Posts Tagged ‘Sci-fi’

The Bamboo Saucer (1968)

Dir: Frank Telford | Cast: Dan Duryea, Lois Nettleton | US  Fantasy Sci-fi 100’

The Bamboo Saucer attempts far more than its obviously tiny budget can manage, and at 100 minutes takes much too long to deliver too little. Writer-director Frank Telford’s garrulous script feels like one written in the fifties that took ten years to get made – so was then brought up to date by making Red China rather than the Russkies the heavies. A competent cast led by the late Dan Duryea does their best, and Lois Nettleton as a hot Russian scientist with lovely blue eyes gamely spouts some particularly atrocious dialogue. (There’s a lot of Russian dialogue in the script; and it would be interesting to learn what a native Russian speaker makes of her accent and how convincing the dialogue spoken by her and the other actors playing Russians actually sounds.)

Competently lit in an overlit TV movie sort of way by twice Oscar-winning Hollywood veteran Hal Mohr, the ‘Chinese’ locations resemble an episode of Star Trek and the Chinese church where much of the action is played out is presumably a standing set from something made earlier. But where the corner-cutting really shows is in the dreadful music score and the perfunctory special effects. The score is obviously carelessly selected odds and sods taken from a library when a halfway decent score would have generated a bit of much-needed atmosphere to make up for the slack pacing. And the special effects are spectacularly inadequate.

The budget evidently didn’t exist for the design and construction of a full-sized flying saucer exterior for the studio scenes, so we instead get a flatly lit superimposition that looks even worse than Edward D. Wood Jr’s notorious hub-caps of ten years earlier. When the thing finally takes off, the flight to Saturn and back (aided by shots of outer space, the Moon, Mars and so on presumably lifted from other films) certainly makes for a final ten minutes that is fascinating for what it attempts with so little. @Richard Chatten

In a Quiet Place: Part II (2021)

Dir: John Krasinski | Cast: Emily Blunt, Noel Jupe, Millicent Simmonds, Cillian Murphy | US thriller 97′

It’s a novel idea: an anthropod alien attracted to earthbound prey merely by sound. In a Quiet Place (2018), essentially a survivalist Sci-Fi thriller, was the brainwave of John Krasinski who wrote and stars alongside his wife Emily Blunt. As Evelyn and Lee Abbott they spend the entire film cowering in silence in the family farm in New York State while the predator  – who arrives from the heavens – rages outside. Part II sees Evelyn and the kids escaping across the Appalachian mountains where other dangers lurk.

Thriller-wise there are some clever beats here: the exquisitely sound-sensitive predator is an animal – not a robot – and can be destroyed by gunfire – keeping the story grounded, relatively speaking. This spider-like critter can also be repelled (for a time) by a loud transistor radio, held up like a cross to a vampire. Meahwile its horrified potential victims tiptoe around – in the serene splendour of the bucolic Buffalo countryside where they hide out in a disused factory. The well-honed family members feel real and relatable, Evelyn and her clever kids Marcus (Jupe) and hearing-impaired Regan (Simmonds) love each other, and it shows. There’s also a newborn in tow.

Krasinski successfully develops the storyline with a sequel that combines likeable heroes with stunning Sci-fi set pieces moving on from the ground-breaking reveal of ‘part one’. Pitting man against monster in a post-apocalyptic world feels entirely ‘now’. Horror lovers will enjoy plenty of jump scares and skeletons popping out of nowwhere to a pounding soundscape that jostles thunderous vibes with suspenseful interludes of silvan silence. Somehow this could be happening to you. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

It Came From Outer Space (1953) **** Blu-ray

Dir.: Jack Arnold; Cast: Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Joe Sawyer, Russell Johnson; USA 1953, 81 min.

Director John Arnold (1916-1992) was the mastermind behind seven Sci-Fi classics between 1953 and 1958. It came from outer Space was the first, shot in 3-D and based on the short story ‘The Meteor’ by Rad Bradbury and written for the screen by Harry Essex.

Seen as an anti-McCarthy feature at a time when Aliens and ‘Reds’ were both out to destroy the idyll of small town America, Arnold uses small Californian towns like Victorville and the Mojave desert as background to create an exotically eerie backdrop .

Astronomer and author John Putnam (Carlson) has moved to the desert, finding his intellectual viewpoint at odds with the small-time folks back home. He is in love with school teacher Ellen Fields (Rush) who plays truant when the two discover a meteor hitting Earth. It later transpires that an alien spaceship has made some sort of an emergency landing but Sheriff Matt Warren (Drake) is the first to denounce John’s theories after visiting the crash site, he also has the hots for Ellen.

Strange things happen all over town, as citizens are cloned by the Aliens. Among them are Frank Dayton (Sawyer) and George (Johnson) two electricians whose spouses are telling Warren their men folk changed personality before simply disappearing, taking their clothes with them. John, helped by Ellen, finds out that the Aliens are repairing their spaceship, using the tools and equipment of the local engineers and electricians. Then Ellen gets taken over by the strangers, she appears to John in an evening gown and leads him to a mine, where she is taken hostage.

John comes to an arrangement with the leader of the spaceship who appears as a glittering droopy-eyed monster. John pretends to blow up the mine, whilst Warren and his posse (or lynch mob), are closing in on the entrance. The Aliens repair their spacecraft and leave Earth.

DoP Clifford Stine creates some startling black-and-white images, often veiled by an ethereal mist. It Came from Outer Space shows Arnold (who was assistant to Robert J. Flaherty) as a chronicler of the The Eisenhower era, where anti-intellectualism and the McCarthy Witch Hunt was the dominating factor. Arnold’s other classics sided with outsiders, among them Creature from the Black Lagoon (famously restyled by Guillermo del Toro in 2017), Tarantula and The Space Children. He was also known for his Westerns, and one of his last cinema features, The Mouse that Roared (1959) which made Peter Sellers an international star.

A true creative, Jack Arnold later switched to directing TV fare, his seminal ideas providing the basis for some of today’s most popular big and small screen outings. There is hardly a series he did not have a hand from Wonder Woman to Dr. Kildare; The Brady Bunch, Ellery Queen and Perry Mason amongst the very best. AS

BLURAY/DVD AVAILABLE 14 DECEMBER 2020 | FABULOUS FILMS

Archive (2020)

Dir/Wri: Gavin Rothery | Cast: Theo James, Stacy Martin, Rhona Mitra, Toby Jones, Peter Ferdinando, Richard Glover, Lia Williams

Just before my father died I thought about how brilliant it would be if I could download his personality along with all the vast knowledge and experience gathered during his eventful life, and save it for posterity. Gavin Rothery has taken that idea and made it into an impressive AI Sci-fi drama, and it’s the human element that makes Archive so appealing.

It persuades us that sex and romance still exist in 2038, and so does humour. It’s also got Toby Jones which is always a good thing. And the robots are surprisingly intuitive, with acute sensibilities, and also enjoy listening to rock music.

Theo James plays George Elmore, an American computer working on a  human-equivalent AI. Holed up in a remote Japanese facility deep in a snowbound forest he has been tasked by his draconian boss Simone (Mitra) with finessing the model of a rudimentary female robot, who has also cleverly sussed Simone out (“I don’t like her, she’s a bitch”).

But he’s actually more focused on another state of the art humanoid prototype which is at a critical stage, and this personal and highly secretive project will reunite him with his late wife Jules (Stacy Martin) who he speaks to through a system called ‘archive’ that allows the living to communicate with the dead for a brief space of time. Her personality and memories have been downloaded into the robot’s shell. It’s a brilliant idea and the ideal solution for preserving the essence, vast experiences and knowledge of the people we’ve loved. But woman are complex, especially robot ones, and so Elmore really has his work cut out. Then Toby Jones arrives to inspect the archive and George realises his days are numbered.

Archive is the feature debut of Gavin Rothery who also wrote the script. Rather like the recent Sci-fi outing Ex Machina it looks stylish and wizzy largely because Rothery is also a graphic designer and special effects guru but it’s his plotting and a strong cast that makes this enjoyable, although Elmore doesn’t get the happy ending he’s hoping for. MT

ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD FROM 18 JANUARY 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Once in a New Moon (1934) ** Talking Pictures

Dir-Scr: Anthony Kimmins/ Cast: Eliot Makeham, Rene Ray, Morton Selten, Wally Patch, Derrick de Marney, John Clements, Mary Hinton. Sci-fi/Fantasy. Fox British. 63 mins

Lurking on Talking Pictures at 6 in the morning is this extraordinary relic of the troubled 1930s (a front page briefly glimpsed during a montage bears the secondary headline ‘Nazi Terrorism in Europe’) in the form of this bizarre British hybrid of Duck Soup and Passport to Pimlico with a large ensemble cast (including a young Thorley Walters glimpsed in his film debut) headed by perennial ‘little man’ Eliot Makeham that anticipates the sort of thing that would soon become associated with the name of Frank Capra.

Much of it attractively shot on rural locations – with a noisy music score, Russian-style editing & directed with a restless camera by the always unpredictable Anthony Kimmins from a 1929 novel by Owen Rutter called ‘Lucky Star’ – the thing is fantasy rather than sci-fi as a tiny village called Shrimpton is blown into space precipitating civil war. There’s a lot of political talk but the suspiciously short running time of 63 minutes suggests substantial pruning before it was passed for exhibition. R Chatten

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES TV

War of the Worlds (1953) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Byron Haskin | Wri: H G Wells (novel) Barre Lyndon | Cast: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson, Les Tremayne, Robert Cornthwaite | US Fantasy/Sci-fi 85′

Although a brash travesty of H.G.Wells’ original 1898 novel, and despite Steven Spielberg’s 2005 ‘upgrade’ and last autumn’s well-received TV version, George Pal’s original big screen version is still for many the last word in fifties Technicolor destruction on the grand scale (blessed as John Baxter described it with “the smooth unreality of a comic strip”).

With Oscar-winning special effects (which took so long to complete the award went posthumously to Paramount special effects veteran Gordon Jennings), the elegant fire-spewing war machines like dragons based on manta rays by Japanese-American designer Albert Nozaki bring a touch of eastern elegance to their menace, while the sophisticated use of sound throughout to mount up suspense at key moments remains exemplary.

In all it adds up to a film with a power that remains in the words of critic Richard Mallett “in places quite hypnotic”. And it can now be savoured in all it’s pristine glory on Blu-Ray! Richard Chatten

OUT ON BLU-RAY FROM 7 JULY 2020

The Man with X-Ray Eyes (1963) **** Blu-ray release

Dir/Wri: Roger Corman | Cast: Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vils, Harold J Stone, John Hoyt | Sci-fi Thriller UK, 79′

Drawing comparisons with Jack Arnold’s Incredible Shrinking Man this gripping foray into Sci-fi showed Roger Corman capable of inventive storytelling as well as horror in this enterprising low budget thriller with a razor sharp wit that stars Ray Milland in the leading role. It even has a forward- thinking female role in the shape of Diana Van der Vils who plays a vampish pearl-rocking blond Dr Diane Fairfax, who also provides the romantic twist.

Space exploration had captured the collective imagination of the cinema-going public for all things scientifically ground-breaking in the early 1960s and The Man with X-Ray Eyes buys into this vibe. There’s also ‘something of the night’ about Ray Milland, despite his sparkling blue eyes, and these take on a superhuman power for his character Dr James Xavier who has invented a serum for championing human vision.

Set in Las Vegas, Nevada – we get to see blue skies and palm trees – but the action mainly takes place in the confines of labs and domestic interiors (aka the studio). At first his vision leads to cheeky revelations about women’s underwear and even their spines! Twisting with a blond who picks him up at a party he comments on her (hidden) birthmark and underwear: “Remember I’m a man”: he jokes lasciviously, and she quips back:”Remember I’m a woman” taking him off guard, realising he has been successfully pulled, and gets his coat.

But things get serious when he discovers that his serum has a cumulative affect, giving him the ability to see inside a patient’s body to their veins and organs during an operation, and his colleague threatens him with malpractice. But Xavier is not afraid: “Soon I’ll be able to see what no man has ever seen”. And this knowledge is power. So much power that he accidentally throws his colleague out of the window during the ensuing contretemps.

Forced to go on the run, Corman gets the chance to cast the brilliant Don Rickles as Dr Xavier’s stooge/compare when he embarks on a foray as a fortune teller in a bizarre turn of events. And soon he’s seeing to much for his own liking, donning an enormous pair of dark glasses that give him a striking resemblance to Ricky Gervais.

Overnight he becomes a miracle worker, treating the sick but also seeing the downside of his gift, which works both ways, showing him the sinister, seamy side of humanity warts and explores the ethics of power: In the process he loses his empathy for the common man.

Corman avoids sensationalism creating some rather clever visual affects that are in keeping with the integrity of the performances and thematic strength of a story that explores the moral side of Xavier’s powers, and the nature of what it is to be human. Corman was forced into a studio-dictated ending which is nevertheless reasonably satisfying, Ray Milland carrying the film from start to finish. And whatever the question was at the beginning, love was always going to be the answer. MT

NOW ON BLURAY from 4th May 2020 COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT FILMS

 

Little Joe (2019) ****

Dir. Jessica Hausner | Sci-fi Drama | Austria, UK, Germany | 105′

Austrian auteuse Jessica Hausner creates films that are intelligent and refreshing. And none more so than her recent Cannes competition entry Little Joe. A challenging, coldly humorous hyper-realist Sci-fi that explores the unique human condition known as happiness.

Sometime in the future Emily Beecham plays Alice, an emotionally buttoned up ‘plant designer’ who develops a scarlet thistle-like flower whose scent makes people happy, and is sure to catch on  commercially. But there’s a snag: the plant also makes subtle changes in the personalities of those who inhale its pollen. It also causes seems to destroy neighbouring plants in the laboratory.

Little Joe is a mesmerising film to look at: its brightly synthetic colour schemes, geometric framing and slightly off-kilter performances are undeniably eye-catching and entirely appropriate given the subject matter: genetic modification. This is not a film to love but a film to admire, the strange storyline keeping us agog in fascination until the surprising finale.

Once her pioneering plant is in full flower Alice names it Little Joe, and brings a sample home for her teenage son Joe (Kit Connor) to tend – she’s a rotten workaholic mother hooked on Deliveroo dinners, but hopes the plant will bring out her son’s nurturing side.

Meanwhile, in their slick laboratories and mint green uniforms, Alice and her colleague Chris (Ben Whishaw) are certainly more commercial scientists than traditional plants people, but Chris is the more appealing and emotionally intelligent of the two. Their chief designer Bella is an earth mother and soon notices that her beloved shaggy dog Bello has undergone a complete change of personality since sniffing pollen from the odd-looking thistles. The staff put this down to Bella’s mental health issues and move swiftly back to their microscopes. But these weird changes cannot be ignored for long.

Sound plays an important role throughout this unsettling story and Japanese composer Teiji has devised a spooky electronic soundscape for each phase of plant development. Hausner has seemingly gone out of her way to assemble an eclectic multi-racial cast and this certainly adds flavour to this exotic con concoction but Beecham, Wishaw, Kit Connor and his dad (Goran Costic) are particularly affective in striking the right mood. And if you think Little Joe bears a strange visual resemblance to another recent Austrian chiller you’d be right: DoP Martin Gschlacht also filmed Goodnight Mommie (2014). MT

ON RELEASE FROM 21 FEBRUARY 2020

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Best Actress Emily Beecham
https://youtu.be/eKy7Iaco_rU

Invasion Planet Earth (2019) ***

Dir.: Simon Cox; Cast: Simon Haycock, Roxi Drive, Toyah Willcox, Julie Holt, Sophie Anderson, Danny Steel; UK 2019, 93 min.

Director Simon Cox (Driven) has spent seventeen bringing this labour of love to the big screen, and his perseverance has paid off. Shot over six years, mainly in Birmingham, and with two years in post-production, Invasion was heavily dependent on crowd funding hence the 136 credits you can study on IMDB. The result feels like a pilot for a TV series, with the audience reactions anywhere between a sub-par Dr. Who and a cult movie.         

In a futuristic Britain the Dunn family has been hit by a series of setbacks. Thomas (Haycock) and his wife Mandy (Drive) are mourning the loss of their young daughter Rebecca. He works as a psychiatrist in a private mental clinic under threat of closure, and she is a kindergarten teacher who has just become pregnant again, just as Aliens invade the planet, threatening to separate them in the chaos. Meanwhile, rogue general Lucius is threatening to explode a nuclear bomb. Tom’s plea to continue his work is refused, he and his assistant Clare Dove (Willcox, who also wrote the music) are made redundant. Tom soon finds himself in turmoil with three of his patients Harriet (Hoult), Samantha (Anderson) and Floyd (Steel). Finally, when the Planet’s superpowers decide to go to war, after Lucius detonates a nuclear bomb, Tom comes to a surprising discovery and must take Mandy on a race against meltdown.

Originally titled Kaleidoscope Men, after a TV series, which is watched by young Thomas and his friends in the prologue, Invasion plays out very much like a run-of-the-mill SciFi film with CGI playing a big part, hiding the minimal budget. The twist in the plot helps to overcome the restrictions to a certain extent, but the scenes featuring the emotional conflict of doctor and patient relationship keeps Invasion from being just another run of the mill Britflick. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 5 DECEMBER 2019

Aniara (2018) ****

Dir.: Pella Kagerman, Hugo Lilja; Cast: Emilie Jonsson, Blanca Cruzeiro, Anneli Martini, Arvin Kananian; Sweden/Denmark 2019, 106 min.

This Swedish dread-fuelled sci-fi debut feels like Solaris directed by Ingmar Bergman.

Adapted from an epic poem by Swedish Nobel prize laureate Harry Martinson Aniara is both unsettling and beautiful to look at, embued with the melancholy of its original author who committed suicide after learning that he would have to share his Nobel Prize with his countryman Eyvind Johnson (both were members of the prize giving Swedish academy). Martinson had rather a dim view of humanity: a staunch progressive, his first wife left him “because he lacked political engagement” – hardly a reason for divorce, but something that was clearly vital for the success of their marriage.

Aniara is a slow burner in many ways: having watched it, one is satisfied, but not overwhelmed. But the film stays with you, the audacity and originality dawning slowly as you cast your mind back. A space transporter ferries wealthy Earthlings from our own now uninhabitable planet to a docking station somewhere in the firmament whence they will be transported to Mars. Alas, the three week  journey is interrupted in the first few days when the Aniara, a sort of luxury mall, has to dump all its fuel to avoid a collision. The only chance of getting back on course is to locate a celestial body. Captain Chefone (Kananian) promises this for the near future but a wise, old astronomer (Martini) tells her roommate Mimaroben (Jonsson) that this will never happen. Mimaroben (or MR) is in charge of MIMA, a sentient computer system which allows humans to see viral images of the old Earth, by way of using the memories Earth-dwellers. After the astronomer is shot for “spreading panic”, MIMA shuts itself down, and MR and her lover Isagel (Cruzeiro), a pilot, are put in prison. They are released when the Ariana encounters a foreign body and Chefone hopes that the object will contain fuel. When this turns out to be wishful thinking, the space voyagers are filled with doom and gloom. Cults and anarchy reign, and Isagel becomes pregnant during a ritual. It falls to the two women to raise the child, and for a time, this nuclear family promises a sort of future.

Divided into chapters, Ariana is a slow descent into night. Visually this is a stunning endeavour and credit is due to DoP Sophie Winquist and PDs Linnea Pettersson and Maja-Stina Asberg. Instead of spending vast sums on interiors, the team make use of   local malls, office blocks and amusement parks, Winquist always finding new angles to conjure up the passengers’ sheer terror at seeing their surroundings vanishing bit by bit. The ensemble acting is really convincing, with Martini’s cynical astronomer (“I was never impressed much by humans”) outstanding. There are no monsters populating Ariana – just talented humans beings. AS       

ANIARA is released in Cinemas and on Digital HD from 30th August

High Life (2018) ****

Dir Claire Denis. Germany/France/US/UK/Poland. 2018. 110 mins

Women filmmakers are fascinated by Sci-Fi. Back in 1995 there was Kathryn Bigelow with Strange Days, Mimi Leder followed with Deep Impact, and Karyn Kusama with Aeon Flux (2005. Meanwhile in Europe, Lucile Hadzihalilovic brought us Evolution (2015) and Jessica Hausner has made this year’s Cannes Competition line-up with her thriller Little Joe (2019).

Claire Denis’s first foray into science-fiction is a cold, violent, enigmatic affair. Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey springs to mind and so does Solaris but this is more brutal and provocative despite its lush colour spectrum and virtuoso visuals that come courtesy of Yorick Le Saux. Human desire and pent up sexual energy is expressed with a baleful malevolence that occasionally erupts into livid outbursts. But many will struggle to comprehend its fractured narrative, arcane motives and curious timeframe, despite it being Denis’ first English language feature, you come away none the wiser but bemused and enriched and by its visual allure.

Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche anchor an eclectic cast which includes Agata Buzek (The Innocents). He plays the most sympathetic, accessible character – Monte – who is stranded in a spaceship after a gruelling mission that has left him with a gurgling baby daughter who needs to be cared for. And this he does well. The spaceship has a lush vegetable garden, the only natural environment to speak of, with juicy courgettes and cabbages kept alive by an ambient mist.

There is a strange sense of danger brought on by the feeling that something tragic has happened leaving the rest of the crew to stifle and repress their bitter resentment and lightly veiled hostility towards one another, made worse by their claustrophobic surroundings. Flashbacks vaguely allude to this sense of unsettlement but no explanation is offered.

The space ship is bound on a journey to reach the nearest black hole to planet Earth. Binoche plays Dibs and has clearly asked Denis to give her a complex and foxy role and she excels with her black glossy tresses and zip-up uniform that reveals plenty of cleavage. There’s an odd scene where she mounts a steel phallus, having careful slipped a Durex over it, her muscular body girating in feral pleasure. She seems to be conducting some sort of sexual reproduction experiment on the crew, and is called “the shaman of semen” as she’s tasked with injecting the women with semen produced by the men in a cubicle. None of them seems very keen on the idea or why it’s being done in the confines of the spaceship. She even forces the slumbering Monte to capitulate by mounting him and then extracting the fluid with a large pipette and injecting it into another sleeping inmate.

As Monte gets rid of a growing mound of corpses, we realise that the crew’s mutual hostility has actually ended in tears. As he pushes the bodies out of the craft the sound of silence is one of the gratifying high points, courtesy of Stuart Staples (Minute Bodies). The scenes in Space are straight out of 2001, or even Gravity (2013). Robert Pattinson and his child who eventually reaches puberty during  are the only sympathetic characters in a film which is clever and daring but ultimately leaves you empty. Such is Space. MT

HIGH LIFE IS ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 17 MAY 2019

 

A Trip to the Moon (2018) **

Dir.: Joaquin Cambre; | Writer: Laura Farhi | Cast: Angelo Mutti Spinetta, Leticia Bredice, German Palacios, Angela Torres, Micela Amaro, Luis Machin; Argentina 2017, 87 min.

A teenage boy struggles with his traumatic past in Joaquin Cambre’s rather hit and miss feature debut which looks spectacular but is let down by implausible plot-lines and tonal flaws. The main character Tomas (Spinetta) is keen on astronomy and Space travel and manages to escape his dysfunctional childhood and fraught family life in with the help of a vivid imagination and anti-psychotic drugs. But things start to improve when Tomas claps eyes on  Iris (Torres) thanks to his trusty telescope, and after the usual setbacks, the two fall in love. Suddenly everything changes and reality and fantasy being one: Tomas packs his family into a spaceship and they all fly off to the Moon, where the secret of his trauma gradually unfolds. Cambre illicits strong performances from his able cast but sadly the abrupt shift between social realism and sci-fi leaves the audience stranded in ‘outer space’. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 22 MARCH 2019 NATIONWIDE

 

  

Working with Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982)

Renate Leiffer, assistant director of World on a Wire talks about making the ground-breaking Sci-fi series with the iconic German filmmaker whose career as a director, scriptwriter, producer and actor was short but prodigious.

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Renate Leiffer with Rainer Werner Fassbinder (photo courtesy of Leiffer).

How would you describe Fassbinder as a director? What was his technique?

He wrote the scripts himself, having the actors in mind for the roles. Mostly he did not like to see the set before the shooting-day, it would have bored him. He trusted his crew mostly chosen by himself, in the leading jobs at least.

When the cameraman was ready and Rainer was asked he came on the set, mostly with a good humour and self-confidence, not doing much rehearsal before the shot, and not giving many more new orders to the actors so as not to confuse their minds. So everybody was switched on and tried to give their best. Everybody knew he would like to do every take only once, liking the performances better [in a first take] than in a second or third one.

What was Fassbinder like to work with?

You always had the impression that you were working on something very important, and that every member of the crew was important for the result, no matter which job you were doing – that was motivating. Mostly the crew members liked and respected him. In real life Rainer was a shy person, therefore he always needed a crowd of people around him, also because he was afraid being on his own, being left like his parents did after their divorce.

Professionally he was strong, he learned by going to cinema already as a young boy, he learnt to cut his films and was shooting the scenes so there was no chance for a cutter to change anything. He understood the camera-angles very well, and knew where to set a close up. He was a real professional. Producers who worked with him the first time were anxious, but were surprised after the first days. And professionally he was not resentful – if you told him a mistake you made, he would defend you. I am speaking of his professional life, in his private life one better not get involved, there were a lot of manipulations.

Fassbinder famously struggled with drugs – did that affect his work?

In the beginning, he was consuming too many drugs – it hurt to look at him. It was not only drugs but medications as well, he could not work without it.

Rainer hated when someone in the group was only smoking Haschisch, he did not want them around him. And then in the Sixties it was in to smoke at least grass. He got involved in it in 1974 during his work at the theatre in Frankfurt.

At the end he was taking drugs and a handful of medications at the same time. And alcohol, that was too much. He told me during [filming Berlin] Alexanderplatz: I will not be older than 40. He only got to 37 – and I am still cross with him that he left so early.

How did the shoot of World of a Wire go, generally? Was it a smooth shoot, any incidents?

I do not remember any real difficulties on those shoots. Except that we missed the dawn several times for a scene with Eddie Constantine, a homage to Godard and Eddie. On the 4th day (cinematographer Michael) Ballhaus got more time to set his light, and was called Monsieur Crepuscule [Mr. Twilight] for a long time.

 

Still from World on a Wire – courtesy of Second Sight Films

Also, at the end of the film, there is a black bird that should have been trained to pick at the gas-pipe, so the audience gets afraid and thinks: “Oh, now the hut will explode,” – and it does. [When we were filming] that bird did not pick, Rainer went mad, but that silly bird did not pick at the pipe. It picked somewhere else.

Did you get a sense that you were making something good / bad / mediocre?

My feeling was that I was doing something good, but not that his work would be so overwhelming one day. No one expected that, except Rainer himself. In Beware of a Holy Whore (1971), I worked as production-assistant and did not want to be written on the titles. I wanted to go on working as assistant-director with other people. Already then, 1971, Rainer answered me: “But with me it will be for eternity!” He was the most ambitious of all.

World on a Wire is out now in a limited edition Blu-ray box set from Second Sight.

[Edited for clarity]

World on a Wire (1973) Welt am Draht

Dir: Rainer Werner Fassbinder | Sci-fi | Ger, 1973 | 204′ 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s noirish sci-fi curio was way ahead of its time with themes that are still relevant today, and would later be explored in the likes of The Matrix, Bladerunner, and TV series Westworld.

Originally created for TV by the prolific but short-lived radical filmmaker, this futuristic film explores the nature of reality. It does so through Simulacron 1, a type of projected reality considered to have some revolutionary potential, such as predicting the price of commodities, and consumer habits in the future – both would later become mainstream realities.

When the Simulacron project leader Henry Vollmer dies, Dr Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch (Cross of Iron) become his successor. As the new doctor realises probes and realises he’s on to something ground-breaking, the company’s head of security (Ivan Desny) also disappears during a louche party, and the line between the real and virtual worlds increasingly blurs. Stiller is compelled to dig even deeper for answers to this unfathomable mystery.

With a theme-tune from Pink Floyd’s drifty surreal album ‘Albatross’ to ramp up the atmosphere, the look and feel is stylishly evocative of the ’70s: all opulent white leather and steel. Blueish computer monitors flashing away in the background, DoP Michael Balhaus creates a hostile and alienating aura, and would go on to shoot other dark thrillers such as Goodfellas and The Departed .

Even the characters here are hard-nosed and unlikeable: men posture around in fedoras and wide-lapelled suites; vampish women are invariably tight-lipped and ash blond. There are roles for Fassbinder’s longterm collaborators Ulli Lommel and Kurt Raab, and Mascha Rabben (Salome) and Barbara Valentin (Our Man in Jamaica) also star. This is a compelling and watchable film, richly thematic and aesthetically avantgarde for its time. MT

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF SECONDSIGHT FILMS. This latest restoration comes supervised by The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCREENING DURING WARSAW FILM FESTIVAL | 12-21 OCTOBER 2018

 

eXistenZ (1999) | Bluray release

Dir: David Cronenberg | Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe 
Visionary director David Cronenberg (Videodrome) challenges the boundaries of reality in sci-fi thriller eXistenZ. During a closed-door demonstration of her new virtual reality video game, brilliant game designer Allegra Geller survives an attempt on her life by a crazed assassin. On the run with Ted Pikul, a young marketing trainee who falls into the role of bodyguard, Allegra convinces Ted to join her in her game, eXistenZ. As the line between fantasy and reality begins to blur, the real-life dangers they sought to escape start to merge with their virtual world.
Special Features
Brand New Extras
• The Leader: An interview with Christopher Eccleston
• Commentary with Kim Newman and Ryan Lambie
• Commentary with Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson
• Limited edition booklet includes: ‘Enemy of Reality: David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ’ by Alex Morris, and ‘Of Fabrics and Flesh: An interview with Denise Cronenberg’ by Phillip Escott.
 
Additional Extras
• Audio commentary by David Cronenberg
• Making-of documentary
• Promo Featurette
• Special Effects Featurette
• Backstage interviews with Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Willem Dafoe, Jim Isaac (visual effects) and David Cronenberg
• Trailer
 
101 Films launch their new Black Label with The Grifters and eXistenZ both on dual format on 21 May 2018
 
Pre-order both for £25 direct from 101 Films: http://bit.ly/101BlackLabel  

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | SPECIAL SCREENING

Anon (2017) **

Dir.: Andrew Niccol; Cast: Clive Owen, Amanda Seyfried, Colm Feore, Sonya Walger; Germany 2018, 100 min.

New Zealand born director/writer Andrew Niccol (The Host) has managed to create the ultimate misogynist feature where baddies rule the world, and women are just sex objects. On the same lines as his previous features, Gattaca and In Time, Anon is set in an imagined future, where crimes are unheard of due to a surveillance system that records everyone, and digital footprints are freely available to the law enforcers whose brains have been computerised. 

In this dystopia we meet Sal Frieland (Owen) is a detective working for the squad who tracks murderers by accessing the cloud-based visual memories of killers and their victims. He encounters a woman, known as Anon (Seyfried), who has no digital identity so threatening their security. Unleashing a sting operation he pretends to be a potential client but in so doing exposes his own troubled past. But The Girl soon finds out his profession and intention, and makes life hell for him. As the situation escalates, Anon leaves the audience with more questions than answers.

Apart from the gratuitous sex scenes and the nearly all-male police squad, Niccol manages to ruin the images with a bombardment of graphics and texts, keeping the audience reading instead of watching. DoP Amir Mokri (Transformers) finds inventive angles to show this absurdist functional world, which looks like laboratory for animal research. But Anon is, at the same time, frightfully old-fashioned when it coms to vices: Sal and his pals smoke, drink and snuff Coke, somehow the male dominated future world is as unbearable for the buddies, as the present. Hint: there are other emotions apart from guild and paranoia. AS 

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 4 MAY 2018

Native (2017) * * *

Dir.: Daniel Fitzsimmons; Cast: Rupert Graves, Ellie Kendrick, Leanne Best. Joe Macaulay; UK 2016, 88 min.

Daniel Fitzsimmons’ low budget, minimalist Sci-Fi debut is not so much a futuristic undertaking, more a here-and-now psychological drama better suited to the stage than the big screen.

Cane (Graves) and Eva (Kendrick) are travelling in a hexagonal space ship to an unknown planet, tasked with killing off the local civilisation with a larva-like virus, stored in their craft. Cane and Eva have a strong telepathic relationship with their respective partners back on Earth, and when Cane’s wife Awan (Best) dies together with four of their unborn children, Cane is gripped by grief, losing all interest in the mission. Meanwhile Eva’s husband (Macaulay) communicates intensely with his wife, keeping an eye on the erratic Cane, more or less suggesting that Eva should terminate him. After a failed suicide attempt, Cane removes the inplant in his neck, freeing himself from his Earth-based controlling authority “The Hive”. After landing on the planet – there are no prizes for guessing which one – Eva kills a female of the species, but starts to become unfocused in her eradication task.  She has to make a decision between the orders of the Hive, and her newly found consciousness.

Set nearly all the time in the cramped spaceship, NATIVE is overly verbose whilst also tying to be enigmatic,  telegraphing the few twists available. Graves and Kendrick do their best to breathe life into the proceedings, but cannot deal with the limpness of it all: too much time is taken up with Eva gyrating like a lap dancer, and Cane walking around endlessly, like a stroppy teenager. DoPs Nick Gillespie and Billy J. Jackson introduce some magical effects with light and forms, but they can’t hide an overriding visual emptiness. NATIVE is a well-meaning nonentity. AS

NATIVE ARRIVES ON SCREENS IN FEBRUARY 2018

Downsizing (2017) **

Dir: Alexander Payne | Wri: Jim Taylor | USA / 135’ | cast: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig

Matt Damon headlines a cast that includes Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, and Laura Dern in Alexander Payne’s unconvincing sci-fi social satire about a man who chooses to shrink himself (literally) to simplify his life.

Shot in Toronto the magnificent Norwegian fjords, Downsizing provides a startlingly speculative and outlandish Sci-fi adventure that sounds intriguing on the drawing board but throws up issues that are unattractive and downright unpalatable in practiceAs the film opens, Damon’s amiable character Paul Safranek is hit with a brainwave – downsizing not only his family home – but also himself – will cut costs as his placidly mediocre lifestyle with wife Audrey (Wiig) rapidly becomes increasingly difficult to sustain, let alone finance. Payne widens to premise to include themes of human consumption and depletion of the Earth’s precious reserves with one radical and idiotic solution – miniaturisation, the idea being that a small tin of baked beans can suddenly feed the entire family for a whole week (living in a shoebox in their previous garden). Welcome to the grotesque future of Downsizing, where a wet-wipe will suddenly become an environmental hazard of even greater proportions. Once Paul is reinvented as a midget, there’s something unpleasantly grotesque and indelicate about the whole idea of giant rosebuds and diamonds as big as your head. The phrase “small and perfectly-formed” also loses appeal especially in the pastel world of Paul Safranek. There’s nothing glorious or admirable about his insipid existence as a phone salesman in the new “Leisureland”, where even he takes offence at a customer who says: “Don’t get short with me”. Meanwhile, his rather uncouth neighbours (Christophe Waltz and Udo Kier) feel too far-fetched and glib to make this new existence appealing; a better word would be ‘sad’. There could be some really appealing aspects to Payne’s thoughtful projection, but somehow he and co-writer Jim Taylor settle for a mediocre, mealy-mouthed and small-minded drama rather than a bitingly witty microcosmic satire, along the lines of previous features Sideways, About Schmidt and Nebraska. And given that most of us are already tired of the relentlessly onward march of digital technology and the dehumanisation of our daily lives, the idea that this could be taken further simply has no future in the real world. Thanks Mr Payne, but no thanks. MT

OUT ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 26 JANUARY 2018

Attraction (2017)

Dir.: Fyodor Bondarchuk: Cast: Irina Starshenbaum, Alexander Petrov, Alexander Petrov, Rinal Mukhametov | Sci-fi | Russian Federation 2017, 117′.

Director Fyodor Bondarchuk, son of the late Sergei (Waterloo), has filmed a script by Andrey Zolotaryov and Oleg Malovichko about a Moscow teenager falling in love with a stranded alien as an outlandish extravaganza that completely relies on the brilliant widescreen images of Mikhail Khasaya for its entertainment value.

An alien spaceship is shot down in a suburb of Moscow and teenager Yulya (Starshenbaum), living in a high rise block with her father after the death of her mother, just gets away with her life, being surprised by the attack whilst in bed with her boyfriend Artyom (Petrov). Her father, high-ranking officer Lebeder (Menshikov), is put in charge of containing the space ship, and finding out the intentions of the aliens. Yulya falls in love with Hekon (Mukhametov), one of the alien survivors of the crash, who has saved her life. Meanwhile, Artyom and his group of teenage hoodlums chase the alien, whom Yulya is hiding. In a grand finale, Artyom, having stolen the impregnable shield of Hekon, chases the lovers until the bitter end.

ATTRACTION was a big hit in Russia, earning around a million Roubles at the box office. Undemanding, to say the least, it is just the same eye-candy Hollywood aims for, but is even more prudish than its equivalent US products, and also shares the laborious dialogues about the meaning of it all at the end – these are supposed to be relevant, but are as banal as everything gone before. The characters are one-dimensional, and there are no twists in the narrative, every move is well telegraphed. Even the glittering technology employed cannot hide the emptiness of this spectacle, which is strictly for the genre fans. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 17 JANUARY 2018 | Reviewed at THE UK RUSSIAN FILM FESTIVAL | 19 NOVEMBER 26 NOVEMBER 2017

Jupiter’s Moon (2017)

Dir|Writer; Kornel Mundruczo | Cast: Merab Ninidze, Gyorgy Cserhalmi, Monika Balsai, Zsombor Jeger | 110min | Sci-fi | Hungary

After success with his Cannes Un Certain Regard winner White God (2013) Hungarian auteur Kornel Mundruczo mades it into the festival’s main competition last year with this flawed sci-fi thriller that sees a young immigrant shot down while illegally crossing the border into Hungary. Terrified and in shock, he finds his life has mysteriously been transformed by the gift of levitation.

Clearly the director has honed his craft since his previous arthouse winner with its strong amd imaginative narrative . JUPITER is visually more ambitious and technically brilliant but narratively a mess. The bewildering storyline starts off with a great premise – a Syrian refugee becomes an angel in one of Jupiter’s Moons where a cold ocean known as Europa spawns new forms of life. The metaphor is clear and cleverly thought out yet the film tries to be too many things, a political commentary and an action thriller: less would have been far more effective than more. After a blindingly intriguing opening scene, the shaky handheld camera continues in a tonally uniform almost continuous take that eventually feels exhausting, and hardly ever gives up, detracting from the enjoyment of the stunning set pieces.

Zsombor Jéger is the central character but not a sympathetic or particularly engaging one as Aryan, the Syrian refugee who is gunned down by László (György Cserhalmi), the nasty leader of a refugee camp in Budapest. Aryan survives his injuries and then discovers an uncanny ability to float, and from then on desperately tries to find his father with the help of a nefarious doctor, Stern (Merab Ninidze), who has been struck off for medical malpractice. Aryan is inveigled into a plan to defraud Stern’s rich patients into believing he has faith healing properties, but this is a tenuous ploy that again feels too gimmicky.

White God had a believable plot with engaging characters but Jupiter’s Moon, although a far more technically skilful film, feels hollow, glib and also frankly quite laborious despite the arresting visual wizardry of White God cinematographer Marcell Rév. Ninidze Stern’s Gabor is a quixotic and cunning rogue and far and away the most exciting character in an ensemble of cardboard cyphers. Along with the visual mastery there is an impressive atmospheric score that helps to ramp up the tension and also adds a certain gravitas. A shame then that the whole things feels so underwhelming and unwieldy as a story. Clearly the director is trying to up his game but needs to establish whether he wants to go for arthouse audiences or the mainstream crowd. White God was starting to build him a fanbase, but this seems like a step backwards. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 5 January 2018

Hidden Reserves | Stille Reserven (2017)

Dir: Valentin wolrd Hitz; Cast: Clemens Schick; Lena Lanzemis, Marion Mitterhammer, Daniel Olbrychski; Austria/Germany/Switzerland 2016, 96′

HIDDEN RESERVES sees Vienna 2033 as a frightening dystopian landscape where even dying is not for free. Inspired by Fahrenheit 451, Valentin Hitz’ brilliantly abrasive scenario is stunning to look at and only diminished by his choice of femme-fatale.

This is a world where the capitalist state is greedy beyond the dreams of avarice: we watch as wagon-loads of humans on life-support are ferried into giant warehouses, where they are stored Amazon style. And that is just what these cocoons are: debt-ridden bodies waiting waiting to be harvested for organ donation, surrogacy, or even data storage. Little wonder then that death insurance is literally ‘to die for’, it’s the only surefire way of guaranteeing the ‘right to die’.  

Vincent Baumann (Schick) sells death insurance salesmen, and he will go to any lengths to get that signature on the dotted line. Emotionally he is nearly catatonic, sexually he is casual and promiscuous:indulging with his boss Diana Dorm (Mitterhammer) in the company bathroom.
Naturally, this sort of environment needs a counterforce, and it comes in the form of a guerrilla unit, led by the enigmatic nightclub singer Lisa Sokulowa (Lanzemis). The group try to cut off the warehouse power supply to put an end to those suffering on death’s door. Dorm instructs Schick to infiltrate the ‘terrorists’, but once exposed to new blood from outside the sterile insurance system, he falls for Lisa and things get complicated when her father Wladimir (Olbrychski), who invented the depot technology, enters the fray.

DoP Martin Gschlacht (Teheran Taboo) creates an intelligent and visually impressive Sci-fi world where the guerrillas live in a noirish ’60s , and the technocrats’ in hues of chilly blue, the identification installations look like blocks of ice. Schick is superb in his alien mien, even when he turns human – and the scenes in Prater Park, having fallen into disrepair, are magical. This remarkable feature is marred by the choice of Lanzemis as the chanteuse. Singing “Teach me Tiger, or I’ll teach you” – composed by Nino Tempo in 1959, and sang by his sister April Stevens – as a diva Lanzemis’ Lisa channels a cabaret singer of the Weimar Republic, her sole expression throughout is monotonous, tight-jawed annoyance. Have a look at the lyrics of “Teach me Tiger” and you decide: they are extremely daring for the late 1950s, and Lanzemis brings absolutely nothing to the party with her reckless lack of emotional range, seriously putting the whole endeavour in a bad light light. A perfect exercise in miscasting. AS

WINNER | BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY | AUSTRIAN FILM AWARDS 2017

Fahrenheit 451 (1966) | Bluray release

Dir: Francois Truffaut |Cast: Julie Christie, Oskar Werner, Cyril Cusack, Anton Diffring | Sci-fi Drama | 112′

One of the many pleasures of Truffaut’s adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 has become the power of the bibliophile. When the fireman of the future turn their flame-throwers on a pile of 1950/60’s paperbacks (it’s now over fifty years since Truffaut chose them for the film) their book covers appear achingly nostalgic, to older cineastes. Many of these retro Penguins and Pelicans still turn up in charity shops and though it hasn’t come to pass that our government will destroy them, maybe, just maybe, instead of becoming ash, they remain unsold and unread?

It’s fascinating to watch Fahrenheit 451 in our social-media age when more time is spent reading words on screens rather than on paper. Technology has ‘burnt’ into our reading behaviour making a ban on books almost unnecessary. We’ve ‘freely’ chosen, assisted by advertising, to absorb information on computers, TV and film over experiencing knowledge gleaned from the inner life of books of fiction or philosophy.

Fahrenheit-451-poster-1Fahrenheit 451 depicts large television screens (a prophetic novelty in 1966 that we can now easily purchase) that in Truffaut’s ‘future’ are removed of word content in the form of credits or announcements. Our miniaturised phone screens, tablets and laptops, so commonplace in 2017, are never seen. Nor is any character depicted taking a selfie. The film’s routine narcissism consists of people without mobile devices, travelling on trains and hugging or touching their clothed selves, in a sad auto-erotic manner, indicating that clinging to a vestige of self-love is a last resort in a society where no one looks happy, and therefore is disinclined to reflect this on film.

Truffaut has claimed that Fahrenheit 451 is not science fiction. This is true in the sense that the technological menace of the book’s mechanical hound, and the horribly graphic manner in which would-be suicides are vacuumed of any depression, is absent. But Ray Bradbury, allowing for his technological terrors, was more of a poetic fantasist than a genre SF writer. Truffaut attempted to convey threats to intimacy (Fahrenheit 451 is more to do with repression and denial of human closeness). And Bradbury, also mindful of loss, is as differently soulful about that as Truffaut.

Guy Montag (Oskar Werner) discovers that after reading his first book, Dickens’s David Copperfield, he is re-born (“Chapter one. I am born. Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life or whether that station will be held by anybody else these pages must show.”) His wife Linda (Julie Christie) discovers his crime and betrays Montag by informing the captain of the Fire Service (Cyril Cusack). Once they discover Montag’s secret hoard of books, Montag kills the captain, burns his room and escapes to the country to join the book people, who have each chosen a book to preserve for future generations. In Montag’s case it’s Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination. The formerly placid and neutral Montag is to be transformed by symbolic tales depicting morbid states of catalepsy, hallucination and terror.

On my 4th viewing of Fahrenheit 451 I was much more aware of the film’s lightly humorous tone, making for a telling picture of social conformity: particularly this absurd exchange between Montag and the captain.

The Captain: By the way, what does Montag do on his day off duty?
Guy Montag: Not much, sir, just mow the lawn.
The Captain: And what if the law forbids it?
Guy Montag: Just watch it grow, sir.

Or the lovely in-joke announcement, by one of the book people, who’s preserving his text, in his memory, in order to survive its physical destruction.

Book Person: And I’m The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.

Whether by accident or design, the film’s book titles take on their own filmic pattern of meaning. I’m sure film students have written essays and published theses, on the trajectory of key books in Truffaut’s film, relating to the moral awakening of Montag. The first book that we see burning is Don Quixote (A story of a man pursuing illusions) then The Moon and Sixpence (A story of a man renouncing the conventions of society to become an artist) and David Copperfield (A story of a man who wants to determine his own fate.) All can be viewed as stages in Montag’s development from destroyer to creator, fireman made lover slowly seduced by his books.

The obedient state servant rejects a “zombie” (Montag’s word) society. Fireman burns books. Fireman reads and comes to revere books. Fireman becomes his freely chosen book. “Kerosene is a perfume” says Montag, explaining his book burning work, to Clarisse (Julie Christie doubling up as wife alter-ego and book person). Interestingly Truffaut’s film has no equivalent line of dialogue to suggest that the smell of a book’s pages become Montag’s preferred love perfume.

If there are flaws in Fahrenheit 451 they centre round some occasionally stilted dialogue. (Though this can be viewed as the natural result of a highly controlled zombiefied society plus Truffaut’s lack of English over co-writing the screenplay). And when the book people begin to appear near the end and start to introduce themselves – for example (“I am Pride and Prejudice Book I and I am Pride and Prejudice book 2” ) you immediately think what a great idea but not quite worked out properly. Then a miracle occurred. During the shooting of the film, it went and snowed. As the snow falls people walk back and forth, reciting chapters to themselves, and we experience eloquent screen poetry – greatly enhanced by Bernard Herrmann’s touching music.

Fahrenheit 451 was deeply unappreciated by audiences and critics in 1966. Today its menacing charm both excites and disturbs. This is a world as lyrical as Truffaut’s earlier films: though now beguiling us with a melancholic dystopia: our desperate attempts to recover a sense of self – even if fulfilment of feeling is most tenderly realised in love’s surrender to the printed word. Alan Price © 2017

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY

The Untamed | La Region Selvaje (2016)

Dir: Amat Escalante | 100min | Fantasy drama | Mexico Denmark |

Amat Escalalnte follows his Cannes-awarded Heli with a community based sci-fi fantasy drama inspired by the machismo, homophobia and misogyny of his native Mexico.

THE UNTAMED is an obscure and unsettling piece that deftly manages its tonal shifts – from grim social realism to sinister fantasy – in a mysterious narrative slowly unfolds, taking its characters to unexpected places while leaving them firmly rooted in contemporary Guanajuato, weighed down by their reality of poverty, overcrowding and crime.

In the outskirts of a town a large crater has opened up filled with animals that appear to have been affected by an extraterrestrial force. One of these has morphed into a benign tentacled creature capable of giving ultimate sexual satisfaction to the women who visit its cabin in the woods. But the creature can also turn nasty, like a disgruntled male. In this way, THE UNTAMED could work as a metaphor for Mexican oppression and the dire social issues facing the country, or for any other Western country caught in the current climate of political and social uncertainty.

We first meet Veronica (Simone Bucio) a willowy waif in the throws of ecstacy, courtesy of our alien-like tentacled tempter in his darkened cabin. This is one of the most bewildering scenes of the film and is captured by the same cinematographer who worked on Nymphomaniac. In a further twist, the creature is being looked after by a weird couple who are purported to possess psychic powers.

Meanwhile, back in town, young mother of two Ale (Ruth Ramos) is being abused by her husband Angel (Jesus Meza), a brutish civil engineer in a sexual relationship with her brother Fabian (Eden Villavicencio), who works in the local hospital where Veronica turns up later with a strange wound on her torso. The two are clearly attracted to one another and decide to meet up later, where it emerges that Fabian is unhappy with Angel.

The trio’s situation grows all the more desperate due to the Sci-fi occurences in the nearby woods: nothing is clear, everything seems to be degenerating both ecologically and societally for the country and its people who are caught in the grip of circumstances beyond their control.Despite the underwritten characters, Escalante’s attempts to chanel Mexico’s serious social issues into this Sci-fi drama are convincing and exciting marking him out as one cinema’s most visionary contemporary filmmakers.  MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

 

 

 

Arrival (2016)

Dir: Denis Villeneuve | Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whittaker | US Canada | Sci-Fi | 120min

We can always expect something fresh and exciting from Canadian filmmakers and Denis Villeneuve delivers just that with this Venice Competition entry: a Sci-fi thriller based on a positive premise: that non-verbal communication has the power to save the world.

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner star as academics hired by the US military to attempt a parly with the aliens that arrive in a mysterious pod-shaped spacecraft that lands in the Montana farmland. This is a crisp and pristinely packaged piece of kit that brings no blood-letting or gruesome images in its wake. Instead it feels like a dreamily intelligent vision giving an uplifting image of an imagined future where our scientists and, particularly, our linguistic specialists can use their brainpower and training to bring about good and heal our troubled, wartorn planet.

And it is a woman who naturally will bring this into being. As a professor of linguistics, Amy Adams gives a deeply sensuous and emotionally intelligent performance in this adult drama whose tension and palpable terror rises out of the cherished hope that human communication could be the answer rather than malign or nefarious forces. Suffering from an intangible loss or beareavement she harnesses her innermost intuition and professional training in an attempt to reach out amicably and sensitively to the seven legged shapeshifters or heptopods that emerge from the summit of the pod. Scripted by Eric Heisserer, ARRIVAL is based on Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life,  and feels very much like Close Encounters in its subtle approach to the interplanetary arrivals unspooling as a peaceful and intelligently nuanced arthouse outing. Ambitious in scope and exquisitely mounted, there are minor flaws and ambiguities in the plotting that occasionally arise out of the parallel narrative of present and future. That said, the spirit of adventure and compromise is laudable in this decidedly upliting and inventive film that will make you leave you with a smile, if not the odd tear. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 11 NOVEMBER 2016 | REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016

 

The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976) | Bluray release

manwhofelltoearth-the-bfi-00n-103-copyDir.: Nicholas Roeg; Cast: David Bowie, Candy Clark, Rip Torn, Buck Henry

UK 1976, 139 min.

Director Nicholas Roeg (Don’t Look Now) films Paul Meyersberg’s script of Walter Tevis’ novel of the same name in eleven weeks in the summer of 1975, shooting in the desert of New Mexico, mainly around Fenton Lake.

Claiming that he never read the script, David Bowie makes his screen debut as an inter-galactic visitor in this cult classic: a heady mixture of avant-garde/ SF/drama/metaphysical satire and social critique. The enigmatic, heavily fragmented narrative, with its genre hopping and strategic cross-cutting is secondary: The Man Who Fell to Earth is a bedazzling trip into a dissociative world. The film manages to carry a slim story and no plot. Yet it manages to be consistently interesting and entertaining throughout, rather like something from David Lynch. Above all, it’s stunningly photographed. The ubiquitous sex scenes are so stylistic they manage to avoid being pornographic, although the film was considered too outré at the time of its release.

Bowie plays an alien calling himself Thomas Jerome Newton who lands on Earth carrying a British passport and nine lucrative electronic patents (one of them a precursor of digital photography). He has come to try and transport water to his dried up planet and teams up with the cynical chemistry professor Dr. Bryce (Torn) and the patent lawyer Farnsworth (Henry), to run a global enterprise, World Enterprises.

But he soon falls for Mary Lou (Clark) in a hotel in the New Mexico desert where she works as a receptionist. The two become a couple in a relationship mainly founded on sex as images of the his extraterrestrial family on slowly die of thirst. Newton then builds a spacecraft to return home, but the government takes over his company, killing Farnsworth in the process. But the emotionally aloof Newton is held prisoner in a hotel where his power dissipates, drugged on cocaine and alcohol and forced to reveal his real – sexless – body to a shocked Mary The doctors in charge make it impossible for him to return to his planet by gluing his ‘earthly’ eyes to his original ones, as he ends his life an alcoholic wreck.

Roeg’s film remains evergreen with its contempo themes of corporate greed, media intrusion and immigrant invasion and the images echo these ideas in a stream of consciousness pattern: Newton is Alice, living in a mean, inhospitable country, where alcohol and TV are used to subdue the population. He is very defenceless (as a man and an alien), a characteristic of many Roeg heroes/heroines in Walkabout, Performance, Don’t Look Now and Bad Timing. The more human becomes Newton becomes, the more he falls for human weaknesses: alcohol and emotional strife with Mary Lou. Newton is also an angel (in the messenger sense), albeit a fallen one. His reports from his home planet are clear: the same fate will befall our earth. Roeg blends a sequence with a Brueghel painting and a mournful poem by W.H. Auden, relating to it: Newton could be Icarus, haven fallen from the sky. A man of the past (singing in church with Mary-Lou Blake’s/Parry’s ‘Jerusalem’) and one of the future: in a planet full of deserts, if climate change does go unchecked.

Bowie is the ethereal outsider (he could be the twin of Tilda Swinton), he is not safe in either of his personas. Newton often has to rest, his journey is slow, he seems too fragile to survive. Clark is full of life at the beginning, but she too becomes a victim: loving Newton too much, preferring him to the money she is offered in exchange to leave him. Bryce is cynical, but very much aware of it. DoP Anthony Richmond set pieces could be from a Hockney universe. Roeg directs with a minimum of interference: when Mary-Lou talks about trains – how slow they are – she muses about the central message: our slow decay, caught by Roeg as a journey to nowhere. AS

AVAILABLE TO OWN ON BLURAY FROM 24 OCTOBER 2016

 

The 9th Life of Louis Drax (2016)

Dir: Alexandre Aja | Cast: Sarah Gadon, Aaron Paul, Aiden Longworth, Oliver Platt, Jamie Dornan | US Drama | 90min

Filmmaker Alexandre Aja bases the premise of this tonally up the spout but enjoyable supernatural thriller on the belief that any human life, no matter how damaged, can be valuable and build connections. Adapted for the screen from Liz Jensen’s 2004 novel, this is watchable and rather wacky largely due to Max Minghella’s engaging script and a wonderful central performance from Aiden Longworth as the little boy who dies after falling into freezing water and is brought back to life becoming quirky and amusing in his therapy sessions. “When I grow up, I’d like to sit in a chair and say ‘how does that feel,’ for a living”. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

 

Equals (2015) | Competition | Venice Film Festival 2015

Director: Drake Doremus

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult, Guy Pearce, Bel Powley

101min  Sci-Fi   US

A futuristic love story set in a world where emotions have been eradicated

Drake Doremus (Like Crazy) has moved us with his tender love stories such as Like Crazy and Breathe In, but sci-fi romance eludes him despite Nathan Parker’s decent script that explores a world where emotion and sex are forbidden. With its catatonic pacing, EQUALS is minimalist in the most derogatory sense of the word and quotes every important Sci-fi movie ever made but forgets to create anything new. Worst still, its central lovers (Stewart /Hoult) have no chemistry.

Living in a futuristic collective, where everything seems to be white/beige: the buildings, the Nehru suits everyone wears – even the brains seem to be equally white washed. It is very difficult to create any excitement in a world bereft of emotion. Feelings are detected in regular controls and the victims are sent on a last trip. Our leading lovers, Nia and Silas hide in a little cupboard, just to hold hands. When their love blossoms, they are helped by an underground movement called ‘Hiders’, led by Guy Pearce and Jackie Weaver. But they fall victim of the ‘Health and Safety Department’, and their punishment in this dystopia is final and fatal.

Doremus tries very hard for symbolism: Silas is an illustrator, Nia writes the texts. The white gowns and militaristic day-to-day life may hint at how life under Islamist fundamentalism might be. Filmed in Japan and Singapore, images by DOP John Guleserian are impressive. But we cannot engage with Stewart and Hoult; particularly Stewart is particularly vacuous, coming across like a dead fish: not for a second can one believe that she would risk her life for a basic emotion, never mind passionate love. Nia and Silas are timid and passive, somehow one wants to root for their capture. If there would be a prize for the most insipid couple in film history, they would be odds-on favourites.AS

SOUNDTRACK STARS AWARD | VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2015

Native (2015) | East End Film Festival 2016

Director.: Daniel Fitzsimmons

Cast: Rupert Graves, Ellen Kendrick, Leanne Best

85min | Sci-Fi | UK

First time director and co-writer Daniel Fitzsimmons’ debut is a low budget Sci-fi  his hand where two Aliens arrive to conquer Earth. But somehow neither the design nor the cliché-ridden script is very convincing.

Cane (Graves) and Eva (Kendrick) hurtle towards our planet in a spaceship packed with deadly viruses intended to kill off mankind. But the lovesick Cane is over-emotional and pining for the loss of his partner Awan (Best) on their mother planet whence a Big Brother like metallic Voice issues order to the co-pilots while Cane tunes into Beethoven’s Fifth, driven to despair and a suicide attempt, hanging himself from a noose and rescued by Eva and the last moment. If this all sounds rather unimaginative – it is. The main problem with NATIVE is the dialogue – for no apparent reason, it’s in Italian – it also seems clumsy and in short hand: When the two are eating food from a plastic tube, in a brief break from arguing, Cane asks Eva “Do you like the food?, she answers brusquely “Whether I like it or not – this question is irrelevant”.  The metallic Voice is equally to the point, advising Eva to “sedate and restrain.” Cane. Later, Eva screams at Cane “Do not touch me!”, whilst he answers “I want to feel somebody”. When Cane hangs himself, he is still under the influence of Big Brother’s Voice “This is the rational solution” he tells himself. But the Voice can be soothing too, telling Eva “I will be with you, when you need me”. Eva is remorseless about Awan too: “She is dead, disposed off, we should not speak about the dead”. When Cane is “turning emotional”, Eva puts him in a contraption rasembling an electric chair. Which brings us to the production design that utterly fails to recreate an environment worthy of a species so superior. The set-up is not much more than an arcade playground, where coloured lights are in playful interaction.

Nick Gillespie and Billy J. Jackson try their best to inject appropriate atmosphere with their cinematographer, but only manage to create second-hand images – which –  like the narrative, are a regurgitation of everything that has gone before in this underrated genre: Fitzsimmons is not so much a victim of his mini-budget, but also his lack of creative imagination. AS

THE EAST END FILM FESTIVAL 23 JUNE – 3 JULY 2016

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) | Dual format release

20858304372_38fd3c4d6c_zDirector: Byron Haskin  Writers: Ib Melchior, John C Higgins

Cast: Paul Mantee, Victor Lundin, Adam West

11min | Sci-Fi | US

There’s something strangely magical and upliftingly intelligent about Byron Haskin’s sixties space oddity, based on a Daniel Defoe classic, in which an astronaut and a monkey fetch up in Mars after crashing their spacecraft. The credits promise: “One adventure in a million that could happen – tomorrow!” and the inventive visual design was to have a far-reaching influence on fantasy filmmaking on the big screen in the years leading up to the space race.

This was Haskin’s second literary adaptation, after his 1953 thriller The War of the Worlds, based on an H G Wells classic, had the Martians coming in the opposite direction – to Earth – in a similarly engaging and amusing tone, wreaking destruction on our cities whereas Commander Draper (Mantee) and his monkey (Mona) are almost deferential in their visit to Mars, whose arid hostile landscape is spectacularly evoked in its Death Valley locations (Zabriskie Point). Rendered in Arthur Lonergan’s crisp sets (re-using the flying saucers from 1953) and Winton C Hoch’s glowing black and white visuals, the result is a heartening study of Draper’s survival against the odds, with his increasingly faithful, furry friend.

Haskin avoids Cold War allegory here making a more enduring and contemporary social commen: the importance of man’s relationship with the animal kingdom and the struggle of small communities in an increasingly difficult world, seen through Draper’s eventual connection with another being who he names “Friday” (Victor Lundin). Eventually the two manage to escape with Mona in one of the final speculative films before the early 70s Mars landing. Shot in technicolor, the script was written by John C. Higgins and Ib Melchior. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT DVD | BLU-RAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

 

Seconds (1966) | Dual Format release

19861908044_ec68b13227_mDirector: John Frankenheimer  Writer: John Carlino | David Ely (Novel)

Cast: Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph, Will Geer

106min | Sci-fi Drama | US

Seconds tick away in the hopelessly fragile, trivial life of an unhappy suburban middle-aged banker but when he agrees to an elaborate procedure that will fake his death and grant him a new life, there is naturally a price to pay. The title sequence alone to Sci-fi thriller SECONDS must have seemed highly original and unsettling at the time, with its eerie masks that were surely to influence Tobe Hooper in his Texas Chain Saw Massacre that was to follow eight years later. There is an febrile alienation to SECONDS’ opening scene where the camera tracks Arthur Hamilton’s sweating face as stares distractedly through the train window on his way home to Scarsdale station but when he arrives, his wife is there to meet him with her calming if rather formal banter about rose pruning and events of the previous evening. Later they are seen embracing in a way that acknowledges that strain and tedium has obliterated their physical relationship.

The third in John Frankenheimer’s unofficial “Paranoia Trilogy” after The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964), SECONDS (1966) is a subtle, unsettling ‘JG Ballardesque’ Sci-fi thriller that takes the paranoia-laden premise of the first two outings further to suggest that ultimately, the individual is his own worst enemy: or more explicitly: the ‘soul’ or ‘essential nature’ is an atavistic force that cannot be suppressed no matter how hard we try. So Nature will always triumph over Nurture.

After undergoing the procedure to become a “Second”, Hamilton turns into Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson) a younger, more vigorous (and let’s face it, a better looking) man who is given a new life as an artist in a hedonistic California beach community where he also has a butler (who sounds mysteriously like Joe Turkel in The Shining). But there’s something strange about this new neighbourhood and the reason is that all his local friends are also ‘seconds’. One of them, Nora Marcus (Salome Jens), has also left her unsatisfactory life (“I had a new house with a microwave oven”) until she left 4 years  to become a second.

Rock Hudson has hidden depths as Tony Wilson, a disappointed, tortured soul who doesn’t seem that delighted to have been reincarnated or to have met the exuberantly unhinged yet ravishingly attractive Nora, although after spending a day at a strange pagan-feeling wine festival during which ‘What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor’ is played in a minor key) the two become an item. But things take a sinister turn soon after when Tony’s mental state starts to unravel.

Celebrated cinematographer James Wong Howe’s camera angles, fragmented editing and Jerry Goldsmith’s sinister classical organ score is a enough to have you rushing to Harley Street for session on the couch with a…calming psychotherapist.

RELEASED ON DUAL FORMAT DVD BLU-RAY | 26 OCTOBER 2015 | COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

 

Narcopolis (2015)

Dir.: Justin Trefgarne; Cast: Elliot Cowan, Robert Bathurst, Jonathan Pryce, Elodie Yung, James Caliss, Molly Gaisford, Cosima Shaw; UK 2014, 96 min.

NARCOPOLIS is a potent cocktail of Sci-fi and film noir and the feature debut of writer/director Justin Trefgarne who reminds us what cinema can really achieve. With a budget of around one million pounds, Trefgarne’s visionary approach is in stark contrast to many UK films which tend to be anaemic, ‘atmospheric’ studies lacking a narrative, or bland, TV-like unimaginative genre products.

Set in a dystopian London of 2024, burnt-out Detective Frank Grieves (Cowan) can hardly keep his family together, let alone fulfill his professional duties: in a society where drugs are free (and presumably safe), the police are consumers like everybody else. When Grieves finds a body with half its head missing and no recognisable DNA on the database, he stumbles into a mystery. His superior Nolan (Bathurst) pulls him off the case, but Grieves is stubborn and when he meets Eva Gray (Yung) who claims to be from the future, he starts to uncover a plot leading to Todd Ambro (Caliss), owner and CEO of the almighty drug company Ambro, who is controlling the police force and trying out an experimental drug aimed at dumbing down the population (surely this is the present?) . With the help of Sidorov (Pryce), an elderly scientist, Grieves must learn to time-travel: not only to save his son Ben, but the entire world in a show-down set in 2044.

Every scene in Narcopolis is stunning, Trefgarne pulls a powerful punch, even when sometimes less might have been more. DOP Christopher Moon has created a London that gleams and glitters on the outside but seethes in dankness where the action unfurls below.

A drug-riddled Grieves scuttles like a water rat running through a labyrinth, erratic and irrational. Everyone here has a function, Ambro’s wife Ellen (Shaw), a frosted beauty, who helps to represent her husband’s commercial façade of clipped respectability. In contrast, Grieves wife Angie (Gaisford), is harassed from the outset, pleading with her husband to leave the city for the sake of their son.

There are glaring plotholes: the time-travel mechanism is not very well explained, and Trefgarne quotes from classic noir and Sci-fi films are overdone – but the sheer brilliance of the images and a committed cast keep the audience engaged. logic only comes into play when the film does not convince (Hitchcock’s North by North West is simply barmy from a rational viewpoint), and Narcopolis’ low budget is in stark contrast to its high emotions and visionary images. Trefgarne might have put too much into Narcopolis, but that’s what first films are for. Recommended.

REVIEWED AT EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL |

Videodrome (1983) | 4-disc DVD | Blu-ray release

Writer|Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: James Woods, Deborah Harry, Combining the bio-horror elements of his earlier films whilst anticipating the technological themes of his later work, VIDEODROME exemplifies Cronenberg’s extraordinary talent for making both visceral and cerebral cinema.

Max Renn (James Woods) is looking for fresh new content for his TV channel when he happens across some illegal S&M-style broadcasts called ‘Videodrome’. Embroiling his girlfriend Nicki (Debbie Harry) in his search for the source, his journey begins to blur the lines between reality and fantasy as he works his way through sadomasochistic games, shady organisations and body transformations stunningly realised by the Oscar-winning makeup effects artist Rick Bakeailed by his contemporaries John Carpenter and Martin Scorsese as a genius, VIDEODROME, was Cronenberg’s most mature work to date and still stands as one of his greatest.

In this 1983 cult classic Cronenberg outing, James Woods is the standout and Debbie Harry is convincing as his sexually experimental girlfriend in a visually audacious and stunningly disorienting drama that sees the director exploring dangerous sexuality and technological obsessions in collaboration with his cinematographer Mark Irwin. Howard Shore’s haunting score strikes a conjures up a similar atmosphere of dread as Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind achieved in The Shining 

OUT ON SPECIAL FORMAT DVD | Blu-ray digipak | 10th August 2015 | Courtesy of ARROW

4 disc pack includes short films Transfer (1966) & From the Drain (1967) and newly restored early features Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970). Alongside a wealth of archival content, this lavish new edition will feature a stunning newly restored high-definition digital transfer of the unrated version of Videodrome, approved by both Cronenberg and cinematographer Mark Irwin.

The DVD includes new documentaries – David Cronenberg and the Cinema of the Extreme, a documentary programme featuring interviews with Cronenberg, George A. Romero and Alex Cox on Cronenberg’s cinema, censorship and the horror genre and Forging the New Flesh, a documentary programme by filmmaker Michael Lennick on Videodrome’s video and prosthetic make up effects.

Other features on the discs include brand new interviews with cinematographer Mark Irwin and producer Pierre David, alongside the feature AKA Jack Martin in which Dennis Etchison, author of novelizations of Videodrome, Halloween, Halloween II and III and The Fog, discusses Videodrome and his observations of Cronenberg’s script.

CAMERA (2000) Cronenberg’s short film starring Videodrome’s Les Carlson will also feature on the discs bonus content alongside the complete uncensored Samurai Dreams footage with additional Videodrome broadcasts with optional commentary by Michael Lennick. Two additional featurettes by Michael Lennick, Helmet Test and Betamax, which look at the effects featured in the film will be also be included.

Dawn (Morgenroede) 2014 | Sci-fi Weekend 29 – 7 June 2015

Writer/Director: Anders Elsrud Hultgreen

Cast: Torstein Bjørklund, Ingar Helge Gimle

70min  Norway  Sci-fi Fantasy

Norwegian auteur Anders Elsrud Hultgreen found his way into filmmaking from a Fine Arts degree from Bergen University and brings this craftmanship to his feature debut DAWN, which he has directed, written and produced on a shoestring budget of £5000.

Set in an imagined future, DAWN is primarily a Sci-fi mood piece that developed from an intended short. With a two-handed cast, Hultgreen conjures up a strong sense of place in the rugged and desolate moonscape of Southern Iceland, where it was filmed and later selected for Reykjavik Film Festival and Bergen International Film Festival. The tale follows two survivors wandering vaguely in this hostile terrain, where a threadbare narrative focuses on their search for water, driven forward by a sinister and brooding tone that pervades the early scenes of ‘first light’ gradually becoming more doom-laden as the film draws to a slightly unsatisfactory finale in the full glare of high noon.

Nicolas Winding Refn’ Valhalla Rising comes to vaguely to mind as the younger of the two men, Rehab (Torstein Bjørklund) – and this is very much a tale of age versus youth – is pursued by an older man, Set (Ingar Helge Gimle), across the barren scenery. Bound by a daily ritual of drawing a circle in the sand and setting himself a frame between three silvery stones for prayer and protection, Rehab is completely shrouded from head to foot. In a nod to silent film, Bjørklund relies on the expressiveness in his eyes as the only indicator of his state of mind which ranges from fear to delirium. This is a slow-paced affair that occasionally drags, stretching the limits of its dramatic tension to near-breaking point, with no release from a pounding ambient score as the two search for aquatic Nirvana in the barren wilderness.

Landscape has always been a crucial feature of Norwegian films, and nowhere more so than in DAWN. Shot on the widescreen, Hultgreen has taken a wilderness and turned it into somewhere quite magical and alien with the help of titled angles, purple tinting, and inventive framing which has a pleasing sense of rhythm. For speakers of other languages, Norwegian has an ancient ring to it and these elements coalesce to create a sense of ‘otherworldliness’. The inclusion of a wrecked aircraft is the only thing that brings the piece into the context of the 20th century, slightly puncturing the mystical reverie. Clearly, Hultgreen has done his research and created an inventive piece of genuine Sci-fi with an impressively low budget, marking him out to be a  talent in the making. MT

DAWN SCREENED DURING SCI-FI WEEKEND AT THE BFI 29 MAY – 5 JUNE 2015

The Lobster (2015) | Cannes 2015 Competition

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos  Writer: Efthymis Filippou

Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Coleman, Lea Seydoux, John C Reilly, Ben Whishaw

118min  Sci-fi Drama   Greece

THE LOBSTER is a cold-edged, dystopian sci-fi thriller set in an imagined near-future where citizens must choose a mate or be transformed into the animal of their choice. This is Dogtooth director, Yorgos Lanthimos’ first film in English and the first with a starry international cast, who give the impression of being ‘honoured’ to be there playing ridiculous roles with a script rammed with sexually explicit dialogue along the lines of: “I dreamt you fucked me up the ass” and so forth.

Colin Farrell has even developed a massive paunch for his part as David, a deadpan dork who has recently been dumped by his wife and arrives at base camp, one of those ghastly conference-style hotels with “luxury” over-stuffed pillows and maroon-tiled bathrooms, with his brother, Bob, who is now a sheep dog.

Later it emerges that the place is run by smug provincial marrieds (an erudite Olivia Coleman and Garry Mountaine) who give them 45 days to partner up with fellow interns or succumbing to their bestial fate. David choses to be a lobster because he likes swimming and wants a long life. As these harried citizens begin their pressurised life, they acquire nicknames defined by idiosyncratic traits: Limping Man (Ben Whishaw); Lisping Man (John C Reilly) and, like online daters, they are forced to find common interests and similarities in the hope of hooking up, whereupon they get to share a double room and are then assigned ‘children’. “The heartless woman” has been so successful in her dating efforts that she has been given a hundred extra days of human existence.

This theatre of the absurd takes place in deadpan seriousness as leaden clouds scud by in a moss-covered landscape. David eventually lucks out on a date with ‘Heartless woman” and the two have dispassionate doggie-style sex while she is wearing her undies. But, true to form, she finds dating dissatisfaction with David, and quietly slaughters sheepdog, Bob, on the white-tiled bathroom.

While Hackney viewers will be desperate to acquire the DVD/blu for “cool” nights in, other audiences may find this film quite tedious and obdurate in its desperation to be obtuse. There is a saving grace in David’s meeting with “Shorted sighted woman” (Rachel Weisz) who is part of the ‘loner’ party wandering around in the local woods and lead by a love-averse Lea Seydoux. As the two gradually bond, their random meeting proves that love is truly blind and motivated by the fear of being alone or metaphorically ‘turned into an animal’ – a spell in an old peoples’ home is possibly the real life analogy Lanthimos is alluding to here. Striking out as a married couple in the city, they discover that life is not as perfect as they imagined it would be. The moral of the story: Be careful what you wish for.  MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 24 MAY 2015 | CANNES 2015

Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982)

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer, Joe Turkel, M Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah

117mins  Fantasy Sci-Fi   US

BLADE RUNNER was considered so ‘out there’ when it originally ignited our screens back in 1982. Now, like that Thierry Mugler eighties suit, it feels dated despite its iconic status as a piece of finely-crafted history. Ridley Scott’s finely detailed Sci-Fi outing looks very ‘Now-Fi’ as his definitive ‘director’s cut’ takes to our screens, gleaming back at us with its bleak and cold-eyed vision. The replicants of yesteryear feel like the call centres operatives of today, minus their superhuman strength: they are ‘people’ who appear to be real but fail to engage on any level making us feel every sympathy for Harrison Ford’s character as he fumbles around in the new age darkness trying to make sense of things.

Based on Philip K Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, BLADE RUNNER is set in Los Angeles, but filmed at Burbank Studios – a HongKong shoot proving too expensive. It follows a detective called Rick Deckard who is brilliantly played by a permanently perplexed Harrison Ford. His sweat-soaked brow be-knitted with angst, he is tasked with tracking down ‘androids’ or replicants, as they are re-badged in Scott’s fantasy thriller. With all the semblance of flesh and blood humans, apart from their ‘shining’ eyes – created using a technique (the Schüfftan Process) that had actually been invented by Fritz Lang – they are robots from outer-space colonies where they have been investigating alternative living quarters for our over-crowded Earthbound population.

Rutger Hauer gives his ‘one hit wonder’ performance as a startlingly appealing yet lethally dangerous android, Roy Batty, with his now-iconic line “All those moments will be lost in time…like tears in the rain”. Daryl Hannah plays a female she-devil android whose initial cutesy mannequin charm turns deadly as she unravels in the final scenes and there is another memorable turn from Joe Turkel (as Dr Eldon Tyrell), the infamous barman from The Shining‘s Overlook Hotel. But the standout here is Sean Young as Rachael. Her spiky vulnerability and shimmering red lips are a legend in their own lunchtime and test Deckard’s male instincts to the limit. The final cut abandons the pseudo happy ending of the original version, opting instead for an unsettling unspooling of gradual dehumanisation. How prescient Scott’s vision turned out to be. MT

BLADE RUNNER: FINAL CUT IS IN CINEMAS FROM 3 APRIL.

HARRISON FORD WILL RETURN TO STAR IN A SEQUEL BY DENIS VILLENEUVE.

The Signal (2015)

Director: William Eubank

Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Olivia Cooke, Beau Knapp, Laurence Fishburne, Lin Shaye

97min  US  Sci-Fi Thriller

Deep in the countryside, three ramblers cross paths with a strange and unworldly encounter in William Eubank’s slick indie that starts as an compelling weird Sci-FI mystery thriller but gradually joins the highway to mainstream city, veering off the path of arthouse intrigue.

Nic and Jonah (Brenton Thwaites and Beau Knapp) are MIT students who seem to be involved in a computer virus dispute with someone called Nomad. When Nic agrees to take his girlfriend Haley (Olivia Cooke) back to University across country, Jonah goes to share the driving because Nic seems to be on crutches. On their way they pick up intelligence that may lead them to Nomad’s whereabouts. Against their better judgement, they take a detour into the desert.

This takes them through some glorious widescreen visuals and a retro vibe as we cruise zen-like along in the fields  of big mountain country, enjoying David Lanzenberg’s gorgeous cinematography until arriving at nightfall at an abandoned shack in the middle of nowhere. And this is where proceedings go pear-shaped as the mood becomes edgy and sinister. Haley is abducted by an alien-like being before and they all space out and loses control. Nic gradually comes to his senses in a space-age hospital staffed by men in white overalls. He can’t feel his legs.

The doctor in charge of Nic is Wallace Damon (Laurence Fishburne). Apparently Nic and his friends came across an “extraterrestrial biological entity,” and it is vital for Nic to remain within the confines of the hospital for his own safety. But Nic, in a performance of palpable paranoia (by Thwaites), is not convinced and desperately tries to escape the sinister surroundings and endless white corridors and weird doctors. In vain. Then after an eerie dreamlike sequence of events where he is unable to move and is pursued by a very spooky-looking Fishburne as the doctor, Nic takes charge and breaks away from the hospital along a series of narrow tunnels and finally to freedom. But his troubles are far from over. Despite a delightfully off the wall turn from Lin Shaye as a religious nutter, this Sci-fi mystery fails to deliver the satisfying denouement that we’re hoping for as our interest gradually wanes in the last half hour. It’s watchable and wacky all the same and Nima Fakhrara’s ethereal soundtrack lends a surreal atmosphere.  MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 27 MARCH 2015 | DVD FROM 13 APRIL 2015

 

 

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) | Days of Fear and Wonder

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

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

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

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

Even after 46 years, and without any CGI, the images of A SPACE ODYSSEY are still fresh and do not give away the real age of the film. Kubrick used simple tricks, like the scene with the ballpen in the spaceship, which seems to float, but was in reality only glued to a plate of glass. The images of the astronauts floating in space were achieved with circus equipment and models in real size, filmed against a black background, the camera shooting from the floor upwards. This way, the ropes under the ceiling were hidden by the body of the stuntman; the audience has the illusion, to watch him floating from a sideways position.

Music and visuals are dominating; the underlying philosophical questions, particularly the role of the computer, are very topical and evergreen and overall 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY still feels modern and wonderful to watch. AS

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70TH VENICE FILM FESTIVAL Daily Update WINNERS 28 August-7 September

GRAVITY  ***       OUT OF COMPETITION

Gravity Cuaron Seven years after Children of Men, Mexican Director Alfonso Cuarón’s GRAVITY 3D swirled silently into Venice with a distant murmur of astronauts talking via satellite in space.  George Clooney (Matt Kowalksy) gradually floats into view, as sauve in a space-suit as he is in Gucci tailoring.  With his co-pilot Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), he injects much-needed humour into this claustrophobic but technically brilliant sci-fi drama that follows a stricken space-ship as it floats towards the Earth’s orbit with its surviving astronauts. The pair float helplessly amid a welter of emotionally-charged memories of the World they left behind.  A pithy script and Emmanuel Lubezki’s ethereal visuals make this a worthwhile experience for the art house crowd and Sandra Bullock is surprising moving as a co-pilot who has nothing left to live for but every reason to survive.. MT Tracks

TRACKS ***      IN COMPETITION

Take the Australian outback, three wild camels, a black labrador and a woman with a mission and you’ve got John Curran’s drama inspired by the true life of Robyn Davidson, who walked from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean in 1977.  During this breathtaking travelogue of painful and sweaty trials and tribulations, she makes some interesting discoveries about survival and herself: that she wants to be alone.  Mia Wasilowski gives an exultant performance as Robyn, not the most pleasant of characters, but certainly dogged and single-minded in her pursuit of a dream. It also has Roly Mintuma as her Aboriginal guide and Adam Driver as the photographer who fails to win her heart. Despite looking for solitude, Robyn bemoans her deep loneliness at every step of the way and although the scenery is beautiful, the woman herself remains a cypher. MT

La Belle VieLA BELLE VILLE ****        GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI

Jean Denizot’s feature debut LA BELLE VIE is a classicly told, ravishingly-shot, rites of passage idyll set in the rolling countryside of the Loire River. Based on a true story of two boys on the run with their father, who has flouted French custody laws, it paints him as a loving but also mentally abusive man. Newcomer, Zaccarie Chasseriaud, stands out as the youngest boy, Sylvain, whose desire for a proper life and a girlfriend finally bring matters to a dramatic head.

WOLFSKINDER ****       ORIZZONTI Wolfskinder_1

Poignantly brutal and achingly beautiful, Rick Ostermann’s Second World War survival drama follows the plight of four young German orphans fleeing the Red Army through the stunning countryside of Lithuania. Levin Liam leads the group in the role of Hans whose innate gentleness and determination shine through against the odds in a performance of subtle complexity and depth for such a young actor.

LAS NINAS QUISPE ***      SETTIMANA DELLA CRITICA Haunted by sadness, mistrust and a hostile political climate, three sisters herd goats in the high planes of seventies Chile as they contemplate their bleak future.  Sebastian Sepulveda’s debut is a plaintive affair shot through with human tenderness and a captivating sepia-tinted aesthetic. Joe

JOE **          IN COMPETITION

David Gordon Green’s last outing, Prince Avalanche, was one of the standout comedies of Berlin this year. Here in JOE he casts Nicolas Cage as a brooding ex-con with a heart of gold. And Cage doesn’t disappoint, bringing forth a performance of echoing intensity alongside Tye Sheridan’s abused teenager.  But where MUD succeeded in the ‘sins of the father’ dynamic, JOE never really comes together as a cohesively absorbing drama.

NIGHT MOVES ****     IN COMPETITION

A Simple plan to blow up a damn has far-reaching consequences for three environmentalists in this explosive psychological crime thriller with a moral twist from MEEK’S CUTOFF director, Kelly Reichardt. Jessee Eisenberg leads a dynamite cast of Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard. Chilling and memorable MTNight PHILOMENA-1

PHILOMENA ****          IN COMPETITION

STEVE COOGAN AND JEFF POPE WIN BEST SCREENPLAY

Stephen Frears takes this heart-rending adoption story, overlaid with Steve Coogan’s lightly comedic touch, to produce an inspiring drama that raised the roof on the fourth day of Venice Film Festival.  Judy Dench plays Philomena Lee, a stalwart Irish mother who harks back to her lost son on his 50th birthday.  World-weary journo, Martin Sixsmith (Coogan,who also acts and produces), takes up her story and their instant chemistry leads to a moving, funny and entertaining film with universal appeal and likely box-office success. MT Child of God_1 copy

CHILD OF GOD **     IN COMPETITION The James Franco production line continues with this adaption of a Cormac McCarthy novel about an angry loner in sixties Tennessee.  Scott Hare gives his all to the role of Lester Ballard in a drama that blends necrophilia, defecation (and every other bodily function) with washed-out landscapes and unimaginative camerawork depicting one man’s descent into Hell. If you like your dramas ‘warts and all’ then this is one to go for.

Wind Rises

 

THE WIND RISES *****         IN COMPETITION

Another enchanting piece of Japanese Anime from Studio Ghibli, this time a delicately- drawn story of Wartime aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the amazingly effective ‘Zero’ fighter during WWII.  THE WIND RISES is particularly special because its director and writer, Miyazaki Hayao, is well-known for being behind the most successful films: Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo. What starts as a largely biographical story of Jiro’s childhood, training and early career gradually transforms into an endearing love story when he finally meets his sweetheart while saving her umbrella in a gale. The two have previously met during an earthquake, (the Great Kanto disaster of 1923) wonderfully depicted in the early part of the film but now the visuals reflect lush and flowery country landscapes including almond blossoms, billowing meadows, breathtaking cloud formations and sunsets. As usual with Ghibli, the dreamy visuals often belie a heart-rending or serious storyline, and THE WIND RISES is no different, underpinned as it is by Jiro’s personal tragedy and the Wartime context of conflict and geographical disaster.  Immersive from start to finish, THE WIND RISES is a stunning piece of filmmaking accompanied by a richly-textured narrative that will delight regular devotees as well as those still unfamiliar with the genre. MT

Via Castellana Bandiera_1 FOTO UFFICIALEVIA CASTELLANA BANDIERA ***  (A STREET IN PALERMO)   IN COMPETITION

ELENA COTTA – BEST ACTRESS – COPPA VOLPI

Emma Dante is known in Italy for her theatre work.  Here, she directs and also stars as a lesbian woman who won’t give way to the oncoming vehicle in a narrow street, while on the way to a wedding with her partner (Alba Rohrwacher – Sleeping Beauty). But the driver of the other car (Elena Cotta) is well-known locally for her stubbornness.  A noisy and argumentative film that serves as a metaphor for Italy’s more general ills.

Miss Violence_3 copyMISS VIOLENCE ***        IN COMPETITION

THEMIS PANOU – BEST ACTOR – COPPA VOLPI

As Greek tragedies go this one is a slow-burning, pastel-tinged affair: Brooding with malevolence and bristling with suspicion from the opening sequence involving the suicide of a young girl during a family birthday, to the final half hour of shocking revelations as the toys are thrown out of the pram.

p5630 copy copy copyPARKLAND **             IN COMPETITION

Peter Landesman’s attempt to examine the fall-out of JFK’s death from the perspective of those involved in his final hours,  fails in bringing anything new to the table with a motley selection of characters from the backstory. Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother is a particularly nasty piece of work played by Jacki Weaver. Paul Giamatti is compelling as the guy who shot the amateur footage on CIne and Zac Ephron plays an earnest young doctor who fails to save his life and Billy Bob Thornton also stars.

The Sacrament_4 copyTHE SACRAMENT **              ORIZZONTI

Based on a true story about a cult community in Georgia, Ti West’s mockumentary is a well-intentioned but unconvincing thriller with a strong central performance from Amy Seimetz (Upstream Color).

 

Die Frau des Polizsten (The Police Officer's Wife)_1 copyTHE POLICE OFFICER’S WIFE ***    IN COMPETITION

SPECIAL JURY PRIZE WINNER

This three-hour film takes an epistolary format to slowly flesh out the married life of a policeman, his wife and their infant daughter, in a small German town.  Beautifully drawn, with detailed and appealing use of the local countryside to give context, it serves as testament to the subtle but corrosive effect of modern life on one couple’s relationship. Director, Phillip Grõning has served as Venice Orizzonti Jury President in 2006. MT

The Zero TheoremTHE ZERO THEORUM **      IN COMPETITION

Terry Gilliam is back with a psychedelic mish-mash of mysogyny and male musings: THE ZERO THEORUM is a mathematical formula that seeks to determine whether life has meaning, as seen through the eyes of Christophe Waltz’s middle-aged geek in a dystopian town of the future. Waltz is perplexed and benign in the role as he’s badgered to settle down by Melanie Thierry’s blonde piece of fluff who taunts him  to commit in various states of undress (a typical male fantasy from the warped mind of a commitment-phobe). It’s online, corporate Hell so just hope that we never get there . An acquired taste to divide audiences: I’d give it a miss unless you love his films.

LOCKE ****            IN COMPETITION

Steve Knight’s in-car drama nevertheless offers plenty of action-packed thrills in this ‘one-hander’ for Tom Hardy. He plays a father and engineer whose life unravels as he races South on the M1 to meet the latest of his offspring while managing a complex building project. All conducted over the telephone from his BMW, he talks to his wife, his lover, two teenage sons and members of his building team: the traffic police would have a field day but they’d probably thoroughly enjoy this seat-clenching thriller that could be re-named ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik”.  Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson and Tom Holland plays the telephone roles.

TOM AT THE FARM ****       IN COMPETITION

Tom Ö la ferme ∏ Clara Chapardy copy copyQuebec wild child Xavier Dolan roars backs into form with this screen adaptation of a play by Michel Marc Bouchard. Set in the open prairies of Canada’s farmland, Dolan plays the main character, Tom (sporting a curious corn-like mop of blond hair), a gay man who turns up at his lover Guillaume’s funeral not only to discover that the family is unaware of his existence but also unwilling to accept Guillaume sexuality.  With a great support cast that features Evelyn Brochu (Cafe de Flore) and Pierre-Yves Cardinal, this visually exciting and unpredictable thriller follows a linear narrative but otherwise challenges perceptions and reality at every step of the way as Tom becomes caught up in a web of lies, deceit and homoerotic desire.

THE CANYONS – SEE MY REVIEW.

Moebius_5 copyMOEBIUS **              OUT OF COMPETITION

The human psyche is a twisted and  tortured affair according to Kim Ki-duk who brought his latest outing to Venice after winning the GOLDEN LION in 2012 with PIETA.  The subject is still family dynamics but there’s a father involved this time. His random infidelity gradually leads to family breakdown after his son sees him in a restaurant with his lover.  MOEBIUS, whch was banned by the censors in his homeland of Korea, features just about everything from humiliation and rape to autoeroticism and demonstrates show how easy it is to unlock evil in the human mind and turn decent people into animals. Disturbing and graphic MT

The Unknown KnownTHE UNKNOWN KNOWN ****            IN COMPETITION

In this, the first of two documentaries competing for the Golden Lion, Oscar-winning director Errol Morris looks at Donald Rumsfeld’s engaging personal recollections of his time in office. Seen through cine footage of state tours with the Kennedy’s and his private musings with members of the administration, Morris succeeds in capturing an ‘innocence’ here that has long gone from contemporary politics. Fascinating for anyone who remembers the era or who has an interest in American political history. MT

EASTERN BOYS ****                   BEST FILM – ORIZZONTI 

Accomplished scripter, Robin Campillo (The Class, Foxfire), takes a random group of illegal immigrant young men from Eastern Europe and constructs an unpredictable and unflinching thriller set in the suburbs of Paris. It revolves around a gay Frenchman (Olivier Rabourdin) in his fifties and his unexpected adventure with one of the teenagers (Kirill Emelyanov). Watchable and absorbing, this was one of the best films in the festival this year.

p5954 copyA PROMISE ****   OUT OF COMPETITION

Patrice Leconte’s haunting and fabulously romantic drama with Belle Epoque overtones is set in a German industrial town before the Great War. It stars Alan Richman in a subtle performance as an ageing steel magnate whose wife (Rebecca Hall)  falls for his young assistant. Based on a novel by Austrian Stefan Zweig, one of the most famous writers during the 1920s and 30s.

L'intrepido_3 �Claudio Iannone copyL’INTREPIDO ***    IN COMPETITION

Billed as a comedy, Gianni Amelio’s competition entry has few laughs but some bittersweet moments. It stars Antonio Albanese as an industrious and enterprising middle-aged man who deserves the Golden Lion for his admirable work ethic and old-school values during the current economic crisis in Milan. Dogged by bad luck and a truculent son, he is a tribute to his generation, setting a shining example in this worthy, uplifting but overlong feature. MT

WalesaWALESA. MAN OF HOPE *****         OUT OF COMPETITION

What an amazing contribution Andrzej Wajda has made to Polish and World film. Here, he brings an important, well-crafted and watchable docudrama about the life of Lech Walesa and his single-minded efforts to improve freedom for ship-workers in Gdansk during the latter part of the seventies and early eighties. Skilfully editing archive footage to blend with visuals depicting police riots and clashes, it elegantly envelopes the love story of Walesa and his wife Danuta into this gripping episode of Polish political history shot through with occasional moments of dry humour. MT

JalousieJEALOUSY ***   IN COMPETITION

Louis Garrel stars as….Louis Garrel in an out of love in this slim drama which also stars Anna Mouglalis and centres around a family split apart by infidelity and financial insecurity.  Phillippe Garrel is a Venice regular and has one the Silver Lion twice for J’ENTENDS PLUS LA GUITARE and REGULAR LOVERS.

p5512 copySTRAY DOGS **   IN COMPETITION

GRAND JURY PRIZE WINNER

Taiwan is experiencing a building boom that is displacing and disenfranchising the inhabitants of Taipei, who scratch around to make ends meet. Tsai Ming Liang’s drama is set to divide critics and possibly audiences. Will appeal to the most ardent art house devotees of long, lingering shots and close-up footage.

ANA ARABIA ***  IN COMPETITION

Israeli director, Amos Gitai, filmed this insight into a small community of Jews and Arab outcasts in one single 85-minute shoot. It provides a fresh and authentic slice of life in a contemporary border enclave.   Ana Arabia_1

THE ROOFTOPS ***  IN COMPETITION

Set in his own neighbourhood in Algiers, Merzak Allouache’s lively multi-stranded narrative feature brings another modern-day look at life in an Arabic culture to the competition.

THE REUNION ***   SETTIMANA DELLA CRITICA

BEST DEBUT WINNER

Actor Anna Odell’s debut feature in which she plays a striking lead, is a psychological drama that looks at the dynamics of power and bullying within friendships.  Taking a class reunion meeting up 20 years after school years, it examines how individuals can be ostracised in the classroom leading to mental issues later on in life. Impressive and watchable. This film won the FIPRESCI Award at Venice 2013 for Best Newcomer.

Amazonia_4_-___2013_Le_Pacte_Biloba_Films_Gullane copyAMAZONIA *****           OUT OF COMPETITION

AMAZONIA is Brazilian helmer Thierry Rogobert’s enchanting and eye-popping 3D docudrama set entirely in the Amazon jungle.  It concerns Kong, an endearingly cute cappucine monkey, who is stranded after a plane crash deep in the rain fores of Brazilian.  From the opening sequences we instantly bond with Kong and, as his bewildered little face looks up at the camera, we want to protect him on his journey to fend for himself in the wild.  Apart the ambient sounds of rain and random predators, Rogobert’s film is entirely unscripted and provides audiences with a rich visual canvas of vibrantly colourful and exotic flora and fauna on which to meditate. David Attenborough eat your heart out!.  MT

 SACRO GRA ****     IN COMPETION          GOLDEN LION WINNER

Gianfranco Rosi’ documentary is a well-crafted and peripatetic affair that tells the story of a famous ring road ‘Grande A’ that surrounds Rome.  Literally meaning ‘Holy Grail’, it dabbles in the lives of the many characters who live around this major highway offering a selection of random vignettes cutting across the social  divide.  Accompanied by an evocative soundtrack, Rosi’s observational style allows the viewer to muse and meditate on this fascinating slice of urban life. Sacro-GRA

 

 

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