Posts Tagged ‘comedy’

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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


 

The Dead and the Others (2018)| New Brazilian Cinema | Mubi

Docudrama | 114’ | Brazil/Portugal

Brazilian cinema is entering a new era in the wake of the country’s unprecedented political turmoil. Several new films are now available online along with this look at the Directed by Palme d’Or winner João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora, The Dead and the Others is a haunting docudrama based on their experiences of living for nearly a year in Pedra Branca, a village inhabited by the indigenous community of the Kraho people in Northern Brazil. The Kraho very much want to continue their way of life and traditions in their rural community, striving to be self-sufficient. Their plight connects with a global narrative of survival for small communities all over the world.

Fifteen year old Ihjãc has been suffering from nightmares since he lost his father and in the opening scene he walks through the rain forest in the light of the moon. A distant sound of chanting comes through the palm trees. His father’s voice calls him to the waterfall. It is now time to organise the funeral feast so his father’s spirit can depart to the village of the Dead and mourning for him can come to an end. Although his baby son Tepto was born in the local hospital, Ihjãc still spends most of his life with his family in the remote forest and although the village elders are urging him to fulfil his duty to undergo the crucial process of becoming a shaman, Ihjãc escapes back to the local town to avoid the transition. There, far from his people and culture, he faces the reality of being an indigenous native in contemporary Brazil.

With its themes of loss, displacement and cultural identity this eerie and woozily impressionistic piece that has a poignant urgency in its message, glowingly conveyed in vibrant, high contrast cinematography. MT

NEW BRAZILIAN CINEMA | UN CERTAIN REGARD JURY PRIZE 2018 | LET IT BURN

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

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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 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

 

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.

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

 

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

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

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

 

Lolita (1961) ***

Dir.: Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Sue Lyon, James Mason, Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers; UK/US 1961, 152 min.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote a screenplay of 400 pages for Stanley Kubrick’s film adaption of his 1955 novel – it would have amounted to a running time of over seven hours. Kubrick also had to take into account the Hays censorship code, which made it impossible to show detailed sexual aspects of the love between Humbert Humbert, a middle aged college lecturer and a twelve-year-old girl named Lolita, whose name became synonymous with any young temptress – even though she was the victim of adult male predators.

Lolita opens with a murder: a drunk elderly man is shot dead while playing Chopin on the piano. Then the linear events leading to this crime unfold: A lecturer in French literature Humbert Humbert (Mason), arrives in Ramsdale, New Hampshire, in search for lodgings. On the verge of turning down the rooms on offer from Charlotte Haze (Winters), he is just about to reject them, when he sees her daughter Dolores ‘Lolita’ (Lyon) and falls in love. But Charlotte has a shine for Humbert too, and drives her daughter to a girl’s camp, leaving a letter for Humbert, telling him to move out – or marry her. Humbert, still obsessed with Lolita, then marries Charlotte who later reads his diary where he confesses to his love for the school girl. Charlotte runs out of the house to post a letter to the authorities, but is killed in a car crash. Humbert fetches Lolita from the camp, pretending that her mother is in hospital, but seduces the girl in a motel. They set off on a romantic adventure, and are followed by an obnoxious stranger. In the autumn, Humbert enrols Lolita in a nearby High School where she is to participate in a school play. A discussion with Dr, Zempf (Sellers) upsets Humbert and he takes Lolita out of the school, touring the country again. Finally, Lolita disappears; leaving Humbert desolate. Much later, he learns that she is pregnant, living in a tranquil suburb. He gives her money, from the sale of her mother’s house, but she wants to stay with her husband Dick. She also tells Humbert that she ran away with Clare Quilty (Sellers), a famous playwright, who impersonated Dr. Zempf and followed them on their journeys. Humbert dies before the murder trial.

Kubrick set his sights on Mason to play Humbert from the beginning, but he was unavailable due to other commitments. Laurence Olivier and David Niven also turned down the part, but finally Mason took it on board. Kubrick and Nabokov were happy with the casting of Sue Lyon – who was fourteen, playing a twelve-year-old – Nabokov later admitted he would have preferred the French actress Catherine Demongeot, who played Zazie in Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le Metro. Over 800 actresses had test screenings for the young Lolita. 

Meanwhile, a 1977 remake by Adrian Lyne –  much more faithful to the novel – made a colossal loss at the box office.

And while Kubrick tried to make Humbert into an “Unreliable Narrator” telling the story from his own selfish viewpoint, he fails to do the Lolita character any justice. Lolita certainly has its merits as a drama, but it’s un-conceivable that such a film could ever be made today. AS

Stanley Kubrick RETROSPECTIVE | APRIL AND MAY AT THE BFI 2019  

    

 

One, Two Three (1961) **** Bluray

Dir: Billy Wilder | Wri: I.A.L Diamond | Cast: James Cagney, Pamela Tiffin, Arlene Francis, Comedy | US,

One of director Billy Wilder‘s most frenetic comedies, the madcap Cold War and corporate politics satire One, Two, Three has to be one of the only films almost capable of making its Wilder predecessors Some Like It Hot and The Apartment seem sedately paced in comparison. Featuring a hilarious lead performance by James CagneyOne, Two, Three hasn’t always been as famous as Wilder’s other comedies, but it’s among his best.

Cagney is C.R. “Mac” MacNamara, a top soft drinks company executive shipped off to (then West) Berlin and told to keep an eye on his boss’ 17-year-old Atlanta socialite daughter Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin) while she visits Germany. Scarlett’s tour seems endless, and Mac discovers she’s fallen for a (then East) Berlin communist agitator and the young couple are bound for Moscow! Mac has to bust up the burgeoning romance before his boss learns the truth, all the while dealing with his wife Phyllis (Arlene Francis) and her own impatience with German living.

With One, Two, Three, Wilder set out to make “the fastest picture in the world.” Mission accomplished, so hang on and try not to miss too many gags if this is your first viewing of this knockabout comedy penned by Wilder’s long-time screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present yet another Billy Wilder masterpiece on Blu-ray for the first time ever in the UK.

Billy Wilder’s ONE, TWO, THREE, a witty and energetic comedic showpiece starring James Cagney, presented on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK as a part of The Masters of Cinemas Series from 15 April 2019, featuring a Limited Edition slipcase [2000 copies ONLY]  https://amzn.to/2IfCLl5

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

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 

Eaten by Lions | Edinburgh Film Festival 2018 ***

Dir.: Jason Wingard; Cast: Antonio Aakeel, Jack Carroll, Sarah Hoare, Natalie Davis, Kevin Eldon, Vicky Pepperdine, Asim Chaudhry, Hayley Tammaddon, Neelam Bakshi, Johnny Vegas, Tom Binns; UK 2018; 99 min.

British director Jason Wingard (In another Life) has assembled a multicultural absurdist comedy featuring two teenage half brothers: one looking for his father, the other simply following big brother where ever he goes. Their madcap journey from Bradford to Blackpool ends in the bosom of a large, wealthy Asian family, where histrionics are the rule.

Omar (Aakeel) and Pete (Carroll), are alone again after the death of their Gran. Having already lost their parents in a freak accident in Africa, where they had met their demise in the jaws of a lion. The idea of living with reactionary and repressive relatives (Eldon/Pepperdine) does not appeal to the brothers, so Omar sets out to find his genetic father, a certain Malik, whose name is on his birth certificate. In Blackpool they meet punky Amy (Hoare), her campy uncle Ray (Vegas) and a fortune teller (Binns) who turn out to be useful providing them with the address of the Choudray family. Ruled by two matriarchs Sara (Tamaddon) and Tazim (Bakshi), it turns out that Malik is not Omar’s father, his progenitor is actually Irfan (Chaudhry), Malik’s younger brother, who is about as mature as Omar himself. Pete falls into the arms of young Parveen (Davis), a teenager who doesn’t speak to her family, but is very verbal with Pete, who also has a slight walking disability. When Parveen and Pete set out in grandfather Choudray’s pristine Rolls Royce, picking up oddballs from the waterfront, the scene is set for a raucous wedding finale.

Told this way, one might expect a run-of-the-mill comedy, but every character feels rather a parody, and the clichés pile up like papadums. Everyone seems to be  OTT so the lack of straight versus crazy, the very essence of any comedy, is therefore missing.  funny numbers, but not much cohesion. DoP Matt North overdoes the colourful palette making everything as saccharine as the candyfloss on the beachfront. Humour is always highly personal affair. Let’s just say that Wingard’s lack of subtlety veers on the embarrassing, and the rather undeveloped characters and storyline make for disappointing viewing. AS

EATEN BY LIONS celebrated its World Premiere on 21June at Edinburgh International Film Festival 2018 | On release from 29 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

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

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

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

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

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 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.

The Glorious Acceptance of Nicolas Chauvin (2018) **** Locarno Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Benjamin Crotty; Cast: Alexis Manetti, Antoine Cholet, Pauline Jacquard, Caroline Deruas; France 2018, 26 min.

Winner of the Mantarraya award at this year’s Locarno Film festival, Benjamin Crotty’s quirky exploration of everything French is cleverly conceived and inventive, both aesthetically and in its execution. THE GLORIOUS ACCEPTANCE is a social and political satire – somewhere between stand-up and Black Adder – biting and highly entertaining. It makes fun of said Chauvinism, but it also pampers to it. A true original.

Nicolas Chauvin (Manenti), legendary one-eyed farmer-soldier of the Napoleonic Wars, comes back to receive an imaginary award while regaling us with a potted history of his grim and glorious career during an outlandish stage appearance that could have been drawn from the tradition of Roman theatre, or even the alazon of Ancient Greek comedy. We’re then transported back to the place of his purported birth in 1820, the navel port of Rochefort. Derring-do was clearly the done thing for this original chauvinist who displays his excessive and unreasonable patriotism, emerging as quite the hero by bravely jumping off battlements and diving into moats without a by your leave to escape the clutches of a glass-eyed chain-mailed enemy, who later kills Nic’s charming female companion (Caroline Deruas). The two men then fiercely debate Chauvin’s psychological identity – did he repress his Oedipus complex and project his mother’s faults onto others, so creating so his paranoia? Another scene change sees him in a bar where he dallies with his next conquest (Pauline Jacquard): all this after a hymn, however barbed, to everything French, Messi plays football on the big screen. Finally, we are back on the stage where Chauvin thanks everybody from Eurosport to François Holland, bearing in mind the president sold weapons worth 8.3 billion in 2016. The elitist classes know no shame. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 1-10 AUGUST 2018

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 

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

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. 

 

Yomeddine (2018) | Cannes Film Festival | In Competiton

Writer|Dir: A B Shawky | Egypt | Drama | 97’

YOMEDDINE (Judgement Day) is a coming of age road drama where two outcasts discover the harshness of the real world outside the lepper colony where they have spent most of their tragic lives. Funded by kickstarter, A B Shawky based his film on real people he met at the Abu Zaabal Leper Colony while filming his awarded documentary The Colony: childless leper Beshay and his schizophrenic wife; Hamed, the legless former truck driver, and Nubian boy Obama. After the death of his wife, we re-join Beshay and his apprentice Obama (Ahmed Abdelhafiz) on a journey south in a donkey cart, to trace the rest of Beshay’s family and find out why his father abandoned him there as a child.

A gentle sardonic humour saves YOMEDDINE from descending into sentimentality, even though the two’s sad plight may often have you close to tears. Newcomer Gamal plays Beshay (who is no longer contagious) with vulnerability and amusing self-deprecation, and the down to earth Obama tags along on the mission.

Poverty and religion are the themes that run through this slim but poignant story. Having been judged all their lives for their looks, when will they be judged for their personalities? Obama is more confident than Beshay but the two share an appealing rapport. During their trip they encounter all sorts of nefarious characters along the way, and although there’s no strong narrative, this watchable film ambles gently on as we enjoy the rapport of the characters and the simple storyline enriched by the passing Egyptian landscapes – that veers off the beaten track, offering sites that are unfamiliar to most. YOMEDDINE is a restrained piece of work that may not travel far, but there is a powerful charm to its journey. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8-19 MAY 2018 | 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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

Chubby Funny (2017)

Writer| Dir: Harry Mitchell | Cast: Harry Mitchell, Augustus Prew, Isabella Laughland, Jeff Rawle, Jack Cooper Simpson | 89min | UK | Comedy

Nonchalamtly dovetailing humour with pathos, Harry Mitchell’s low budget comedy is indie filmmaking at its best. With naturalistic performances thrown in for good measure, CHUBBY FUNNY follows the freewheeling but not always light-hearted days of two aspiring actor/flatmates in London’s Primrose Hill. Oscar – played by Mitchell, who also directs – has an easygoing girlfriend (Laughland), works for a charity where he takes regular abuse on his door to door fundraising grind, while doing ridiculous chocolate adverts on the side (his agent has classified him as ‘Chubby Funny’). Meanwhile, Charlie (Augustus Prew) pays their rent and has just landed his first real acting part, paving the way for jealousy and resentment to infiltrate their relationship. As the onesie-wearing Oscar, Mitchell is a comedy natural with his slapstick insouciance and witty take on life, and there’s convincing support from Laughland, Asim Choudary’s razor-sharp shopkeeper and David Bamber as his cynical former teacher. Despite its slim storyline – nothing really happens – but somehow it all slips down rather enjoyably. With its occasional classical score, this is perceptively written, well-crafted and amusing stuff. MT

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

 

 

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 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

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

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 |

Roxanne (1987) | Bluray review

Dir: Fred Schepisi | Cast: Steve Martin, Daryl Hannah, Shelley Duvall, Chris Rossovich | 107min | Romcom | US

Steve Martin brings his legendary comedy talents to the role of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, transforming the pinocchio-nosed Cavalier into a soft-hearted Fire Brigade Chief in smalltown America, where he falls for the charms of Daryl Hannah’s blonde bombshell stargazer, in this lyrical and lovely cult classic from Fred Schepisi. Unselfishly, Bale (Martin) hides behind his dorkish junior (Chris Rossovich), to vicariously court the leggy astromer with billets doux and dulcet tones over the airways. The timeless classic from Fred Schepisi and Edmond Rostand has never felt so prescient in its timeless message that we should never judge a book by its cover, despite how unappealing its cover may be. MT

OUT ON 21 NOVEMBER 2016 COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA Amazon http://amzn.to/2cYp9Gi

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

A New Leaf (1971) | Viennale Film Festival 2022

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) and director in her own right, 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 this engaging comedy drama on Jack Ritchie’s short story: ‘A Green Leaf’. It’s about marriage, a subject she is familiar with having had four husbands during her 90 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 Harry (an amusing vignette featuring James Coco) who offers him money with the following proviso: he has six weeks to meet a rich woman, get married AND repay the debt; if he fails he must hand over his worldly possessions including his prize vintage (unreliable) Ferrari.

Henry’s foray into dating provides most of the laughs. 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 (May in fine form) 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

SCREENING AS PART OF THE ELAINE MAY RETROSPECTIVE VIENNALE 2022 along with THE HEART BREAK KID (1972); MIKEY AND NICKY (1976); ISHAR (1987)

A NEW LEAF IS 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

 

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

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

Addicted to Fresno (2015)

Director: Jamie Babbit       Writer: Karey Dornetto

Cast: Judy Greer, Natasha Lyonne, Edward Barbanell, Ron Livingston, Aubrey Plaza

85min   US Indie Comedy

Aubrey Plaza and John C Daly are the only stars in this upbeat US indie that follows the ups and downs of two sex-mad sisters, Shannon (Greer) and Martha (Lyonne) working as hotels maids. Shannon has just been released from a sexual-rehab. The rub comes when they have to dispose of the body of a guest Shannon has just slept with (John C Daly). The humour is of the mainly ‘sex and lavatorial’ variety based on the premise that women don’t get down and dirty (cleaning loos and bidets, that is) on film). It certainly raises the odd chuckle if you’re looking for something light and airy after a hard day at the lending library but don’t expect the mere presence of Plaza and Daly to save your soul or offer you quality entertainment here, although it it’s decent made and acted. A bit of fluffy nonsense to download on VOD | DVD. MT

OUT ON 9 OCTOBER 2015

 

Venice International Film Festival | 72th Edition | 2 – 12 September 2015

2015 is set to be a knock out year as VENICE FILM FESTIVAL claims its position as the oldest major international film festival, now celebrating its 72nd edition and championing a glittering array of independent and arthouse films. Unlike Cannes 2015, that promoted its own actors and filmmakers, Venice has chosen an eclectic mix of international talent drawn from veteran auteurs to sophomore filmmakers. Under festival director, Alberto Barbera and an erudite competition jury lead by Alfonso Cuaron, including such luminaries as Pawel Pawlikowski, Hsaio-hsien Hou, Lynne Ramsay, Elizabeth Banks and Francesco Munzi, the competition line-up sparkles with renewed vigour showcasing independent film talent and stealing a march on Toronto which neatly overlaps the Italian festival by two days, leaving the Canadians to show the blockbusters which will come to Britain very shortly anyway, for those who follow them.

1-11MINUTES-actorWojciechMECWALDOWSKIPresiding over the jury in 2001, Veteran Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski will be back in Venice with his long-awaited follow-up to Essential Killing, another thriller called 11 Minutes (left).  This time the setting is Warsaw, with a strong Polish cast led by Richard Dormer, Piotr Glowacki, Andrzej Chyra (In the Name of) and Agata Buzek. Sangue del mio sangue 1

The Italians have four films in the competition line-up this year: Marco Bellocchio presents Sangue del mio Sangue (Blood of my Blood (right) which knowing the director’s strong visual aesthetic with doubtless be a stylish vampire outing, set in the village of Bobbio (Emilia Romagna) and starring the ubiquitous and pallidly delicate Alba Rohrwacher. Giuseppe M Gaudino is not well-known outside his native Italy but his latest film Per Amor Vostro may well change things. Sicilian director, Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), once again casts Tilda Swinton in crime thriller A Bigger Splash which is set on the volcanic island of Pantelleria (south of Sicily). It has Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson and Ralph Fiennes who play an assortment of interconnecting lovers in a game of mystery. Juliette Binoche will be on the Lido as the main star of Piero Messina’s drama The Wait, essentially a two-hander where she gets to know Lou de Laâge (Breathe) who plays her son’s fiance as they both await his arrival at a Sicilian villa. I Ricordi del Fiumi  (Out of Competition) by Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio is a documentary about the platz, the large shanty town where over a thousand people of different nationalities live on the banks of the Stura river, in Turin. The area was recently the object of a major project to dismantle it and move part of the families into normal homes and the film documents life in this slum during the last few months of its existence, with its anguish, drama, hopes, life.

EQUALS VFF 01 ∏Jaehyuk Lee

Having shot their cinematic bolt at Cannes this year, the French are thin on the ground in competition repped by Xavier Giannoli with Marguerite, a drama starring Catherine Frot (Haute Cuisin) and Christa Théret (Renoir). Christian Vincent (La Séparation) who has cast Sidse Babett Knudsen (The Duke of Burgundy) and Fabrice Luchini in his comedy drama L’Hermine.

From Turkey comes Emin Alper’s second feature, Abluka (Frenzy). The sophomore filmmaker is best known for his striking 2012 widescreen drama Tepenin Ardi (Beyond the Hill) which was outstanding for its atmospheric ambient soundtrack and searingly authentic performances from Mehmet Ozgur and Reha Ozcan.

Heart of a Dog 1

From across the Atlantic, musician and actor Laurie Anderson will be in Venice with her latest drama, Heart of a Dog (right). Cary Fukunaga has cast Idris Elba in his actioner based on the experiences of a child soldier in the civil war of an unnamed African country: Beasts of No Nation. And where would Venice be without an animation title? Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman provide this in the shape of Anomalisa which features the voices of Jennifer Jason-Leigh, David Thewlis and Tom Noonon in a stop-motion film about a man crippled by the mundanity of his own life. Drake Doremus (Breathe In) presents Equals (above left) a sci-fi love story set in a futuristic world where emotions have been eradicated. The US crowd-pleaser, it will star none other than Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult and Bel Powley. Veterans Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau and Bruno Ganz lead in Atom Egoyan’s latest thriller Remember that looks back at a dark chapter of the 20th century through a contempo revenge mission. Australian Sue Brooks is the other female director In Competition with her drama Looking for Grace starring Odessa Young (The Daughter/Locarno) in the lead, supported by Radha Mitchell (Man on Fire) and Tom Roxburghe (Van Helsing).

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 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 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 

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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

 

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

 

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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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

Les Coquillettes (2012) LOCO London comedy festival

Dir.: Sophie Letourneur

Cast: Camille Genaud, Sophie Letourneur, Carole Le Page, Luis Garrel, Julien Gester

France 2012, 75 min.  French with English subtitles

Filmed during the Locarno Film Festival of 2011, this is an inside job: we learn everything we want to know how the participants of a film festival (mis)behave. Letourneur cast three young women on the hunt for male company, while neglecting the cinematic feast on offer. Sophie tries to score with the actor Louis Garrel, whom she has only met once, Camille has chosen the rather enigmatic “Liberation” film critic Julien Gester, whilst Carole is rather undecided and only wants cuddles, but finds the ex-Cahiers writer Eugenio Rizzi, an Italian hunk. Girltalk about sex, often more interesting than the real thing, ensues, and twitter and Facebook activities dominate the rest of this mixed bag. It is certainly more watchable than many movies of this genre dominated by males, but the occasional laugh does not make up for a rather superficial proceeding. Shot on HD, the acting is lively, camera work is rather mediocre, and the directress tries (not always successfully) to find a style for the cinema, whilst clearly being influenced too much by TV. The film never touches on any subject for long enough to make it worthwhile, there is no real centre and it is at it best when reporting on the festival. AS

LOCO RUNS FROM 23-26 JANUARY 2014 in various London venues

 

 

2 Guns (2013) DVD/Blu-Ray

Director: Baltasar Kormákur

Script: Blake Masters

Cast: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Bill Paxton, Paula Patton,

109min    Action/Thriller/Comedy

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur’s last outing was the Iceland-based documentary The Deep.  Buddy cop caper, 2 Gunscould not be more different.  But hopes of it following in the well-loved footsteps of Midnight Run rapidly fade despite a stellar cast, whipsmart script and superb production values.  Why, when it has all the right ingredients to be an action comedy winner?  I guess it all comes down to the lack of real charm.

Mark Wahlberg is larger than life as Stig Stigman, an undercover agent who goes on the run after a botched attempt to infiltrate a Mexican drug cartel with a side-line in bull farming. Aided and abetted by slick DEA exec Denzel Washington as Bobby Trench, they join forces, each unaware of the other’s uncover status. And they certainly make an impressively butch pair: Wahlberg’s rippling muscles and Washington’s glistening gold tooth adding a touch of macho fun to the proceedings with Kormákur’s slick direction mostly avoiding CGI.

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Getting off to a cracking start, the film gradually loses interest enmired in gratuitous violence despite the easy chemistry of the leads. A touch of mysogyny is thrown in with a lingerie-clad love-interest (Paula Patton) for Washington that doesn’t quite wash, particularly as she’s supposed to be of the same professional rank. Bill Paxton saves the day, giving a rock solid performance as dodgy CIA agent.

So although not quite up there with Kormákur’s previous indie fare, 2 Guns is a mainstream, respectable but glib gangster movie; well-crafted if slightly underpowered tension-wise, but sure to replenish the coffers for his next arthouse treat. MT

2 GUNS IN ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 16TH AUGUST 2013 and ON DVD/BLU FROM 9TH DECEMBER 2013

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In A World (2013) ***

Director/Script: Lake Bell

Cast: Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Demetri Martin, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Nick Offerman, Rob Corddry

90min    US Comedy ***

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Lake Bell’s debut feature is a screwball comedy drama in which she also stars as a wannabe voice-over artist who has not yet found her groove. Suffocating under the enormous ego and physical hulk of her famous father Sam Sotto (an assured Fred Melamed) who rules their roost and occupies the stratosphere of the voiceover world, he has only one younger rival Gustav (Ken Marino) to threaten his dominion over the airwaves.

The film opens with a tribute to Don LaFontaine, the famous voice artist, and this is a story about fragile egos at the top and the competitive world of show-business.  Lake Bell, as Carol finds herself suddenly ousted from the family home to make room for her father’s doting younger girlfriend and into the flat of her married sister Dani, (Michaela Watkins) and her husband, Moe (Rob Cordry) who are experiencing their own problems.

In A World, has the comfortable feel of a TV soap such as ‘Rhoda’ or even ‘Caroline in the City’ with its New York Jewish humour and sharp and punchy script.  Lake Bell has perfect comic timing and an ability with accents which she trots out with a dead-pan expression as mimicking the people she meets during her day including a squeaky girl who turns out to be a lawyer. Dani plays the reliable older sister who is professional in her work, respectful and down to earth, but it’s clear that these two are resentful of their father and his girlfriend and this plays out in a well-considered and believable way.

In a World, 2013 Sundance Film Festival

A surprise cameo from Geena Davis injects a strong feminist message in the closing scenes and Eva Longoria appears briefly attempting a cockney voice. In A World is a fresh and informative.MT

Any Day Now (2012) **

Director: Travis Fine

Cast: Alan Cumming, Isaac Leyva, Garret Dillahunt, Frances Fisher, Gregg Henry.

98min     US Drama

Inspired by true events that took place in the seventies but have increasing relevance now with contempo themes of gay adoption and civil rights, Travis Fine’s tale of a gay couple attempting to legally parent a mistreated Down’s Syndrome boy is somewhat schematic despite its admirable subject matter.

It stars Alan Cummings as Rudy Donatello, a single gay man whose unsocial hours in cabaret bring him into contact with his home-alone neighbour Marco, an appealing boy with Down’s Syndrome. Then one night during the show, Rudy takes a shine to punter, Paul (Garret Dillahunt), and after a brief dalliance, ends up servicing him in the car.  The respectable divorced lawyer falls for his charms and before you can say ‘human rights lawyer’ the two have set up home on the auspices of providing stability for the mistreated Marco.

It has to be said this is very much Alan Cummings’s film. As a drag queen, his tour de force of simmering anger, full blown histrionics and vulnerable charm grabs the limelight whenever he’s in the frame. Playing against the much lesser-known but competent Garret Dillahunt, (who just gets to wear a truly ghastly wig) he simply takes over and the central theme of adoption is forced into second place. As Marco, Isaac Leyva is captivating in a subtle turn that could have offered more in the way of dramatic pull had the script left room for Marco and Paul to develop their characters. Sadly, they are completely submerged by Cumming’s star quality from start to finish.  Fine’s handling of the establishment figures also portrays them as perpetual baddies to the point of caricature, as in Frances Fisher’s crusty old crimplene-clad Judge Meyerson and Paul’s boss, Lambert (Greg Henry): who turns into a ill-judged weirdo to cause him grief.

Obviously, Travis Fine was delighted to have Cummings attached to the project and shoe-horned in the rest of the cast who were happy to be part of a vehicle featuring his acting pipes in a star turn that ends up completely taking over the action.  Where Any Day Now could have been a sensitive, multi-faceted court room drama about a decent gay couple engaged in a laudable custody battle, it just ends up being a rather predicable and strangely unfunny comedy focussing on Alan Cummings star turn. MT

ANY DAY NOW IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6TH SEPTEMBER 2013 AT SELECTED CINEMAS

Populaire (2012) ***

Director: Regis Roinsard
Script: Regis Roinsard, Daniel Presley
Producer: Alain Attal

Cast:  Romain Duris, Deborah Francois, Berenice Bejo, Shaun Benson, Melanie Bernier, Miou-Miou

Fr    111mins   2012   Romantic Comedy

Populaire (2012) Romain DurisA feature debut from director Roinsard supplies another quintessentially-French kooky rom-com from Duris. Set in 1958 and beautifully designed by Silvie Olive, this is a warm, feel-good film about the travails of love never running smooth, with a light dusting of psychology to ensure it all makes sense.

Duris plays an Insurance boss with a heart, in need of a secretary. And a wife.
Into the frame steps the unpromising ‘Rose Pamphyle’, a village girl growing up in her fathers shop, but harbouring dreams of being a secretary and seeing the world. She proves a rubbish secretary, but a demon two-finger typist. Duris leaps on this talent seeing her as the tool through which he, as a truly competitive spirit, can win. Win what? Win the Fastest Typist Competition, of course.

But the star of the show and what makes it is Deborah Francois. She is beautiful, dissembling and feisty in equal measure and convincingly in love. Her journey from ingénue to woman of the world is an engaging one and Duris plays second fiddle to it.

 

Fans of Duris will presumably not be disappointed. He models a smashing line in single- breasted suits and cuts a fine, slender Gallic figure sporting a Gauloise for the films entirety, but far less is asked of him than from the superior (2010) Heartbreaker and there is alot less comedy to boot.

I feel certain it hits all the right notes for the intended audience. The set design rejoices in the Fifties setting, the costumes, colours and hair-do’s are all sumptuous and beautiful, but it is nevertheless a case of style over content, running a little long at almost two hours.

There’s something missing in the box ticking that went into the creation of this film, which is So ‘There’ in Heartbreaker and The Beat My Heart Skipped.  It’s not that this is a bad one, it’s that we’ve come to expect ‘exceptional’ from Duris and this one isn’t. AT

POPULAIRE IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY MAY 31ST IN CINEMAS ACROSS LONDON.  READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH STAR ROMAIN DURIS

I Give It A Year (2013) ****

Director/Writer: Dan Mazer

Cast: Rose Byrne, Simon Baker, Rafe Spall, Anna Faris, Minnie Driver, Jane Asher, Jason Flemyng

87mins  Comedy

Borat writer Dan Mazer choses a tricky genre for his first outing as director: the Wedding Romcom. If you normally give these films a wide birth, don’t be deterred by I Give It A Year. Particularly with the current slate of lengthy films on heavy topics: Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty; it’s refreshing to find a light-hearted, intelligent comedy feature that’s sharply scripted and perfectly timed at 87mins.

What starts as a fairly typical storyline: eyes meet across a crowded room leading to white wedding with lewd Best Man’s speech, soon becomes something more interesting and authentic: The grim realisation that some love affairs are not meant to get past the first flush of feelings. Not every romance ends in wedded bliss and the patter of tiny feet. So enough of cliches: I Give It A Year takes the story further and is underpinned by some great gags and solid performances from a starry lead cast of Anna Faris, Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall and Simon Baker.

The couple in question  are Rose Byrne as an uptight PR woman Nat, who falls for Rafe Spall’s housebound writer, Josh. Cracks start to show in the marriage even before the champagne has run dry and each are drawn elsewhere. Nat to a dashing American client (Simon Baker) and Josh to his ex, Chloe (Anna Faris). Olivia Colman gives a strung out turn as a marriage guidance counsellor with anger management issues. And Minnie Driver, Jane Asher and Jason Flemyng provide a Greek chorus of positive and negative approval as family members.

From the start, each character is well-thought out and authentic with ghastly brother-in-law Stephen Merchant toeing the Ricky Gervaise line, Rose Byrne still in character from ‘Damages’, and Simon Baker fresh out of Hollywood charm school with real star quality.  Gradually their roles start to gel with hilarious moments and tearful ones playing out to a surprising and feelgood finale. A touch formulaic but a wonderful start for Dan Mazer’s directorial career and a witty way to kick off the comedy year and blow away the February blues on Valentine’s Day. MT

I GIVE IT A YEAR IS ON GENERAL RELEASE IN LONDON FROM 8TH FEBRUARY 2013 AFTER PREVIEWING AT THE BFI AS PART OF THE LOCO LONDON COMEDY FILM FESTIVAL 2013

 

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