friendship has never been caricatured so efficiently.

DoP Lawrence Sher (Garden State) has found a colour palette for every stage of this adventure: David and Iz’ old home has warm brown colours, their new home at the beach front is cold, arctic blue – symbolising the soullessness. The Bagdad scenes are shot in primary colours, the reality of war never far away. Albania is a dark, unforgiving environment, a true set for a horror movie. Teller and Hill feed of each other well, the only drawback being that Iz’s role is not fleshed out enough. We can only hope that Philips stays with his newfound maturity, because he owes it to his talents as a filmmaker. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 27 August 2016

Asterix and Obelix: Mansion of the Gods (2016)

Dir.: Louis Clichy, Alexandre Astier | Voices of Roger Carel, Laurent Lafitte, Alain Chabat

Animation 3D; based on the comic book of the same title by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo from 1971

France/Belgium 2014, 85 min.

After some sadly failed attempts at live-action, our Gallic heroes re-emerge as the original cartoon figures: this time in 3D and with lively CGI action.

Beastly Caesar plots in Rome (again) the downfall of the last village in Gaul not under his control. This time he wants to undermine the spirit of the villagers by building huge luxury mansions around their village and populating them with Romans, who soon find the villagers quaint and since everything is so much cheaper than in the capital of the empire, trade breaks down the barriers. But the development goes both ways: the villagers find the apartments appealing and only a pact between the exploited black slaves, who build the mansions, and Asterix and the druid Getafix (with the usual physical assistance of Obelix) avoid the villagers losing their independence.

MANSION OF THE GODS falls between two stools: whilst the action will keep younger audiences occupied, the rather complex plot with its very adult connotations is rather secondary to the main target audience. This is hardly unique: most modern animation classics are equally loved by adults – not only parents – and the younger audience. But in this specific case, the underlying ideologies are so complex that they might detract from the enjoyment for anyone not interested in labour laws, equality and racial harmony. The merits of CGI and 3D have ben endlessly discussed, and after watching MANSION OF THE GODS the 3D feels like a gimmick, adding nothing to the original. Certainly, CGI improves the action-orientated sequences, but it also somehow adds a soulless quality – our eyes are, after all, meant to watch analogue images, not digital ones.

That said, diehard fans of the original cartoons will no doubt lap this up, particularly those who devoured the original adventures back in the day. AS

NOW OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE

Where is Rocky II (2016) | Locarno International Film Festival 2016

Director: Pierre Bismuth

With: Ed Rushca, Michael Scott, DV DeVincentis, Anthony Peckham, Mike White

97min | Doc | US

Well known artist Ed Ruscha made an unusual piece of art in 1979 that is surrounded in enigma. He called it Rocky II for several reasons: firstly after the famous film by Sylvester Stallone, and secondly because his first attempt was a miserable failure – it got eaten by animals. The point here is how a seemingly ordinary or even mildly bizarre state of events can be easily and simply transformed into an amusing suspense thriller when it comes to Hollywood, given the right treatment.

But back to the mystery artwork; Fashioned out of wire covered by a fibreglass resin, it emerges in filmed footage that the successful boulder-like sculpture was hidden somewhere in the Mojave desert by the media-shy Rushca, who cannot remember where possibly due to being high at the time. Meanwhile his friend, the screenwriter and documentarian Pierre Bismuth (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is made aware of the existence of the piece and hires a former detective, Michael Scott (who becomes more and more irritated as he’s thwarted) to investigate the missing sculpture by following clues and contacting former colleagues of the artist, leading to this fascinating film which unfolds as Where is Rocky II. The unexpected humour largely springs from Bismuth’s fellow collaborators on the project, the screenwriters DV DeVincentis (Grosse Point Blank, currently working on The Bengali Detective) and Anthony Peckham (Invictus) who create a fiction in parallel narrative to the doc, cleverly editing it and setting it to a classicly ominous and suspenseful score, with hilarious input from Mike White (Nacho Libre).

As we are constantly reminded, truth is stranger than fiction, and the real account of events is far more engaging than the fictional one. Thus Where is Rocky II works simultaneously as a satisfying detective-style documentary; a magnificently shot chase movie and a fascinating lesson in how to make a thriller. Brilliant. MT

The film was presented in Locarno by Art Basel | LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 3-13 AUGUST 2016

 

Wiener Dog (2016)

Director: Todd Solondz

Cast: Greta Gerwig, Julie Delpy, Charlie Tahan, Ellen Burstyn, Danny DeVito, Zosia Mamet

90min | Comedy | US

Todd Solondz is often seen as a divisive figure in the world of filmmaking where his dark comedies are often uncomfortable to watch despite their mordant humour and edgy subjects. His eighth feature, the intriguingly titled Wiener-Dog is no exception. For those of us who may wonder at this canine breed, it is a dachshund or more commonly known as the sausage dog. And this one is billed as no ordinary pet who ‘changes or inspires’ the lives of its various owners, who will possibly enrage you but certainly leave you dreadfully sad.

WIENER-DOG takes the form of a series of four vignettes featuring the dog in question whose peripatetic life leads him to a selection of owners – and not all appear to be animal lovers. We first meet the female dachshund languishing in a cage in a dog’s home, where her little paws are trying to find a comfortable spot to settle down. Bought by the father of a boy to help him on remission from cancer (Keaton Nigel Cooke), his mother Dina (Julie Delpy) takes an instant dislike to the pooch, emerging from her own childhood pet who was ‘raped’ by a dog called Mohammed, and has him speedily put down.

But Greta Gerwig’s veterinary nurse Dawn Wiener (the grown-up version of the shy girl in Welcome to the Dollhouse) takes pity on Wiener-Dog and nurses her back to life before embarking on a weird weekend with an ex-classmate she meets while shopping. Leaving the pup with her friend’s Down Syndrome brother and his wife, Wiener-Dog ends up with Danny DeVito’s professor of film studies who is despairing of his lacklustre students. Clearly Solondz brings his personal feelings into this caustic satire: he dislikes dogs, and doesn’t think much of modern day Hollywood or even men called Mohammed…go figure.

But the closing chapter really takes the dog biscuit when it comes to cruelty, in an hilarious segment involving a bitter old woman (a superb Ellen Burstyn) who re-names the dog ‘Cancer’ and reminisces over her mispent youth. Beautifully filmed by award-winning DoP Ed Lachman (Carol) WIENER-DOG is an acquired taste – enjoyable enough but with an ending that is the worst nightmare for any self-respecting dog lover. You have been warned. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | REVIEWED AT SUNDANCE LONDON | PROGRAMME

 

Chevalier (2015) | Best Film Award | London Film Festival 2015

Director: Athina Rachel Tsangari

99min | Comedy Drama  | Greek with subtitles

If you didn’t get the humour in Athina Rachel Tsangari’s first Weird Wave outing Attenberg, you’re unlikely to appreciate the subtlety of her indie follow-up, CHEVALIER, voted Best Film at the London Film Festival this year, by a jury whose president, Pawel Pawlikowski, took the trophy last year for IDA, and won the foreign language Oscar.

A tribute to male competitiveness, CHEVALIER is a sparky and sophisticated affair that takes place on a wintry out-of-season yacht trip where six well-off men attempt to get ‘one up’ on each other over a pivotal few days on the Aegean. The one-upmanship revolves around a game. And the game is called ‘Chevalier’, named after the signet ring worn by French noblemen. By the end of the voyage, the winner of the game will get to wear the so-called Chevalier ring on his little finger, although the narrative gradually sails into more eclectic waters.

Tsangari’s usual collaborator Yorgos Lanthimos was away making The Lobster,  but she works again with their co-writer Efthimis Filippou in a narrative that concentrates on male dominance rather than female submission, as was the case in Attenberg. The men on board all vary in age, attractiveness and kudos. ‘The Doctor” (Yorgos Kentros) is clearly the most distinguished and urbane of the motley crew, he is also the owner of the critical ring. The youngest and least bankable is the pudgy Dimitris (Makis Papdimitriou) who has been brought along by his older brother, Yannis (Yorgos Pirpassopoulos) who threatens to reveal his fear of sleeping alone if he misbehaves. Yannis also happens to be the Doctor’s son-in-law, so is on his best behaviour; the suave Christos (Sakis Rouvas) is the best looking. Josef Nikolaou (Vangelis Mourikis) and Yorgos (Panos Koronis, from Before Midnight) are long-term colleagues.

Once holed-up ‘at leisure’ in the yacht with diving trips and boozy lunches to enjoy, certain patterns of behaviour start to emerge in the name of the game. The men spar and vy for superiority indulging in playful and, at times, more more ribald banter that occasionally verges on the hilarious, particularly when Dimitris does an on-deck rendition of Minnie Ripperton’s “Lovin You`’ complete with girlie high-pitched voice. The ultimate aim here is to establish who is the best at everything rather than in one thing in particular – ‘primus inter pares’ style. Challenges also include who is the ‘most loved’ on the home front – requiring the men to engage in hands-free phone calls in front of the others. There is even an ‘erection contest’ in this  male-bonding (aka  competitiveness) routine. The winner is thankfully never revealed.

For a film that takes place by the sea, the colour palette is refreshingly devoid of azure blues and dazzling turquoise: instead Tsangari has chosen a chic taupe, teal and gunmetal aesthetic which compliments this recherché masculine set-to. D.oP Thimios Bakatatakis does his best to frame and photograph within the claustrophobic confines of tight spaces to great effect, given the equally tight budget. And in the end, the individual tasks are not taken that seriously; they are simply representative of the male ego and what it is prepared to undergo and tolerate within the parameters of the game, however outlandish or absurd. At times, there are echoes here of Eddie Waring’s “It’s a Knockout”. Spot Greece’s answer to Keith Chegwin and you’ll enter the spirit of this clever satire. MT

CHEVALIER WON A SPECIAL MENTION BY THE JURY AT SARAJEVO FILM FESTIVAL 2015

 

K-Shop (2016)

Director: Dan Pringle

Cast: Ziad Abaza, Recce Noi, Scot Williams

UK 2016, 115 min.

Dan Pringle’s confused but stylish K-SHOP has something of the modern day Sweeny Todd about it. Certainly not for the faint hearted: blood and gore dominate in repetitive sequences along with disgusting bodily functions showing Pringle to be self indulgent in a debut that grimly outstays its welcome, and some. But far more questionable is Pringle’s treatment of serious issues such as racism and vandalism with the over-use of  over-the-top, sensationalised aesthetics to hammer home his point – quite literally. Performance-wise there is a particularly strong turn by Abaza, but K-Shop is somehow too muddled and contradictory to be taken seriously.

Briefly, the plot centres on Salah (Abaza), a Middle Eastern political science student who is shocked when his Kebab shop owning father dies at the hand of hooligans. Taking over the joint, he soon falls foul of late night revellers who raise hell one night, racially insulting Salah into the bargain. But when a rowdy victim falls into a pan of chip fat, Salah decides to take the law into his own hands with disastrous consequences for the troublemakers, but positive feedback from his customers. As they say on TV: best not to try this out at home. That said, K-SHOP is the kind of brutal fare that will go down very well at Fright Fest.

OPENS ON 22 JULY 2016

Men & Chicken (2015)

Writer| Director: Anders Thomas Jensen

Cast: David Dencik, Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kass, Søren Malling, Nicolas Bro,

Fantasy | Comedy | Horror

Anders Thomas Jensen is best known for strong storytelling and screenwriting both in his native Denmark (Brothers | In a Better World) and the UK (The Duchess | Love is All You Need). His latest film is almost impossible to define: a lyrical blend of tragicomedy, fantasy and horror with dynamic performances from the best of Denmark’s acting talent all go to make this film an unforgettable experience in tonal weirdness. CHICKEN & MEN is best described as a grotesque Danish version of the BBC’s League of Gentlemen with undertones of Cold Comfort Farm. 

Family dysfunction is at the core of a story set in the glorious island seascapes of Ork (the Danish isle of Fyn) where three retarded and cleft-paletted half-brothers (Franz (Soren Malling), Gregor (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Josef (Nicolas Bro) occupy the rambling stately ruins of a manor house (Beelitz, Brandenburg Germany) overrun with a range of hybrid farm animals (some alive, some preserved in formaldehyde) adding a twist of quirkiness to its Gothic splendour. The film opens as two other ‘brothers’ Elias and Gabriel (Mikkelsen and Dencik) arrive on the estate having found out from their dying adoptive father, that their birth father, an eccentric scientist, is still living in the stately pile.

From this bizarre narrative, a strangely philosophical parable emerges which is by turns hilarious, macabre, romantic and even tender in its fairytale pretensions. Mads Mikkelsen swaps his signature sexual allure for one of sad sexual disfunction in a role that is gruesome and at times even demeaning: rocking brassy curls and a lopsided grin, his strange affliction forces him to wank involuntarily every time he comes into contact with a woman. The ‘maguffin’ here is a well-used role of loo paper. Each character gives a nunaced interpretation of madness and physical deformity that keeps us entertained and intrigued in disbelief and horror. At the end Gabriel is the brain behind the brothers delivering the philosophical thread that weaves the story together giving it a meaningful integrity. Bak and Kaas’ sweepingly romantic score elevates the film in a poetic way and combined with Sebastian Blenkov’s wildly bucolic cinematography MEN & CHICKEN is both entertaining and memorable whether you buy into its grotesque humour or not.MT

SCREENING DURING THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 7 – 18 OCTOBER 2015

Melvin and Howard (1980) home ent release

Director: Jonathan Demme

Cast: Paul Le Mat, Mary Steenburgen, Pamela Reed, Jason Robards

95min | drama |USA .

A gentle comedy about the American Dream, Jonathan Demme’s 1980 portrait of the affable Melvin Dummar and his brief encounter with tycoon Howard Hughes, his polar opposite, is a reminder of a Hollywood long gone, and more’s the pity.

On a night in 1968, gas station attendant Melvin Dummar (Le Mat) leaves his vehicle on Highway 95 to relieve himself in the Nevadan desert, where he finds an elderly injured man besides his motor cycle. Melvin wants to take the man to hospital, but he asks to be driven to Las Vegas instead. On the way they chum up, singing Bye Bye Blackbird before the enigmatic stranger admits to being Howard Hughes (1905-1976), the reclusive multi-millionaire. Hughes (Robards) vanishes into a desert inn but never forgets his meeting with the ordinary guy who goes on to drive his wife Lynda (Steenburgen) mad with his hair-brained schemes. Demme coaxes great performances from his cast in this feel good slice of nostalgic fun that has a touch of the Preston Sturges about it and is filmed with loving care by Hollywood veteran DoP Tak Fujimoto (Badlands) picturing small time America as a fairy story, which might even have been true! AS

OUT ON DVD COURTESY OF SIMPLY MEDIA FROM 4 JULY 2016

Love & Friendship (2016)

Writer|Director: Whit Stillman   Novella: Jane Austen

Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Justin Edwards, Tom Bennett, Morfydd Clark, Jemma Redgrave, James Fleet, Stephen Fry, Conor Lambert, Jenn Murray

92min | Drama | US

Kate Beckinsale plays the quintessential English coquette in Whit Stillman’s witty screen adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. Tripping lightly and astringently through this little-known and long-unpublished epistolary novella, Beckinsale is joined by a caustic cast of sterling British acting talent in the shape of Stephen Fry, Jemma Redgrave and Tom Bennett with transatlantic twists from Chloë Sevigny and Emma Greenwell.

And this is no staid period drama but a spritely, often hilarious, comedy of manners that follows the newly widowed machiavellian adventurist, Lady Susan Vernon, through a risqué game of shrewd social ritual to redemption in the arms of a malleable replacement suitor. With his well-known comedies Last Days of Disco and Metropolitan, Stillman has proved to be a dab hand at distilling delicious drama from urbane society. And Kate Beckinsale is at her best yet, back in a literary role that she handles with delicious aplomb (occasionally echoing the TV mannerisms of Nigella Lawson) and hopefully ushering in a return to a genre she does best.

The story opens with Lady Susan on the verge of leaving the household of “a divinely attractive” but irritatingly married Lord Manwaring, introduced by caption but ever to remain silent on screen,  glowering with lustful intent in a walk-on part. In order to clear the path for her indiscretions in the homes of suitable friends and connections, Susan has despatched her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) to finishing school in London, while she plots her next incursion into her late husband’s family, alighting on the coltish charms of a young in-law, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel).

Her partner in crime in these adventures is one Alicia Johnson (a discreet Chloe Sevigny, her sidekick from Last Days) who is married to Stephen Fry’s staid statesman who is, inconveniently, also the guardian of Lord Manwaring’s wittering wife Lady Lucy (Jenn Murray).

The enjoyable thing about LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is that it leaves you wanting more of its delightful wit and charm. From the main performances to the small cameos – particularly that of Tom Bennett as the hilarious Sir James Martin, in the jaunty style of a dumbed-down Robert Peston. Lady Susan is the ultimate ‘mistress of the put-down’ who cunningly moves between Xavier Samuel’s tousled toyboy DeCourcy and the subtle stability of Sir James with the consummate skill of Molière’s Célimène or Choderlos de Laclos’ Marquise de Merteuil – with lines like “Facts are horrid things” showing that she is woman who won’t ever countenance defeat in this tightly-plotted marvel and wittiest drama of the year – so far. MT

OUT ON FRIDAY 27 MAY 2016

 

 

The Intervention (2016)

Director | Writer: Clea DuVall

Cast: Clea DuVall, Melanie Lynskey, Natasha Lyonne, Vincent Piazza, Jason Ritter, Ben Schwartz, Alia Shawkat, Cobie Smulders

90min | Comedy | UK

Actress turned filmmaker Clea DuVall’s debut, a gender-bending reunion comedy, is well-acted and watchable enough despite its trite take on relationships of the sexual kind. It follows a weekend get-together for a group of old timers who meet up in a glorious colonial country house where they end up judging each other with drastic consequences. THE INTERVENTION never really leaves the drawing board, despite some moments of insight: navel-gazing, self-analysis – call it what you will – it’s always a mistake to look at relationships from the outside in – as this group of unappealing characters soon find out but not always to their detriment. Does DuVall really think she’s being edgy or clever with her sexual shenanigans in the 21st century? Judging by THE INTERVENTION the answer is would appear to be ‘yes’.

The group of late thirty somethings is lead by DuVall herself who invites everyone to her Ralph Lauren-style Savannah estate where her unsmiling sister Ruby (Cobie Smulders) and bed-dodger husband Peter (Vincent Piazza) are encouraged – in a bizarre showdown – to seek a divorce. The passive aggressive initiator of this ‘group’ decision is Annie (Melanie Lynskey) who is having problems with her putative marriage to non-person Matt (Jason Ritter). Widower Jack (Ben Schwartz) who is dating 22 year-old Lola (Alia Shawkat), are also the target of much bitchiness but Lola turns out to be the saving grace.

From the get-go this premise is a non-starter but easy enough on the eye – the interiors and countryside providing most of the interest – along with mouthwatering food-porn scenes and lashings of ice cold liquor. Drunken accusations fly amid bouts of charades whereafter the couples retire for scenes of a sexual nature (why oh why do filmmakers dwell on endless boring sex scenes in a comedy?).

The upshot here is a mundane and moderately amusing drama where unattractive characters reveal nothing of consequence. MT

SUNDANCE LONDON | FULL PROGRAMME HERE

 

Other People (2016)

Writer/Director: Chris Kelly

Cast: Molly Shannon, Jesse Plemons, Bradley Whitford, June Squibb, Paul Dooley

90min | Comedy Drama | US

Molly Shannon and Jesse Plemons are the standouts in this comic but often uneven portrait of a family united by terminal illness. Chris Kelly’s directorial debut lays its cards on the table early on as Plemons’ gay writer David returns from New York to be with his mother in her final months in Sacramento, California. Undergoing chemo naturally brings out the worst physically and mentally for Joanne who is happily married to Norman (Bradley Whitford) a father who perversely refuses to accept his son’s sexuality. Sometimes the nature of Shannon’s suffering verges on embarrassing moments that fail to be funny and would be better off left in the dark. But Plemons and Shannon hold the comedy together as do her often hilarious parents played by June Squibb and Paul Dooley. The other characters are merely window-dressing in this often overfamiliar treatment of terminal illness, that follows in the footsteps of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl in an approach that often lacks dignity.

The opening scene is vaguely comic in describing other peoples’ crass and often inappropriate handling of death and dread disease but whether this is a subject for comic treatment is debatable. From that momen the film flashes back to the previous year marking the bittersweet homecoming of 29 year old David who is suffering a break-up and a rejection in his writing career. Joanne decides to give up chemo after some fairly explicit scenes of trauma and the two become closer in their shared tragedy. At one point there is a crude dance scene from a gay kid (J J Totah from Glee) who is totally at home with his sexuality as compared to David who is painfully shy and withdrawn about his.

Kelly’s well-crafted debut is based on his own experiences and manages some moments of authernticity and poignance amid the horror of bodily meltdown that will resonate with anyone who has experienced a life-changing condition. MT

SUNDANCE LONDON | PROGRAMME HERE

 

 

Truman (2015)

Director: Cesc Gay   Writer: Cesc Gay, Tomas Aragay

Cast: Ricardo Darin, Javier Camara, Dolores Fonzi, Troilo (the dog)

108min | Comedy Drama | Spain

This warm-hearted and sensitive ‘buddy movie’ is told with a gentle humour and frankness that will resonate with those familiar with final days of friends or parents who have reached the end of their time together. TRUMAN is a character driven arthouse drama which features two strong performances from Ricardo Darin as Julian, a slightly passive aggressive Spanish actor who is on his way out, and his laid back and supportive friend Tomas who makes a surprise visit from Canada, to be with him. Essentially a two-hander, TRUMAN enjoyably sidesteps sentimentality opting for an honest and deadpan approach but it also deals with the thorny themes that can surface when life and friendship reaches the end of the road.

In Madrid, Julian (Ricardo Darin) is dying of lung cancer and has decided to put his affairs in order, gradually saying his goodbyes as honestly as he can to his friends and colleagues. On the suggestion of his sister Paula (Dolores Fonzi) his best friend Tomas (Javier Camara) pays him a surprise visit from his home in Canada but rather than wallowing in self-pity, Tomas finds his old pal engaging in displacement activities, and more concerned with the re-homing and emotional welfare of his dog Truman (Troilo) than with his with own chemo treatment, which he has decided to terminate.

The two settle into an agreeable rhythm where Tomas accompanies Julian to his old haunts as he ties up loose ends. It’s not all plain sailing here as ructions do develop but are swiftly smoothed over in the best of humour. In one such scene, Julian approaches a couple of colleagues he sees in a local restaurant, pretending not to notice him – clearly they feel unsure and uncomfortable with the Julian’s situation – and Julian flags this up with dignity and aplomb. And it is these kind of touches that make the film feel authentic and genuine engaging rather than mawkish or morbid.

Insightfully written and beautifully acted by its accomplished Spanish cast, what really makes TRUMAN special is the impressively subtle take from Ricardo Darin, who breezes through every scene with a wry and self-effacing candidness that is perfect for a film that seeks to avoid emotionalism but ends up with some incredibly moving moments accompanied by soulfully scenic visuals of Madrid and Amsterdam (where they visit Julian’s son), and a suitably atmospheric score that somehow feels just right.

The only character that feels out of context and is that of Paula, who’s has an awkward rapport with Tomas from a past involvement and puts a spanner in the works in the final scenes that feels forced and inappropriate in the scheme of it all.

Full of philosophy, TRUMAN explores the suffering behind bereavement with a dark humour that makes this drama enjoyable and full of subtle charm.

OUT ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 6 May 2016

Funny Face (1956) | Blu-ray release

imagesDirector: Stanley Donen, Writer: Leonard Gershe, Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire | 103min | Romantic Musical | US

There’s much to enjoy in Stanley Donen’s joyful FUNNY FACE. The music and lyrics are by George and Ira Gershwin. The dancing is exhilarating – Fred Astaire’s fabulous technique makes for poetry – and Audrey Hepburn displays her ballet school training with huge confidence. There’s even downright sassy Kay Thompson zippy contribution to the dancing scenes.

Donen employs rhythmically precise editing techniques: The “Bonjour Paree!” montage turning into a split screen celebration of Paris; and masterly camerawork with Audrey Hepburn’s number “How Long Has this Been Going On” combining singing, acting, lighting, set design and overall balletic energy that’s five minutes of really great cinema.
Yet it’s the colour photography of Funny Face that makes Donen’s film so outstanding. In Joseph Andrew Casper’s book ‘Stanley Donen’ (1983) he concludes that throughout FUNNY FACE, “the film colour danced to tell a story.” For me this dancing narrative skilfully uses colour to psychologise character and satirise its subject matter – the fashion world and Parisian beatnik existentialism.

Take the film’s opening number “Think Pink” with its magazine editor (Kay Thompson) striding towards doors of different colours, seeking the right colour for that month’s issue. This is both a satire and homage to the 50’s women’s fashion magazine. The yellow and lime of Audrey Hepburn’s waved hat in her bookshop scene suggests a deep need for romance, Hepburn and Astaire’s flirtatious duet in the red filtered photographer’s darkroom, the red and green spotlights of the night club episodes and the abrupt freeze of model photography images against Parisian landmarks. All push the story forward, making me think that Jacques Demy’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg not only absorbed the colour palette of MGM musicals but is Donen’s Paramount achievement.

“Colour is fundamental to fashion photography, and therefore to Funny Face, where, besides being both the chief carrier for movement within and between shots and a cutting principle, it is choreographed as well”: that is Joseph Andrew Casper being spot on again. Of course a film is not just about remarkable photography, the storyline is crucial. Admittedly in romantic musicals we can accept a simpler story. If there is a criticism of FUNNY FACE it’s the failure to fully convince us of the development of Jo Stockton’s (Audrey Hepburn) character. You could say that the script fails to choreograph her transition from book shop assistant/ philosophy student to fashion model icon with adequate scenes. Despite her misgivings (she agrees to it all, so as to travel to Paris and meet the leader of the Emphaticalism movement) her resistance to the fashion crowd is not strong enough. And her need to be swept up into a romance with the much older photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) is a bit underwritten in the film.

Still it is a musical, and you principally come for the singing and dancing. FUNNY FACE gives you that in abundance with great elegance and charm. And if you are only an Audrey Hepburn fan, and could watch her in anything, then for me she’s never been more captivating than she is here. Alan Price

NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY

Golden Years (2016)

Director: John Miller   Script: John Miller, Nick Knowles, Jeremy Sheldon

Cast: Philip Davis, Bernard Hill, Simon Callow, Una Stubbs, Virginia McKenna, Sue Johnston, Alun Armstrong

96min | Comedy Drama | UK

GOLDEN YEARS may have slim appeal to a certain sector of the community who it cynically pictures long-retired and living on the outskirts of otherwise decent such as Wigan or Uttoxeter. Like a Woolworth’s pick ‘n mix GOLDEN YEARS is certainly cheap and cheerful and full of artificial flavours, but even Woolworth’s eventually acquired cult status, a tribute unlikely to be given to this flaccid comedy. It features a talented cast of well-known British actors who do their best to flog what feels like a proverbial dead horse by its cretinous denouement. Philip Davis; Bernard Hill, Simon Callow, Virginia McKenna, Una Stubbs and Sue Johnston all do sterling work to bring a certain charisma to a vacuous 96 minutes of entertainment.

Not so the script. co-written by director John Miller, Jeremy Sheldon and DIY SOS frontman Nick Knowles, it trips lightly through a thousand cliches, suffering middle age spread and then sinking into oblivion by its flatulent finale. Billed as a crime caper, the implausible storyline re-works the theme of financial crisis where Bernard Hill’s Arthur finds himself without a pension and his wife Martha (a game and still resplendent Virginia McKenna) invalided and requiring expensive medical care. Their limited social life revolves round the local club which is threatened by closure due to a bid from the developers. Then Arthur discovers a get rich quick scheme; a cunning plan to rob High Street banks from the unlikely cover of an innocuous-looking caravan, financed by his first hawl of swagger, and parked nearby. Consoling himself that his Robin Hood approach to re-financing is somehow acceptable, due to general feeling of animosity towards the banking fraternity, he manages to spin things out until Martha wises up after an unfortunate incident, and the two decide to garner support from their friends for a final heist. These willing accomplices include metal worker Brian (Philip Davis), policeman Sid (Alun Armstrong) and rambunctious bore Royston (Simon Callow) -amongst others. Whether the film is intended to be tongue in cheek – or just seriously misjudges the mood of today’s more mature filmgoer – is unsure. But GOLDEN YEARS feels like a poor re-working of a Carry On film minus the laughs and the charm, and with moments so toe-curling, they will make you want to curl up and die. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM TUESDAY 29 April  – in over 108 Odeon Cinemas Nationwide, Scotland & Ireland from 29 April

69th Cannes Film Festival 2016 – preview

Banniere_horizontale_jaune

 

 

 

The 69th Cannes Film Festival presents its most ambitious and diverse selection yet with a Jury presided by Australian Director George Miller (Mad Max); Arnaud DESPLECHIN (Director, Writer – France); Kirsten DUNST; Valeria GOLINO; Mads MIKKELSEN; László NEMES (Director); Vanessa PARADIS; Katayoon SHAHABI (Producer – Iran); Donald SUTHERLAND (Actor – Canada).

Woody Allen’s glitzy festival opener CAFE SOCIETY, starring Kristen Stewart, hits the Croisette on May 11 for a ten day competition line-up with other Hollywood regulars such as Steven Spielberg with his screen version of Roald Dahl’s The BFG (out of competion), Sean Penn with THE LAST FACE starring Charlize Theron and George Clooney in Jodie Foster’s financial thriller MONEY MONSTER.

The American auteurs will also be there to celebrate: Jim Jarmusch with a double bill of GIMME DANGER, an in-depth music biopic with Iggy Pop and PATERSON starring an eclectic pairing of Golshifteh Farahani and Adam Driver and Jeff Nichols with his interracial drama LOVING, based on a polemical legal case that rocked America in the ’50s.

90Palme D’Or Veterans, Ken Loach, who celebrates his 80th birthday this year, will be back to cut through the glamour of the Croisette with some stark British social realism in I, DANIEL BLAKE and the Dardennes Brothers with THE UNKNOWN GIRL about a patient who refuses live-saving surgery and the doctor who sets out to investigate why.

Almodóvar’s JULIETA (right) has already opened in Spain to mixed reviews. His most ambitious film to date travels round Spain to tell a tale Hickcockian tale of motherhood and loss adapted from three interrelated short stories by Canadian author Alice Munro from her collection Runaway.

This year Britain has not one but two films in competition: Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank) brings AMERICAN HONEY, that follows a group of teenage workers across America starring Shia LaBoeuf and newcomer Sasha Lane.

In 2014 Xavier Dolan transfixed male audiences with his award-winning saga of sons and mothers: Mommy. Never to be left out of the fun, the 27-year old Canadian maverick is back with two of France’s most happening stars Marion Cotillard and Lea Seydoux in a film that sounds as exciting as his track record: IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD

louteFrance is the best represented country but their well-known directors are inventively exploring different genres this year: Bruno Dumont brings an old-fashioned Normandy-set seaside comedy starring Juliette Binoche and Fabrice Luchini MA LOUTE, (left) in contrast to his usual menacing dramas. Alain Guiraudie, who shocked and delighted with his gay thriller The Stranger by the Lake, this year brings a more mainstream drama RESTER VERTICAL. After Cannes 2014 success with Clouds of Sils Maria, Kristen Stewart also leads in arthouse filmmaker Olivier Assayas’ PERSONAL SHOPPER: a ghost story set in Paris – offering her two goes on the Red Carpet. Marion Cotillard also stars in Nicole Garcia’s literary screen adaptation MAL DE PIERRES, which has echoes of the classic Madame Bovary and follows a wilful married woman who falls for another man. Let’s see if she can add a twist of magic to this regular plotline.

Paul Verhoeven is a director best known for Basic Instinct and Showgirls. His latest drama ELLE stars the doyenne of Cannes Isabelle Huppert in a drama whose plotline sounds not dissimilar to Catherine Breillat’s 2013 film Abuse of Weakness but her co-star here is Christophe Lambert of Highlander fame.

neonDanish director Nicolas Winding Refn last dipped his toe in the Riviera rave-up with the spectacular Only God Forgives in 2013. The fabulous thriller starred Kristen Scott Thomas in a standout role but the film had a mixed reception. He’s back with THE NEON DEMON about a model who arrives in LA and discovers vampire and cannibals at play in the city’s fashion world.

The Romanians will there in force with Cristi Puiu’s family saga SIERANAVADA and Palme D’Or winner Cristian Mungiu brings another family-themed drama entitled BACALAUREAT. Germany is also back after a long break on the Croisette, this year in competition with Maren Ade’s intriguingly entitled TONI ERDMANN, that concerns a troubled father and daughter reunion.

Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook has reimagined Sarah Waters’ popular Victorian novel Fingersmith into modern day Korea in HANDMAIDEN

Philippino filmmaker Brillante Mendoza once rocked the Croisette with his thriller Kinatay which never got a release in Britain, possibly due to its shocking violence. Last year he was awarded Special Mention by the Ecumenical Jury for his sensitive portrayal of Philippino suffering for his feature Taklub. This year he’s back with with MA’ ROSA a drama in Tagalog. At last but not least, Brazilian director Kleber Mendonca Filho, best known for his drama Neighbouring Sounds, brings another drama about flat life to Cannes: AQUARIUS is the story of critic and last remaining resident of an Art Deco building acquired by the developers. Determined not to leave until her death, sounds like this is going to be an intriguing and tense study about who we are and where we belong in time. MT

THE 69TH CANNES INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 11 – 22 MAY 2016 

The Brand New Testament (2015)

Director: Jaco Van Dormael

Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Pili Groyne, Benoit Poelvoorde, Francois Damiens, Yolande Moreau, Laura Verlinden

113min  Comedy fantasy  Belgium

Belgian cult director Jaco Van Dormael’s absurdist imagined dramady reinvents God as ‘Mr Angry from Brusssels’; a miserable bully who focuses his frustrations on his family and humanity. And while his little daughter (Ea) tries to save the world, his doltish wife quietly embroiders in the background occasionally dusting down a statue their only son JC.

THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT buzzes with inventive energy; every scene is stuffed with surrealism: giraffes roam the empty streets of Brussels while birds flutter in formation and Ea (a charming debut turn for Pili Groyne) walks on the waters of the Zenne river ). In this crazy cornucopia of cinematic delights, pop-philosopher Van Dormael also irreverently restyles the New Testament: the Almighty wreaks havoc on the natural world, crashing planes and setting fire to all and sundry, and mischievously casts Catherine Deneuve as one of 18 Apostles who leaves her husband for a gorilla.

To teach her abusive father a lesson, Ea secretly breaks into his private office to hack his computer, sending a catastrophic series of “DeathLeaks” where everyone receives a text detailing the precise time of their demise. This game-changer unleashes havoc on the human race, allowing Van Dormael to tackle themes of fate and free will in a contempo take on Chaucer’s “Knight’s Tale”. Taking things further, God (the father) realises that he no longer calls the shots, causing Ea to leave home to find support from a local tramp who helps her recruit six new Apostles. These are all characters who are afflicted in some way, and it is here that Van Dormael’s wackiness descends into tedious torpor – as none of them actually adds much to the gospel narrative. The first is Aurelie (Laura Verlinden) a sad soul who has lost her arm; Killer (François Damiens) so named for his sociopathic tendencies; Deneuve as a bored and neglected wife – who finds contentment with her Gorilla and finally Willy, a sparky little boy with a life-limiting illness, whose last wish is to become a girl. God’s wife (Yolande Moreau) saves the day in the final act where she adds homespun joy to the world with some delightful imagery from cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne. The message here is possibly that women just want a caring and peaceful life with someone to love them while men are the ultimate power seekers.

Is it funny? Not in a laugh out loud way; but there’s so much verve and energy here and a natural ease that makes THE NEW TESTAMENT visually entertaining and enjoyable if you gloss over the rather silly storyline. Poelvoorde and Groyne are on top form, carrying the caper through to its carefree climax with relish and aplomb. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 15 APRIL 2016

 

The Ninth Configuration (1979)

Director.: William Peter Blatty

Cast: Stacy Keach, Scott Wilson, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders

USA 1979 | Fantasy Drama | 117 min.

“I’ve been a lot of places but I think I’ve always known, that I’ll always come back to San Antone”: thus starts author turned filmmaker William Peter Blatty’s THE NINTH CONFIGURATION. Mainly renowned for three novels turned into mainstream movies: Twinkle, twinkle ‘Killer’ Kane (filmed as The Ninth Configuration directed, written and produced by the author); The Exorcist, filmed under the same title by William Friedkin and ‘Legion’, directed for the screen by Blatty himself as Exorcist III. This strange and quirky horror drama, has some ‘laugh out loud’ moments and is so weird it’s certainly worth a watch as a cult outing of the most bizarre (it includes such choice lines as “far too numerous to enumerate”; “the Man in the Moon tried to fuck my sister” and “You wouldn’t know the Devil from Bette Davis”).

Situated in a Gothic castle in the Pacific North West of the USA (along the lines of the one in Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers with the same kind of zany humour), Center 18, a Military Psychiatric Establishment, is run by Hudson Kane (Keach), who delivers his lines with deadpan nonchalence. He is tasked with to finding out if the inmates are simulating their illnesses or are truly insane. Capt. Cutshaw (a brilliantly perverse Scott Wilson) has adapted the whole works of Shakespeare for dogs (he has a Hungarian Vizsla), and Lt. Frankie Reno (Miller) is an astronaut, who is obsessed with the existence of God, asking Kane to show him a single act of self-sacrifice, to prove His existence. The medical office, Col. Richard Fell (Ed Flanders) finds out that Kane has murderous phantasies and declares him insane.

When a new inmate Gilman arrives, he points out that Hudson Kane is in fact the notorious Marine Killer Kane. Dr. Fell admits that he is Kane’s brother Hudson and that the killer, Vincent, has taken his personality to make up for his crimes, becoming a healer like his brother. All this was known to the authorities who treated Killer Kane like a laboratory rat in an experiment, leaving Dr. Fell in charge. Soon afterward Cutshaw escapes and in a fight with bikers Kane saves his life giving him the example of self-sacrifice and the proof of the existence of God.

Any film with lines like “You remind me of Vincent van Gogh – either that or a lark in wheat field” (Fell to Kane), is asking for a comparison to a Max Brothers comedy, but there are also strains of Blazing Saddles here. This impression is underlined by the long discussion between Cutshaw and Reno about Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Fuller’s Shock Corridor and Lynch’s Twin Peaks are also in the mix: Blatty directs as if he’s piecing together excerpts from the most outrageous films in history. His religious beliefs are no obstacle to him: he creates Hell on Earth, and gives the most unrewarding character a chance in order to show the astronaut a way to God.

British D0P Gerry Fisher (Highlander) is adept at mixing all genres in stunning images – while the ‘plot’ is more of a hindrance to the enjoyment of script; his is an “all or nothing” approach to filmmaking and the audience will either love it or hate it. A true Marmite film; in spirit and in humour. AS

THE NINTH CONFIGURATION IS OUT ON BLU-RAY, DVD, DOWNLOAD AND ON DEMAND ON 25 APRIL 2016

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2015)

Director: Kirk Jones

Cast: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin, Elena Kampouris

94min | USA | Comedy Drama.

British director Kirk Jones made his name with a string of watchable comedy dramas such as Nanny McPhee and Everybody’s Fine. In MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2, he joins forces with writer Nia Vardalos, who carries the story forward from the original film, directed by Joel Zwick. With the same verve and the same cast as Part One, Kirk again conjures up the ebulliently loving and often overbearing nature of these family-oriented Mediterraneans.

Not much has changed for Toula (Vardalos) since she got married to Ian (Corbett) – if possible, things have got worse. Not only is she trying to motivate their 17-year old daughter Paris (Kampouris) to study at NW University in Chicago, so she can keep her at home; but her parents Gus (Constantine) and Maria (Kazan) have found out that they were not technically married in the first place and now want to be marry for real – in a big way. Toula and Ian’s marriage is on life support, as they rarely see each other: poor Toula is still slogging it out at her parent’s restaurant ‘Dancing Zorba’s’. All generations of the Portocalos clan live in three houses next to each other. Privacy is impossible and apart from everyone living on top of each other, hordes of relatives are likely descend at any moment on their unsuspecting in-laws. This status quo is fine for most of the elder generation, but Toula and Ian’s love life is often conducted in their own driveway – with the whole family as inadvertent voyeurs. Aunt Voula (Martin) always knows best and wants to be in charge of the wedding preparations but Toula does all the real work while her grandmother blithely bets the family finances away on her mobile. Gus torments everybody with his purported blood line to Alexander the Great and Gus and Maria’s wedding plans continually threaten to go off the rails.

Portocalos’ family is shown larger than life: faults and idiosyncrasies are highlighted, nobody is spared. The men in the family  (apart from a weak Ian) are shown as overgrown babies, relying on their wives to get them trough life. But Vardalos never denounces her characters, showing them simply as frightened emigrants, trying to recreate the lifestyle they left behind in their beloved homeland. Emotions may be cloying at times, but they are enduring; relationships are not discarded in the face of difficulty. DoP Jim Denault expresses the histrionics in bold primary colours using long panning shots to show the circus atmosphere of family life, where clowns often run the show. Vardolos is impressive as the heroine, tragic and comic by turns, and there is valiant support from a sterling support, particularly John Corbett as her husband, Ian. Although My big fat Greek Wedding 2 lacks the spontaneity of the original, it still stands as a humane exploration of old world values colliding with contemporary life in the USA. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Anomalisa (2015)

Writer| Director: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson

With the voices of: Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Thewlis, Tom Noonan

90min Animation | Comedy | US

Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) is joined by stop-motion specialist Duke Johnson for this gloomy but watchable dystopian tale, which raises the odd laugh in spite of its depressing outlook.

Michael Stone (Thewlis), a small celebrity and author of a Customer Service bestseller, lands in Cincinnati to speak at a congress. In the bland hotel Il Fregoli, he feels lonely and ‘phones his ex Bella, a woman whom he left abruptly 11 years ago. They meet in a bar and we are shocked to hear her speak with the voice of Tom Noonan. Michael tells her about his unhappy marriage and Bella runs off, frustrated. Back in the hotel, Michael still feels depressed so he knocks on a few doors and eventually meets Lisa (Lee), the only woman with a female voice. After much drinking, he seduces her and promises her the Earth. Disillusioned the next morning, he returns home to his wife Donna and his little son.

There something very intriguing about ANOMALISA despite its banal premise and is largely due to the fascination of the puppets. Endearing and rather cute, they have soft downy looking faces and move a round with a jerkiness that reminds us of the TV series ‘The Woodentops’. Sometimes the upper end of their faces sometimes becomes unhinged, so we can see the electronics of their brains. The women all look more or less the same and the individual male characteristics are not much more developed facially, although Michael’s intimate parts are fully formed. Everyone lives in a state of emotional regression and there are clearly anger management issues resulting from emotional stress of 21st century and talk in cliches picked up on TV or from advertising. Michael is a banal character who is disconnected from reality or the consequences of his actions: when he picks up a present for his son, he ‘overlooks’ that he is in a sex-toy shop, presenting his son on his return with an antique Japanese sex doll, which secretes sperm in the hand of the minor.

Kaufman is, as usual, very clever: The Fregoli syndrome is a psychiatric term for a paranoid development which allows the person afflicted to see all his attackers as one being. One of the causes of the condition is the long term use of anti-depressants. There are hilarious moments in Anomalisa, when Lisa sings a heartbreaking version of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cindy Lauper in Michael’s hotel room. But overall, Anomalisa suffers from a detached approach where the audience is not always sure if Kaufman is laughing at or about his protagonists. The puppets are stunning, but the whole experimental atmosphere feels too orchestrated and contrived. A maximal aesthetic effort contrasts with a rather lightweight and schematic narrative but worth seeing for its original look. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE 

Des nouvelles de la planète Mars (News from planet Mars) | Berlinale | Out of Competition

Director: Dominik Moll (Lemming, Harry, He’s Here to Help)

Cast:  François Damiens, Vincent Macaigne, Veerle Baetens, Jeanne Guittet, Tom Rivoire

France | Belgian | Drama | World premiere – Out of competiton

When Francois Damiens floats in from Space to his comfortable flat in Brussels, we immediately warm to his laid-back character: a philosophical, divorced dad and the star turn of Dominik Moll’s latest (but not weirdest) comedy feature.

As Philippe Mars he makes the best of his tedious life fathering two insolent kids and ocassionally watching his anchorwoman ex wife on the television. Good-natured in the extreme he’s the sort of guy who picks up the dogpoo left by wayward pooches and makes light of it. And when his work colleague accidentally chops his ear off with a meat cleaver, he’s also the sort who lets this colleague overstay his welcome in the spare room, after he breaks out of his mental hospital on the auspices of feeling uncomfortable amongst the other weirdos. But gradually it takes this sort of psychotic psychopath to bring Mars to his senses and say goodbye to his mediocre existence and realise: there’s more to life than this.

Sharply scripted by co-writer Gilles Marchand to highlight today’s more irritating aspects, this surreal and seriously hilarious Belgian French affair will go down well with audiences everywhere. Some poetic realist touches (his dead mum and dad are often beamed up in miniature, offering warm parental advice), and dream sequences where he floats in a spacesuit  add to upbeat absurdity of it all and show that Mars’ life is spiralling seriously out of control, as he rapidly becomes a doormat to all and sundry; including his sister and his unwelcome guest’s new girlfriend Chloe (Baetens), an animal activist who joins in the rampant abuse of his kindness.

Practically everyone in his Mars’ life has personality disorders, but Mars just tolerates them all good-naturedly, allowing them to exploit him at every turn: his precocious daughter Sarah (Jeanne Guittet) tells him to ‘get a life’, his son Gregoire (Tom Rivoire) turns vegetarian and barely congratulates him on his 49th birthday, his sister drops her dog off against his wishes and his boss (Julien Sibre) knows Philippe asks him to share his office with troubled misfit Jerome (Vincent Macaigne/Eden), which leads to the ear incident (he carries the meat cleaver to ‘calm him’ but clearly this fails to work.). And as a final indignity he’s forced to pussyfoot around the courting couple of Peta-style activists in his own home. But when these animal lovers announce they are planning to blow up a nearby poultry-processing plant, Mars puts his foot down.

Moll’s dramady soon descends into a delicious dark comedy with cartoonish moments as the entire crew, including the downstairs neighbour (who used to be Valerie Giscard d’Estaing’s chauffeur), head off to boycott the new factory. NEWS FROM THE PLANET MARS is a cheery crowd-pleaser loud that is all about a decent man retrieving his rightful place as head of his family. MT

BERLINALE 11-21 February 2016 | follow our coverage under BERLINALE 2016

Hawks and Sparrows (1966) | Uccellacci e uccellini | Blu-ray

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini  Writers: Dante Ferretti, Pasolini

Cast: Totò, Ninetto Davoli, Femi Benussi, Umberto Bevilacqua, Renato Capogna

89min   Comedy Drama  Italy

Pasolini’s eighth film has all the charm and innocent humour of Italy in the sixties but while managing to take on and delicately express some serious human and philosophical themes of that era: the power of the Catholic Church; left-wing intellectualism (Pasolini was a confirmed Marxist); pregnancy out of wedlock; poverty and class conflict.

Ninetto Davoli plays a teenager walking through the neo-realist landscape of Lazio – near Rome –  accompanied by his formally-dressed father (the famous comedian Totò), on their way to a metting.  During their walk they bump into a crow, a pregnant woman, and other allegorical figures who each represent one of the themes of the piece.

During their long journey on foot,  the crow tells the story of how St. Francis instructed two of his disciples to spread the Word of God and to love one another, while the son and father become the disciples (Fra Ciccillo and Fra Ninetto): Toto the more faithful one, while his son is the more lascivious of the pair. The crow relates various biblical parables as a group of travelling actors enact the various characters. The neorealist setting is rendered in a delicate and beautifully framed starkness that elevates the humour to something rather tragic and appealingly absurd, as Pasolini gently plays with tonal nuances, in one of his more abstract but idiosyncratically Italian works, also said to be his favourite film. Ennio Morricone’s opening score accompanies Domenico Modugno who sings out the film’s credits. MT

Hawks and Sparrows is now on BLU-ray and dual format DVD rom Masters of Cinema.

Lost in Karastan (2014) | DVD release

Writer|Director: Ben Hopkins

Matthew Macfadyen, MyAnna Buring, Noah Taylor, /Richard van Weyden

91min | Comedy |

Paweł Pawlikowski has a wicked sense of humour – he waxes satirical here again as he did in a similar vein with his documentaries Tripping with Zhirinovsky and Serbian Epics, although as co-writer of LOST IN KARASTAN, a comedy ‘Eastern’ directed by Ben Hopkins, the satire is less subtle, more in your face. It follows a British filmmaker who fetches up in the Caucasus to attend a retrospective of his own films. Wacky and watchable, along the lines of Borat with more style, thanks to Matthew Macfadyen in the lead role as Emil Forrester and Xan Butler (Noah Taylor) as his hard-drinking fellow guest from Hollywood, LOST IN KARASTAN is a well-crafted and bizarre B-movie; the locations (Tbilisi, Georgia) give it street cred and a touch of exotic panache. The story is so plausible, it could almost be real. Well almost! MT

OUT ON DVD from 29 FEBRUARY 2016

The First, the Last (2016) | Berlinale 2016

Director: Bouli Lammers

Cast: Bouli Lanners, Albert Dupontel, Michael Lonsdale, Suzanne Clement, Philippe Rebbot

97min  Drama  Belgium

Under glowering skies in Flanders, two hired bounty hunters, Gilou (Bouli Lanners) and Cochise (Albert Dupontel) set off into a wintry widescreen wilderness on a ‘secret mission’ to track down a mobile phone containg some kind of explosive. More madcap Western, than gritty thriller Bouli Lanners’ fourth feature sets off as a miserable, monosyllabic mission that meanders into gloomy backwaters at the arse-end of progress somehow find redemption through its crisis-ridden yet humane craziness as the argumentative duo brush up against a selection of weirdos and ne’dowells: a deranged young couple (who come imto possession of the mobile unaware of its significance) mendacious cleaners and a crippled carefaker and evangelist priest (a kindly Philippe Rebbot),make strange bedfellows in this cinematically spectacular outing where the tone is slightly tougue in cheek, and the dialogue as off the beaten track as its characters.

But their brazen attempt at being gangsters soon falls by the wayside as Gilou abandons the mission with a dicky heart and takes up refuge with the kindly, crippled caretaker (a suitable soulful Michael Lonsdale). Clara (Suzanne Clement) comes to the Cochise’s rescue offering him sparkling sexual chemistry and a shred of domestic normality in her farmhouse.  Meanwhile the deranged young couple also seek a safe berth with Clara, hotly pursued by another bunch of hoodlums who are also looking in for the phone. Esther (Aurore Broutin) and Willy (David Murgia). It emerges represent Adam and Eve

A metaphor for our loss of faith in society, in each other and with ourselves in general, The First, The Last is a dark and often doom laden affair suffused with welcome bone dry humour. Bouli Lammers finds the he answer in love: love for ouselves, for each other and for the world that we have been given. With the twanging score of original guitar music by Pascal Humbert, Bouli Lanners’ characters all experience their crisis-fuelled epiphanies in this God-forsaken landscape that somehow finds the light at the end of the tunnel reminding us that God is out there somewhere if we look hard enough and keep our sense of humour. MT

SCREENING DURING BERLINALE 2016 | PANORAMA SECTION

 

The Last Diamond (2014) | Le Dernier Diamant

Writer & Director: Eric Barbier

Cast: Yvan Attal, Berenice Bejo

108min. Drama. France l Luxembourg

Place Vendôme (1998) was the last memorable Antwerp-set diamond-themed heist thriller – it starred Catherine Deneuve as the wife of a wealthy dealer, played by Jean Pierre Bacri. Eric Barbier updates the genre with this slick and shiny vehicle starring Bérénice Bejo (The Artist) as another glamorous business woman; in control of the world’s most famous diamond.

THE LAST DIAMOND (Le Dernier Diamant), has been hiding its light from UK audiences since its release last year and is now making a sparkling appearance courtesy of Frank Mannion’s distribution company Swipe Films. Yvan Attal (The Serpent) and Bérénice Bejo (The Artist), make for a pleasing pairing in the classically crafted crime caper which provides solid entertainment right up to its final dénouement and is best described as a Gallic Thomas Crown Affair.

While on parole from prison, suave professional safecracker, Simon (Attal) gets dragged into a spot of extracurricular crime with his sidekick Albert (Jean-Francois Stevenin). His goal is the theft of the famous Florentine diamond – purported to be worth €40 million (the real gem disappeared during the Second World War) – he uses his sophisticated charms gain the trust of the wealthy young heiress Julia (Bejo), who has put the diamond up for auction, following  the mysterious death of her mother.

Barbier’s first two acts revolve around well-laid preparations for the heist, as the lead couple’s on screen chemistry builds to a sizzling climax, convincingly creating a subtley nuanced romantic sideshow to the crime caper, as Julia falls for Simon’s cunning dexterity in finding his way first into her boudoir and then into her heart. Meanwhile, the robbery takes place just as Julia is discovering Simon’s duplicity while the plotline twists into unexpected territory providing some tense final scenes. There’s nothing particularly new or daring about THE LAST DIAMOND: what ultimately carries it all along is the piquant romance between Julia and Simon, who, against his better judgement, steadily finds himself involved in a love affair he didn’t quite bargain for. Attal is spectacular as the sociopathic swindler, blending boyish vulnerability with bouts of brutal violence, his cigarette ‘schtick’ adding a certain loucheness to his urbane swagger – Attal is somewhat maligned as an actor despite his excellent chops; (as seen in Leaving, Rapt and Regrets and The Serpent)  and he carries the film here providing sterling entertainment but never over-playing his touch, even when things go awry. Off-screen he’s also captured the heart of Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Cinematographer Denis Rouden’s classy visuals take us on a joyride through the Benelux countries with a sophisticated spin round Antwerp’s upmarket diamond district, thrumming to Renaud Barbier’s upbeat original score. This is a punchy thriller with plenty of heart and soul despite the glib twinkle in its eye. MT

OUT ON RELEASE at SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 29 January 2016.

Tangerine (2015) Home ent release

Writer|Director: Sean Baker with Chris Bergoch.

Cast: Kitana Kiki Rodriquez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian, Mickey O’Hagen, James Ransone, Arsen Grigoryan

88min   Comedy Drama  US

TANGERINE is what you’d expect from a slice of downtown Los Angeles street life seen through two black, transgender prostitutes: spunky, raucous and rude. But the disenfranchised characters in Sean Baker’s microbudget indie hit are always warm and good-humoured. Shot entirely on iphones with the use of anamorphic adapters, and no worse off for it, TANGERINE bristles with a vibrant street energy and a freshness that reinvents its Highland setting of donut parlours and meaningless malls with a jaunty score composed of ambient, techno, hip-hop and even Armenian folk music.

Baker’s 2012, Starlet, pictured the unusual pairing of an old woman and a porn star in-the-making and TANGERINE offers a similarly sleezy snapshot of a Christmas Eve in LA where cross-cultural denizens rub along – but only just. Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is celebrating her release from a spell in prison to discover that her pimp and boyfriend Chester (James Ransone) has been unfaithful with a white woman. Her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) breaks the news over donuts and coffee, and the two venture forth in a ferocious ‘no holds barred’ onslaught to track down the culprit Dinah (Mickey O’Hagen), who they then pounce on in a local brothel.

And while Alexandra is touting for custom for her singing soirée at a local club, Sin-Dee is dragging Dinah around town by the hair.  The Armenian element comes from a parallel strand involving a bisexual taxi-driver, Razmik (Karren Karagulian) whose customers include a native American with a headache, a woman who has just had her dog put down and a couple of guys who throw up on the back seat. Married with a baby, Razmik has a penchant to blowing trans-gender prostitutes in his passenger seat. It emerges that the going rate in LA is $80, but Alexander gives a 50% discount to a local punter “cos it’s Christmas Eve”. But only if he comes quickly!

When Razmik tries to escape the family Christmas lunch, his mother-in-law (Alla Tumanian) and wife Luiza Hersisyn), inject a note of old school tradition putting the story firmly in perspective, and they all cross paths in the donut diner where Sin-Dee is having a showcase showdown with her slipper ex (James Ransone), Dinah still in tow.

This upbeat, feelgood farce certainly tells it like it is, with a script that has been cobbled together with interviews and ideas from local transgender prostitutes, to give authenticity. Performances are dynamite across the board, especially from Sin-Dee who is appealingly sassy in a blond wig and white shorts. Never hard-edged or malevolent, TANGERINE retains a natural humour reflecting the pride and dignity of both locals and sex workers plying their trade in this shady part of sunny LA. MT

NOW OUT ON HOME ENTERTAINMENT , TANGERINE WON AWARDS AT KARLOVY VARY, PALM SPRINGS, TRAVERSE CITY, DEAUVILLE AND RIO DE JANEIRO |. READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH THE DIRECTOR HERE

 

Meet the Patels (2014)

Director: Geeta and Ravi Patel

88min  Documentary  US

Ravi Patel is an American via Gujurati and at nearly 30 he still hasnt met ‘the (Indian) one’. So with the help of his sister Geeta’s camera skills and his matchmaking parents, MEET THE PATELS documents his search for a bride.

Combining rough comic sketches, cartoons and interviews with family and friends, MEET THE PATELS is upbeat, fly-on-the-wall and fun. The first step involves compiling a ‘biodata” – a form of biography that includes family info and a personal CV. To be a Patel is to be a part of the biggest family in the world, so Ravi is sure there should be plenty of choice. And men are still the hunters, so how difficult can it be for an intelligent well-qualified decent looking actor to find a decent bride? Far from being fraught with setbacks this stab at home-movie-making is hilarious and poignant.

Ravi’s family may be traditional and old-fashioned but they are loving and reasonable, but he hasn’t told them about his his girlfriend of two years, Audrey, a flame-haired all American girl. And although the relationship recently ended, it’s clear that Ravi is not over her. What impresses here is Ravi’s close and remarkably mature relationship with his parents which is a refreshing change from the usual dysfunctional family stories that so often feature in drama. Also impressive is Ravi’s openness to experiment but not afraid to trust his heart. The idea of an Indian bride excites him and he begins the gruelling process that includes the usual internet dating  and a traditional matchmaking incentive by his mother, Champa. Ravi sets off on the family’s reguarl family vocation with intention, this time, of finding a wife.

The style here is for the most part fresh and insightful; the handheld camera helping to keep things authentic and quirkily engaging. Ravi is an amusing guy who comes across as decent, approachable and well-intentioned – certainly any girl would be happy with him as a husband. The Patel girls are cute and comely and certainly no fools. But is Ravi really ready to move on?. An engaging and enjoyable documentary that explores themes of internet dating, matchmaking and ethnic heritage and ultimately reaches a surprising conclusion. MT

SCREENING FROM 26 DECEMBER 2015 AT BERTHA DOCHOUSE AND SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

The Haunted Palace (1963)

Dir: Roger Corman | Wri: Charles Beaumont, from a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, and a novella by H.P.Lovecraft | Cast: Vincent Price, Debra Paget, Lon Chaney, Frank Maxwell, Leo Gordon | 87 mins / Horror / US

The venerable status that Roger Corman’s Poe cycle of the early sixties continues to command within the Horror genre makes the continued neglect of The Haunted Palace all the more perverse. It’s usually just mentioned in passing as the last gasp of the Hollywood-made Poes before Corman packed his bags for England and ended the series with a bang with the acclaimed Masque of the Red Death and The Tomb of Ligeia. It didn’t even get reviewed by Variety when it opened in the summer of 1963 and wasn’t released in Britain until 1966. What comment it draws is usually as the Corman/Poe that was actually an H.P.Lovecraft; although just that fact alone actually makes The Haunted Palace a very interesting film indeed, marking as it does the big screen’s first-ever adaptation of a story by an author whose stature and popularity as a source of screen material has continued to snowball ever since Corman set the ball rolling (including a second version of the story Corman filmed called The Resurrected (1991), directed by Dan O’Bannon with Chris Sarandon as Charles Dexter Ward).

10380052_677091512340140_203678672462023752_o

The usually perceptive Leonard Maltin continues to dismiss The Haunted Palace as “Good-looking but minor”; which probably means that he hasn’t looked at it again recently. But over the years it has found unlikely admirers. William Everson – not usually a Corman fan – thought it “one of the better Roger Corman horror films of the 60’s”, while the usually hard to impress Angela & Elkan Allan in 1980 declared it “A really enveloping horror movie that chills you deep into your spine”. It is in fact easily the best of Corman’s American Poes – and quite probably one of Corman’s best films ever – as well as being first-class Lovecraft.

Adroitly if loosely drawn by Corman regular Charles Beaumont from The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, written by Lovecraft in 1927, and mostly set during the 1920s; the film moves the main action back to the 19th Century to visually bring it into line with Corman’s earlier films and recycle the costumes and sets from The Premature Burial. With each successive Poe adaptation the existence of standing sets from the previous productions meant that the films progressively got bigger and bigger looking with the addition of new sets by Daniel Haller. The Haunted Palace – photographed as usual for all that it’s worth by the veteran Floyd Crosby – is consequently the most expensive-looking of all the American Poes: all the better to savour on Blu-Ray!

Corman could also now afford to populate his version of Arkham (which Beaumont – who knew his Lovecraft – has cannily substituted for the original setting of Providence) with familiar faces like Lon Chaney and Elisha Cook: both making their only appearance in a Corman production. Lovecraft’s Charles Dexter Ward was a callow, unmarried young man in his twenties, so providing him with a wife (played in her final film appearance by Debra Paget) is one of several changes Beaumont makes to the original, along with beginning the film with the lynching of Ward’s evil ancester Joseph Curwen by burning – his demise in 1771 at Lovecraft’s hands was much more spectacular but also vastly more ambiguous – and Curwen’s curse upon the descendants of his executioners. Lovecraft describes Curwen as “a colourless-looking man of about thirty”, which hardly describes Price, who gives one of his best performance in a role strikingly similar to that of Ligeia the following year as both the benign Charles Dexter Ward and his utterly depraved great-great-great-grandfather Joseph Curwen.

Like most Corman productions it has an elegant and atmospheric title sequence; designed on this occasion by Armand Acosta to the sweeping accompaniment of Ronald Stein’s magisterial trumpet score. The main title reads “Edgar Allen (sic) Poe’s The Haunted Palace”, but Lovecraft share’s equal billing with Poe and Beaumont in the screenplay credit (the repeated misspelling of Poe’s middle name making an interesting Freudian slip). American International Pictures insisted over Corman’s objections on naming it after an 1839 poem by Poe; but apart from providing The Haunted Palace with a splendid title Poe’s only other contribution to the film – albeit employed to great effect – is the closing verse, read by Price on the soundtrack at the film’s satisfyingly spine-chilling conclusion. Try and see this one. @RICHARD CHATTEN

AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILM AND VIDEO | EXTRAS INCLUDE AN INTERVIEW WITH ROGER CORMAN AND AUDIO COMMENTARY BY VINCENT PRICE’S BIOGRAPHER DAVID DEL VALLE and DEREK BOTELHO

The Man Without a Past | VAILLA MENEISSYYTTA (2002)

imagesDir\Writer: Aki Kaurismaki:

Cast: Markku Peltola, Kati Outinen, Sakari Kuosmanen;

Finland/France/Germany 2002; 97 min.

Like many auteurs of his generation, Aki Kaurismaki is entirely self-taught. After a working life spent as a postman and film critics among other things, he turned his hand to film-making in the eighties and has been incredibly successful in his endeavour, producing his own films and distributing them through his own company Alphaville, and showing them at his arthouse cinemas in Finland. Often working with his elder brother Mika, they have shaped the face of Finnish cinema crafting one-fifth of the total output of the Finnish film industry since 1981.

In love with the past and of Finland’s lugubrious hard-drinking working classes, often down on their luck – anything post 1980 does not interest him visually, here he has created another anti-hero for THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST, this time the director could not even bother to give him a name, in the credits he is just ‘M’.

M (his beloved Markku Peltola) arrives one Spring evening in Helsinki with a small suitcase. Resting on a park bench he nods off and is attacked by three young men, who leave him for dead. Coming round in a rain-soaked stupor, he gets some treatment and then stumbles out of hospital with retrograde amnesia and ends up on a container site, used by the homeless. Here he makes friends, and rents a container from Antilla (Kuosmanen), who does not actually own it but finds a way of exploiting those down on their luck. His ‘fierce’ dog Hannibal turns out to be a submissive female, and soon snuggles up with M on his bed. All this is shot through with Kaurismaki’s trademark blend of eccentric situational humour which is light on dialogue and heavy on innuendo.

M can’t remember a thing about his life but spots a couple of metal workers down near the port and gets a strange inkling that he was possibly a welder. Turning to the Samaritans for help, he falls in love with Irma (Outinen), who looks after him. He turns the Samaritan’s musicians into a swing band and after finding job as a welder, he gets caught up in a bank robbery and is locked in the vault with the bank teller. The involvement with the police leads to his identification: he was married, but his wife divorced him due to him gambling. When M travels back to his home town by train he finds her living in their former marital dwelling with a boyfriend, and M is only to relieved that he does not have to fight it out with his rival, returning back to Irma in Helsinki and eventual revenge.

Kaurismaki’s classic absurdist humour is an acquired taste and THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST is the one of best examples. When M cooks dinner for Irma in his container, she asks politely “Are you sure, I can’t help”, to which he answers dead-pan: “I think it’s ruined already”. And after an electrician has helped him connect the power line to his container, M asks how he could return the favour. The man answers matter of factly: “If you see me lying in the gutter face down, turn me on my back”. And finally, when locked in the vault with the teller by the robber, he asks her “Do you mind, if I smoke?”, her cool but enigmatic answer is “Does a tree mourn its fallen leaves?”.

Whilst Kaurismaki is best compared with Preston Sturges and his comedies of the 30s; his heroes like M, are like the actors Buster Keaton preferred, “they can’t raise their voice, their only reaction are furrowed brows”. DOP Timo Salminen, who shot nearly all of Kaurismaki’s films, shows Finland as a grim country of suicides, poverty, hunger and alcoholism and this is borne, according to the director “out of the change in society from a mainly agricultural country, to an industrialised society – many feel rootless and alienated in their own country where high rise blocks and unemployment kill the soul. ” This is a common thread that also runs through

THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST won the Grand Prix at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, Kati Outinen best actress. AS

REVIEWED DURING THE UCLSSEES SEASON AT THE BLOOMSBURY STUDIO W1 | OCTOBER – DECEMBER 2015 

A New Leaf (1971) | Prime

Dir/Wri: Elaine May Cast: Walter Matthau, Elaine May Jack, Weston, James Coco, Doris Roberts, George Rose | 107min  Comedy  US

Elaine May, who stars here in her directorial debut, was a one time winner of the Razzie Award for Worst Director (Ishtar).  A fine comic actress (in Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks), she also writes witty screenplays and has served uncredited as a script doctor on Labyrinth, Wolf, Reds and Dick Tracy, amongst other big hits.

She bases her engaging comedy drama on Jack Ritchie’s short story: ‘A Green Leaf’. It’s about marriage, a subject she knows a great deal about having had four husbands during her 89 years. Walter Matthau plays her co-star Henry Graham, a man who has run through his entire inheritance and appears to have no way of gainfully financing the rest of his life: “I do have skills to the effect that I’m not disabled.” So he hatches a plan with the help of his butler – to marry wealth, in the old-fashioned way.

Taking a short-term loan from his mean-spirited, self-indulgent uncle (an amusing vignette featuring James Coco) who offers him a loan with the following proviso: he has six weeks to meet a rich woman, get married AND repay Uncle Harry; if he fails he must hand over his wordly possessions including his prize vintage (unreliable) Ferrari.

There is much hilarity to be had from Henry’s foray into dating. Rushing around the country he desperately seeks out rich widows – he’s no spring chicken himself – but no one seems appropriate, let alone normal  (“I have found peace in Connecticut, what else is there” says one sparky candidate). Finally, a chance encounter with a wealthy but clumsy heiress (Elaine May) proves to be the answer to his prayers. An attractive botanist, Henrietta Lowell is kind-hearted but socially inept: (“She;s not just primitive, she’s feral” remarks Henry to his butler).

But tie the knot they do and Henry masterminds the honeymoon down to the last detail. In a twin-bedded room, Henrietta’s Grecian style nightie makes for a challenging seduction scene with neither of them being able to fathom out how to get it on or – more importantly – off. Henrietta then insists on taking enormous botanical specimens home and, on arrival at her palatial residence, the housekeeper, Mrs Traggert, gives Henry the glad eye as he proceeds to take charge of the household’s extensive domestic staff. Firing them one by one for being fraudulent, he retains his own butler, Harold (George Rose in a delightful double act with Matthau). Meanwhile, Henry works on how to get rid of his new wife, but doesn’t quite bargain for what happens next.

Walter Matthau is sensational in the lead role, managing to exude humour, style and a wicked charisma as Henry Graham. Elaine May plays Henrietta as a ditzy but appealingly naive woman with her heart in the right place and a cunning twinkle in her eye. MT

NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA | ALSO ON PRIME VIDEO

 

 

When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Dir.: Rob Reiner

Cast: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby

USA 1989, 96 min.

Often described as “Woody Allen light”, Rob Reiner’s WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, has aged well and cements its place as a quintessential feel-good romantic comedy of the late 80s. This is mainly due to the the chemistry between the leads Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, but even more so because of Nora Ephron’s script, which was the result of interviews between her and Reiner as well as producer Andy Scheinmann between 1984 and 1988.

What emerges fro the interviews was that Reiner was permanently depressed, his sardonic humour saving him from becoming morbid. When Billy Crystal (who was at that time Reiner’s best friend) joined the production, he witnessed Reiner’s despair after his divorce from the actress/filmmaker Penny Marshall. The Sally identity was a mix of Ephron’s own relationship experiences and the ones of her girl friends.

The nods to Allen are clear: there is the use of the split-screen (when Harry and Sally phone in bed, watching their TV sets), and the Manhattan references are clearly visible. During the pre-production time, Ephron would interview people who worked for the company about their relationships, these interviews were shown in stylised interludes in the film. Regarding the end, Ephron and Reiner realised that the most realistic outcome would be the permanent status quo of friendship between the couple, but they chose a more optimistic finale.

Harry (Crystal) and Sally (Ryan) meet after graduation on the campus of Chicago University in 1977, to drive off together to New York, where he starts his career as political adviser, she as a journalist. Having witnessed Harry’s long, passionate goodbye from her friend Amanda, Sally is annoyed that he immediately makes a pass at her. They argue, non-stop, and Sally is relieved to see the last of Harry, when they arrive in NY, even though he is the only person she knows in the whole city. Five years later, they meet by accident in an NY airport, both having relationships, their rather frosty relationship continues. In 1987 they bump into each other in a bookshop, both their relationships have ended, and they start a sort of friendship, even though Harry still insists that a platonic friendship between a woman and a man is impossible, because the man’s craving for sex would interfere. At the famous scene in Katz’ Deli in Manhattan, Sally stimulates an orgasm, to prove a point to the still rather misogynist Harry. After meeting with their respective best friends, Marie (Fisher) and Jess (Kirby), to end their single status, Harry and Sally watch, as the two run off together, blissful in love. After a one-night stand with Harry, when Sally breaks down after her ex-boyfriend marries another woman, the couple have a vicious argument at Marie’s and Jess’ wedding reception.

Reiner recalls, that at a test screening, all the women in the audience laughed at the Deli scene, whilst the men were dead silent. The director’s mother, Estelle, had a small part in the film, as the woman sitting next to Sally in Katz’, ordering “the same as she had” from the waiter. Even today, there is still a sign above the famous table, saying “where Harry met Sally…hope you have what she had.”
Twenty-six years later two elements stand out: there is the shock to see a world without mobiles, as well as a very basic, noisy computer, and the emotional intensity of the couple, which still reverberates today, in spite of the rather light weight narrative. AS

NOW OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE IN A SPARKLING NEW RE=MASTERING COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS

 

Grandma (2015)

Dir. Paul Weitz

Cast: Lili Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Sam Elliott

USA 2015, 79 min.

Serious themes of abortion and lesbianism are tossed around playfully in this derivative Hollywood Screwball comedy. Paul Weitz (ABOUT A BOY)  trivialises a family’s conflicts, falling far short of Hawks or Cukor.

Elle (Tomlin), college lecturer and poet, has just split up with her much younger girlfriend Olivia (Greer), on the rebound from her longterm partner, Violet, who has recently died. Blaming Olivia (unjustly) for the split, Elle is in a foul mood, when her grand daughter Sage (Garner) appears in her flat, wanting money for an abortion. Elle, having just cut up all her credit cards, using the snippets for a creative mobile, tries in vain to borrow money from Karl (Elliott), an ex-boyfriend; the two women trying to avoid to involving Sage’s mum, the straightforward business executive Judy (Harden), who lives exclusively in the real world, and is equally exasperated by her ‘fly by night’ daughter and mother.

GRANDMA is a vehicle for Lili Tomlin to show off her considerable acting skills. Dominating the film, the cast are merely punchbags for her anger. There are some impressive scenes, like the one in front of the abortion clinic, where a vicious Pro-life lobbyist uses a little girl to argue her point; but mainly it is all about the frustrated Elle, having failed as a poet and is now lonely in old age. Worst of all is Weitz’ banal approach in trying to milk really serious situations for cheap laughter. Whilst Tomlin has a field day, the same cannot be said for the audience. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

[youtube id=”JrB3Uj51zgM” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Dawn (2015) | Tallinn Black Nights Festival | 13 -29 November 2015

Director/Writer: Laila Pakalniņa

Cast: Vilis Daudziņš, Andris Keišs, Wiktor Zborowski

Latvia/Estonia/Poland | Drama/Comedy | 90 min

Folklore meets modernity in DAWN, a gorgeously choreographed glide through an old soviet propaganda tale of life on a collective farm under stalinism. It is the fifth fiction feature by Latvian auteur Laila Pakalniņa, whose work also includes some 20-odd documentaries and shorts. Debuting on the 97th anniversary of Latvia’s independence, with a knowingly cheeky nod to Vladimir Putin among its credited inspirations, this consistently assured and occasionally mesmerising work premiered in the main competition of this year’s Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn.

Known to run 15-20 km every morning, Pakalniņa announced the date of DAWN’s world-premiere while running the Tallinn Marathon in September, and the film itself sustains high levels of energy through a dynamic formal balance and an oddly infectious persistence. At once intimate and epic, this period tragedy, about a young boy named Janis (Antons Georgs Grauds) who informs on his anti-soviet father (Vilis Daudziņš) to the secret police and who incurs the vengeful wrath of his own family because of it, is also at times an idiosyncratic, joltingly complex comedy. Its rapidfire context demands our active participation to keep apace of events — one ostensibly nonsensical reference to someone “living with the polar bears” is an allusion to the mass deportations to Siberian that thousands of Latvians suffered under Stalin. The ways in which it eludes a full commitment to any particular tonal register — in-jokes, throwaway gags, formal experimentation — means that for foreign audiences at least, the film is an invigorating intellectual exercise more than an emotionally moving drama.

Nothing wrong with that especially: though it lists soviet filmmakers Sergei Eisenstein and Alexander Rzheshevsky (as well as ‘Our Childhood’) alongside Putin as its sources of stimulation, this monochrome film prompts valid comparisons to Alexei German’s recent swansong, HARD TO BE A GOD. Like that work, DAWN demonstrates a masterful command of complicated sequence shots from Pakalniņa and her Polish cinematographer Wojciech Staroń. Much of the action unfolds across multiple planes, as the camera pans lushly through cluttered sets designed in such a way as to create a vivid, believable chaos. The usual farmhouse cacophonies — floorboard creaks, flustered animals, crying babies and off-screen conversational arguments — give the work an impressively immersive quality, a kind of warming maximalism, which is deliberately undercut by intermittent moments of chilly absurdity, when our narrator breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly into Staroń’s camera.

DAWN opens with a close-up, of a tree-hugging snail foregrounded against the animated flap of a hen’s wings. In the background, we see children running through the frame, oblivious to the unperceivable drifts of time — and the political ramifications that cut through it. Throughout her film, Pakalniņa returns to this strategy, of juxtaposing between the abstract and the particular, between the plush pastures of the Latvian countryside and the almost microscopic detail of life within it. A bee lands on a human head of hair. We see a dead fly stuck to someone’s glass of water. A beautiful, birds-eye view of a dead boy in a field continues with the camera mechanically moving to earth, concluding with an extreme close-up of his vacant eyes. Like the giant star one villager is painting on the side of a building, it’s difficult to form a fuller picture of things, here — deliberately so. The central tragedy (“If a son betrays his father, kill him as a dog”) rests upon the twisted loyalties that form when an understandably impressionable boy takes a state’s insidious word as gospel. MICHAEL PATTISON

TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL | 13 -29 NOVEMBER 2015 | TALLINN ESTONIA

The Legend of Barney Thomson (2015) | DVD | VOD

Director: Robert Carlyle

Cast: Emma Thompson, Robert Carlyle, Tom Courtenay, Ray Winstone, Martin Compston

90min  UK   Comedy drama

Robert Carlyle plays the lead in his eponymous feature debut, a suitably gruesome urban comedy from the backstreets of Glasgow, where his character is a social misfit with a sideline in accidental murder.

Dark comedies are notoriously hard to handle but Carlyle pulls this off with a certain aplomb although some of the scenes could have done with a little less throttle (particularly the finale). As Barney Thomson, Carlyle cuts hair during the day and at nighttime goes home to his mum Cemolina, a corrosive, cackling, bronze-coiffed Emma Thompson with a permanent fag on the go and a penchant for Bingo. She never wanted Barney – the unfortunate product of a one night stand – and Barney’s snarky, bad-temper reflects this in angry outbursts at Henderson’s Barber Shop where, one day, he is given the sack. But Barney’s not having this, and things turn deadly in the ensuing fracas when his colleague Wullie (Stephen McCole) accidentally gets stabbed to death by Barney’s very own tools of the trade.

Unfortunately for Barney, the local police are conducting an investigation into a string of murders involving young men  whose body parts are being posted to various Scottish outposts. A severed penis arrives in Arbroath; a foot in Pitlochry and so on. Led by a mouthy (as always) Ray Winstone as the blundering Detective Inspector Holdall, the inquiry points a finger at Barney, who is seen loading a bulky object into his Nissan Primera by a curiously be-wiggged weirdo.

Traumatised by his crime, Barney goes into denial mode, hoping his mum will sort things out but the gorgonesque Cemolina (a hilarious Emma Thompson in full abandon) has better things to do such as relaxing on a two day £40 coach trip to the Isles with her bawdy Bingo pals. And the more Barney tries to cover up his wrongdoings the worse it gets.

Carlyle peppers his film with plenty of gritty Glasgow texture: Barrowland looms large along with the famous tenements and tower-blocks and the City’s sandstone landmarks, making this very much a postcard picture of his native Glasgow allbeit a grim and grotesque one. A man with an electronic voice-box is a macabre reminder of the social ills of a city where smoking is the national pastime.

Emma Thompson brightens each scene with her caustic portrayal of a woman of dubious origins who has resorted to a certain low cunning synonymous to make a success of economically challenged past and Barney discovers this to his horror when a well-dressed young man comes knocking at their front door responding to a small ad “from a woman looking for a night of unbridled passion”.  A certain poignancy piques the meltdown melodrama of the scene where Barney discovers his origins from his hard-nosed Mum, and Carlyle is restrained and melancholy in the title role.

The Legend of Barney Thomson is fast-paced, tightly scripted affair adapted by Richard Cowan and Colin McLaren from the series of seven Barney Thomson books by Douglas Lindsay. And very much like the city of Glasgow itself, it’s a cacophony of the good, the bad and the downright ugly. MT

PREMIERED AT EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL 2015 | NOW WINNER OF  TWO BAFTA SCOTLAND AWARDS FOR ‘BEST FILM’ & ‘BEST ACTRESS’ AT 2015 AWARDS CEREMONY

Those People (2015) l UKJFF 2015 | 7 – 26 November

thosepeopleWriter|Director: Joey Kuhn

Cast: Jonathan Gordon, Jason Ralph, Haaz Sleiman, Britt Lower, Meghann Fahy

89min | Drama | US

Writer director Joey Kuhn’s impressive, if at times melodramatic, debut exudes the highly polished charisma of its educated, preppy Manhattanites. Well-groomed and articulate, they sip cocktails and Pinot Noir in sophisticated jazz bars on the Upper East Side, sing Gilbert & Sullivan songs and, at Rosh Hashanah, their schuls are full of white roses and beautifully-dressed women. Gay sensibilities are worn romantically on the hand-tailored sleeves of these debonair types who have names like Sebastian and Ursula, and they say things like: “You came out of the womb with a Masters in queer theory” – what ever that may be.

Jonathon Gordon plays Charlie, a painter completing his MFA, who is close to his wealthy school friend Sebastian (Jason Ralph)—so close, he even paints a large portrait of him, insinuating that relationship is more that purely platonic. Sebastian is obsessed with his financier father, a Wall Street criminal (“the most hated man in New York”) who is serving time in an open prison.

Neither is short of male admirers and although Charlie has feelings for Sebastian he soon attracts the attention of the more emotionally mature Lebanese concert pianist Tim (Hanz Sleiman) whose suspects Charlie’s emotional involvement with Sebastian and constantly quizzes and baits him: “does he play Chopin as well as I do”. The two grow close as they tumble through the early days (and seductive nights) of a classically-scored love affair. Their cleverly-lit embraces and highly romanticised sex scenes have an ethereal quality to them that focuses on kissing and pillowtalk rather than raw passion.

Sumptuously crafted, sensitive and contemplative, Kuhn’s narrative hints at the fear of intimacy amongst these young men haunted by the ghosts of their fathers. They have close women friends too who serve as a counterpoint to their emotional barometers, and provide interest for arthouse audiences, beyond just the LGBT crowd.

Performances feel genuine and heartfelt and Hanz Sleiman is particularly convincing in a softly-spoken role that is beautifully pitched and soulful. The storyline is slim and ultimately rather unsatisfying but well-scripted with some perky dialogue and Adam Crystal’s brilliantly evocative original score that elevates this into something special. Joey Kuhn is a young director worth watching. MT

SCREENING DURING THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2015 | 7 – 22 NOVEMBER | NATIONWIDE

 

Closer to the Moon (2015) | UKJFF 2015

Director: Nae Caranfil

Cast: Mark Strong, Vera Farmiga, Harry Lloyd, Christian McKay

Drama | Romania | 112min

Truth is always stranger than fiction. And Nae Caranfil stretches this maxim to maximum in his black comedy about a group of convicted Jewish bank robbers effectively forced to re-enact their crime for a propaganda film in postwar Romania.

Caranfil has made several features as part of the Romanian New Wave but this attempt to go international and more commercial by having an anglophone cast, with Mark Strong and Vera Farmiga, fails to ring true largely because the leads are really supposed to be Romanian. This, along with establishing the group’s motives for committing a crime that would ultimately lead to their own deaths, is the main stumbling block of this otherwise upbeat and innocuous wartime caper, that effectively brings the early promise of the Romanian New Wave to a grinding halt.

The film opens with the crime caper which they pass off by pretending to be shooting a film. The five friends have all been resistance fighters during the Second World War and later, high ranking Communists. But after the hostilities are over, Mark Strong’s senior police officer Max Rosenthal and political scientist Alice (Vera Farmiga) find themselves in reduced circumstances both financially and socially. Rather than continue their lacklustre postwar lives in penury and ‘social purdah’, they decide to rob a bank and either go out in a blaze of glory, or live their lives with at least a few bob.

CLOSER TO THE MOON works best during the flashbacks of the Ioanid Gang with Strong masterful as the leader of the group, and Farmiga impressive and feisty as the woman trailblazer. But the fake romance that she develops with Virgil feels tonally out of place against the black comedy of the re-enactments and so does the sad interlude where Alice’s son suddenly turns up during the robbery. That said, CLOSER TO THE MOON is an impressively-mounted and good-looking film that offers reasonable entertainment as a wartime recreation of a true event. MT

THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL | 7 -22 NOVEMBER | LONDON | MANCHESTER| NOTTINGHAM|GLASGOW| LEEDS

 

 

Under Milk Wood (2015)

Writer| Director: Kevin Allen

Cast: Rhys Ifans, Charlotte Church, Steffan Rhodri, Aneirin Hughes

87min   | Drama  | UK

When highly-coloured bits of plastic detritus bob along a fake sea bed in the opening titles to UNDER MILK WOOD you start to wonder if you’ve slipped into a screening of a Tellytubbies feature length drama. But the lilting Welsh voiceover is unmistakably the powerfully potent 1954 ‘play for voices’ by Dylan Thomas.

Kevin Allen’s ultimately pointless screen adaptation is a ghastly twee romp through a Welsh village. It is also the UK’s Foreign Language hopeful at the 2016 Academy Awards. And to top it all, it stars Charlotte Church (as the buxom Polly Garter). The whole point of this gorgeous play is to listen and imagine it, ringing out in richly evocative tones, as the lushness of its sumptuous imagery gradually unfolds in the subconscious to evoke a whimsical Welsh wonderland.

Take a paltry budget (hence the plastic) and some largely unknown actors (doing their best but cast simply through being Welsh) and you have a second rate production bristling with picture postcard lewdness that totally downgrades and denigrates one of Britain’s most wonderful and highly-regarded 20th century plays. What was Kevin Allen (Twin Town) thinking of?

The saving grace here is naturally the narration by Rhys Ifans, who can always carry a production with his exuberance and style. Starring as Captain Cat, one of the characters who dwells in the coastal village of Llareggub on whose musings the piece is based, he brings the drama to life with his sparky enthusiasm.

But the gently erotic immaginings of a Welsh seaside town become crude and tasteless under Allen’s direction. Instead of being the central focus and raison d’etre of Thomas’s creation, the velvety soft and sonorous sounds drift to the background as the dildo-shaped candles and bulging buttocks loom large. Shut your eyes if you want to enjoy this. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 30 OCTOBER 2015 | REVIEWED AT EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL 2015

 

Portrait of a Serial Monogamist (2015) | UKJFF 7 – 22 November 2015

Director: John Mitchell | Christina Zeidler

Cast: Carolyn Taylor, Diane Flacks, Grace Lynn Kung, Robin Duke, Raoul Bhaneja

90min  Drama  Canada

An upbeat sparky romcom about a Jewish woman looking for love in her 40s. Making great use of its downtown Toronto setting, PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL MONOGAMIST has Diane Flacks as Elsie, an extremely likeable but restless soul at odds with her traditional mother and unsatisfied with her long-term relationship with Robin (Carolyn Taylor). But things don’t improve when she leaves Robin to pursue a new girlfriend (Grace Lynn Kung).  Elsie starts to realize that perhaps she has thrown away the love of her life.

Mitchell and Zeidler get the best out of a talented cast and a whipsmart script laced with some fine Jewish sarcasm that makes this observational comedy fun and entertaining, despite its minor flaws. Elsie eventually becomes the narrator in her hilarious  deteriorating situation where she acknowledges  the pain of moving on to find true love, with wit and wisecracking humour. What emerges is that love and relationships are the same irrespective of our sexual  orientation. MT

SCREENING DURING THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 7 -22 NOVEMBER 2015

21 Nights With Pattie (2015) | LFF 2015

Director: Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu

Cast: Isabelle Carre, Andre Dussollier, Denis Lavant, Sergi Lopez, Mathilde Monnier, Karin Viard

110min  Fantasy Drama   France

21 NIGHTS WITH PATTIE is an intriguing title for a film that blends black comedy with fantasy and magic realism. Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu’s provocatively entitled Vingt et Une Nuits Avec Pattie certainly rolls off the tongue better in French, but this is a tricky tale to digest in any language, and after two longs hours and a final act that lets it all hang out, you may well come away wishing the brothers had left it at that: a boozy French drama with a touch of ‘Midsomer Murders’ and a dash of discretion.

Plunging into the bosky hillsides of Languedoc Rousillion, Caroline (Isabelle Carré) arrives at her mother’s bohemian retreat on a blazing hot August day. The two were not close in real life and her mother is now lying ‘in wake’ in the cool stone cottage, and Caroline must arrange her funeral. Despite this morbid event, the tone is light-hearted; almost jubilant and even more so when she meets Pattie (Karin Viard) the caretaker and best described as ‘une femme mûre’, who regales her with explicit tales of her recent sexual conquests with various local lads. Later on the corpse of her mother disappears, leading to a police investigation that drifts into a Savannah-style ghost story and an erotic awakening for the bewildered Parisienne.

Gastronomy is a rich theme that weaves through this distinctly Gallic tale. When Pattie is not getting down and dirty with the likely lads – including Denis Lavant as a lecherous Denis Lavant –  she’s cooking up a delicious rustic supper of cassoulet or venison stew washed down with plenty of Corbières al fresco with the locals, dissolving into nights of dancing in the nearby village. A jazzy soundtrack adds to the initial allure of this party-like piece but the arrival of another outside takes the story into more enigmatic territory when André Dussollier turns up as Mamma’s ex lover and, putatively, a famous writer. And while Caroline skypes her husband Manuel (Sergi Lopez) who is keeping the home fires burning back in Paris, the main vibe here is the female chemistry between Pattie and Caroline, her Parisian protegée for the summer, while she is being groomed for some sexual scenarios by various males (including Pattie’s 18-year-old son Kamil – Jules Ritmanic) in the sylvan seclusion of this picturesque corner of France.

Isabelle Carré is delightful to watch as the prim and proper Parisienne who gradually warms to her raunchy surroundings, despite concerns for her mother’s disappearance and pre-morbid state of mind. It emerges that her mother was somewhat of a foxy femme fatale known as “Zaza” locally, and this adds intrigue to her already conflicted mourning process. And the Police investigation takes on an almost folkloric feel as the local gendarme suspects a necrophage at work.

In these sun-soaked surroundings, Caroline is slowly emboldened and yet addled by wine as nothing seems to matter anymore least of all her mother’s funeral, which gently slips to the back burner of this Midsummer Night’s Dream ,where she imagines herself in the sensual arms of all and sundry. And this is one clever feature of the Larrieu’s script; lulling us into one storyline, before revealing the significance of another, whether wittingly or not. 21 NIGHTS is about Caroline’s spiritual development as a woman rather than conflict resolution between mother and daughter. A shame therefore that it gradually sinks into an unnecessarily explicit dénouement when the story runs out of control. Despite their delicious entrée, the Larrieus may hopefully discover that less is always more, even in France, you should never over-egg the omelette. MT

SCREENING DURING THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | 7 -18 OCTOBER 2015

Schneider vs Bax (2015) | LFF 2015

Director|Writer: Alex van Warmerdam

Cast: Tom Dewispelaere, Maria Kraakman, Alex van Warmerdam, Annet Malherbe, Gene Bervoets

96min | Comedy Thriller | Holland

Alex van Warmerdam is a multi-talented Dutch filmmaker: he stars, directs and writes the music here in his follow-up to Borgman, another darkly comic piece, that despite its solid credentials is destined to be niche fare, rather like its predecessor.

Here a hunky contract killer Schneider (Dewispelaere) and perfect husband in his spare time, is hired to kill a raddled writer (van Warmerdam) and ‘child murderer’ (or that’s what he is told) who lives in a white-washed wetlands cabin with a view to die for. This is Holland where life is much more loosely buttoned up than in the rest of Europe. But even here things don’t go according to plan, as they rarely do where van Warmerdam is concerned. .

Schneider’s boss, Mertens (Gene Bervoets) has another sleek residence and issues orders that the murder has to happen that morning at the latest. Meanwhile, Bax has to get rid of his (much younger) babe to accommodate a visit from his depressed daughter Francisca (Maria Kraakman), so his agenda is rather tricky that morning. He’s also an addict: “I have my coke and weed, you have your muesli!” he tells Francisca, when she arrives like a doom bird. And it doesn’t get easier. One way or another, wires get crossed and gradually the body count starts to mount.

With its black sense of humour and loaded social comment (a la Borgman) this is a thickly-plotted and tightly wound farce that unfolds in the ‘Fens’ of Holland. Apart from the tricky plotlines, too many characters spoil what is essentially a visual delight with its darkly-brewed humour, and milky-cream interior sets. It doesn’t feel as prickly or as pertinent as Borgman, but there is plenty to sit back and enjoy, not least the perfect choreography and Schneider’s perfect shots – from his gun that is. The real cinematographer is Tom Erisman who creates a stylish aesthetic with his perfectly framed shots amongst the reeds and the pared-down architecture. An enjoyable, if bewildering watch. MT

SCREENING DURING LONDON FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 18 OCTOBER 2015

P’tit Quinquin (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Bruno Dumont

Cast: Alane Delhaye, Lucy Caron, Bernhard Provost, Philippe Jore, Philippe Penvion, Lisa Hartmann, Cindy Lonquet;

200min  France 2014  Comedy Drama

Having left his sensationalist and violently misogynist early period (Humanite/Twenty-nine Palms) behind, Bruno Dumont, former lecturer of Greek and German philosophy, has set most of his work in the region near Calais, where he was born. Seen as the heir to Bresson, his topics always are discourses about death and the same can be said about P’tit Quinquin.

Apart from the format (a four part TV series, which can be watched as well in its totality) what is most surprising, is Dumont’s use of humour, however dark it sometimes becomes. Set in rural Picardy at his birthplace of Bailleul, P’tit Quinquin is seen through the eyes of the title hero, played with great vigour and enjoyment by Alane Delhage, a non-professional actor like the rest of the cast. The young adolescent is nearly always accompanied by his girlfriend Eve (Caron), the two playing a loving couple like the leads in a school play. On the opposite side is the other “pair”, Commandant Van der Weyden (Provost), a detective with a manic tic, and his side-kick, Lt. Carpentier (Jore), the former send to the small town and its surrounding villages to clear a murder. Unfortunately for hopeless policemen, the longer they stay, the more murders happen, until Van der Weyden has to confess that they are confronted by an evil serial killer.

The first victim, a Mme. Lebleu, whose corpse, cut into small parts, is found in the belly of a cow. Since cows are not carnivores, Carpentier deducts rightly, that the animal is suffering from mad cow disease. Soon the detectives discover that the dead woman had a lover, a certain M. Bhiri, whose is missing, and found murdered soon after. The main suspect, M. Lebleu, shares the same fate as his unfaithful wife, and Van der Weyden begins to see an apocalyptic picture developing. The next victim (this time a suicide) is a young Arab student, who fancies Eve’s older sister Aurelia (Hartmann), a local celebrity who aims to sing on TV. But the young man is driven to despair, when Aurelia’s friend Jennifer calls him “a monkey, who should go back to Africa”. Aurelia, covering up for her girl friend, is the next victim of the killer, and eaten by pigs. When the policemen find out that Quinquin’s father has kept it secret that the first murder victim was his brother’s wife, he becomes the prime suspect, before another unfaithful wife, Mme. Campin (Longuet) is found murdered at the beach…..

Dumont uncovers a society, where life is full of contradictions. Beneath seemingly benign normality – nothing is as it seems to be: the priest laughs during a funeral, the local band makes a mockery of Bastille Day, Carpentier is more interested in stunt driving with his police car than in solving the case, whilst his boss nearly falls of a horse and rambles on about the similarities of women, horses and paintings by Rubens. And meanwhile Quinquin throws firecrackers where ever he finds a target.

Needless to say, Dumont was not aiming for a “who-done-it”, but a tableau of human frailty. Guillaume Deffontaines, who photographed Dumont’s last film Camille Claudel 1915, uses widescreen successfully to integrate the landscape with the actors, achieving a pastoral idyll, betrayed by the viciousness and heartlessness of the protagonists. The first sequel is titled “La bête humaine”, easily the description of what is to follow. AS

| THE FOUR PARTS RUN AS A ENTIRE SCREENING OF 3. AS A TV MINI SERIES | NOW ON DVD

Just Jim (2015)

Director: Craig Roberts

Cast: Emile Hirsch, Craig Roberts, Nia Roberts, Mark Lewis Jones, Sai Bennett, Richard Harrigan

84min   UK  Comedy Drama

Craig Roberts first surfaced to cineastes’ consciousness in Richard Ayoade’s sweet drama Submarine. A hundred years has passed since O A C Lund’s silent original flashed onto the silver screen and Roberts’ quirkily dark comedy JUST JIM, his debut as a filmmaker, is a fitting tribute to sardonic Swede.

Set in the dystopia of the dull as ditchwater Welsh village, Roberts takes the eponymous central role as a deeply shy and fearful teenager. Success here comes from its 50 retro feel and brilliant cinematography, courtesy of Bafta award-winning lenser, Richard Stoddard, to create a darkly comic vibe with similar framing and attitude to a slow-mo sombre Hal Hartley outing. The humour derives largely from the clever casting of US Emile Hirsh who, as Jim’s American neighbour Dean, injects a much-needed confident noirish swagger into the stultified atmosphere of the buttoned up Welsh backwater. Taking the painfully sensitive Jim under his wing, he starts to re-style the geeky village loser as the hottest thing that ever hit town; both with the boys and the girls. But Dean is not as good as he seems, and gradually Jim comes to learn that, even as his new and cool persona grips the glowering neighbourhood, trying to be special is not always as desirable at it seems.

Scriptwise, things are wobbly though and the entertainment and charisma is largely down to the strong performances of Hirsch, Roberts and his onscreen wannabe pink-haired squeeze, Jackie (Charlotte Randall). Roberts’ direction is charmingly kickarse and buzzes beautifully to Michael Price’s edgy original score. Clever collaborative choices on Roberts’ part makes JUST JIM a stylish and inventive debut MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE

 

Irrational Man (2015) | Cannes 2015

Writer|Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Phoenix Abe, Parker Posey, Emma Stone

96min   Comedy | Drama     US

Woody Allen’s 45th film has him once again contemplating the perfect crime as he did in Match Point, Cassandra’s Dream and Crimes and Misdemeanours. With IRRATIONAL MAN (which takes its title from a 1958 work by philosopher, William Christopher Barrett, which aimed to explain existentialism to the uninitiated) his central character kills not for love or money but apparently as a intellectual exercise and out of a sense of social justice on behalf of a woman he takes pity on.

This rural drama takes place in the lush locale of the fictional ‘Braylin College’, at Salve Regina University, Newport Rhode Island, where Joaquin Phoenix stars a the rather louche and laconic philosophy professor, Abe Lucas (with beer belly). An immediate hit with all the women; he is single, vulnerable and a serial monogamist by his own admission, although too wrapped up in his own existential angst to be emotionally available ‘at the moment’. A red rag to a bull, and he knows it.

As he moves around the Campus, looking vaguely distrait, he also demonstrates courage and reckless abandon by playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun at a cocktail party: female students and lecturers are smitten. “Emotionally, I had arrived at Zabriskie Point” Abe tells us in voiceover, but this seems only to encourage his lustful entourage more, particularly the unhappily-married Prof. Rita Richards (Parker Posey in ‘cougar’ mode) who throws herself in his direction, offering to “unblock” him. And before you can say ‘Kierkegaard’ – they are in bed and he’s apologising (but not that much) for his lazy performance. Next up is fresh, young “ethical strategies” student, Jill Pollard (Emma Stone). But Abe is keen to remain detached because his depressive state has temporarily rendered him ‘asexual’. He is also well-aware of the intimate confines of this Red Brick community and Pollard has a regular boyfriend, who becomes suspicious of her increasing interest in Abe’s ‘mind’. But she plugs on attracted by his previous activist and aid involvement in Darfur. This sense of social justice is piqued again when Abe and Jill overhear a conversation in a local restaurant. A desperate woman is bemoaning the bitter details of her divorce and the judge who’s siding with her ex-husband – fancifully hoping that the judge will die before the final trial.

This pathetic wish seems to capture Abe’s imagination, galvanising him into action as he feels the stirrings of an ideal murder shaking him out of his mental torpor and even ‘unblocking’ him sexually. Suddenly, he is alive again, with the strategy for this crime coming together in his head. The premise is so fanciful and yet so all-consuming, that somehow this leap of faith seems entirely plausible.

Allen’s direction and editing are really masterful in IRRATIONAL MAN and his cast performances slick and enjoyable. particularly that of Joaquin Phoenix, who exudes both charm and sexual chemistry as the feckless yet endearing Abe. Emma Stone and Parker Posey compliment each other as his amorous partners, each evoking their representative age groups, of hope versus experience.

Cinematographer Darius Khondji does great justice to the environs of Connecticut making it a verdant, appealing setting in contrast to the usual urban sprall and the score of The Ramsey Lewis Trio evokes the mood of mounting tension with original version of “The In-Crowd”. MT

IRRATIONAL MAN IS ON GENERAL RELEASE LATER THIS YEAR | CANNES 2015 REVIEW.

[youtube id=”5vu2tyk8cvc?t=3s” width=”600″ height=”350″]

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).

Behimoth1

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 

Ang Lee Trilogy | Pushing Hands |The Wedding Banquet | Eat Drink Man Woman | DVD

PUSHING HANDS | Director: Ang Lee | Cast: Sihung Lung, Lai Wang, Bo Z Wang, Deb Snyder | 105min Drama US

Themes of duty and family were to shape Ang Lee’s work and his debut PUSHING HANDS is very much a domestic drama. Taiwanese Tai Master (Sihung Lung) struggles to adapt to a new life in the conflicted American household of his only son Alex, his Jewish wife Marsha, and their little boy. Co-written with regular collaborator James Schamus and starring Sihung Lung (Crouching Tiger, Eat Drink Man Woman) and veteran Lai Wang, this first feature’s only flaw is a rather clunky support cast.

Sihung Lung plays Mr Chu, an intuitive and affable old man at odds with his neurotic daughter in law, who subconsciously blames him for her ‘writer’s block’. Our sympathies lie more with Mr Chu and his amusing spiritual take on life. During the day, he teaches Tai Chi in a local Taiwanese community centre where he strikes up a tentative rapport with Mrs Chen (Lai Wang), a widow from Taiwan who teaches cookery.

This gentle often humorous drama pokes fun at national idiosyncrasies as well as cultural differences, showing the Taiwanese to be a feisty and fiercely loyal bunch. Sihung Lung gives a nuanced and thoughtful performance as an ageing father who still holds traditional values, making it hard to express himself romantically, despite his spiritual awareness.

Apart from their lacklustre performances as unappealing characters, Martha and Alex are a mismatched couple, both volatile and lacking in any real chemistry in contrast to the more successful pairing of Mr Chu and Mrs Chen who steal the show especially towards end where the tone shifts to melodrama in a devastating and unexpected finale.

Despite its pitfalls, PUSHING HANDS is a well-crafted and worthwhile start to Ang Lee’s success as a filmmaker. MT

THE WEDDING BANQUET | Cast: Sihung Lung, Winston Chao, May Chin, Mitchell Lichtenstein |106min | US Comedy

THE WEDDING BANQUET returns once again to family territory with a slick comedy with less heart and soul than Pushing Hands but entertaining nonetheless, as Ang Lee’s growing confidence ensures a smoother feel. A gay landlord’s marriage of convenience to one of his female tenants gets into Queer Street when her parents discover the ploy. As this is not a gay outing in the strict sense of the word, its appeal will garner more mainstream appeal.

Sihung Lung is once again the star turn, as wise head of a Taiwanese family, Mr Gao. Delighted that his son Wai-tung (Winston Chao) is finally going to carry on the family line (after years of nagging), he makes a surprise visit to NYC with his wife to meet the delightful Wei-Wei (May Chin) expecting a full scale wedding and not the registry office slot, planned for the following afternoon, as the Wai-tung’s gay lover Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein) lurks sympathetically in the background as Best Man.

Plenty of Meet the Fockers-style awkwardness ensues during the hastily thrown together wedding banquet but proceedings take turn for the worse when, in a bizarre bi-sexual twist, Wai-tung makes Wei-Wei pregnant on their wedding night. This is a light-hearted affair with the thrust on comedy rather than character development. That said the ensemble cast give decent performances and Ang Lee is seen in cameo with the line “You’re witnessing the result of 5,000 years of sexual repression”. MT

EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN | Cast: Sihung Lung, Chien-Lien Wu, Kuei Mei-Yang, Yu-Wen Wang; Taiwan 1994, 123 min.

The third and most accomplished film in this Box trilogy is Lee’s 1994 outing EAT DRINK, MAN WOMAN based on the first lines of the traditional chinese Book of Rites “The things which men greatly desire are comprehended in meat and drink and sexual pleasures”, Eat Drink Man Woman is a gentle parable of domestic unhappiness. Mr. Chu (Lung), a famous chef and longterm widower, has three daughters who are frustrated in many different ways. Chu is always dissatisfied with his lot and, perhaps symbolically, has lost his taste buds with his cooking leaving much to be desired. Jia-Chien (Wu) is an airline executive, Jia-Jen (Mei-Yang), the oldest, is a prim school teacher who is disappointed in life after an unhappy love affair, and like her father, unable to make a new start. Jia-Ning (Wang), the youngest, is the only sibling able to express her unhappiness with her lot and the stifling family atmosphere. In a similar vein to Rohmer’s ‘Moral Tales”, there is a philosophical undercurrent and also, a somehow slightly false happy-ending. But Eat Drink Man Woman is hugely entertaining; the love life of the sisters wreaking havoc with the sleeping arrangements of the household. AS

THE TRILOGY IS OUT ON DVD FROM 24 AUGUST 2015

 

The Colour of Money | From the Gold Rush to the Credit Crunch | September 2015

Golddiggers 1933_2 copyPerfectly situated in the hub of Europe’s Financial centre, The Barbican offers a selection of films and discussions this Autumn exploring money through themes of power, wealth, poverty, corruption and consumerism.

From the silent era comes Erich von Stroheim’s potent thriller GREED, shows how the corruptive force of a sudden fortune ruins the lives of three Californians. The glitzy side of Hollywood is depicted in Mervyn LeRoy’s comedy musical GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (right) where millionaire turned composer Dick Powell uses his fortune for the good of the community. Robert Bresson won best director at Cannes 1983 for his classic l’ARGENT based on Tolstoy’s The Forged Coupon that explores the journey of 500 franc note and the devastating effect on its final recipient. In THE WHITE BALLOON (1995), Jafar Panahi’s slice of realism, written by Abbas Kiarostami examines how a child is swindled out of her birthday money and blockbuster THE WOLF OF WALL STREET charts the rise to riches and ultimate fall of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) due to a 1990s securities scam. In AMERICAN PYSCHO (2000) Christian Bale stars as another wealthy City who sociopathic personality enables him to fund a lifestyle and escape into his own American dream. These are our recommendations:

Greed_7 copyGREED | Dir: Erich von Stroheim; Cast: Gibson Gowland, Za Su Pitts, Jean Hersholt | USA 1923; 462 min. (original), 140 min. (theatrical release), 239 min. (restored version)

Roger Ebert called Greed “the ‘Venus of Milo’ of films, acclaimed as a classic, despite missing several parts deemed essential by its creator”. It is also a classic example of Hollywood butchery, in this case performed by the new partners of MGM, Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer; Thalberg turning out to be Von Stroheim’s bête noir having already fired him from Merry-Go-Round at Universal. Just twelve people saw the original version (edited from 85 hours of total footage); one of them, the director Rex Ingram, believed that Greed was the best film ever and would never be surpassed. Shot over 198 days from June to October 1923 in San Francisco, Death Valley and Placer Country, California, it took over a year to edit, and cost $ 564 654 (around $ 60 million in todays money), but only grossed $ 274827 at the box office.

Based on the novel ‘Mc Teague’ by Frank Norris, Greed centres around the relationship of John Mc Teague (Gibson) and his wife Trina (Pitts). Mc Teague is operating as a dentist without a licence, when he meets Trina, who has been the girl friend of his best friend Marcus Schouler (Hersholt). After Trina wins $5000 in the lottery just before she marries McTeague, Schouler wants her back, and denounces Mc Teague to the police, for working without a licence. Mc Teague asks Trina for $3000, to save his skin, but she refuses him, being too fond of the money – she cleans the coins until they glitter. Mc Teague murders his wife and Schouler again reports him to the police. Mc Teague flees to Death Valley from his pursuers, among them Schouler, whom he fights to the death.

Greed  caused violence to break out off screen too. The film was nearly destroyed because of its unwieldy length, making it almost impossible to edit. A fist fight broke out between Mayer and Von Stroheim, after the former provoked the director with “I suppose you consider me rabble”, to which Von Stroheim answered “Not even that”. Mayer struck him so hard, that he fell through the office door. Mayer wanted a uplifting film for the “Jazz Age’, and Greed was uncompromising realism. But the studio even changed the meaning of what was left with inter-title cards. In the MGM version, when Trina and Mc Teague went by train to the countryside, the MGM title card reads “This is the first day it hasn’t rained in weeks. I thought it would be nice to go for a walk”. In Rick Schmidlin’s reconstructed version of 1999 (based on Stroheim’s 330 page shooting script and stills) it reads: “Let’s go and sit on the sewer” – and so they sit down on the sewer.

Von Stroheim, who invented an aristocratic upbringing and a glorious army career for himself, was nevertheless a master of realism when it came to films: when Gowland and Hersholt fight in Death Valley, the temperature was over 120 degrees, and many of the cast and crew had to take sick leave, Von Stroheim coaxed the actor on “Fight, fight. Try to hate each other as you hate me”. AS

L'Argent_2 copyL’ARGENT (1983) | Dir.: Robert Bresson | Cast: Christian Patey, Caroline Lang, Sylvie Van der Elsen, Michel Briguet France/Switzerland 1983, 85 min.

To find the money to direct what turned out to be his last film L’Argent, Robert Bresson needed the intervention of the French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang – just like he did with L’Argent’s predecessor Le Diable Probablement (1977). L’Argent went on to win the Director’s Prize in Cannes, sharing in with Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia.

L’Argent is Bresson’s truest ‘Dostoevskyan’ work, even though it is based on Leo Tolstoy’s novella ‘The Forged Coupon’. From the outset, money changes hands at a furious tempo: a young boy asks his father for pocket money but what he gets is not enough for him; he pawns his watch to his friend, who gives him a forged 500 Franc note. The boy, having recognised the forgery, takes the money to a photo shop, buying only a cheap frame with the note. The manager of the shop – after discovering the forged note, scolds his wife for being so naïve. But she reminds him that he took in himself two forged notes of the same denomination the week ago. The owner gives all three notes to Yvon Targe (Patey), who is the gas bill collector. Later, in a restaurant, Yvon tries to use the money but the waiter recognises the forgeries. Yvon is spared jail, but loses his job. Moneyless, he acts as get-away-driver for a friend’s robbery, but the plot fails and Yvon’s run of bad luck continues until its devastating denouement.

Apart from opening, everything is told in Bresson’s very own elliptical but terse style, making the smallest detail more important than the action. The prison is shown as a labyrinth in which Yvon is lost, particularly when sent into solitary confinement after a fight with fellow prisoners. The prison is shown in great detail in a similar vein to Un Condamne à mort s’est Echappé (1956) and becomes the material witness to Yvon’s suffering. The murder of the hotel-keepers is shown only in hindsight: a long medium shot of bloody water in a basin, followed by a close-up of Yvon emptying the till. The failed robbery is shown by the reactions of the passersb-by, who witness Yvon driving off, after shots are fired. Finally, enigma of the last shot in the restaurant, when the crowd looses interest in Yvon, as if he were simply not enough of a person, in spite of the hideous murders. In this shot, the whole universe of Bresson is captured: there seems to be no sense in human deeds, and, therefore there is no question of a why, and no guilt, but, perhaps just redemption.

DOP Pasqualino de Santis (Death in Venice) excels particularly in bringing together the close-up shots of the objects, and the long shots of Yvon as he gets increasingly lost: in the robbery, in prison, and in the cosy house of an old woman. We feel him shrinking, as he loses his identity during the film, becoming a total non-person by the end. The acting is as understated as possible, and Bresson closes his oeuvre of only thirteen films in fifty years with another discourse on spiritual and mystic values in a world, where money is everything and everywhere. AS/MT

THE COLOUR OF MONEY | BARBICAN LONDON EC2 | 10 – 20 SEPTEMBER 2015 

 

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

 

She’s Funny that Way (2014) | DVD release

SHES_FUNNY_THAT_WAY_DVD_3DDirector: Peter Bogdanovich

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Hahn, Rhys Ifans, Tatum O’Neal

93min   US   Comedy

Peter Bogdanovich made his long-awaited return at Venice 2014 with this blast of humour that feels quaintly dated but welcome nonetheless amongst an array of, frankly, second-rate festival dramas. Co-scripted with his ex-wife Louise Stratten in her screenwriting debut, it has a solid comedy cast of Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston and Imogen Poots. Not to mention Rhys Ifans.

Although set in a contempo Manhattan, this has the classic feel of a Woody Allen film from the early eighties and it also shares the rich, honeyed visuals of the era. The narrative, too, feels dated; locked in a bygone era of the casting couch, which is the thrust of its central duo, played by Imogen Poots – as spunky wannabe actress cum call girl Izzy –  who finds herself involved with a married film director, Arnold Albertson (a reticent Owen Wilson), after entertaining him in her bedside manner the night before she gives him an audition for a play. So smitten is he (and so wealthy), in his plausible, but gentlemanly midlife crisis, that he offers to take her off “the streets”.

It just so happens that Izzy has another andropausal admirer in the shape of Judge Predergast (Austin Pendleton) who shares the same shrink, Jane Claremont (a fabulous Jennifer Aniston) whose own lover (Will Forte) is the playwright of the piece that Izzy’s trying for. The delightfully dotty Kathryn Hahn plays Arnold’s wife who’s keen on Seth (Rhys Ifans), the main star of this play in question. As so the twisty tale goes on with a few too many plotholes to mention, but a few laughs too on the way.

This is old-fashioned but good-value entertainment, as long as you don’t take it too seriously – there’s even a cameo appearance from Bogdanovitch himself. Aniston and Poots act their socks off to great effect and the support performances are more than decent. SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY is pleasant, light-hearted comedy. And for a simple night out, it does certainly does the trick. MT

REVIEWED AT VENICE 2015 LA BIENNALE 71 EDITION | ON DVD FROM 10th AUGUST

 

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014) | Leone D’Oro | Venice International Film Festival 2014

Writer/Director: Roy Andersson

Holger Andersson, Nisse Vestblom

101 mins, Sweden, Germany, Norway, France

To paraphrase Chaplin, life is a tragedy in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. That’s the spirit of Roy Andersson’s latest, dizzy, brilliant film. The film’s first three scenes offer slices of death: a man suffers a heart attack opening a wine bottle; a dying, wailing mother prizes her handbag of jewellery from her money-grabbing kids; a dinnerlady offers up the abandoned beer of a gentleman who has just collapsed and died in front of her. They’re all ferociously funny scenes. Why? Because we’re only human.

Pigeon’s characters may be acting a tragedy of their own making, but it makes for a warm, funny and beautiful movie, of the kind that reflects our own trials and tribulations and forces us to put them perspective, to laugh in their face. Yes, it’s that good.

The film concludes Andersson’s ‘Living’ trilogy (after Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living), each film released seven years apart. His latest has a similar series of related vignettes, most comic, contemplating something greater through the banality of everyday existence. If there is a through-line, it’s led by a pair of travelling salesmen Jonathan (Holger Andersson) and Sam (Nils Westblom), skating in and out of their own miserable lives amongst the memories and dreams of those they meet. Selling novelty gifts:“extra long” vampire teeth and “laughter bags”, as well as the latest “Uncle One-tooth” mask that they hope will be the next big thing. They know as much as we do that it won’t, their products so absurd they mock themselves.

Andersson meticulously crafts each set-up – he took four years to make the film – and yet each scene catches something serendipitous, as if captured by magic of the camera’s apparently arbitrary medium-shot length (of course, it isn’t). Some sequences are stunning: Jonathan and Sam are lost trying to find a shop called “party” (the existential joke is surely intended), and enter a shabby café to ask directions. While there, the huge army of King Charles XII march outside on their way to defeat at Poltava. Here’s a Swedish national hero reduced to a simple man asking for sparkling water. Later, in another period scene, 19th century English colonists load slaves into a furnace. Their screams squeeze through a series of trumpets into beautiful brass music.

There’s also a haunting repetition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic (better known as “Glory, Glory Alleluia”), translated to suit various settings from war marches to the melody of a barmaid asking for a kiss. The original song was about the American civil war – is the director contemplating a split in man’s soul between hope (that characters here show) and the reality that exists? Who knows, but it’s unquestionably moving.

Pigeon is an absurdist drama for today, and Andersson an heir to Ionesco or Beckett on film. To the director, we’re a tragicomic race: we so long for company and gratification, but dying alone is our lot – again, it’s what makes us human. But he’s asking us to take heed of another of Chaplin’s timeless quotes: “To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it”. Ed Frankl.

REVIEWED AT VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2015 | NOW ON DVD BLU

[youtube id=”MhpedyLXevo” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Line of Credit (2014) |Kreditis Limiti

Director: Salomé Alexi

Cast: Nino Kadradse, Salome Alexi, Koka Tagonidze,

90min  Comedy Drama  Georgia

Georgian filmmaker Salome Alexi’s LINE OF CREDIT is a finely-tuned and delicately rendered comedy teetering on the brink of tragedy to paint a tense yet elegant picture of a well-to-woman family forced into debt in penny-pinching post Soviet Georgia.

Purple-tinted pastel visuals and careful mid-distance framing echo Miss Violence but this is lighter in tone lacking the glowering menace of Avranas’ outing , despite its serious undertones. A predominantly female affair, it sets off with a large family gathering to celebrate an elderly woman’s birthday in the faded grandeur of the upmarket apartment she shares with her middle-aged daughter Nino and her husband in Tbilisi. It emerges that Nino had pawned her mother’s wedding ring to pay for the party. Close friend Lili (Alexi) reveals, in a discrete post prandial tête a tête, the need for an operation but can’t afford the medical cost but there is a crafty way round this involving her joining a drug programme. Meanwhile the aristocratic Nino (Nino Kadradse) and her mother are quietly selling off the family porcelain to cover expenses.

Graceful and soignée, Nino keeps up her appearances while constantly scrimping and saving to run her small cafe in a quiet corner of the bustling capital. Enlivened by occasional bursts of local music, this intimate domestic drama depicts a close knit community that cares for each other in frequent encounters and conspiratorial chats but the debt-ridden duos invariably focus on money matters and will resonate with art house audiences experiencing the need to tighten their belts. Alexi’s well-crafted and watchable debut gradually builds towards a shocking climax and by the end we feel thoroughy au fait with contempo middle class Tbilisi and its subtle yet far-reaching political undercurrents. MT

LINE OF CREDIT is screening during East End Film Festival on 9 July 2015

La Grande Bouffe (1973)

Director: Marco Ferreri

Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli, Philippe Noiret, Ugo Tognazzi

130min   Comedy Drama   French

One of the legendary European dramas of the era and the highest grossing, La Grande Bouffe redolent of seventies France with its mock ‘Louis Quinze’ interiors, florid cinematography and original score by Philippe Sarde (The Tenant).  Mocking, cynical and drole in tone, it pokes fun at inappropriate sex, bestiality, marital strife, body functions and the more grotesque elements of everyday life, which are treated with a general nonchalance all round. Uniting the era’s famous acting talents: Michel Piccoli, Marcello Mastroianni, Philippe Noiret and Ugo Tognazzi give rather restrained performances as a group of friends (magistrate, chef, tv producer and pilot) who attempt to escape their woes by eating themselves to death in a French Maison Particulière with a trio of kindly callgirls, while salacious silent movies form background texture to their gargantuan feasts.

As the Cannes festival opener of 1973, the film was naturally going to divide critics, some who regarded it as a worthy enditement of mass consumerism and over-indulgence of the French and Italian middle-classeses (for whom it was quite normal to have a mistress); others as an amusing curio focussing on debauchery of one kind or another. Nevertheless, it went on to win the FIPRESCI prize that year.

There are shades of Walerian Borowczyk and Bunüel in the final scenes where Tognazzi gets a handjob while gorging on a vast pâté gâteau before dying of a heart-attack. The others meet their fate in equally distateful circumstances which somehow feel more tragically pathetic rather than offensive fifty years later; although at the time they must have felt shocking. The tragedy is to be found in the self-hatred and worthlessness of these men, rather than in their excess and depravity. These are people who have lost their zest for life due to stultifying self-satisfaction.

According to sources, the film was originally shown unlicensed at the Curzon Mayfair London causing an outcry from infamous campaigner Mary Whitehouse on the grounds of indecency in a public place. This only added grist to the censor’s mill, who went on to rule that films with “artistic merit”  would be exempt from prosecution. Seemingly taking a cue from this experience, Ferreri went on to make Tales of Ordinary Madness, another drama focusing on excess and sexual depravity starring an equally impressive cast of Ben Gazzara and Ornella Muti. It won the FIPRESCI prize at San Sebastian 1981.

A 2K REMASTERING IS ON RELEASE FROM 3 JULY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS

 

Therapy for a Vampire | Der Vampir auf der Couch (2014) | Edinburgh Film Festival

Writer|Director: David Rühm

Cast Tobias Moretti, Jeanette Hain, Cornelia Ivancan, Dominic Oley, Kark Fischer

87min  Gothic Horror   Austria

Austrian auteur David Ruhm adds a stylish and witty contribution to the blood-bloated canon of the Vampire genre here with a Freudian-themed thirties pastiche THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE.

In his Viennese consulting rooms in 1911, Dr Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) is conducting an early experiment using Art Therapy to explore his patients’ dreams. Naturally, given the title, one of his most illustrious patients is experiencing some challenging ‘issues’. Count Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti) is suffering from a generalised ennui: having lived for thousands of years, he’s simply tired of life and the sex with his wife, the strikingly sultry Gräffin Elsa (Jeanette Hain) has simply lost its bite. He is also haunted by the premature death, centuries earlier, of his true love, Nabila.  When he sees a portrait of a woman painted by Viktor (Dominic Oley), Freud’s inhouse artist, he is struck by a mysterious ‘deja-vu’ between the subject of the painting, Lucy (Viktor’s girlfriend played by Cornelia Ivancan), and his own long lost lover.

Back in their bijoux castle in the wooded suburbs of Vienna, Count Geza enthuses over Viktor’s artistic skills to the emotionally needy and narcissistic Graffin Elsa, who is having serious problems with her image. Unable to see herself in a mirror, she implores Count to commission Viktor to paint her portrait.

Rühm has crafted two very appealing vampires here, who are not only stylish and drôle but also have lost none of their dark weirdness, in echoes of Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston in Only Lovers Left Alive, although this is a far more stylised drama. Drinking blood from transfusions they are able to define the exact profile of their victims – young Virgin, aged Diabetic – and so on – without the inconvenience and mess of blood spurts and uncontrollable haemorrhaging on their beautifully hand-tailored attire. They are endowed with all the traditional Vampire capabilities of bestial transformation, they quail away from crosses, garlic and wooden stakes but they also embody the more playful attributes of irony and self-parody as seen in The Munsters. But it is their obsession with counting objects that is their final downfall.

Beautifully-crafted and sumptuously staged, the success of Rühm’s Gothic horror piece lies in this combination of sinister weirdness and seriously dark humour, and there are some unexpected quirky laugh out loud moments that make this really entertaining. And although it never fully explores the Freudian premise, it pays homage to the legendary therapist in its themes of unrequited love, vanity and sexual obsession. Performances are consistently good: the two female leads are far from pliant, adding a foxy feminist streak to their Gothic horror credentials. Viktor is sensitive and appealing and Count Geza sneeringly wicked and elegantly masculine.  MT

THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE | EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL | 17 – 28 JUNE 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

 

Marilyn Monroe: Victim or Manipulator?

Gentlemen_Prefer_Blondes_3 Marilyn Monroe’s success in the Hollywood firmament was built on a ruthless control of her own image: and whilst the myth would suggest that the Studio controlled her success, it was Marilyn herself  who ultimately called the shots. And there were always enough men around to help achieve her aims. When she finally collapsed under the burden of stardom, she had successfully fashioned her profile for her own profit and that of the studios.

First of all, there was the Russian born Johnny Hyde (1895-1950), vice-president of William Morris’ West Coast office. In spite of being 31 years older than Marilyn, he wanted to marry her, and left his wife. He negotiated Monroe’s contract with 20th Century Fox, which lead to her having small, but noticeable roles in All About Eve and Asphalt Jungle. In the first one, she plays a dim-witted actress, seemingly wiling to sleep with anybody who would be of use to her. For five years Monroe would play roles which were just a variation on this theme. But, much more importantly, Hyde arranged for a portrait of her in ”Photoplay”. By this time, she had already been on the cover of both “Look” and “Life’ magazine. But her “Photoplay’ profile played up her vulnerability and loneliness and, of course, underlined her troubled past. Crucially, it stressed her lack of female confidantes, an important point, since female audiences were still not sold on Miss Marilyn Monroe. In confessing her need for female friendship and solidarity, Monroe made a direct appeal: “There’s a thing called society that you have to enter into, and society is run but women. Until now, I’ve never known one thing about typical ‘feminine activities’”.

River_of_No_Return_2

In calling for the help of ‘her sisters’ Marilyn Monroe, and the studio, made a strong bid to change the male bias of her audience. Her self-confessed “vulnerability and innocence” helped this process on the way, films of the mid-fifites  like Niagara, Gentlemen prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire made her blossom into a fully fledged star.

In 1948 Monroe had posed naked for the photographer Tom Kelley for “Golden Dream” calendar. And these photos had been reprinted in other girlie calendars. When she was a star in the making, she offered appealing reasons for posing in the nude: “I was hungry”, “three weeks behind with the rent” and, “Kelley’s wife was present”. Obviously, the real money came from the reprint as a centre-fold in “Playboy”. But her ‘honesty’ was well-received and this clever attitude meant that her image did not suffer greatly.

Prince_and_the_Showgirl_6

Her marriages to Joe DeMaggio and later Arthur Miller, were handled by her and the studios to maximum effect. Again, “Photoplay” was helpful in creating the image of Monroe after her marriage to the ex-baseball star: “At home their lives were as ordinary as any couple’s in Oklahoma. Monroe slips into an apron and begins opening cans and getting things ready for the big fellow’s dinner, which she cooks with her own hands”. Another magazine described her life style, as calling for “candlelight on bridge tables, budgets and dreaming of babies – simple, plain domesticity”. Monroe adding herself that “Joe doesn’t have to move a muscle. Treat a husband this way and he’ll enjoy you twice as much.” The reality looked different, during their honeymoon n Japan, Monroe left DiMaggio for Korea, where she appeared in ten shows for the serving GIs. A month later, Wilder let the public watch the famous “air vent” scene for The Seven Year Itch, and the enraged DiMaggio soon filed for a divorce.

Bus_Stop_2In 1953, Monroe rebelled against the studio, she did not want to appear in the dim song-and-dance film The Girl with Pink Tights. Suspended by Fox, Monroe with the assistance of Milton Green (1922-1985), a photographer and PR agent, formed her own company ‘Marilyn Monroe Productions’. Fox gave in, and Monroe returned with a better contract, and a fine role in Bus Stop (1956), for which she received the best reviews of her career. During this time she met the playwright Arthur Miller. The gossip industry soon invented the new Monroe. Turning up for the press conference for her new production company wearing a full length ermine coat, signified better than words how serious she was about her art and her new marriage. Real life again has been re-invented: Monroe and Arthur Miller split up even before the shooting of The Misfits (their common project) began, Miller meeting his new wife during the shoot.

The_Misfits_5Marilyn Monroe was adept at being her best PR agent and stylist, she played the press more often than the other way around. The “Saturday Evening Post” was perhaps best in projecting her persona: There was the ‘Sexpot” image of the early 50s, followed by “frightened Marilyn Monroe, after the publication of her childhood history and than the “new Marilyn Monroe”, the legend, a composed and studied performer”. Whilst the ‘Legend’ was draped in furs, and responsible for the ‘Monroeism’, the ‘Woman’ herself was still shy, hesitant, removed and terribly lonely. AS/MT

THE MARILYN MONROE SEASON RUNS AT THE BFI, LONDON | 1-30 JUNE 2015 

 

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014)

Dir.: Mark Hartley

Documentary; Australia/USA/Israel/UK 2014, 107 min.

Mark Hartley (Machete Maidens unleashed) is no stranger to the weirder aspects of film history at the lower end of the spectrum, and ELECTRIC BOOGALOO certainly dives deep into the underbelly of the film industry – but coming up with a few contradictory facts regarding our perception of exploitation film making.

Cannon Films was founded in 1967, and, until the arrival of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus in 1979, had produced mainly horror shockers like The Blood on Satan’s Claw. The cousins Golan and Globus would not change the contents of Cannon’s film slate very much (apart from a few exceptions mentioned later), but production values would compete, at certain times, with the ones of the major studios; whilst the duo’s production by numbers rose to eighteen in 1987, compared with the usual yearly output of the majors of six to eight.

Golan, who would direct some the films himself, was the artistic half, whilst Globus juggled the finances. Both had great success in Israel with Lemon Popsicle in 1978: produced for 10m Shekel, 1.3 million citizens (more than a third of the total population) watched the film, so did 2.7 million Germans. The teenage sex comedy was remade as a Cannon Film in 1982 with the title The Last American Virgin. The cousins were obviously led by the maxim that every film could only get better if naked women appeared frequently. With a few exceptions, these scenes were not offensively pornographic; more often than not, the nakedness was involuntarily funny. Lucinda Dickey and Bo Derek, commenting on their former selves in this documentary, can see the funny side of the embarrassing clips. Much more obscene were Michael Winner’s Death Wish sequels, which, so one observer, “simply served the purpose for Winner to be obnoxious”.

On the whole, Globus/Golan found work for stars whose career was on the downward trajectory: actors like Elliot Gould or Franco Nero, the latter having the honour to be first Ninja in Enter the Ninja (1980). Directors, who had seen better days included Justin Jacklin of ‘Emmanuelle’ fame, Barbet Schroeder (Barfly, 1987), John Frankenheimer (52 Pick Up, 1986) and Tobe Hooper, whose Lifeforce (1985) was the ultimate ‘zombie-vampire-end of the world-nude movie – starring a very young Mathilda May, a B-picture produced at the staggering cost of 25m $, easily 40 m in todays money. But it should be said, that some exceptions made these excesses easier to bear: Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear (1987), John Cassavates Love Streams (1984), Neil Jordan’s Company of Wolves (1985) and Andrei Konchalovski’s Runaway Train from the same year show a different side of Cannon. The same goes for Franco Zeffirelli’s Verdi opera Otello (1986), the director, not the easiest to work with, stating rather surprisingly, “that Golan and Globus were the best producers he ever worked for”.

What brought the end for the Golan/Globus reign at Cannon was the fact, that they grew too quickly. At one time, Golan/Globus had over 50% of the UK cinema market with their “Classic” and “ABC” chains; on top they had acquired EMI, with their library of over 2000 films, and the studios in Elstree. This was all sold, to make even bigger films, like Superman IV (1987), a disaster with the worst special effects possible. Cannon than paid Sylvester Stalone the unheard sum of 12 m in the same year, to appear in Over the Top, an arm wrestling (sic!) ‘action’ film, which bombed at the box office. At the same time, Cannon had a five year option with “marvel’ for Spiderman, the rights reverted after five years back to Marvel, later to be picked up by Columbia, But after his ‘divorce’ from Cannon and Globus in 1989, Menachem Golan produced Captain America for Marvel and his new company ’21 Century’ – alas, the ten million $ project went more or less straight to video.

The parting of Golan (who died in 2014 at the age of eighty five) and Globus was bitter; on March 16th, two Lambada films had their premiere in Hollywood, one produced by Globus for Cannon, the rival one by Golan for 21. Century. As somebody commented “this was even surreal for Hollywood standards”. And surreal is an apt description for the whole Cannon adventure, documented here informative, full of witty/bitchy remarks and clips which make you laugh in Hartley’s ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, the title of a1985 Cannon film, the sequel to another, rather successful, Cannon classic Breakin. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 5 JUNE 2015

 

 

Listen Up Philip (2104) |

Dir/Writer.: Alex Ross Perry

Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Jonathan Price, Krysten Ritter

USA 2014, 108 min.

Philip (Schwartzman) is a promising young writer and emotional illiterate. To be precise, he not only champions the egocentrics of the (male) world, he is also a fierce misogynist who blames women for his self-destruction; sabotaging every relationship and feeling an enormous amount of self pity. In a word, he is a complete a..hole. An all-knowing voiceover recounts not only what’s going on, but also past and future pitfalls of this rather one-dimensional character.

The main recipient of Philip’s lust for alienating is his girlfriend Ashley (Moss), a professional photographer who has supported Philip during the many years of unpaid literary work. Now, with his second novel a success, Philip moves out, to live with his hero, the writer Ike Zimmerman (Pryce) in the countryside. The old man is a much further developed person-destroyer than Philip. The way he treats his daughter Melanie (Ritter), can only be described as serious psychological harm. Needless to say, Philip, a quick learner in these matters, soon treats the young woman the same way. After another failed relationship with a young French fellow college- lecturer, Philip runs home to Ashley in New York, like a naughty boy to his mother – only to be told, that the his ex is happy with a cat. The voice over tells us, needlessly, that Philip will not learn make any emotional progress in his life.

Alex Ross Perry’s narrative would have been successful for a thirty minute short film, but blown up to nearly two hours, it soon looses our interest in Philip and his rather predictable rants. It ceases to be funny, and with the voiceover taking away any possibility of surprise, we just wait for the words to end. Camera work is lacklustre and conventional, the actors have little scope to display any merit, being reduced to card-board cut-outs. LISTEN UP PHILIP is much closer to a radio play than a film. Somehow, writer/director Perry suffers from the same male hypertrophic beliefs his main protagonist, that great lines alone make a person. A regressive and awesomly repetitive outing. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 5 JUNE 2015

A New Girlfriend (2014) | Une Nouvelle Amie

Wri/Dir: Francois Ozon | Cast: Romain Duris, Anais Demoustier, Raphael Personnaz, Isild Le Bosco,

Mystery crime writer Ruth Rendell has provided filmmakers with some plucky plot-linesl over the years: Claude Chabrol’s La Ceremonie starred Isabelle Huppert and La Demoiselle D’Honneur had Aurore Clément who also stars in Ozon’s 2014 adaptation of a Rendell short story, cheekily exploring the nature of desire.

There are shades of Almódovar too in this subversive domestic melodrama that takes place somewhere in suburbia in contemporary France. Ozon’s recent films have all dabbled in the sexual dynamics of their seemingly sorted protagonists. And he’s well known for his tongue in cheek approach to the narrative. The upshot is that sexuality can be a distinctly moveable feast that often takes us by surprise, with feelings of desire or even repulsion emerging, sometimes inconveniently and when we least expect it, and between the most unlikely suspects. In the House upturned smug coupledom with some surprising revelations and A New Girlfriend develops this further in a story that sees sudden tragedy rocking the status quo of an outwardly loved-up young married couple.

Wealthy and good-looking, Laura (Isild Le Besco) and David (Romain Duris in frisky form) start their new lives together in the faux splendour of a picture perfect housing estate, very similar to the one in Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder. But when Laura dies leaving baby girl Lucie, her best friend Claire (Demoustier) is naturally devastated, and drawn into the circle of grief as the godmother of the little girl. Clearly David must now be Lucie’s mother as well as her father, and it seems he’s taken the female role really seriously, as the heartbroken Claire soon finds out. For her part Claire, has also taken her grief to new heights to the detriment of her marriage to Gilles (Raphael Personnaz). But when her husbands’s sexual-healing fails to work, Claire takes compassionate leave and heads chez David for tea and sympathy.

Bereavement has brought out the feminine side of David and, to Claire’s surprise, she finds him dolled up in Laura’s clothes complete with a blond wig and saucy underwear. Unfortunately, Duris is one male actor whose strong masculine looks can never make him look feminine. He certainly has the chops but his heavy jawline and thick eyebrows are more suggestive of a pantomine dame than an androgynous siren in cross-dressing. There are plenty of guys out there who look pretty in long hair and eyeliner – but Duris is not one of them. So when he turns girlie, the look is weirdly grotesque and mildly frightening, rather than sexy and seductive. Maybe that’s was Ozon’s intention. As the saying goes “there’s nowt so queer as folk”

David suddenly develops a desire to go shopping and Claire, in an act of female solidarity indulges him in a date in the local shopping centre. Gradually Claire buys into David’s sexual awakening, sympathetically aiding and abetting him with make-up suggestions and underwear advice, eventually transforming him into her new best friend “Virginie”helping herself to get over the loss of Laura.

Although Oxon is clearly pushing the boundaries on heterosexuality and role-play he doesn’t denigrate David/Virginie, and there is nothing sexually provocative about this change in circumstances. With clever casting, he could certainly have pulled off something quite sensational between David/Virginie and Claire (and it wouldn’t have just have involved an Agent Provocateur thong).

Using a clever selection of songs from the archives, Ozon indulges David/Virginie’s desires to the limit and Duris certainly gives the role depth, clearly enjoying the thrill of his female guise and all that it entails. But Claire and Virginie’s sexual chemistry fails to materialise, remaining firmly in the ‘just good friends’ camp. A reference to Gilles and David’s sexual linking also fails to ignite, but there’s enough complexity at work in the performances to keep things fun and fluffy despite some longueurs. In this inspired new twist on bereavement therapy, Duris and Demoustier keep things tender rather than soppy in their mutual grief over Laura, and a surprisingly upbeat denouement makes for an entertaining watch. MT

NOW ON BFI Player 

.

Thou Gild’st the Even | Sen Aydinlatirsin Geceyi (2013) | LTFF 2015

Director|Writer: Onur Unlu

Cast: Ali Atay, Tansu Bicer, Cengiz Bozkurt, Asil Buyukozcelik, Demet Eygar

107mins  Fantasy Drama   Turkish with subtitles

Man is Created By Anxiety – Euripides

Taking its name from Shakespeare’s 28th Sonnet, THOU GILD’ST THE EVEN (Sen Aydinlatirsin Geceyi) garnered Best Film, Best Script, Best Editing and FIPRESCI Awards at the National competition strand at Istanbul Film Festival this year.

Elegantly shot in pristine black and white, Onur Ünlü’s obsurdist drama unspools as a series of satirical and poetic contemplations on the human condition. Blending fairytales with touches of surrealism and poetic realism and whimsical observations explored through the daily life of a melancholy barber in a Turkish village, it is a curio may enchants or amuse or even irritate.

Cemal (Ali Atay) lives with his fathe, having lost his mother and siblings in a fire. His neighbours are a doctor, an invisible teacher and a girl who can control time with the clap of her hands.  Ünlü tries his hand at a range of special effects to tell his story – from slow mo, jump cuts and even back projection – the result is clever and effective for the most part and his ironic sense of humour adds a much needed levity to Cemal’s moody demeanour and mournful existence dwelling, for the most part, on negativity.

The film’s whimsical approach will appeal to devoted arthouse and festival audiences but those looking for a traditional drama may lose track of its endless flights into reverie and occasionally slow-paced narrative – this is essentially an everyday story of the trials, tribulations, occasional joys and passions of everyday life but told in an enchanting way. MT.

THE LONDON TURKISH FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 7 -17 MAY 2015

 

 

Wild Tales (2014) | Relatos Salvajes | Bfi Player

Argentinian film-maker Damián Szifrón’s latest film was also his big hope for the Foreign Languages Oscars in 2015. He didn’t win but WILD TALES is worth watching: a collection of wacky and wonderful stories from contemporary Argentina: a country richly suffused with the feisty Latin temperament of its Spanish forebears and public services that would make even Franz Kafka proud. Exploring a series of nightmarish scenarios and characters on the verge of a nervous breakdown (Almodovar is co-producer), but WILD TALES could be set in any modern European capital making it a drama of universal appeal.

On a plane, a fashion model finds she is next to her nemesis leading to mile-high mayhem; a cook uses her culinary expertees to help her boss avenge an unpleasant diner; a macho driver gets more than he bargained for on a mountain journey, a demolition man (Ricardo Darin) brings the house down over a ill-judged parking ticket; a rich industrialist tries to cover up his son’s mistake and, finally, a Jewish wedding ends in a showcase showdown after the bride pits her wits against her unfaithful groom.

In scenes of spectacular violence, outlandish revenge and powerful poignance the portmanteau fiom travels the length and breadth of the country from the heart of Buenos Aires to the magnificent mountainsides and pampas, Szifrón uses dark humour and subtle gravitas to expose his fellow compatriots’ proud self-belief and unswerving inner-strength: a scene between a bride and a random waiter on a hotel roof-top is almost magical. Performances are gutsy and heartfelt from the ensemble Argentinian cast, WILD TALES offers world class entertainment worthy of any Oscar ceremony. MT

ON BFI PLAYER

 

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

 

Heavenly Shift (2014) | ISTENI MÜSZAK

Dir.: Mark Bodzsar

Cast: Andras Ötvös, Roland Raba, Tamas Keresztes, Natasa Stork

Hungary 2013, 100 min. Drama

Director Bodzar’s feature film debut HEAVENLY SHIFT is very much in line with recent absurdist Hungarian comedies like György Palfi’s Taxidermia. Somehow between Luis Bunuel and David Lynch, HEAVENLY SHIFT is always entertaining, even though the grotesqueness is so over the top that sensitive souls might have difficulties in keeping their eyes open.

In 1992 young Milan (Ötvös) flees to Hungary from war torn Sarajevo, leaving behind his fiancée Natasa (Stork). In Budapest Milan joins up with a rather odd ambulance crew, led by Dr. Fek (Raba). The driver Kistamas (Keresztes) is very fond of his Samurai sword, which never leaves his side. Milan soon finds out that the crew’s wages are supplemented by a funeral director, who is called, whenever there is a fatality – often caused by Dr. Fek’s diagnosis, that the patient does not want to live any more and is therefore not be resuscitated. Luckily for Milan, said funeral director is also in contact with a Chinese gang, who smuggles people out of Yugoslavia in a coffin.

Milan saves up the 50 000 Forint reward to get his fiancée back, but Natasa has scruples about leaving her patients behind – on top of it, she does not fancy a long journey in a coffin. To compensate for this disappointment, Milan joins Kistamas in his frequent visits to a salon of topless hairdressers, the “Pink Laguna”. After causing the death of drug addict, the crew buries the body illegally, but Kistamas loses his temper and tries to kill one of burial crew, only succeeding in injuring Dr. Fek near fatally. Trying to save his life, Milan and Kistamas speed to the hospital, but  tragedy intervenes leaving only one survivor.

Most of the action is set in the narrow compound of the ambulance, sparing audiences little of  the gruesome and bloody details. Crass materialism and profiteering seem to rule post-communist Hungary, and Bodzsar is not very complimentary about his fellow countrymen. The acting is brilliant, and the camera as original as the narrative, always finding new angles from which to showcase the mayhem. Overall, cast and crew must have had a great time shooting a film which manages to entertain us as we fly by the seat of our pants amid an onslaught of grisly physical and psychological extremes. AS

HEAVENLY SHIFT WON THE DIRECTORS’ WEEK AWARD FOR BEST FILM AT FANTASPORTO 2014, PORTUGAL

 

The Voices (2014) |

Director: Marjane Satrapi

Writer: Michael Perry

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver

US  Comedy Drama Thriller

This Dexter-inspired ‘serial killer pulp thriller’ is Marjane Satrapi’s imaginative follow-up to her breakout hits Persepolis and Chicken with Plums.  There are some good ideas here, and her first film in English shows that quirky comedy can work across the cultural divide, although it’s not an outstanding success on all levels. Casting the superbly versatile Ryan Reynolds as the lead is an inspired choice: as disturbed warehouse stocker Jerry, Reynolds conveys normality with a dark side but, strangely, inspires our sympathy rather than dislike for his troubled character who is a sad victim of circumstance. Having been forced to kill his mother as a child, he wears his schizophrenic tendencies smartly tucked away behind the serene (almost autistic) gaze of an ordinary pleasant-looking guy next door. Respectably holding down his job and even volunteering to organise the entertainment at the office party; he drives a jeep and lives in a disused factory complete with pink cladding and neon signs. Not only that, he talks to his dog Bosco and cat Mr Whiskers and they talk back with accents (a Glaswegian cat and a dog with a Southern drawl are hilarious). Desperately keen to find a girlfriend, his forays with co-workers of the opposite sex, (superbly played by Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick) end in violent death for all concerned.

In Michael Perry’s screenplay, laughs are few but welcome in contrast to the highly inventive elements (Jerry stores the heads of his ‘dates’ in the fridge but they carry on talking) and brutal violence (stabbing his date to death by accident when pursuing her in the woods) that puncture Jerry’s volatile and psychopathic facade. THE VOICES is tonally out of kilter as an outright comedy or a horror outing; continually throwing us off-guard, not sure what to expect.- but somehow it’s an addictively watchable film with some unexpected moments of pure genius. Recommended. MT

REVIEWED DURING SUNDANCE UK WHERE WE TALKED TO MARJANE ABOUT DIRECTING RYAN REYNOLDS (below)| ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 23 MARCH 2015

[youtube id=”vbin6s5KMSs” width=”600″ height=”350″]

BFI Flare | 19-29 March 2015

Last year’s BFI Flare was a phenomenal success drawing an audience of over 22,000 to the Southbank complex for this exclusive LGBT event. Not that you have be gay, lesbian or bi-sexual to enjoy thees films. They now offer progressive cineastes and arthouse audiences the best in acting and directing talent from all over the World. Prize-winning titles such as STRANGER BY THE LAKE, LILTING and EASTERN BOYS prove that gay interest cinema is starting to attract more informed audiences who are searching out more eclectic and experimental fare in their choice of what to see at the movies.

Michael_still5_JamesFranco_JanMaxwell__byCaraHowe_2014-11-28_03-15-51PMAnd this year is no different: the UK Premiere of I AM MICHAEL (left) will open this year’s fest. A feature directorial debut for Gus Van Sant protégé Justin Kelly, the film stars James Franco and Zachary Quinto in a powerful interrogation of gay identity through the real-life story of Michael Glatze, who went from crusading gay journalist to anti-gay pastor.

As evidence of the strength of documentary work in this year’s Festival, Closing Night will feature the European Premiere of director Malcolm Ingram’s highly topical and rousing OUT TO WIN, charting the experience of LGBT sportspeople working in the highest echelons of professional sport. Featuring contributions from such pioneers as Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, David Kopay, John Amaechi and Jason Collins.

Also included in this year’s programme is the European Premiere of DO I SOUND GAY?, a documentary exploring the provocative idea of whether there is a ‘gay voice’ and featuring humorous, insightful contributions from performers and comedians including Margaret Cho, David Sedaris, George Takei and Dan Savage.

FRANGIPANI_still_two_guys_shirtless_on_bedAnd fresh from the Berlinale, TEDDY COMPETITION, where it won the Jury Prize, is STORIES OF OUR LIVES, Jim Chu Chu’s drama adaptation from real testimonies of LGBT Kenyans (where the film is banned for promoting homosexuality).

The festival offers rich cinematic insight into LGBT lives and loves around the world with films from the USA, France, UK, Spain, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Poland, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Australia, Greece and India plus the world’s first LGBT film from Sri Lanka FRANGIPANI (right)

The festival’s follows similar strands to last year:

H E A R T S – films about love, romance and friendship

PORTRAIT_OF_A_SERIAL_MONOGMAIST_still_bicycleMark Christopher’s 54: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT, fresh from its world premiere at this year’s Berlinale and bolder and gayer than ever before. UK feature film is represented in THE FALLING, Carol Morley’s wonderful tale of girl-school obsessions and hysteria. BROKEN GARDENIAS is a quirky dark comedy where Jenni takes on a dream-like quest for her long-lost father in LA. BLACKBIRD brings intense drama to a coming-of-age story set in a Mississippi small town including a stand-out performance by Mo’Nique as a traumatised mother. FRANGIPANI, the world’s first Sri Lankan LGBT film, features a classic love triangle with two men forced to make difficult decisions. PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL MONOGAMIST (left) is a whip-sharp comedy of 40-something lesbian dating, where commitments never seem to last for long but matters of the heart are never simple. GIRLTRASH: ALL NIGHT LONG is a lesbian rock musical, with a healthy disregard for stereotypes and irresistible performances and some good songs.

B O D I E S – stories of sex, identity and transformation

FULBOY_still_player_recliningThe World Premiere of DRESSED AS A GIRL is a celebration of an indefatigable group of drag performers, filmed over five years, from London to Glastonbury and back again. BORN TO FLY: ELIZABETH STREB vs. GRAVITY is a jaw-dropping encounter with the stunning aerial choreography of dancer Elizabeth Streb. DRUNKTOWN’S FINEST follows the lives of three young Native Americans, set against a background of extreme poverty, crime and violence, where coming-of-age presents difficult choices. MIRCO is a playful and thought-provoking documentary about three young people living in Berlin who identify beyond the gender binary. SOMETHING MUST BREAK is a tender love story between a shy trans teen and a young straight man, from the director of the acclaimed She Mail Snails. FULBOY is an insightful documentary into the real life of an Argentinian, professional football team, with camerawork which suggests there might be a ‘gay gaze’ or aesthetic, and offering a surprisingly intimate look at these athletes in their prime.

M I N D S – reflections on art, politics and community

TAB_HUNTER_CONFIDENTIAL_still_swimsuit.tif_rgbTab Hunter is a legend whose career as a Hollywood leading man was famously sacrificed when he was outed by his agent (to save the reputation of his other client Rock Hudson). Jeffrey Schwarz’s film TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL (left) in its European Premiere, reveals the utterly compelling Tab Hunter and his extraordinary life at the movies and elsewhere. Fresh from Sundance comes Jenni Olson’s thoughtful essay film THE ROYAL ROAD (below), a meditation on life and art and the politics of landscape, wrapped up in a dizzyingly beautiful range of images, with musings on Hitchcock’s Vertigo. WE CAME TO SWEAT celebrates the endangered Starlite, one of New York’s pre-Stonewall gay bars, a black-owned and operated influential dance club where some of the disco sound originated. EVERLASTING LOVE is a haunting tale of a teacher and student, and a group of friends caught up in illicit sexual encounters. THE LAST ONE: UNFOLDING THE AIDS MEMORIAL QUILT is a moving account of the final episode in the rich history of what is now the largest folk art project in the world, celebrating lives lost to HIV. And Cannes 2014 breakout hit, GIRLHOOD, a powerful, truthful story of young black girls growing up in Paris that subtly examines female friendship and gender dynamics. The ravishingly beautiful DIOR AND I celebrates the arrival of new designer Raf Simons at the house of Dior as he assembles his first couture collection in a film which truly gets under the skin of the fashion industry. No mention of John Galliano here!

ROYAL_ROAD_THE_still_saint_statue

And last but not least, BFI IMAX celebrates the 40th Anniversary of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW which launched a thousand devotional dress-ups, and will followed by a Blue Room party; dressing up is definitely encouraged. Other cult classics from the archives include: ORLANDO, THE COLOR PURPLE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AT THE WHISTLE STOP CAFE.

BFI FLARE RUNS FROM 19 – 29 MARCH AT THE BFI SOUTHBANK LONDON – BE THERE OR BE SQUARE...

.

Kinoteka Polish Film Festival 2015 | 8 April – 29 May 2015 | 13th Edition

10264804_1084725484887340_3803537261850274160_nKINOTEKA, the annual celebration of Polish Cinema and culture, is back in London for the 13th Anniversary. Taking place in various venues including BFI Southbank, ICA, Tate Modern, Fronline Club and Filmhouse Edinburgh.

Here’s a taster of this year’s highlights:

MARTIN SCORSESE PRESENTS : MASTERPIECES OF POLISH CINEMA

Filmhouse Edinburgh and BFI Southbank will be host to Scorsese’s 21 favourite Polish Films, all sparkling in new 2k prints. Showcasing the astonishing talent from the legendary Łódź Film School where directors such as Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Zanussi, Andrzej Munk, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Wojciech Jerzy Has, Aleksander Ford, Krzysztof Kieślowski, and Roman Polanski mastered their crafts.

Opening with a screening of CAMOUFLAGE with director Krzysztof Zanussi as special guest, KINOTEKA honours the work of Zanussi with 3 titles in the Masterpieces of Polish Cinema season: CAMOUFLAGE, THE CONSTANT FACTOR and ILLUMINATION as well as the UK premiere of his latest film, FOREIGN BODY  in the New Polish Cinema section.

N E W   P O L I S H   C I N E M A – 1o April 2015 onwards

The ICA plays host to KINOTEKA’s New Polish Cinema strand from 10th April with a selection of popular and critically successful contemporary Polish films from the last year. Krzysztof Zanussi’s FOREIGN BODY, takes an uncompromising look at contemporary Poland and the struggles between capitalist reality and Catholicism, sin and sainthood, men and women. Jerzy Stuhr’s latest film, CITIZEN, a dramedy set over sixty years, tells the story of Jan Bratek who regretfully finds himself at the heart of events from the modern history of Poland, from the 1950s through to the present day.

Wojciech Smarzowski ‘s (TRAFFIC DEPARTMENT), THE MIGHTY ANGEL, is in many ways Poland’s answer to The Lost Weekend and Leaving Las Vegas. An uncompromising, naturalistic tale of addiction and redemption, Robert Więckiewicz stars as a writer hospitalised for his alcoholism and the film follows him and the patients he meets during his treatment.

Krzysztof Skonieczny’s HARDKOR DISKO, hails the arrival of a fresh voice in Polish Cinema, his incendiary, psychological thriller wowed audiences when it premiered at last year’s Edinburgh Film Festival. When a young man arrives in the city and makes his way to the door of a successful middle-aged couple, his motives for being there are unclear. What quickly becomes apparent is that his overriding desire is to kill them. Compelling and disturbing, Hardkor Disko has elements of Michael Hanneke’s Funny Games.

U N D E R   T H E   L E N S Polish Documentary film in focus

KINOTEKA showcases original, innovative documentary from Poland. Paweł Pawlikowski is primarily known in the UK for his critically acclaimed feature films, including the BAFTA-winning LAST RESORT, MY SUMMER OF LOVE and most recently the Oscar® winning IDA. He began his career in television making documentaries for the BBC, where his distinctive mixing of fact with elements of the personal and poetic challenged expectations of the television documentary format. Paweł Pawlikowski will present a special weekend of screenings at the ICA (18th/19th April), including DOSTOEVSKY’S TRAVELS about the Russian novelist’s journey to Western Europe in the early 1990s, his great grandson Dimitri makes the same journey, travelling from St Petersburg to Berlin and London to lecture about his great grandfather. Dimitri’s sole ambition is to earn enough money to buy a Mercedes. Blending real and fictional events, Pawlikowski’s film reflects on one of the pivotal moments in modern history: the fall of the Berlin Wall; ruminating on the collapse of the Soviet Union and Russia’s transition to capitalism.

In a short career before his premature death at the age of 34, influential documentarian Wojciech Wiszniewski (1946-1981) produced just 12 films in total, yet he is now considered to be one of the most outstanding personalities of his generation. Known for his cutting edge and pioneering approach, his work broke conventions by employing bold techniques of framing, distorting sound and an associative use of editing to orchestrate or create a reality. His legacy is explored in Wojciech Wiszniewski Rediscovered, a programme of 6 of his shorts at the ICA on 12th April.

The documentary strand also celebrates the work of emerging Polish documentary filmmakers. Both Aneta Kopacz and Tomasz Śliwiński who studied at the Wajda Film School have been Oscar® nominated for this year’s Best Documentary Short Film category. Aneta Kopacz’s JOANNA is a tender portrait of a woman with terminal cancer and her attempts to prepare her young family for a world without her in it. Shot by Łukasz Żal, the talented young Polish cinematographer who is also Oscar® nominated for Ida, Joanna is a story of strength in the face of adversity. Tomasz Śliwiński’s OUR CURSE, is a personal statement by the director and his wife, the parents of a baby boy born with a rare and incurable disease. The film forms part of their process of coming to terms with his diagnosis.This year KINOTEKA will draw to a close with a special screening of cult Polish comedy THE CRUISE (1970) at the ICA (29th May), to mark Second Run’s DVD release.

KINOTEKA RUNS FROM 8 APRIL UNTIL 29 MAY 2015 IN LONDON AND EDINBURGH

King of Escape (2009) | DVD release

DIRECTOR: Alain Guiraudie

Cast: Ludovic Berthillot, Hafsia Herzi, Pierre Laur, Luc Palun, Pascale Aubert

93min  French with subtitles   Comedy drama

Middle-aged gay tractor salesman Armand Lacourtade (Ludovic Berthillot) is a rough and ready country type who enjoys his food and a glass of red. But when he breaks up a local brawl to save sultry teenager Curly (Hafsia Herzi), he doesn’t expect her to fall in love with him. This is what happens in Alain Guiraudie comedy drama KING OF ESCAPE. A far cry from his award-winning hit Stranger By the Lake, this is rather a curio as gay-interest films go. Sharing the same laid back Provençale setting as Stranger, its upbeat summery charm contrasts with the sinister ambiance that haunted the thriller, although Armand is a similar character to the unlucky Henri (Patrick Assumcao).

Curly’s father, Daniel (Luc Palun), is one of Armand’s competitors, and there are no prizes for guessing why he is dead against his daughter’s budding romance an affable and harmless chap who has grown rather tired of the limited gay scene in their remote village, and rather fancies a cosy future with Curly. But when she falls for his easy charm, Dad turns nasty, pursuing the courting couple with a loaded gun.

The homosexuality here is a light bucolic ripple rather than a pulsating undercurrent, giving KING OF ESCAPE an almost irreverent comic tone: old men with unfeasible large members indulging in some over-the-top groaning are  amusingly and indulgently weaved into a storyline that has some mainstream appeal, although it’s still not really a family film. As in several of Guiraudie’s previous outings, these older gay men are a normal part of the human landscape evoking a refreshingly laid back vibe, despite being a gay one.

That Armand should fall for this fresh young girl seems entirely plausible given the local competition and Guiraudie makes the salient point that sexuality, and indeed love, can be a moveable feast – often catching us unawares when we least expect it. Curly and Armand make convincing lovers in scenes of unbridled sensuality similar to those in the woods in Stranger. But there’s a twist to the tale involving Curly’s father and his mates.

KING OF ESCAPE is a simple story but an enjoyable one – Guiraudie drawing us slowly but surely into his world of southern camerarderie. His characterisation is inventive yet convincing and totally lacking in cliché in a setting that feels as comfortable as a pair of old shoes. Herzi is the main attraction and Berhillot’s relaxed style and economy of movement echo those of Henri in Stranger.

Sex scenes — mostly al fresco— are staged with humour and realism and the unlikely romance feels convincing in the heat of the Toulouse Summer. Well-formed characters bolster the comic background; from Francois Clavier’s serious gendarme who pops up when least expected, to Armand’s boss, played by Pascal Aubert. As a feisty old git, Jean Toscan provides a hilarious denouement. MT

RELEASE ON DVD FROM 23 MARCH 2015 COURTESY OF PECCADILLO PICTURES

Life of Riley (2014) Aimer, Boire et Chanter

LIFE OF RILEY | AIMER, BOIRE ET CHANTER | ALAIN RESNAIS | 2014 |

Cast: Sabine Azéma, Hippolyte Giradot, Caroline Sihol, Michel Vuillermoz, Sandrine Kiberlain, André Dussollier

108min |  Comedy |  French

For his 50th film, which also turned out to be his swan song, French Wave maverick and King of the fractured narrative, Alain Resnais offers up another Alan Ayckbourn adaptation with this reasonably straightforward, stylised comedy LIFE OF RILEY.

Some will find this utterly charming and idiosyncratic, others an irritating and rather twee affair with its garish theatrical sets and cutesy cardboard cut-out collages introducing the locales intercut with occasional glimpses of leafy countryside in the Yorkshire Dales. Starring the habitual Resnais collaborators: wife, Sabine Azéma, André Dussollier, Hyppolyte Girardot and Sandrine Kiberlain, it’s just the sort of thing that French audiences of a certain age will lap up but it does beg the question: ‘do we really need another stage adaptation (his third) of YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET?’

You know the story by now: George Riley, close friend of middle-aged, middle-class couple, Colin and Kathryn, is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Or is he? What follows is a lively farce with highly mannered performances all round from a French cast at the height of their game playing English characters with a script translated from English into French and then conveyed (presumably by Americans) into English subtitles. All somewhat of a feat and one that required three script-writers to perfect with some degree of aplomb – somehow it works. It will certainly appeal to diehard devotees of the iconic French filmmaker whose endeavours started over 50 years ago with the sublime HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959) and end here with an Englishman’s work. A shame, then, that his sign-off film could not have been something as completely wonderful and unique as LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD but then, at 91, achieving anything is wonderful. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6TH MARCH 2015

So Far, So Good (2014) | Cinema Made in Italy | 5-9 March 2015

FINO A QUI TUTTO BENE

Dir; Roan Johnson

Cast: Alessio Vassala, Silvia D’Amico, Melissa Anna Bartolini, Paolo Cioni, Isabella Ragonese, Gugliemo Favilla)

Italy 2014, 80 min.

Roan Johnson follows his first film, The First on the List, with SO FAR, SO GOOD, another outwardly enjoyable but ultimately empty film.

In Pisa, five flatmates are facing up to the end of their lives as students with varying degrees of success – or failure, as the case may be. Ilaria (D’Amico) is pregnant by a married man who has not returned to his wife but to a new mistress.  Instead of writing her PHD thesis, she will have to return to her very traditional parents in a small town. Vicenzo (Vasallo), the only scientist in the household, has landed a job at Rejkavik university. His girlfriend Francesca (Bartolini) is a theatre student and actor like the rest of the group and doesn’t want to go with him and be jobless in Iceland. Cioni (Cioni), the odd man out and least selfish of the flatmates, offers to live with Ilaria and adopt her baby, in desperation. But over this whole story hangs the ghost of their flatmate Michele, who killed himself in a staged car accident a year ago. Andrea (Favilla), was going to follow Michele’s brother Marco to Nepal – until he bumps into his ex-girl friend Marta (Ragonese), an established TV actress, at the farewell party. So, the quintet is left at sea in a motorboat, without any gas in the tank.

SO FAR, SO GOOD suffers from the fact that Johnson can never make up his mind if he wants to direct a rather silly comedy or something more substantial. His protagonists are a selfish bunch and not very endearing. The men don’t even try to hide their rank machismo. The women blame the men for everything, whilst having a tendency to indulge in self-pity. All this would work with a much more serious approach, but Johnson takes a much more light-hearted look at their ups and downs, which are admittedly funny but detract from the underlying problems of the group. Instead of showing five people in search of an identity, SO FAR, SO GOOD is just another comedy about a group of young people who don’t know how to grow up. A  shame then, since the ensemble acting is brilliant and the fresh and lively camerawork shows Pisa from an interesting and novel perspective. An opportunity missed. AS

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY RUNS FROM 5-9 MARCH 2015. FULL PROGRAMME HERE

Good for for Nothing (2014) Buoni a nulla | Cinema Made in Italy | 5-9 March 2015

Director/Writer: Gianni Di Gregorio

Cast: Anna Bonaiuto, Gianni Di Gregorio, Camilla Filippi, Valentina Gebbia

87min   Comedy  Italian with subtitles

Best know for his recent drama, Mid August Lunch, Gianni Di Gregorio plays himself in this light-hearted comedy that follows the trials and tribulations of an elderly civil servant in Rome. Kafkaesque in the extreme it never takes itself too seriously, driving home the message that it never pays to be too kind or flexible in work or in play.

On the brink of his retirement, Gianni discovers he is going to be working another three years due to a change in Government policy. And that isn’t all. His office is re-locating outside Rome, adding another hour to his leisurely morning commute via the local Coffee Bar. Can it get any worse? Apparently, yes. In the new office location, a toxic brew of politics puts a further dampener on his working life in the shape buxom Cinzia (Valentina Lodovini) and his new boss (Anna Bonaiuto) and her willing side-kick (Gianfelice Imparato). Luckily, Marco (Marco Marzocca) seems to be the only decent employee, joining forces with Gianni on the daily grind and even offering to work on his birthday. Just when he is re-adjusting to his new situation, Gianni’s daughter (Camilla Filippi) decides to take over his flat in the centre of Rome. All this stress sends Gianni into orbit and his blood pressure suffers as a result. But his doctor advises him to treat them mean to keep them keen. All very well when decency is your default position as a human being.

Well-acted and watchable throughout its running time of just over an hour, GOOD FOR NOTHING is pleasant, light-hearted fare that doesn’t outstay its welcome and occasionally puts a smile on your face, especially if you’re a fan of Gianni Di Gregorio and his charming brand of Italian humour. MT

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY IS BACK IN LONDON FROM 5-9 MARCH 2015. TICKETS HERE

 

Cinema Made in Italy | Cine Lumiere London | 5-9 March 2015

LackCINEMA MADE IN ITALY is back in London with a five-day mini festival showcasing the latest in Italian features and documentaries from new and established directing talent.

There will be plenty of opportunities for a lively exchange of views during the packed programme of screenings, Q&As and discussions with the filmmakers themselves. The 2015 line-up offers a variety of titles drawn from arthouse cinema, comedy and documentary fare. Ermanno Olmi’s wartime drama  GREENERY WILL BLOOM AGAIN (Torneranno I Prati) will open this year’s festival and there will be a chance to see Gianni Di Gregorio’s witty comedy GOOD FOR NOTHING (Buoni a Nulla). Have a look at the full screening programme here:

1394926442551GREENERY WILL BLOOM AGAIN (Torneranno i Prati) **** a finely-tuned wartime drama;

Quiet BlissQUIET BLISS (In Grazia a Dio) a family goes back to the countryside after suffering great loss in this tender and beautifully-crafted drama.

THE LACK a sumptuous exploration of female suffering, separation and loss set in Iceland and Sicily.

THE MAFIA KILLS ONLY IN SUMMER (La Mafia Uccide solo d’Estate) charismatic and upbeat, “Pif’s” dark comedy follows the history of the ‘anti-Mafia’ seen through the eyes of a Sicilian boy.

SO FAR SO GOOD (Fino a qui, tutto bene) a comedy about a group twentysomethings on the cusp of real life

Mafia_Kills_Only_in_Summer-01THE ICE FOREST (La Foresta di Ghiaccio) Claudio Noce’s icebound thriller stars Bosnian actor/director Emir Kusturica

9×10 NOVANTA Documentary shorts from a selection of directors

So Far So GoodPERFIDIA – drama centering on one man’s fight to motivate his aimless son

DARKER THAN MIDNIGHT (Piu Buio di Mezzanotte) a young man’s journey into poverty on the streets of Catania

GOOD FOR NOTHING (Buoni a Nulla) comedy from Gianni Di Gregorio

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY TAKES PLACE AT THE CINE LUMIERE LONDON SW7 FROM 5 – 9 MARCH 2015

Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter (2014)

Writer/Director: Nathan Zellner, David Zellner

Cast: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard, David Zellner, Nathan Zellnar,

The surreal collides with the banal in Nathan and David Kellner’s genre-blurring black comedy drama, in which the directors also star. Kumiko, a doltishly passive Japanese woman, abandons her dull life as a secretary in Tokyo to travel to snowbound Minnesota, on the strength of an imagined treasure trove she sees buried in a field somewhere outside Mineapolis, while watching a scratchy DVD. She is aided and abetted by the kindness of the local countryfolk who help her on her mission and provide humorous texture to this quirky but endearing road movie. If you can suspend your disbelief and tune into the weird humour, this is a work of inspired genius and well-planned eccentricity: Alexander Payne put his money into it and the Kellner Brothers’ drama has shades of Joel and Ethan Coen about it. MT 105min.

REVIEWED DURING BERLINALE 2014 | FORUM

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 20 FEBRUARY 2015

Ned Rifle (2015) |Berlinale |

Director/Writer/Producer: Hal Hartley

Cast: Liam Aiken, Aubrey Plaza, Parker Posey, Bill Sage, James Urbaniak, Thomas Jay Ryan

85min  US Drama | The third installment of Hal Hartley’s ‘Henry Fool’ trilogy

After disappearing from indie filmmaking for several years – during which he lived in Berlin – Hal Hartley is back on brilliant form with a deconstructed drama that’s fast-moving, deadpan and deliciously offbeat.

With regular collaborators including the sparky Parker Posey, Hartley completes the trilogy of HENRY FOOL that burst onto the scene in 1997 and continued with FAY GRIM a decade later. NED RIFLE sees their son Ned (Liam Aiken,a John Cusack doppel-ganger in both looks and style) embark on a journey to track down his father Henry (Thomas Jay Ryan) and kill him for ruining his mother’s life. Meanwhile, Fay is in prison serving a life sentence for her alleged ‘terrorism’ while Ned has been cared for in the community by a vicar (Martin Donovan) and proclaims himself a ‘chaste’ Christian.

Ned’s search starts in New York with a visit to his uncle Simon (James Urbaniak) who is learning to be a stand-up comic: “people want a good laugh occasionally, Ned, trust me”. But events are waylaid by the sultry and sexy Susan (Aubrey Plaza), who can only be described as ‘kooky’ – if you’re American, or if you’re European ‘distraite’ – and who fosters an obsession with his father that predates Ned’s arrival in the Grim family, or so we discover later. Ned makes it clear to Susan that he is not interested in a relationship but she tags along on the journey that leads them to Seattle (Hartley filmed this segment with local photos to keep the budget down) where Susan is increasingly desperate to get her paws on Ned – even sleeping in hold-ups and black underwear.

Performances are characteristically artificial and tongue-in-cheek with newgirl on the block, Aubrey Plaza, adding a certain foxy charm to the mêlée with her philosophical diatribes and smudgy red lipstick that drifts onto everyone’s cheek. Ned is given to hilarious religious soliloquys and is both appealing and convincing as a born again Christian. Hartley’s original score adds texture and a certain quirkiness to proceedings with its electric guitars that punctuate moments of drama. Fans will be delighted that the story finally finds a satisfying and amusing denouement, and there is much to enjoy in the acting and wittiness for those joining the party.

Hartley raised the finance (USD 400K) for his movie through a Kickstarter campaign and while the film may not get a theatrical release in the UK, there’s certain to be a DVD/VOD option on the way. MT

BERLINALE 5-15 FEBRUARY 2015 – FOLLOW OUR COVERAGE UNDER BERLINALE 2015

 

In Order of Disappearance (2014) ****

Dir: Hans Petter Moland | Writer: Kim Fupz Aakeson | Bruno Ganz, Stellan Skarsgard, Goren Navojec, Pal Sverre Hagen, Peter Andersson | 116min  Action comedy  Norway/Denmark

The late Bruno Ganz and Stellan Skarsgard star in Hans Petter Moland’s outrageously absurd follow-up to A Somewhat Gentle Man (2010). The film competed for the Berlinale Golden Bear in 2014 and went home empty-handed but its an honest and enjoyable crime caper and offers some of the best snowscapes of the year so far, and some arch political incorrectness.

Skarsgard plays Nils, a dour but appealing Swedish immigrant, who drives a snow plow and has just been awarded ‘Best Citizen’ by the local community. But when his son dies in a drug overdose, Nils turns vigilante to find out who is responsible.  That said, the tone is light-hearted and upbeat: Moland wanted s narrative reflecting what happens when society’s attributes of decency get mixed up with the baser instincts that kick in when we are threatened: “Norway has a history of being generous to people in need, but now this is being challenged” he said at the press Berlinale conference. “The comedic style was the best way to deal with this theme positively: Violence lurks within us and occasionally erupts in normal, well-adjusted people like Stellan’s character.”  What ensues is an unfeasibly violent chase to track down the two rival gangs of traffickers: one Serbian (lead by Ganz as Papa), one local (led by Pal Sverre at Greven).  There are some great gags arising out of ‘ad-libbing’ rather than sticking rigidly to Kim Fupaz Aakeson’s script that give this piece a fresh and authentic feel, although 115mins is stretching it for a comedy caper. MT.

Available on Amazon Prime

 

 

La Maison de la Radio (2013)

Dir.: Nicolas Philibert; Documentary; France 2013, 103 min.

LA MAISON DE LA RADIO is a large, circular building in Paris’ 16th district, overlooking the Seine and housing seven state radio networks, among them the popular “France Info” and “France Inter”. Their budget is close to half a billion GBP a year, and during the early part of 2011, director Nicolas Philibert has filmed between the hectic and sometimes funny activities in this landmark building designed by the architect Henry Bernard.

This ‘fly on the wall’ documentary takes in twenty four hours in the life of ‘Radio France’ and we get to meet the producers, presenters, journalists and guests. But firstly we get a lightening course in news reading: this is one of the most difficult aspects of broadcasting and a task never given to beginners; only hardened professionals have the skills to engage the attention of the viewing public: lose them for a minute, and you’ve lost them for the duration. Moving on to the newsroom, we discover them desperately trying to find a “funny closer” for said news: a Justin Bieber story is mentioned. Interviews with politicians such as Martin Aubrey and Francois Fillon are mentioned. The recent Tsunami is also still very much in the news and we get to watch the painstaking recoding of a radio play, with all the ramifications of finding the right background noises like “walking on gravel”. The producer is strict: “We take this step by step, like with children”.

Philibert’s entertaining documentary leaves the building to cover sporting events like football and the Tour de France. The newsroom delivers some macabre humour: there is a forth body found in Deule, which the editors seems to strangely find hilarious. The importance of potatoes is mentioned at length: “Potatoes have saved far more lives than penicillin”. One sound engineer even went so far as to make a programme about the growing of what the French call “the apple of the earth”. In an interview with a lonely woman, we discover that there are two ways of talking to yourself: in anger or confession. The writer Umberto Eco talks about subjectivity in writing, explaining that even if he were to write about someone killing his grandmother – which he is not planning – the writing would have autobiographical features. He then claims to be a sort of “Madame Bovary” although this is never fully explained. Interviews with revolutionaries in Tunis are followed by the shipping news. And finally we witness a sound engineer re-creating the anarchic sound machines of his childhood.

Philibert creates immediacy, the audience shares the intimacy of the creative work. Katell Dijan’s camera is our curious eye, capturing the highs and lows of a day at the radio station. Perhaps the most important ingredient here is the underlying humour making LA MAISON DE LA RADIO a vivid and humanistic experience. AS

NICOLAS PHILIBERT’S DOCUMENTARY IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 23 JANUARY 2015 AND WILL HAVE A HOME ENTERTAINMENT RELEASE ON THE 23 March 2015

 

Duck Soup (1933)

Dir.: Leo McCarey

Cast: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont

USA 1933, 68 min.

In 1932 Paramount Pictures announced that Ernst Lubitsch would direct the next Marx Brothers film – in the end, after a long contractual fight between the Marx Brothers and the production company, Leo McCarey would be behind the camera for DUCK SOUP a year later. Unlike the successful Horse Feathers DUCK SOUP was not successful at the box-office, but the truth is far from it being the mythical flop: DUCK SOUP was still the six-highest grossing film of 1933.

Mrs. Teasdale (Dumont), a very rich woman, underwrites all the debts for the bankrupt state of Freedonia, which is threatened by the neighbouring country of Sylvania. But Mrs.Teasdale will only go on financing Freedonia if Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho), whom she wants to marry, becomes president and leads them into the war with Sylvania. Firefly is equally incompetent a leader as are the Sylvanian’ spies Pinky (Harpo) and Chicolino (Chico) in their metier, all three just causing mayhem, ending up pelting poor Mrs. Teasdale with fruit right at the end.

DUCK SOUP is famous for its mirror scene when Pinky, dressed as Firefly, imitates Groucho with identical movements. But the harmony is destroyed when Chicolini, also dressed as Firefly, bumps into the two and destroys the symmetry. There are polemic anti-war scenes, including a Mussolini send-off, which, to the great amusement of the Marx Brothers, led to the ban of the film in Italy. The scenes between the straight acting Dumont and the anarchic humour of the Marx Brothers are the highlights of a film, which somehow did not resonate with contemporary critics because, in their opinion, the ongoing Depression was asking for a less frivolous narrative. DUCK SOUP is essentially a surrealist comedy but this did not appeal to audiences at the time and resulted in them losing their contract with Paramount. Subsequent outings under the auspices of Irving Thalberg and MGM, considerably toned down the zany nature of their humour and sets but with Sam Wood directing their later outings (A Day at the Races, A Night at the Opera), the outrageous sending-up of everything sacred as the time including (and especially), Religion, gradually toned them down.

Today, DUCK SOUP is seen as the quintessential Marx Brothers film, and many contemporary directors are influenced by the film, including Woody Allen, whose character in “Hannah and her Sisters” regains his will to live, after watching DUCK SOUP by accident. AS

Duck Soup, which will have 34 screenings at BFI Southbank, is the highlight of The Best of the Marx Brothers season, running 14 – 31 January, which includes screenings of The Cocoanuts (1929), Animal Crackers (1930), Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers (1932), A Night at the Opera (1935), A Day at the Races (1937) and A Night in Casablanca (1946).

20 Hot Titles for 2015 | Indie | Arthouse film| Part 1

TTOE_D04_01565-01568_R_CROP-2THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING: The main reason to see this moving and ambitious biopic of our most famous living scientist Stephen Hawking, is that Eddie Redmayne’s is pure dynamite as the man himself. Combing through endless footage of the Professor Hawking’s voice recordings and photos, he literally inhabits his very being from early life at Cambridge right through to his epic achievements in the realm of Science. Co-Written by his wife, Jane Hawking. touchingly played by Felicity Jones (The Invisible Woman). Out on 1 January.

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR: If you’re ready for a grown-up thriller with a gripping storyline and fabulously crafted-performances, look no further this tightly-plotted, New York-based slow burner from J C Chandor (All Is Lost). Set in 1981, during the city’s most dangerous year for crime, if tells the story of an ambitious immigrant’s bitter fight for survival in a precarious and competitive world. Oscar Isaac (Llewyn Davies) and Jessica Chastain star.  23 January 2015

Altman_1ALTMAN: There’s nothing to beat an absorbing biopic on a prolific film director, and this one eclipses them all. Ron Mann charts the story of Robert Altman’s career from his lucky first break, to his far-reaching TV work and finally his outstanding contribution to independent cinema. A pithy, poignant and highly-entertaining portrait. Julianne Moore, Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, Elliott Gould and Paul Thomas Anderson reminisce to add ballast. T. B. A.

DUKE_OF_BURGUNDY_02 copy

THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY: Peter Strickland’s edgy and inventive seventies-themed drama tackles the delicate subject of sexual dominance and submissiveness amid butterfly buffs in a  seventies-setting deep in the Hungarian counrtyside. Sidse Babett Knudsengarnered Best Actress for her portrayal of a lesbian with performance fatigue in this unsettling but yet darkly comic treasure. 20 February 2015

whitegodWHITE GOD (Feher Isten): ‘Superiority has become the privilege of white Western civilisation and it is nearly impossible for not to take advantage of it’. With this premise Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo’s invigorating drama WHITE GOD scratches at the edges of horror to create a richly inventive fable where dogs take over the city of Budapest. Starting out as gentle and harmless, the narrative gradually darkens into something morbid and frightening. No shaggy dog story here but certainly one to salivate over. 27 FEBRUARY

The_Look_of_Silence_1

THE LOOK OF SILENCE: Following on the heels of his devastating documentary about man’s evil to man, Joshua Oppenheimer’s THE LOOK OF SILENCE is in some ways even more affecting. For a start, it’s running time of under two hours makes it a more manageable to engage with. Don’t be fooled though. Oppenheimer probes the killers much more harshly this time and elicits some unsettling revelations from the perpetrators and those affected by the terrifying regime in Indonesia. T. B. A.

downloadMACBETH: Roman Polanski was the last director successfully to adapt this most dark and sinister of Shakespeare’s plays. Here, Australian director, Justin Kurzel (Snowtown) casts Marion Cotillard as the chilling chateleine of Cawdor Castle playing alongside Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth as the fatefully ambitious couple whose ‘follie de grandeur’ leads them depose of Scotland’s King Duncan. T.B.A

ItFollows_still3_MaikaMonroe__byRADiUS_2014-11-24_02-39-47PM

IT FOLLOWS; David Robert Mitchell’s latest film has emerged by general consensus amongst critics to be the most heart-thumpingly horrific indie thrillers of recent years. Simple in concept, this low-fi outing is inventive in creating a fairytale atmosphere in a modern-day setting. A must-see for all audiences. 27 FEBRUARY 2015

1001 NOITES: Tabu director Miguel Gomes is back with a re-working of the fabulous legend of Scheherazade locating his film in crisis-ridden present-day Portugal. Shifting between imagination and reality, the narrative takes on familiar elements to the original but  retains the same teasing quality that Scheherazade employed on the King. T.B.A.

PHOENIX 2013

PHOENIX: Christian Petzold’s heart-wrenching drama works cleverly as both a wartime love-story and an evergreen metaphor for regeneration and identity. Starring regular collaborators Ronald Zehrfeld (In Between Worlds) and Nina Hoss (Barbara) who gives the best rendition of ‘Speak Low’ known to mankind, it has also one of the most devastating climaxes of recent years. TBA

RELEASE DATES FOR ALL THESE FILMS WILL BE ANNOUNCED SHORTLY.

 

 

 

Stingray Sam | Sundance Org | January 22 – February 1 2015

Programme coming soon. Until then we’ll leave you with a treat from the archives

[youtube id=”CIxixu_syqM” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Bonobo (2014)

54c315d7-f865-4ae2-9551-dc13b8bb71ba_0

Director: Matthew Hammett-Knott

Writers: Joanna Benecke/Matthew Hammett-Knott

Cast: James Norton, Tessa Peake-Jones, Josie Lawrence, Will Tudor, Orlando Seale, Eleanor Wyld

83min  Comedy Britflick   UK

BONOBO’s great premise: that human conflict can be minimised through regular sexual activity is at best hopeful and, at worst, naive but let’s give it a spin round the block. Matthew Hammett Knott’s third feature, about a human community organised to mimic the lifestyle of the Bonobo apes – is set in Devon. To his credit he has a devised the piece based on predominantly female leads; to his detriment these characters are either sexually uptight or barking mad. What could have been the sinister story about a deliciously subversive cult or even a hilarious comedy with unusual characters instead turns out to be a trite drama that veers between the cringeworthy and the desperately weird.

That said, Hammett Knott’s has managed it all on a shoestring and with a very accomplished cast who really do their best in the circumstances despite having to play a string of boring stereotypes. The first is played by Tessa Peake-Jones as Judith, a well-meaning, intelligent woman in her late fifties who has single-handedly brought up her only daughter with the treasured hope of her becoming a successful lawyer with a ‘decent husband and a family’. Nothing wrong with that, so why make her feel like a boring failure to the rest of this talentless bunch of real losers ? Just because she’s not twenty something does it mean she can’t be portrayed as alluring, successful or elegant? (what about Mrs Robinson?). Her counterpart, the voluptuously endearing Anita (Josie Lawrence), who runs this community of “Bonobo humans” is depicted as some sort of sad nutter despite her attempts to run a business giving sanctuary to a community of young people who have somehow ‘lost their way’ their only redeeming feature being firm buttocks (the boys) and porky thighs (the girls).

So Judith must join the community in order to resolve the conflict between her and her daughter. Sadly this story goes nowhere fast. It’s not enough to show a motley crew of puerile characters indulging in free sex while ‘a parent’ (who has never had sex) looks on in horror – they have to have personalities and there has to be a narrative arc. The young ones in the assembled cast are composed of Ralph (James Norton) a bumptious yoga-practicing man-child: Malcolm (Orlando Seale) who’s only claim to fame is having impregnated his colourless girlfriend (Carolyn Pickles) and a couple of vapid gay men who just stroke each other and everybody else. This is a ‘drama’ with no dramatic punch, a ‘comedy’ with scant laughs;  just a bunch of one-dimensional kids and clichéd adults (Judith’s character feels more in her eighties that her fifties). Even Judith’s lawyer graduate daughter Lily (Eleanor Wyld) is portrayed as a facile kid who only comes into her own when one of the men tries to bed her.

So if you’re looking for a light-hearted piece of comedy fluff to have on in the background on a stag night on a girls’ night in – BONOBO will do the trick. But if you’re expecting something more appealing or even funny give it a miss. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 5TH DECEMBER 2014

 

 

 

 

Hello Carter (2014)

Unknown-1Director: Anthony Wilcox

Cast: Charlie Cox, Annabelle Wallis, Jodie Whittaker, Paul Schneider, Judy Parfitt

80min  Britflick comedy drama

Anthony Wilcox isn’t new to the world of film; working as the producer of Trishna and The Face of an Angel, he got to know Michael Winterbottom who has now helped finance this debut drama HELLO CARTER, a day-in-the life drama starring Charlie Cox. And this is the only reason to see it. Cox plays Carter, an upbeat and charmingly decent 30-year-old who, finding his feet socially and professionally in London, gets to know Jodie Whittaker’s flat and disillusioned Northern lass (through an interview). The two share a certain chemistry, more as a default position to survival rather than anything more meaningful as Charlie is still getting over strong feelings for his ex, who he tries to contact again through her irritating brother, Aaron (Paul Schneider). But Aaron wants a favour in return for new number and in trying to accomplish this Carter accidentally kidnaps a baby and manages to get locked out of his flat. For a film set in the present day, it all feels rather dated and dernière siècle but Charlie Cox remains watchable and appealing throughout.

HELLO CARTER is not without other charms: Judy Parfitt is superb as his warmly wise Aunt Miriam, who offers him board and lodging in her splendid house, but after a promising start the narrative goes off piste and never really delivers anything more meaningful. Despite its 80 minute running time, HELLO CARTER loses our interest midway and this is possibly due to it feeling like an extended short; and that is, indeed, how it started off. MT

HELLO CARTER IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 5th December 2014

 

My Old Lady (2014)

Writer/Director: Israel Horovitz

Cast: Dame Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas

107min  US Comedy Drama

Israel Horovitz has written over 50 plays. He makes his directorial debut here with an adaptation of one of them, a wittily-observed comedy drama that explores the vagaries of family relationships through the joint ownership of an apartment in Paris. It stars Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith and Kevin Kline as the family members.

As Mathias Gold, an impoverished New Yorker, Kline arrives in the French capital to claim an inherence from his father: a plush apartment in a chic part of centre Ville. Chipper at the thought of solving his financial problems, he lets himself in to discover the elderly occupant, an English woman in the shape of Mathilde Girard (Maggie Smith): “I’m ninety, subtlety is not something that interests me”.

Mathilde explains that the apartment is a ‘viager’, which in French property terms means that his father has acquired it from Mathilde at a decreased value, subject to a monthly rental payable to her and allowing her secured tenancy until her death. In other words, the flat is a poisoned chalice. But providing she dies before Mathias does, it reverts to him, permitting a sale. So Mathias must pay 2,400 euros to Mathilde and her daughter, Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas), who he later surprises in the unlocked lavatory. Mathias is forced on a steep learning curve to bone-up on the arcane laws of French property while ingratiating himself with his intransigent new landladies.

All very awkward but therein lies the edgy humour: Kevin Kline is forced to eat humble pie while still keeping his end up and his eye to the main chance. In a racy performance of suave aplomb, he manages to maintain control of his faculties, manoeuvring himself deftly towards a satisfactory modus vivendi while also hustling for the rent by discreetly selling some of the furniture. He makes a firm friend and ally of local estate agent, Monsieur Lefebvre (Dominique Pinon) and also keeps negotiations on the boil with a wealthy would-be buyer on his own account. Mathias is a character who is both flawed and pathetic yet strangely masterful in his manipulation of the two straight-laced Englishwomen, who are themselves no fools. Mathilde in particular, is shrewdly crafty and Maggie Smith portrays her with a touch of class and her usual hard-edged charm.

In a tricky role, Kristin Scott Thomas injects brittle unpleasantness into her frustrated middle-aged portrayal of Chloe, an English teacher who is physically attractive but emotionally flawed by Mathilde’s selfish form of motherhood. At times, the dynamic between Chloe and Mathias feels strained, but understandably so, given the circumstances of their past and as they move towards a deeper understanding of one another, a tragic secret is gradually revealed, amid much soul-bearing. What they achieve in this highly complex interaction is skilful and believable.

Throughout, the stoical Mathilde remains discretion personified despite emerging as rather a snake, although a charming one, nonetheless. Some poignant emotion seeps through the cracks of this enjoyable comedy drama that manages to retain an authentic feel, despite its slightly bizarre conceit, and never takes itself too seriously. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

French Film Festival UK | 7 November – 4 December | 2014

Aimed at bringing new French films to the provinces, there is also a strong London presence to this popular festival, celebrating its 22nd anniversary this year. From the latest features to iconic cult classics, the 2014 edition offers with a strong slate of dramas starring a variety of well-known French talent: Emmanuelle Devos, Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Mathieu Amalric and Jean-Pierre Darroussin, to name but a few. This year the focus is on the work of the late Alan Resnais, with his debut HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959) to his swan song: AIMER, BOIRE, CHANTER (2014).

LifeLIFE OF RILEY | AIMER, BOIRE, CHANTER | ALAIN RESNAIS | 2014 | ***

For his 50th film, which also turned out to be his swan song, Alain Resnais adapts the work of Alan Ayckbourn in this stagey farce with garish theatrical sets and occasional glimpses of the leafy countryside of the Yorkshire Dales. Starring his wife Sabine Azema, Sandrine Kiberlain (Bird) Andre Dussollier and Hyppolyte Girardot, it’s just the sort of thing that older French audiences lap up but do we really need another stage adaptation (his third) of YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET?. This turns out to have additional flourishes with drawings by French artist Blutch and puppetry to boot! You know the story here – middle-aged, middle-class couples whose close friend is diagnosed with cancer. Or is he? Mannered performances all round may appeal to his diehard devotees.

BLUE_ROOM_KissForestTHE BLUE ROOM | (LA CHAMBRE BLUE | MATHIEU AMALRIC | 2014 | ***

Mathieu Almalric bases his directorial debut, in which he also stars, on a 1964 crime thriller from Belgian detective Simenon. Lushly erotic and superbly shot on the Academy format (square) by the capable Christophe Beaucarne, it will please the art house circuit with its subtle performances and fractured narrative style. After making love to his mistress Esther (a sinuous Stephanie Cleau) in the eponymous blue room, tractor magnate Julien goes home to his lovely wife and daughter. The story jumps forward to show him being cross-examined by a local magistrate (a masterful Laurent Poitrenaux) as it transpires that his affair with Esther is not as simple and compartmentalised as he thought. As the story goes back and forward further clues gradually emerge, fleshing out the storyline but leaving the details as shady as Esther’s own background. The Blue Room is a workable and stylised piece of cinema that offers good entertainment, but many critics questioned why it was considered for Un Certain Regard this year at Cannes.

diplomatie-andre-dussollier-niels-arestrup copyDIPLOMATIE | VOLKER SCHLöNDORFF | 2014 | **** | Best adapted Screenplay CÉSAR 2015

Based on a play by Cyril Gely, Niels Arestrup brings his sinister talents to this slick WWII drama when he plays General Dietrich von Choltitz, a German assigned by Hitler to carry out the destruction of Paris in 1944. Fortunately he underestimates the negotiation tactics of Andre Dussollier’s Swedish consul, Raoul Nordin, and it soon emerges that both men have personal rather than moral issues at stake. Thrillingly tense and skilfully-crafted, the narrative is teased out slowly as the city’s cultural heritage hangs on a thread at the mercy of two men’s powers of persuasion. A brilliantly acted and tightly-scripted wartime treat.

adieuGOODBYE TO LANGUAGE, | ADIEU AU LANGUAGE | JEAN-LUC GODARD | 2014 | *** FRENCH_RIVIERA_01 copy

FRENCH RIVIERA, | l’HOMME QUE L’ON AIMER TROP | 2014 |**

ARIANE’S THREAD | AU FIL D’ARIANNE | ROBERT GUEDIGUIAN | 2012 | **

Robert Guédiguian takes a light-hearted break from his usual leftist political fare with  slice of magical realism set in his beloved Marseiiles and starring his regular collaborators Ariane Ascaride (in the lead) and Jean-Pierre Darroussin. Very much along the lines of GLORIA (2013) it focuses on a middle-aged woman who is suddenly all alone for the first time in her life on her birthday. Marseilles is very much a character here, and athough there are plenty of darker undercurrents to this sunny sejourn as Ariane’s attempts to have fun are thwarted by a series of set-backs, like a glass of Pastis on a hot day, it goes down smoothly enough but, at times, has you wondering whether you’re really seeing straight.

GARD DU NORD | CLAIRE SIMON | 2013 | ***

la-vie-domestique-emmanuelle-devos-julie-ferrier copy

FOR THE FULL PROGRAMME FOLLOW THE LINK

 

 

 

 

Playtime (1967) Netflix

Dir.: Jacques Tati; Cast: Jacques Tati, Barbara Dennek, John Abbey; France 1967, 124 min.

When PLAYTIME was originally released in France it took a massive hit at the box office: Jacques Tati, had shot the film in 70mm and insisted, rather dogmatically, that it should only be shown in this format which many most cinemas couldn’t screen it. But watching it nearly sixty years later, you soon realise why it was such a big flop, regardless of the format.

Tati admitted he was disgruntled ‘his’ rather dorkish character, the  Monsieur Hulot, who goes for a job interview in a modern high rise office block, gets lost, misses his appointment, and finally leaves the building through the wrong exit ending up in a trade fair featuring the latest gadgets. There he meets an American tourist (Dennek) visiting Paris with her group. She takes a liking for Hulot, but he manages to lose her in the crowd. Then, after bumping into a fellow soldier from WII, Hulot finally meets the young American again at a nightclub opening, where everything that could go wrong, does so. That said, a great time is had by all, and as a bonus, he meets the man who was supposed to interview him for the job that morning.

Hulot is his usual timid self, overcoming obstacles by chance rather than intent. One of the running gags involves a series of lookalike Hulots – actors smoking pipes and wearing hats – who are often mistaken for the man himself. The standout is a German salesman who starts off being polite and understanding, but soon looses his temper – and customers. In the nightclub sequence, there are some amusing scenes where the air conditioning gets out of control and part of the ceiling collapses, but the supposed anarchy comes across as rather muted and contrived.

Dennek feels anything but young, recalling the sort of teachers we had a crush on at school. The jokes about English infiltrating daily life are too obvious to be really stinging. And although the scenes in the nightclub are supposed to be mildly sexually-charged, all the characters come across as asexual, the women playing second fiddle to the men. Playtime seems tethered to the past: Hulot keeps meeting WWII soldiers everywhere – and considering how easily the Germans moved in and occupied France (supported by the huge majority of the French), this reflects the uncritical ideology of a feature which seems to be blithely rooted in some mythical past without any contradictions regarding race, class or gender.

1967 was a great year for the innovative French directors: Bresson (Mouchette), Robbe-Grillet (Trans-Europa Express), Demy (Les Demoiselles de Rochefort), Bunuel (Belle de Jour) to mention a few, and overshadowing everybody, JL Godard, with La Chinoise, Weekend and his very contemporary Paris version of 2 ou 3 Choses Que Je Sais d’Elle.

Playtime has its place as a charming document of film history, and fans will enjoy the nostalgic trip down memory lane, but it overstays its welcome at over two hours. . AS

NOW ON NETFLIX

The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Director/Writer: Craig Johnson  Co-writer: Mark Heyman

Cast: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Boyd Holbrook, Ty Burrell, Kathleen Rose Perkens

93min   Comedy  US

Comedic duo Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader originally found fame with ‘Saturday Night Live’. In this darkly humorous character study they star as estranged twins who are brought back together through fate. Milo (Hader) is recovering from a suicide attempt in LA after a break-up with his male partner and Maggie (Wiig) is trying to make her marriage to work, despite serious misgivings on the sexual front. So Maggie offers Milo a shoulder to cry on and her spare room in upstate New York.

After this rather tragic opening, writer/director Craig Johnson cleverly crafts an amusing storyline, teasing out the sibling’s dysfunction past to show how it inevitably impacts on their life and relationships in the present. And while Maggie’s husband Lance (Luke Wilson) is stable and honest ‘marriage material;  she is forced to face their sad lack of sexual chemistry when she falls for her scuba diving instructor, Billy (Boyd Holbrook), and sparks fly. Milo, meanwhile, is trapped in an sexual obsession with a figure from his childhood (Ty Burrell).

Johnson skilfully evokes both the intense rivalry and the visceral closeness of the siblings with some laugh-out-loud moments and even a hilarious rendition of “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” and there is a brilliant vignette with their mother (Joanna Gleason) which perfectly portrays the reasons for their failure to find suitable relationships. There’s a great deal to be enjoyed is this watchable drama with its perceptive charm and superb performances from the leads. And even though Maggie’s dorky husband is unappealing on many levels, Luke Wilson manages to show us why Maggie, and women like her, end up with unsatisfactory partners when their biological clocks go off with the vital wake-up call that never goes off for men. So nothing ground-breaking here, but Hader and Wiig make The Skeleleton Twins solid and enjoyable entertainment for an easy Saturday night at the pictures. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Self-Made (2014) | UK Jewish Film Festival 2014

Dir.: Shira Geffen  Cast: Sarah Adler, Samira Saraya

Israel 2014, 91 min.

Director Shira Geffen won the ‘Palme d’Or’ in 2007 in Cannes for Jellyfish. Here she uses absurdist comedy to deliver another provocative comment on the Israeli/Palestine conflict. In Jerusalem a conceptual artist is thrown out of bed with a bang. We naturally suspect a bomb attack, but the answer is much more simple: Mihal is the victim of a collapsing bed, leaving her with a bruise on the head and a rapidly diminishing memory. She forgets her husband’s trip to Stockholm and an interview with a German TV crew. Having ordered a new bed at an IKEA-clone shop, Mihal, complaining (wrongly) about a missing screw for the bed, inadvertently causes Arab teenager Nadine (Samira Saraya) to lose her job in charge of packing screws at the furniture store.

Meanwhile Nadine is fighting for her right to wear jeans and pink earphones, whilst her traditional family simply wants to marry her off. Since Mihal is a VIP, she not only gets a new bed, but some freebies in compensation – one of them being a playpen, which is ironic, since she’s had her uterus removed and made into a purse for a an exhibition at Venice Biennale. In the confusion that follows the two girls swop roles and assume each other’s identity and when Mihal tries to cross the border she gets arrested at the checkpoint between Israel and Palestine. Here the narrative descends into a ridiculous farce where anything can happen: Mihal is mistaken for Nadine, and after the identity switchover, Mihal is fitted out as a living bomb to cause havoc in Israel, whilst Nadine has to face the irate German TV crew. And so confusion reigns in a region where Arabs have to queue for hours at checkpoints between the two countries, just to do a day’s work in Israel.

Geffen delivers and clever and convincing drama full of contradiction, acerbic humour and convincing performances from Adler and Saraya. Mihal’s frustration in trying to assemble her ‘IKEA’ bed will strike a sympathetic cord with audiences everywhere in this is a well-craafted sociopolitical story from the much troubled Middle East. AS

LFF: 9.10. 18.15 Covent Garden, 12.10. 20.45 Cine Lumiere, 13.10. 15.15 NFT1

Mr Kaplan (2014) | UK Jewish Film Festival 2014

Dir.: Alvaro Brechner; Cast: Hector Noguera, Nestor Guzzini, Rolf Becker

Uruguay/Spain/Spain 2014, 98 min.

Uruguayan filmmaker, Alvaro Brechner is perhaps best known for his multi-award winning comedy: Bad Day to Go Fishing. His second feature Mr Kaplan is Uruguay’s official submission to next year’s Academy Awards. It centres on an emigrant Jew from Europe. At 76, he’s living out his late-life crisis in a small seaside town in Uruguay, very similar to the one in Pablo Stoll’s Whisky (2004). Jacob (Noguera) has lost interest in his family, particularly his two sons who bore him with their quarrels (one a total conformist, the other an equally convinced outsider) and he often fights with his wife Rebecca (Nidia Telles), who tries to keep his diet under control. Then, one day he discovers the beach-bar owner is German, old enough to have been a Nazi, and overnight Jacob enlists the help of portly ex-cop Contreras (Guzzini), to mount a ‘war-crime’ case against him. Jacob, seeing himself in the news as a self-styled heir to the Eichmann hunters, succeeds against all odds with his companion playing Sancho Pansa to his Don Quixote.

But after having captured their prey, they find out why “the German” is running away: he is a Jew, having served in a concentration camp as a “Kapo”, meaning he was selected by the Nazis to do some of their dirty work for them. To refuse this appointment, would have meant immediate death for any inmate. The ex-Kapo, tired of running away from hunters and himself, decides to take his own life and in an extraordinary twist of fate finds salvation.

A small film with its heart in the right place where all the characters (apart from Rebecca) appear to be more or less lost; struggling for an identity, running from the past, and ultimately themselves. Jacob, bored with his bourgeois life-style, suddenly decides to become a hero at the wrong time of his life. Whilst the consequences of his actions could have been much harsher, when he finally finds himself back in the midst of his family, he looks grumpier than before, not at all relieved to be alive.

MR KAPLAN has a some fine performances, a bone-dry take on life, a vibrant camera capturing the action from interesting angles and a stringent script, which makes the audience root for Jacob because he is such a lovable anti-hero. AS

THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 6-23 2014 NOVEMBER NATIONWIDE

You and The Night (2013) Les Rencontres d’apres Minuit

Dir: Yann Gonzalez  Writers: Yann Gonzalez, Rebecca Zlotowski

Cast: Kate Moran, Niels Schneider, Nicolas Maury, Eric Cantona, Beatrice Dalle

98min  Comedy Drama

First films are rarely as self-assured as Yann Gonzalez’s LES RENCONTRES D’APRES MINUIT (YOU AND THE NIGHT). As it is always the case for French filmmakers, there is something to fall back on: in this case the surrealism of Robbe-Grillet or the poetic realism of Jean Cocteau. Gonzalez borrows heavily but puts his contemporary stamp on it. Ali (Kate Moran) and Mathias (Niels Schneider) have been lovers for over hundred years. To celebrate, aptly supported by their bi-sexual Maid (Nicolas Maury, they give a party inviting the Stud (Eric Cantona), the Star (Fabienne Babe), the Slut (Julie Bremond) and the Teenager (Alain Fabian Delon). All play their roles against type, and lots of contradictory emotions emerge. But there is always enough wit, particularly from the Maid, to prevent it all becoming too serious: this is after all a film about sexual hang-ups and how to deal with them. In the end, Matthias opts out of eternal life but Ali and her Maid immediately recruit his successor: the angel faced Teenager. An entertaining cameo from Beatrice Dalle as the ‘male’ Police commissioner who tries to have his way with his prisoners, is also worth a mention. What makes YOU AND THE NIGHT so entertaining (and that is its main objective), are the aesthetics that conjure up a nightly garden of rich dreamscapes in which the main characters act out their phantasies. True, surrealism and poetic realism play their part in the jamboree but the filmmaker makes it quite clear that this is the 21st Century, where everything is possible. Apart from the brilliant sets and the innovative camera-work, the ensemble work is outstanding, helping to cover some weaknesses in an uneven script. In many ways, a real eye opener. AS

On general release on 3rd October with a DVD release on 10th November 2014

They Came Together (2014)

Director: David Wain

Writers: David Wain, Michael Showalter Cast: Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Melanie Lynskey, Jason Manzoukas

81mins US Comedy

They Came Together is a comedy from the school of ‘have a go humour’. You can imagine the scriptwriters getting together with a loose story of coupledom and just ‘going with the flow’ in a totally spontaneous way. What comes out is a cinematic version of comedy diahorhea. Directed by David Wain and co-written with Michael Showalter, this wild send-up of the romcom is so over the top it sometimes makes you laugh out of desperation and sheer disbelief.

The solid comedy cast includes the latest  in American indie humour: Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler with a side serving of Melanie Lynskey and Jason Mantzoukas who feed them the lines. There are some laugh-out-loud moments and others that are just downright cringeworthy. Some of the gags are so unexpectedly weird, the laughter comes as a gag-reaction, rather that one of sheer pleasure.

The story centres on the relationship between Joel (Rudd) and Molly (Poehler). Over dinner with the other couple they discuss how they met, broke up and got back together, ad nauseam.  Unstructured and rambling, They Came Together eventually descends into a series of jerky comedy vignettes, each one sillier than the last, as the storyline gradually loses control. Performances are strong across the board, but the narrative flow feels uneven and staccato rather than flowing and natural, abandoning any effort to provide a satisfying yarn or to flesh out an emotional arc or a for these  characters by making them believable, interesting or moving.

There’s a great deal to be admired about the autistic bravado and sheer hung-ho attitude of Wain and Showater who are so hell bent on shocking and shaming us we end up not caring at all: and maybe that’s the point. Maybe we’ve reached romantic saturation point in the 21st century, preferring to just snatch moments of pleasure along with the weirdness and pain. So if you’re looking for the ultimate antidote to the ubiquitous romcom – this is surely it! And at a meagre running time of   minutes it certainly won’t MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 5TH SEPTEMBER 2014 IN SELECTED CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

 

 

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Dir.: Billy Wilder

Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, George Raft, Pat O’Brien

USA 1959, 121 min.

SOME LIKE IT HOT, the classic comedy and feel-good film about two musicians being chased by the mob, after having witnessed the Chicago Valentine’s Day Massacre, ending up in a all-girl-band in Florida dressed up in drags, should have been an enjoyable shoot. But far from it: tensions between director Billy Wilder and his star Marilyn Monroe led to bickering, and ultimately a catastrophe, when Monroe had a miscarriage a day after shooting ended.

Wilder complained about Monroe being ‘unreliable in her unreliability’: he went on “during the scene at the beach, when Monroe meets Curtis for the time, him pretending to be a ‘Shell’ heir, I expected trouble, since there was so much dialogue to go through. Further more, we shot the scene on a beach near San Diego, and nearby was a military airport, and we could only shoot between the jets staring with a lot of noise. I thought, that we would have to plan at least for four shooting days, considering Monroe’s lack of discipline and memory. But she was perfect, we finished after twenty minutes. But on another scene, much simpler, when Monroe storms into the room of Curtis and Lemmon, being disappointed and simply having to say one sentence; “Where is the Bourbon?”, we had 65 takes, it took us one and a half days”.

After the end of shooting, Wilder and Monroe’s husband Arthur Miller engaged in a bitter exchange of letters, after Wilder had told a reporter: “I can eat again. My back does not hurt any more. And I can look at my wife again, without wanting to beat her up, simply because she is a woman”. Asked by the same reporter, if he would shoot again with Monroe, Wilder answered: “I discussed this with my GP, my psychiatrist and my accountant; they all said I am too old and too wealthy to go through this all again”.

Wilder, not a friend of intellectuals or women, was piqued, because Miller could not see the “wonderful product” he had created against all odds and blamed the play write of being a snob, because he did not like comedies – even though Miller had just questioned if any film was worth the tragic consequence. Wilder could not stop complaining about Monroe, calling her “nasty”, and telling a story about the star shouting at a second assistant director “Go fuck yourself” after he had asked her to come to the set for the tenth time. But to be fair, Curtis too seemed to have had a rugged time with her, telling a reporter “that kissing Monroe was like kissing Hitler”. But Wilder, whose films very often feature “bad” women”, whose victims are helpless men, like Barbara Stanwyck’s Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity, who seduces MacMurray’s Walter Neff to murder her husband. Whilst in the novel by James M. Cain, on which the film is based, Neff’s greed for an easy life is the catalyst for the murder. But Wilder’s negative obsession with Monroe continued even after her death. Landing at Paris airport on 4th of August 1962 to shoot Irma La Douce,  he was, in his own words “insensitive and mean” about her, but he never the less did blame the journalists for not having told him, that Monroe was dead. Wilder’s humour was always double-edged, his final words on MM were ”There are more books about Marilyn Monroe that the Second World War. There is a certain resemblance: It was hell, but it was worth it”. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY, 18TH JULY 2014 COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS

Love Me Til Monday (2014)

Dir.: Justin Hardy

Cast: Georgia Maguire, Royce Pierreson, Tim Plester

UK 2013, 89 min. Comedy drama

LOVE ME TILL MONDAY is very much like its lead Becky (Georgia Maguire): spirited, a little vague, not very focused but immensely likeable. Whilst all this is fine for Becky/Maguire, the floppy, episodic narrative and the lack of direction (never mind conclusion of anything) is often grating.

The film is set – refreshingly – in Reading, this British comedy is all about about growing up and knowing what you really want: unfortunately, twenty five year old Becky (Georgia Maguire in a very spirited debut) doesn’t really want the former and has no clue about the latter. She works in a dead-end office job, but her mind is mostly somewhere else. Because Becky is not alone in this limbo situation: everyone in the office (bar Steve) wants a good time, but seems not to care very much about the future – again the after-university symptom of lack of adjustment. This can be sweet – up to point, but when none of the protagonists seems to learn anything from their mistakes, one looses a little interest.

After her Mum dumps her younger brother Ollie on her, she lovingly neglects him. Becky has never adjusted to life after university, and she really just wants to be taken care of. Her first choice is ‘HIM’ (Pierreson), the office hunk. But because Becky hesitates, one of her co-workers  picks him up – but not for long. Next in line is Steve (Plester), the much older office manager. He seems to fit the role of ‘boyfriend’, not only does he show Becky the finer points of life, he also helps looking after Ollie, introducing him to a museum and interesting him in the Battle of Hastings scenario. Becky seems to be overwhelmed, but when Steve does not want the office to know about their relationship, she bolts – straight back to HIM, but the one-night stand is unsatisfactory and HIM wants ‘time out’ from all relationships. Becky has a small nervous breakdown, asks Mum to come back and packs up: the last we see her of her is in the bus, eying the next man of her choice…

The tiny budget does not allow for much, but the aesthetics have not suffered: the acting is fresh and lively, the camera changes between loving close-ups and pleasant panorama shots of Reading, and the atmosphere created is one of bliss, with the occasional regrettable over the-top comedy elements. What is lacking is a structured script, which money can’t buy. Without it, LOVE ME TILL MONEY is just a small, fluffy film, carried (just) by Maguire’s Becky. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY, 11 JULY 2014

[youtube id=”CbccUuB3_1w” width=”600″ height=”350″]

 

 

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out of a Window and Disappeared (2014)

100YOM_4sheet_FINAL-UPDATED_THUMBDirector: Felix Herngren

Writers: Felix Herngren and Hans Ingemansson

Cast: Robert Gustafsson, Iwar Wiklander, David Wiberg, Mia Skaringer, Jens Hulten

114mins  Comedy Adventure  Swedish with subtitles

If you enjoy Scandinavian comedy then you’ll probably get on well with this slightly off-piste yarn and its picaresque humour. Based on the best-selling novel by Jonas Johansson, it follows the adventures of Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustaffson) who escapes from his nursing home during celebrations for his 100th birthday and heads off into the country, accidentally acquiring a suitcase of stolen money on the way.

After a lifetime of studying explosives and inadvertently advising on the Atom Bomb, Mr Karlsson is no shrinking violet and determined to live life to the lees. And despite his advancing years he’s rather a spritely go-er. When the dozy criminal gang come after him for their ill-gotten loot, the canny old vodka-drinking Swede takes it all with a pinch of salt, out-witting them slowly but surely with his philosophical frame of mind. The narrative flashes backwards and forwards incorporating key moments of his colourful life that involved meeting with war heroes and villains alike: Stalin, Franco and Kim Il-sung, to name but three.

Joining Karlsson on this dawdling and increasingly whimsical road movie are a range of weird characters: a voluptuous Swedish blonde, a perpetual student, and an over-excited elephant. The old man remains sanguine through thick and thin, reflecting the wisdom of his years: With not much longer to go, his take on life is why sweat the small stuff or the big stuff, for that matter. There’s a bizarre quality to this film that somehow makes Karlsson an admirable figure with his relaxed mindset and cool detachment in the face of all the slapstick silliness around him.

Playing both the younger and older Karlsson with a certain aplomb, Gustafsson is purportedly Sweden’s funniest man but doesn’t over-labour the gags; a point in his favour – as most are not funny at all.  Unfased by danger and his brushes with the Great, Good and the downright absurd (both past and present) Karlsson slides along by the seat of his pants, making his genial good humour about the only appealing factor in the light-hearted tedium.

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 4 JULY 2014

 

 

 

 

Cycling with Moliere (2013)

Director: Philippe Le Guay

Writers: Fabrice Luchini, Philippe Le Guay

Cast: Fabrice Luchini,  Lambert Wilson, Maya Sansa

104min  French with subtitles  Drama

Fabrice Luchini has come to be associated with intelligent French drama and here, in one he devised himself, he plays a well-known thespian Serge Tanneur, who has retreated to a remote manoir on the Ile de Re to recover from a nervous breakdown. Essentially a three-hander, the premise revolves round a bid by successful TV star, Gauthier Valence, to lure him back to Paris to collaborate in his sparkling new production of Molière’s classic comedy of manners: ‘Le Misantrope’.

But Tanneur has a mind of his own, despite its fragility, and an ego that’s second to none in luvviedom. And so this elegant piece goes backwards and forwards as their egos vy for attention, and they embark on a two-week series of rehearsals and play readings in the rain-swept French countryside.

Cycling with Moliere works best during these witty exchanges and literary sorties into the works of Victor Hugo and Charles Baudelaire as Tanneur prepares for his definitive role as the outspoken and unpopular central character, Alceste. And Life starts to mirror Art as it emerges that, in real life, their relationship very much runs along the same lines as Moliere’s two 17th century protagonists Alceste and Philinte.  When the love interest arrives in the shape of an Italian divorcee Francesca (Maya Sansa) the natural underlining comic pessimism of Moliere’s also plays out in the real life denouement. Despite some ill-judged episodes of slapstick humour and a lightweight support cast, Luchini and Wilson keep the show on the road in an entertaining drama that makes great use of its glorious island setting photographed by Jean-Claude Larrieu. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 4 JULY COURTESY OF CURZON WORLD CINEMA

 

 

 

Celebrity – Small Time Crooks – Deconstructing Harry DVD

DECONSTRUCTING HARRY (1997) this comedy construct, in which Allen also stars as a writer looking back over his career, has some nastily neurotic revelations that often feel disturbingly personal.  In a star-studded cast led by Judy Davis (in her usual crisis-mode), Demi Moore, Billy Crystal (who transcends the gloom) it emerges that Harry Block dislikes women and tells them this even in the throws of sex. Looking back over the characters in his novels (who he treats like his ex-wives and children), he pops pills and loses his inhibitions. The writing are as sharp as broken glass and the humour just as mordant.

CELEBRITY (1998) plays like a typical Woody Allen satire with a string of Hollywood regulars (Melanie Griffith, Charlize Theron, Famke Janssen) performing in a revue of cameos. Regular collaborator Judy Davis (Robin Simon) is married to Kenneth Branagh (Lee Simon) but all is not well. Branagh plays Woody Allen’s alter ego (faultlessly) and after leaving Davis, becomes a raging lothario attracting the beguiling Nola (Winona Ryder); the gorgeous (Charlize Theron) and then Famke Janssen – all competing for his geeky charm. Meanwhile Judy Davis plays her usual neurotic role but manages to lurch from crisis to crisis. A fun and entertaining look at the vacuity of stardom with a fabulous vintage soundtrack. As in Deconstructing Harry, Allen seems fascinated by the ins and outs of sex including polymorphia. 

SMALL TIME CROOKS (2000) is far and away Woody Allen’s funniest film.  Pack to the gills with wit and wisecracks you can play it over and over again and still find more gags to enjoy. Upbeat, in contrast to, say,  Sweet and Lowdown” it’s more along the lines of his first outing Take the Money and Run, with a heart of gold and a genuine message of hope to round off the silliness. There’s not a trace of the bitterness invaded Husbands and Wives and Deconstructing Harry, this is Woody at his most naive and genuine as a comedian. He stars along with Tracey Ullman as an ordinary couple from Coney Island who can only dream of the glamour of Manhattan, who turn out to to be much richer in humanity than the wealthy snobs they end up amusingly rubbing shoulders with. Starts out with a half-baked idea for robbing a bank proposed by Ray Winkler (Allen) and his ex-stripper wife Frenchy (Ullman). Renting the store next to a bank they set up a bogus biscuit bakery that surprisingly takes off with hilarious and lucrative results. Frenchy is transformed by their new-found wealth into a social climber of the worst type who falls into the charming but unscrupulous hands of Hugh Grant’s art wheeler-dealer. Some of the funniest moments lie in Ray Winkler’s attempts to bring the story back down to earth assisted by Frenchy’s stupid sister May (Elaine May) in a superb turn, as they become collaborators in a scheme to steal Elaine Strich’s jewellery. The sheer silliness and light-hearted feel to this satire cum sitcom makes it a watchable delight from start to finish.  MT

image022

 

 

 

 

Stella Cadente (2014)

Director/Writer: Lluis Miñarro

Cast: Àlex Brendemühl, Lorenzo Balducci, Barbara Lennie

Spain​ Drama/Comedy​ 110min

One of the better titles to world-premiere in-competition at Rotterdam earlier this year, STELLA CADENTE (aka FALLING STAR) was a welcome addition to the 68th Edinburgh International Film Festival, where it received its UK Premiere as part of the festival’s ‘New Perspectives’ strand.

Though ‘New Perspectives’ celebrates an international array of work from emerging directors, STELLA CADENTE’s writer-director Lluís Miñarro is no newcomer to the festival circuit. As a producer or executive producer, his CV boasts the likes of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (2010), Lisandro Alonso’s LIVERPOOL(2008), Albert Serra’s HONOR OF THE KNIGHTS (2006) and others. His own first feature-length fiction work is a typically eccentric affair, unfolding at a stately pace and with an exquisite cinematographic flair, but all with a droll, deadpan, throwaway edge.

Suitable form, given the content. STELLA CADENTE tells the tale of Amadeo I, King of Spain between 1870 and 1873, whose unusually brief reign ended in abdication. The brevity of his rule can be accounted for by opposition to the Italian-born monarch’s foreignness, by the fact that his election coincided with the assassination of his most influential supporter, and by the in-fighting that gradually tore apart Spain’s progressive party throughout the latter half of the 19th Century. Compounding matters was the turbulent situation that greeted Amadeo shortly after taking up his position: turmoil among the democrats, conspiracies from the republicans, separatism in Cuba, assassination attempts, uprisings and strikes.

STELLA CADENTE is as timely as it is flippant. Though historical periods are seldom fully analogous, Spain once again finds itself in political and economic disorder, and Miñarro’s film had its first of two public screenings at Edinburgh just days after the ascension to the Spanish throne by Felipe Carlos, following father Juan’s recent abdication. Even at an unjustifiably lengthy 110 minutes, though, STELLA CADENTE eschews the greater intricacies of its historical backdrop. For the most part, it’s instead an unfussily light-hearted affair, featuring musical interludes, tripod-fixed longueurs, matter-of-fact homoerotic desire and the incongruous minutiae of a rococo social class that doesn’t know what to do with itself.

Surprisingly, Miñarro extends empathy and even sympathy to his king. Played by Àlex Brendemühl—blessed with the most amazing peepers in Spanish show business—Amadeo here isn’t as dim-witted as historical legend has had us believe. Advised not to leave his own palace lest he meets the same fate as Maximilian of Mexico, Amadeo seems fully aware that the governmental structure in his “folkloric country” denies justice and freedom. Though hewants to govern Spain, he spends the entire film in listless retreat from all-consuming boredom. In truth, Maximilian I, the Emperor of Mexico, had in 1867 been executed after being betrayed by those closest to him. Of Spain, Amadeo remarks, “This country is full of absurd conspiracies.”

It’s also visually sumptuous. As Amadeo’s wife, Queen María Victoria (Barbara Lennie), remarks, “You know what I love about Spain? It looks like a canvas.” Fittingly, Miñarro’s cinematographer Jimmy Gimferrer shoots in digital chiaroscuro that retains its absorbing clarity and seductive colour throughout. It’s painterly, but it’s also how a child might view things, and kid-like Amadeo, eager to serve his country but never taken seriously enough to be given the chance, doesn’t help himself whenever surrounded by advisors. In his first such meeting, he repeatedly asks if there’ll be a dance or a concert to mark his coronation. Later, his enthusiasm has dimmed: “Ambition is a trap.”

It’s not clear what Miñarro and co-scriptwriter Sergi Belbel’s intentions are here. Any serious allegory or warning cry that might pertain to contemporary Spain is offset by the unnervingly cheery tones, while brief episodes such as that in which Amadeo’s loyal servant Alfredo (Lorenzo Balducci) fucks a watermelon are outright bizarre. Still, it’s perhaps unfair to judge, given the kind of work Miñarro has been drawn to as a producer—adding to those mentioned above is fellow Catalonian Sergio Caballero, whoseFINISTERRAE (2010) is perhaps STELLA CADENTE’s most fitting comparator, as a bonkers journey through time and space. MICHAEL PATTISON

Chef (2014)

Director/Writer: Jon Favreau
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Jon Favreau, Sophie Vergara, Emjay Anthony, Oliver Platt
114 min  US  Comedy

Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Swingers) returns to his indie roots with this lip-smacking romp around America that’s enjoyable and informative in content despite its predictable storyline. Did you know that there are 50 styles of barbecue; how to prepare Texas-style beef or make the best Cuban sandwich?  Well in Chef you can find out. Wrapped inside the delicious gourmet coating is a tender-hearted rites of passage success story of how one man gets the show back on the road family-wise while kick-starting his career – most of all its about being true to yourself.

According to Jon Favreau, an affable bon viveur whose generous proportions and sunny personality light up every scene (as the chef in question) the script ‘wrote itself’. While not most inventive story but certainly one that guarantees a level of truth and authenticity mixed in with the enjoyment of the subject-matter and its dynamite delivery. Akin to chomping through the juiciest flame-grilled hamburger in the Ritz, it’s competent and enjoyable with no surprises.

His acting chops are unquestionable as Carl Casper, a respected head cook at a celebrity Los Angeles restaurant who starts to feel cheesed-off with the restrictive menu imposed on him by crusty owner Riva (Dustin Hoffmann). Despite the dulcet support of Scarlett Johansson’s luscious Maitre D Molly, Casper is unhappy and an unfulfilled man makes a bad partner. But when award-winning and influential restaurant critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) openly lambasts his cooking as being tired and turgid, Caspar decides its time to make some creative changes. Luckily his intelligent 10-year-old Percy (newcomer Emjay Anthony ) discovers the power of the critic’s Twitter following (running into the thousands); he sets up an account for his father which proves disastrously counter-productive causing him to make a gracious yet powerful exit from the restaurant and out into the cold.

At this point it always helps to have a rich and beautiful ex-wife and the gorgeous Sofia Vergara is wheeled in as Inez to sooth the troubled waters by taking Percy and Caspar with her on a business trip to Miami. It feels like she still holds a candle for her ex and the ulterior motive is to oil the wheels of creativity and romance – a double-edged sword. And so begins a food-fueled road movie with overtones of boyish bonding and undertones of a flirty romance.

With its rousing soundtrack and magnificent views of California, Florida,Texas and Louisiana this is an indie film with big-hearted ambitions and some enjoyable performances from the star-thronged cast. Although Scarlett Johansson feels under-utilised in her small role, there’s something genuine and heartfelt at the core of Jon Favreau with its upbeat and universal message of hope that leaves the audience satisfied, yet raring to eat. MT

[youtube id=”mJiN6a7K5fI” width=”600″ height=”350″]

 

Chinese Puzzle (Casse-Tete Chinoise) (2013)

image005Director: Cedric Klapisch

Cast: Romain Duris, Cecile de France, Audrey Tatou

117min  French with subtitles   Comedy Drama

A European version of Richard Linklater’s Midnight series, CHINESE PUZZLE  wears its heart a little more lightly on its fashionable sleeve. The third part of Cedric Klapisch’s student story that kicked off in Barcelona with Pot Luck (2002) then St Petersburg with Russian Dolls, follows our freewheeling friends to New York. Now nearly forty, Xavier (Romain Duris) is a writer; father of two and newly divorced from his English wife Wendy (Kelly O’Reilly). Living in a Chinatown bedsit, he’s sired a child for lesbian best friend Isabelle (Cecile de France) and is being hotly pursued by ex-girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tatou). There’s never a dull moment in this feelgood frolic of mutual soul-bearing and farcical melodrama in the Big Apple. Although there are parts of this puzzle that fit a little too neatly, Romain Duris holds it all together with his genial good humour. For sheer upbeat entertainment value, this is well worth a watch. MT

NOW ON MUBI

A Perfect Plan (2012)

Director: Pascal Chaumeil

Cast: Diane Kruger, Dany Boon, Alice Pol,  Robert Plagnol,

104min  French with subtitles   Romcom

Pascal Chaumeil’s follow-up to the very enjoyable Heatbreaker has Diane Kruger, wildly miscast, as a woman (Isabelle) who wants to marry her goofy long-term partner Pierre (Robert Plagnol), the only drawback being an old family curse where, for no apparent reason, all first marriages end in divorce. So we have a 21st century rom-com with a premise from the Dark Ages. Inanely, Isabelle decides to break the curse by splitting up with Pierre in order to marry the first poor sucker she sets eyes on. And it just happens to be Jean-Yves (Danny Boon) who is both irritating and unattractive, like the rest of the cast in this fatuous formulaic farce which is about as fresh and easy on the eye as a mouldy doughnut, and equally hard to digest.

For a start, Diane Kruger is simply not cut out for comedy: she has the delicate features and appeal that cries out for meaningful romantic ice-maiden and, for most of this, as Isabelle, she looks at Dany Boon as if he were something nasty on the bottom of her shoe while supposedly falling for him. Making simperingly soppy love declarations are simply beneath her, but she’s required to do so in the painful final scene. Secondly, A Perfect Plan is co-scripted by four relatively new writers who appear to have drawn a blank on humour and opted instead for a check-list of commercial plot lines and well-worn rom-com tropes; ensuring inertia for most of the overlong running time. Definitely one to avoid, like another medieval curse, the Plague. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 JUNE 2014

 

 

 

.

 

The project’s smug over-confidence is exhibited from the opening scene, in which it demands audiences accept that in modern Paris, a family of upper-middle class intellectuals still believe that a curse hangs over the females of their clan. For no established reason, it seems every first marriage is doomed to fail; a dinner party of relatives tell the story of Isabelle (Diane Kruger, struggling with ‘likable sweetness’ after a career of ‘tormented iciness’), who is so fearful of losing her true-love Pierre (Robert Plagnol) to her pre-ordained destiny, she devises an elaborate plan to sucker some poor schmuck into marrying her then annulling the nuptials immediately, to get the curse out of the way.

In entirely predictable fashion, Isabelle’s plan goes awry and she is thrown into an African adventure with nice-guy travel writer Jean-Yves (superstar Dany Boon, surely playing out the most under-developed lead of his career). She woos him just enough for her plan to play out, but then flees his company once back in France. Her sense of regret and, perhaps more importantly, his sense of betrayal is given such short shrift that”¦well, if the couple involved don’t care what they’ve been through, why should the audience?

There’s always an argument to be made that the people who enjoy these unrealistic romantic comedy concepts (While You Were Sleeping, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) aren’t looking for more grounded love stories (Annie Hall, The Goodbye Girl, Modern Romance, When Harry Met Sally”¦). If so, grab your choc-tops and enjoy. I’d argue that you are buying into the laziest, most contrived genre polluting both multiplexes and art-house venues at present. But to each of their own, I guess.

Benny and Jolene (2013)

BENNY & JOLENE

Dir.: Jamie Adams; Cast: Craig Roberts, Charlotte Ritchie, Rosamund Hanson,Tom Rosenthal, Dolly Wells; UK 2013, 80 min.

Benny and Jolene are a folk-duo who fall into the hands of the music industry whose incompetence is even worse than the songs of their charges. In a caravan on tour in Wales, followed by Joelene’s biological mum and her partner in their car, the two teenagers have to confront their feelings for each other, and their aborted trip into stardom.

One knows exactly what writer/director/producer/editor Adams had in mind: a British comedy on the lines of SIGHTSEERS (2012). Here the leading duo was out of cinch with reality and the humour developed because they literally get away with murder. But Benny, Jolene and their helpers are just incompetent, and all their faux-pas’ are hardly funny – just stupid and incompetent. You can’t laugh when the cover of the duo’s CD shows a big tree instead of Benny, or when Joelene’s mum and her argumentative friend fail to put up a tent – it’s something we have seen too often and in much funnier ways. The duo and the rest of the cast act clumsy ‘on purpose’, but since they have only random contact with reality, there is no confrontation and the little comedy there is targets only the clumsiness of the characters. Why give away the ending at the beginning?, so that we cannot expect a single surprise. Everything is miles over the top, but never in a funny way. The camera only excels in the road externals, and the actors stand no chance with the script. An unstructured narrative stumbles from one episode to the next.

Even today the ‘CARRY ON’ comedies have more bite than BENNY & JOLENE, let alone a professional standard, which Adam and his team can only dream of. Even after only eighty minutes one can only feel relief when it’s all over. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 JUNE 2014

 

 

A Million Ways to Die In The West (2014)

Dir.: Seth MacFarlane

Cast: Seth McFarlane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Liam Neeson, Sarah Silverman

USA 2014, 118 min.

It is difficult to imagine that Seth MacFarlane could have made TED look like a masterpiece, but with A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST he has easily succeeded in this task. Whereas TED had at least some sparks and original ideas (the humour was already off), A MILLION is an absolute disaster. It is difficult to find something that worked, but a short synopsis might give you an idea: MacFarlene himself is a very weak lead as Albert, the sheep farmer, who is left by his girlfriend Louise (Seyfried) for Edward, the moustache merchant. Liam Neeson is the mean gangster Clinch, whose beautiful wife Anna (Theron) falls in love with the pathetic Albert, who eventually kills Clinch in a shoot-out with the help of a poisoned bullet. Add Sarah Silverman as Ruth, the whore with a golden heart, (who doesn’t want to sleep with her boyfriend because she doesn’t believe in pre-marital sex), and then douse it all with a horrendous amount of toilet-humour for two very long hours and you are there.

Everything is always topped by something worse: the cardboard characters are played by so-called stars whose limp performances suggest that their minds where light years away from the film set. And if there would have been something like a cliché-counter, the machine would have imploded midway through the film. To give you an example: when Seyfried’s Louise rejects Albert, looking at him with her big eyes, Anna puts her down with “how can you have so big eyes and be so blind”. But MacFarlane is not finished; in a later scene, when Albert has a nightmarish, drug- induced dream with the Indians, Louise reappears, her eyes big as saucers.

Any comparison with Mel Brooks BLAZING SADDLES (1974) derisory and akin to comparing the work of a very capable artisan with that of a dilettante. Whatever the critical value of the early “Family Guy” and “American Dad” TV comic-strips, MacFarlane has lost any right to be taken seriously any more. In one of the flashbacks in A MILLION, young Albert is seen putting a tooth under his pillow, expecting the tooth fairy to reward him. But by next morning, he finds horse shit under his pillow, his father triumphantly announcing that fairies don’t exist. This shows that MacFarlane in his demise has sunk so far as to make fun at the expense of the weak, the worst sort of humour possible. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 30 MAY 2014

 

Downhill (2014)

image002 2Director: James Rouse  Writers: Torben Betts/James Rouse

Cast: Ned Donnehy, Richard Lumsden, Jeremy Swift, Karl Theobold, Emma Pierson, Katie Lyons

98min  UK   Comedy/Drama

Men and midlife crisis in all their glory are the themes of this hilarious and sometimes poignant ‘road movie on foot’ from commercials director James Rouse and playwright Torben Betts.

When four old school friends get together to walk coast to coast from the North Sea to the Irish Sea they also embark on a journey into themselves exposing insecurities and often tortured relationships. Fraught with setbacks and unexpected developments but always with a genial sense of the ridiculous, this is a passionate blend of well-judged wit and wisdom from a well-known cast of Richard Lumsden (Sense and Sensibility); Jeremy Swift (Gosford Park); Ned Dennehy (Sherlock Homes) and Karl Theobold (TwentyTwelve). A thoroughly enjoyable romp through the English countryside. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 30 MAY 2014

[youtube id=”fcYuhviGtEU” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Fading Gigolo (2013)

Dir: John Turturro

Cast: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber

USA 2013, 98 min.

After his excursion into musical films (Romance and Cigarettes and Passione), the director Turturro has returned to the theme of his debut film Mac (1992): the human male torn between lust and ideal, laziness and honest self respect. Murray (Allen) and Fioravante (Turturro) are nearly down and out: the much older Murray has just lost his second-hand bookshop, and Fioravante, a shy dreamer, is even worst off: he only works two days in a florist shop and has to borrow his rent money from Murray. After a visit to his dermatologist, the attractive Dr. Parker (Stone), Murray comes up with a solution: he will pimp Fioravante – for a hefty “agents” fee – to Dr. Parker, who wants to have a stud for a threesome with her equally stunning girl friend Selima (Vergara). Fioravante is not too eager, but the bills accumulate, and he gives into the Faustian bargain offered by his “friend”. Murray is much more eager than his younger friend, he finds another “client” for him: Avigal, a widow of a Chasidic Rabbi, who has been kept away from the outside world for twenty years by the strict laws of her religion. Fioravante, himself a non-observant Jew like Murray, falls in love with the shy mother of six, – in spite, or rather because of their relationship being rather chaste – but the Jewish vigilante Dovi (Schreiber), who himself is in love with Avigal, follows Murray and Avigal, suspecting “indecencies”. He finally kidnaps Murray with his fellow-vigilantes to get to the bottom of things. Meanwhile, Fioravante fails miserably in his task to satisfy Dr. Parker and Selima, who guess immediately that he is love…..

It is quiet clear from the beginning, which choices Murray makes: he is an old, sleazy, mean and totally corrupt man, whose greed for easy money is only superseded by his hypocrisy. Fioravante on the other hand, wants to do right, but he is too weak and malleable – the perfect victim for Murray’s scheming. Parker and Selima are at least honest in their quest for lust, whilst Avigal takes her time to develop a sense for right and wrong – no wonder after twenty years of “imprisonment”. Dovi is the self-appointed leader of an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighbourhood watch, a sort of misogynist mind police. Cruising along in his car all day, he is as lazy and hypocritical as Murray, the irony being that the kidnapper and his victim are the different side of the same coin. When Dovi asks Fioravante towards the end of the film “are you really a Jew?” the latter answers “I don’t know”. Because labels of identity have lost their meaning: there is no common ground between Dovi and Fioravante – apart from the fact that they love the same woman.

Turturro gently unmasks his characters, never judgemental, but painting a rather sad picture of human nature – apart from Avigal, everybody seems to have become a consumer, be it money, emotions or ideals. The camera elegises New York, the panorama shots are wistful, sometimes doleful, the tracking shots keep everybody distanced, there are few close ups: intimacy has ben lost. Allen’s viciousness is near psychotic; Turturro is mournful, with a permanent low-level depression; Stone and Vergara are slightly over the top in their total abandonment, with Paradis’ Avigal full of dignity, bravery and restraint – an outsider in this world of total sell out. AS

On general release from 23 May 2014

 

 

 

American Interior (2014)

Former SUPER FURRY ANIMALS frontman Gruff Rhys is on a mission to push the boundaries beyond music and into the realms of multimedia with this project entitled AMERICAN INTERIOR that unites literature, film and technology to create a trailblazing multi-sensory experience.  And he succeeds with this magnificently quirky magical mystery tour that fetches up in the lunar landscape of North Dakota, were he meets the Native American Mandan Tribe and bonds with them over their struggle to keep their native language alive (as he does with the Gaelic tongue) in a fascinating road trip of discovery in more ways than one.

Unknown

Obviously a man called Rhys is bound to have Welsh forebears and here he traces his ancestry back to a modest farmhand called John Evans who tried to establish the veracity of an 18th Century Native American Tribe called “Madogwys”.  Evans lost his parents at a young age and, according to a Welsh psychiatrist, this was the reason for his intrepid mission into what was then considered a trip to the Moon.  Rhys makes this film all the more fun and at times poignantly moving, by taking with him a miniature model of Evans complete with soulful eyes, an incipient beard and clothes reconstructed from records of the time (remember the effect of Wilson in Cast Away?). With his tongue firmly in his cheek and a catchy selection of ballads, he then sets forth with his ‘mate’ to trace the adventurous exploits of the real Mr Evans, that involved wrestling various furry and unfurry animals amongst other feats of derring-do and establishing a real map of the Mississippi.

Unknown-1

Taking place during the summer of 2012, the documentary is inventively filmed by Ryan Owen Eddleston and features monochrome camerawork with salient objects highlighted in fluorescent colours sometimes to comic effect. The result is  inventive, fun and filmic as he takes us through the real-life paces of Mr Evans in this foreign land. Thoroughly enjoyable even if you’ve never heard of the ‘Furry Animals’: Gruff Rhys is a chatty, offbeat character who oozes silliness and seriousness in equal measure (whether this is crafty or unwitting it certainly makes him engaging company on this documentary road-trip not to be missed.MT

[youtube id=”KHV_6H2hQnM” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Hits (2014) Sundance UK 2014

Director/Writer:  David Cross

Cast: James Adomian, Lorenzo Beronilla, Joseph Bevilaqua, Matty Blake

96min   Comedy Drama  US

Known for Arrested Development, David Cross’s dark comedy debut explores the cult of celebrity in the YouTube generation and the unrealistic expectations it engenders.  Set in Liberty, a small town in upstate New York, a series of deluded and embittered characters struggle to make a living.  Dave Stuben (Matt Walsh) spends his days haranguing the local council over his civil rights. His daughter Katelyn (Meredith Hagner) is desperate for fame as a singer and will do anything to appear on ‘The Voice’, an X-Factor-style programme.  When Dave’s angry outbursts appear on YouTube, a local friend and drug peddler (an older-looking Michael Cera) decides to show them to his client Donovan (James Adomian) who mashes them up on a video that goes viral.  The fallout is predictably hilarious, but it’s the comedy performances and well-formed characterisations that make this piece consistently enjoyable, much in the same way as John Morton’s BBC outings 2012 and W1A.  Cross slightly loses control of his material in a feature that often feels chaotic and overwrought. A tighter rein on the bitter outbursts would work in its favour; that said, HITS conveys its message cleverly as a worthwhile piece of 21st century satire. MT

SUNDANCE FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 25-27 APRIL 2014

 

 

The One I Love (2014) Sundance UK 2014

Director: Charlie McDowell

Writer: Justin Lader

Cast: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson

Drama   91min   US

Flailing marrieds Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) and Ethan (Mark Duplass), visit a relationship counsellor (Ted Danson) who recommends some R&R in a tranquil villa deep in lush California countryside. When they arrive, the visitors’  book bears testament to the healing power of the place but surreal events take over, forcing them to reconnect in this inventive take on navel-gazing and couple dynamics.  It’s impossible to reveal more without giving the whole plot away, but suffice to say that Charlie McDowell’s romantic comedy turned psychodrama is well-acted, intriguing and carries an unexpected sting in the tale. MT

[youtube id=”_4AUBoIgsvc” width=”600″ height=”350″]

THE ONE I LOVE IS SCREENING DURING SUNDANCE UK 2014 FROM 25-27 APRIL 2014

 

 

 

Wrinkles (2011)

Director: Ignacio Ferreras

Writers: Angel de la Cruz, Paco Roca, Ignacio Ferreras, Rosanna Cecchini

Voices of Matthew Modine, Martin Sheen, George Coe

89min   Animated drama

One day, we will all have empathy for Ignacio Ferreras’ characters shuffling towards death in his brilliantly-bleak animated feature set in a retirement home. Based on a comic by Paco Roca, the tragic inmates compete to survive against the odds: bereft of dignity, bewildered and beset by Alzheimer’s, incontinence, drug regimes and each other.  As they regress into a childlike state of helplessness, an ill-judged bid for freedom results in a comic tragedy. WRINKLES is a film that bravely says “Do not go gentle into that dark night!”

[youtube id=”MyhsAnPt0iM” width=”600″ height=”350″]

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 18TH APRIL NATIONWIDE AND ON DVD AND BLU-RAY FROM 28TH APRIL 2014

Ignacio Ferraras – filmmaker

Matthew Turner spoke to Ignacio Ferreras, director of Tokyo Onlypic (2008), How to Cope with Death (2002) about WRINKLES (Arrugas) his latest film:

MJT: I saw the film in San Sebastian in 2011 and absolutely adored it. How did the project come about, first of all? Were you a big fan of Paco Roca’s comic book?

IF: Thanks. I probably should not mention this, but the film was finished right before that first showing at San Sebastian, practically without an hour to spare. It was a very crazy time leading up to that festival, I hope I never have to go through something like that again. I remember the last day of the festival, rolling up my trousers and wading into the sea behind the festival complex to get a moment of peace and quiet and adjust to the fact that after two years of non-stop work the film was finally done.

About Paco’s comic-book, I had not read it when the producer of the film, Manuel Cristobal, approached me with the idea of directing the adaptation. His proposal was in fact a brown envelope with the comic book and a note which said, “Are you interested?” or something like that. And of course I was very interested. So I was very fortunate, the project just came to me out of the blue, it was Manuel that brought us together.

MJT: How closely was Paco Roca involved with the film?

IF: Quite closely, although for the most part we were working in different countries, which is probably why we are still friends. Paco took care of all character design and was also involved in the writing. He gave me lots of additional material that he had accumulated while he was researching the comic-book but which he had not been able to use, and some of that material found its place in the film.

safe_image.php

MJT: The film is very much like watching the comic book come to life. What are the main challenges involved in adapting a comic book into a film? Did you feel pressure to stick closely to the original artwork? How did you set about doing that?

IF: Was there pressure? That’s hard to say. I’d say not; there weren’t any situations where I wanted to introduce changes and I was overruled. For the most part I was left to do whatever I thought was necessary for the film, although of course I was always aware that I needed to remain reasonably close to the original work. It’s a difficult balancing act, on the one hand there’s a danger to just follow the inertia of the comic book and forget you are making a film. And on the other hand there’s the danger to start changing things for the sake of it, just to assert your authority over the film. I think something that was very helpful was the fact that I was working on the animatic in Edinburgh with my wife Rosanna Cecchini and we made a point that she would not read the comic-book but take my work as her starting point, so she could treat it not as an adaptation but as an original work from the start. And we had more or less a year to work on this in relative isolation, although of course we were sending groups of sequences to Paco and Manuel for feedback, but we had that space to develop the film as a film without having to justify why we were changing this or that. It is interesting that you say the film is like watching the comic book come to life because if you watch the film with the book in hand you’ll see that they are actually quite different, even if the film covers the main events in the book. But I think it is true to say that the film feels very close to the book, because it respects the intention and the characters of the book, even if some of the events do change. All too often adaptations completely change the intention and characters of the original work, like for example in Blade Runner; it’s a good film, but I wouldn’t call it an adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? because it turns the intention of the novel on its head, and I don’t think that’s fair on the original work. So I like Blade Runner as a film but not as an adaptation.

MJT: Were there any particular influences on the film? Did you watch any other films or read any books in preparation?

IF: I’d say that I’m very influenced by the work of Isao Takahata, and although I was not specifically thinking about films like Grave of the Fireflies or Only Yesterday when I was working on Wrinkles, there’s no doubt that Isao Takahata’s work has shaped the way I think about animated films. So I think it is fair to say that Isao Takahata’s work was by far the greatest influence on Wrinkles.1012666_616108041771451_1983009347_n

MJT: Do you have a favourite scene in the film?

IF: Not a particular individual scene. I think I was more concerned with the overall flow of the film and I can’t really think of scenes as separate from each other. To me the film is one big unit, I can’t say that I like one scene more than another… it’s a bit like saying what’s your favourite ingredient in a dish; you either like the dish or you don’t, but it’s hard to say what the best ingredient is, is it the steak or the salt that makes it tasty? It’s easier to say what you don’t like, when something has gone wrong and did not turn out the way you imagined, but I find it impossible to pick a favourite scene.

MJT: What was the hardest thing to get right?

IF: I think it was to get the right balance between being critical and being realistic about the budget and schedule. Animation films can be very dangerous in that way, you can easily become obsessive about the quality but of course the meter is ticking and the budget can evaporate very quickly, so you have to have a very clear idea of what standard of animation you can afford and then be consistent from beginning to end. It’s a question of making the most of what you’ve got. I imagine it is different when you are working with big budgets, but my experience working in European films, which always have a relatively small budget, is that you either have to sacrifice some of the visuals or some of the storytelling. If you spend too much on the visuals you’ll run out of money and you’ll have to start compromising on the storytelling. I decided to compromise on the visuals from the start, in order to not have to compromise on the storytelling later on. I think that was the right thing to do for this kind of story. Quite a few people have said to me that five minutes into the film they forget they are watching animation and they are just engrossed in the story, and that is, for me, the best compliment.

MJT: Did you cut anything out that you were sorry to see go?

IF: No, I didn’t cut anything because of lack of money or time or for any other external pressure, so anything that was cut was cut for the good of the film – I hope. If we had had more money, the film would still have had the same shots; they would have been finished to a better standard and they would been more beautiful to look at, but there wouldn’t be any extra shots or scenes. I cut lots of scenes that I really liked as individual scenes, but somehow they did not feel right in the flow of the film. I think this is perhaps the most important thing for a director: to be absolutely ruthless in your editing. “Kill your darlings” is one of those often repeated clichés, but I think it is right. Of course, when I look at the film now, nearly three years after finishing it, there are some things I would probably change, but that’s different.

How did you approach the casting for the English dub?

IF: I didn’t. The English dub was handled by the distributors and, although I think they have done a very good job, I did not have anything to do with it. I don’t think this is unusual, directors are not normally involved in the dubbing of their films to a foreign language. Of course in this case it so happens that I live in the UK and I speak English but that is just a coincidence. They would not have asked for my opinion if they had dubbed the film into Japanese (which by the way they didn’t, they used subtitles in Japan) so it is not surprising that I wasn’t approached when they dubbed Wrinkles into English. Now that this English language version is coming out I’m getting asked this question a lot, I think this is because dubbing a film into English is quite a rare thing and people are not really aware of how it works, but by the time Wrinkles was dubbed into English my work on the film had finished a long time ago. Generally speaking I don’t like dubbed films, but I think the dub of Wrinkles is much better than usual and the choice of Martin Sheen and George Coe for the main characters was very fortunate.

Arrugas_final_emilio_saluda_a_anciano_jpg_480x480_q93

MJT: Are there any other animators you admire? Do you have any favourite animated films?

IF: As I mentioned before Isao Takahata is my favourite director, not just my favourite director of animated films but my favourite director-period. I also admire very much the work of Hayao Miyazaki. A list of my favourite animated films is really a list of their films; just look up their filmographies and you will have a complete list of my favourite animated films. And then there’s also the “French New Wave” of animated features, of which Sylvain Chomet’s The Triplets of Belleville is still my favourite exponent and which I think represents the beginning of genuinely distinctive European commercial feature animation – I’m also very interested in these films.

To this, I’d have to add  that I’m as influenced by live-action cinema as I am by animation, by the films of Kubrick, Kurosawa, Ozu and many many others. Although if I had to pick just one favourite film I think it would be Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday (Omohide Poro Poro).

MJT: What’s your next project?

IF: At the moment I’m working on an animated feature about the life of Danish writer and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, which is still in the early stages of script development. Yet again, it’s a story which might not seem like an obvious choice for an animated feature, but Kierkegaard was a really fascinating character and I think there’s an amazing film to be made about him – an amazing animated film.

WRINKLES IN ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 18 April 2014

The Borderlands (2014) Interview with Gordon Kennedy

Scottish actor Gordon Kennedy’s appearances have been somewhat few and far between in cinema, his latest endeavour on the silver screen has been something of a critical hit amongst the horror community, with a starring role in Elliot Goldner’s The Borderlands. Kennedy discusses the differences in working in film compared to television, while also letting us in on the fresh challenges that come with the found footage genre. He also explains why his comedic background was beneficial to this piece, and whether or not he believes in the supernatural himself…

Q:So what attracted you to the project?

Well they offered me the job, is my stock reply to that. It’s like nothing I’ve ever done before and I liked the idea of staring in a film, I don’t get offers for big Hollywood movies! I’m not a massive slasher horror fan, but films like The Evil Dead, funny, disgusting horror films, I love that. The humourless stuff that followed that wasn’t of much interest to me. The story in this is interesting, that whole thing of doing a horror film but about the people who are rubbishing, you’re starting from quite a cynical standpoint. I liked that idea.

Q:Your cynical character almost represents the viewer in that regard…

Completely. What I liked about him, and what we pushed quite a lot, was this idea of him losing his faith. The tortured holy man who is beginning to question what he’s sacrificed his life for, which is why he’s very open to the idea of miracles. We talked about that a lot during the film of it.

Q:You mentioned before your joy in doing a film, as most of your previous work has been on television. These days the line between the two mediums is so blurred – did this feel different though, like a movie?

Yeah it felt very different, especially in the bank balance! First of all it was a genuinely low-budget, independent British film, and those tend to be populated by very young, very enthusiastic, incredibly talented people, which is fantastic. I’d never seen that. The world of television tends to be populated by those who have done it for a long time. These guys are girls are coming out of film school. It was a real learning experience to see how these people work. They’ve only grown up in the digital age, they’re wondering around with SD cards all the time, that’s it. It’s an obvious thing, but it belies a huge difference in approach, but incredibly knowledgable about film and characters. They’re big fans of filmmaking right the way through, they can pick out their favourites from any genre and any age – and that’s just really interesting.

Borderlands still 1 copy

Q:So despite being in the industry a lot longer than Elliot – you still learnt a lot from him as a director?

Completely, I learnt a lot. But not just from Elliot, but all the crew. The D.O.P. Eben Bolter too, who is a really clever guy. Obviously with a found footage film, when one of the cameras is on your ear you get a fairly intimate relationship with the cameraman. I felt like I’d almost been unfaithful by the end of some days. I felt dirty, I had to go and have a shower. As did Eben. Again, that was learning for me because I hadn’t done found footage. I’m not sure if Elliot or Eben had either, but they’d really worked out how they were going to do it. It just brilliant and so interesting to work in that way.

Q:Did shooting a found footage movie bring about some new challenges you hadn’t faced before as an actor?

It’s a completely different environment. You have these head cams so it becomes really important to look at each other, if you look up or down you won’t see anyone. Things like that, there’s a lot more collaboration between camera crews, and lighting and props and actors and director than there might be otherwise. All these practical things are really interesting, but honestly it’s quite liberating. You don’t have to relight, you don’t stop and move the set around – you just film it and keep going, and you can try lots of different things. That was great fun, you really felt like you were part of the process, whereas there’s a danger in bigger films where you feel more like a mannequin. Ewan McGregor was very funny when he did Star Wars, he was so disappointed with the process. He said, ‘I spent six months staring at a green screen, I have no idea what my enemies look like. You’ll know before me’. Whereas this isn’t like that at all. It’s all real, and you’re constantly working with the whole team, and I really like that. I’ve stared in comedy and stuff like that, it’s a team game, not individual.

Q:Found footage films encourage a more naturalistic approach to acting, and provoke improvisation. Did that serve you well as an actor?

Yeah it really did. First of all, Rob [Hill] and I just got on, right from the off. It was one of those weird things, we just had a laugh, we trusted each other. It meant that we could push things, he really could say outrageous stuff and know I would come back, and that helped with us getting to know the characters, as well as each other, and it helped the film. The first 20 minutes could be dull exposition, but we worked on making the characters believable, and you like them and like being around them. Rob will be saying something stupid or I’ll be being grumpy and it works. It also means that when the characters go into jeopardy, the audience are taken along on an emotional level as well. That’s always good. The reaction at screenings is fantastic, I love it, because people are genuinely going ‘oh no!’ and that’s good, because you don’t do that in Saw. You just go ‘oh he’s got his leg cut off, fuck it, I don’t know him, I don’t care’.

Borderlands still 5 copy

Q:Improvisation serves the horror and comedy genres best I think, and this strikes a nice balance between the two. You’ve got a background in comedy, so I imagine that was pretty beneficial?

Yes it was. Rob is the funny man, but that’s good, I knew I could relax and I knew when to come in, when to shut up and let him get the laughs. Also, horror is very similar to comedy, in a sense that you have an audience reaction. It’s really black and white, and very simply whether you’ve got it right or wrong. In comedy the audience laugh, in horror they scream, and if they don’t scream at that moment you want them to, you’ve done something wrong, it’s not their fault. Same if people don’t get a joke, you’ve written it wrong or delivered it wrong. Those things are very similar, the timing of how you do things. With horror you’ve got the benefit of sound. We don’t have massive CGI, special effects budgets, so sound is so important.

Q:As someone who knows the project inside out, are you still able to get immersed in the film when watching it back? Do you feel tense?

You do, but it’s more from feeling it around the audience. When I’m watching something I’m in, it’s much more to do with the atmosphere, you can feel when the audience are absolutely there, and obviously you get the physical response, when the audience jump up in their seats. But I don’t get completely immersed in it, because I can’t see The Borderlands without seeing me in it. Most of the time I just sit there thinking, ‘Jesus, why did you do that?’ so I tend to concentrate more on the audience – that’s the important thing.

Q:Do you ever get used to seeing yourself on the big screen? Do you scrutinise over it a lot?

Yeah you tend to look at stuff, but I’m terrible. My wife constantly shouts at me when we’re watching something on television, and I’m being cynical. That’s the devil’s pay you have when involved in the business, you can’t look at something as a punter. That’s the sign of a good show – when I watch something completely as a punter. Like Line of Duty recently, I absolutely loved that, it’s fantastic. But with myself, yeah I’m not very good at watching, ‘who’s that handsome hunk in the background?’ is not what I do. I’m not sure many actors do, contrary to popular opinion – I think most hide their head in their hands.

Borderlands still 4 copy

Q:So do you think this film has an appeal to films fans in general, outside of horror aficionados?

Yeah completely. When this first went out on the festival circuit, for the horror reviewers, the opening lines to so many of their reviews were, ‘this is a found footage film, but…’. We argued about this when making the film, I think it’s a genre, I think there’s enough examples of it being used, and it’s a way to tell a story, that’s all. Perhaps it’s more a style than a genre, it’s a way of telling stories, like shooting a film in black and white. So a lot of people were a bit tired of it because of the success of things like Paranormal Activity, you get Paranormal Activity Four and pay just think, I’ve had enough of this. But in this instance it really works, it’s embedded in the story and there’s a really good plot reason why we’re doing it, so you don’t worry about it. As soon as you’ve done that, and set it up properly, nobody worries about it and it’s fine. That was important, and a good example of how to do something like this. If there’s a good, competent reason why you’re doing it in a certain way, the audience relax

Q: So you think it’s important the audience go in without any preconceptions of this genre?

Yeah absolutely. It’s a horror film and it’s low-budget, but it’s really nicely scripted and there’s some good themes, leading, inevitably, to a really scary end. You’re on a real journey. People who don’t like horror films, well they’ve been ambushed a bit, so they think they’re watching Final Destination or something. This is different, this obeys the laws of film, gives you characters, you like them, and you go on a journey with them.

Was it a challenge for you to find a strand of realism in the role and story, when dressed up in such supernatural surroundings?

No, because the crux of his doubt and his anguish, is whether you’re prepared to take this leap of faith or not, so it’s about that. Which is great, because I could have that inner turmoil, externally. That added a bit to the character, that’s why it’s interesting.

Q:Do you believe in the supernatural yourself?

No. No. I don’t. I was talking to someone the other day, and there was one time we were filming in a haunted house and the camera went from colour to black and white in this haunted room, and everybody was convinced that was a ghost.

Q: You were filming in derelict churches at the dead of night – it must have been quite eerie at times to shoot?

Yeah, and that really helped. Definitely, there were a couple of times when I go back to church a couple of times on my own and when we’re filming that, because it’s wide shots, supposedly the CCTV cameras from the church, nobody could be in there, so it’s 2am, it’s dark, it’s a derelict church and I’m in there on my own, so you can use whatever you can to make the realism a bit more real, and it certainly was a little spooky in there. It definitely helped.

Q: So are a big fan of horror as a genre? What state do you think it’s in at present?

What’s really interesting, is that British independent films and the horror genre, and inextricably linked, because there’s a massive tradition of British horror films, from pre-Hammer to now, with people like Ben Wheatley. It’s great going round to these festivals like FrightFest, where a lot of British filmmakers are cutting their teeth by making a movie in the horror genre, because they know they’re going to get a lot of exposure and it’s good fun. If done well, it can really show your skills off as a filmmaker. So I think it’s pretty good, and every now and again people reinvent the wheel. Like Paranormal Activity just moved found footage to a different level, deliberately setting it in the one place where you think you’re most secure – a bedroom. A sensational thing to pull off, and to pull off like they did. Cloverfield too, that took found footage into a massive, special effects movie and that was really interesting. All of that stuff is great because it broadens the field.

Borderlands still 2 copy

Q:Not to take anything away from The Borderlands, but have you been surprised at the level of acclaim it’s been receiving so far? Across the world.

Yes, yes I have. It’s been a real positive surprise to me. Partly it’s because it’s an entirely new field so I have no critical compass here. Obviously I’m in it and I want it to be really good and I know how hard everyone worked – so I’m the worst person in the world to look at it in perspective because obviously I’m going to say it’s great. But it’s been really interesting how people, and not particularly horror fans, have loved it. That means there’s something in the script, in the acting and in the characters is obviously working, otherwise that wouldn’t have happened. People my generation are not necessarily horror fans, but they seem to like it and that’s been a heartening process to go through, and it makes me very proud of it and of all the people who worked so hard to make it as good as it is. That’s been fantastic. It’s also really interesting, because there’s a huge amount of positivity in this area I never expected. Because you generally see film critics slagging off Hollywood blockbusters, you feel there’s a spikiness about film criticism and the film world. But what’s been interesting is watching the warmth of other filmmakers and critics to this film, who are saying, ‘this is a low budget film that you should see.’ Empire magazine put it in their top 20 films you should have seen but probably didn’t watch in 2013, and that’s been a real shock to me, but a brilliant one. It shows there’s a proud tradition of filmmaking in this country, and people in charge of bringing that, like you, the critics, are very mindful of the idea that British film is very important, so when you see something worthy of merit, you are looking at something and saying, ‘this is very good’. Not, ‘it hasn’t got Ewan McGregor in it, so fuck off’. Stefan Pape

THE BORDERLANDS IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 28 MARCH 2014

[youtube id=”8j1aimF90Dk?t=7s” width=”600″ height=”350″]

The Borderlands (2014)

Director/Writer: Elliot Goldner

Cast: Gordon Kennedy, Robin Hill, Patrick Godfrey

90min   UK  Horror/Thriller

Making a funny horror movie is quite a feat but Elliot Goldner has pulled it off in his debut Britflic, The Borderlands.  After The Blair Witch Project, found footage films are always going to raise an eyebrow of contempt, but here the crackling chemistry of the leads and the well-paced sparky narrative never take the ghoulish theme too seriously, until the horrific finale eventually bites back with a nasty sting in the tail.

Made on a shoestring budget, but none the worse for it, The Borderlands stars TV regular Gordon Kennedy and Robin Hill (of Ben Wheatley fame) as spirited sparring partners: a Vatican investigator and a recording technician, who fetch up in a remote West Country village to explore the truth behind suspected paranormal activity in the medieval Parish Church, as reported by the disturbed and deeply sinister vicar Father Crellick (Luke Neil). Combining a strong sense of place in the lush English countryside with some genuinely spooky happenings, this is a film that cleverly keeps us sceptical yet on the edge of our seats right up to its devastating denouement. MT

THE BORDERLANDS IN ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 28 MARCH 2014.

[youtube id=”wZ4mSBE3ip8″ width=”600″ height=”350″]

Klown (2010) Prime

Dir: Mikkel Nørgaard | Cast: Frank Hvam, Casper Christiansen, Mia Lyhne, Iben Hjelje, Marcus Jess Petersen| Denmark, 89min  Comedy

_MG_8727 copy

Dont’ listen to the po-faced critics who tell you this is ‘crass, unfunny or outrageous’ – it’s a bit of adult fun, even Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian’s  trusty critic, was seen laughing out loud. You might think this Danish road comedy is going to be dire, then you’ll start to enjoy the ludicrous humour that touches on The Hangover – but much more ridiculous and real:  A trip into strictly grown-up territory – so don’t take the kids – for once they can stay at home!

_MG_6897 copy

Frank (Frank Hyam) makes a geeky and