Posts Tagged ‘US Indie’

She Dies Tomorrow (2019) ***

Dir/Scr: Amy Seimetz. US. 2019. 84mins | Main cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Kentucker Audley, Katie Aselton, Chris Messina, Tunde Adebimpe, Jennifer Kim, Josh Lucas, Adam Wingard, Michelle Rodriguez, Olivia Taylor Dudley

A wisely written drama perfectly echoing the corrosive coronavirus paranoia de nos jours through a study of  a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In her second feature Amy Seimetz continues to intrigue us with an unsettling piece of cinema that is prescient yet refreshing in its portrayal of ground down depression and disillusionment. So inured is the central character (Amy/Sheil) to her impending demise that she surfs the internet looking at human ash caskets for her own demise before switching to leather jackets in a sudden spurt of hope.

She Dies Tomorrow could be accused of humouring its heroine: have we reached such a state of self-pitying and narcissism that we are unable to front up to the current, admittedly mortifying state of affairs, that is no worse than our forebears suffered on a far more serious level with famine, plague and war?

But the malingering mood is fractured by the arrival of Amy’s friend Jane who encourages her to ‘buck up” her ideas: “Come on – I’m going to call you tomorrow” – Amy replies with the melodramatic “there is no tomorrow for me” to the tones of Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor ‘Lacrimosa’.

She Dies Tomorrow morphs into a much more upbeat and often frivolous mode the following day at Jane’s birthday celebration, but the central premise of mortality still remains, and provides an ongoing rumination for the rest of the piece: we are all going to die eventually, it’s just a question of when.

This often dreamlike absurdist drama works an an amusing meditation on death, dressed up with an eclectic soundscape and plenty of visual fireworks Seimetz managing the tonal shifts with surprising grace and confidence. Jane sashays through the film in a pair of flowery pyjamas, her thoughts in perpetual ‘worried well” mode, consulting (and then seducing) her bemused doctor (Josh Lucas – who quickly returns home to roost while she imagines the sword of Damocles coming down on her at any given moment. Kate Lyn Sheil is a more tentative soul who soon joins her boyfriend in the desert for a becalmed romantic break that never gets off the ground after a bizarre pizza delivery. And yes, the audience is left as baffled – as it was during Upstream Color where Seimetz made her ground-breaking debut as Kris. Other characters are played by Katie Aselton and Chris Messina, who play Jane’s brother, and his wife who find themselves forced to entertain her in a vignette that will feel uncomfortably familiar.

This is very much a mood piece where traditional narrative pretensions fall by the way to reveal something altogether more experimental enlivened by Jay Keitel’s dazzling images. But like abstract art, the strong craft has to be there in the outset for the abstract to develop and Seimetz doesn’t convince us that it is, despite committed  performances and visual creativity. There are Lynchian moment – the scene where a weird tanner describes the method for making a jacket from a recently killed animal hide. But for the most part, She Dies is more a collection of episodes that explore modern angst through addiction, loneliness and depression than a cohesive drama offering a satisfying allover experience. She Dies Tomorrow’ is enjoyable while it lasts, but like Sushi – is soon forgotten.  Hopefully coronovirus will be the same, although it has clearly destabilised our current sense of wellbeing. MT

BLUE FINCH FILM RELEASING presents SHE DIES TOMORROW on CURZON HOME CINEMA and DIGITAL DOWNLOAD from 28 AUGUST 2020

Carmine Street Guitars (2018) ****

With Rich Kelly, Cindy Hulej, Dorothy Kelly2018 | CANADA | Doc | 80′

This genial music biopic explores the laid-back vibe of Carmine Street Guitars, a little shop in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village that remains resilient to encroaching gentrification.
Custom guitar maker Rick Kelly and his young apprentice Cindy Hulej build handcrafted instruments out of reclaimed wood from old hotels, bars, churches and other local buildings. Nothing looks or sounds like the classic instruments they have created with loving dedication. The film shoots the breeze with Rick and his starry visitors who treat us to impromptu riffs from their extensive repertoires and talk about how much they treasure this village institution and its reassuring presence as a little oasis of calm in the ever-changing, fast-paced world of the music business.
Rick’s pleasant banter with these lowkey luminaries is what makes this enjoyable musical therapy for fans and those who have never heard of the guitars, their craftsman or those who have commissioned and cherished the hand-made instruments since the 1960s: Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Jim Jarmusch, to name but a few. A small gem but a sparkling one. MT
STREAMING ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS FROM 26 JUNE 2020

The Bigamist (1953) *** MUBI

Director: Ida Lupino. Screenplay: Collier Young. Cast: Edmond O’Brien, Joan Fontaine, Ida Lupino, Edmund Gwenn, Kenneth Tobey, Jane Darwell. Drama / United States / 80′.

Ida Lupino directs and stars in  this final feature for her production company The Filmakers before moving into television.

The blunt title serves as a massive spoiler from the word Go. There’s no doubt as to where the plot is going, but strange as it may seem today, bigamy was surprisingly common at the time, as this film is at pains to point out.

A British film called The Bigamist had been made as early as 1916; but during the 195os the subject was usually treated light-heartedly as a subject of comedy (as in the same year’s The Captain’s Paradise, with Alec Guinness, Celia Johnson and Yvonne de Carlo). But when children are involved – as is the case here – it really becomes significant; and bigamy is just one of a whole raft of issues – including unplanned pregnancy and adoption (where do most adopted children come from in the first place?) – the film explores in just eighty minutes.

With so many people raising kids these days without bothering to get married, the mores of this era seem rather quaint and as remote as the silent era. The earnest tone of the film rather recalls the silent ‘social problem’ films of pioneer women directors Lois Weber and Mrs Wallace Reid in whose footsteps Lupino was following.

The Bigamist is rather like a silent film in the way Lupino’s pregnancy is implied to be the result of the sole occasion she had slept with her lover (O’Brien) as a “birthday treat” for him. And she becomes pregnant the very first time she had slept with a man since she got a ‘Dear Phyllis’ letter from a previous boyfriend several years earlier. O’Brien never squares with her that he’s married; but the thought must have crossed her mind.

It was brave of Edmond O’Brien to take on such an unheroic role, and interesting that Lupino chose to cast herself as the Other Woman rather than the wife. Under any other circumstances it would have been refreshing to see Joan Fontaine as the wife so confidently holding forth on technical matters at the dinner table were she not shown immediately afterwards to be neglecting O’Brien’s need for physical intimacy by immediately turning her back on him in bed (they sleep in separate beds and have been unable to have children).

Could there have been some way of engineering a happy resolution by having O’Brien present Lupino’s child to Fontaine to raise as their own? Perhaps. But Lupino probably wasn’t seeking a tidy resolution, and instead it all ends messily in court with O’Brien getting his knuckles sternly but regretfully rapped by a judge. Richard Chatten.

THE BIGAMIST IS now SCREENING ON MUBI

Phantom Thread (2017) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Paul Anderson | Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, 130′ | US | Drama

The latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson is quite unlike anything he has done before. PHANTOM THREAD is a deliciously thrilling love story with a slow-burning tight-lipped tension bred partly out of the discrete haute couture world of its gracefully dapper central character Reynolds Woodcock. Played peerlessly by Daniel Day-Lewis in his ‘swan song’, Reynolds is a Hardy Amies-style fashion designer who lives and works in London’s Fitzroy Square where he presides over a celebrated 1950s fashion house specialising in dressing high society and the Royals.

This stylishly buttoned-up affair is all about control, power and prestige in maintaining a veneer of respectability through discipline, dedication and duty that drives Reynolds forward, preventing him from acknowledging the hole in his soul, left by the death of his dear mother, and the absence of true love in his life.  Anderson constructs a world of superlative elegance where the daily round involves the pristine almost priestly preparation of his dress, coiffure, floral arrangements and particularly his breakfast: “I can’t begin my day with a confrontation.” Says Reynolds primly as he goes through the motions of his morning tea ceremony (lapsong, please) and silently buttered toast. “Nothing stodgy”. And no “loud sounds”. His sister Cyril (Lesley Manville at the top of her game), trundles in all red-puckered lips and seamed stockings. She rules the roost with utmost decorum, helping Reynolds as his business advisor and mentor. Reynolds is a disillusioned romantic, a bachelor in his fifties secretly yearning for love, but unable to let it into his tightly-corseted schedule. So his lust for carnal pleasure is channelled into luscious food – runny egg yolks and jugs of cream – until the real thing comes along to unleash his passion in the shape of a scrubbed up waitress named Alma (Luxumbourgeoise actor Vicky Krieps).

In his weekend retreat, he delicately delivers a breakfast order to her: poached eggs, butter, bacon, and jam – but not strawberry, raspberry…and some sausages –  is the verbal equivalent of an orgasm. And beneath Reynolds’ fussy exterior there really does lie a highly sensual man capable – we feel – of giving sexual pleasure to a woman, as well as tailored perfection, and this is the fine line that prevents Day-Lewis’ performance from being too prissy, although it sometimes veers in the direction. Alma is slightly gauche but also sensuous – like a ripe peach that won’t yet yield its stone. And so love gently blossoms in the autumn of Reynolds’ life while storm clouds linger on the horizon.

PHANTOM THREAD feels like a perfect metaphor for the well-known adage: AISLE ALTER HYMN (I’ll alter him, for the uninitiated) and this is just what the innocent-looking Alma has in mind when the two start working together in the West End atelier. This is a drama that sums up the utter dread many men feel about losing control of themselves to a woman. Reynolds will not cede to Alma’s charms and refuses to sacrifice his precious craft by allowing her control of his inner sanctum – the House of Woodcock – which represents his heart and life blood. She remains tough but loving – the perfect replica of his beloved mother, tempting him yet repulsing him by equal measure. Day-Lewis is adamant as the tortured artist, every subtle nuance flickers across his face in a display of mesmerising petulance. It’s impossible not to admire his gentle delivery and his chiselled, tousled allure. As an actor his economy of movement is unparalleled; he possesses the feline grace of Roger Federer and the innate style of breeding of George Sanders. During a delirious night of Alma-induced food-poisoning, Reynolds reveals his deep love attachment to his mother (whose ghost appears to him in her wedding dress)  and somehow her power is magically transferred to Alma, who from then on gets to wear the tailored trousers.

PHANTOM THREAD is Anderson’s eighth feature, and refreshingly is not based on anything but his own inventiveness. It perfectly suits its 1950s setting, an era where England was still on its knees after the war and rationing, and duty and pride in one’s work was paramount – people were so glad to have a job – and this is conveyed by a team of first rate unflappable seamstresses (with names like Biddy and Nana) who understand implicitly when a deadline looms, and a wedding dress must be tweaked or repaired for the following morning at 9am.

There is an erotic charge to PHANTOM that cannot be underestimated despite its immaculate and primped aesthetic. And the acerbically brittle Reynolds is no high-performing borderline psycho. He can transform at the doff of a cap into an amorous and extremely tender lover.  As in “The Master (2012) this is a film about the power and control dynamic between man and woman, and who eventually wins. It moves like the well-oiled engine of Reynolds’ blood red Bristol he drives down country lanes to his retreat. “I think you’re only acting strong,” says Alma, to which he replies, “I am strong.” And the two continue their power play in a way that never resorts to extreme physical or extreme verbal displays, although there is an extremely sinister side to Alma’s methods that make her the perfect antiheroine of the piece, Reynolds, like some overtly powerful  men, emerging the weaker of the two.

Jonny Greenwood’s music is the crowning glory, setting a tuneful rhythm of piano and strings for the soigné scenario that often feels quite claustrophobic, particularly in the final scenes, where we find ourselves shouting: “Don’t!” (you’ll soon see what I mean). At one point Reynolds says: Are you sent here to ruin my evening? And possibly my entire life?” These are the long-held suspicions of the committed bachelor who desperately longs for love, but constantly suspects the worst from his loving mate. Regretfully PHANTOM THREAD is our last chance to see Day-Lewis on the screen. He will be much missed from the films that he has graced. And this is possibly his best. MT

PHANTOM THREAD IS ON Blu-ray

I Walk Alone (1947) *** Talking Pictures

Prod: Hal Wallis. Dir: Byron Haskin. Scr: Charles Schnee. Cast: Burt Lancaster, Lizabeth Scott, Kirk Douglas, Wendell Corey, Kristine Miller. Crime Melodrama. 98 mins.

Yet another choice rarity unearthed by Talking Pictures. Burt and Kirk’s first movie together belongs to the very brief period when Lancaster (who is for once permitted to tower over Douglas) played bullet-headed, blue-chinned tough guys (here carrying a huge chip on his shoulder having finally emerged from fourteen years in the slammer), and Douglas slick but shifty desk villains.

I Walk Alone is also historically significant as Byron Haskin’s return to the director’s chair after twenty years as a cameraman and special effects photographer at Warner Brothers; but being a Paramount production Edith Head was on hand to slinkily attire Lizabeth Scott. Richard Chatten.

On Talking Pictures at 10.05 p.m. on Wednesday 3 June.

America as Seen by a Frenchman | l’Amerique Insolite (1960) ***

Dir.: Francois Reichenbach; Documentary with commentary by Jean Cocteau; France 1960, 90 min.

French writer/director/DoP Francois Reichenbach (1921-1993) made his name with a series of musical biopics, amongst them Serge Gainsbourg, Herbert von Karajan, Yehudi Menuhin and Mireille Mathieu. Chris Marker collaborates on this freewheeling travelogue with its delightful preamble by Jean Cocteau  that praises his homeland’s spirit of resistance.

The journey kicks off at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Franciso, where Reichenbach meets participants of the ‘Salt Route’, re-staged in Houston. Ordinary Americans saddle up horses and carts and re-live, for a few days, the experience of the founding fathers. The voice-over expresses how their Native Indians will live forever live in their hearts – a rather dubious statement. But Reichenbach really gets going with the next sequence, a photo shot on a beach in California where a couple of actors get really excited by their activities, “even beyond their remit”. This male perspective never comes to rest.

After a cursory visit to Disneyland (back then a far less technological experience) and a ‘Ghost Town’ in LA where extras from Hollywood pose with visitors, we visit a Rodeo in a prison where the winner will have his sentence reduced by a year – the runner-up will have three weeks ‘holiday’ from jail to spend with his wife. Then starts a nostalgic trip to American childhood, expectant fathers learning to bathe and feed babies in a three week course. When said babies have been born, we discover they have their own TV programmes in hospital. Hula-hop contests and various parades with children and adults, show a strict segregation, but the director turns a blind eye. Further on, boys under thirteen are taught to be impervious to their injuries at Soap-Box Derbies, toughening up the new generation.

But soon we come back to the sexy side of it all, visiting a school for striptease where young women learn the trade. A half-naked young  woman appears in a ad while the off-voice commentator states”this woman has an ordinary husband”. Reichenbach spends an awful long time at the beach where teenagers “discover their sexuality”. After a demolition derby, the feature takes us to New Orleans, where the carnival processions are strictly segregated: Black and White Carnival do not meet. Finally some unruly young men are seen in prison, following by a sequence involving their positive counterparts in a cult-like ‘Holy Rollers’. It all ends up in New York with its massive glass store-fronts, making Reichenbach wonder “if the US is not just a big shop with slogans” and fearing “that Europe might look the same in twenty years.” Clearly he wasn’t wrong!

Nothing prepares for the violence of the Kennedy or Martin Luther King assassinations, or the Vietnam War, which dominated the next decade. But thanks to Reichenbach’s uncritical approach, we start to appreciate the fault lines of a society which would explode not long afterwards. Forget the white-washing commentary, just take it all in with your eyes. Reichenbach offers a cinematic and valuable heads-up for what was to come. AS

ON RELEASE COURTESY OF ARROW | 1 JUNE 2020

To the Stars (2019) **** Streaming

Dir: Martha Stephens | Cast: Kara Hayward, Jordana Spiro, Tina Parker, Shea Whigham | US Drama 101′

Oklahoma is the setting for this retro rites of passage drama that transports us back to Bible Belt country of the 1960s where segregation was still in force, and poverty from the Dust Bowl years not such a distant memory.

In her fourth feature, Stephens soon establishes the film’s East of Eden vibe that blends  with the saccharine cattiness of this female-focused story: Kara Hayward is Iris a repressed and be-spectacled late developer who is taken under the wing of the spunky Liana Liberato (Maggie). The girls’ hopes and dreams are the same, but Liana is more able to express her feelings in God-fearing Wakita where narrow-mindedness contrasts with the wide open spaces, and men and women are at still at odds with each other, unable or unwilling to meet on common ground.

But this flourishing female friendship is the driving force of a drama that soon becomes compelling with its familiar terrain of bitchy schoolgirl hierarchy well sketched out in Shannon Bradley-Colleary’s slightly uneven script that oscillates between poetic and pulpy, Andrew Reed’s faded aesthetic giving the piece a soft-edged nostalgic wholesomeness boosted by Heather McIntosh’s perky score of popular hits.

The 1960s was a time when women where proud to be housewives – as most of the them were – looking after their families, covertly competing for male attention, while pretending to support one another. And this is very much the case for Iris whose mother Francie (Spiro)) is desperate to keep her daughter down, even flirting with her boyfriends. The film opens as the bibulous Francie is finishing off a frothy ballroom dress for Iris, who looks on disdainfully; clearly the two don’t see eye to eye, and we feel for Iris – although her father Hank is much more understanding of his daughter’s timid disposition and urinary incontinence that has made her somewhat of a social pariah.

Iris develops a crush on a local boy Jeff (Lucas Jade Zumann) – a solid choice, as it turns out. Most of the boys jeer at her, but Maggie comes to her defence during another early scene that will see them warm to each other in their teenage trauma. And gradually we discover that Maggie’s shiny family is not all it’s cracked up to be either – the two share secrets and lies that will deepen their friendship as much as challenge it.

Meanwhile, Maggie’s father (Tony Hale) is not the soigné character she’s cracked him up to be, and her mother has a haunted look (Malin Akerman) that suggests the move to Wakita came as a result of skeletons in a previous cupboard. Maggie is an urbane, intelligent girl who rapidly outgrows the strictures of her new surroundings. And this brings out the nascent rebel in Iris as the two are forced to accept this petty female environment that cramps their style. Gradually  inspire each other to survive and thrive against the odds in a hopeful human journey where despair is often just below the surface in small town Oklahoma. MT

ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD FROM 1 JUNE 2020 ON iTUNES, AMAZON, GOOGLE PLAY, SKY, VIRGIN, CHILI

Astronaut (2019) *** Digital release

Dir: Shelagh McLeod | With: Richard Dreyfuss | Canada Drama 97′

Hollywood star Richard Dreyfuss plays a thoughtfully mellow grandfather who proves he is not yet over the hill in this rather slow-moving subdued look at second chances in life.

Astronaut is a decent debut for Vancouver-born writer-director Shelagh McLeod who rose to fame in Dennis Potter’s Prix Italia winning Cream in My Coffee and the popular TV series Peak Practice. Her tender family drama returns to the timely topic of care homes, where not everybody is in God’s waiting room: Far from it, as Dreyfuss shows as Angus Stewart a laid back seventy something widower who still has plenty of life left in him – not to mention acerbic wit –  despite having to live with his drab daughter (Krista Bridges) and her husband (Lyriq Bent). Luckily he shares an interest in all things astronomical with his perky grandson Barney (Richie Lawrence) who encourages him to enter a competition to go to the Moon, his cherished dream. And Dreyfuss surprisingly wins, despite being moved to a retirement home before his luck comes good.

Well that’s the essence of the story, but in between there are insightful forays into the care home scenario, something that was more successfully achieved by Tamara Jenkins in Savages (2007). That said, McCleod sketches out the territory with its motley crew of usual suspects, all enduring their plush but dysfunctional surroundings with good nature.

Meanwhile, the intergalactic competition is the brainchild of technology tycoon Marcus (Colm Feore). Strictly for the 18-65 group (they’re clearly more positive in Canada than Britain about ageing) although Angus doesn’t qualify Barney supports him. And like most people, this grandfather would rather die dangerously than slowly slipping away without dignity. As a retired engineer, Angus makes clear to Marcus his misgivings about the project, the two sparring over the feasibility of all, a strand that gives the film some gravitas.

Astronaut is a little bit glib and a little bit chintzy at times, but it works best as a muted story of   familial cosiness feeling real in homely winter-bound Ontario. And although the script is thi on the ground giving no surprises in store, Astronaut is best described as ‘heart-warming’. MT

NOW ON RELEASE via iTunes | 27 April 2020

Trailer

 

 

Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat (2017)

Dir: Sara Driver | Doc | US | 78′

Sara Driver’s first documentary Boom for Real is a lively loose-limbed look at the high octane force of nature that was Jean-Michel Basquiat – arguably one of America’s most mercurial and influential artists of late 20th century, whose work is now more valuable than ever, a painting selling for USD 81 million in Christie’s New York in May 2021.

Under a pseudonym SAMO (which was originally the duo of Basquiat and Al Diaz) Basquiat was barely out of his teens when he sprang to fame in the Lower East Side art scene by means of sharply sardonic graffiti epigrams that were posted on school walls – US Bansky-style, announcing his critical talent to amuse, for want of a gallery to sponsor him. And it’s through Basquiat’s prodigious teen and twenty-something output that Sara Driver chronicles the early days of hip hop, punk and street art, brought to life with sparky commentary from his friends and collaborators. With its choppy editing style and blitzy soundtrack, Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat  sketches out a life pulsating with vim and vitality that soared like a meteor but would eventually crash and burn in New York’s Neon nightclubs and graffitied backwaters.

Chipping in with wit and repartee there is Jim Jarmusch, Fab 5 Freddy, and Patricia Field who offer intimate access to Basquiat’s electric personality and creative energy and the effect it had on the contemporary art scene. This impressionistic documentary catapults us right into the era, picturing the pivotal sociocultural switch from the 70s to the 80s. Driver invigorates her film with a plethora of paintings, posters, audio recordings, original film and archive footage.

Intriguing and entertaining, Driver’s film captures the free-wheeling, chaotic intensity of a time in history where she was also a protagonist working as a director in her own right, and an actor featuring in Jarmusch’s Permanent Vacation and Stranger Than Paradise. Despite its rather scattergun approach, actually working to its advantage, Boom for Real is chockfull of insight and pithy commentary, conjuring up the sporadic nature of this drug-fuelled creative geyser.

Serving as the perfect companion piece to Celine Danhier’s Blank City (2010) Sara Driver’s doc further fleshes out that Neo-expressionist era, with a highly personalised and first hand testament to a time of gritty uncertainty – danger even – when the New York’s power structures and politics where artistically critiqued by the clever creative genius of this legendary wild child. MT

NOW ON AMAZON PRIME

They Live By Night (1948) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Nicholas Ray | Cast: Farley Granger, Cathy O’Donnell | US, Film Noir 95′

Legendary director Nicholas Ray began his career with this lyrical film noir, the first in a series of existential genre films overflowing with sympathy for America’s outcasts and underdogs. When the wide-eyed fugitive Bowie (Farley Granger), having broken out of prison with some bank robbers, meets the innocent Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell), each recognizes something in the other that no one else ever has.

The young lovers dream of a new, decent life together, but as they flee the cops and contend with Bowie’s fellow crims, who aren’t about to let him go straight, they come to realise there’s nowhere left to hide. Ray brought an outsider’s sensibility honed in the theatre to this debut, using revolutionary camera techniques and naturalistic performances to craft a profoundly romantic crime drama that paved the way for decades of lovers-on-the-run thrillers to come.

Available on Amazon from 20 April 2020

The Horse Soldiers (1959) *** Blu-ray

Dir: John Ford | US, Western

John Ford is renowned for his US cavalry pictures but not for his American Civil War films. On this issue he only made one feature (The Horse Soldiers) a film segment (The Civil War 1861-65 for How The West Was Won) and a TV episode of Wagon Train (The Colter Craven Story.) Arguably the most visceral, though historically limited, of those three is the tragic How the West Was Won episode.

Ford was vocally passionate and highly knowledgeable about the Civil War. He’d always wanted to adapt a biography of Ulysses C. Grant but it never materialised. So we are left with his sole feature, The Horse Solders – containing an opening scene that briefly includes an appearance by Grant. To this day, The Horse Soldiers is unloved by most critics: Ford’s chief biographer Joseph McBride calls it “mediocre”, critic Scott Eyman considers it “a dud” and in Peter Bogdanovitch’s interview book, Ford himself admits, “I don’t think I ever saw it.”

Over the years my reaction has ranged from good but meandering, then better than I’d recalled, to a flawed and underrated film containing deeply felt moments. The passage of time has proved kinder for this production. Although for me it will never be as compelling as other late Ford (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Seven Women) The Horse Soldiers has considerable pleasures. It’s not the big Civil War picture Ford should have made but a considerable and accomplished gem.

In April 1863 the U.S. cavalry lead by Colonel John Marlow (John Wayne) goes on a 600 mile raid through Mississippi into Louisiana to cut railway lines and attack Confederate troops from Grant’s drive towards Vicksburg. Accompanying him is army doctor, Major Henry Kendall (William Holden) who has to put up with Marlowe’s animosity – he’s distrustful of doctors since his wife died, wrongly diagnosed with a tumour, at their hands. En route they encounter the Southern plantation mistress, Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers). She and her slave Lukey (Althea Gibson) eavesdrop on the officers’ plans to thwart the Confederates and to protect the secrecy of their mission they are taken with them.

No director filmed long lines of men on horseback better than John Ford – place riders on a hill at sunset, singing a ballad or military song, and Ford’s poetry never fails to captivate. His eye for composition was immaculate. There are numerous examples of this in Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. It was never macho posturing but an affirmation of folkloric and communal values. Ford’s group formations have a painterly depth. The Horse Soldiers has some of the best photographed patterning of men and equestrian power in all of his work. Ford’s viewpoint is the long shot, or medium long shot that impacts so well with his careful framing.  And William H. Clothier’s photography gives the troops and scenery a lovely autumnal charge. So much so that there are times when you could almost forget the story and characters of The Horse Soldiers and simply delight in a lyrical mise en scene of cavalry expertise.

But the problem with The Horse Soldiers is its undeveloped screenplay. Too much time is spent on the argumentative feuding between John Wayne and William Holden. This is lively and engaging but overdone, causing the film to often be a series of war episodes intercut between the their incessant personal scrap.  Yet if you relax into the rhythm of The Horse Soldiers – which is detached, but not disengaged, then you’ll also discover a sensitive questioning of military and civilian values, the tension of the actual military raid and how war represses feelings of love, shame and regret.

There’s a fine scene where Marlow, in a captured saloon, is talking to Miss Hunter about his wife’s death. It’s so beautifully acted by Wayne – his hurt looking eyes conveying a bitterness and anguish that’s reminiscent of Wayne’s great performance as Ethan Edwards in The Searchers. The attack on the Confederate troops, coming in on a train, contains a haunting shot of an apprehensive officer that echoes the barber scene in My Darling Clementine. And the soldiers’ response to the shocking killing of Lukey has a tenderness exhibiting Ford’s compassionate sense of community. Finally perhaps, and most striking of all, is the bizarre skirmish with the boy cadets from a local military school.

Civil War to one side The Horse soldiers, as a cavalry picture, is never as expressive as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon or as complex as Fort Apache yet it avoids the musical bombast of Rio Grande. It’s a quieter, restrained, but equally angry and concerned film of personal and military conflicts. We may mourn the fact that Ford never gave us a Ulysses C. Grant bio-pic (though with Grant’s early reputation for heavy drinking that could have been over the top) but we do have Ford’s subdued The Horse Soldiers still riding along, slowly growing in stature. ALAN PRICE    

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY

Desert Fury (1947) ***

Director: Lewis Allen. Scr: Robert Rossen. Cast: John Hodiak, Lizabeth Scott, Burt Lancaster, Mary Astor, Wendell Corey. USA 1947, 96 min.

This lush but still obscure Technicolor film noir with an atmospheric Miklos Rozsa score is set (like The Misfits) in Nevada; originally based on a story called ‘Bitter Harvest’ serialised in ‘Collier’s’ magazine in 1945 by Ramona Stewart (whose only other novel to be filmed was ‘The Possession of Joel Delaney’ in 1971).

Described by Eddie Muller as “the gayest movie ever produced in Hollywood’s golden era”, the whole thing makes sense as a menage a trois drama with Lizabeth Scott (dressed to kill by Edith Head and driving a fabulous wood-panelled convertible) coming between gangsters John Hodiak and a debuting Wendell Corey in the face of additional opposition from Scott’s mother, Mary Astor, and local sheriff, Burt Lancaster, (in his early days as a tough guy). Definitely one of a kind! R Chatten

‘Desert Fury’ is now on bluray.

First Cow (2020)

Dir: Kelly Reichardt | Writers Jon Raymond, Kelly Reichardt | Cast: John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner, Scott Shepherd, Gary Farmer, Lily Gladstone, Alia Shawkat, Rene Auberjonois, Jared Kasowski | Drama US 121′

“The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.” William Blake

Kelly Reichardt’s eighth film takes us back to the old West in a timeless and fabulously crafted story of two men finding friendship as they wander the sylvan landscapes of the 19th century Oregon Trail trying to survive off the land.

This lyrical and richly textured film lulls us with a hypnotic narrative that slowly catches fire in the final stretch. The mutually compatible souls come together from different corners of the earth. Bonded by their hopes and dreams they develop a miniaturist cottage industry: the Chinamen King Lu (Orion Lee) has the business acumen, the diffident American is Boston baker “Cookie” (aka Otis Figowitz, a sensitive John Magaro) and what emerges is a painterly rendering of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: first there is hunger but gradually sophistication and greed come into play, as the smouldering story unfolds.

It all starts with the arrival of the first cow in the region, an amiable dairy heifer seen drifting gracefully along the river in a boat from San Luis Obispo. Once firmly on dry land she is encouraged by Cookie to provide the vital ingredient for his buttermilk buns. And these provide for the men’s needs in the short term. Lu suggests they sell them at the nearby market, and soon they have regular customers for their fare. Lu points out their “window” will not last for long. But before competitors catch on to their bakery bandwagon, something tragic happens.

And this comes with the arrival of the cow’s owner, Toby Jones’ Chief Factor, a wealthy English sea merchant who lives in a supposedly grand clapperboard house, with his Native American wife (Lily Gladstone). His observations on how to incentivise workers, and his sophisticated social commentary on London fashions spike this gentle story with a vein of subversive humour. We learn the buns have a subtle taste of “South Kensington” and that the ‘Empire Line’ is no longer in vogue, but canary yellow is the now the colour ‘du jour’ for ladies couture. Also that his humble cow is actually descended from the highly prized ‘Froment de Leon’ breed, crossed with Isigny in Brittany, ensuring exceptionally rich grass for grazing, hence the quality of its milk and cream. So when Factor visits the market to sample the famous buttermilk buns and orders a ‘blueberry clafoutis’, the penny starts to drop, but not into the baker’s hands.

Reichardt’s regular cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt creates painterly images that glow like Rembrandt Old Masters, enhanced by the use of the silent era’s 4:3 aspect ratio. The animal connection here is tender rather than sentimental, once again showcasing Reichardt’s relationship with animals: her well known dog Lucy has been cast in her films – notably Wendy and Lucy (2008), and Old Joy (2006) which share Reichardt’s regular writing partner, who also wrote the book on which this arthouse treasure is based: The Half Life. MT

ON RELEASE IN THE UK & IRELAND and on MUBI | 28 MAY 2021 | BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 PREMIERE

 

 

 

The Old Dark House (1932)

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

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

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

 

 

When Lambs become Lions (2018) | ****

Dir: Jon Kasbe | Doc | US

When you fight to survive in the vast arid plains of East Africa life is tough. In his deeply affecting feature debut, award-winning filmmaker Jon Kasbe (Heartbeats Of Fiji) explores whether human life in Northern Kenya is more valuable than that of endangered species. The subject of poaching is certainly an emotive issue that strongly divides the nation’s inhabitants, many of whom are deeply opposed to the illegal practice on moral grounds. But the lucrative trade goes on.

This is the latest in a series of conservation-themed features that started with Blackfish, The Cove and last year’s Trophy. Stunningly captured on the widescreen and in intimate close-up the film contrasts Kenya’s natural beauty with the less palatable aspects of animal slaughter, that takes place not for food but for trophy hunting. And the animals do not die a quick death but a long, drawn out and painful one due to being inexpertly shot or poisoned with venomous arrows. The film’s atmospheric score adds gravitas to the melancholic episodes where Asan silently contemplates his doubtful future. And these sequences contrast with the high-octane nighttime forays into the bush to locate victims and escape the rangers’ onslaught.

Kasbe’s non-judgemental thriller unspools with a growing dramatic tension as it moves stealthily between the lives of two men: an unlikeable ivory trader (X), and his ranger nemesis Asan, who is also his cousin. The glassy-eyed macho X boasts of making a successful black market business selling ivory. As he swaggers around chain-smoking defiantly and invoking ‘Allah’, he claims not to do the killing himself. Hot on his tracks is Asan and his fellow government employed rangers who are heavily armed with rifles and threaten the poachers with their zero tolerance approach. But rangers have little to gain financially from their work, although many feel sadness for the elephants’ plight. Heavily armed with automatic rifles they also have an axe to grind against the government claiming they have not been paid two months’ wages due to an administrative error. Meanwhile, the poachers make a lucrative living. X’s sidekick Lukas posits the powerful adage “if we do not hunt we will be hunted”. The pressure to earn a pittance is also putting a strain on Asan’s marriage and growing family, and he fears he may have to go back to the petty crime of his youth. 

Although poaching is a blot on the landscape, so is the plight of the people who inhabit this impoverished region. President Uhuru Kenyatta confiscates and burns all illegal ivory stashes claiming – on a television programme – that “ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants”. Meanwhile X and Lukas watch silently desperately wishing they could lay their hands on the truckloads of bounty destined to be destroyed by the government’s crackdown. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Judgement at Nuremberg (1961) *** Blu-ray release

Dir.: Stanley Kramer; Cast: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell, Marlene Dietrich, Werner Klemperer; USA 1961, 179 min.

Director Stanley Kramer (1913-2001) was always ready to bring controversial stories to the screen, Guess Who is Coming to Dinner being one of them. When he directed Aby Mann’s adaption of his own story in 1961, Judgement at Nuremberg was very much a slap in the face for Cold War warriors, who had forgiven (West) Germans the Holocaust, just to have old Nazis to fight against Bolshevism. 

Four years after the original Nuremberg trials, Chief Justice Dan Harwood (Tracy) is presiding over the trial of four German judges who had sentenced the defendants to death following the orders of Nazi laws. Dr. Ernst Janning (Lancaster), who heads up the defendants, had sentenced a Jewish man to death for committing “Rassenschande” (Blood defilement) by sleeping with a ‘gentile’ German girl of sixteen. Despite being aware of his guilt, Janning asks Harwood to reason with him: poverty in Germany had been one of the main factors in Hitler’s rise to power and he was one of the many to embrace Nazism. But he denies knowledge of the death camps.

Colonel Tad Lawson (Widmark) is the combative military prosecutor. The same can be said for defence lawyer Hans Rolfe (Schell), who questions the US Judges authority. Defendant Emil Hahn (Klemperer) goes even further: he harangues Harwood: “Today you sentence us to death, tomorrow the Bolsheviks will do the same to you”. Trying to empathise with the German, Harwood befriends Frau Bertholt (Dietrich), the widow of a German general killed by the Nazis for his part in the uprising against Hitler on 20th July 1944. Harwood later visits Janning in prison, after the four defendants have been give ‘life’. Closing credits reveal that at the time of the film’s release all 99 defendants of the original Nuremberg trials, who were imprisoned in the American Zone of West Germany, had been set free.

Apart from the overindulgent length (and verbosity), Kramer succeeds again with this strong moral tale, raising the profile of war crimes that should never be forgotten, even when political alignments change. DoP Ernest Laszlo (Kiss me Deadly) re-creates the harrowing visual landscape of post-war Germany, zooming in on the court scenes to reflect the angst ridden trial. Maximilian Schell won the Oscar for Best Actor, with Montgomery Clift leading a starry cast that included Judy Garland. Judgement at Nuremberg does its best to avoid sentimentality and melodrama in a moving testament to a monumental human tragedy. AS

NOW ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF THE BFI 

https://youtu.be/Gz2USfzaCUE

Richard Jewell (2019) ***

Dir: Clint Eastwood | Wri: Marie Brenner | Cast: Sam Rockwell, Paul Walter Hauser, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm, Kathy Bates | US Drama 131′

Richard Jewell was an Atlanta security guard falsely accused of planting a bomb in Centennial Olympic Park during the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Clint Eastwood directs his latest ‘underdog’ story with sleek and workmanlike economy. Visually Richard Jewell is bland, but narratively straightforward, although some critics (who tend on the whole to be left-wing) may argue that Eastwood overlays the feature with his famous right-wing gaze.

Paul Walter Hauser plays Jewell, a pleasantly portly figure who we first meet working as a janitor in a law firm, plying his lawyer boss (Sam Rockwell) with Snicker bars. Keen to get back into law enforcement with the police he is clearly doing his best to make a good impression and soon lands a job in security at the Centennial Olympic Park. A jovial and modest character he takes his job seriously and immediately calls a bomb expert when spotting a backpack under a park bench – although his colleagues accusing him of ‘crying wolf’. The bomb goes off as Jewell, the police and the FBI are clearing the area where Kenny Rogers has been entertaining a large crowd of merrymakers. Several people lose their lives and Jewell is named the hero of the day. But the tables are turned when the FBI decide to finger him as the lone-wolf bomber, taking him in for questioning. A nightmarish saga develops as Jewell and his homely mother – Kathy Bates plays a convincing Mrs Jewell who spends her time popping cakes in the oven to feed his paunch.

Eastwood does make us question Jewell’s innocence at first, but by the end of the investigation, Jewell seethes with a quietly affecting conviction as the former roly poly policeman whose life is put on hold and traumatised by the gross intrusion. The losers are the FBI, and of course the media. Kathy Scruggs, the brash journalist at the centre of the furore is also slated – but Wilde makes her glib and unlikeable, so no love lost there. But it’s due to her diligence – or over-zealousness – that Jewell suddenly becomes the villain of the piece, his status as a prime suspect is leaked to the press, Scruggs nabbing the story. After coming under intense scrutiny by the FBI, he is then defended by his former boss Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), who was impressed by his Snicker habit, probity and upbeat disposition when they worked together. Jewell eventually gets off scot free due to a total lack of evidence.

Eastwood makes some salient points in this enjoyable moral tale that shows how democracy can work to the advantage of ordinary citizens, protecting them from the Police – as long as they can afford a good lawyer. Eastward also enforces his usual points about common decency and neighbourliness. Once an accuser becomes the accused – and this applies to false claims of all kinds: rape, robbery, stalking – society has clearly lost its way. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 31 JANUARY 2020

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Crime Wave (1953) ****

Dir: Andre de Toth | Writer: Crane Wilbur | Cast: Gene Nelson, Sterling Hayden, Phyllis Kirk, Ted de Corsia, Charles Bronson, Niedrick Young, James Bell | US Noir Thriller 73′

The Cinema Museum’s Kennington Noir thread hits the new year running with this bleak crime drama shot on location in the streets and police stations of L.A. in just 13 days by veteran Hollywood cameraman Bert Glennon.

Crime Wave probably influenced the young Stanley Kubrick, with three of the film’s cast going on to feature a couple of years later in his classic heist thriller The Killing (which is the next film in the season on 19 February; director Andre de Toth’s only other noir – Ramrod – will be shown on 15 April).

But there was a dark side to the story in real life as well as in the film noir itself: both writer Bernard Gordon and Nedrick Young (who plays the ill-fated Gat Morgan) were later blacklisted. But Young would be back – he is credited with co-writing the screenplay for Jailhouse Rock in 1957, which starred Elvis Presley, and went on to win the Oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay for The Defiant Ones (1958). R Chatten.

KENNINGTON NOIR SEASON | THE CINEMA MUSEUM | LONDON SE11

 

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache (2018) Prime

Dir: Pamela B. Green | Writers: Pamela B. Green, Joan Simon| with Jodie Foster, Evan Rachel Wood, Ava Duvernay, Julie Delpy, Agnes Varda, Ben Kingsley, Michel Hazanavicius, Catherine Hardwicke, Julie Taymor, Gale Anne Hurd, Andy Sandberg, John Bailey, Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Marjane Satrapi, Anne Fontaine, Peter Farrelly, Jonathan Glickman, Mark Romanek, Kevin Brownlow, Kevin Macdonald, Geena Davis, Pierre William Glenn, Jan-Christopher Horak, Glenn Myrent, Serge Bromberg, Howard Cohen, Valerie Steele, Jean-Michel Frodon, Diablo Cody, Patty Jenkins, Janeane Garofalo, Jon M. Chu, Mark Stetson, Anastasia Masaro, Dino Everett, Stephanie Allain, Claire Clouzot, Anthony Slide, Cecile Starr | US Doc 103′

Pamela B. Green’s fast-moving and fascinating first film chronicles the life of one of cinema’s early pioneers and female filmmakers, Alice Guy-Blaché

Green started her own career as a title sequence director and that very much comes to the fore in this well-crafted and informative documentary that uses a wide variety of visual effects to enliven a collection of old photographs and drawings, including Guy-Blaché’s own film archives (The Cabbage Fairy (1896) is a particular delight), and even interview footage taken just before she died in her early 90s. There are a few too many random talking heads making this often feel bitty. Some don’t have anything to say beyond admitting they had never heard of the French director, but it could well have been condition of funding that each contributor had their ‘say’.

Guy-Blaché (1873-1968) was born in Paris and would go on to make over a 1,000 films, including silents and those with sound (which she pre-recorded), although many of these were attributed to men. Clearly luck played a big part in her success: women in the late 19th century were – on the whole – housewives and mothers. But Guy-Blaché had dogged perseverance along with her talent, working as a secretary for inventor Leon Gaumont – considered a plum job at the time – she was there when the Lumiere Brothers first set their apparatus running on everyday life in their local town of Lyon.

Narrated by Jodie Foster, the film (funded through Kickstarter) charts the early days of cinema from Paris to New Jersey and California before going back to Europe, tracing an art form where women seem to be very involved, much more so than nowadays, possibly because commercialisation hadn’t quite taken hold of the cottage industry: films were still considered the domain of the female chattering classes and kids. Something to keep women amused while men were doing more important things.

But the film’s co-writer Joan Simon and curators and historians such as Kevin Brownlow and Claire Clouzot offer the most salient contribution to the film, outlining the cultural significance of Gay-Blaché’s contribution, including the invention of synchronised sound. Above all, she was a highly inventive pioneer who just happened to be a woman, and whose talent and perseverance is celebrated in this valuable feature debut. MT

NOW ON AMAZON PRIME

Mickey and the Bear (2019) *** Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir/Wri: Annabelle Attanasio Cast: Camila Morrone, James Badge Dale, Calvin Demba, Ben Rosenfield, Rebecca Henderson, Donna Davis, Ralph Villa | US Drama

Camila Morrone is impressive as a conflicted girl forced kicking and screaming into womanhood in this tender and richly textured first feature from actor turned director Annabelle Attanasio

Father and daughter relationships can be challenging especially when the dad has a checkered past of drug abuse and drinking. Mickey is an 18 year old in a fraught relationship with her father Hank an Iraqi war veteran who is still on the bottle, Mickey keeping him on the straight and narrow and dealing with his occasional lapses. The two live in a trailer big country Montana where Mickey works part-time in a taxidermists and widowed Hank is now retired and mooches around in a semi-permanent fog, sometimes confusing Mickey with his late wife.

Attanasio’s nuanced characters have unpredictable edges and make this drama the success that it is. Father and daughter have a joint bereavement that binds them together and somehow they rub along although sparks occasionally fly. And Hank has a habit of hiding from reality.

Mickey’s boyfriend, Aron (Ben Rosenfield), is the weak link character-wise. A controlling whinger hooked on his ability to win Mickey back whenever she tries to leave him, while. she’s applied to college in San Diego in a bid to make something of the future, Aron only sees them settling down with kids. But then she meets aspiring musician Wyatt and suddenly Mickey’s head is filled with new ideas in a story that doesn’t go where you think it might. And Mickey soon finds herself struggling with two unstable males and a disastrous bear-hunting episode, not to mention an anaconda. DP Conor Murphy captures the lyrical journey with some imaginative camerawork and Brian McOmber and Angel Deradoorian’s soundscape echoing the highs and lows of the characters’ emotional journey along with a well-chosen musical selection, and some quiet moments too. MT

MARRAKECH FILM FESTIVAL 2019

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Motherless Brooklyn (2019) ****

Dir.: Edward Norton; Cast: Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alex Baldwin, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Mann Bobby Cannavale, Robert Wisdom, Ethan Suplee, Dallas Roberts Josh Pais; USA 2019, 144′.

US audiences and critics have been rather harsh with Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn. Many expected more, and now feel short-changed because Motherless is not Chinatown. Sure, Norton has not created a classic – but something special. As for the length, like Scorsese’s Irishman, Motherless has the feel of a TV mini-series.

Norton acquired the rights to Jonathan Letham’s novel of the same name in 1999, when it was published. It took him nearly twenty years to be its writer, director and star. He changed the timeframe – contemporary in the case of the novel – to the 1950s, but kept the main theme, gentrification and the hero, PI Lionel Essrog, who suffers from Tourette syndrome, when nobody had a name for it.

Frank Minna (Willis) runs a detective agency in NY with four younger men he has rescued from the orphanage: Lionel (Norton); Tony (Vermonte); Danny (Roberts) and Gilbert (Suplee). Frank never calls Lionel by his name, he is the titular Motherless Brooklyn. Frank is on a dangerous mission, and Gilbert and Danny listen to the phone, because Frank is taping the conversation. Tony and Lionel are in hot pursuit of Frank, but can only witness when he is shot and  dies later in hospital. For Lionel revenge is a matter of honour, and he finds the first clues when he meets the black anti-gentrification lawyer Laura Rose (Mbatha-Raw). She introduces him to his father Billy (Wisdom), who runs a Jazz-club. Billy mistakes Lionel, who poses as a newspaper journalist, for one of the henchman of developer Moses Randolph (Baldwin), and has him beaten up. When he finds out the truth he agrees to meet Lionel to tell more. But he is murdered, his death staged as a suicide. Lionel saves Laura’s life and meets Randolph’s brother Paul (Dafoe), an architect. Laura tells Lionel that Paul is her real father – but when Lionel discovers Frank had tried to blackmail City Commissioner William Lieberman (Pais), because the latter wanted more money for his services from Moses Randolph, all assumptions he had made prove to be false.

Lionel is not the only motherless person: Laura grieves about the loss of her own parent, and like in all noir films, the oedipal motive is also centre stage: in this case Tony sleeping with Frank’s wife Julia (Mann). Lionel is a throw-back to Elliot Gould’s Marlowe in The Long Goodbye, also sharing an apartment with his cat. Baldwin’s Moses Randolp is very much modelled on the real life NY developer Robert Moses (1888-1981), who tore down many neighbourhoods and eschewed public transport in favour of motorways. He also was the force behind the move of the Brooklyn Dodgers to California, robbing the borough of much of its identity. But since he was also the creator of around 245 parks in the city, many people admired him. Perhaps not the population of Harlem, because of the 245 parks, just one was built in their borough. But Baldwin is also Trump: his racist attitudes, phrases like “winning is all what is about” and “America’s greatness”, together with his posture, the childishly folded arms and a pouty posture. 

British DoP Dick Pope (Mr. Turner) and PD Beth Mickie (Drive) take the lion’s share of the success: the brownstone buildings have never looked more real, and the car chase images are not the only highlights: Pope includes all the yesterdays, even a Gothic=looking Penn Station. Norton is part of a brilliant ensemble and he can be proud of his attempt to fuse past and present together with personal stories. No Chinatown – but a bloody relevant and entertaining feature. AS

ON RELEASE from 6 December 2019

The Biggest Little Farm (2019) ****

Dir/Wri John Chester, Mark Monroe | Cinematographer: John Chester | US Doc 91’

Thinking a making a success of sustainable farming? – it’ll take around a decade. These could be the best years of your life – and you could make you thousands of pounds worth of produce. Indie filmmaker John Chester and his wife Molly managed to do it. But creating an environmentally friendly farm – one that is harmonious with nature – is no walk in the park. 

Often playing out like an eco thriller – the big bad wolves killing the chickens, amongst other murders – this is an entertaining and informative film revealing home truths and discoveries about nature, sustainability, ecosystems and extreme animal behaviour that will shock and surprise you, as it did them. 

The intention to farm harmoniously with nature all started out as an accident when the couple were forced to move house due to their noisy Collie dog Todd. Molly was a health conscious An hour north of LA they found a patch of 200 acres. But the soil was as dead as the dodo – impacted and dry as a bone. Dead bee hives the result of poor eco management. This was a wilderness that needed to be brought back to life. Then Alan York an Amish style farmer cane along. Emulate how natural ecosystems work. Relying of a finite source of water from a well.  The soil needed regeneration, hydration and fertilisation. The plan was to break up the earth and create a heal-basis for growth. And s harmonious environment with cover in the form of trees.

To help them in their endeavour Molly and Alan invited volunteers from all over the world to get the endeavour under way with worms, irrigation, composting and then replanting. Then cane the animals. Ducks, chickens, sheep, and cows. and two livestock guarding dogs. The animals poop will bring the soil back to work. Biodiversity was almost there. They needed animals to make their soil even better.  A pig completed the picture. That arrived as Ugly Better renames Emma who gave birth to 15 piglets. And a ‘fruit basket’ with  75 different varieties of stone fruit came next – all sold at the local market

But the gophers and cayotes arrive and do catastrophic damage, killing over 29 chickens. they have to electrify the fence. And so begins a delicate dance of coexistence. But pests and diseases are continue disrupting this paradise. Along with the weather: fires and strong winds  And then comes the drought. “Observation followed by creativity is becoming our greatest ally” says John at one point.

The sting in the tail comes in the eventful third act. And in the form of illness, for both man and beast. And once again it’s about harmony and balance,  and Mr Greasy, a rejected old rooster  with a dapper red comb who comes to rule the roost. John also realises, to his chagrin, that violence becomes a necessary evil that he hoped he wouldn’t have to resort to. To control the enemy is to kill it. Gradually a delicate ecosystem comes together as John and Molly welcome a child of their own into the world. “The dance may be familiar but the partners are always changing”.

Enriched with hand-drawn animated sequences and a lively, if sometimes overbearing, score. wildlife cameraman John reveals the wonder of nature in a stunningly captured visuals and time-lapse photography. The Biggest Little Farm is an extraordinary journey, it’s battles and joys mirroring life as a whole.

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE 29 November  2019

 

Eyes Wide Shut (1999) *** Re-release

Dir: Stanley Kubrick | Wri: Frederic Raphael, Stanley Kubrick | Cast: Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise, Sydney Pollack, Todd Field | US Thriller 159′

Stanley Kubrick’s last film is ironically his biggest disappointment. Eyes Wide Shut  looks very alluring and the starry cast is impressive, but the story just doesn’t lead you where you hope it will: it doesn’t lead you anywhere for that matter – unless of course you’re want to be transported to a surreal dreamworld of ludicrous nightmares where the doom-laden sensuality is more important than the message it actually delivers. The  last act of this Gothic Manhattan thriller is completely out of context with what has gone before.

Ironically, this fantasty thriller is built around two cypher-like central characters who are merely there to serve the premise that marriage s first and foremost a flimsy affair built on fidelity. And any transgression from either side leads to the relationship imploding rather than being strengthened by its changed dynamic. If you lop a branch of a tree, it usually doesn’t die, it just grows in a different direction, and can even flourish from a little light pruning – and this what could have happened if we buy into the story that Kubrick tells, based on Arthur Schnitzler’s original Viennese novel Traumnovelle (he also wrote La Ronde).

We first meet Dr Bill Harford (Cruise) and his glib wife Alice (a sizzling Nicole Kidman)  dressing seductively for a cocktail party given by an illustrious patient of the good doctor, Victor Zegler (Pollack). They are very sure of themselves and their marriage to each other as parents of a 7 year old daughter. Being 1990s America, marital infidelity is still treated very seriously and the scantily clad couple spend a few minutes smoking a joint and fondling one another in bed, while projecting their sexual fantasies onto each other: Alice is very outspoken in her belief that woman are just as sexually promiscuous as men, given the opportunity. And what she says is convincing: that once a person has set eyes the object of their desire, they will do absolutely anything to consummate that urge, even if it involves cheating on their existing partner, who ironically attains a status of enhanced endearment and affection in their hearts – while their brain is almost locked in an atavistic need to mate. whatever the cost.

Thus Kubrick sets the stage for all kinds of possibilities to play out in the rest of the film having set the seed of doubt in the doctor’s mind, but not in that of his wife, who clearly trusts him and appears gung-ho at the cocktail party, flirting outrageously with her dance partner (Sky du Mont) while Bill shoots the breeze with a couple of floozies. In fact, Kidman plays Alice in same cocky and mannered way reminding us of very much of Nicholson’s Jack Torrance in The Shining. 

Eyes Wide Shut certainly showcases Kubrick’s mastery as a filmmaker. His daughter Anya said it was his favourite film and it positively glows with the rich and sensuous warmth of New York in the holiday season, both in the shimmering streets and the vibrant interiors. But a weird nagging doubt hangs over proceedings. And this doubt eats into the Doctor, unleashing all kinds ideas about his wife Alice who he imagines being seduced by the man in her fantasy projection. Dr Bill even succumbs to the charms of a passing prostitute but is saved from actually going through with the idea when a call from Alice stops him in his tracks..And as the evening develops an almost pervy desire creeps over Dr Bill when he meets an old school friend who talks about a late-night gig in an upmarket porno club. Fuelled by Alice’s revelations he is seized by the desire to join his friend in sampling this evening of erotica.

The Shining (1980) *****

Dir: Stanley Kubrick | Cinematography: John Alcott: Script: Stanley Kubrick/Diane Johnson | Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd | 144′  | Thriller US

Cold, hypnotic and profoundly disturbing, this tale of a family who come to grief during the isolation of one Colorado winter is burnt into the memory and will remain a standout film of the 20th century.

Based on Stephen King’s bestselling novel, some see Kubrick’s tale of a family man who takes a job as winter caretaker in the Overlook Hotel as a psychological drama, some a ghost story.   The film’s enduring success is partly due to its ability to be whatever to whoever experiences it. The endless fascination with the film and its different interpretations for cinemas goers and critics alike has even spawned a documentary: Room 237: a mishmash of strands examining esoteric codes and arcane theories behind the screen original, with appeal largely to the anorak brigade.

Stanley Kubrick seeded his 14th feature with so many elements that build tension and spark off an unsettling reaction in the viewer before the action has even started.  In other words, we’re actually ‘spooked out’ in anticipation. The desolate forests of snowbound Colorado in the awesome opening helicopter sequence; the weird emptiness of the brightly-lit hotel interiors; Danny’s unnerving psychic gift and his visit with a child psychologist (a new scene); a spine-chilling score; the talk of a previous tragedy in the hotel and the fact that the family are an unknown quantity add to its strange power,

Kubrick’s exacting standards often meant 50 takes to get the scene right and get the cast to give their all. Jack Nicholson was even said to remark: “Just because you’re a perfectionist, it doesn’t mean you’re perfect”. That said, he gives one of the most memorable turns of his career as Jack Torrance, a frustrated wannabe writer with anger-management issues whose metamorphosis from decent guy to demon has its amusing moments as in the scene with bartender Joe Turkel (extended here).  Shelley Duvall, is perfect as a simpering homemaker and mother who was forced to remain ‘hysterical’ for nearly four months to comply with Kubrick’s demands on her.  Danny Lloyd is extraordinary as a sensitive 7 year-old boy with psychic potential who has an imaginary friend Tony who speaks to him of impending tragedy.

Veteran actor Scatman Crothers had never heard of Kubrick until he was cast as Halloran, the kindly hotel chef who shares Danny’s extrasensory perception and calls it “shining”.  Barry Nelson gives a suave and polished turn as Ullman, the hotel manager; and Philip Stone, who plays Grady the former caretaker and is the only character to dominate Jack Torrance (in a status switch in the mens’ room scene), is supremely in control of his chilling performance.  Scored with a dissonant soundtrack using existing recordings by Bela Bartok, Gorgy Ligeti and Polish modernist Krzysztof Penderecki that presage doom from the title sequence until the credits roll, Kubrick creates a malevolent dystopia that will shine out for eternity as a signpost to horror. MT.

THE SHINING is now on re-release in selected arthouse venues

 

After the Wedding (2019) ****

Dir: Bart Freundlich | Wir: Susanne Bier/Anders Thomas Jensen | Cast: Julianne Moore, Michelle Williams, Billy Crudup, Abby Quinn | US Drama 110′

One of two films out this season starring Julianne Moore. Both are remakes, but this orphanage-themed story is the one to go for.

Danish director Susanne Bier made the original ‘dogma styled’ version and was nominated for an Oscar back in 2006. The US version has two powerful female leads, and Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams make for a terrific duo as a successful business woman and a free-thinking philanthropist, respectively.

Earth mother Isobel (Williams) runs an orphanage in Kolkata, but the magnificent opening sequence has the drones sweeping in over the exotic landscape quickly establishing this as a glossy drama all about fraught relationships, love, and forgiveness rather than a grim slice of social realism. True there are some cheesy elements at the start of the film: we don’t particularly warm to Moore at first, as she sashays round her ample New York residence, nodding to domestic staff while she talks on her ‘phone. But her character soon proves to have a hidden agenda behind its rather glacial facade. She’s a wife, a mother of three and an accomplished entrepreneur married to Billy Crudup’s rather puppyish sculptor, Oscar.

Freundlich has clearly crafted Theresa with Moore in mind. She is businesslike, a loving mother to her kids and affectionate with her husband – a woman who seems to have it all – but we will later discover that she doesn’t. Her daughter (Abby Quinn) is about to get married, but she seems rather unsure of intended. But Theresa gives her plenty of cheesy assurances and she is busy organising her ridiculously lavish wedding and shooting orders at everyone in sight. At first we dislike this rather glib family.

And Isobel (Williams) isn’t much better. Although she clearly loves the beautifully polite kids in her orphanage, and particularly eight-year-old Jai (Vir Pachisia), there’s a steely dissatisfaction behind her doting gestures. And we soon discover why when she turns up in New York to take delivery of the “suitcase full of money” offered to her orphanage by a benefactor who demands a face to face meeting.

This donor turns out to be none other that Theresa. There’s a motif running through the drama that points to her sympathy for felled trees and wounded birds. But she’s also a draconian boss, and there’s a wonderful kick-ass scene involving her assistant, that you’d never get away with in Britain.

The New York scenes are typically over the top with lavish hotel suites, brands everywhere and riches beyond the dreams of avarice in Theresa’s waterfront estate. The first reveal in this strangely absorbing drama occurs when Oscar clocks Isobel at the wedding (she’s been press-ganged into attending by Theresa).

Bizarre the next reveal may be, but it certainly packs a punch. And the characters are sent reeling in disbelief and horror. At this point, Theresa decides to widen the remit of her donation, naturally with poisoned chalice conditions. Isabel may practice yoga and have a habit of kicking her shoes off without a by your leave, but she’s certainly no fool and remains skeptical of her Theresa’s motives. And with good reason. Another dramatic twist leads to the rationale behind Theresa’s erratic behaviour.

These two woman are tough as nails behind their faux sympathy. They display the spiky machiavellian capabilities of the deadlier sex. And it’s a joy to watch them in full flow in this engrossing melodrama that almost puts the BBC’s Dr Foster in the shade. Bier’s original had two male protagonists but these women are much more convincing and never fail to surprise us with their sneakiness. Although a beginner, Quinn is the only one who really displays  heartfelt feelings, but the other characters offer plenty to chew on in this meaty melodrama. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 1 NOVEMBER 2019

Five Films by Samuel Fuller | Bluray release

A towering figure of American cinema, Samuel Fuller was a master of the B-movie, a pulp maestro whose iconoclastic vision elevated the American genre film to new heights. After the major success of The Steel Helmet, Fuller was put under contract by Twentieth Century Fox after being impressed by Darryl F. Zanuck’s direct sales pitch (other studios offered Fuller money and tax shelters; Zanuck simply told him, “We make better movies.”).

Over a six-year period, Fuller would produce some of the best work of his career, (and therefore, some of the best films in American cinema), an uncompromising series of masterpieces spanning multiple genres (the Western, the War film, film noir, the Crime-Thriller) that would establish the director as a true auteur, whose influence continues to be felt today.

Five of the films from this fruitful period, are now presented on blu-ray from stunning restorations. The impossibly tense Korean-War drama Fixed Bayonets! (1951); the outrageous and confrontational spy-thriller Pickup on South Street (1953); the Cold War submarine-actioner Hell and High Water (1954); the lushly photographed, cold-as-ice film noir House of Bamboo (1955/main picture); and the audacious Western with a feminist twist, Forty Guns (1957). Also included is Samantha Fuller’s 2013 documentary, A Fuller Life, featuring friends and admirers of the great director reading extracts from his memoirs.

ON BLURAY | 28 OCTOBER 2019 | EUREKA 

 

Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back (1967) | Tribute to D.A. Pennebaker

DYLAN-Dont-Look-Back-DROPDirector\Writer: D A Pennebaker

With: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Donovan, Alan Price, Marianne Faithfull, Allen Ginsberg

96min | Documentary | US

Although it may not have meant much back in 1967, D.A. Pennebaker’s full-length documentary DON’T LOOK BACK now offers an absorbing and resonant tribute to a handful of folk heroes of the ’60s and particularly Bob Dylan who it follows on his 1965 British tour.

This freewheeling and voyeuristic trip down memory lane offers a rare and real portrait of the recalcitrant singer songwriter performing impromptu in hotels and more formal venues showcasing his laid back but often prickly approach which won the hearts and minds of his young audience of the time, Dylan went on to capture the imagination of many and achieve iconic cult status. Whether the film pictures the real Dylan or just his facade is a matter for consideration but Pennebaker makes us feel the intimacy of these encounters.

Surrounded by an entourage of contempo cronies: his rebarbative manager Albert Grossman; his long-term companion Joan Baez; the Scottish balladier Donovan; helmer of The Animals, Alan Price, the film offers behind the scenes glimpses of their convivial gatherings offering up ad hoc renditions of their work: Dylan strums and sings “The Times They Are A-Changing,” and Donovan ‘To Sing for You”. There is a chance to see Baez’ gentle beauty and spiky humour in offguard moments that capture her feral beauty.

The awkward approach of some of the interviewers – particularly a journalist from Time Magazine – is very amateurish, and it’s a wonder that Dylan didn’t punch him in the nose – but he adopts his usual acerbic style, hiding behind a public persona, ruffled hair and sunglasses, refusing to be riled but engaging nevertheless.

D. A. Pennebaker has since made several impressive biopics: Monterey Pop (1968) and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars being among the best. His handheld camera offers a grainy indie feel with jump cuts that keep the pace lively despite the relaxed tone that often hints at an underlying anger, that eventually seeps out in a scene featuring an ugly encounter between Grossman and a hotel manager. The film’s finale sees Dylan kicking backing after a successful concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, happy to be seen as an artist peddling no particular message and who no one understands. MT

OUT ON CRITERION UK | Amazon BLURAY

 

For the Birds (2018) ****

Dir.: Richard Miron; Documentary with Kathy Murphy, Gary Murphy, Sheila Hyslop; USA 2019, 92 min.

Over five years in the making, Richard Miron’s debut documentary is an astonishing portrait of a very special kind of hoarder: Kathy Murphy’s love for her feathered friends started with a helping hand to a baby duckling ten years ago –  now over 200 ducks, chicken, geese and turkeys invade the family’s mobile home in Warwasing, up-state New York.

No wonder husband Gary feels upstaged by the animals: “With her, you don’t seem to get anywhere”, he confesses to the filmmaker. And while Kathy feels a unique closeness to the feathered members of her family, it soon becomes clear that she uses them as a barricade between herself and Gary: “He knows I’m attached to them, but not just how much I’m really attached to them. I would die for them”.

Things boil over when her case is referred to the Woodstock Farm Animal Society, where manager Sheila Hyslop shares Kathy’s love for animals and tries to keep an amicable relationship going. That is not always easy, since Kathy’s “feathered children” are not only destroying the couple’s home, but also their marriage. Gary plays Bob Dylan blaring through the night, to get to sleep, before the start of an early shift. 

To save the animals, Nicole and Ted, two volunteers of the Bird Sanctuary, have to trick Kathy into letting some of her “children” go. But success is limited, and finally we get a court trial. Gary is caught in the middle: he teams up with the Sanctuary’s team, which makes him a traitor in Kathy’s eyes. Her lawyer, William Brenner, a tax attorney, fits in well: he has an office, which resembles Kathy’s home – minus the animals.

Eventually tragedy will reconcile Kathy with her daughter and grandchild – and some money to make a new start. The more we learn about her, the more we realise how Kathy uses the birds to block off the rest of her life, affecting her mental health. Her ability to connect with the animals is part of a deep-seated emotional fear of humans – and it takes a long time to save Kathy and the birds.

Miron tries to avoid a deeper context, and stays focused on Kathy. His intimate portrait illustrates how the animals are just vehicles for her to postpone a mental breakdown. 

Miron’s cinema vérité style is enlivened by old photos and Super Eight family films, which show Kathy emotionally well-connected with her family. And even at the end, the audience has no idea what drove her to isolate herself from humankind. A very sensitive and emphatic case study AS

ON DEMAND WORLDWIDE FROM JULY 30 2019 | Amazon Prime Video; Apple TV; Google Play; iTunes, Chili TV; Microsoft; Sky Store

     

Coming Home (1978) *** Blu-ray release

Dir: Hal Ashby | Cast: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight, Bruce Dern | Drama US

One of director Hal Ashby’s biggest hits (second only to Shampoo) is a compelling and uncompromising tale of love and loss, exploring the shattering aftermath of the Vietnam War and starring a trio of Hollywood’s best: Jane Fonda, Jon Voight and Bruce Dern.

When Marine Captain Bob Hyde (Bruce Dern) leaves for Vietnam, his wife Sally (Fonda) volunteers at a local hospital. There she meets and falls for Luke Martin (Voight), a former sergeant whose war injury has left him a paraplegic. Embittered with rage and filled with frustration, Luke finds new hope and confidence through his growing intimacy with Sally. The relationship transforms Sally’s feelings about life, love and the horrors of war. And when, wounded and disillusioned, Sally’s husband returns home, all three must grapple with the full impact of a brutal, distant war that has changed their lives forever.

Coming Home is sometimes over-sentimental in its portrayal of a nation’s guilt but the performances win through and the movie won three Oscars, for Best Actress (Jane Fonda), Actor (Jon Voight), and Original Screenplay.

Available on The Masters of Cinema Series for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK on 15 July 2019.

Midsommar (2019)

Dir: Ari Aster | US Fantasy Horror 147’

Ari Aster’s cult thriller has some inventive ideas about euthanasia and cultural differences in an avant-garde and violently disturbing re-imagining of Robin Hardy’s 1973 classic The Wicker Man.

Misommar is his follow-up to the weird but equally unsettling horror debut Hereditary. It again uses facial disfigurement, social dysfunction and emotional alienation as its tropes to scare the living daylights out of you.

Four young American dudes set off to Sweden for a remote, drug-fuelled summer folk festival. It’s not the trip they had in mind. The friendly welcome of white-clothed blonds frolicking wholesomely in the land of the midnight sun soon give way to a sinister, soul (and body) destroying experience when their own cultural references and expectations are completely shattered by those of this uncanny pagan community of Harga.

British actress Florence Pugh is terrific as a woman suffering a bizarrely gruesome family bereavement that plays out in the opening scenes. Dani then discovers her relationship is beyond its sell by date and her boyfriend Christian (Reynor) has already made summer plans that don’t include her. Unwisely she tags along on a trip that soon turns to dread, horror and tragedy as the smorgasbord of bizarre festivities take their toll on the uninitiated outsiders.

Joining Christian and Dani is former community member Pelle (Blomgren), Phd student Josh (Harper), and Mark (Will Poulter). After taking drugs, they are intrigued to join in the joyful celebrations involving May Tree dancing, Wotanism, medieval paganism and fertility rights.

Interestingly, while the Americans are shocked to the core at the commune’s way of dealing with old age, the residents find it all entirely acceptable – raising the interesting question of cultural diversity or, to put it literally: ‘different strokes for different folks”. But Aster often gets too excited with his ideas, losing sight of the bigger picture while disappearing down folkloric rabbit holes amidst languorous pacing and trippy tonal shifts.

Pawel Pogorzelski creates a visually startling feast with his bleached out colours, hair-raising camera angles and claustrophobic interior sequences, and Pugh and Reynor are remarkable in their ability to generate psychological angst. MT

NOW ON NETFLIX

 

Support the Girls (2018) ****


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

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 28 JUNE 2019

 

The Cold Blue (2018) ***

Dir: Erik Nelson | US Doc, 72′

Erik Nelson has unearthed a treasure trove of recently discovered colour footage shot in 1943 by Hollywood director William Wyler for his WWII classic The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (1944). The result is a quietly moving audio memoir of those surviving members of the Eighth Air Force who calmly talk us through their unique experiences transporting us back to the final years of the war. Set to Richard Thompson’s tuneful musical score the 16mm footage has the added advantage of being in colour, making it all the more extraordinary in its immediacy. Wyler risked life and limb to make his documentary, flying on more than 25 B-17 bombing missions during 1943, and one of the cameramen, Harold J. Tannenbaum, was actually shot down and killed over France. Surviving veterans take us back to the trauma with a calm dignity and pride. Clearly this was a daunting experience but they share their sense of excitement, even 75 years later. Many of them died serving their country, and in the Eighth Air Force the fatalities were particularly heavy, one man is driven to tears as he remembers losing a friend. Another recalls the mixed blessing of real eggs for breakfast -rather than the powdered variety. This usually meant they were in for a particularly perilous mission. But they never regretted killing the enemy, as one remembers “Never gave it a thought, they were just Germans….They’re gonna do it to us, we’re better off doing it to them first”. Fascinating stuff!. MT

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS on 4 July 2019

 

 

The Captor (2018) **

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

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

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

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 21 JUNE 2019

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) **** Home Ent

Dir: Elia Kazan | Drama | US

Elia Kazan‘s first film, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn shows that the filmmaker’s great empathy for his characters was already quite evident at this early juncture, and this endures as one of the most moving Hollywood dramas of the 1940s. Based on Betty Smith‘s novel – a bestseller in the U.S. but also one of the most popular books among American soldiers overseas in WWII – Kazan’s debut is a sensitive, masterful adaptation.

Set among Brooklyn tenements circa 1912, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a portrait of the Nolans, an Irish-American family living in financially challenging circumstances, often made worse by father Johnny’s drinking and employment problems. But matriarch Katie keeps the family together, caring for son Neeley and daughter Francie, as well as Katie’s outspoken, oft-married sister Sissy. But just as Francie’s gift for writing opens up new avenues, more tragic developments test the family’s resolve.

Winning Academy Awards for actors James Dunn (as Johnny) and Peggy Ann Garner (as Francie), and featuring splendid work by Dorothy McGuire and Joan BlondellA Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a heartfelt testament to the strength of family, and offers an early indication of Kazan’s unrivalled proficiency with actors. COURTESY OF EUREKA

ON RELEASE from 22 July 2019  https://amzn.to/2VM4GdJ Eureka Store  https://eurekavideo.co.uk/movie/a-tree-grows-in-brooklyn/

 

We The Animals (2018) ****

Dir.: Jeremiah Zagar; Cast: Evan Rosado, Isaiah Kristian, Josiah Gabriel, Sheila Vand, Paul Cashillo; USA 2018, 93 min.

Jeremiah Zagar’s debut feature is a dreamlike portrait of the artist as a (very) young man, and a total repudiation of macho behaviour. Shot brilliantly on 16mm by DoP Zak Mulligan, We The Animals is a unique undertaking.

Based on a novel by Justin Torres, this is a wild ride of sexual awakening told from the perspective of nine-year old Jonah (Rosado) the youngest of three brothers who live with their parents in a dilapidated house in rural New York. Their Mum (Vand) a white woman from Brooklyn, who works at a bottling plant and her husband (Cashillo), a Puerto Rican security guard, are either fighting or fucking passionately, so the three boys are left to themselves; the two older ones, Manny (Kristian) and Joel (Gabriel) looking out for their little brother. A lakeside incident sets the tone: Dad, all macho bravado, throws Jonah into the water – and he is lucky to survive. His furious mother is soon the victim of more violence from her husband. After that, the father disappears only to re-appear suddenly, wanting to be part of the family, like nothing has happened. Mum asks Jonah “to stay my little boy” – no wonder, because her older sons copy their dad’s obstreperous  behaviour. As a form of escapism, Jonah starts sketching, under the bed at night. After his drawings are discovered, he has to make a choice.

The human side of the outside world takes a back seat to the adventures in the forest, but the neighbour’s emotionally immature son makes a dramatic impact on the three siblings with his amateur porn videos, one of which features a homosexual act – and something in Jonah stirs.

Whilst the adult’s relationship is too often clichéd, the children’s games are full of magic and poetry. Jonah’s self-discovery comes in leaps and bounds, and the languid images are a perfect foil for it. The crude drawings and illustrations by Mark Samsonovich are somehow fitting as a “Contra-Point” to the overall dreamlike mood. Cruelty and imagination live cheek by jowl, and Jonah’s inner life is as volatile as his parent’s relationship. We the Animals is freewheeling and genre-less, an innovation in itself, like Jonah’s coming of age in a world of permanent contradictions, using art for self-determination. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE 2019 | ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE COURTESY OF EUREKA from 14 JUNE 2019    

   

Halston (2019) London Fashion Week

Dir/Wri: Frederic Tcheng | With: Tavi Gevinson, Liza Minnelli, Marisa Berenson, Joel Schumacher, Pat Cleveland, Bob Calacello, Carl Epstein, Lesley Frowick, Sassy Johnson, Naeem Khan, John David Ridge | US Doc, 120′

Well known for his insightful portraits of the fashion world: Dior and I (2014); Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011), which he co-directed; and for Valentino: The Last Emperor, (2008), which he co-produced, Tcheng gets top marks for this exposé on Roy Halston Frowick the all American boy from De Moines, Iowa who put America in the frame with his flare for flattering the female form.

After the boxy styles and artificial fabrics of the Sixties, Halston’s voluptuous dresses enveloped and caressed curves and cleavages as they “danced around you” according to Liza Minelli, one of his biggest advocates and a firm friend. All this was in part thanks to his master tailor Gino Balsamo whose clever crafting created single-seam clothes that ‘freed the female body” and swirled and seduced due to the unique simplicity of their genius bias-cut.

Apart from its length the only slight criticism of this biopic is the gimmicky structure that sees actor Tavi Gevinson as an innocent bystander, sleuthing through the Halston company archives and VHS tapes to needlessly sex up the sinister nature of Halston’s final fall from grace. It’s a device that feels tacky and counterintuitive to the sophisticated slimline slinkiness of the designer’s raison d’être.

Born during the Depression in 1932, Halston was an ordinary gay man who instinctively knew how to re-invent himself as a suave mover and shaker. Starting out in the 60s as a milliner to Bergdorf Goodman famous clients (Jackie Onassis wore his pillbox hat), he rapidly moved on to create his own brand through celebrity endorsement in New York’s 70s and 80s. Sashaying onto the dance floor of Studio 54 with his beautiful entourage, known as the Halsonettes, he moved on with movie stars, and invented “hot pants”. Andy Warhol and Elizabeth Taylor were amongst his friends and clients. He also dressed the American athletes at the ’76 Olympics, the girl scout leaders, the NYPD and Avis car rental staff, as well as the Martha Graham dance troupe.

His all American freeform fashion parade at Paris’ Palace of Versailles in 1973 featured black American models and set the night alight with a fizzing floor show, despite French domination of the event. China was the next step and we sample previously unseen footage from NBC visiting a silk factory where workers got a chance to try on creations made from their own fabrics.

But Halston was to grow too big for his own boots. Soon he moved offices to the glamorous mirrored interiors of New York’s Olympic Tower. His keenness to develop the brand saw high signing a multi-million dollar deal with conglomerate Norton Simon. This took away his rights to his designs and name, while offering him continued creative control, allowing him to jump into bed with the likes of Max Factor, facilitating the launch of his first fragrance, Halston, with a bottle designed by longterm collaborator Elsa Peretti. The brand was soon on sheets, towels, even leather goods. But gradually new bosses with scant appreciation of fashion or design would take over, and one by the name of Jacob Epstein would be his nemesis.

Halston launched a worthy endeavour to dress mainstream America through a deal with JCPenney (a sort of US Marks & Spencer). Termed “From class to mass” the venture focused on volume rather than artistry, and did not go down with well with Bergdorf Goodman, or his high-net-worth clientele, many of whom cancelled orders.

By this time Halston’s lavish lifestyle was also becoming financially exhausting, along with his on-off Venezuelan lover Victor Hugo, who had arrived on the scene purely for his looks (“One night Halston dialed a dick”) and then became involved in the business, upsetting several members of his team. The final segment sees Halston re-connecting with his family and employing his niece, Lesley Frowick, who emotes on his HIV/AIDS demise rather too copiously.

Halston works best as a chronicle of his fashion design artistry with its eye-catching footage and fascinating characters of the era. The business side of things often feels over-laboured and detailed. But it’s still an entertaining biopic to watch. Clearly Halston was a force to be reckoned with, totally redefining the fashion world, and bringing America to the forefront with his fabulous legacy. MT

ON RELEASE On various platforms including Dogwoof.com

 

 

 

 

When a Stranger Calls (1979) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Fred Walton | Wri: Steve Feke | Cast: Carol Cane, Steve Beckley, Rachel Roberts, Charles Durning, Colleen Dewhurst | Thriller | US, 1979 | 97′

A sinister soundtrack, the camera playing on ordinary objects in a shadowy sitting room, a neurotic woman, and our own pavlovian response to a ringing phone all coalesce to inspire terror in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS. Fred Walton’s astute psychological thriller starts with a 20-minute scene that gradually develops into something altogether more horrific and a showcase showdown. The second act explores the criminal mind through two scary looking specialists in the shape of Rachel Roberts’ Dr Monk, who has let the killer escape from her mental asylum, and Charles Durning’s hard-eyed police investigator who has himself become unhinged in his determination to catch up with the felon. Infact, the entire cast of this urban thriller look pretty unsavoury – but Tony Beckley tops the bill as the psychopathic murderer who terrorises a lonely babysitter, savagely rips apart her two charges with his bare hands and then returns to menace her again, seven years later with the chilling phrase “have you checked the children?”.

After Beckley (the killer) has done time, he escapes the asylum and fetches up on the streets of Downtown Los Angeles where he chats up a confident woman (Colleen Dewhurst) in a bar, and is later duffed up by another barfly – he really strikes an unnerving chord in the scenes that follow. As much a portrait of social alienation and emotional disintegration in the seamier side of Los Angeles, as a spine-chilling thriller, this auteurish arthouse shocker is one of the best, and certainly the most atmospheric. Beckley brings out the pitiful humanity of his character who is both vulnerable and deeply hateful. It’s an astonishing performance and his last. He died six months after the film was released. MT 

Along with its recently released WHEN A STRANGER CALLS/WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK: LIMITED EDITION and the rarely seen, short THE SITTER. Brand new interviews; a 40-page perfect bound booklet; Original Soundtrack CD; reversible poster featuring new and original artwork; reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork | 1 July 2019 |

 

Frankie (2019)

Dir: Ira Sachs | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Jérémie Renier, Marisa Tomei, Brendan Gleeson, Greg Kinear | US, Drama 104′

Ira Sachs makes his Cannes Competition debut with this sedate drama set amongst the balmy hillsides and fairytale castles of Sintra which is very much the star of the show. Pleasant and well-paced it has Isabelle Huppert in the title role as a terminally ill actress who gathers her family around her for a final – occasionally fraught – summer break.

This languorous drama explores the intimate interlocking stories between the nine friends and family style. Frankie (Huppert) is a luminous presence throughout the film with her dry sense of humour and effortless allure  remaining serene and very much in control despite the anxiety of her loved ones.

Writing and his regular scripter Mauricio Zacharias Sachs doesn’t look for easy connections between these rather sedate showbiz types, the pencil-slim narrative ticking all the right boxes and gradually finding its way to an unspectacular conclusion.

From the outset, Frankie hums a Schubert tune which pretty much sums up the slumbering tone of the narrative. After a winning scene that sees her diving into an aquamarine swimming pool surrounded by lush gardens, her step granddaughter Maya (Nenua) reminds her there are guests in the hotel who might take photographs: “It’s alright, I’m very photogenic.” she cooly responds. And this sardonic wit flows throughout.

Frankie is stoical about her illness as she puts her affairs in order with the family: husband Jimmy (Gleeson in lowkey affectionate mode) his daughter from an earlier marriage, Sylvia (Robinson), and Ian (Bakare), the husband she is on the verge of leaving. There’s also Frankie’s son Paul  (Renier) and his father Michel (Greggory), who married a man after Frankie left him. Frankie’s best friend New Yorker Ilene (Tomei) joins the party with docile cameraman boyfriend Gary who is eager to propose to her – a nice touch in these non-committal days – she nevertheless damns him with faint praise. Sachs adds another strand involving Tiago (Cotta), a local Portuguese guide hired to show them the sights.

Cinematographer Rui Pocas, who photographed the fabulous arthouse films Zama and The Ornithologist, captures the splendour of the setting At usual, Huppert reigns supreme throughout, even in the fading days of her life she eclipses everyone. MT

NOW IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

 

 

Bull (2019) *** Un Certain Regard

Dir: Annie Silverstein | Drama | 104′

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

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

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

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

UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Dr. Strangelove (1964) *****

Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Dir: Stanley Kubrick   Writers: Terry Southern, Stanley Kubrick  Peter George: Novel | Cast: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden, Slim Pickens, Tracy Reed | UK/USA1963, 94 min.

Conflict was the theme that ran through all Stanley Kubrick’s works and he created three major anti-war films: Paths of Glory (1958), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Dr. Strangelove: the latter being by far the most far reaching and most significant of the trio and was to have a profound political impact, with policy changes ensuring that the events depicted could never really occur in real life. Based on the novel “Red Alert” by Peter George, who co-wrote the script with Kubrick and Terry Southern, Dr. Strangelove is a biting satire centred on the reality of the nuclear deterrent, reflecting the fears of the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962, when a nuclear confrontation between the Super Powers was only just avoided.

Columbia Pictures insisted on Peter Sellers playing multiple roles – arguing that his performance in Kubrick’s Lolita had been the reason for the commercial success of the film. In the end, Sellers, who was in the middle of a divorce and could not leave England (Dr. Strangelove was filmed at Shepperton Studios), only played three parts, Slim Pickens taking the role of  Major TJ ‘King’ Kong, after Sellers sprained an ankle. He was paid over half the film’s budget – $1 million – for his role, Kubrick famously quipping “I got three for the price of six”.

General Jack D. Ripper (Hayden) believes that Russia is poisoning America’s water supply to meddle with the nation’s fitness. He orders the RAF Captain Mandrake (Sellers) to start a nuclear war without the permission of the Pentagon or the US President. General Turgidson (Scott), an ultra-nationalist, briefs the president and his aids in the War Room, obviously very happy that the Code to recall the nuclear bombers would take two days to recover, since the targets in Russia will be attacked in one hour. The Russian ambassador informs President Muffley (Sellers) and the Military that his country has developed a doomsday device which will bring an end to all life on the planet, in the event of Russia bing attacked. After being overpowered by troops loyal to the Pentagon, General Ripper kills himself, for fear of giving away the Recall-Code for the bombers. Finally, Mandrake can relay the code via pay phone to the SAC command, which succeeds in bringing back nearly all aircraft – apart from Major Kong’s whose communication system is disabled together with then release doors of the bomb doors – the Major solving this by straddling the nuclear bomb like a wild horse at a rodeo. Dr. Strangelove (Sellers) is an ex-Nazi scientist who is supposed to help to defuse the situation but when he suddenly jumps out of his wheelchair proclaiming proudly “Mein Fuhrer, I can walk” the nuclear arsenal of the Super Powers rain down on the planet, accompanied by Vera Lynn singing “We’ll meet Again”.

The original ending was supposed to be a pie-fight between all main protagonists, but Kubrick could not use the material as the cast were all laughing. The film’s test screening was supposed to be on November 22.11. 1963 – the day of Kennedy assassination. Its release was postponed to January 1964, some lines -“ you’ll have a pretty good weekend in Dallas” were changed to “..in Vegas”, out of respect, and one whole line “our young and gallant president has been struck down in his prime”, was cut in its entirety, even though Kubrick claimed later that it would have been cut anyway.

Apart from Sellers’ particularly impressive turn as Strangelove; Ken Adam’s production design, particularly of the War Room, has become a classic example of ingenuity and imagination. Kubrick always tried to show the absurdity of the slogans of “manageable survival” after a nuclear war: with politicians debating a post-war life underground, where ten women would each share each man in order to restart the rebirth of the species. AS

NOW SCREENING AS PART OF THE BFI’S KUBRICK RETROSPECTIVE during May 2019 | AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY 

 

 

Madeline’s Madeline **** (2018)

Dir: Josephine Decker | US | 90′ | Drama | Cast: Miranda July, Molly Parker, Helena Howard

Josephine Decker’s inventive, impressionistic dramas – Butter on the Latch (2013) /Though Wast Mild and Lovely (2014) are an acquired taste but one that marks her out as a distinctive female voice on the American indie circuit. And here she is at Berlinale again with a multi-layered mother and daughter tale that is probably her best feature so far. With a stunning central performance from newcomer Helena Howard and a dash of cinematic chutzpah that sends this soaring, Madeline’s Madeline is a thing of beauty, intoxicating to watch, compellingly chaotic and with a potently emotional storyline. It’s probably best described as a experimental drama set in an experimental theatre run by Evangeline (Molly Parker), who, at one point says to protege Madeline: “In all chaos there is a cosmos. In all disorder a secret order.” In other words, “there’s a method in the madness; a predictability to every unpredictability”. And this seemingly obtuse truism really sums up this most original of features.

Howard’s Madeline is an often precocious but highly gifted performer teenager and who is clearly on the spectrum but we are never quite sure of what mental condition or how much it affects her. Hospital visits are mentioned and medication is involved, and mother Regina (Miranda July) and daughter clearly have issues with each other. Evangeline has spotted the 16 year old’s talent to entertain, and is also nurturing and exploiting it, and the trio’s relationship becomes increasingly complex and unpredictable. Ashley Connor’s roving camera is all over the place creating a fluid feeling that is enjoyable, but also disorientating as Madeline becomes more and more powerful in this ingenious female ménage à trois. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 10 May 2019

 

Arctic (2018) **

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 10 MAY 2019

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) **

Dir.: Jo Berlinger; Cast: Lily Collins, Zac Efron, Kaya Scodelario, Angela Sarafyan, John Malkovich; USA 2018, 110 min.

Director Joe Berlinger is sort of a Ted Bundy specialist, his semi-documentary multi-part Netflix series Conversation with a Killer – The Ted Bundy Tapes was pretty much a disaster but not such an overwhelming failure as Extremely Wicked. Based on the memoirs of Elizabeth Kendall The Phantom Prince – My Life with Ted Bundy, Berlinger attempts to view Bundy through the eyes of his victim – we wish.

The re-construction narrative starts in 1969 when Kendall (Collins) and Bundy Efron) meet in a student bar in Seattle. Kendall is a single mum and Bundy wins her heart early on, caring for daughter Molly.  But her excitement is short-lived when she sees a photofit of Bundy in the local paper. Her friend Joanna (Sarafyan) tries to convince her the guy is clearly not a keeper, to put it mildly, but love is blind. Brady was accidentally pulled up for a traffic violation in 1975, having committed more murders in Utah after he left Seattle in 1974. In 1976 he was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to fifteen years. He escaped twice from the police, before he was tried for his last two murders in Florida. Crucially, the trial was the first to be shown on TV and lasted from June 25th to July 31st 1979. Judge Edward Cowart (Malkovich) spars with Bundy, and with Kendall more or less written out of the picture, Berlinger turns his focus to Bundy’s self defence (having been sacked by his lawyers) and his relationship with Carol Anne Boone (Scodelario) who he marries, after proposing to her in court. We later we watch the couple having sex and conceiving a baby daughter. Meanwhile the prison guard gleefully counts his money.

Far from shedding any light on the Kendall/Bundy relationship, Berlinger’s thrust is to offer an entertaining court room farce, where Bundy and Cowart enjoy an intellectual set-to. Efron, like Mark Harmon before him in The Deliberate Stranger, is out to show Bundy’s charming facade – but nothing more. By the time he wheels on Bundy’s mother Louise to defend her son, Berlinger has long opted out of any serious consideration. AS

NOW ON SKY TV AND SELECTED CINEMAS NATIONWIDE

Stanley Kubrick Retrospective: Art and Film 2019

Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest film makers of the 20th century, spent most of his later life working in England where he raised a family in the Hertfordshire town of Childwickbury, between St Albans and Harpenden, 35 minutes drive North of London. It was in the Norfolk Broads and Beckton, in the East End that he created the Vietnam scenes for Full Metal Jacket (1987), an orbiting space station for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and Dr Strangelove’s war room (1964). 

BFI KUBRICK RETRO  

Throughout April and May 2019 the BFI will present, in partnership with The Design Museum, Kensington, a definitive Stanley Kubrick season at BFI Southbank. The season will offer audiences the opportunity to experience masterpieces such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Barry Lyndon (1975) and The Shining (1980) on the big screen as Kubrick intended, with screenings being presented on 35mm wherever possible. The season will also delve deep into the director’s oeuvre with a playful and diverse programme of events, revealing why Kubrick is considered one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, and his style has given rise to the new entry in the Oxford Dictionary: “Kubrickian” meaning painstakingly perfectionist.

Stanley Kubrick was most inventive in his introduction of revolutionary devices to his filmmaking, such as the camera lens designed for NASA to shoot by candlelight. His fascination with all aspects of design and architecture influenced every stage of all his films. He worked with many key designers of his generation, from Hardy Amies to Saul Bass, Eliot Noyes and Ken Adam.

KENSINGTON EXHIBITION 

The exhibition, which has already travelled round Europe, is supported by Kubrick’s brother-in-law and executive producer on many of his films, Jan Harlan. The two first collaborated on Kubrick’s unrealised film project Napoleon in 1969, which has become known as the greatest movie never made, and will shortly form the subject of a made for TV documentary inspired by Steven Spielberg and directed Cary Fukunaga (Bond 2025).

Kubrick was as demanding on his actors as he was on himself. After playing Barry Lyndon’s hapless stepson in the 1975 epic drama English actor Leon Vitali went to work as his assistant for some 30 years and his story is told in Tony Zierra’s informative 2017 documentary Filmworker

The exhibition at Kensington’s Design Museum features scripts, costumes, films and props and provides a fascinating counterpoint to the BFI’s film retrospective, which takes place from April to May what it has called the “definitive Stanley Kubrick season” showing his films in 35mm, using projectors. There will also be a new print of A Clockwork Orange. MT

Kubrick’s feature films:

Fear and Desire (1953)

Killer’s Kiss (1955);

The Killing (1956)

Paths of Glory (1957)

Spartacus (1960)

Lolita (1962)

Dr. Strangelove or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Barry Lyndon (1975)

The Shining (1980)

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Stanley Kubrick: the Exhibition | Kensington Design Museum 26 April-17 September 2019.

Dragged Across Concrete (2018) ***

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

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

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

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

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 19 APRIL 2019

One, Two, Three (1961) ***

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

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE FROM 15 APRIL 2019 courtesy of EUREKA

The Sisters Brothers (2018) ****

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lizzie (2018) **** | Bfi Flare 2019

“Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.”

Dir: Craig William Mcneill | Bryce Kass | Cast: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart | Drama | US

The story of Lizzie Borden has always fascinated with its macabre murder story that over time has spawned numerous TV series the best starred Elizabeth Montgomery as the New England axe murderer who was tried and acquitted in 1893 of slaughtering her father and stepmother. This claustrophobic domestic drama directed by Craig William Macneill from a script by Bryce Kass, persuades us that it was actually due to her gender that she was let off: the jury couldn’t believe a well-heeled gentlewoman could do such a thing. But there are many downsides to being Ms Borden in the late 19th century. LIZZIE not only imagines an intriguing and plausible lesbian twist to proceedings, it also reveals how her draconian and misogynist  father was partly responsible for his own demise by dominating her, serially raping her housekeeper (Kristen Stewart is mesmerisingly glum) and then leaving her repugnantly obnoxious uncle (Denis O’Hare) in charge of her inheritance. No wonder Mr Borden got wacked.

Kass adopts a fractured narrative that opens in the aftermath to the twin murder, then traces back to reveal a story that informs the final scenes. And although this is a traditionally-crafted and rather bland-looking affair, its slowly draws you in to its compelling storyline mainly due to the brilliance of its international cast. We have Chloë Sevigny in the leading role: an unmarried, wilful but sympathetic pigeon-fancier. She gives a commandingly confident performance and we really feel for her because of the calm and intelligent way she handles herself, never giving in to histrionics or melodrama, despite suffering from epilepsy – quite the opposite – in the final denouement she appears unaffected by what she has done. She warms immediately to Kristen Stewart’s Irish housemaid Bridget who is respectful and diffident, tolerating Mr Borden’s nighttime visits with sombre forbearance. Their lesbian chemistry is convincing but quite why the filmmakers contrived it is questionable. There’s scant evidence that the real Lizzie was a lesbian, but due to being closeted away it’s quite possible that it was the only sexual outlet available, and the two are clearly very protective of one another. Ruth Shaw has a small role as Lizzie’s dour stepmother, but she makes a decent go of it.

There’s a dark wittiness to Sevigny’s brushes with the menacingly pompous Mr Borden (Jamie Sheridan), and their intellectual sparring makes us root for her, as he emerges a brutish coward rather than a family man of integrity with one of the “biggest fortunes in New England”. And although Stewart seethes with a quiet rage, Sevigny excels in a more difficult role, exerting a calm allure as the troubled Lizzie.

Although the ending is hardly a mystery, the film maintains an powerful air of suspense as it moves to the inescapable finale, adding another dimension to this true crime story, by attempting to examine the whys and wherefores. LIZZIE is certainly harrowing to watch, and although we don’t see the murders, we hear them as the violence provides a much-needed cathartic release after all the injustice that’s been witnessed. A sad and rather mournful drama that certainly bring greater understanding to this almost mythical episode of American social history. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 14 DECEMBER 2018

Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me By Now (2019) ***

Dir: Olivia Lichtenstein | Biopic | 106′ US

Teddy Pendergrass was such a loved and wanted child, success would always follow him. Born in Philadelphia to a proud mother who had suffered six miscarriages that made her cherish him all the more, the two grew close after his father left home shortly after he arrived. Powerful both musically and physically, he had an electric smile and a rich and melodious voice. And women in their droves would flock to his sexually-charged performances, while men were attracted by his power. Lichtenstein chronicles his story but somehow misses a vital chapter, playing down a sinister but clearly significant crime side-story involving the local Phili mafia. And that somehow eclipses the high notes of this essentially celebratory film.

Much the same as Aretha Franklin, Pendergrass started singing in his local Gospel church where he would be ordained. He soon joined Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, only to leave  in 1977  – under a cloud – for a spectacular solo career, that would result in a clutch of platinum discs: an impossibly handsome, virile man with a rich and sensuous voice. But in 1982 tragedy would touch his life when a car accident turned him into a cripple. He flirted with suicide but pulled back from the brink thanks to his family and friends. One of the film’s most moving moments is seeing Pendergrass performing from a wheelchair at Live Aid at Philadelphia.

In 1977, one of the most important woman in his life was shot dead. No one has ever been convicted of Taaz Lang’s crime but Teddy was devastated. And clearly the split from Melvin had left him with enemies too, not least the local police, yet to play this up would diminish the overall impact of his own success and recovery from near death. And, at the time his career was taking off and he was positioned to be a major crossover artist, a Black Elvis even. But the crash takes over in the final scenes changing the mood of the film and leaving us wondering what really happened and why.

The murky world of organised crime in pop music is a real issue, but Pendergrass’s inspirational comeback story forces a different narrative arc on the film, leaving questions unanswered. It’s a remarkable story, but way more complicated than this makes it sound. MT

DVD RELEASE DATE 29.03.19

NATIONWIDE SCREENINGS

moviehouseent.com/films/teddy-pendergrass

The Kindergarten Teacher (2018) ****

Dir.: Sara Colangelo; Cast: Maggie Gyllenhall, Parker Sewak, Gael Garcia Bernal, Daisy Tahan, Sam Jules, Michael Chernus, Ajay Naidu, Rosa Salazar; USA 2018, 96′.

Director Sara Colangelo (Little Accidents) won a Sundance directing award for this spry psychological thriller that takes constantly surprising turns.

Adapted from Nadav Lapid’s script of his French/Israeli feature of the same name (Haganenet), this is no Hollywood re-make – in fact, it was Lapid who approached the producers. By a stroke of luck, Maggie Gyllenhall (who also produced) was cast in the lead, and the result is a fascinating character study, full of ambivalence and obsessive longings.

Lisa Spinelli, having just turned forty, feels unfulfilled on many levels. Travelling to work every day on the ferry between Staten Island and Manhattan, she looks forlorn and lost in her daydreams. Husband Grant (Chernus) is a bear of man, but lazy of body and mind. Her teenage children Laine (Tahan) and Josh (Jules) are an obvious disappointment to Lisa: Laine is just interested in the latest fads, and thinks her mother’s a dinosaur. Josh is even worse, and is giving up school to join the US-Army. To counter all this, Lisa has joined a poetry group – but alas, her talents are limited, and teacher Simon (Bernal) expresses his doubts politely. Enter five-year old Jimmy (Sewak), one of Lisa’s pupils, who suddenly spouts lines of poetry, which are well beyond his tender age. Lisa is thrilled, asking Jimmy to phone her, whenever a poem is ready, and the little boy responds eagerly. And it’s not difficult to understand why: he is neglected by his divorced father Nick (Naidu) who runs a shady nightclub, and his lackadaisical  babysitter Becca (Salazar), who got the job because she gets laid by his father.

In her poetry class, Lisa passes off Jimmy’s work is her own, which leads to a quick romp with Simon (Bernal), who is suitably impressed. To get more access to Jimmy, Lisa tells Nick that Becca is often late for picking-up time, and Nick fires her, only too happy that Lisa is volunteering to look after Jimmy until he fetches him in the evening. But Nick also makes it clear he expects his son to excel in sports and business, rather than try to pursue an artistic career, like his impoverished relatives. Then everything slowly unravels towards a tense finale.

Colangelo traces Lisa’s growing obsession step by step. Creativity is her only way of escape, but it’s hard for her to realise that she is dilettante –  as Simon puts it blandly. She channels all her yearnings into Jimmy, in an effort to save both him and herself. Family and society, dominated by social media, are a great disappointment to her, and Jimmy’s father Nick, is just another materialist ignoramus. Throwing all her past life away, she has to save Jimmy from the same fate that has destroyed her. She ignores her responsibilities as a teacher (and as a human being) and becomes obsessed with Jimmy being a prodigy. Lisa, who has been so gentle and rational all her life, suddenly sees Jimmy as an embodiment of herself – and is determined that he won’t suffer the same fate as she has.

DoP Pepe Avila del Pino pictures Lisa’ descent with his subtle camerawork. The rides on the ferry are a study in melancholy, and her classroom is a real work of art, light and shadows creating a nuanced moodiness. But this is Maggie Gyllenhall’s feature: she never puts a foot wrong, going seemingly unobtrusively forward from an ideology of art as a saviour, to a a full blown psychosis. Colangelo supports her aptly, particularly with a great solution at the ending: she never denounces Lisa or the relationship between her and Jimmy, which somehow survives. Kindergarten Teacher is not perfect, but portrays a specific ambiguity which is as endearing as it is dangerous. AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 8 MARCH 2019       

   

                                     

                       

Under the Silver Lake (2018) **

Dir: David Robert Mitchell | Cast; Sibongile Miambo, Riley Keough, Jimmy Sampson, Andrew Garfield | Fantasy Comedy  | US |

David Robert Mitchell rose to international fame with his breakout horror hit It Follows which showed at Cannes several years ago. His latest is a trippy fantasy neonoir dream with the same feel and disturbing undertones as David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive but none of the brilliance, and far too much indulgent navel-gazing. What carries you through the druggy hotch potch of wacky vignettes is Andrew Garfield’s captivating turn as a down on his luck LA creative, who resorts to voyeurism and sexual shadow-play as his mind wanders lazily through the backwaters of LA’s Silver-Lake area. But after a promising opening the film’s fascinating potential disintegrates into an incoherent and sprawling mindfuck punctuated by Hollywood references. There is far too much unfocused creativity gushing from Mitchell’s gifted pen in UNDER THE SILVER LAKE, and it ends in a messy gloopthis time. That said, he’s certainly a filmmaker worth watching out for. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 15 MARCH 2019

 

Phantom Lady (1944) ****

Dir: Robert Siodmak | Wri: Bernard C Shoenfeld | Cast: Franchot Tone, Ella Raines, Alan Curtis, Aurora Miranda, Elisha Cook, Regis Toomey, Fay Helm | US Noir Thriller 87′

This was Robert Siodmak’s first American success, a Noir thriller based on a book by Cornell Woolrich who would seed the storyline for a series of similar titles. Woody Bredell’s moody camerawork and Siodmak’s jagged angles echo German expressionism heightening the suspense of this twisty whodunnit. The wife of an unhappily married engineer (Alan Curtis) is murdered and his only alibi is a woman with a distinctive hat who disappears without trace after the two spend an impromptu evening together. But no one can remember the woman after their soiree so Curtis faces the chair, depressed and losing faith in his own judgement. His only hope is his faithful secretary (a vampish Ella Raines).who is determined to save him, along with a cop called Gomez (Burgess) who adds psychological insight into the criminal mind. As they work through the clues and the evidence together, the woman and the hat eventually emerge. Taut and tightly scripted, Phantom Lady seems to pack a great deal into its modest running time. Stylish costumes are by Vera West (Shadow of a Doubt) and musical choices are evocative. There’s also a racy jazz scene, the instruments filmed up close, adding a frenzied feel to the affair. MT

OUT ON BLURAY FROM 4th March 2019 | with extras Dark and Deadly: 50 Years of Film Noir a documentary with insight from Edward Dymtryk, Dennis Hopper and Robert Wise. 

 

Piercing (2018) Mubi

Dir.: Nicolas Pesce; Cast: Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Laia Costa; USA 2019, 81 min.

Writer director Nicoals Pesce (Eyes of my Mother) has adapted Ryu Murakami’s novel for the screen – with the same success that Takashi Miike had with Audition (1999), another Murakami work. The Eyes of My Mother was shot in black-and-white, as an homage to the film-noirs of the 40s, PIERCING – while not as good – has its aesthetic roots in the ‘Giallo’, Italian crime/horror films of the 70s, and there are echoes of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, and some early Brian de Palma.

The beginning could hardly be more disturbing: new father Reed (Abbott) stares down at his newborn, holding an ice pick. Stressed out by the baby’s constant squealing, he feels like using it. It comes as a relief  then to mother Mona (Costa) that Reed takes a break and moves out: his destination is a hotel, where he rents a room with a plan in mind to murder a prostitute. Every step is prepared and written down in a red notebook. Just to make sure everything goes he rehearses the process, acting out all the gruesome manoeuvres, including de-capitation.

But a phone call changes everything: his first choice of call-girl is running late, and Reed cannot wait: he orders an immediate replacement. When Jackie (Wasikowska) enters the hotel room, Reed is hyped up for the kill – but then he finds Jackie in the bathroom, stabbing herself multiple times in the thigh. But that’s just the start of a wild night.

Piercing is deliberately artificial: everything is composed for impression, its appeal is purely visceral; even the tall apartment blocks – the camera searching out illuminated windows – are not real. Jackie’s room is a composition in red and brown, a mausoleum of shadows dappled with light. She retains her sense of enigma: “I want you to wear my skin”, which also is ironic, because Jackie’s yen for sadomasochism is an obsession for both these characters.

There are flashbacks, filling us in on the childhood traumata they have suffered. Luckily, graphic violence is minimal, Piercing is much more L’Age d’Or than Slasher feature. Mona, in contrast to Jackie, is all mother and house wife – in the novel she bakes cookies – but Reed keeps her in the picture from the phone box. DoP Zack Galler creates a galaxy of effects which alone makes the film worth watching.

Music by Morricone and Simonetti (the latter’s score from Argento’s Tenebre) drives the atmospheric eeriness even more over the top; Wasikowska literally out-performing Abbott in the endgame of this dazzlingly dramatic psycho thriller: and the running time is just right for a spectacular B-picture with a morbid imagination. AS

ON MUBI

 

 

 

Fourteen (2019) **** Berlinale 2019 | Forum

Dir: Dan Salitt Dir:Tallie Medel, Norma Kuhling, Lorelei Romani, Mason Wells, Dylan McCormick USA 2019 | 94’

Mara and Jo go back a long way. They were at school and together and now meet up regularly in Brooklyn where live a  precarious urban existence much as any young women in their twenties, Jo more so than Mara. Boyfriends drift in and out of the picture and their sexual lives are gracefully hinted at with some glowing bedside vignettes. 

Dan Salitt’s thoughtful and accomplished character is compulsively watchable well written and elegantly framed with a meditative quality that pays tribute to its slow-emerging subject matter: Jo deteriorating state of mind. Norma Kuhling’s tour de force as this fragile, fractious young soul is one of the more nuanced and engaging performance of the year so far, She combines the poise, elegance and authority of a modern day Marlene Dietrich,  capturing the wit of Dorothy Parker in some her choice lines. And we don’t take on board her crumbling state of mind until the film is well into its second half, where the tonal darkens, denting avoiding histrionics apart from one remarkable scene where Jo gradually dissolves into a well of desperation. And we feel for her as her sate of mind implodes. Tallie Medel (Mara) is a fine counterbalance in this richly satisfying portrait of modern womanhood. Her job as a junior school teacher allows her to demonstrate her gentle kindness tempered with integrity. She tries to be there for Jo. Their friendship is a wonderful thing that avoids sentimentality or seething outbursts, drawing gracefully and poignantly on the nature of friendship that will be familiar with all of us in our in our relationships, particularly female ones. .  

There are long resplendent frames where Salitt delicately lingers on a landscape sketching out the slowly unveiling plot line – such as the once the at the station where Mara arrives to visit Jo and her family after a difficult time for them both. Comparatively compact but redolent in thought and detail this is an impressive fourth feature for Salitt (All the Ships at Sea). But it’s the performances that resonate and will stay with you for a long time after the curtain falls. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

Freak Show (2017) ** Bluray/DVD release

Dir: Trudie Styler | Musical Drama | US | 97′

Actor, producer and now filmmaker, Trudie Styler works her contact list to great effect in cobbling together this middling teen-outsider musical powered by an impressive central turn from Alex Lawther. He plays Billy Bloom, a spirited and thoughtful young man who finds his gay identity at odds with his new surroundings when the family move from New York to a Red Neck southern state.

Thanks to DoP Dante Spinotti, Freak Show opens stylishly with a glamorous Bette Middler (as Muv) dancing with her little son (Eddie Schweighardt as the young Billy). The two are as thick as thieves but when Muv falls off the waggon, leaving Billy with Daddy ‘Downer’ (Larry Pine actually looks like Lawther), the movie soon loses its pacy allure, and dissolves into a series of musical vignettes that piece together Billy’s gradual empowerment from victim to victor. This schematic sprawl lurches from one scene to the next, hanging entirely on Lawther’s capable coat tails – and there are some striking rigouts thanks to Colleen Atwood and Sarah Laux – and Billy gets the best lines: “I just moved here from Darien Connecticut, the hometown of Chloe Sevigny”.

Intended for a teen audience Freak Show brings to mind Amy Heckerling’s 1995 comedy Clueless, and is adapted from James St James novel by Patrick J. Clifton and Beth Rigazio, who also wrote Raising Helen. Rather than finding her own distinct voice, Styler cherry picks liberally from reliable stalwarts such as Oscar Wilde and Plastic Bertrand whose quotes and music may not be known to young audiences.

After the conservative kids get used to Billy’s outlandish attire at his new school, he soon becomes friends with tousled haired dreamboat Flip Nelson (Ian Kelly), who he secretly fancies, meanwhile Flip is a bland but underwritten teen idol who remains unconvincing as a real person. Billy suffers a brutal homophobic attack that lands him in a coma and hospitalised, but this deepens his thing with Flip and he’s persuaded to run for homecoming Queen. There are some witty exchanges between Middler’s Muv and Dad’s housekeeper Florence (Celia Weston) who flags up the potential woes of Billy’s adolescent crush with Flip, and the gauche handling of this particular conflict resolution is one of the film’s many flaws. But these will likely slip off the radar of the film’s intended audience – it premiered at Berlinale’s 14K generation plus sidebar. See this for Alex Lawther and his star performance as Billy. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY DVD

 

Sundance Film Festival | Award and Winners 2019

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

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

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

 photo by Nanfu Wang.

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

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

 

photo by Eric Branco

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

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

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

The Souvenir| photo by Agatha A. Nitecka.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Audience Award: NEXT, Alex Rivera, Cristina Ibarra

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

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

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

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

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

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

 photo by Tore Vollan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 23 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019

The Boys in the Band (1970) **** Bluray release


WDir: William Friedkin | Writer: Mart Crowley | Drama  | 118’

Fifty years ago, this milestone in Queer cinema The Boys in the Band was considered highly controversial, although in retrospect it’s seems rather quaint with Mart Crowley’s priceless dialogue making it all worthwhile (apart from the groundbreaking use of the C-word), particularly Leonard Frey’s Harold gets some caustic remarks.

William Friedkin would go on to make The French Connection a year later, and The Exorcist just after that (in 1973) but this is a beast of another colour and sees a group of gay men grow increasingly antagonistic after enjoying an alcohol fuelled party in a spacious Upper East Side apartment, especially after Harold arrives.

Based on Crowley’s play, and featuring the original cast, it stars a sterling selection of gay actors Kenneth Nelson, Peter White, Cliff Gorman and, of course, Leonard Frey. The play premiered off-Broadway in 1968, just as the gay rights movement was gaining momentum and aimed to portray a candid view gay life, although it sparked mixed reactions amongst the gay community for its negative stereotyping of limp-wristed and bitchy victims of their sexuality. William Friedkin’s faithful 1970 screen version, has become a cult classic. But when all is said and done, LGBTQ equality has pathed the way to a better acceptance of what went before, and the piece can now be appreciated for it depiction of an oppressed group of any kind, and is by turns brutally amusing, compelling and dark.

The film plays out as a chamber piece echoing its original scale. Led by the single Michael (Nelson), a Catholic alcoholic from Mississippi and set in his ostentatious bachelor pad. Michael is throwing a birthday party for his difficult friend Harold (Frey), who eventually turns up high, with a brilliantly bombastic monologue: “What I am, Michael, is a 32-year-old, ugly, pockmarked Jew fairy — and if it takes me a while to pull myself together and if I smoke a little grass before I can get up the nerve to show this face to the world, it’s nobody’s goddamn business but my own.”

Other guests include Donald (Combs), Michael’s ex who comes back to NY to visit his shrink.  Hank (Luckinbill) is a bisexual teacher  (Tuc Watkins), who’s now with photographer Larry (Prentice) although the relationship is strained by Larry’s promiscuity. Bernard (Reuben Greene) is the token black guy and seems the most brooding of the group. Into the party drops Michael’s straight college friend Alan (Peter White), who is on the verge of tears over his own failing marriage. His reluctance to leave nods to an ambivalence in his own sexuality, and hints that he might be hiding an uncomfortable truth from himself.

According to Friedkin, this was “one of the few films I’ve made that I can still watch”. Released 50 years after its Broadway debut – a year before the infamous Stonewall Riots – The Boys in the Band still has the power to shock. MT

NOW ON BLURAY FROM 11 FEBRUARY 2019 with interviews with Mark Gatiss, and commentary from William Friedkin himself | COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT 

 

Hail Satan! (2019) *** Rotterdam Film Festival 2019

Dir: Penny Lane | US, Doc 95′

Satanism is gaining ground, but don’t panic. Penny Lane’s drôle but disappointing documentary will explain why. According to her findings, the old Devil we can come to know and love has actually been foisted by his own petard. His cult has been hijacked by a motley crew of rather ordinary people who just want to get together and counter the mainstream forces they see dominating America. No harm done. Counterbalancing  is certainly a reasonable idea, but not a compelling premise for a a full length feature documentary. 

Satanists have chosen the rather apt name of The Satanic Temple (TST for short) to represent their cause – and simply because no one else had chosen this title, they checked on the internet, and it was available. And their main man and co-founder really looks the part too with his glazed right eye and shifty expression: Lucien Greaves – not his real name – works jolly hard for the organisation as its spokesperson, ensconced in the black-painted wooden clad house (straight out of the film Halloween) in Salem Massachusetts. Some of the other supporters look rather weird too in their Gothic garb and horned headgear, but that’s about as scary as it gets. And they don’t have much to say for themselves  either, beyond criticising the people they vehemently oppose.

But doesn’t a religion have to have conviction, spirituality, beliefs and customs that transcend mere civic duty?. Amongst their seven tenets the Satanists list: compassion, a struggle for justice, and ‘the inviolability of the body’. But this doctrine could easily apply to the Girl Guides.

And Lane’s documentary certainly doesn’t make us quake in our boots over these so-called Satanists. Mild fascination turns gradually to boredom as Hail Satan! plays out, running round in ever decreasing circles in its effort to get to the crux of the organisation. What TST purports to represent seems ill-defined, but its certainly anti-establishment. The thrust of their activity is clearly to oppose government efforts to establish religious totems such as a granite structure listing the The Ten Commandments in front of a state house, and to erect their own idol which is a metallic figure called Behemoth.

But once we discover that name Satan is just a facade for TST’s rather pointless activities – such as attending ‘unbaptisms’ – and it adherents are just a bunch of average punters with nothing salacious or particularly macabre about them (except their black garb) the whole documentary starts to feel quite tedious. And the fact that they feature regularly on Fox News spinning endless ‘Satanic’ narratives won’t have a novelty value forever. On their website they maintain: We acknowledge blasphemy is a legitimate expression of personal independence from counter-productive traditional norms”. Isn’t this just the same as supporting free speech?. And there’s nothing evil about that.

There’s nothing even o suggest that Satanism is a religion. Ok, it doesn’t espouse violence or evil. Infact it doesn’t really espouse anything cogent at all, apart from being a force for decency and liberalism, and a mealy-mouthed opposition to the mainstream. But behind their black hoods and wicked headgear, there is little talk of faith, spirituality or even morality. Infact there’s no talk of anything other than their smug feeling of hiding behind something that actually doesn’t represent them at all. So their whole existence is misleading. But it’s gathering ground. Their numbers swell day by day, and you might even find yourself joining them one day. But make no mistake. If you’re drawn to this film in the hope of experiencing of something dark and dastardly, you will leave feeling disappointed. At the end of the day, these Satanists are just a bunch of small-town do-gooders.  MT

ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) ***

Dir.: Marielle Heller; Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtis, Anna Deavere Smith; USA 2018, 109 min. 

Celebrity biographer Lee Carol Israel (1939-2014) made a decent living writing biographies of the likes of Estée Lauder and Katherine Hepburn. But when her books no longer sold she turned her hand to a deceptive means to make money in this darkly caustic literary ‘thriller’ adapted from her memoirs by Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl).

Scripted by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty it follows Israel’s descent into forgery after her literary career comes to a grinding halt. Mellissa McCarthy atones for some mediocre support performances with her powerhouse portrayal of a misanthrope who cannot accept that her work has gone out of fashion. Meanwhile, her bills pile up and Lee sinks deeper and deeper into alcoholism and unreasonable behaviour. Agent Marjorie (Curtis), tries to help Lee, but only gets disdain and anger for her trouble.

Then quite by chance, Lee comes across a note written in a library book and accidentally left there by a well-known writer, and it gives her an idea: she starts forging notes purportedly written by Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker, spurred on by her jailbird friend and accomplice Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant). Israel cashes in with booksellers, who re-sell with a profit at a time where this kind of activity was alarmingly unregulated. Among them is Anna (Wells), who is blinded by Lee’s past glory, and fancies a romantic engagement. But this is furthest from Lee’s mind: she is afraid of any sort of intimacy; a meeting with her ex-lover Elaine (Smith) confirms this. But the easy money  soon slips away: Lee is blacklisted when her forgeries come to light, so she has to go one step further in this dark biopic of descent into shameless deception.

There is hardly anything positive to say about Lee Israel: she is unattractive physically and personally and also extremely arrogant, claiming “I am a better Dorothy Parker than Dorothy Parker”. Unable to feel any empathy, Lee goes through life with a tunnel vision of arrested development. It is to McCarthy’s credit that she wrings some withering humour and a chink of humanity laced with sardony from this egomaniac. 

DoP Brandon Trost lovingly re-creates a New York before the internet, and there are some glowing skylines, welcoming bars and cosy bookshops where people had the leisure of reading and discussing. Marielle Heller directs with great panache, and McCarthy carries the feature with gusto for the socially inept and deluded Lee Israel, whom she humanises with a performance of nuances. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 1 FEBRUARY 2019

   

Vice (2018) ****

Dir.: Adam McKay; Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carrell, Alisa Pill, Lilly Rabe; USA 2018, 132 min.

Writer/director Adam McKay (Talladega Nights, The Big Short) amply demonstrates the banality of evil in this glowing satire, worthy of a Jonathan Swift or Molière. Vice is a bio-pic about Dick Cheney, former US Secretary of Defence in the Cabinet of George H. Bush and Vice President under his son George W. Bush. Above all else, it’s a portrait of a man who made the most of his limited qualities, using his “Everyman” persona to grossly misuse power by deceit, helping to lay the ideological foundation for the current USA administration.

We meet Dick Cheney – an extraordinary Christian Bale, who put on 45 kgs to morph into Cheney – in 1963’s Wyoming, where he is arrested, for the second time, for DUI; an offence he shared with the younger Bush. Cheney, a Yale dropout, was also a drunken layabout who had to be reminded by his wife Lynne (Adams) that he resembled her drunken and abusive father, not the responsible husband she thought she had married.

At least Cheney managed to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War (like Bush the younger), accumulating five deferrals, based on sub-par academic achievements, and getting married and having children at the right time. When Dick joined the Nixon administration in 1969 as an Intern, he fell under the spell of Donald Rumsfield (a commanding Carrell), who taught him the President’s dirty tricks. Cheney himself was a Congressman for Wyoming from 1979-1989, a seat his daughter Lynne jr. (Rabe), holds today. He became one of the leaders of the Republican Party in the House, and got the attention of George H. Bush, for whom he served as Secretary of Defence (1989-1993). After Bush’ defeat to Clinton, Cheney left politics for a while, to become CEO of Halliburton, a company specialising in services to the Oil industry. When the Republicans looked for a running mate for George W. Bush (Rockwell), Cheney was asked to select a candidate. He chose himself and the rest, as they say, is history.

It is not a small co-incidence, that Cheney would outdo Rumsfield, when the latter was Secretary of Defence for George W.: Rumsfield asking Dick “do you want to get me sacked, or is it the Bush kid?” Needless to say, that Rumsfield had to go as a scapegoat, because Dick had much more than the ear of George W. By then, after the deception of the Iraq War, Dick Cheney had subverted the cabinet: Condoleezza Rice (National Security Adviser) and General Colin Powell (Secretary of State) were bulldozed by him of towing the line when it came to the invasion. And after the lack of evidence for the “Weapons of mass destruction”, Rumsfield, his former ‘teacher’, was scarified. 

There are some highlights, for example the faux-ending after a third of the running time: Mary (Pill), Cheney’s younger daughter, was a self confessed, married lesbian, and whilst Lynne was aghast, Dick was supportive. McKay ‘closing’ his film with end-credits, claiming “that Dick chose his daughter above a political career, and the Cheney family vanished from public life”. Alas, Dick manufactured the Iraq War, which became very profitable for Halliburton, their shares rising by a mere 500%. American soldiers, who were not so apt to be deferred as Cheney, died in their thousands – so did 800 000 Iraqi civilians. McKay shows the couple in bed, declaimed Shakespeare: Macbeth and his Lady.  

It is difficult to contemplate a serious, straight portrait of Cheney: whilst his criminal wrong-doings were as countless as they were unpunished, there is nothing extra-ordinary about the man: he did all this, because he could. Neither his ideological orientation nor greed were more than average.

Only McKay’s approach of a permanent subversity makes this bio-pic watchable. This is an anti-hero with very little attributes, but Vice shows him exactly as the little man he is – but like a ‘Contrapunkt’ in music, there is always a funny side to the proceedings – even if the laughter is anything but liberating. DoP Greig Fraser (Foxcatcher) supports the director’s approach with homely images of the couple, and the bloody contrast of newsreels and TV images. He also never denounces Dick and Lynne, they are not shown as buffoons, but  ordinary people wanting to better themselves: their house is a shrine to mediocrity, they really care for each other and are rather subdued in their personal affairs: they often shown from behind, always ready to leave the frame, unobtrusive to the last. Vice is the great exception: a major feature made in Hollywood. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 29 JANUARY 2019    

https://youtu.be/eTk2N03-m8U

 

  

        

     

Destroyer (2018 **

Dir: Karyn Kusama | US Thriller | 121’

You will gawp at Nicole Kidman’s transformation in this rather bleak and messy crime thriller cum character study of a lovelorn woman whose desperate past derails her future. It comes as a shock from an actor who is used to playing vulnerable and smart but always beautiful women.

Karyn Kusama has finally given Kidman the chance to play a broken, badass bitch in Destroyer. And it’s a dynamite performance that may look unappealing but certainly strikes home. As Erin Bell, her baleful, sinister stare haunts nearly every frame and coiled anger springs out unexpectedly – this antiheroine is not out to please anyone. After a messy opening act where Kusama establishes the storyline, a fractured narrative seesaws backwards and forwards from the late 1980/90s to present day LA, Destroyer pictures Kidman as hapless antiheroine Detective Erin Bell, whose youth was spent going undercover with her partner/lover Chris (Sebastian Stan) to infiltrate a band of robbers, headed up by glib psycho Silas (Toby Kebbell). But when Silas reappears on the scene, she’s determined to put an end to his antics, which have been carrying on since back in the day. But something else happened – Erin fell in love, madly. And that love, or loss of it on a fateful day that unspools in the satisfying final act, has made her into the woman she is in the current day.

And while her character is utterly believable in both the past and the present, it’s in the unravelling of the story – particularly in fin de siècle LA, that things sometimes feel unconvincing and rather anodyne, given the nature of crime-ridden LA. But Kidman’s detective is hard-hitting, intelligent and unafraid to be unpopular – easier when you’ve got nothing to lose, or live for. And that’s the essence of her character. And although occasionally she overstates her violent vehemence in the context of what’s going on around her, teetering on the edge of caricature, it’s a corruscating performance and one to be proud of.

Sadly this is a step back for Kusama whose brilliant thriller The Invitation (2015), was a shocker with a humane face. Here the band of brigands are almost laughably louche and lightweight, in complete contrast to Kidman’s detective character. And although they try to inject menace into proceedings, all we feel from them is disdain. The only refreshing contrast is a vignette from arch villain who sparks out interest, but not for long.

Kidman is so hard-bitten and bitter you start to feel uncomfortable watching her. Especially in scenes with her daughter’s nasty boyfriend, or jerking off a terminally ill low-life when she’s desperate for a lead. At the end of the day, Destroyer is an unpleasant, empty kind of film. It goes through the motions, but leaves you cold – and glad it’s all over.  MT

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 25 JANUARY 2019

Sundance Film Festival | 24 January – 3 February 2019

In Park City Utah, ROBERT REDFORD and his programmer John Cooper set the indie film agenda for 2019 with an array of provocative new titles. This year’s selection has the latest documentaries from Alex Gibney and Kim Longinotto (Shootin the Mafia). There will be biopics about Harvey Weinstein, Stieg Larsson (Millennium Trilogy), designer Halston, and tragic actor Anton Yelchin. English director Joanna Hogg’s latest drama The Souvenir will compete in the World Dramatic section, and Shia LeBoeuf’s scripting debut Honey Boy will compete in the US Dramatic section.
PREMIERES 2019 | D R A M A T I C 

After The Wedding

Isabel (Michelle Williams) has dedicated her life to working with the children in an orphanage in Calcutta. Theresa (Julianne Moore)…
Dir/Writer: Bart Freundlich

Animals

Would-be writer Laura (Holliday Grainger) and her free-spirited bestie Tyler (Alia Shawkat) share a messy Dublin apartment and a hearty…
Director Sophie Hyde Writer Emma Jane Unsworth

Blinded by the Light

1987, Margaret Thatcher’s England. Javed, a 16-year-old British Pakistani boy, lives in the town of Luton. His father’s recent job…
Director Gurinder Chadha, Writer Sarfraz Manzoor, Gurinder Chadha, Paul Mayeda Berges

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

1969. Ted (Zac Efron) is crazy-handsome, smart, charismatic, affectionate. And cautious single mother Liz Koepfler (Lily Collins) ultimately cannot resist…
Director Joe Berlinger. Screenwriter Michael Werwie

I Am Mother

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Director Grant Sputore, Screenwriter Michael Lloyd Green

Late Night

Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is a pioneer and legendary host on the late-night talk-show circuit. When she’s accused of being…
Director Nisha Ganatra. Screenwriter Mindy Kaling

Official Secrets

Based on the book , tells the true story of British secret-service officer Katharine Gun, who during the immediate run-up…
Director Gavin Hood, Screenwriter Sara Bernstein, Gregory Bernstein, Gavin Hood

Paddleton

An unlikely bromance between two misfit neighbors becomes an unexpectedly emotional journey when one of them is diagnosed with terminal…
Director Alex Lehmann. Screenwriter Alex Lehmann, Mark Duplass

Photograph

Rafi works as a street photographer in frenzied Mumbai, snapping improvised portraits for tourists at the city’s landmarks. When his…
Director Ritesh Batra. Screenwriter Ritesh Batra

Relive

Los Angeles detective Jack Radcliff fields a distressed phone call from his niece Ashley and rushes to the rescue—only to…
Director Jacob Estes Screenwriter Jacob Estes, Drew Daywalt

Sonja – The White Swan

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Director Anne Sewitsky. Screenwriter Mette Marit Bølstad, Andreas Markusson

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Young William Kamkwamba lives with his family in rural Malawi, where he attends school regularly and shows great aptitude for…
Director Chiwetel Ejiofor Screenwriter Chiwetel Ejiofor

The Mustang

Roman Coleman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a tightly wound convict fresh out of solitary confinement at a maximum security prison in…
Director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. Screenwriter Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Mona Fastvold, Brock Norman Brock

The Report

Senate staffer Daniel Jones is assigned the daunting task of leading an investigation into the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program….
Director Scott Z. Burns. Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns

The Sunlit Night

Summer is off to a terrible start for Frances (Jenny Slate). Her art project fails, her boyfriend unceremoniously kicks her…
Director David Wnendt. Screenwriter Rebecca Dinerstein

The Tomorrow Man

Retiree Ed Hemsler (John Lithgow) spends his quiet days watching the news, checking internet forums, and preparing for the end…
Director Noble Jones. Screenwriter Noble Jones

Top End Wedding

Lauren and Ned are engaged. They are in love. And they have just ten days to find Lauren’s mother (who…
Director Wayne Blair. Screenwriter Joshua Tyler, Miranda Tapsell

Troop Zero

Nine-year-old oddball Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace) is obsessed with space and making contact with the aliens of the universe. When…
Directors Bert&Bertie. Screenwriter Lucy Alibar

Velvet Buzzsaw

In the cutthroat world of fine-art trading and representation, up-and-coming agent Josephina (Zawe Ashton) stumbles across a secret weapon: hundreds…
Director Dan Gilroy. Screenwriter Dan Gilroy
PREMIERES 2019 | D O C U M E N T A R Y
The Brink / U.S.A. (Director: Alison Klayman, Producer: Marie Therese Guirgis) — Now unconstrained by an official White House post, Steve Bannon is free to peddle influence as a perceived kingmaker with a direct line to the President. After anointing himself leader of the “populist movement,” he travels around the U.S. and the world spreading his hard-line anti-immigration message. World Premiere
ASK DR RUTH (2019) 

Don’t let her small status fool you. She may be under five feet tall but Holocaust survivor Dr Ruth Westheimer is a force to be reckoned with, as chronicled by Ryan White in his documentary portrait of the noteworthy sex therapist.

Dir: Ryan White.

Halston

Fashion designed Halston combined talent, notoriety and sheer gorgeousness to become a legend. From humble beginnings in Des Moines, Iowa this doc explores his meteoric rise to fame.

Dir: Frederic Tcheng

 Love, Antosha

Prolific young actor Anton Yelchin was wise beyond his years and influenced around him to strive for more.

Dir: Garret Price

Marianne & Leonard

Is a beautiful yet tragic love story between Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian muse Marianne Ihlen.

Dir: Nick Broomfield

 Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen

In the 1970s Merata Mita broke through barriers of race, class and gender.

Dir/writer: Hepi Mita

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

Using words from Miles Davis’ Autobiography, Stanley Nelson’s biopic offers insight into our understanding of the legendary musician.

Dir: Stanley Nelson

 Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Mollu Ivins

With razor-sharp wit, outspoken journalist and firecracker Molly Ivins took on the good-old-boy corruption in the political establishment

Dir: Janice Engel. Writer: Janice Engel, Monique Zavistovski

The Great Hack

Have you ever filled out an online survey? Do you wonder why you received ads for products

Dir: Karim Amer, Jehane Noujam Wri: Erin Barnett, Pedro Kos, Karim Amer

The Inventor: Out for blood in Silicon Valley

Elizabeth Holmes arrived in Silicon Valley with a revolutionary medical invention. She called it “the Edison”

Director: Alex Gibney

 Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

After a stint as an editor early in her career, this American writer got the measure of publishing.

Dir: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

 Untouchable

The inside story of the meteoric rise and monstrous fall of movie titan Harvey Weinstein is laid bare.

Dir: Ursula Macfarlane

Words from a Bear

When N Scott Momaday won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize, it marked one of the first major acknowledgements of Native America.

COMPETITION TITLES | U S   D R A M A T I C

Before You Know It

Stage manager Rachel Gurner still lives in her childhood apartment—along with her off-kilter actress sister, Jackie; eccentric playwright father Mel;…
Director Hannah Pearl Utt. Screenwriters Hannah Pearl Utt, Jen Tullock

Big Time Adolescence

It’s funny: humans have been growing up for a really long time, but somehow we still suck at it. Just…
Director Jason Orley. Screenwriter Jason Orley

Brittany Runs A Marathon

Brittany Forgler is a funny, likeable, 27-year-old hot mess of a New Yorker whose trashy nightclub adventures and early-morning walks…
Director Paul Downs Colaizzo. Screenwriter Paul Downs Colaizzo

Clemency

How do you salvage your marriage when you are struggling to salvage your soul, your sense of self, and your…
Director Chinonye Chukwu. Screenwriter Chinonye Chukwu

Hala

Hala is her father’s pride and joy. Dutiful and academically gifted, she skillfully navigates both her social life as a…
Director Minhal Baig. Screenwriter Minhal Baig

Honey Boy

When 12-year-old Otis starts to find success as a child television star in Hollywood, his ex-rodeo-clown father returns to serve…
Director Alma Har’el. Screenwriter Shia LaBeouf

Imaginary Order

For Cathy, life as she’s always known it seems to be slipping away. Her sense of significance is crumbling as…
Director Debra Eisenstadt. Screenwriter Debra Eisenstadt

Luce

It’s been ten years since Amy and Peter Edgar (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) adopted their son from war-torn Eritrea,…
Director Julius Onah. Screenwriter JC Lee, Julius Onah

Ms. Purple

In the dark karaoke rooms of Los Angeles’s Koreatown stripmalls, Kasie works as a girl, a young hostess paid to…
Director Justin Chon. Screenwriter Justin Chon, Chris Dinh

Native Son

Bigger “Big” Thomas, a young African American man, lives with his mother and siblings in Chicago. Half-heartedly involved with a…
Director Rashid Johnson. Screenwriter Suzan-Lori Parks

Share

After a night of partying, high-school sophomore Mandy discovers that a series of cell-phone videos of her—half-dressed and semiconscious—have gone…
Director Pippa Bianca. Screenwriter Pippa Bianco

The Farewell

After learning their beloved matriarch has terminal lung cancer, a family opts not to tell her about the diagnosis, instead…
Director Lulu Wang. Screenwriter Lulu Wang

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Jimmie Fails has one hope in life: to reclaim the majestic Victorian house his grandfather built. Every week, Jimmie and…
Director Joe Talbot. Screenwriter Joe Talbot, Rob Richert

Them That Follow

In the rugged wilderness of Appalachia, the members of an isolated community of Pentecostal snake handlers led by Pastor Lemuel…
Director Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage. Screenwriter Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage

The Sound of Silence

A self-taught scientist, Peter (Peter Sarsgaard) works in New York as a “house tuner”—a unique, highly specialized profession he’s invented….
Director Michael Tyburski. Screenwriter Ben Nabors, Michael Tyburski

To The Stars

In a god-fearing small town in 1960s Oklahoma, bespectacled and reclusive teen Iris endures the booze-induced antics of her mother…
Director Martha Stephens. Screenwriter Shannon Bradley-Colleary
US   D O C U M E N T A R Y  

Always in Season

Claudia Lacy wants answers. When her 17-year-old son, Lennon, was found hanging from a swing set in Bladenboro, North Carolina,…
Director Jacqueline Olive

American Factory

In 2014, a Chinese billionaire opened a Fuyao factory in a shuttered General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio. For thousands…
Director Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert

APOLLO 11

NASA’s vaults open for the first time to spill this exquisite, never-before seen audio and 70 mm film footage of…
Director Todd Douglas Miller

Bedlam

is the first major documentary to explore the crisis in care of severely mentally-ill citizens. Set in Los Angeles,…
Director Kenneth Paul Rosenberg

David Crosby: Remember My Name

We’re all acquainted with archetypal rock bio-doc tropes: the unexpected rise to stardom, calamitous love affairs, a descent into drugs,…
Director A.J. Eaton

Hail Satan?

What kind of religious expression should be permitted in a secular nation? Holy hell, something is brewing! Just a few…
Director Penny Lane

Jawline

Austyn Tester—handsome and 17—feels oppressed by the confines of life in his small hometown in Tennessee. But in the online-streaming…
Director Liza Mandelup

Knock Down the House

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a young, bold Puerto Rican bartender from the Bronx, works double shifts to save her family’s home from…
Director Rachel Lears

Midnight Family

With striking vérité camerawork, drops us directly into the frenetic nighttime emergency ecosystem of Mexico City. In the midst of…
Director Luke Lorentzen

Mike Wallace Is Here

Deemed the “enemy of the people” by our current president, journalism in America is on the chopping block. Lies, fake…
Director Avi Belkin

Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements

Irene Taylor Brodsky builds on her powerful first feature (Audience Award winner at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival) by delving…
Director Irene Taylor Brodsky

One Child Nation

In order to expose rampant human-rights abuses, filmmaker Nanfu Wang fearlessly confronted Chinese government agents in her 2016 Sundance Film…
Director Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang

Pahokee

Four high-school students, Na’Kerria, Jocabed, Junior, and BJ, embark on their senior year in Pahokee, a small Florida town on…
Director Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan

TIGERLAND

In the span of only a handful of generations, the tiger has been transformed from a venerated creature with a…
Director Ross Kauffman

Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary

It begins as a documentary about “The Amazing Johnathan,” a uniquely deranged magician who built a career out of shock…
Director Ben Berman

Where’s My Roy Cohn?

Roy Cohn personified the dark arts of twentieth-century American politics, turning empty vessels into dangerous demagogues—from Senator Joseph McCarthy to…
Director Matt Tyrnauer
WORLD CINEMA   D R A M A T I C 

Dirty God

After a vicious acid attack leaves half her body covered in scars, Jade (Vicky Knight) must come to terms with…
Director Sacha Polak. Screenwriter Sacha Polak, Susanne Farrell

Divine Love

In the Brazil of 2027, where raves celebrate God’s love and drive-through spiritual-advice booths have become the norm, Joana holds…
Director Gabriel Mascaro
Screenwriter Gabriel Mascaro, Rachel Daisy Ellis, Esdras Bezerra, Lucas ParaÍzo

Dolce Fine Giornata

Maria Linde, a free-spirited, Jewish Polish Nobel Prize winner, lives in Tuscany surrounded by warmth and chaos in her family’s…
Director Jacek Borcuch. Screenwriter Jacek Borcuch, Szczepan Twardoch

Judy & Punch

In the rough-and-tumble town of Seaside (nowhere near the sea), villagers flock to Punch and Judy’s marionette theatre. Though Punch…
Director Mirrah Foulkes. Screenwriter Mirrah Foulkes

Koko-di Koko-da

Three years after their daughter Maja’s eighth birthday was interrupted by sudden tragedy, Elin and Tobias embark on a mirthless…
Director Johannes Nyholm. Screenwriter Johannes Nyholm

Monos

Belonging to a rebel group called “the Organization,” a ragtag band of child soldiers, brandishing guns and war names like…
Director Alejandro Landes. Screenwriter Alejandro Landes, Alexis Dos Santos

Queen of Hearts

Anne, a successful lawyer, lives in a beautiful modernist home with her two daughters and physician husband, Peter. Yet when…
Director May el-Toukhy. Screenwriter Maren Louise Käehne, May el-Toukhy

The Last Tree

Femi, a British boy of Nigerian heritage, enjoys a happy childhood in Lincolnshire, where he is raised by doting foster-mother…
Director Shola Amo. Screenwriter Shola Amoo

The Sharks

Rosina ticks away the days of a restless summer in her sleepy beachside town until she sights an ominous dorsal…
Director Lucía Garibaldi, Screenwriter Lucía Garibaldi

The Souvenir

Between script pitches and camera setups, Julie hosts a film-school cohort party where she meets a mysterious man named Anthony….
Director Joanna Hogg. Screenwriter Joanna Hogg

This is not Berlin

As Mexico anticipates the 1986 World Cup, 17-year-old Carlos is less interested in soccer and more interested in listening to…
Director Hari Sama. Screenwriter Rodrigo Ordóñez, Hari Sama, Max Zunino

WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES

One sunny day, four young strangers—Hikari, Ikuko, Ishi, and Takemura—meet by chance at a crematorium. They have all recently lost…
Director Makoto Nagahisa. Screenwriter Makoto Nagahisa
WORLD CINEMA.  D O C U M E N T A R Y

Advocate

Israeli human-rights lawyer Lea Tsemel is a force that won’t be deterred. Having defended Palestinians against a host of criminal…
Director Rachel Leah Jones, Philippe Bellaïche

Cold Case Hammarskjöld

In 1961, United Nations secretary-general Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane mysteriously crashed, killing Hammarskjöld and most of the crew. . It’s understood…
Director Mads Brügger

Gaza

Facing the serene Mediterranean Sea, 17-year-old Karma Khaial stands at the water’s edge and senses freedom. But in Gaza, the…
Director Garry Keane, Andrew McConnell

Honeyland

In a deserted Macedonian village, Hatidze, a 50-something woman in a bright yellow blouse and green headscarf, trudges up a…
Director Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska

Lapü

On a windy night in the Colombian desert, a young Wayúu woman named Doris sleeps in her hammock and dreams…
Dirs Juan Pablo Polanco, César Alejandro Jaimes. Writers Juan Pablo Polanco, César Alejandro Jaimes, María Canela Reyes

Midnight Traveler

In 2015, after Hassan Fazili’s documentary aired on Afghan national television, the Taliban assassinated the film’s main subject and put…
Director Hassan Fazili. Writer Emelie Mahdavian

Sea of Shadows

The Sea of Cortez is facing total collapse because of a war at sea. Mexican drug cartels have discovered the…
Director Richard Ladkani

Shooting the Mafia

In the streets of Sicily, beautiful, gutsy Letizia Battaglia pointed her camera straight into the heart of the Mafia that…
Director Kim Longinotto

Stieg Larsson – The Man Who Played With Fire

Since his untimely death, Stieg Larsson has become one of the world’s most famous authors. His Millennium Trilogy— and its…
Director Henrik Georgsson. Screenwriter Henrik Georgsson

The Disappearance of My Mother

Benedetta Barzini is a revered Italian model who shattered stereotypes by becoming a journalist and professor and gained notoriety by…
Director Beniamino Barrese. Screenwriter Beniamino Barrese

The Edge of Democracy

Once a nation crippled by military dictatorship, Brazil found its democratic footing in 1985 and then, in 2002, elected a…
Director Petra Costa. Screenwriter Petra Costa

The Magic Life of V

Wizards, magic spells, and heroic sword battles are just fantasy for some, but for Veera they’re a meaningful part of…
Director Tonislav Hristov. Screenwriter Tonislav Hristov, Kaarle Aho
SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL | 24 JANUARY – 3 FEBRUARY 2019 | PROGRAMME COURTESY OF THE SUNDANCE INSTITUTE 

The Rider (2017) **** Blu-ray

Writer/Dir: Chloe Zhao | Drama | 100min | US | 2017

Skilfully melding narrative and documentary film techniques, The Rider is set on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and follows a Lakota cowboy after an accident derails his rodeo riding dreams.

Chinese-born Chloe Zhao is a writer, director and producer known for her previous Cannes outing Songs My Brothers Taught Me. THE RIDER, her second feature selected for the Directors’ Fortnight and has won the National Critics’ Aeard. It’s a poetic cinema vérité drama that explores themes of male pride, family loyalty and thwarted ambition through a moodily soulful young cowboy who is unable to continue his vocation in the rodeo circuit due to a life-changing injury.

Enlived by the magnificent mountains and windswept prairies of America’s Badland’s National Park, South Dakota, a cast of non-professional actors Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau and Lane Scott star alongside Cat Clifford, who appeared in Songs My Brothers Taught Me, make this resonant action drama feel both authentic and  informative on the subject of horse training and competitive riding.

Zhao convincingly conveys the wild excitement and thrilling danger of this male-dominated world where young cowboys are addicted to the high octane buzz of the rodeo the narrative sizzles with angst and poignant moments, where macho bravado must be tempered with patience and gentle coaxing required to tame and tackle the wild horses and train the, to be ridden, and this is where Brady has an innate ability.

Brady dearly loves his family, his father is a disappointment to him, drinking and gambling on the slot machines, but he also fails to comprehend the weight of responsibility left to his dad when Brady’s mum died leaving him to bring up his two siblings: his brother has been left brain-damaged from a rodeo accident and his kind-hearted sister clearly has learning difficulties. But after a fall competing in the circuit where he was once a leading star, the film’s unsettling tension derives from Brady’s bitter struggle to fulfill his future in the outside world, a pale comparison to his life in the wild outdoors, and he constantly torn between reality working in the local supermarket, and his desire to get back in the wild riding and training with his horses.

But this is Brady’s film and he gives a mesmerising and deeply moving turn with echoes of Montgomery Clift in The Misfitas, as a man so deeply connected to the land and his horses that he doesn’t know where else to go. MT

NOW ON BLU-RAY

The Rider won the Art Cinema Award at CANNES 2017 and National US Critics’ Award 2018

 

 

 

 

Tribute to Richard Lormand (1962-2018)

It is with great sadness that we pay tribute to one of our greatest supporters, film consultants and readers Richard Lormand who has died aged 56.

During a long and distinguished career Richard was a leading light in international communication, film publicity and marketing, specialising in launches at the Berlin, Cannes, Locarno and Venice festivals, and just recently, Marrakech 2018 where he was preparing the 17th edition, when he died.

LOCARNO credit

Richard was a true professional and always a pleasure to work with. He handled world premieres for numerous award-winning films, including Maren Ade’s TONI ERDMANN, Ildiko Enyedi’s ON BODY AND SOUL, Fatih Akin’s IN THE FADE and SOUL KITCHEN, Alice Rohrwacher’s THE WONDERS and HAPPY AS LAZZARO, Christian Petzold’s BARBARA and PHOENIX, Samuel Maoz’s LEBANON and FOXTROT, Lav Diaz’s THE WOMAN WHO LEFT, Ritesh Batra’s THE LUNCHBOX, Takashi Miike’s 13 ASSASSINS and BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, the Taviani Brothers’ CAESAR MUST DIE, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s UNCLE BOONMEE, Jerzy Skolimowski’s ESSENTIAL KILLING, Amos Gitai’s RABIN, Lucrecia Martel’s ZAMA and LA CIENAGA, Alexander Sokurov’s RUSSIAN ARK and FAUST, Jafar Panahi’s THREE FACES and THE CIRCLE, and Takeshi Kitano’s ZATOICHI and HANA-BI.

Richard was part of the press consultancy team of Locarno Festival and the producing teams of Mitchell Lichtenstein’s cult favourite TEETH, HAPPY TEARS (starring Demi Moore, Parker Posey, Ellen Barkin and Rip Torn) and ANGELICA (starring Jena Malone and Janet McTeer). He was also a producer on Amos Gitai’s DISENGAGEMENT, starring Academy Award-winning actress Juliette Binoche.

Born and raised outside Lafayette, Louisiana, Richard was the son of a Japanese mother and a native French-speaking Cajun American father. He began his career as a reporter/journalist for Reuters in New York City, then went on to work for the Cannes Film Festival (France), Taormina Film Festival (Italy), Torino Film Festival (Italy) and the Viennale/Vienna Film Festival (Austria). Richard also wrote and directed the 1994 award-winning short TI-BOY’S WIFE/LA FEMME DE TI-BOY (Clermont-Ferrand, Locarno, Torino).

His charisma, warmth and professionalism are rare in these days of increasingly faceless public relations, focussing on ‘hits’ and ‘likes’ on social media. Passionately driven by genuine talent and strong stories, Richard often took chances with small independent films and invested his time and talent to make sure they were noticed. His was a personal approach, genuine and always with heart. We shall miss him so much. MT

RICHARD LORMAND

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) **** Restoration

Dir.: Frank Capra; Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers; USA 1946; 130 min.

Director/co-writer Frank Capra wanted foremost “to combat atheism” when he filmed Philip Van Doren’s 1939 novella The Greatest Gift in 1946. Later he acknowledged “the feature developed a life of its own”, becoming everyone’s favourite Christmas movie since about 1976. But on its release, critics were rather unkind – on top of it, RKO lost half a million dollars at the box office. Bosley Crowther of the NYT wrote: “the weakness of this picture is the sentimentality of it—its illusory concept of life. Mr. Capra’s nice people are charming, his smalltown is a beguiling place, and his pattern for solving problems is most optimistic and facile. But somehow, they all resemble theatrical attitudes, rather than average realities.”

Nevertheless Frank Capra’s films always have a basis in reality and a moral tale to tell and despite the schmaltz, the reason this film is so universally popular, especially during the holiday season it that it endorses the important facts of life that we know are worth remembering: Don’t give up; Appreciate what you have – you could lose it, and loved-ones are more important that material riches (yes, this is a difficult one!)

In the small town of Bedford Falls George Baily (Stewart) lives with his wife Mary (Reed) and their three children. George not only saved his brother Harry from drowning as a child, he also worked hard for the community and has spent his entire life sacrifices himself for others in a job he’s never enjoyed doing. But it’s only when he nearly loses his life, that he really learns to appreciate again.

As usual, the eventual cast was a long way from the original proposals: Before Stewart, Henry Fonda and Cary Grant where considered to play George, whilst Jean Arthur and Ginger Rogers were also in the running before Donna Reed got the part. In her autobiography Rogers wrote her refusal of the Mary role might be “foolish, you say?”

On the 89 acre set of the RKO ranch in Encino, dogs, cats and pigeons roamed freely. The Main Street was 300 yards long, the equivalent of three city blocks. At the Oscars in 1946, William Whyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives swept the board, winning Best Picture (Samuel Goldwyn), Best Director for Whyler, Best Actor for Fredrick March and Best Editor for William Hornbeck. 

It’s a Wonderful Life won in the technical category, due to the success of Russell Shearman. who invented a new method to produce artificial snow. Until then, this ‘snow’ consisted of cornflakes, coloured in white. But the crunching noise of the actors walking on the flakes, made re-dubbing of these scenes necessary. Shearman used water, soap flakes, foamite and sugar, to save the re-dubbing. DoPs were Capra regular Joseph Walker and the (then) very young Joseph Biroc, who finished his long and outstanding career for Wim Wenders’ Hammett in 1982.

The last word should go to the FBI who wrote a memo after the premiere along these lines: “With regard to the picture It’s a Wonderful Life, the film represented rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to sources, is a common trick used by Communists”. Indeed. AS

NATIONWIDE and all over Europe from 30 November 2018

Tulip Fever (2017)

Dir.: Justin Chadwick; Cast: Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz, Dane de Haan, Judi Dench, Holliday Granger, Tom Hollander; USA/UK 2015, 110 min.

Based on the novel of the same name by Deborah Moggach and written by Tom Stoppard, Tulip Fever is a story of a loveless marriage and a disillusioned romantic set against the tulip mania that raged in the first half of the 17th century. Moggach was inspired by the Dutch paintings of the Golden Age, and the film evokes their opulent yet lugubrious surroundings.

The background to this intimate drama is the speculative madness of “tulip fever”: rare bulbs are bought and sold in frenzied bidding, their value often exceeding gold.

A fascinating film could be made this Seventeenth Century Amsterdam’s equivalent of the South Sea Bubble and the Wall Street Crash, but this isn’t it.

The troubled production was charted in the press like that of Cleopatra’ over half a century earlier and, rather like that, the end result is good-looking (the tulips standing out from the general murk as little splashes of colour like the fish in ‘Rumble Fish’) but garrulous and uninvolving; but mercifully a lot shorter.

Being a twenty-first century historical film it contains plenty of unsexy sex and vertiginous steadicam photography; and as in ‘Cleopatra’s day a big historical epic wasn’t complete without a cameo by Finlay Currie, so the cast today inevitably includes Judi Dench.

The camera hovers moodily over the dark interiors, the narrow alleyways and canals seem to be all like traps, it is never really light, the weather seems to be foul all the time – creating a mood of morbidity, in spite of the wealth displayed. Vikander is brilliant in her mood changes, her intimate scenes contrast vividly with manic plotting; in the end, when cornered, she runs wild like a woman possessed.

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

The Old Man and the Gun (2018) ****

Dir: David Lowery | Cast: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek | US Drama | 93mins

This mellow arthouse movie is a tongue in cheek tribute to gentlemen villains everywhere. The perfect antidote to crime thrillers, THE OLD MAN & THE GUN shoots the breeze with Robert Redford’s real life career criminal Forrest Tucker, reflecting over his glorious life of bank robbery. With its themes of ageing gracefully, living life to the full and being true to ourselves The Old Man and The Gun is a wistful experience enriched by polished performances from its well-oiled leads Spacek and Redford.

Redford’s Forrest Tucker is already into his 60s when we meet him in 1981 during a genteel crime spree in the Midwest. Approaching his banking targets he simply produces a gun and asks for the money. With a dozy detective on his trail in the shape of Casey Affleck (as John Hunt) Tucker is meanwhile casually turning his thoughts to romance and dating a rather sceptical woman called Jewel (Spacek), who’s not quite sure what to make of the charming old roué.

The Old Man is Lowery’s follow-up to his rather dour haunting fantasy A Ghost Story. But although both share that undercurrent of navel-gazing introspection that has mulling over the meaning of life, this is a much more upbeat affair that nevertheless packs a powerful undercurrent of tension in its final scenes. The real life Tucker was well into his 80s when he died in 2004. And there’s something faintly laudable about his method of making a living. No-one ever gets hurt, and there’s no deception, although Tucker possesses a steely resolve in his recidivism — Lowery plays on that most disarming of human qualities: the element of surprise. Tucker maintains a genial charm throughout, always cutting to the chase but with charisma in spades. And he slowly builds a convincing relationship with Jewel, who’s attracted to his magnetism despite her better judgement, always aware that at some point she be short-changed.

Old Man has a criminal pulse but it’s a steady one. Craftily, Lowery has us believe that Old Man will be a cat-and-mouse game between Hunt and Tucker. But then he film turns into a much more subtle affair, building rich characterisations of the smiling but steely villain and his half-hearted oppressor, Old Man plays out as a slow-burning study of criminal motivation and mutual respect. Affleck’s Hunt is bemused and mildly fascinated by what makes Tucker tick. And there’s one scene where the two meet in the bathroom that really showcases this charm offensive between the two men. But Hunt’s more interested in staying home with his wife, and mentoring his kids on police methods rather than rushing around frenetically chasing wrongdoers.

The Old Man owes its immense charm to Redford who is really brilliant as the twinkly- eyed thief. There’s deep sadness and longing behind the warmth of his wry smile, rather than any desire to hurt or deceive. His atavistic urge to escape and re-offend is clearly rooted in his childhood – it’s at his very core and keeps him alive.

Joe Anderson’s grainy Super 16mm visually gives the film that retro feel. Daniel Hart’s loose-limbed tuneful score puts a rosy spins on proceedings — Spacek barely conceals her clear affection for the loveable cad, but also the fear that she may lose him to pastures new.   Tucker is a leopard who has no intention of changing his spots. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 7 DECEMBER 2018

Becoming Animal (2018) ***

Dir.: Peter Mettler, Emma Davie; Documentary with David Abram; Switzerland/UK 2018, 78 min.

Peter Mettler (The End of Time) and Emma Davie (I am Breathing) direct, edit and film philosopher David Abram (The Spell of the Sensuous) as he explores our real sense of alienation from the animal kingdom in a walk around Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The aim is to make us more aware of our status ‘as animals’ so we can improve our understanding of the animal kingdom and redress the balance between the ecological and the technological.

The Grand Teton National Park has a dizzying diversity of wildlife. A snail’s body becomes an immense landscape as the soundscape immerses us in shivering leaves, rushing rivers and the weird spacey pitch of elk bugling at night. Becoming Animal uses the sensory tools of cinema to trace how the written word and technology has affected how we see ourselves as instinctual creatures rather than just intellectual humans.

Driven by wonder, curiosity and a desire for balance between ecological and technological imperatives, Becoming Animal is an invitation to explore our relationship with this “more than human world” and recognise it for what it is: an exquisitely intricate system in which everything is alive and expressive. In our delicate ecosystem humans, animals and landscapes are inextricably interdependent, we do not stand alone and dominate.

Wandering through the part at night Abram feels a sudden sense of visceral communion with the birds, elks and bison. After watching a snail leaving its house, he touches a tree and comments “I feel the tree touching me.. I can feel how they see me from their perspective. Trees respond to shadow and light all the time. Touching them, I feel touched by them.” These observations are followed by a more long sequences, before we return to civilisation, and a monologue about how “the alphabet ended the unity between image and message. The alphabet has ended this status, because now, when people see letters, they become special property of humans”. Abstract messages like ‘Welcome’ and “We are erupting with savings” proves the point. Cut to a bison, who keeps some cars waiting on the road. The cars “are our shells for immortality.” And: “Technology always reflects back to ourselves, and we are beginning to interact with the technology.” We see a sign “Please check surroundings for safety” and Abrams concludes “these tools help us, to engage with nature”. Whilst fast-forward images of trees rush by, Abrams explains that “technology tries to undo the ancient relationship between men and nature” “Do we still have the awareness of the wind..Because by-products of our civilisation are dumped everywhere, and change the movement of the wind”.

This provocative and vibrantly evocative film is sometimes hampered by is puzzling messages that almost add to the existing confusion. In the end we get the point – but it could have been simpler without the psychobabble. AS

BECOMING ANIMAL on RELEASE FROM 22 NOVEMBER 2018 

The Price of Everything (2018) ****

Dir.: Nathaniel Kahn; Documentary with Amy Cappellazzo, Stefan Edlis; Jeff Koons, Larry Poons, Gerhard Richter, Jerry Saltz; USA 2018, 98′

Does the global art market benefit the many, or just the very few? It’s an valid question and one that Nathaniel Kahn explores in his entertaining examination of those who have the funds to buy any artistic creation they fancy. Only to lock it away in their private collections while it makes more and more money. The work is question is of no benefit to the general public, because the inflationary prices have made it almost impossible even for the most elite museums to buy and display these works.

The story started on 18th October 1973, when the private collector and NY taxi-fleet owner Robert Scull sold about 50 of his paintings at Sotheby Park-Bernet Gallery. Among them was Jasper John’s ‘Target’, which went for a (then) amazing 135 000 US Dollars. It is now worth a cool hundred million Dollars, after being bought by the private collector Stefan Edlis for ten million in 1997. The Scull auction captured the imagination of the banks. who had never previously considered modern Art as an investment. Prices were driven up – artificially or not – and today’s inflationary sums are paid, ten times higher than they were at the beginning of the millennium. Obviously, the people who profit defend the system. Especially auctioneers such as Sotheby’s: “Great art, almost by nature, needs to be greatly valued” (ie. expensive), “because that’s the culture’s way of protecting it.”

 But what about the painters? There are certain superstars like Jeff Koons who are ‘untouchable’ – even though one of Hirst’s private collectors has recently seen his artwork go down in price. In today’s market it’s not worth the five million Dollars he paid for it originally. Koons, looking like a playboy gone to seed, is seen working in his atelier, around hundred painters taking orders from the master (no, it does not look like Warhol’s Factory at all), whilst the Koons explains that he could only finish one painting a month without his ‘little helpers’. One should mention that Jeff Koons was once a Wall Street trader, which chimes in with Kahn’s reference to The Wolf of Wall Street.

The director then turns his attention to artist Larry Poons who is at the other end of the scale. Now in his eighties, but still very feisty, Poons “fell off the grid” after his success in the 1960s, with his minimalist dot paintings. After he changed his style, moving on to large scale expressionism, his emotional paintings rapidly feel from grace and he became a ‘non-entity’. But, as fate would have it, his work is now popular again – “I wouldn’t be alive, if I had gotten rich”. Seeing him on his vintage motor bike, enjoying himself, you can believe every word. The Cologne based artist Gerhard Richter is now the best-selling artist in Europe. Whilst lecturing about the importance of museums, we see him at a major auction he professes to hate so much. And Amy Cappellazzo, Chairman of Global Fine Arts at Sotheby’s, calls her marketing strategy “hunting” – returning us to the Wolf of Wall Street theme. 

Kahn never really comes down on one side or the other in his fascinating debate. But goes on to show how the future holds even more opportunities for the chosen few: An artwork “created” be AI just fetched $ 432000 – so superstars like Koons and Richter better be careful: AI will need much less maintenance – until they take over the whole human bamboozle. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE 16 NOVEMBER 2018 | ALSO SCREENING DURING THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

 

9 to 5 (1980) **** BFI re-release

Dir.: Colin Higgins; Cast: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, Dabney Coleman, Sterling Hayden; USA 1980, 109 min.

Colin Higgins’ revenge comedy 9 to 5 is in many ways a symbol for the way Hollywood produces films – not only in the past, but very much today. Take an engaged female scriptwriter (Patricia Resnick) who has written “a dark comedy” about female harassment in the workplace. It is produced by the company of the leading star (Jane Fonda), who is afraid that “the women would not be sympathetic enough”. And then, the coup-de-grace, put a male director (Colin Higgins ) in charge (literally), who told Resnick “I write by myself, I am not going to write with you. I believe, there is one captain on (the) set, the director. If you want to visit on set once and have lunch, that’s fine”. The result was 9 to 5. Higgins was gay and died of AIDS aged 47. 

Three women meet in the offices of Consolidated Industries: Violet Newstead (Tomlin), the efficient office manager hoping to be promoted to management level; Doralee Rhodes (Parton), secretary to her sexist, scheming and downright nasty boss Franklin Hart Jr. (Coleman) The trio was completed by newcomer Judy Bernly (Fonda), newly divorced and still broken-hearted.

Hart lusts madly after Rhodes who gives him the cold shoulder. He ‘employs’ an office snitch who sits in the toilet cubicle, noting down the conversations of the staff on toilet paper. The three women spring into action after Hart overlooks Newstead for a promotion, choosing a man instead. Newstead finds out her boss is embezzling money from the company, but the papers they need as proof will only be available in two week’s hence. So they kidnap Hart and imprison him in his own empty house. Meanwhile he has sent away his wife on a long holiday so he can pursue his secretary. Although Hart escapes, putting the stolen merchandise back, his boss Tinsworthy (Hayden) is so taken by the changes Newstead has made to office life in Hart’s name (gliding working hours, on site-crèche, equal payment for both genders) that he promotes Hart to a senior position in Brazil, with Newstead replacing him.

Higgins (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) created a farce, including Warner Brother cartoons and over-the-top dream sequences. Roger Ebert wrote after the premiere “Nine to Five is a good-hearted, simple-minded comedy that will have a place in film history, I suspect, primarily, because it features the movie debut of Dolly Parton”. Later he concedes “it also has a dash of social commentary”. One can see, that Fonda/Higgins succeeded in “making the social message more palatable”. 

Whilst Fonda is planning a sequel, Resnick is more realistic: “In some ways we have moved forward a little bit, but one of our political parties seems to be trying to undo what little we’ve been able to do. The other thing is that so many people think all this has been settled.’ After Resnick was involved in a musical version of 9 to 5 on Broadway, most male journalists opined: “Well. None of these issues are a problem in contemporary life, so how are women of today going to relate to it all?” Well there have been some changes: You cannot sexually harass someone as obviously, and we do not call people ‘secretaries’. Apart from that, life goes on as it always did. But people would kill to work just from 9 to 5.” AS

SCREENING FROM 16 NOVEMBER 2018 NATIONWIDE

 

    

Wildlife (2018) ****

Writer|Dir: Paul Dano | Cast: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould | Drama | US | 105’

A teenage boy experiences the breakdown of his parents’ marriage in  Paul Dano’s crisp coming of age family drama, set in 1960s Montana, and based on Richard Ford’s novel.

Although once or twice veering into melodrama, actor Dano maintains impressive control over his sleek and very lucid first film which is anchored by three masterful performances, and sees a young family disintegrate after the husband loses his job.

WILDLIFE has a great deal in common with Retribution Road (2008), its similar theme of aspirational hope for a couple starting out on their life in a new town, in this case Great Falls, Montana. But here the perspective is very different – in Wildlife, the entire experience is seen from the unique perspective of a pubescent boy, Joe, played thoughtfully by young Australian actor Ed Oxenbould (The Visit).

There’s an old-fashioned quality to the film that very much works to its advantage. The date is 1960 and in the mountains behind the family house a forest fire is raging, with warnings that it could well spread to the town centre if not controlled by rangers, who Jerry Brinson (Gyllenhaal) decides to join at a wage of only a dollar an hour, after much moping around the house when he loses his job on the local golf course. This comes as a big surprise to his wife Jeannette (Mulligan), an earnest homemaker who believes in her husband’s desire to make more of himself, and she sees this as a step backwards, career-wise. Meanwhile, Joe signs on as an apprentice to a local portrait photographer, a part-time job he takes to while doing very well in his school work.

Dano and his co-writer Zoe Kazan, stick to a clean, straighforward narrative but there’s a subtle brooding tension at play, and while Joe seems emotionally grounded and resilient (a tribute to his parents), Jerry and Jeannette are less so: although Jerry’s character is the most underwritten of the three, there’s a haunted quality to him as a straightforwaed dad who suddenly implodes after the shock of his firing. Jeannette also starts to lose her own sense of equilibrium:. “What kind of man leaves his wife and child in such a lonely place?,” Jeanette casts around for emotional ballast in an much older wealthy man, Warren Miller (Bill Camp), who she meets while giving swimming classes.

In some ways this fragmented behaviour is character-forming for Joe, his parents have clearly given him a rock solid babyhood, and so he can weather the shocking fliration scenes that take place between Millar and his mother, and his loss at his father’s temporary abandonment, although he finds it all difficult to fathom. This is not a film about adult infidelity and abandonment, but about how a teenage perceives and deals with it, and as such it is beautifully restrained and supremely elegant – the audience is required to suspend disbelief and take a trip back to teenagehood and the bewildering experience it offers. Dano makes the denouement an enigmatic affair, leaving the door open to hope, while acknowledging the inevitable. MT

NATIONWIDE FROM 9 NOVEMBER 2018

Outlaw King (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON Netflix


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The Hate You Give (2018) ****

Dir.: George Tillman jr.; Cast: Amanda Steinberg, Lisa Carter, Russell Hornsby, Algen Smith, KJ Apa, Sabrina Carpenter, Common, Anthony Mackie; USA 2018, 133 min.

Director George Tillman jr. (Faster) and his screen writer Audrey Wells have made a brulliant job of adapting the novel The Hate U Give, avoiding clichés and easy answers in this case of another shooting of a black youngster by a white police officer. Instead of solutions, Tillman explores the issues through a teenager representing both communities: she – and other young people – are the victim of a fight they did not chose.

Starr Carter (a brilliant Amanda Steinberg) lives with her family in the black neighbourhood of Garden Heights. Every morning she puts on the uniform of her prestigious prep school and becomes somebody else. Her boyfriend Chris (Apa) and ‘bestie’ Kayleigh (Carpenter) are both white, as are the majority of the students. Starr’s mother Lisa (Hall) has insisted on her choice of school. She wants security for her daughter. Her father Maverick‘Mave’ (Hornsby) is deeply politicised, Black Panther leaflets are all over the house. Starr’s half brother is also very much into his black identity. As a small child, Starr has been the key witness of her classmate’s shooting by the black drug lord (Mackie), who rules Garden Heights with an iron fist. History will soon repeat itself, when Starr is in the car with childhood friend Khalil (Smith) who is shot dead by a white police officer, who mistook a hairbrush for a piece. But, as black officer Carlos (Common) explains to Starr and her father, this is not a simple case because the officer suspected that Khalil was a drug dealer (which he actually was), and reacted in self defence.

When Mave asks Carlos if he would have shot Khalil, the officer nods. “But, if the person in question would have been a white man in a Mercedes, would you have shot too?”, asks Mave. Carlos replies that he would have asked the white man to raise his hands. This double standard is not a question of race, but of tribal law: police officers of all colours are used to dealing with drug lords like the one running the black neighbourhood. It does not matter to them, in the moment of confrontation, that the huge majority of the black population is equally afraid of the drug dealers. Nevertheless, a heated street battle is being fought, and Mave is not only fighting the police, but the black drug dealers, who suspect him of collaborating with the police. In the final analysis, Amanda surmises that hate and violence is not only a question of race.

Stylishly shot on the widescreen and revealing personal close-ups, Steinberg carries the feature with extreme maturity: she is a girl of divided loyalties. And must find a world where she can live in peace with both sides.

Without lecturing, Tillman tries to ask questions. And the audience has to to answer. And there’s no easy answer here, only an acknowledgement that the fault lines run much deeper than the agitators on both sides want to admit. At the same time, The Hate U give is a full-blooded thriller, and in spite of the length, it sustains its suspense. And the real triumph is the marriage of genre aesthetics and articulate political content. AS

NATIONWIDE FROM 22 OCTOBER 2018 | SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018) ****

Dir.: Michael Moore; Documentary, USA 2018, 128′.

Michael Moore has reversed the figures of his earlier documentary feature that focused on the Twin Tower attack Fahrenheit 9/11. 11/9 refers to the date in 2016 when Donald Trump was elected as President of the Unites States of America. This latest is an in-depth analysis of Trump’s past and present but also a future devoid of democracy due to the over-whelming power of the corporations.

And the Democrats don’t get an easy ride in this incendiary examination of US politics: Moore also  rubs Hilary Clinton’s nose into the debacle: on the day before the elections, super-confident, she thanks Beyoncé/Jay Z for their appearance at her rally, and also applauds rappers, whose names she has never heard off. Next comes a reminder that Trump has always played out his corruption and scandals in plain view of the public, but always seems to get away with it. Ditto also appears to have had an inappropriate relationship with his daughter daughter Ivanka – during all stages of child and adulthood. But then again, everyone was made aware of it. Then Moore starts criticising himself: clips from his TV appearance on the Roseanne Barr Show with Trump, the latter praising “Roger & Me”. And Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner even threw a premiere party for Moore’s “Sicko”, because he too liked it so much.

Moore then veers off to his home town of Flint, Michigan (the state Trump won by a whisker). In April 2014, Governor Rick Snyder (R), had called a “State of emergency Management”, dismissing all elected state representatives, and replacing them with his cronies, mostly from the corporate sector – without ever giving any reason for the so-called emergency. Flint got his fresh water from Lake Huron, but Snyder had ordered a new (superfluous) pipeline to be built, and during the time of the construction, water for Flint was pumped from the polluted river which gives the town its name. Thousands of, mainly black, children suffered lead-poisoning, 12 died of Legionnaires disease, but Governor Snyder insisted that the water was safe. Later President Obama visited the stricken town, tasting the water publicly, but only putting his lips to the rim of the glass. Townspeople, who had welcomed his arrival, later damaged a mural in his honour: trust in political institutions in the poorest community of the USA was gone.

Moore concludes with a call to arms, to uphold basic democracy. He also questions whether democracy really exists in the USA, or indeed whether it has ever existed in the across the country. The Snyder example in Flint shows how even the most basic of democratic rights can be circumvented: during a recent TV appearance Trump has already asked the public whether he should  do away with the 2020 election, if a majority of them is in agreement. It seems that this is already a foregone conclusion in Russia and communist China, so why not the USA? For those who don’t support Trump the outlook is grim: Just like Orwell’s Big Brother, Trump urges the people of his country not to always believe what they see and read. Slightly unwieldy, and certainly too long, Fahrenheit 11/9 is still valuable. AS

SCREENING NATIONWIDE FROM OCTOBER 19 2018

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) ***

Writer/Dir: Drew Goddard | Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jeff Bridges, Lewis Pullman | Jan Hamm, Cynthia Erivo, Chris Hemsworth | US Drama | 141′

Drew Goddard moves from a Cabin in the Woods to a hotel straddling Nevada and California in his over-stuffed Neo-noir saved by a dynamite cast. Set in Lake Tahoe hotel during the Nixon era, a bold attempt to tribute Tarantino is laudable but over-ambitious, and although El Royale juggles a fistful of plots in its fractured narrative the result is unwieldy and far too long. The central figure is Jeff Bridges’ Reverend Flynn, a gangster posing as a man of the cloth who has returned to El Royale for his ill-gotten gains, in the shape of a briefcase of dollars, years later. His fellow guests at this jaded establishment with two-way mirrors include an ebullient salesman (Jon Hamm); a mysterious gun-toting femme fatale (Dakota Johnson) and Cynthia Erivo’s brilliant lounge singer who keeps giving forth with those strong-voiced solos which will soon come in handy, plotwise. There’s a seething paranoia abroad reflecting the febrile political era and each character seems locked in their own private hell, not least the timid bell boy (Lewis Pullman’s Miles Miller) as who is the real dark horse of the El Royale. And when the story’s almost done, along comes a cocky Chris Hemsworth channelling Charles Manson in an ill-advised final chunk to the proceedings – he’s determined to get his hands on the loot. It all looks stylish and slick and the acting is superb, yet for all this mystery and money (clearly the budget was huge) there’s no satisfaction to be had in the protracted ending. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 12 October 2018 NATIONWIDE

Major Arcana (2018) *** Raindance Film Festival 2018

Dir: Josh Melrod | US | Drama | 82’

A simple back to nature tale but none the worse for that, what MAJOR ARCANA really needs is a shot in the arm – ironic considering one of its central themes is addiction. Josh Melrod’s low budget indie sees a jobbing carpenter Dink (Ujon Tokarski) seek solace back in his home town in Vermont where building a wooden cabin serves as a kind of therapy for his long-term drug and money problems. Serendipity has him meeting up with an ex-girfriend Sierra (Tara Summers) who seems to share his troubled past – and is clearly glad to see him again despite their rather frosty surprise re-encounter which will provide the only spark in this gently smouldering tale. Dink’s father has left him a sizeable chunk of property including 52 acres of land that provides the film’s bosky location and cinematographer Ramsey Fendall’s freshly limpid visuals make best use of the lushly verdant landscape with a river running through it. The only thorn in Dink’s side is an alcoholic mother desperate for cash in this everyday story of countryfolk where life goes on but nothing really happens. MT

RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

https://vimeo.com/273335814

Won’t you be my Neighbor? (2018) **** LFF2018

Dir: Morgan Neville | US | Doc | 94′ | With Bill Clinton, Hilary Clinton, Al Gore, Robert F Kennedy. 

In his latest documentary Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (Twenty Feet from Stardom) looks back on the legacy of US TV presenter Fred Rogers (1926-2003) , whose programmes during the 1950s were popular with young kids, introducing them to a broad educational agenda as well as providing light entertainment. While the nation changed around him, Fred Rogers stood firm in his beliefs about the importance of protecting childhood. And Neville pays tribute to this legacy with the latest in his series of highly engaging, moving documentary portraits of essential American artists.

Looking like a cross between Val Doonican (he donned a different cardy in each episode) and William Rees-Mogg, Fred had a calm and kindly manner in explaining, in an accessible way, contemporary political issues as well as more complex concepts such as love and divorce. He was married with his own children and advocated the government funding of children’s television before a US Senate committee.

Rogers started out as an academic with a background in child development and after ordaining as a Presbyterian minister he headed for a church career, but felt an overriding need to reach out to kids through the medium of television. A pioneer of popular culture, he cared deeply about protecting the emotional needs of the nation’s children. His pre-school programme Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ran from 1968 – 2001.

His onscreen manner had nothing to do with preachy didacticism. He talked touchingly about loving one’s neighbour and respecting the community. And while it’s easy to sneer about his caring approach and these fluffy ideals, the man comes across as a really genuine character, and buy no means a pseud – unlike Jimmy Saville. Whereas nowadays kid’s attention spans are short, and TV time is precious and expensive – with a need for frequent commercial breaks, Rogers’ programmes had a leisurely pace to them, and a spontaneity that allowed time and space for contemplation, and he always made sure to repeat that his young viewers were ‘loved, and lovable’ just as they were. He created characters such as Captain Friday (who hated change) and his own alter ego Stripey Tiger.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor also engages with the idea that Rogers’ fostered narcissism and a sense of entitlement by doting on his child fans, but this was hardly the case – he was simply at pains to ease their fears and anxieties so they could develop their own sense of self-esteem. In fact, it emerges that Rogers had his own share of heartache, and actually worried about whether his programmes would make a difference to children’s lives in America’s increasingly violent culture. Neville draws on a wealth of archive footage as well as contemporary interviews to create this warm and informative portrait of a remarkable man and his legacy, whether or not you know of this humane and public figure. MT

SCREENING DURING LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 10-21 OCTOBER 2018

   

The Big Lebowski (1998) re-release

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: UNIVERSAL PICTURES

 

Philip Roth: Novels and Films | UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

During his illustrious lifetime. Philip Roth (1933-2018) wrote written 31 novels, of which eight have been turned into feature films. He also created two original treatments for Roger Corman’s Studio (Battle of Blood Island) and a TV series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”. Sadly, they have now apprently sunken without trace, and Roth’s own adaption of his novel The Ghost Writer (1979), which was directed by Tristan Powell in 1984 for the TV series “American Playhouse” starring Claire Bloom and photographed by Kenneth McMillan, is not available in this country. But do Roth’s brilliant books adapt well for the screen?

unknownThe seven big screen versions, stretching from his first success GOODBYE, COLUMBUS (1969) to the most recent offering, AMERICAN PASTORAL (2016), have not only suffered inadequate scripts and miscasting, but also the sheer impossibility of their transition from novel to screen. Apart from Roth’s style -sparse almost minimalist prose –  psychological realism is hard to capture: long reflections spanning whole days are relatively easy to write down, as are the dialogues in Roth’s protagonists brains, churning over and over again the smallest details – but the poor cinematographer deals in images, and does not want his work mistaken for a radio play. And what about Roth’s quest for Jewish identity?: a Sisyphus effort, which is the central theme in nearly all his novels. Equally, Roth’s political chronicles of America from the Thirties to today, which show a loss of faith in the American Dream – and the male Homo sapiens in particular, are not so easy transferred into images.

goodbye-columbus-ali-macgraw-richard-benjamin-1969Larry’s Pearce’s GOODBYE, COLUMBUS is perhaps the most authentic film version of any Roth novel. The spare and direct prose of the 1959 novella makes it difficult to adapt to the screen, but Pearce follows the original extremely faithfully. Neil (Richard Benjamin) lives with aunt Gladys in the Bronx (in the novel Newark/NJ, where Roth grew up) and works in the local public library. The young man is an unobservant Jew, very much to the chagrin of his aunt. When, at the beginning of the summer, he starts a passionate love affair with Brenda Patimkin (Ali McGraw), a Jewish girl from nouveau riche Westchester, who at the end of the summer will go to college in Boston, Neil feels first liberated, then anxious: For the adult Patemkins, father Ben (Jack Klugman), who is a sink manufacturer and his wife (Nan Martin), he seems not to exist as a person: “You are in the library business” is the most personal comment they can make. Nevertheless, he is allowed to spend the last two weeks of the summer holiday in the Patemkin’s posh, but tastelessly decorated home, where the couple have sex while the family are asleep. Brenda is suffering from her controlling mother and indifferent father, and expects Neil to fill her life with a total and obedient love. There is even talk of marriage between the (secret) lovers at the wedding of Brenda’s brother Ron (Michael Myers), but Brenda sabotages their relationships when, having left for Boston, she leaves her diaphragm for her mother to find. In the end there are accusing letters from the parents, and a sad goodbye (instead of rampant sex) between Brenda and Neil in a Boston hotel. Neil’s summer of love is over. GOODBYE, COLUMBUS has all the future hallmarks of Roth’s more mature work: the rejected class intruder; the Jewish identity crisis’ galore; discussions about the different forms of Jewish organised religion (Reform, Liberal, Orthodox, Orthodox); and the realisation that intellectual work often comes often with a penalty, symbolised by the Neil’s preference for lowly paid work in the library, instead of the much higher remuneration possible in Mr. Patemkin’s factory.

And, last, but not least, the realisation, that great sex has nothing to do with love. Even though Richard Benjamin was nearly thirty when shooting the film, he looks (and acts) very much like an insecure man in his early twenties, whilst Ali McGraw is every inch the “Coca girl” on the advertising calendars. DoPs Gerald Hirschfeld (Cotton comes to Harlem) and Enrique Bravo (Last Summer) portray a still innocent America of the late ’50s in pastel colours and lush panoramic shots – an innocence long gone ten years later after the Kennedy and King murders in the midst of an escalating Vietnam War.

img_3215It is difficult to understand how so many talented artists could make such a total hash out of PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT, the Roth novel filmed in 1972 three years after its publication. Director/writer Ernest Lehman of Hitchcock fame, whose only directional work this derision of a film was, had the great DoP Philip Lathrope (Touch of Evil) behind the camera and a star-studded cast – but to no avail. Whilst the novel is a stream-of-consciousness attempt, with Ulysses very much on the mind of the author, the film version is ham-fisted try, lacking any subtlety, clumsy and in very-bad-taste.

New Yorker Alexander Portnoy (Richard Benjamin, again), is repressed by his mother Sophie (Lee Grant), and uses his psychologist Dr. Spielvogel (‘Play Bird’, in translation) to unburden himself and come to terms with gargantuan sexual appetite. Alexander recalls childhood memories, including the story of a piece of liver, used by him for sexual gratification, which ends later up later on the dinner table of the family. Even though Lehman only describes the scene, it is still offensive – unlike Roth’s writing, which is anything but. The rest is equally unpalatable, showing Alexander’s abusive sexual relationship in the worst possible light. What is a critique of male sexuality in the novel, is transformed into a clumsy voyeuristic feast in the film version. Mary-Jane (Karen Black), called derogatively ‘the monkey’ seems to be the answer to Alexander’s quest, since she obliges him in various sexual positions. But when she asks for commitment, he bolts. The pinnacle of tastelessness is Portnoy’s relationship with the Israeli woman Naomi (Jill Clayburgh), which is pure gutter taste. Lehman does not even try to show Alexander’s struggle which his Jewish identity, these conflicts are just reduced to a bad relationship with his parents: apart from his overbearing mother, Alexander’s father Jack Somack is just another caricature, his main interest in life being his fight against constipation. A truly deplorable effort.

img_3214Just the opposite is Robert Benton’s very sober screen version of THE HUMAN STAIN, filmed three after the publication of the novel in 2003. Based on the script by Nicholas Meyer, Benton (Kramer vs Kramer) stays close to Roth’s concept, including the role of the narrator Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinese), the most used of the author’s Alter Egos, appearing in nine novels. Set in the late 1990, Zuckerman has taken refuge in a lakeside cabin in New England, recovering from two divorces and prostate cancer. His reflective solitude is disturbed, when classics professor Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins), who lectures at the Athena College, intrudes on Zuckerman grief, with his own story. Coleman (who, as it turns out, is of Afro-American heritance, having masqueraded all his life as a white Jew), has been sacked by the College for making racist comments about two students whilst lecturing. He wanted to write a book about his unjust dismissal, taking revenge on the ones who wronged him; blaming his wife’s death from a stroke on the College administration. But he has shelved the project, after starting an affair with Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman), a worker at the college, who is, at least in the book, semi-illiterate. The couple is not only chased by Silk’s persecutors from Athena College, but also Faunia’s ex-husband, the disturbed Vietnam veteran Lester (Ed Harris), who stalks his ex-wife. This narrative is played to the background of the Bill Clinton impeachment, where we listen on the radio to Kenneth Starr’s accusations. Roth has put together a contrast between Zuckerman’s youth and the late 1990: in flashbacks we see the post-war era full of hope. Benton’s care and earnestness deserves better than the total miss-casts of Hopkins and Kidman, two actors with egos as big as their star-status. There is no chemistry between them, and their hamming destroys, unfortunately, some of Benton’s efforts.

img_3207ELEGY (2008), based on Roth’s novel The Dying Animal from 2001 and directed by the Spanish director Isabel Croixet (The Secret of Words) is the most melancholic and sensitive of all the screen adaptations. Again scripted by Nicholas Meyer, it features David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley), a professor of Literature in his sixties, in this third outing as Roth’ Alter Ego. Kepesh is living alone in Manhattan and hardly teaching anymore since his regular appearances on radio and TV have given him money and fame. He is a great seducer, mainly of his female students, even though he now has to be more careful, picking his targets only after they have finished their course with him. Kepesh, a detestable character in the novel, is attributed with more sympathetic character traits in the film. The main protagonists in his life, which he sounds out when in crisis, are the womaniser and poet George O’Hearn (Denis Hopper), who dies suddenly of a stroke; his long-term lover (and former student) the wealthy business woman Carolyn (Patricia Carlson) and his forty year old son, the fine art dealer Kenny (Peter Sarsgaard) – all of them are more fleshed out than in the novel. Some years previously, Kepesh has had a relationship with the beautiful Consuela (Penelope Cruz), the attractive daughter of a wealthy Cuban emigrant. The ageing man was particularly fascinated by the breasts of his ex-student, who in turn, was perhaps more interested in Kepesh’s original Kafka letter to his lover Milena. The machiavellian Kapesh keeps an emotional distance from his lovers and consequently ended the relationship with Consulea, after he missed her graduation party on purpose. But then Consuela, more than thirty years his junior, re-enters his life, facing a mastectomy. Whilst the novel has an open ending – ELEGY sees him laying beside her in the hospital bed, promising he will always be there for her. Whilst the precise tone of the novel is lost, Coixet still manages a serious portrait of the closeness of sex and death. DoP Jean-Claude Larrieu (The Woman on the 6th Floor) uses light sparingly, the colours bleaching out more and more in tune with Consuela’s deterioration. He preserves the intimacy of the female body, but without any prudishness. Overall, ELEGY is an accomplished drama, even if Roth’s intentions are not always realised.

img_3212THE HUMBLING, Barry Levinson’s film version of the 2009 novel, premiered in Venice in 2014, is symbolic for (nearly) everything that can go wrong with a Roth novel in transformation to the screen. To start with, we have the misfits masquerading as the leading couple: Al Pacino is trying, without even an attempt at subtlety, to portrait the ageing thespian Simon Axler, who lost his talent together with his mind. But Greta Gerwig, as a thirty-something lesbian, coming to his rescue (?), manages to outdo him: she is so coarse and over-bearing that Pacino’s underperforming is less and less visible.

But it would be wrong, to blame the actors alone. Levinson (Good Morning Vietnam), has seen better days, and together with his script writers Buck Henry and Michael Zebede, he has misread Roth’s intention: a satire on fading values in the USA – be it relationships of all sorts or the arts: everybody is just faking it – has been turned into a grand goodbye-tour for the hapless Axler, who falls under the spell of Gerwig’s Peegen. She is a lesbian, but soon confesses to Axler “I guess this ends my 16-year old mistake”. It is not this cheap line alone that makes the audience cringe, but the obvious contradiction, since Peegen is still more interested in her own gender, than the failing actor. Every scene is over-the-top, like a self-parody: Axler pours his heart out to an audience, who are glued (too) obviously to their mobiles. In the psychiatric ward, we watch Axler getting help like in a Mel Brooks movie. And the actor’s Connecticut mansion, where most of the action is played out, is again simply too morose and claustrophobic. The best moments include a haggling-duel between Axler and his agent (Charles Grodin), where they discuss the ins-an-outs of a hair-replacement commercial. Needless to say, that the ending (Henry and Zebede’s on-stage coitus), very subtle in the novel, is cranked up, to go with what went before. And again, Roth’s critical prose is simply transformed into a superficial merry-go-round, without any analysis or detachment. THE HUMBLING is part of a four-novel-series ‘Nemesis’ – and even the most ignorant adaption should pay tribute to the meaning of this.

indignation-01editedFirst time director/writer James Schamus’ 2016 version of Roth’s INDIGNATION (published in 2008, also as part of the ’Nemesis’ series), is – apart from the casting of the male lead Logan Lerman – the near-perfect exception in the quagmire of adaption flops. Here at last we find the reflection, detachment and analysis we have been longing for. In a sober, traditional style, very much like John Krokidas’ Kill your Darlings, Schamus recounts American history from the perspective of a young Jew. In 1951, during the Korea war, Marcus Messner (Lerman) tries to escape from his controlling father Max (Danny Burstein), a Kosher butcher in Newark/New Jersey. The neurotic parent treats his teenage son like a child, wanting to know his precise whereabouts at all times. Mother Esther (Linda Emond) sacrifices herself, and replaces Max’ apprentice as a full-time assistant, so that Marcus can go to college in Winesburg/Ohio – freed from the clutches of his father. Winesburg College is a proper micro-cosmos of WASP dominated America at the beginning of the ’50s when even restaurants in New York advertised on their doors “No Jews or Negroes”.  Of the 1200 Winesburg students, not even a hundred are Jewish, still outnumbering the three Afro-American members of the campus. Marcus is canvassed by members of the Jewish and Independent Fraternity, but declines: he is his own man. Rooming with three other Jews, including the obnoxious closet-homosexual Flusser (Bertram Rosenfield), Marcus opts for independence, alone in a small attic room. Soon he gets tired of the mandatory visits to Chapel at least ten times a year, and has a blazing row with Dean Hawes (Tracy Letts), quoting Bertrand Russel’s 1927 pamphlet “Why I am not a Christian”.

Indignation copyWhen he falls in love with the beautiful, but fragile Olivia Hutton (Sarah Godon), who has tried to commit suicide before coming to Winesburg, Marcus’s emotional limitations are exposed: performing fellatio on him in a burrowed Cadillac, the young man is more repelled than attracted. His mother, wanting a divorce from the father, whose mind is even more deteriorating, visits Marcus and meets Olivia, spotting the scar on her arm. Esther proposes an exchange: she will not leave the husband, and Marcus will look for a new girlfriend. But personal matters are overtaken, when Marcus is found to have designated a “replacement” student for the Chapel visits: both are expelled, and Marcus’s nightmare becomes reality: he has to enter the fighting US infantry in Korea as a Private. Schamus, producer of Brokeback Mountain among others, has elegantly adjusted the ending in the screen version. This is a story of an amour-fou, with almost fetishistically ingredients: when Olivia is swinging her leg, sitting on the library chair, Marcus is watching intensely, forgetting even his work ethos, we are reminded of Bunuel. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the college, which is not so much a place of learning, but an opportunity for middle-class WASP girls to replace the father with a new, reliant breadwinner – whilst being regulated to an extent, that even petting is made nearly impossible.

Reflecting the experiences of Roth himself, INDIGNATION is a portrait of a soul-destroying era, where puritanism still ruled supreme. The cast is brilliant, apart from Lerman, who is simply a little too dorky to be real. DoP Christopher Blauvelt (I am Michael) creates a campus world where nearly everyone acts like emotional zombies, his impressive achievements also include imaginative images of repressed sexuality.

img_3206AMERICAN PASTORAL, written in 1997 as part of an ‘American Trilogy’, certainly deserves better than Ewan McGregor’s 2016 half-hearted directional debut, and his miss-casting of himself and Jennifer Connolly. For once, one cannot lay too much blame at the feet of the scriptwriter, in this case John Ramano, who stayed quiet faithful to Roth narrative. It is McGregor’s acting as ‘Swede’ Levov, which lets everyone down, because he comes over like the Musil hero in Man without Attributes – but not because he hides an inner struggle, but because there is none. Narrated by Roth’s alter ego Nathan Zuckerman (David Strathhairn), who went to school in Newark/NJ with Levov’s brother Jerry (Rupert Evans), this is a family affair told without any proper references to the historical background – and considering we are talking about the late ’60s/early ’70s in America, this is quite a feet. McGregor more or less sleepwalks through the film, observing much, but unable to put any personal imprint on the tragic incidents which seemingly arise around him by accident. The ‘Swede’ Levov, a High School star in all sports possible, looks like a Scandinavian, even though he is as Jewish as they come – not that one would guess this from McGregor’s performance. He is married to catholic ex-beauty star Dawn (Jennifer Connolly), the couple developing no on-screen chemistry at all. Their daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning), suffers from a stutter, and suddenly turns into a violent protester against the Vietnam War. She is responsible for the death of innocent bystanders in the bombing of post-offices and other institutions. Dawn disappears, and her father tries to find her with the help of an anarchist friend of hers, Rita (Valerie Curry). But Rita is more interested in seducing the ‘Swede’, who stays faithful to his wife. Unfortunately for Levov, he will soon find out that his wife is planning to elope with David Whalen (Bill Orcutt). At his funeral, Zuckerman, Jerry and Merry (who is trying to make up for her crimes), mull over his life. Bland, conventional, without cohesion and no feel for the historical circumstances, AMERICAN PASTORAL is just an empty stringing together of events.

Trying to end on a positive note, we can report well-founded rumours, that Roth’s novel The Plot against America (2004) is in pre-production to be filmed. This is one of Roth’s most innovative works, using alternate history as a plot device. Set in 1940 in Newark/NJ, it portrays a country where the semi-fascist Charles Lindhbergh jr., beats Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the presidential election, bringing about country wide anti-Semitic riots and pogroms. The novel is told from the perspective of a certain eight year old Philip. Bring it on – and make it a standout. And a fitting tribute to his outstanding life. AS

A Philip Roth Retrospective will feature at this year’s UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL (8-22 November, Nationwide) in honour of the much loved author. The festival will be screening three of its favourite cinematic interpretations of his work, including: Goodbye, Columbus, Human Stain and Portnoy’s Complaint. 

The King (2018) **** DVD release

Dir: Eugene Jarecki | US | Musical Biopic with Alex Baldwin, Ethan Hawke, Ashton Kutcher, Lana Del Rey, Emmylou Harris | 109′

Using Elvis Presley’s life as a metaphor to explore America’s modern malaise from so-called dream to disaster, Eugene Jarecki’s Sundance Grand Jury Winner heads across the States for a musical mystery tour in the legendary star’s vintage Rolls Royce, four decades after his life as one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century ended in a heart attack, aged 42.

Although Jarecki adopts a novel approach to the life of the legendary singer and entertainer, the results are sprawling, spirited and great fun in a biopic that gazes deep into the soul of a nation in flux and features an eclectic cast of stars and well known places from Presley’s birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi, to Graceland, Memphis, Las Vegas and New York.

Enlivened by archive footage, musical interludes and enlightening observations from Ethan Hawke and Alec Baldwin, ex-band members and those associated with Presley’s life, Jarecki cleverly draws a comparison between the star and President Trump  showing how these two  transformative figures made a terrific impact on the US culture. In Presley’s case his musical style created a bridge to ease racial tension which sadly ended in disappointment, particularly in the southern states, due to the pursuit of financial above humanitarian goals (Presley always chased the money in his career choices, and when once purportedly asked by President Reagan whether he would choose a new swimming pool or to help kids with AIDS, he went for the swimming pool). On the face of Jarecki’s seems like an inspired and persuasive viewpoint: whether it stands up beyond this cursory glance, remains to be seen and sometimes his approach feels as it Elvis has been slotted in to meet the needs of his argument. 

Needless to say, the musical soundtrack is astonishing (shame the excerpts are so short) and Jarecki’s wide angle images of the glittering skylines and sweeping landscapes of Route 66 make this an enjoyable romp as well as an informative biopic of the “King of Rock and Roll” MT

ON DVD FROM 1 October 2018

ARTISTS FEATURED IN THE KING

EmiSunshine and The Rain; Leo “Bud” Welch; STAX Music Academy All-Stars John Hiatt; Loveful Heights; Immortal Technique; The Handsome Family; Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers; M. Ward ; Justin Merrick and the STAX Academy All-Stars; Lindy Vision; Robert Bradley

FILMS FEATURED IN THE KING

LOVING YOU (1957); SPEEDWAY (1968); JAILHOUSE ROCK (1957); KID GALAHAD (1962); GI BLUES (1960); FOLLOW THAT DREAM (1962); GIRL HAPPY (1965); CLAMBAKE (1967); IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLDS FAIR (1963); TICKLE ME (1965); EASY COME EASY GO (1967); FUN IN ACAPULCO (1963); BLUE HAWAII (1961); LIVE A LITTLE LOVE A LITTLE (1968); HARUM SCARUM (1965); PARADISE HAWAIIAN STYLE (1966); FRANKIE AND JOHNNY (1966); VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964)

The Seagull (2018)

Dir: Michael Mayer | Cast: Annette Bening, Saoirse Ronan, Corey Stoll, Elizabeth Moss, Billy Howle, Brian Dennehy, Michael Zegen; USA 2018, 98 min.

Director Michael Mayer (A Town at the Edge of the World) is more at home on Broadway than behind the camera, where he has clipped this vision of Chekhov’s play down to 98 minutes – the average stage outing is well over two and a half hours. There’s something missing here, but a brilliant ensemble at least makes everything enjoyable.

On their country estate near Moscow, fading actor Irina (Bening) gets together with her older brother Sorin (Dennehy), a retired civil-servant who is also on his last legs. They are joined by her lover, the mediocre but popular writer Boris Trigorin (Stoll) who is obsesse with the cult of his own personality. With them is Irina’s son Konstantin (Howle) a so-so symbolist writer who yearns to get away from the torpor or the countryside. He is in love with Nina (Ronan), a young woman from a neighbouring estate, who dreams of a career on the stage. Schoolteacher Mikhail (Zegen) is soft on Masha (Moss), who puts him down in public and is secretly in love with Konstantin. 

Irina’s post-oedipal relationship with her son erupts on the evening of the amateur performance of his absurdist play, which his mother mocks. Konstanti lowers the curtain prematurely while, Nina, acting her heart out, attracts Trigorin’s attraction. Irina and Konstantin spend the next day sulking like teenagers and Nina confesses her dreams to an infatuated Trigorin. But Irina has no truck with Trigorin, blackmailing him emotionally before literally fleeing the estate, dragging Trigorin with her, leaving all love conundrums unsolved.

Two years later it emerges that Nina ran away from home to have a child with Tregorin, which later died leaving him to slink back sheepishly to Irina. Her acting career is reduced to a third rate repertoire company, travelling around Russia third class (“with all the peasants”). Konstantin fares slightly better, still remaining deeply unhappy, whereupon Nina opts to return to the stage. Meanwhile, Masha has married Mikhail, but not even their baby has softened Irina’s heart, she longs for Konstantin. But after all these ups and downs between the sheets from town to country, a resolution eventually seems inevitable.

The play’s premiere in 1896 was a complete disaster, and Chekhov wanted to give up writing for the stage altogether, but Stanislavski’s production two years later was a great success – luckily, Chekhov had changed his mind.

Whilst Mayer (and script writer Stephan Karam) manage to convey the main characters’ desire for drama, they are unable to point to a wider existential trauma. Nobody is exactly a spring chicken – apart from Nina and Konstantin, they all behave like moody, self-obsessed teenagers. They all behave like actors using their craft to gain the smallest of advantages. Trigorin is the main example, he discards Nina like an object. Mayer fails to show the inner emptiness of his main protagonists – any idealism expressed by Nina or Konstantin is rebuffed and exploited by the elders. There’s also a lack of melancholy, the subtext is missing.

DoP Matthew J. Loyd’s cinematography evokes the lush countryside and lake. The costumes and interiors show a meticulous attention to the era. Saoirse Ronan is a brilliant Nina, only surpassed by the splendidly scheming Irina, Bening changing moods like a chameleon. Unfortunately, Mayer never manages to grasp the essense of Chekhov’s multi-layered play. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 6 SEPTEMBER NATIONWIDE                               

The Man from Mo’ Wax (2017) ****

Dir: Matthew Jones | Music Biopic | doc |

The Man from Mo’Wax chronicles the life and times of the influential producer, DJ, and musician James Lavelle.

For his laudable debut feature Matthew Jones draws on extensive archive footage and previously unseen videos of Lavelle together with stills and original interviews that capture the essence of his idiosyncratic label Mo’Wax, gaining insight into his relationship with DJ Shadow and duo’s chart-topping UNKLE project, featuring amongst other musicians Thom Yorke, Richard Ashcroft, Josh Homme and Kool G Rap. No stone is left unturned in exploring the ups and downs of the iconic cool guy’s personal life and loves in this enjoyable and lively documentary that will appeal to fans and music-lovers alike. MT

There will be a special event at BFI Southbank on 30st August 2018, featuring a screening of the film and a Q&A with James Lavelle and director Matthew Jones. The film will be released in selected cinemas nationwide on the 31st August – celebrating the 20th anniversary of ‘Psyence Fiction’’s release. Following that the DVD/Blu Ray will be released September 10th with TV streaming TBA. For more information about all confirmed nationwide screenings of The Man From Mo’Wax

NOW AVAILABLE COURTESY OF THE BFI ON BLURAY

 

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Bad Samaritan (2017) ****

Dir.: Dean Devlin; Cast: David Tennant, Robert Sheehan, Jacqueline Byers, Carlito Olivero, Kerry Condon, Tracey Higgins; USA 2018, 110 min.

Unjustly panned by major US outlets, this tight little B-movie directed by Dean Devlin (Geostorm) might not re-invent the neo-noir genre, but it has, thanks to writer Brandon Boyce’ (Apt Pupil), enough clever plot elements to keep the audience entertained. And  David Tennant’s well educated Ivy-League villain is truly frightening.

Sean (Sheehan) and his mate Derek (Olivero) work as car valets for a restaurant – but they have a nifty robbery sideline that keeps them flush: One of them motors via GPS to the house of the victim, and collects the loot, before returning the car before the pay check is exchanged. Enter Cale Erdenreich (Tennant), snotty and arrogant, who leaves his Maserati in the care of Sean (Sheehan), who has just come across Erdenreichs’s new credit card, which he gleefully activates. But his elation turns to horror when he finds a young woman (Condon) bloodied and held captive in a house they intended to rob. Sean miraculously morphs from small-time crook to upright citizen, promising to save the distraught victim. Which is easier said than done: first, the police don’t believe his story, only FBI agent Fuller (Higgins) takes him seriously. But the main obstacle is Erdenreich: cute and well-versed in alluding the police (via a flashback we see him kill a horse and its trainer as a teenage boy), and Sean is no match for him – at first. But after Erdenreich has beaten up Sean’s girl friend Riley (Byers) so badly that she has to be treated in Intensive Care, the hunter becomes the hunted.

Tennant makes the most of his psychotic serial-killer: he tells himself and his victims he is actually “correcting” them, breaking them in like the horse in the flashback. Like a true psychotic he believes he’s doing society a favour by murdering people who are “beyond correction”. Sometimes there’s a crack in the facade – when Erdenreich suddenly veers off script, hurling obscenities at his victims. But mostly, he is very much in control: in one scene, we see him, gun in hand, watching Sean under the shower. But instead of shooting, Erdenreich puts the safety on, mouths “poof” and leaves smiling.

DoP David Connell’s widescreen images pay homage to Portland/Oregon; his use of the electronic gear in the cat-and-mouse game between Cale and Sean is truly impressive. Devlin, producer of Godzilla and Independence Day, occasionally goes over but with a character like Erdenreich, this seems only logical. Finally, in classic noir tradition, there is a neat final twist: the filmmakers take on board a psychopath’s need to rid the planet of undesirables – wherever they find them. AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 24 AUGUST 2018

 

The Senator | Chappaquiddick (2017) *** | Digital HD DVD

Dir John Curran | Cast: Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Ed Helms, Jim Gaffigan, Clancy Brown, Taylor Nichols, Olivia Thirlby, Bruce Dern | US | Political Drama | 97′

The Senator looks swanky enough with its Ivy League Sixties aesthetic but as a gripping account of when Ted Kennedy (Clarke) had a car accident in Chappaquiddick, Martha’s Vineyard that led to the death of campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne (Mara), it’s a pretty flaccid affair.

And that’s no fault of these two versatile actors – Jason Clarke is a dead ringer for Ted, and Mara makes a cool but brief appearance as Mary Jo – or a decent cast that includes veteran Bruce Dern who do their utmost to serve this legendary incident in American 20th century history, that, on the face of it, offers luridly exciting dramatic potential with its themes of adultery, sexual shenanigans, cover-ups and dirty politics in an era fraught with glamour and intrigue. Not least is the fact that Ted Kennedy kept the whole thing under wraps from the authorities – or even his advisors, for a 10 whole hours, even enjoying a night’s sleep before spilling the beans about the mishap and his colleague’s disappearance.

Yet Curran plays all these explosive elements down to offer a sober, morose, almost worthy, drama that adopts a near religious respect to the scandal that rocked the final knockings of the Sixties, and debatably put paid to Ted’s Kennedy’s political career. In the event, the whole episode was buried under the breaking news of the first moon landing two days later.

Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan’s debut script plays out like a tame crime procedural maintaining that because the tragedy took place on Kennedy home soil in Massachusetts, it was possible to stage manage the incident and keep the incendiary potential underwater, drowning most of the scandal along with its sorry victim, who was only 28 at the time. What is not played down however is the strongly patriarchal influence of a frail Joe Kennedy (Bruce Dern) who continued to pull rank on his son: despite being semi-gaga and confined to a wheelchair he manages to deflate his progeny with a potent allure.

Curran and his writers make no attempt to elaborate or delve deeper into the well-known facts – that Ted was offering Mary Jo a lift home from an ordinary campaign evening when his car left a bridge and somersaulted into the shallow river below. Kennedy escaped but did not rescue Mary Jo, claiming amnesia brought on by shock. After getting a metaphorical clip round the ear from pater during a telephone call where he asks for advice, Ted then disappears into the bosom of his family as advisors close ranks around him.

What transpires, unsurprisingly, is that this powerful US scion appears to be above the law: Curran shows Ted to be a rather spineless individual whose ill-conceived decision to don a neck brace for Mary Jo’s funeral also proves him to be rather narcissistic and lacking in integrity. In the event, Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a crash causing personal injury and got away lightly with a two-year suspended sentence.

With its sonorous score by Garth Stevenson, The Senator offers decent but rather lacklustre viewing, and while it will certainly enlighten those not familiar with the story, it hardly sets the night on fire with what could have been an incendiary political thriller. MT

NOW ON DIGITAL HD AND DVD from 20 AUGUST 2018

 

 

One Note at a Time (2017) ****

Dir:  Renée Edwards | Featuring: Clarke Peters (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Dr John, Kermit Ruffins, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Irma Thomas, Hot 8 Brass Band | US Doc | 95 mins.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans traditional jazz musicians gather together to play and talk about the soul of their city which celebrates its 300th Anniversary in 2018. 

Renée Edwards’ paean to these Louisiana musicians is a labour of love that’s been nine years in the making. Four of these were spent following a small number from different genres, as they came to terms with their changed city, musical landscape and life. Intertwined are their musical and health stories, as they frequent the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic, a lifeline and comfort, that simultaneously had its own struggles, whilst aspiring to fulfil a mission to ‘keep the music ALIVE’. Without these guys the city would lose its soul, not to mention the thousands of tourists who come to join in the fun.

Best known for her editing work for some of television’s highest profile news and current affairs series and documentary dramas, including award-winning Panorama Specials, A Fight to the Death and The Mind Reader, this is the British-born filmmaker’s feature debut. And it’s a semi auto-biographical piece recording her own happy memories of childhood holidays spend in the area, but shot through with a melancholy that records a dark time for New Orleans when the music stopped in 2005 in the aftermath to one of the most deadly and destructive hurricanes in American history. The flood defences failed, flooding the Crescent City for weeks. Lives were lost and lives were shattered. Many displaced musicians felt compelled to return to the chaos and bleak confusion to play again. This is the story of some who made it back, told in their own words. MT
ONE NOTE AT A TIME has won numerous international and domestic festival awards including BEST FEATURE DOCUMENTARY at Studio City International Film Festival, GOLD WINNER at Los Angeles Film Review Industry Awards, BEST DOCUMENTARY at Nottingham International Film Festival and three awards at the Oxford International Film Festival including FILM OF THE FESTIVAL.

ONE NOTE AT A TIME 2018 marks the 300th anniversary of the founding of New Orleans.

Ciao! Manhattan (1972) | Bluray release

Written and directed by Factory regulars John Palmer and David Weisman this cult film is a semi-biographical take on Sedgwick’s life and captures a seminal time in history, namely the groundbreaking 1960s New York art scene. 

If you’re keen on watching a mash-up of a black and white Sixties-set musical thriller and the final early Seventies knockings of the wasted Sedgwick, sporting a surgically enhanced chest and cavorting around half naked and half cut, then CIAO, MANHATTAN will appeal.

Edith Minturn Sedgwick was born in California in 1943, studied at Harvard, rose to fame in 1965 as an actress in Andy Warhol’s films, was briefly married to Michael Post and died from a barbiturate overdose in her parents’ home at just 28.

On the plus side, the film perfectly recreates the star’s own chaotic life and also features other contemporary ‘heroes’ such as Holzer and Viva. Rather than a liberated woman of her generation, she emerges disillusioned and delusional. With its soundtrack featuring the music of Ritchie Havens and Kim Milford, this is a redolent portrait of a shooting star who crashed and burned, yet her fame remains. MT

OUT ON BLURAY 20 AUGUST 2018 COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT FILM

#Female Pleasure (2018) **** Locarno Film Festival 2018

Dir: Rebecca Miller | Documentary with Deborah Feldman, Vithika Yadav, Rokudenashiko, Leyla Hussein, Doris Wagner; Germany/Switzerland/UK/USA/Japan 2018, 95 min.

Writer/director Barbara Miller (Forbidden Voices), has travelled the world to connect with five different women with one thing in common: the struggle against religious/state sponsored male superiority. Some are even joined by sympathetic menfolk slowly turning the wheel of history. Miller’s straightforward, non-judgemental approach allows the women full reign to share their opinions.

Deborah Feldman, a Hasidic Jew from New York, courageously left her arranged marriage with her little son, splitting from an extended family who are now lost forever. She wants to raise her son to respect women.“The Torah”, she says, “is the word of men”. In Orthodox circles there is a feeling that women are necessary but, at the same time, are the enemy. On a walkabout Jerusalem she passes huge street signs that say:“Please do not pass through this neighbourhood in in-modest clothes: closed blouse with long sleeves, no skirts, no trousers, no tight fitting clothes”. She is emphatic “that orthodox women in arranged marriages do not have the same constitutional protection as other women”. Finding a life outside her old community with a new partner, she goes on fighting the cause.

Meanwhile in India, Vithika Yadav runs a self-help website that supports girls in overcoming the prejudices of Hindu teaching, which has veered very much from Ghandi’s approach to an aggressive male ideology, often held responsible for the many rape cases in this country. Vithika is the first woman in her family to reject an arranged marriage. According to her, Hindu teaching claims “women are the root of all sins”, Indian society is geared toward male desire and satisfaction.Yadav’s website is a great start, but she takes things even further by organising street theatre and demonstrations, trying to rope men into the fight. On the subject of rape, she is very clear: “You all see it, but you don’t do anything”. ‘LOVE matters’, is one of their slogans, and slowly more and more young men are joining Yadav’s movement.

Japanese manga artist and “Vagina defender” Rokudenashiko from Tokyo has a spirited approach to the issue, but the pretty drawing of the female sex organ on her website has already leading to her arrest by ten(!) police officers on the grounds of obscenity. Before her trial she calls a press conference telling the audience “the female body is seen as a sex toy for men. Hard core porn films are legally produced and sold, yet my art is seen as obscene”. She claims Japanese men are very brutal in bed yet pretend to be unaware of the pain they inflict. Even comics portraying images of young girls being raped are allowed to be published in Japan. There is a yearly parade of ‘Penis Worship’ and the artist and her friends make fun of this, sucking sugary phallus-sized sweets. During filming, Rokudenashiko is convicted for spreading obscene art and even sailing a canoe in the shape of a vagina on a nearby lake. She and her lawyers are determined to have the verdict overturned. “As women, we are defined by jealousy”. Buddhist teaching says, ‘that due to the sinfulness of our bodies, women have to suffer eternal torment and the Blood Bowl Hell’”. Her protests have actually found her a sympathetic boyfriend in the shape of Mike, a rock singer who does not smoke or drink and has even composed a song to support her cause. Her parting shot is typical “Long live the vagina!”

Leyla Hussein is a highly articulate and likeable Somali woman living in London where her cause is the global issue of FGM – 200 million women and girls are the victims. “Men have authority over women according to the Quran which says ‘those wives from whom you fear disobedience, beat them’. Often very young woman are forced into arranged marriages when they are still teenagers. “Let’s call arranged marriage by its proper name: Legalized paedophilia.” In London she runs a centre and a website to fight FMG where she describes exactly what FMG does to the female body – some of the younger men can hardly watch. But she is happiest back in Kenya, where Masaai support her cause: “Masaai women have no fun with sex, and that’s frustrating for men too. We have to spread the word!”

In Germany, Doris Wagner joined a Catholic order at a young age. She was systematically raped by her superior but when she reported him to the Mother Superior, the woman shouted at her; then forgave her. She feels that the Catholic Church frames women as  seductresses: “I ask myself: was the Church really founded to do good, or was it all along just intended to support the structure run by men?’ Doris now lives with her partner and son. She is writing her PHD theses “feeling like born again”.

In this substantial and engaging documentary Miller allows her contributors to voice their concerns freely in a way that is both informative and empowering for those affected by the issues. Often amusing, it occasionally takes sides but, crucially, it also raises awareness of women’s plight with a lightness of touch, showing the way forward for men to join the movement for a more liberal and pleasurable society, that can only benefit them in the long run. She feels that women should not feel imprisoned by their gender, and the sooner men learn this, the better it is for us all. Change is possible, but, as Miller point out, it is a long way off in some societies.

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 1-11 AUGUST 2018 | IN COMPETITION.

 

 

 

 

 

The Deer Hunter (1978 *** Bluray release

Dir: Michael Cimino | US War Thriller | 183′

Another great film of the Seventies and one of the most salient on the futility of war, this was undoubtedly Michael Cimino’s masterpiece.  The lives of three Pennsylvanian steelworkers are changed forever when they sign up as volunteers for Vietnam. Patriotic and poignant, THE DEER HUNTER is underpinned by a terrific cast and two towering performances from Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken – one a victorious hero, the other a tragic victim of the hostilities and of life in general. This rich character epic portrays how men can be tested by the worst of circumstances and can survive or fail. Magnificent both as a moral tale and a soaring testament to community and comradeship, the Nietzschean saga is not for the feint of heart, nor those lacking in viewing stamina – it runs for over three emotionally gruelling hours. MT

THE DEER HUNTER | BRAND NEW 4K RESTORATION TO COMMEMORATE 40th ANNIVERSARY | IN CINEMAS 4TH JULY 2018ON BLU-RAY, COLLECTOR’S EDITION (INCLUDING FIRST EVER 4K ULTRA HD VERSION) AND EST 20TH AUGUST 2018

 

Diane (2018) ***

Dir/Writer: Kent Jones | Cast: Mary Kay Place, Jake Lacy, Estelle Parson, Andre Martin, Deirdre O’Connell, Phyllis Summerville, Ray Iannicelli US | 90′

Kent Jones has made some dynamite documentaries: Hitchcock Truffaut, A Letter to Elia; Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows. His feature debut is an earnest and perceptive drama about an ordinary woman forced to find inner strength when her family crumbles around her. Diane could also be a US version of our long-running BBC4 series The Archers with its cheesy and occasionally awkward moments of ‘raw’ sincerity veering on the maudlin side. It pictures Diane padding around in a pink fluffy housecoat making chicken casserole to take to a sick friend, or having one margarita too many while unwinding in the local bar. This is not Hollywood or New York but somewhere like Denver Colorado where the characters sit around in thick cardies, pouring tasteless coffee into giant mugs and reminiscing over the dead and dying in their local community. What saves it and actually makes it rather watchable is the impressive cast that Jones has assembled: Mary Kay Place gives a subtle but stunning performance as the titular heroine, a divorced do-gooder whose son (Jake Lacy) has lost his way. Deirdre O’Connell is wonderfully convincing as her cousin Donna dying from cancer, and Andrea Martin simpers as her trusted friend. The whole thing plays out like ‘an every day story of countryfolk’ (The Archers’ tagline), as they support one another, do good in the community and occasionally argue but gradually work through their issues. Diane is never hard-edged, but honest and straightforward, despite occasionally striking a bum note – the scenes exploring Diane’s spiritual quest feel rather bogus, as does the character of her aunt Mame (veteran star Estelle Parsons does her best). All in all, this is a well-played and acutely observed domestic drama that sympathetically reflects the world we live in now. MT

Premiering at Locarno 2018 | Screening during MARRAKECH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

The Last Movie Star (2017) *

Dir.: Adam Rifkin; Cast: Burt Reynolds, Ariel Winter, Clark Duke, Ellar Coltrane, Chevy Chase; USA 2017, 94 min.

Adam Rifkin has had a mix career in movies and TV, coming up with features like Dawn of Sex (original title Homo Erectus), and here shows an ageing Burt Reynolds in the worst possible light.

Keeping the best part for starters, we first meet elderly actor Vic Edwards (Reynolds) in the waiting room of a vet’s practice where he will later be told that his dog must be put down. Driving back to his sprawling mansion, we do feel for him. But Rifkin makes sure that our sympathy won’t last. Talking to his buddy Sonny (Chase) in an outdoor restaurant – where no woman escapes their lascivious glances – Edwards tells him about his invitation to Nashville to receive a lifetime award. He’s not keen to go but Sonny eventually talks him into making the all-expenses-paid trip and he is soon met at the airport by Lil (Winter), a millennial Goth pestered by an abusive and two-timing boyfriend. 

In Nashville, Edwards is aghast at the shabby hotel but even more by the venue of his prize giving: a backroom of a bar where Lil’s brother Doug (Duke) and Shane McAvoy (Coltrane) lead the proceedings. After a pathetic ‘ride’ on a rocking horse meant for children, even Edwards has had enough, and wants to be taken back to the airport. But seeing a motorway exit leading to his hometown of Knocksville, he changes his mind, and revisits old haunts: his family home and the football stadium, before meeting his first wife in a care home. “Having made peace” with his past, he can return to Sonny and ogling young women.

This choice cinematic experience with its themes of nostaligia and last chances is made considerably less bearable by interludes from two Reynolds films (Smokey and the Bandit/ Deliverance) spliced into the narrative. This allows the older Reynolds to talk to his young alter-egos. The Last Movie star is beyond saving: Cheesy, sentimental, cliché-ridden and utterly sexist, it’s certainly a contender for “Turkey of the Year”.

COMING TO DIGITAL ON 20 AUGUST 2018

The Producers (1968) | Bluray

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

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

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

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

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

Leo McCarey Retrospective | Locarno International Film Festival 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEO McCAREY RETROSPECTIVE | LOCARNO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 

Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) Prime Video

Dir.: John Frankenheimer; Cast: Burt Lancaster, Karl Malden, Thelma Ritter, Edmund O’Brien, Betty Field, Telly Savalas; US 1962, 147 min.

Director John Frankenheimer (1930-2002) came from a TV background and retains his documentary approach once at Hollywood which was nominated for several Oscars and went on to sweep the board at Venice in 1962.

There were various setbacks – Charles Crichton actually started at the helm but the British director fell out with the film’s star and de-facto producer, Burt Lancaster, and left alongside his DoP John Alton.

There were script issues too: Frankenheimer was told that Guy Trosper’s screenplay would run for four and half hours, so clearly scenes had to be re-shot later to fall in line with a new narrative, Birdman still running for well over two hours.

Lancaster plays Robert Stroud (Lancaster) spent 53 years of his life in prison and mostly in solitary confinement until his death in 1963. His life-long tormentor was Prison Warden Harvey Shoemaker (Malden), the two clashing on numerous occasions.  Stroud’s original sentence was for the murder of a bartender who did not want to pay for one of Stroud’s prostitutes. In prison he killed a guard for not letting his mother Elizabeth (Ritter) visit him. Originally sentenced to death, his mother’s campaign eventually saved Stroud’s life. 

Ironically, Birdman is shot mostly in Leavenworth Prison, where inmates were allowed to keep pets. After his transfer to Alcatraz, Stroud could not look after birds anymore. In Leavenworth, Stroud had became a self-taught ornithologist, developing  medicines for his bird patients. He was so successful that he and his wife Stella Johnson (Field) founded a company for the supply of the pharmaceuticals. In spite of his running battle with Shoemaker, Stroud helped to put down a prison revolt in 1946. He would also meet his future biographer Thomas E. Gaddis (O’Brien), on whose work the film is based. Telly Savalas also makes a moving impression as one of Stroud’s fellow prisoners and bird keepers.

Frankenheimer shot his masterpiece The Manchurian Candidate in the same year, proving his versatility as a director. He would go on and direct a trio of features (All Fall Down, Seven Days in May, The Iceman Cometh), which like Manchurian Candidate, would feature Trump-like politicians, ready to overthrow the constitution of the USA by manipulation and force. 

Birdman is hyper-realistic, but Stroud’s exclamation “You ain’t got much, but you keep subtractin”, is proven wrong in the end. DoP Burnett Guffey’s (Bonny & Clyde) black-and-white images are cast in deep shadows and as stone cold as the prison walls. in spite of his brush-up with Crichton, Lancaster is brilliant, winning the Volpi Price for Best Actor in Venice 1962.AS

OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF EUREKA

Ex Libris: The New York Public Library (2017)

Dir: Frederick Wiseman | Doc | US | 197′

Legendary documentarian Frederick Wiseman (In Jackson Heights, National Gallery) takes his cameras within the walls of the New York Public Library for his forty-third film in fifty years which again throws light on a great institution – and is again well over three hours. It would be rash to say that Wiseman is losing it – but his tone is more and more lecturing, and we find ourselves in the position of students, well aware that the professor is talking down to us. Or perhaps, Wiseman has perfected his style to the point that he really needs no audience any more: who can argue with an encyclopaedia? There is no recourse, no questions, no room for doubt: Wiseman’s documentaries are the bible on his chosen subject.

The NY Public Library system with 92 branches, was founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1911, the headquarters, a beautiful Art-Deco building on 5th Avenue/42nd Street, is impressive, and rather British with its dominating lions. But Wiseman visits many branches, and the libraries could not be more different. The same goes for the activities: a librarian is recording all of Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark, there are talks by Patti Smith and Ta-Nehsi Coates, poetry reading with P. Hodges and endless quotes: from Karl Marx, Primo Levi and Malcolm, to name a few. Wiseman even includes a job-fair in the Bronx in his meanderings in the city. “Libraries are about people” is the motto of Ex-Libris: true, but people are irrational and very contradictory, because they are alive. But in spite of the motto, Wiseman seems more interested in discovering structures, showing off how clever he is. AS

NOW SHOWING from 13 JULY 2018 | VENICE REVIEW 2017

The Chapman Report (1962)

Dir: George Cukor | Writer: Wyatt Cooper/Irving Wallace | Cast: Efrem Zimbalist Jr, Shelly Winters, Jane Fonda, Claire Bloom, Glynis Johns, Ray Danton, Ty Hardin, Andrew Duggan, John Dehner | Comedy Drama | US | 125′

Jane Fonda remains highly attractive at eighty starring recently in the wholly unworthy Book Club (2018), in which the tome raising temperatures is Fifty Shades of Grey. In the fifties it was Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) that was stirring the pot with its jaw-dropping revelations about the passions simmering among suburban American womenfolk, and provoked a run of best-selling ‘exposés’ like Peyton Place which duly hit the big screen in glossy but bowdlerised form, including Irving Wallace’s fictionalised 1960 version of the Kinsey report called The Chapman Report; also promptly filmed with a cast including a young Miss Fonda (in her third film), whose character is ironically the one who’s frigid. (Her role was also the one that suffered the most from Darryl Zanuck’s post-production chopping and changing and feels as if there’s quite a bit missing – and not just orgasms.) 

As befits the veteran gay Hollywood director George Cukor (who in 1939 had directed the all-women The Women), the result is elegantly mounted with meticulous colour design by the pioneering fashion photographer of the 20’s and 30’s George Hoyningen-Huene and the cast all immaculately dressed by veteran costume designer Orry-Kerry (also both gay, surprise, surprise). It also – like Sex in the City – boasts eye candy for both gay men and straight women in the form of a trio of hunks played by Ty Hardin, Corey Allen and Ray Danton, while the husbands played by Harold J Stone and John Dehner are portrayed as solid but unexciting. However, the hunks let all the women down (is this based on Cukor’s own experience of men?), with Hardin proving a big kid, Allen a jerk, and Danton under the thumb of his lawful wedded.

The acting is uniformly good, with doe-eyed Glynis Johns (happily still with us) providing most of the laughs and Claire Bloom and Shelley Winters the tears. As the one who’s getting too much sex rather than not enough, Bloom as a tormented drunken nymphomaniac (complete with her own film noir lighting) is heart-wrenching (she would soon be playing a lesbian in The Haunting), but her tragic fate underlines the actually rather conservative mores of the film as the married women return to their husbands and Miss Fonda finds salvation in the form of marriage to researcher Ephraim Zimbalist Jr.  Along with Jane Fonda, Claire Bloom is still acting. She’s in a film called Miss Dali, which premiered at the Guadalajara International Film Festival in March 2018.

Cameraman Harold Lipstein’s hot colours, the plush settings and – especially – Leonard Rosenman’s febrile score all also conspire to evoke Vincente Minnelli’s earlier, extremely eccentric melodrama set in an up-market sanatorium, The Cobweb (1955). Richard Chatten.

AVAILABLE ON DVD

 

 

Leave No Trace (2018) ****

Dir: Debra Granik | Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Ben Foster | US Drama | 109′

A wayfarer father (Foster) and his teenage daughter (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) are the focus of  Debra Granik’s cogent coming of age docudrama that explores – without judgement or melodrama – the close but often problematic bond between parent and teenager as they go about their day-to-day existence ‘eco-warrior-style’ in the lushly wooded US Pacific coastal area.

LEAVE NO TRACE avoids dramatic conflict in its pragmatic approach to telling a contemporary story that harks back to an atavistic era of hunter gatherers portraying with complete naturalness and finesse the pair’s daily existence as they forage for food, seek out warmth and shelter, relying completely on local flora and fauna for all their creature comforts. And for a while it seems an enviable and harmonious way of life until Tom (Thomasin) grows tired of roaming around and hungers for something more – both physically and emotionally – as she discovers that nesting and belonging suits her better than avoiding society and being constantly on the move. Whether this is a male or female state of mind is a subject for consideration in this – on the surface – simple but thematically rich piece of filmmaking. Tom’s coming of age evolves as naturally as the landscape surrounding her. Clearly her father is a loner, whereas Tom is much more garrulous – clearly a product of her nature rather than her parental nurturing.

What also emerges here is a picture of rural America at its most original state: a collection of people who came together and forged a close community looking after each other in what could ideally be described as basic socialism. But when the state intervenes in the form of social care our hackles begin to rise at this seemingly unnatural intrusion into their state of grace.

With this quietly unassuming indie gem Granik questions and explores complex human dynamics: our desire for privacy and autonomy within our families, communities and even within ourselves is constantly evolving and being challenging by officialdom. LEAVE NO TRACE is a small gem that is larger than life. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 29 JUNE 2018

 

Our New President (2017) ICA LONDON

Dir. Maxim Pozdorovkin, Russia/USA, 2018, 77 mins, English and Russian with English subtitles
Ever since a fateful visit to a mummy’s glass-encased tomb in 1997, Hillary Clinton has been plagued by fainting spells, drug use, and even allegations of sexual abuse and murder. Don’t believe it? Just ask the reporters at Vesti and NTV, two of the most-watched state-run news shows in Russia, where outlandish stories like these reach millions of viewers every night.

As more details of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election emerge, acclaimed filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin assembles a fever dream of Russian propaganda aimed at both Clinton and Trump from YouTube, RT, and other media platforms. Within this alternate universe of misinformation, we witness the seeds of the 2016 fake news cycle take root and successfully infiltrate the collective conscience of a Russian populace trained to distrust truth and objectivity.

The divisive stories peddled by these journalists, handpicked by Putin, range from sinister to absurd, but they all point to a coordinated effort to alter public opinion at home and abroad. COURTESY OF THE ICA.

OUR NEW PRESIDENT – THIS WEEK AT THE ICA

Pressing On: The Letterpress Film (2016)

Dir: Erin Beckloff, Andrew P Quinn | US | Doc | 99′

A 4K feature length documentary exploring the remarkable community keeping letterpress alive

Just as vinyl is the true home of the music aficionado, the old-fashioned letterpress – with the symbols carved out of wood or moulded out of lead –  is the shrine of the printing fanatic. This world of the letterpress ended in the 60s with the advent of off-set printing and the copy machine – over 50% of the printing shops closed. In this immersive feature debut, filmmakers Erin Beckloff and Andrew P. Quinn follow old and young addicts of these huge machines all over the United States.

I thought letter print would die with me” says Gregory Walters from Ohio. Meanwhile, Richard Hopkins from West Virginia, who has collected 40 machines from the scrap-yards, now wants to give these treasure “my last ten good years”. Both are in love with the big classic print machines named Heidelberg, Line-O-Scribe, Kelsey and Sigwalt. Another hobby printer “wants to carry the torch, the best thing I can hope for”. But their fears of being the last in a long line of those still using Johannes Gutenberg’s invention from the mid 15th century, are absolutely unfounded. The best example is Dave Churchman, a hobby printer from Indianamwho died during the filming of this documentary, and whose son Andrew took over immediately from his father. And “Masterprinter” Jim Moran from Wisconsin can talk nostalgically about the onset of on-set printing – the NYT was the last paper to switch in 1978 – but he knows full well that the trade is safe – mostly in the hands of young women. Which is surprising, giving the dangerous nature of the traditional way of printing:  Jim Daggs from Iowa is not the only one to shows his ‘war wounds’: some fingers are rather incomplete, and one arm is disfigured by a lead burn. Needless to say, Daggs does not think much of modern printers, which “are getting away from the skill of the trade.”

Jim Sherraden runs the Hatch Show Print in Nashville,Tennessee, specialising in posters for Country music. The manager of Hatch, Celene Aubrey (a woman in her thirties) is proud of a tradition which started with Jimmy Cash, followed by Dolly Parton and now features Bon Jovi. “We are a living connection from the past into the future. An honourable mention should go to the Plateau Press Museum in Illinois, where over 600 machines are curated by Paul Eden. There is another museum of the trade in Hamilton, for Wood Type and Printing in Wisconsin. But it is not only printing letters and posters: Jennifer Farrell, who quit her job to work for her Starshape Press in Illisnois, prints ornaments, which are very much admired by the veterans of the trade. And Tammy and Dam Winn, both in their forties and from Illinois, run their Red Door print shop profitably, just like in the good old days.

To liven up the “Talking Heads” the directors have used old AFL-CIO vocational films and other documentary clips about the art of printing, as well as historical re-enactment. A quiet but rewarding feature, which slowly grows on anyone patient enough to enjoy its pearls of wisdom.

AVAILABLE from June 19 VOD/DVD/BluRay

Hereditary (2018) ***

Dir: Ari Aster | Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Bryne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, 125′ US | Horror

Hereditary is in the upper echelons of atmospheric character-driven horror fare, but the film doesn’t end well for its characters – or the audience, for that matter. Superb in execution, characterisation and tropes, Ari Aster’s feature debut comes unstuck in a meandering narrative that simply doesn’t know where to go in the final act. And that’s the tragedy. Like an over-excited child at its first birthday party, Hereditary knows its been good and shared its new toys, and desperately wants the show to go on, but it’s also strung out and eventually driven to tears by exhaustion.

Favouring buttoned-up tension and tone-setting over blood and gore, this claustrophobic arthouse piece feels clammy rather than chilling, along the lines of The Babadook and It Comes At Night. Aster is clearly a consummate storyteller with tricks up his sleeve, but his desire to underpin a spiritual ghost story with traditional folklore goes awry in the final denouement.

And what a grim lot his Graham family are. Living in their morbid house in the dank Pacific Northwest, they make a morose and dysfunctional foursome, headed by Gabriel Bryne’s simpering Dad, Steve, who seems lost behind a pair of opaque ‘specsavers’. Meanwhile Toni Collette is miserable and malign-looking as Annie, the Mom who didn’t get on with her own Mom, and is regretting it as she reads her fumbling funeral elegy which follows a newspaper death announcement  in the opening scene. The couple have two teenage kids, petulant Peter (Alex Wolff) and zombie-like Charlie (Milly Shapiro) who is prone to tongue-clucking – a aural motif that will haunt you for the foreseeable future, bringing back memories of that well worn phrase from Cold Comfort Farm: “something nasty in the woodshed”.

When another woeful tragedy befalls this hapless household, the family dynamic turns stultifying, both to watch and experience. And this tonal claustrophobia takes a hold of the solar plexus for the rest of the story as Aster masterfully guides us through an increasingly grim and gruesome series of events that bring the sword of Damocles firmly down over all and sundry. To compensate for her feelings of loss and confusion, Annie decides to seek refuge in bereavement counselling and this course of action leads to her dabbling in the occult. But from this moment forward the film veers from suspense to disappointment and boredom, as increasingly matters just don’t stack up and Aster resorts to an outlandish scenario to compensate.

Collette, Byrne (who is used to coping with this kind of melodramatic meltdown) and Wolff are impressive in their subtle portrayal of family members steadily losing the plot, in more ways than one. Ann Dowd joins the fun as bereaved mother Joan who is purportedly there to help Annie in her Spiritual awakening, but actually makes matters worse in unleashing a sinister side to the matriarch’s hitherto grounded personality. And here Collette is extraordinary in a sustained performance as Aster’s multi-faceted anti-heroine whose grief and desperation know no bounds as she gradually – and literally – dissembles. But our sympathies ultimately lie with Bryne’s Steve, who plays the most decent character of the lot, and we feel for him as he holds out to the bitter end, trying to see the light but knowing full well, in his bemused bewilderment, that he taken on another film that will eventually end in a shambles. MT

SCREENING DURING SUNDANCE LONDON 2018 |NOW ON RELEASE

Edinburgh International Film Festival | 20 June – 1 July 2018

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

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

BEST OF BRITISH

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

AMERICAN DREAMS 

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

EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES

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

WORLD PERSPECTIVES 

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

DOCUMENTARIES

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

DOWNRIGHT STRANGE

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

FOCUS ON CANADA 

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

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

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

 

 

That Summer (2017) ***

Dir.: Göran Hugo Olsson; Documentary with Edith Ewing Bouvier, Edith Bouvier Beale, Lee Radziwill, Peter Beard; Sweden/Denmark/USA 2017, 80min.

THAT SUMMER is a kind of prequel to Albert and David Maysles’ cult documentary Grey Gardens (1975) and is all about the nostalgia for nostalgia. Shot in the summer of 1972, using material by Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas, Peter Beard and Albert Maysles, bookended (and commentated) by Peter Beard, creates his diary in collage form, this documentary is by far more direct than Grey Gardens, when it comes to its main protagonists Edith Ewing Bouvier and her daughter Edith Bouver Beale, being called lovingly Big and little Edie, who lived alone in splendid isolation in a decaying mansion since the 1930ies.

Using original film material, re-discovered after decades, director Göran Hugo Olsson (Concerning Violence) sets out to describe a magical summer in 1972, when Lee Radziwill, the younger sister of Jackie Kennedy Onassis and her friend the artist and photographer Peter Beard, spent a summer in East Hampton, Long Island. Beard, setting the tone for the feature, calls contemporary East Hampton “Cash” Hampton, a place for the rich and vulgar. But in the early 1970ies, artists like Andy Warhol (who usually preferred urban settings), Truman Capote, Mick and Bianca Jagger mingled with Jackie Onassis and her husband, who paid for the restoration of Grey Gardens, the house Big and Little Edie has lived in. Lee Radziwill directed the work, which included cleaning up cat droppings, which had accumulated during decades. The felines themselves are a main feature always posing attractively. Beard, who now lives in Montauk, not far away from Grey Gardens (which is worth around 18 million Dollar these days) talks about those months in lyrical and poetic terms: Every minute was new, insanely funny, poignant, wild unpredictable and unmatchable… Daily soap operas amongst themselves, the most original scripts, the most paranoid gossip, remarkable historical tales. And the most unforgettable, amazing thing was getting in there – naturally the whole outside world had been padlocked out. Gaining entrance to this world of conscientious objectors: that was the mystery ticket”.

What That Summer underlines is the “castle relationship” between the two Edies: With all the work in the house going on, Radziwill and Beard trying to perform their task of modernisation, whilst mother and daughter continue their role-play like relationship, utterly dependent on each other, yet constantly at odds as they argue the smallest point. They are very much like precocious children, waiting to be asked by the ‘adults’ to perform. Which, in the end they do, singing about autumn and the dwindling, precious days.

Olsson tries very hard to get all different elements to gel but this task is nearly impossible, and what results is a slightly in-cohesive documentary that still manages to keep the audience spellbound. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 1 JUNE 2018 IN ARTHOUSE CINEMAS.

My Friend Dahmer (2017) ****

Dir.: Marc Meyers; Cast: Ross Lynch, Anne Heche, Dallas Roberts, Alex Wolff, Tommy Nelson, Harrison Holzer, Vincent Kartheiser; USA 2017, 107 min.

Marc Meyers (Harvest) scores a winner with this brilliant screen adaptation of ‘Derf’ Backderff’s comic book tracing the final year of the legendary serial killer Jeff Dahmer.

Meyers’ work is best known in the US but this fascinating biopic thriller resonates far and wide due to the universal appeal of its gruesome subject matter. Born in Wisconsin, Jeffrey Dahmer grew up in the small town of Bath, Ohio, where Meyers captures the final year at college before his fragmented psyche exploded, leading to the murders of seventeen young men. Disney star Ross Lynch is cast against type turning in an excruciatingly realistic performance that brings with it an understanding of what drove Dahmer to murder, cannibalism and necrophilia. And the idea that society does not produce serial killers, but is in some way responsible for their existence – soon begins to percolate through the subconscious.

Dahmer’s senior year at Revere High School ran from 1977-78. And we learn how his role as an outsider was pre-determined by his dysfunctional family life where the atmosphere was fraught with discord: Father Lionel (Roberts), a chemist, and his wife Joyce (Heche) argue non-stop: Joyce is undergoing psychiatric treatment for her belligerent attitude to almost everything, but mainly her family. Only Jeffrey’s younger brother Dave (who name was changed due to legal anonymity), seems to find parental approval, largely due to the masculine attributes he shares with father: Both revel in the seclusion of the laboratory, avoiding social interaction, despite Lionel asking his son to develop a more outgoing attitude.

At school, Jeffrey’s obsession with dead animals is well known, he collects carcasses and dissolves them in acid, playing with the bones. His three ‘friends’ Derf (Wolff as the future comic book author), Neil (Nelson) and Mike (Holzer) make full use of Jeffrey’s willingness to be the class clown: they even pay him to perform his antics, which run to mock epileptic seizures and cerebral palsy routines in the local Mall. But Jeffrey is no fool: he is perfectly aware that he doesn’t belong and takes to drinking spirits and developing an early gay crash on a jogger (Kartheiser), who nearly becomes his first victim. Aware of his sexual orientation, Dahmer is condemned to silence, since there is no opportunity to discuss or explore his sexuality in this macho mid-western state  – and little has changed, even today. And so, Jeffrey ‘sleep-walks’ into his first murder, picking up a hitchhiker three weeks after his graduation (another milestone unacknowledged by his family).

From today’s perspective, it seems incredible that the early warning signs of Jeffrey’s fragmentation were not picked up at school, and that a court should find him “mentally sane” to stand trial in 1991. His murder by a fellow inmate serves as a sad but logical epitaph to a life in which the troubled 34 year-old actually kept the remains of some his victims for company. Meyers’ detached case study shows Jeffrey Dahmer as a spectator, looking in on his own life. He is unable to identify with anything alive, his sexuality making him even more of an outcast. His cerebral intelligence was no help: his pent up emotions were so over-powering that he could only find an outlet in physical cruelty, in revenge for being locked out of everyone’s life. DoP Daniel Katz’s wide-screen images underline the joyless grey world he experienced, an arctic emotional landscape. Lynch’s peerless performance underlines the fact that Dahmer was actually handsome, but lacked the wherewithal to connect physically or emotionally with anyone alive. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 1 June 2018

 

The Grifters (1999) **** Bluray release

Dir: Stephen Frears | Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, Annette Bening | Thriller |

Directed by British auteur Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons) and producer Martin Scorsese, The Grifters, is a taut thriller that explores themes of seduction and betrayal. When small-time cheat Roy Dillon (Cusack) winds up in hospital following an unsuccessful scam, it sets up a confrontation between his estranged mother Lilly (Huston) and alluring girlfriend Myra (Benning). Both Lilly and Myra are con artists playing the game in a league far above Roy, and are always looking for their next victim. As Roy finds himself caught in a complicated web of passion and mistrust, the question is who’s conning whom? Frears elicits memorable performances from this talented cast in one of the 20th century’s most edgy and memorable cult classics. 
 
Special Features
Brand New Extras
• Seduction. Betrayal. Murder: The Making of The Grifters: A brand new feature length documentary on the film’s production, including new interviews with director Stephen Frears, cinematographer Oliver Stapleton, editor Mick Audsley, executive producer Barbara De Fina and co-producer Peggy Rajski.
• Limited edition booklet includes: ‘Jim Thompson, Noir, and the Popular Front’, an essay by David Cochran, and ‘Elmer Bernstein: Grit not Grift’, a review of the legendary composer’s career by Charlie Brigden
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  

BlacKkKlansman (2018) | Cannes Film Festival | Grand Prix winner

Dir: Spike Lee | Cast: Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier, Ryan Eggold, Corey Hawkins | Biopic Crime Comedy | US |

Spike Lee’s latest film follows Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, who successfully managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan.

BlacKkKlansman, champions the Black Lives Matter brigade and is Spike Lee’s most engaging film in years, playing out as a straightforward 1970s style tale that sees a Black rookie detective get close up close and personal with the KKK, by posing as a potential punter over the ‘phone then sending his white colleague along to do the honours. Adam Driver plays game in fine form. 

There shades of Shaft here and other blaxploitation films of the era, but the accent is on comedy and irony rather than outright thriller, although Lee has done his research seriously offering plenty of historical detail and some archive footage from the Charlottesville riots from August last year, and the camera swivels firmly in focus of President Trump, and DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation.

The white supremacists are a nasty bunch, as you can imagine, and no one escapes their vitriol which is aimed at Jews and anyone not of Aryan blood. Topher Grace plays David Duke, the head honcho of the local branch, the film also features Black characters who are racist such as Patrice..

After joining the surprisingly racist Colorado Springs Police department, his first mission is to attend a Black Power meeting addressed by Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture. Here he meets and falls for Angela Davies Patrice (Laura Harrier). The film then charts his progress to infiltrate and bring down the KKK organisation in scenes where the tone is taut but always firmly upbeat. With lowkey natural performances from leads Adam Driver and John David Washington, and a stellar score of ‘70s hits, this is an enjoyable, informative and undivisive drama and certainly worthy of winning the Palme d’Or. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | GRAND PRIX WINNER 2018

Breakheart Pass (1975) *** | Dual format release

Dir Tom Gries | Writer: Alistair Maclean | Cast Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Richard Crenna | US | 95’

With shades of Narrow Margin to its locomotive setting BREAKHEART PASS is a Western murder mystery that takes place on a stream train at the height of the frontier era, starring Charles Bronson and based on Alistair Maclean’s bestselling novel, who also wrote the script.

Bronson plays an undercover agent who is hotly pursuing a murderous gang during an perilous journey to a remote Army post across hostile wintery terrain featuring marauding Native Indians and some brutal action sequences. None of these men can be trusted to post a letter and moll Jill Ireland realises this, but she can’t be trusted either – at least, not on the romantic front, and ends up switching partners during the action. With a rousing score by Jerry Goldsmith and some magnificent set pieces – including one where a entire train careers full length into a ravine – this is a roadie Western with plenty of thrilling twists up its snow-covered sleeve. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT BLURAY DVD FROM 14 MAY COURTESY OF EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT

Wildlife (2018) | Critics’ Week | Cannes Film Festival 2018

Writer|Dir: Paul Dano | Cast: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould | Drama | US | 105’

A teenage boy experiences the breakdown of his parents’ marriage in  Paul Dano’s crisp coming of age family drama, set in 1960s Montana, and based on Richard Ford’s novel.

Although once or twice veering into melodrama, actor Dano maintains impressive control over his sleek and very lucid first film which is anchored by three masterful performances, and sees a young family disintegrate after the husband loses his job.

WILDLIFE has a great deal in common with Retribution Road (2008), its similar theme of aspirational hope for a couple starting out on their life in a new town, in this case Great Falls, Montana. But here the perspective is very different – in Wildlife, the entire experience is seen from the unique perspective of a pubescent boy, Joe, played thoughtfully by young Australian actor Ed Oxenbould (The Visit).

There’s an old-fashioned quality to the film that very much works to its advantage. The date is 1960 and in the mountains behind the family house a forest fire is raging, with warnings that it could well spread to the town centre if not controlled by rangers, who Jerry Brinson (Gyllenhaal) decides to join at a wage of only a dollar an hour, after much moping around the house when he loses his job on the local golf course. This comes as a big surprise to his wife Jeannette (Mulligan), an earnest homemaker who believes in her husband’s desire to make more of himself, and she sees this as a step backwards, career-wise. Meanwhile, Joe signs on as an apprentice to a local portrait photographer, a part-time job he takes to while doing very well in his school work.

Dano and his co-writer Zoe Kazan, stick to a clean, straighforward narrative but there’s a subtle brooding tension at play, and while Joe seems emotionally grounded and resilient (a tribute to his parents), Jerry and Jeannette are less so: although Jerry’s character is the most underwritten of the three, there’s a haunted quality to him as a straightforwaed dad who suddenly implodes after the shock of his firing. Jeannette also starts to lose her own sense of equilibrium:. “What kind of man leaves his wife and child in such a lonely place?,” Jeanette casts around for emotional ballast in an much older wealthy man, Warren Miller (Bill Camp), who she meets while giving swimming classes.

In some ways this fragmented behaviour is character-forming for Joe, his parents have clearly given him a rock solid babyhood, and so he can weather the shocking fliration scenes that take place between Millar and his mother, and his loss at his father’s temporary abandonment, although he finds it all difficult to fathom. This is not a film about adult infidelity and abandonment, but about how a teenage perceives and deals with it, and as such it is beautifully restrained and supremely elegant – the audience is required to suspend disbelief and take a trip back to teenagehood and the bewildering experience it offers. Dano makes the denouement an enigmatic affair, leaving the door open to hope, while acknowledging the inevitable. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8-19 MAY 2018 | CRITICS’ WEEK |

 

Filmworker (2017)

Dir: Tony Zierra | With Leon Vitali, Ryan O’Neal, Danny Lloyd, Matthew Modine, Stellan Skarsgard, Pernilla August | Doc | US  | 94′

Director Tony Zierra (My Big Break) shows how easy it was for one actor to become obsessed by the legend that was Stanley Kubrick, becoming his right-hand collaborator and dedicating his life to Kubrick’s films, and even now, 18 years after the director’s death, working to transfers the master’s oeuvre onto 4K material.

In 1975, actor Leon Vitali (287), a young man with a great future ahead of him on both screen and stage – he had offers from the National Theatre – landed one of the main parts as Lord Bullingdon in Stanley Kubrick’s epic Barry Lyndon. Vitali admired Kubrick so much that he soon abandoned his acting career to learn about filmmaking, finally talking Kubrick into getting him a job on The Shining (1980). And Vitali was so quick to earn Kubrick’s trust that he was tasked with casting the child parts for the Cult horror feature, discovering little Danny Lloyd. For Full Metal Jacket (1987), Vitali’s main contribution was enabling the actors to live up to the harsh and exacting demands of the director. Whilst returning to his acting career in Kubrick’s final feature Eyes Wide Shut (1999), Vitali also helped with various technical tasks. 

Well that’s the nuts and bolts of this well-made and engaging documentary, enriched by archive footage and photographs including informative talking heads who enlighten further on one of the World’s most outstanding 20th century filmmaker. Kubrick was a perfectionist and control freak, and working with him often meant putting in 16 hours a day; Vitali became  the trusted adjutant and their two often working round the clock often even worked around the clock. Kubrick’s three children, who are interviewed, make it quite clear that they came second in the pecking order for Dad’s attention. Other interviewees, like Ryan O’Neal and Matthew Modine, talk about Vitali’s obsessive relationship with Kubrick, who was often bad-tempered when Vitali did not follow his orders. And clearly this obsessive relationship has taken its toll on Vitali, physically as well as psychologically. He looks much older than his actual age, haggard, and still driven by fulfilling the tasks he sets himself as Kubrick’s personal assistant for life.

Filmworker is a haunting portrait of a man who has submerged his own identity to serve another in a near religious case of submission. But when it comes to posterity, he couldn’t have chosen a more rigorous genius to learn from. AS

OUT ON RELEASE FROM 18 May 2018

 

Mansfield 66/67 (2017) * *

Dir: P Ebersole and Todd Hughes | US Documentary with Kenneth Anger, Richmond Arquette, Ann Magnusson, John Waters, Mary Woronov | 84′

The real Sixties sex symbol Jayne Mansfield is never really revealed in this frivolously flirty film that floats around aimlessly in exploring her ill-fated final years.

Mansfield 66/67 is all bells and whistles as it careens chaotically through the blonde bombshell’s short-lived career – she died aged only 34 in 1967. Taking as its informative talking heads John Waters, Mary Woronov, and Kenneth Anger (et al) this is a light-headed piece of entertainment from the pair who brought us Hit So Hard that explored musician Patty Schemel’s descent into drug abuse.

It turns out that Mansfield was not just a pretty face or a stunning figure, for that matter: She was a polished publicity machine. Beyond that we learn nothing about her formative years or her movie career, although her death in Louisiana in a freak car accident in 1967 is much discussed and debated, along with her “Faustian” association with the Satanist Anton LaVey. It comes as no surprise to find out she very much enjoyed sex: “it should be animalistic, it should be sadistic, it should at times be masochistic…There are few rules and moral conventions”.  She also loved being a mother to her five kids, starting at age 17. According to her (convincing) funeral embalmer she was not de-captitated, contrary to popular belief, but she did dabble in witchcraft (the louche LaVey was variously blamed for her death); and live in a pink palace; and drive a pink Cadillac, during a decade long Hollywood career that hit its peak in the late 1950s.

But this film is so busy flitting through its different styles of presentation – that include dance routines by a bizarre bewigged foursome and Pink Panther style animations – that the thrice-married curvaceous kitten Jayne Mansfield almost takes a back seat in her own vehicle, and ranks secondary to the stylistic flourishes of this quasi vanity project. Ironic, considering that Mansfield’s career was defined exclusively by her desire for publicity “at any cost”. Public property during her lifetime, post mortem Mansfield still maintains her mystery. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 13 APRIL 2018

 

 

Tully (2018) ***

Dir.: Jason Reitman; Cast: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston, Elaine Tan; USA 2018, 96 min.

Tully, the third cooperation for director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody – after Juno and Young Adult – is a realistic, bitter-sweet study of suburban family life near New York, and a flirt with the supernatural, which will not be disclosed (no spoilers). Apart from the lame ending, the two strands form an exciting unity, held together by the female leads Charlize Theron (Young Adult) and Mackenzie Davis (Always Shine).

We meet Marlo (Theron) heavily pregnant in her third trimester – and not loving it at all. Theron was either over-committed to her role, or her fat-suit is superior to anything seen so far. But Marlo has to carry the whole weight of the new arrival, the third, and not a happy accident. “I feel like an abandoned trashbag” and My body looks a relief map for a war-torn country” are some of her choice comments. The reason for the overload is mainly husband Drew (Livingston), who is more absent than present, and has substituted their sex-life for nocturnal marathons on the Play Station. Her brother Craig (Duplass) is higher up the bourgeois ladder, and offers to pay for a night time nanny; whilst his perfectly trim wife Elyse (Tan) puts her foot in with comments “I had to crawl to the gym in my last month of pregnancy”. Needless to say, Craig and Elyse have a couple of perfect children, who love their greens, whilst Marlo’s daughter Sarah and son Jonah would prefer something more filling like pizza. Sarah’s reaction to the new arrival is a loss of self-esteem, and to compound matters, Jonah is about to be kicked out of kindergarten because his parents pretend that he is just “quirky”, rather than on the autism spectrum.

After the birth of Mia, and some sleepless nights amidst the rising domestic chaos, Marlo decides to accept her brother’s offer of help: Enter Tully (Davis), an optimistic, practical angel of competence, who not only liberates Marlo from the nightly child duties, but brings order into the household.. But there is a slight android quality about Tully, enhanced by her androgynous looks. We suspect the worst, when Tully helps Marlo to spice up her sex-life, wearing a waitress uniform, one of Drew’s beloved fetishes. But nothing comes out of this encounter, and soon Marlo and Tully become a unit. After a night-out in Brooklyn, Marlo’s old haunt, Tully announces suddenly, that she has to leave.

Certainly, Cody’s script is the soul of this feature, her dialogue is witty; and well-informed by her own experience of motherhood. One of her next projects, titled Barbie, is a live action film about a doll from Barbie Land, who is expelled from this universe and has adventures in the real world. With Tully Cody asks whether motherhood has to be the end of an independent life – is the old Marlo of Brooklyn dead or, can she be re-animated?

DoP Eric Steelberg’s images work best during the chaotic time in Marlo’s household and the confrontations between Marlo and the kindergarten teachers. But sometimes, like the whole project in the end, he finds too many comprises, choosing soothing colour schemes, avoiding more innovative angles. Tully could have been a great feature, but taking back so much of the critique at the end, spoils the whole enterprise. 

OUT ON RELEASE THIS FRIDAY, 4 MAY 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8 -22 MAY 2018

COMPETITION LINE-Up

EVERY BODY KNOWS – Asghar Farhadi

AT WAR - Stéphane Brizé 

DOGMAN – Matteo Garrone

LE LIVRE D’IMAGE – Jean-Luc Godard

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

SORRY ANGEL – Christophe Honore

GIRLS OF THE SUN – Eva Husson

ASH IS PUREST WHITE – Zia Zhangke

SHOPLIFTERS – Kor-eda Hirokazu

CAPERNAUM – Nadine Labaki

BUH-NING (BURNING) – Lee Chang-Dong

BLACKKKLANSMAN – Spike Lee

UNDER THE SILVER LAKE – David Robert Mitchell

THREE FACES – Jafar Panahi

ZIMNA WOJNA/Cold War – Pawel Pawlikowski

LAZZARO FELICE – Alice Rohrwacher

LETO – Kirill Serebrennikov

YOMEDDINE – A B Shawky

KNIFE + HEART – Yann Gonzalez

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

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

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

The Competition 2018 will be composed of 21 films.

SHADOW – Zhang Yimou (out of competition)

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

_______________________________________________

 71st CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8-20 MAY 2018

 

 

Sundance London 2018 | 31 May – 3 June

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

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

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

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

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

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

Principal cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

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

Principal cast: Florian Homm, Tiffany Masters, Jaqueline Siegel

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

Principal cast: Rosanna Arquette, Jamie Babbit, Emily Best

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truth or Dare (2017) **

Dir.: Jeff Wadlow; Cast: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violette Bene, Hayden Szeto; USA 2018, 100′.

Director/co-writer Jeff Wadlow is behind the popular Purge franchise with together  Blumhouse Productions, and has tried the same thing with Truth or Dare with an that ending hints at a sequel, but is its audience gullible enough. On present form, the answer is probably yes.

On their final Spring Break, a group of college students take a vacation in Mexico, where they are lured into a Truth or Dare game by a mysterious stranger in a spooky church cellar. Retuning home, they soon discover that the game has followed them. If any of the participants refuses a challenge; lies or fails a dare task, she/he is dead. The first victim, Ronnie sets the tone: he is dared to show all, standing up on the pool table, but chickens out. The demon punishes Ronnie with sudden death: he falls of the table and crashes his head in. Perhaps not the most sensational start to a killing spree; but even though blood is not spared, it soon turns out that Truth or Dare is more interested in the hidden secrets of its participants. Does goody-two-shoes Olivia (Hale), who rather would have rather spent a week doing humanitarian work than go to Mexico, really fancy Lucas (Posey), the philandering boyfriend of Olivia’s best friend Markie (Beane)?. And has Olivia also a hand in the suicide of Markie’s father? And then there is Brad (Szeto), who can’t confess to his homophobic cop-father that he is gay, and is duly killed by his Dad’s fellow-cop. Finally. Olivia gets on a trip to Mexico to interview a mute ex-nun, the sole survivor of a massacre in the church where the ordeal first started.

Symbolic for the whole enterprise is a scene where one of the afflicted has to drink a bottle of spirits whilst walking on the roof of the house, spikes looming, and her helpers running along the house with a mattress. Truth or Dare is anything but frightening – very much Scooby Doo meets Gossip Girl. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 16 APRIL 2018

There’s Always Tomorrow (1956) | April on MUBI

Dir.: Douglas Sirk; Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Fred McMurray, Joan Bennett, Gigi Perreau, Judy Nugent, William Reynolds); USA 1955, 94′.

Douglas Sirk’s reputation soared after the end of his Hollywood career in 1959 –the German born émigré’s melodramas of the 1950s German became the blue print for many filmmakers in the 1970s, one of them being Rainer Werner Fassbinder. There’s Always Tomorrow had already been made in 1934 by Edward Sloman, Sirk’s version is based on the novel by Ursula Parrot, who had ten of her books adapted for the Hollywood screen. Whilst Sirk is mostly remembered for Imitations of Life, this feature, as subversive as anything shot in the 1950s in the dream factory, is sadly neglected.

Metty’s grainy black-and-white photography, his expressionistic use of angles, are one highlight of this feature, but let’s not forget Ursula Parrot, the novelist. Apart from being extremely successful, she was also quite a tearaway. In 1943, at the age of 43, she went off with a soldier who was about to be locked up for narcotic offences, right under the nose of the Military Police. Later released on bail, when cross-examined, she said that she  “acted on impulse, and anyhow, the soldier in question was a damn good guitar player”. Somehow, it makes sense that Sirk, another outsider in Hollywood, should be the one to bring her work onto the screen.

Clifford Groves (McMurray) runs a toy factory and is married to Marion (Bennett); their three children Vinny (Reynolds), Ellen (Perrault) and Frankie (Nugent) complete the happy middle-class family. Vinny, their oldest, is a mixture Playboy version of James Dean; Ellen is a fashion-obsessed teenager and Frankie, the youngest, a precocious wannabe ballet dancer. But whilst Clifford is in control of his work life, his emotions are all over the place – and not always with his family. Sirk often depicted his child characters as selfish, materialistic and obnoxious: shades of Veda in Curtiz’ Mildred Pierce. Whilst a voice-over recounts  the narrative, DoP Russell Metty’s camera pans in on opulent middle-class suburbia where shadows gradually loom, with a distinct whiff of noir. The weather is lousy – California, no less – and Clifford sets out for Palm Beach to secure a lucrative contract. Enter Norma Vale (Stanwyck), an ex-flame of Clifford, who is now a successful fashion designer – and a divorcee. At this point, Double Indemnity comes to mind, and Sirk makes this very clear: the feeling is very much like The Clock (1945), another noir feature. Norma is everything that Marion is not: lively, vivacious and more importantly, full of praise for Clifford and his achievements. Whilst they are sipping their cocktails poolside, Norma has become the dream girl for Clifford. But the audience knows that dreams rarely come true. And soon Vinnie appears with his girl friend Ann, and another couple. The foursome soon leave, but it is too late. Back home, Clifford feels the boredom even more, but worse, Vinnie wants to know the details of his father’s relationship with Norma, seeking the help of his sister Ellen. His insolence nearly costs him his girl friend Ann, who warns him to lay off. Like his father, Vinnie is clearly inferior to the woman in his life. At one point, Clifford looks at his children through the bannister of the staircase: we do not know if they are in prison, or the other way round. Tears signal the end: in this case Norma’s, in a plane flying over the Groves house. AS

IN THE REALM OF MELODRAMA: MUBI IS HOSTING A RETROSPECTIVE of DOUGLAS SIRK’s FILMS IN APRIL

Thoroughbreds (2017) ***

Dir.: Corey Finley; Cast: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks, Francis Swift; US 2016, 91′

THOROUGHBREDS is an impressive debut by director Corey Finley, who adapted the stylish neo-noir thriller from his own play. It’s a razor sharp portrayal of the set it sends up, but just a little bit to sleek to be totally convincing.

In wealthy, rural Connecticut, school friends Amanda (Cooke) and Lily (Taylor-Joy) are re-united by Amanda’s mother (Swift), who has sensed that Lily is an outcast after killing a sick horse in a very gruesome way. Amanda is fully aware of this, and she tries to lure Lily into a plot to murder her obnoxious stepfather Mark (Sparks) who wants her to go to a college for mal-adjusted students instead of one of her choice. Lily comes up with a great idea involving local lowlife Tim (Yelchin, superb in his last role). The pair try to trick Tim into doing the deadly deed, but he gets cold feet at the last minute. After accusing Amanda of being “not high on empathy” – fair statement – Lily is asked not to drink a knock-out cocktail by Amanda, who mixed it. But Lily is hell-bent on proving that she can outdo her friend.

The teenagers are a merciless duo, not really evil but full of malicious intent stemming from the privileges of their upbringing. There is also a good amount of believing all sort of half-baked theories, and finally, in Lily’s case, a sense of morbidity – drawing comparison with Heavenly Creatures. Yelchin is brilliant in the role of the sex-offender who seems to fall into the trap set for him, but just in time gets his neck out of a noose so carefully designed for him by the girls. Amanda’s step-dad is very menacing, the sounds of a rowing machine he seems to be addicted to, mix eerily with Erik Friedlander’s atonal score. Lyle Vincent’s handheld camera shows the teens’ disturbing dialogues against the opulent backdrop: the night time is their favoured setting, during the day they fade, like vampires, into a washed-out blue. Finley directs with great panache, his characters all more or less damaged, are trapped from the get-go. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 6 APRIL 2018 NATIONWIDE

The Dinner (2017) *** DVD release

Dir.: Oren Moverman; Cast: Richard Gere, Laura Linley, Rebecca Hall, Steve Coogan, Charlie Plummer, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Miles J. Harvey, Cloe Sevigney; USA 2017, 120 min.

Oren Moverman (Time out of Mind) is the third director to brings Herman Koch’s 2009 novel to the screen. By introducing more characters and a reflection of the battle of Gettysburg, he delivers less punch than his predecessors Menno Meyjes and Ivano de Matteo who stayed very close to the original where two sets of parents try to cover up their offsprings’ serious crime History teacher Paul (Coogan) is not keen to join his wife Claire (Linley) at a posh restaurant, for dinner with his brother Stan – who is running for governor – and his second wife Kate (Hall). The rivalry of the brothers is well documented in flashbacks, along with a meeting at the scene of the deciding battle of the American Civil War, where both men reflect on the dominance of violence in American history. Little does Paul know that the dinner guests are well aware of the ghastly murder committed by his son Nick (Plummer) and Stan’s offspring Rick (Davey-Fitzpatrick), burning a homeless to death. The dinner courses are used as chapter headings, and the hilarious serving ceremony by an army of waiters brings light relief to the brutal contents. Stan’s PA, who is in the lobby, also interrupts the discussions, since a vote in House and the forthcoming elections have to be organised. Surprisingly, Stan is alone in wanting the teenagers punished. The others invent excuses, and in the end, Paul goes so far as to try to kill his brother’s adopted son Bean, who is awre of the crimes. The evening ends in pandemonium, the protagonists stripped of their bourgeois masks, defending their tribe with violence, like a pack of wild animals.

The problem here is that Moverman dilutes the plot, with references to Paul’s mental illness, and Stan mentioning the history of these health issues in the family. Furthermore, the introduction of Stan’s first wife Barbara (Sevigney) in the flashbacks, makes this meal feel overstuffed and verbose: more theatre than film, as Coogan, particularly, milking his role for what its worth. DoP Bobby Bukowski (Arlington Road) uses film-noir elements in the restaurant scenes, creating an unreal atmosphere. Moverman’s mealy-mouthed treatment results in a bloated  affair that drifts around desperate for the concentrated flavour of the novel. AS

DVD release on Monday 2nd April.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLURAY | NETWORK

The Batchelors (2017) **

Dir.: Kurt Voelker; Cast: Josh Wiggins, J.K. Simmons, Julie Delpy, Odeya Rush; USA 2017, 97 min.

Kurt Voelker follows Park with the ultimate phoney Hollywood tearjerker that spouts endless American optimism totally ignoring any basic psychological principles on its way to its sugar coated happy-end, which is revealed shortly before the story has got underway.

After the premature death of his wife, Bill Ponder (Simmons) decides to take up a teaching job at a friend’s school in California, along with his teenage son Wes (Wiggins). No sooner have they arrived before Wes takes a shine for beauty-queen Lacy (Rush), when Julie Delpy’s French mistress (Carine) puts the two of them in a homework team. After a punch up in the cafeteria. Lacy leaves her macho boyfriend for Wes and Bill eventually falls for Carine after an unbelievably ignorant psychotherapist prescribes one drug too many drugs – and electro-shock treatment also fails – Bill is ready for a foursome in the sun – but not before Wes has won the cross-country run against the odds and has Lacy to promise him to stop self-harming. Yes, the production values are passable, but any film featuring a classroom nervous with the victim (Bill) foaming at the mouth, cannot be taken seriously. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 29 MARCH 2018

Breathless (1983)* * * | Bluray release

Dir: Jim McBride | Cast: Richard Gere, Valérie Kaprisky | Drama | US | 100′

There’s a lot to be said for Richard Gere in his early days of tousled-haired charisma and cupid bow lips. With an sweet smile and a svelte body, he played the perfect Officer and a Gentleman and the Armani-clad, snake-hipped seducer in American Gigolo and had acting chops too.

In his Jean Luc Godard neo-noir remake Jim McBride (The Big Easy) translocates the action from Sixties Paris to Eighties Los Angeles, where Gere cuts a dash as Jesse, a wanton opportunistic wayfarer and Jerry Lee Lewis devotee with a gift for the gab and a side-line in stealing cars. He then goes on the run after killing a cop in Las Vegas and flees to Mexico where he meets Valérie Kaprisky’s French  architecture undergraduate Monica and the two fall in love. Breathless’s breezy charm turns into something more sinister as Jesse’s crime catches up with him and Monica is forced to make a choice. MT

OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY ON SECOND SIGHT FILMS FROM 26 MARCH 2018

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Battle of the Sexes (2017) | **** | Bfi Flare Film Festival

Dir: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton | Writer: Simon Beaufoy | Cast: Steve Carell, Emma Stone | Sport Biopic
Emma Stone and Steve Carell star as sparkling adversaries in this colourful period recreation of the legendary 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King that made public her fight for equality in women’s tennis.

Battle of the Sexes engagingly captures the zeitgeist of the era focusing on the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs which was a turning point in the politics of their game, flagging up a protest over the pay gap between men and women on the professional circuit. Scripted by Academy Award winner Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine), Battle of the Sexes is a fitting tribute to that iconic moment.

Stone is impressive in the role of King who had decided to fund her own tour with Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) as her manager. Carell plays the suitably back-footed Riggs whose finances were depleted since his previous championship. His troubled emotional life also haunts his game and he misguidedly proffers a publicity stunt in the shape of a challenge involving a $100,000 winner-take-all match.

Beaufoy’s script cleverly contrasts the game’s blatant sexuality during a ‘pioneering era of sexual revolution’ with King’s extraordinary talent as a player – along with likes of other female champions of the time such as Yvonne Goolagong and Virginia Wade. MT

BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL 21 MARCH – 1 APRIL 2018 

 

BFI Flare Film Festival | 21 March – 1 April 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A Love that Never Dies (2017) ***

Dir.: Jimmy Edmonds, Jane Harris; UK/India/USA/Vietnam 2017, 75 min.

Seven years after their son Josh was killed in a road accident in Vietnam, Jimmy Edmonds and Jane Harris set out on a personal journey across the USA, to talk to bereaved parents, who have lost their children suddenly to accidents or untimely illnesses.

Grief is a personal matter, and as the filmmaker couple observe, has no closure. And rightly so; there should be no closure, but an ongoing process of coming to terms with an horrific bereavement – it is traumatic to lose a loved one of any kind, but for parents to lose a child, makes even less sense. Grief becomes more bewrwble with the passage of time and the documentary shows some ways forward: one family is active in a charity, bearing the name of their lost child, another one is very supportive of each other, even though their son’s death was caused by a gun in their own home, which was supposed to protect them from harm. But most of them agree with the filmmakers, who simply want to have their lives back “before” the tragic loss.

Edmonds and Harris travel to Vietnam, and visit the place of the accident, supported by locals, who have marked the spot with gifts. Their way of turning back the clock, is to start their journey in New York, which they visited with Josh before his death. The point of this documentary is not to find answers, but to share experiences of a journey can only have one end. AS

Wonder Wheel (2017) ***

Dir/Writer: Woody Allen | Cast: Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, Jack Gore, David Krumholtz | US | Melodrama | 101′

When the world desperately needs a slice of his comedy genius Woody Allen delivers a miserable melodrama, a metaphor for modern life – or perhaps it’s just the mood he is in with the current wave of abuse allegations rocking Hollywood.

So he returns to the 1950s and his childhood days in Coney Island where sad and frustrated housewife Ginny (Kate Winslet) is living out her life, but not her dreams. The Neon-lit shadow of the Ferris wheel sheds a Lucozade-tinged light on the chintzy interiors of the home she shares with her pyromaniac son (Jack Gore), obese husband Humpty (Belushi) and his newly-arrived daughter Carolina (Juno Temple), a marked woman who has just left her gangland husband. Ginny and Humpty are overblown alcoholics and there’s no joy in their lives, but while he is content with his fishing trips and games with the guys, Ginny is an unfulfilled actress wasting her life waitressing in their boardwalk clam diner. Then she falls for a perma-tanned literary-minded lifeguard in the shape of Micky, a desperately miscast Justin Timberlake.

To be frank, this is Ginny’s fillm and without the voluptuous emotional heavyweight Winslet, the film would fail to resonate. She is the meaty Maine lobster in this claustrophobic clam bake-off, with Belushi the French fries, Timberlake the healthy salad and Juno Temple the frothy vanilla milkshake. We’re persuaded that Mickey lives in Greenwich village where he reads Eugene O’Neill, but he’s strait outta modern Memphis and unconvincing in this role. The two fall in lust until Ginny gets heavy and Carolina frolics into focus whereupon Mickey is smitten, realising the reality of the age-gap. “When it comes to love, we often turn out to be our own worst enemy” is one of the more telling lines.

Wonder Wheel is a shade overlong with some scenes lingering uncomfortably, but the redolent musical choices and perfect-pitched performances are convincing and heartfelt. Vittorio Storaro’s wizardry with his colour wheel bathes everything in a neon-suffused technicolour rainbow tracking Ginny’s emotional ups and downs as the wheel spins from orgasmic bliss to histrionic meltdown. The placid rain-soaked beachscapes provide thoughtful contrast and relief to this bold and believable portrait of a woman driven to the edge. And you feel for her. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 9 MARCH 2018

Mom and Dad (2017) ****

Dir.: Brian Taylor | Cast: Nicholas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Robert Cunningham, Samantha Lemole | USA 2017 | 86′.

Director/writer Brian Taylor, co-creator of Gamer and Crank, delivers the perfect American nightmare: what would happen TV stations all gave up the ghost, and sent coded messages ordering loving middle-class parents to kill their off-spring?. This is not simply a schlock horror movie: it is set very much in the psychological reality of suburban America, where parental love and even sacrifice is the stable diet of all sugar-coated Hollywood films.

Parents Brent (Cage) and Kendall (Blair) are fighting middle-age disappointment: he is frustrated by his reduced means:“Ten years ago I earned 145 000$, now it 45 000$”), she is driven crazy by her attempts to look twenty again. Meanwhile son Josh (Arthur) is still in pre-puberty, and daughter Carly (Winters) drives her parents mad, as the teenager from Hell, her placid boyfriend Damon (Cunningham) is the only one not getting in her way. When the TV incident occurs, Kendall is in hospital, where her sister Jenna (Lemole) is giving birth to a baby – which she immediately tries to kill – Kendall, not yet affected by the curse, helps to save the newly born. But at home she joins her husband in a mad pursuit to kill Josh and Carly – their rage so virulent, that they overlook the body of the housekeeper’s child, murdered by the mother. Damon does his best to defend the children, who are locked in the cellar, while Mum and Dad come up with a new idea: poisoning by gas. When Brent’s parents arrive in midst of the chaos, the former finds out, that old age is not a barrier to child murder.

What make Mom and Dad so realistic is the use of exactly the same aesthetics used by Hollywood to promote the nuclear family: all is clean, antiseptic, feelings (apart from Carly) are repressed, everything is secondary to getting the show on the road every morning: impressing the neighbours and keeping up the gold-standard of superficiality and intellectual banality. This dream, perpetuated in the media, is now simply turned on its head: It is now the most efficient child killer who is top of the ratings. This is a role written for Nicholas Cage, who rises demon-like to the occasion, with Blair not far behind. The American home is a battle-field devastated by the forces of parental revenge. DoP Daniel Pearl indulges in a pastel colours prelude to the gory terror of the uprising: the schoolyard scenes are a terrific example of parental mob violence. Even the ending delivers a refreshing twist – anything but a new beginning. Provocative and brave, Mom and Dad is a incendiary tour-de-force of America’s middle-class dreams descending into Hell. AS

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 9 MARCH 2018

Rex (2017) * * | DVD

Dir: Gabriela Cowperthwaite | Cast: Kate Mara, Ramon Rodriguez, Tom Felton, Bradley Witford, Edie Falco | US Biopic Drama | 116′

Gabriela Cowperthwaite is best known for her impressive documentaries features Blackfish (2014) and City Lax: An Urban Lacrosse Story (2010) but her debut drama teeters between mawkish melodrama and war docudrama, barking up the wrong tree in creating a fitting tribute to Rex and many other brave animals who have served us during wartime. Even committed dog lovers will find it difficult to sympathetise with her efforts to channel a woman’s existential angst and emotional breakdown into the story of a fearless, committed and intelligent canine who saw active service as her military combat dog in the American Forces during the Iraq war. Cowperthwaite’s documentary experience really shines during the stunning combat scenes on location, but once Leavey returns home the sentimentality sets in and the result is frankly trivial and unconvincing. A superb cast is headed by Kate Mara who does her best as Ms Leavey in a difficult role that actually puts the dog in the invidious position of having to share its deserved tribute as a soldier rather than a domestic companion with the brilliant but clearly troubled Marine corporal Megan Leavey. MT

NOW OUT ON DVD  | 19 MARCH 2018 | LIONSGATE

Erase and Forget (2017) ****

Dir: Andrea Luka Zimmerman | US Doc | With Ted Kotcheff, Tudor Gates | 88’

Ten years in the making, Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s investigative thriller-style documentary examines the success of the Rambo films in exemplifying the frontier mentality of an America embodied by decades of militarism, gun culture and social unrest, represented here by officer Bo Gritz who claims to be the inspiration for John Rambo. In a recorded interview, Tudor Gates (Barbarella) describes him as “the apotheosis of a US war hero”, and he is one of the most decorated Vietnam vets.

But behind the articulate and indomitable figure of Gritz, now 79, who admits to sleeping with an arsenal of guns and night vision equipment at his side, more sinister themes are at play. Like prisoners who have served time, a whole generation of soldiers are unable to relate to their country or compatriots when they return from state-sanctioned combat. Ted Kotcheff describes this as like introducing a bacillus that then poisons their new environment. So Gritz turned whistleblower when disenchantment set in at covert methods of suppression by the authories and exposes high levels of corruption in the US government, that have turned him into a official outcast, while he continues to support gun-carrying and anti-government conspiracy theories in his stance as action hero for the people.

Gritz claims that his mistress is still the Special Forces, and in some ways it’s not surprising that his Vietnamese wife – brought back from the war – soon ran off with a handyman. Gritz claims to have killed more than 400 people in the military, and has even run for presidential office. This illuminating portrait of a rather broken champion is enriched by extraordinary archive footage. As he states himself: “You take someone who could be a credit to mankind and you turn them into garbage” MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 2 MARCH 2018

Nightcrawler (2014) | Bluray release

Writer/Dir:Dan Gilroy | Jake Gyllenhaal Bill Paxton, Sharon Tay | US Thriller | 118′

When Nightcrawler was released in 2014 it proved popular with both audiences and critics. It did well at the box office and even received a Best Original Screenplay nomination at the 87th Academy awards. On the visual front Nightcrawler is a gripping affair but for me it’s been very over-rated, especially narrative-wise. So much of Nightcrawler is simply a shiny surface – outstanding photography of L.A. night scenes, from Robert Elswitt, does not compensate for an undeveloped and foreshortened plot. Which is a great pity because initially the storyline appeared to be aiming for a head-on jugular attack on the American public’s craving for violent crime reports satisfied by an ugly, breakfast TV news agenda.

Louis Bloom (A glassy-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal) is an unemployed guy who’s thieving material from a scrap yard. Unable to get a job after selling the scrap, he turns his attention to other late-night prowling. Bloom follows freelance journalists who turn up, with the police, to film violent crime scenes and accidents. He’s captivated by the idea of making a living from this work. After buying a camera he films the carnage and sells the footage to a TV company. An assistant named Rick (Riz Ahmed) is hired and they both begin to dangerously expand into filming territory that borders on the illegal. Bloom produces some seductively graphic material for TV director Nina Romina (Rene Russo) that will please her network. Yet the police department begin to suspect that Bloom may be withholding important evidence gathered at a crime scene.

Critics have tended to enthuse over Nightcrawler’s suspense. One commentator spoke of Nightcrawler as a “shattering critique of both modern-day media practice and consumer culture.” I would challenge the adjective “shattering” and replace it with the blander word “informative.” Its theme of morally reprehensive guys who feed television with voyeuristic content is hardly original. You can go right back to movies like Network (Grotesque satire) and Medium Cool (Semi photo-journalistic critique) to uncover dubious media ethics. Yet neither of those films fails to be disturbingly transgressive like Powell’s Peeping Tom (Its serial killer cameraman probably providing a model for the serial parasite/film reporter of Nightcrawler).

Nightcrawler isn’t the visceral experience that director Dan Gilroy intended it to be. Louis Bloom’s kind of newsgathering is only ‘shocking’ if it produces imagery and words that really get under your emotional skin. The beautiful lighting too often dilutes the violence – excitement, rather than suspense lies in the skill of lots of second-unit directors who worked very well on the car pursuit sequences.

I didn’t really believe that TV director Rene would let herself be so manipulated by Bloom (Even though she has job insecurity). As for Louis, he is an odd, strangely comic socio-path loner (Bloom’s business jargon echoed some of the autodidactic menace of Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy – a far superior film to Nightcrawler.) If only Gilroy’s script had pushed the idea of media power to its limit. We might then have had Bloom storm his way up to becoming the head of the network and then Nightcrawler might have possibly delivered a ‘shattering’ critique. Unfortunately the film’s good ideas run out of steam leaving us with smaller plot triumphs for its anti-hero.

Jake Gyllenhaal is effectively creepy and delivers some good lines – “Do you know what fear stands for? False Evidence Appearing Real.” Riz Ahmed touchingly conveys his vulnerability as Bloom’s sidekick. But Rene Russo’s acting appears stiff and uncomfortable. She doesn’t convince me of her guardedness towards the over-intense Bloom or her sense of anxious ambition.

Nightcrawler is not a bad film, just a good, if disappointing thriller that acts as if it’s being very daring. It’s not really posturing in a fake manner: but lacks a dramatic investment to realise its strongly held moral attitude. The stand that Nightcrawler takes is sadly lacking a raw edge that could have delivered something more provocative about America’s salacious relationship with the smart controllers of its crime-box in the living-room.

NIGHTCRAWLER | NOW ON BLURAY | ALAN PRICE ©2018

 

 

Ryūichi Sakamoto: Async at the Park Avenue Armoury **** Berlinale 2018

Dir: Stephen Nomura Schible | Doc | USA, Japan 2018 | Without dialogue, 65 min

In April 2017 Japanese composer, pianist and music producer Ryūichi Sakamoto made a guest appearance for two evenings in the Veteran’s Room, an small 200-seater hall at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. Experienced music documentarian Stephen Nomura Schible, filmed this the intimate gathering, the first for eight years since the Sakamoto’s recovery from cancer. Async is not just a musical experience but also a visual one: a huge screen under ceiling of the auditorium fills up with images and videos.

After his first solo album in 1978, Sakamoto’s career concentrated on a fusion of synth pop, techno and house genres. But he also branched out into film music, winning an Oscar for co-writing the score for Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, followed by more recent work for Brian de Palma and Pedro Almodavar. So it comes as no surprise that async is very much influenced by visuals and images. “This album is probably the one most influenced by moving images. Movies always inspire me. So when I am feeling empty I start watching a movie. Kung Fu films are so inspiring, so wild”. Unlike the music of the 18th century, which is very much rigid in its formal design, Sakomoto wants to make music as a spontaneous invention. “My desire was the only rule”. The music – with various instruments, western, Japanese and even a sheet of glass – creates a soundtrack for an imaginary film by Andrei Tarkovsky. The composer admits that he is very jealous of his music heard by an audience, “I did not want anyone to hear it”. The 5.1 surround channel underscores the cinematographic experience, one experiences music and images as if present.

If you’ve never heard music by Sakamoto, let your mind wander, and you will soon find your head was filled with associations from the images/music –nothing spectacular or specific, just a pleasant sliding into wellbeing. Even as a great fan of Baroque music, with its very clear formal limits, it never occurred to me that I would feel any asynchrony in the performance – it simply invites the viewer to wander away and dream. AS

BERLINALE SPECIAL | 15-25 FEBRUARY 2018

https://vimeo.com/254826110

 

Generation Wealth (2018) **** Berlinale 2018

Dir.: Lauren Greenfield; Documentary; USA 2018, 106 min.

Filmmaker and photographer Lauren Greenfield (Queen of Versailles, 2012) has put her whole working life of 25 years into this mammoth project, which is accompanied by a book and an exhibition – just to make the point. But it is not only the wealthy who are the objects of her research: Greenfield freely admits to something a woman in her documentary Thin(2006) pointed out to her: Your addiction is work.

The quote from Thin is not the only revisiting Greenfield does: the high-octane-living teens of FastForward fame are also back to report about their life thereafter. These new additions fall mostly into the category of ‘obsession’. Self-obsession usually involves finding an outlet in which to prove yourself: hedge fund manager Suzanne is not only status obsessed, but after having nearly missed the boat in having children, her latest obsession is to have a child – whatever it takes.

Kacey Jordan, an adult film star famous for her relationship with Charlie Sheen is repentant – but not before filming her own suicide attempt. Florian Homm, a hedge-fund manager who once had 600 M Euros to his name, fell foul of the US regulatory system and cannot now leave his native Germany, after having been imprisoned in Italy. He calls Germany “a prison”, but is truly proud of the fact that he bought his teenage son a prostitute in Amsterdam, “to make a man out of him”. His son watches on with his current girl friend, blushing. But there are also examples of redemption such as when Iceland’s economy boomed, a young fisherman suddenly found himself behind a desk in a bank. After the bust, he is back proudly fishing with his son, happy to have escaped the big time.

The pusuit of beauty has always been a major topic for the director (Beauty CULTure, 2011), and it is frightening to see the young Kardashians in their early teen years. But even more harrowing is Eden wood, ‘trained’ by her lower-middleclass Mom from Arkansas to win and compete in “Toddlers and Tiaras”, wishing for nothing more than a whole room full of money. Six years later, Eden has somehow managed to morph into a cheaper model of the Kardashians. Finally Cathy Gant, has spent all he money on beauty treatments in Brazil whilst neglecting her daughter, who now suffers from body dysmorphia with terrible results.

The lost American dream – lost to a mixture of capitalism, narcissism and greed is there for all to see. Nobody looks at the Jones’ next door any more, but at the Kardashians on TV. “In my work, I often look at the extremes to understand the mainstream”, says Greenfield. Perhaps she should have added “at myself”. Her interviews with her sons Noah Gabriel are as heart-breaking as her professional portraits. Cool teenager Noah puts it simple but devastatingly: “I got used to growing up without you around. The damage has been done”.

The hyper-saturated colours and absurdist wide angle-effects give the documentary a carnival-like atmosphere: this is a bonfire, not only of vanities, but also the last roll of the dice of a global civilisation (China and Russia having successfully joined the club), hell bent on destroying itself. Just asthe pyramids with all their splendour were the last gasp of the Egyptian pharoahs; in the make-believe world of TV, everyone is measuring themselves against each other with tragic consequences: the death of family, traditions and even human emotions. Unlike Egypt, this will not be the end of one civilisation, today’s humans are determined to take the whole planet down with them. AS

NATIONWIDE FROM 20 July 2018

Unsane (2018) Mubi

Dir: Steven Soderbergh | Cast: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Amy Irving, Juno Temple | Thriller | US

The expression ‘fact is stranger than fiction’ is a glib way of describing certain experiences in our increasingly bizarre world of today. But this unnerving twisty toe-clencher is exactly that. The times we live in are uncertain and strange, anything can happen and it invariably does. And Steven Soderbergh conflates the real and the unreal in his 2018 feature UNSANE, scripted by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer..

Shot on an iPhone (but not so you’d notice) it stars Claire Foy as Sawyer Valentini an ostensibly straightforward career girl whose life becoming increasingly stressful when she is involuntarily confined to a mental institution, after seeking professional advice to avoid a stalker. Many may find this storyline outlandish but there are those who can attest to the manifold ways that stalkers and high-performing psychotics can gain access to remedies in law enabling them to slip through the net and continue menacing their victims, often incriminating them in the process. Pushed over the edge by PSD, Sawyer is forced into a twilight zone of the real and the imaginary when her stalker (Joshua Leonard) appears as a male nurse in the facility where she is now a patient.

This is a compelling and pacy thriller that grips and startles with its psychological meltdown. Soderbergh makes a convincing case for the stalker in creating an antiheroine who is often unsympathetic and as equally hard-edged as her sociopathic hunter who also exhibits traits that are plausible and even appealing, until the final reveal. Soderbergh punctuates the terror with plenty of dark humour and Jay Pharaoh is appealing as Sawyer’s close friend and ally. Juno Temple is the fly in the ointment, playing against her usual type as a trailer trashy fellow inmate. There’s a claustrophobic haunting quality to the iPhone’s gritty indie grittiness. A quick-witted film that keeps you guessing as it careens from panic to paranoia finally delivering a conclusion that satisfies and startles. MT.

NOW ON MUBi | BERLINALE 2018 REVIEW

The Silk and the Flame (2018)* * * | Berlinale 2018

Dir.: Jordan Schiele; Documentary with Yao Shuo, Fu Qin, Ma Qin; USA 2018, 87 min.

Shot in moody black and white, Jordan Schiele’s documentary sees the future colliding heartbreakingly with the past and rural family life in a village in Henan, central China.

Yao, a gay man in his late thirties, arrives from Beijing to celebrate the New Year along with three billion or so other workers who make this annual pilgrimage to be with their families. The journey takes nearly four days, not the usual nine hours. Yao is successful in a modern sense, with an MA his salary helps his extended family to survive in the 21st century. His parents are still waiting for him to settle down but he keeps his sexuality a secret, out of guilt, and events invents fake girl friend, who just happens to be in Korea over the New Year. The whole family watches him Skype her on his mobile.

Schiele joins Yao on his journey south and tries to talk world politics with his bedridden father Fu Qin – who was forced to beg in his childhood and has suffered two strokes. Yao’s deaf and dumb mother Mu Qin, is also a full-time carer to her husband, coping with his total immobility. The family room of the ramshackle house is dominated by a poster of the young Mao – Yao tells us that his father prays both to Mao and Jesus to make him mobile again. Yao’s brother Fu Qin is clearly the family favourite but Yao is always aware of his otherness: Managing the expectations of his family and former teacher are a constant concern. “I never visited him with a girl, and now the first friend I introduce to him is a man”. A sombre ending, when the two men drive away in their car after the festive season, concludes this gloomy visit – the fireworks providing the only upbeat moments.

Everybody seems to talk all the time about their happy family life but Schiele makes clear that the opposite is mostly the case. Yao even contemplates marrying a woman just to keep his family happy. Such are the pressures of the ties that bind. For all its cultural differences, China is no different from anywhere else: underneath the multi-layered family conflicts everyone keep the status quo. An eerie atmosphere of repression and denial makes for an often strange, but fascinating watch. AS

BERLINALE 15-25 FEBRUARY 2018

Lady Bird (2017)

Dir.: Greta Gerwig; Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothy Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Odeya Rush; USA 2017, 94 min.

LADY BIRD is a mischievous turn of the century tale of teenage angst and suburban boredom carried with aplomb by a brilliant Saoirse Ronan as young woman beset by a rigid mother and a repressive Catholic childhood.

Gerwig kicks off her semi-autobiographical debut as a writer and director with the quote “anybody who talks about Californian hedonism has never spent Christmas in Sacramento”. Christine McPherson (Ronan) has renamed herself Lady Bird, and lets this be known at home and at school, verbally and in writing. Sacramento is an uninspiring place, particularly if you, like Lady Bird, live on the wrong side of the track. The family is struggling, with mother Marion (Metcalf) often working double-shifts as a nurse – and father Larry (Letts) is a victim of the recession. After finding out that her first boyfriend Danny (Hedges) is gay, Lady Bird makes use of an invitation to his grandmother’s splendid mansion to change her image: not only does she dump her best friend Julie (Feldstein) for the glamorous but superficial Jenna (Rush), she also pretends that she lives in said Gran’s upmarket abode. Obviously, this lie cannot last long, but when all is revealed, Lady Bird has lost her virginity to the politically aware Kyle (Chalamet), who turns out to be a nasty snob and womaniser. Lady Bird’s main target of scorn is her mother, who is desperately trying to hold the family together and just wants her daughter to study close to home. Meanwhile Lady Bird has set her sight on an East Coast university. With Larry backing his daughter’s follies de grandeur, the college search becomes the focal point of confrontation between the two women.

The scenes in the catholic school are often hilarious: a priest is directing a school play of Shakespeare’s The Tempest – but he is the American Football coach, and his directions on the blackboard look very much like the playbook for his usual students. On the TV the McPherson’s watch the first knockings of the Iraq war, but it makes no impression on them: just another war far away from home. Trapped in the1950s, Gerwig’s Californian capital seems to take pride in a provincial anti-intellectualism, and Lady Bird fights it in vain. Religion is still the overriding cultural influence; but materialism is king. Marion’s love for her daughter is expressed in monetary terms rather than emotional values.

Despite a rather soppy ending, Lady Bird impresses with a heroine who is anything but perfect. DoP Sam Levy (Frances Ha) uses sugary colours to highlight the infantile banality of the settings; Ronan’s towering performance leads an outstanding ensemble cast. Gerwig proves undeniably that California has places that can easily compete with the Mid West for American traditionalism. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 16 February 2018

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

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

Joaquin Phoenix plays a recovering alcoholic artist in Gus Van Sant’s latest drama. And it’s a gruelling journey padded with scenes of fuzzy humour, based on the autobiography of prolific cartoonist John Callahan whose drawings lighten the load. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot chronicles the aftermath of an accident which leaves him quadriplegic, his doodles providing a creative outlet for his bitter frustration and struggle to come off the wagon, in a reduced physical state.

On and off screen lover-cum-nurse Annu (Rooney Mara) gives him affectionate support along with John (Joaquin Phoenix) his patron, gay philanthropist Donnie (Jonah Hill). Feelgood but toothless, Don’t Worry is also quite tedious to watch as the frequent flashbacks shows the before and after, Phoenix often wallowing in self-pity and milking his melancholy for all he can get. But there are amusing scenes where he rides his wheelchair in traffic and up skateboard ramps. When it comes to paraplegic comedy dramas, Kills on Wheels (2016) did it better, along with the memorable Untouchable (2011).

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

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | BERLINALE REVIEW 2018

Sundance Film Festival | 2018 | Award WINNERS

In Park City Utah, the SUNDANCE INSTITUTE founder ROBERT REDFORD and his programmer John Cooper set the indie film agenda for 2018 with a slew of provocative new titles for this year’s festival which ran from 18-28 January.

Among the newcomers were Paul Dano (with Wildlife) and Rupert Everett (with The Happy Prince) presenting their directorial debuts and new films from Desiree Akhavan: The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Gus van Sant: Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot starring Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara.

WINNERS – THESE ARE THE FILMS WHICH WILL BE CROPPING UP OVER THE NEXT YEAR IN LOCAL ARTHOUSE CINEMAS

The Kindergarten Teacher | DIRECTING AWARD | US DRAMATIC

U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Sara Colangelo, Producers: Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Osnat Handelsman-Keren, Talia Kleinhendler) — Lisa Spinelli is a Staten Island teacher who is unusually devoted to her students. When she discovers one of her five-year-olds is a prodigy, she becomes fascinated with the boy, ultimately risking her family and freedom to nurture his talent. Based on the acclaimed Israeli film. Cast: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Parker Sevak, Rosa Salazar, Anna Barynishikov, Michael Chernus, Gael Garcia Bernal. World Premiere

The Guilty / Denmark | AUDIENCE AWARD | WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC

(Director: Gustav Möller, Screenwriters: Gustav Möller, Emil Nygaard Albertsen, Producer: Lina Flint) Alarm dispatcher Asger Holm answers an emergency call from a kidnapped woman; after a sudden disconnection, the search for the woman and her kidnapper begins. With the phone as his only tool, Asger enters a race against time to solve a crime that is far bigger than he first thought. Cast: Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage, Johan Olsen, Omar Shargawi. World Premiere

Of Fathers and Sons / Germany, Syria, Lebanon | WORLD CINEMA GRAND JURY PRIZE | DOCUMENTARY

(Director: Talal Derki, Producers: Ansgar Frerich, Eva Kemme, Tobias N. Siebert, Hans Robert Eisenhauer) — Talal Derki returns to his homeland where he gains the trust of a radical Islamist family, sharing their daily life for over two years. His camera focuses on Osama and his younger brother Ayman, providing an extremely rare insight into what it means to grow up in an Islamic Caliphate. North American Premiere

On Her Shoulders / U.S.A | US DIRECTING AWARD – DOCUMENTARY

(Director: Alexandria Bombach, Producers: Marie Therese Guirgis, Hayley Pappas, Brock Williams, Bryn Mooser, Adam Bardach) — A Yazidi genocide and ISIS sexual slavery survivor, 23-year-old Nadia Murad is determined to tell the world her story. As her journey leads down paths of advocacy and fame, she becomes the voice of her people and their best hope to spur the world to action. International Premiere

The Miseducation of Cameron Post / U.S.A. | US GRAND JURY AWARD 

(Director: Desiree Akhavan, Screenwriters: Desiree Akhavan, Cecilia Frugiuele, Producers: Cecilia Frugiuele, Jonathan Montepare, Michael B. Clark, Alex Turtletaub) — 1993: after being caught having sex with the prom queen, a girl is forced into a gay conversion therapy center. Based on Emily Danforth’s acclaimed and controversial coming-of-age novel. Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, John Gallagher Jr., Jennifer Ehle. World Premiere

Butterflies / WORLD CINEMA GRAND JURY PRIZE | DOCUMENTARY

Turkey (Director and screenwriter: Tolga Karaçelik, Producers: Tolga Karaçelik, Diloy Gülün, Metin  Anter) — In the Turkish village of Hasanlar, three siblings who neither know each other nor anything about their late father, wait to bury his body. As they start to find out more about their father and about each other, they also start to know more about themselves. Cast: Tolga Tekin, Bartu Küçükçağlayan, Tuğçe Altuğ, Serkan Keskin, Hakan Karsak. World Premiere

THIS IS HOME | AUDIENCE AWARD: US Dramatic / U.S.A., Jordan (Director: Alexandra Shiva, Producer: Lindsey Megrue) This is an intimate portrait of four Syrian families arriving in Baltimore, Maryland and struggling to find their footing. With eight months to become self-sufficient, they must forge ahead to rebuild their lives. When the travel ban adds further complications, their strength and resilience are put to the test. World Premiere

The Sentence / U.S.A | AUDIENCE AWARD | US Documentary

(Director: Rudy Valdez, Producers: Sam Bisbee, Jackie Kelman Bisbee) — Cindy Shank, mother of three, is serving a 15-year sentence in federal prison for her tangential involvement with a Michigan drug ring years earlier. This intimate portrait of mandatory minimum drug sentencing’s devastating consequences, captured by Cindy’s brother, follows her and her family over the course of ten years. World Premiere

BURDEN/AUDIENCE AWARD 2018 | US Dramatic

U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Andrew Heckler, Producers: Robbie Brenner, Jincheng, Bill Kenwright) — After opening a KKK shop, Klansman Michael Burden falls in love with a single mom who forces him to confront his senseless hatred. After leaving the Klan and with nowhere to turn, Burden is taken in by an African-American reverend, and learns tolerance through their combined love and faith. Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker, Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wilkinson, Usher Raymond. World Premiere

NANCY / U.S.A.| WALDO SALT SCREENWRITING AWARD

(Director and screenwriter: Christina Choe, Producers: Amy Lo, Michelle Cameron, Andrea Riseborough) — Blurring lines between fact and fiction, Nancy becomes increasingly convinced she was kidnapped as a child. When she meets a couple whose daughter went missing thirty years ago, reasonable doubts give way to willful belief – and the power of emotion threatens to overcome all rationality. Cast: Andrea Riseborough, J. Smith-Cameron, Steve Buscemi, Ann Dowd, John Leguizamo. World Premiere

KAILASH | US GRAND JURY PRIZE  / U.S.A | DOCUMENTARY

(Director: Derek Doneen, Producers: Davis Guggenheim, Sarah Anthony) — As a young man, Kailash Satyarthi promised himself that he would end child slavery in his lifetime. In the decades since, he has rescued more than eighty thousand children and built a global movement. This intimate and suspenseful film follows one man’s journey to do what many believed was impossible. World Premiere. 

SEARCH / U.S.A. | THE AUDIENCE AWARD | NEXT

(Director: Aneesh Chaganty, Screenwriters: Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian, Producers: Timur Bekmambetov, Sev Ohanian, Adam Sidman, Natalie Qasabian) — After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her. A thriller that unfolds entirely on computer screens. Cast: John Cho, Debra Messing. World Premiere. WINNER: 2018 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize.

Crime + Punishment / U.S.A. | SPECIAL AWARD FOR SOCIAL IMPACT

(Director: Stephen Maing) — Over four years of unprecedented access, the story of a brave group of black and Latino whistleblower cops and one unrelenting private investigator who, amidst a landmark lawsuit, risk everything to expose illegal quota practices and their impact on young minorities. World Premiere

Shirkers / U.S.A. | DIRECTING AWARD | World Cinema Documentary

(Director and screenwriter: Sandi Tan, Producers: Sandi Tan, Jessica Levin, Maya Rudolph) — In 1992, teenager Sandi Tan shot Singapore’s first indie road movie with her enigmatic American mentor Georges – who then vanished with all the footage. Twenty years later, the 16mm film is recovered, sending Tan, now a novelist in Los Angeles, on a personal odyssey in search of Georges’ vanishing footprints. World Premiere

And Breathe Normally / Iceland, Sweden, Belgium | DIRECTING AWARD | World cinema Dramatic

(Director and screenwriter: Ísold Uggadóttir, Producers: Skúli Malmquist, Diana Elbaum, Annika Hellström, Lilja Ósk Snorradóttir, Inga Lind Karlsdóttir) — At the edge of Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula, two women’s lives will intersect – for a brief moment – while trapped in circumstances unforeseen. Between a struggling Icelandic mother and an asylum seeker from Guinea-Bissau, a delicate bond will form as both strategize to get their lives back on track. Cast: Kristín Thóra Haraldsdóttir, Babetida Sadjo, Patrik Nökkvi Pétursson. World Premiere

U.S. DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Presenting the world premieres of 16 narrative feature films, the Dramatic Competition offers Festivalgoers a first look at groundbreaking new voices in American independent film. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include Fruitvale Station, Patti Cake$, Swiss Army Man and The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

American Animals / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Bart Layton, Producers: Derrin Schlesinger, Katherine Butler, Dimitri Doganis, Mary Jane Skalski) — The unbelievable but mostly true story of four young men who mistake their lives for a movie and attempt one of the most audacious art heists in U.S. history. Cast: Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, Ann Dowd, Udo Kier. World Premiere

BLAZE / U.S.A. (Director: Ethan Hawke, Screenwriters: Ethan Hawke, Sybil Rosen, Producers: Jake Seal, John Sloss, Ryan Hawke, Ethan Hawke) — A reimagining of the life and times of Blaze Foley, the unsung songwriting legend of the Texas Outlaw Music movement; he gave up paradise for the sake of a song. Cast: Benjamin Dickey, Alia Shawkat, Josh Hamilton, Charlie Sexton. World Premiere

Blindspotting / U.S.A. (Director: Carlos Lopez Estrada, Screenwriters: Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs, Producers: Keith Calder, Jess Calder, Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs) — A buddy comedy in a world that won’t let it be one. Cast: Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones. World Premiere. 

Eighth Grade / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Bo Burnham, Producers: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Christopher Storer, Lila Yacoub) — Thirteen-year-old Kayla endures the tidal wave of contemporary suburban adolescence as she makes her way through the last week of middle school — the end of her thus far disastrous eighth grade year — before she begins high school. Cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton. World Premiere.

I THINK WE'RE ALONEI Think We’re Alone Now / U.S.A. (Director: Reed Morano, Screenwriter: Mike Makowsky, Producers: Fred Berger, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Fernando Loureiro, Roberto Vasconcellos, Peter Dinklage, Mike Makowsky) — The apocalypse proves a blessing in disguise for one lucky recluse – until a second survivor arrives with the threat of companionship. Cast: Peter Dinklage, Elle Fanning. World Premiere

Lizzie / U.S.A. (Director: Craig William Macneill, Screenwriter: Bryce Kass, Producers: Naomi Despres, Liz Destro) — Based on the 1892 murder of Lizzie Borden’s family in Fall River, MA, this tense psychological thriller lays bare the legend of Lizzie Borden to reveal the much more complex, poignant and truly terrifying woman within — and her intimate bond with the family’s young Irish housemaid, Bridget Sullivan. Cast: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jamey Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Kim Dickens, Denis O’Hare. World Premiere

Monster / U.S.A. (Director: Anthony Mandler, Screenwriters: Radha Blank, Cole Wiley, Janece Shaffer, Producers: Tonya Lewis Lee, Nikki Silver, Aaron L. Gilbert, Mike Jackson, Edward Tyler Nahem) — “Monster” is what the prosecutor calls 17 year old honors student and aspiring filmmaker Steve Harmon. Charged with felony murder for a crime he says he did not commit, the film follows his dramatic journey through a complex legal battle that could leave him spending the rest of his life in prison. Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Hudson, Rakim Mayers, Jennifer Ehle, Tim Blake Nelson. World Premiere

Monsters and Men / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Reinaldo Marcus Green, Producers: Elizabeth Lodge Stepp, Josh Penn, Eddie Vaisman, Julia Lebedev, Luca Borghese) — This interwoven narrative explores the aftermath of a police killing of a black man. The film is told through the eyes of the bystander who filmed the act, an African-American police officer and a high-school baseball phenom inspired to take a stand. Cast: John David Washington, Anthony Ramos, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Chanté Adams, Nicole Beharie, Rob Morgan. World Premiere

Sorry to Bother You / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Boots Riley, Producers: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker, Charles King, George Rush, Jonathan Duffy, Kelly Williams) — In a speculative and dystopian not-too-distant future, black telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success – which propels him into a macabre universe. Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun, Jermaine Fowler, Armie Hammer, Omari Hardwicke. World Premiere

The Tale / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jennifer Fox, Producers: Oren Moverman, Lawrence Inglee, Laura Rister, Mynette Louie, Sol Bondy, Simone Pero) — An investigation into one woman’s memory as she’s forced to re-examine her first sexual relationship and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive; based on the filmmaker’s own story. Cast: Laura Dern, Isabel Nelisse, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Debicki, Ellen Burstyn, Common. World Premiere

TYREL / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Sebastian Silva, Producers: Jacob Wasserman, Max Born) — Tyler spirals out of control when he realizes he’s the only black person attending a weekend birthday party in a secluded cabin. Cast: Jason Mitchell, Christopher Abbott, Michael Cera, Caleb Landry Jones, Ann Dowd. World Premiere

WildlifeWildlife / U.S.A. (Director: Paul Dano, Screenwriters: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Producers: Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, Oren Moverman, Ann Ruark, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker) — Montana, 1960: A portrait of a family in crisis. Based on the novel by Richard Ford. Cast: Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp, Jake Gyllenhaal. World Premiere

U.S. DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Sixteen world-premiere American documentaries that illuminate the ideas, people and events that shape the present day. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include Chasing Coral, Life, Animated, Cartel Land and City of Gold.

Bisbee ’17 / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Robert Greene, Producers: Douglas Tirola, Susan Bedusa, Bennett Elliott) — An old mining town on the Arizona-Mexico border finally reckons with its darkest day: the deportation of 1200 immigrant miners exactly 100 years ago. Locals collaborate to stage recreations of their controversial past. Cast: Fernando Serrano, Laurie McKenna, Ray Family, Mike Anderson, Graeme Family, Richard Hodges. World Premier

Dark Money / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Kimberly Reed, Producer: Katy Chevigny) — “Dark money” contributions, made possible by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, flood modern American elections – but Montana is showing Washington D.C. how to solve the problem of unlimited anonymous money in politics. World Premiere

The Devil yo KnowThe Devil We Know / U.S.A. (Director: Stephanie Soechtig, Producers: Kristin Lazure, Stephanie Soechtig, Joshua Kunau, Carly Palmour) — Unraveling one of the biggest environmental scandals of our time, a group of citizens in West Virginia take on a powerful corporation after they discover it has knowingly been dumping a toxic chemical — now found in the blood of 99.7% of Americans — into the local drinking water supply. World Premiere.

 

HalHal / U.S.A. (Director: Amy Scott, Producers: Christine Beebe, Jonathan Lynch, Brian Morrow) — Hal Ashby’s obsessive genius led to an unprecedented string of Oscar®-winning classics, including Harold and Maude, Shampoo and Being There. But as contemporaries Coppola, Scorsese and Spielberg rose to blockbuster stardom in the 1980s, Ashby’s uncompromising nature played out as a cautionary tale of art versus commerce. World Premiere

Hale County This Morning, This Evening / U.S.A. (Director: RaMell Ross, Screenwriter: Maya Krinsky, Producers: Joslyn Barnes, RaMell Ross, Su Kim) — An exploration of coming-of-age in the Black Belt of the American South, using stereotypical imagery to fill in the landscape between iconic representations of black men and encouraging a new way of looking, while resistance to narrative suspends conclusive imagining – allowing the viewer to complete the film. World Premiere

Inventing Tomorrow / U.S.A. (Director: Laura Nix, Producers: Diane Becker, Melanie Miller, Laura Nix) — Take a journey with young minds from around the globe as they prepare their projects for the largest convening of high school scientists in the world, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Watch these passionate innovators find the courage to face the planet’s environmental threats while navigating adolescence. World Premiere. THE NEW CLIMATE

Kusama – Infinity / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Heather Lenz, Producers: Karen Johnson, Heather Lenz, Dan Braun, David Koh) — Now one of the world’s most celebrated artists, Yayoi Kusama broke free of the rigid society in which she was raised, and overcame sexism, racism, and mental illness to bring her artistic vision to the world stage. At 88 she lives in a mental hospital and continues to create art. World Premiere

The Last Race / U.S.A. (Director: Michael Dweck, Producers: Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw) — A cinematic portrait of a small town stock car track and the tribe of drivers that call it home as they struggle to hold onto an American racing tradition. The avant-garde narrative explores the community and its conflicts through an intimate story that reveals the beauty, mystery and emotion of grassroots auto racing. World Premiere

Minding the Gap / U.S.A. (Director: Bing Liu, Producer: Diane Quon) — Three young men bond together to escape volatile families in their Rust Belt hometown. As they face adult responsibilities, unexpected revelations threaten their decade-long friendship. World Premiere

The Price of Everything / U.S.A. (Director: Nathaniel Kahn, Producers: Jennifer Blei Stockman, Debi Wisch, Carla Solomon) — With unprecedented access to pivotal artists and the white-hot market surrounding them, this film dives deep into the contemporary art world, holding a funhouse mirror up to our values and our times – where everything can be bought and sold.World Premiere

Seeing AllredSeeing Allred / U.S.A. (Directors: Sophie Sartain, Roberta Grossman, Producers: Roberta Grossman, Sophie Sartain, Marta Kauffman, Robbie Rowe Tollin, Hannah KS Canter) — Gloria Allred overcame trauma and personal setbacks to become one of the nation’s most famous women’s rights attorneys. Now the feminist firebrand takes on two of the biggest adversaries of her career, Bill Cosby and Donald Trump, as sexual violence allegations grip the nation and keep her in the spotlight. World Premiere

THREE IDENTICALThree Identical Strangers / U.S.A. (Director: Tim Wardle, Producer: Becky Read) — New York,1980: three complete strangers accidentally discover that they’re identical triplets, separated at birth. The 19-year-olds’ joyous reunion catapults them to international fame, but also unlocks an extraordinary and disturbing secret that goes beyond their own lives – and could transform our understanding of human nature forever. World Premiere

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION
Twelve films from emerging filmmaking talents around the world offer fresh perspectives and inventive styles. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include The Nile Hilton Incident, Second Mother, Berlin Syndrome and The Lure.

 

Dead Pigs / China (Director and screenwriter: Cathy Yan, Producers: Clarissa Zhang, Jane Zheng, Zhangke Jia, Mick Aniceto, Amy Aniceto) — A bumbling pig farmer, a feisty salon owner, a sensitive busboy, an expat architect and a disenchanted rich girl converge and collide as thousands of dead pigs float down the river towards a rapidly-modernizing Shanghai, China. Based on true events. Cast: Vivian Wu, Haoyu Yang, Mason Lee, Meng Li, David Rysdahl. World Premiere

HolidayHoliday / Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden (Director: Isabella Eklöf, Screenwriters: Isabella Eklöf, Johanne Algren, Producer: David B. Sørensen) — A love triangle featuring the trophy girlfriend of a petty drug lord, caught up in a web of luxury and violence in a modern dark gangster tale set in the beautiful port city of Bodrum on the Turkish Riviera. Cast: Victoria Carmen Sonne, Lai Yde, Thijs Römer. World Premiere

Loveling / Brazil, Uruguay (Director: Gustavo Pizzi, Screenwriters: Gustavo Pizzi, Karine Teles, Producers: Tatiana Leite, Rodrigo Letier, Agustina Chiarino, Fernando Epstein) — On the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Irene has only a few days to overcome her anxiety and renew her strength before sending her eldest son out into the world. Cast: Karine Teles, Otavio Muller, Adriana Esteves, Konstantinos Sarris, Cesar Troncoso. World Premiere. 

Pity / Greece, Poland (Director: Babis Makridis, Screenwriters: Efthimis Filippou, Babis Makridis, Producers: Amanda Livanou, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Klaudia Śmieja, Beata Rzeźniczek) — The story of a man who feels happy only when he is unhappy: addicted to sadness, with such need for pity, that he’s willing to do everything to evoke it from others. This is the life of a man in a world not cruel enough for him. Cast: Yannis Drakopoulos, Evi Saoulidou, Nota Tserniafski, Makis Papadimitriou, Georgina Chryskioti, Evdoxia Androulidaki. World Premiere

The Queen of Fear / Argentina, Denmark (Directors: Valeria Bertuccelli, Fabiana Tiscornia, Screenwriter: Valeria Bertuccelli, Producers: Benjamin Domenech, Santiago Gallelli, Matias Roveda, Juan Vera, Juan Pablo Galli, Christian Faillace) — Only one month left until the premiere of The Golden Time, the long-awaited solo show by acclaimed actress Robertina. Far from focused on the preparations for this new production, Robertina lives in a state of continuous anxiety that turns her privileged life into an absurd and tumultuous landscape. Cast: Valeria Bertuccelli, Diego Velázquez, Gabriel Eduardo “Puma” Goity, Darío Grandinetti. World Premiere

RustRust / Brazil (Director: Aly Muritiba, Screenwriters: Aly Muritiba, Jessica Candal, Producer: Antônio Junior) — Tati and Renet were already trading pics, videos and music by their cellphones and on the last school trip they started making eye contact. However, what could be the beginning of a love story becomes an end. Cast: Giovanni De Lorenzi, Tifanny Dopke, Enrique Diaz, Clarissa Kiste, Duda Azevedo, Pedro Inoue. World Premiere

TIME SHARETime Share (Tiempo Compartido) / Mexico, Netherlands (Director: Sebastián Hofmann, Screenwriters: Julio Chavezmontes, Sebastián Hofmann, Producer: Julio Chavezmontes) — Two haunted family men join forces in a destructive crusade to rescue their families from a tropical paradise, after becoming convinced that an American timeshare conglomerate has a sinister plan to take their loved ones away. Cast: Luis Gerardo Mendez, Miguel Rodarte, Andrés Almeida, Cassandra Ciangherotti, Monserrat Marañon, R.J. Mitte. World Premiere

Un Traductor / Canada, Cuba (Directors: Rodrigo Barriuso, Sebastián Barriuso, Screenwriter: Lindsay Gossling, Producers: Sebastián Barriuso, Lindsay Gossling) — A Russian Literature professor at the University of Havana is ordered to work as a translator for child victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster when they are sent to Cuba for medical treatment. Based on a true story. Cast: Rodrigo Santoro, Maricel Álvarez, Yoandra Suárez. World Premiere

Yardie / United Kingdom (Director: Idris Elba, Screenwriters: Brock Norman Brock, Martin Stellman, Producers: Gina Carter, Robin Gutch) — Jamaica, 1973. When a young boy witnesses his brother’s assassination, a powerful Don gives him a home. Ten years later he is sent on a mission to London. He reunites with his girlfriend and their daughter, but then the past catches up with them. Based on Victor Headley’s novel. Cast: Aml Ameen, Shantol Jackson, Stephen Graham, Fraser James, Sheldon Shepherd, Everaldo Cleary. World Premiere

WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
Twelve documentaries by some of the most courageous and extraordinary international filmmakers working today. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include Motherland, Last Men in Aleppo, Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower and Hooligan Sparrow.

A Polar Year / France (Director: Samuel Collardey, Screenwriters: Samuel Collardey, Catherine Paillé, Producer: Grégoire Debailly) — Anders leaves his native Denmark for a teaching position in rural Greenland. As soon as he arrives, he finds himself at odds with tightly-knit locals. Only through a clumsy and playful trial of errors can Anders shake his Euro-centric assumptions and embrace their snow-covered way of life. Cast: Anders Hvidegaard, Asser Boassen, Julius B. Nielsen, Tobias Ignatiussen, Thomasine Jonathansen, Gert Jonathansen. World Premiere

Anote’s Ark / Canada (Director: Matthieu Rytz, Producers: Bob Moore, Mila Aung-Thwin, Daniel Cross, Shari Plummer, Shannon Joy) — How does a nation survive being swallowed by the sea? Kiribati, on a low-lying Pacific atoll, will disappear within decades due to rising sea levels, population growth, and climate change. This exploration of how to migrate an entire nation with dignity interweaves personal stories of survival and resilience. World Premiere. THE NEW CLIMATE

The Cleaners / Germany, Brazil (Directors: Moritz Riesewieck, Hans Block, Screenwriters: Moritz Riesewieck, Hans Block, Georg Tschurtschenthaler, Producers: Christian Beetz, Georg Tschurtschenthaler, Julie Goldman, Christopher Clements, Fernando Dias, Mauricio Dias) — When you post something on the web, can you be sure it stays there? Enter a hidden shadow industry of digital cleaning, where the Internet rids itself of what it doesn’t like: violence, pornography and political content. Who is controlling what we see…and what we think? World Premiere

GenesisGenesis 2.0 / Switzerland (Directors: Christian Frei, Maxim Arbugaev, Producer: Christian Frei) — On the remote New Siberian Islands in the Arctic Ocean, hunters search for tusks of extinct mammoths. When they discover a surprisingly well-preserved mammoth carcass, its resurrection will be the first manifestation of the next great technological revolution: genetics. It may well turn our world upside down. World Premiere

MatangiMATANGI / MAYA / M.I.A. / Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, U.S.A. (Director: Stephen Loveridge, Producers: Lori Cheatle, Andrew Goldman, Paul Mezey) — Drawn from a never before seen cache of personal footage spanning decades, this is an intimate portrait of the Sri Lankan artist and musician who continues to shatter conventions. World Premiere

The Oslo Diaries / Israel, Canada (Directors and screenwriters: Mor Loushy, Daniel Sivan, Producers: Hilla Medalia, Ina Fichman) — In 1992, Israeli-Palestinian relations reached an all time low. In an attempt to stop the bloodshed, a group of Israelis and Palestinians met illegally in Oslo. These meetings were never officially sanctioned and held in complete secrecy. They changed the Middle East forever. World Premiere

Our New President / Russia, U.S.A. (Director: Maxim Pozdorovkin, Producers: Maxim Pozdorovkin, Joe Bender) — The story of Donald Trump’s election told entirely through Russian propaganda. By turns horrifying and hilarious, the film is a satirical portrait of Russian media that reveals an empire of fake news and the tactics of modern-day information warfare. World Premiere. 

 

Westwood / United Kingdom (Director: Lorna Tucker, Producers: Eleanor Emptage, Shirine Best, Nicole Stott, John Battsek) — Dame Vivienne Westwood: punk, icon, provocateur and one of the most influential originators in recent history. This is the first film to encompass the remarkable story of one of the true icons of our time, as she fights to maintain her brand’s integrity, her principles – and her legacy. World Premiere

A Woman Captured / Hungary (Director and screenwriter: Bernadett Tuza-Ritter, Producers: Julianna Ugrin, Viki Réka Kiss, Erik Winker, Martin Roelly) — A European woman has been kept by a family as a domestic slave for 10 years – one of over 45 million victims of modern-day slavery. Drawing courage from the filmmaker’s presence, she decides to escape the unbearable oppression and become a free person. North American Premiere

NEXT
Pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling populate this program. Digital technology paired with unfettered creativity promises that the films in this section will shape a “greater” next wave in American cinema. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include A Ghost Story, Tangerine and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Presented by Adobe.

306 Hollywood / U.S.A., Hungary (Directors: Elan Bogarín, Jonathan Bogarín, Screenwriters: Jonathan Bogarín, Elan Bogarín, Nyneve Laura Minnear, Producers: Elan Bogarín, Jonathan Bogarín, Judit Stalter) — When two siblings undertake an archaeological excavation of their late grandmother’s house, they embark on a magical-realist journey from her home in New Jersey to ancient Rome, from fashion to physics, in search of what life remains in the objects we leave behind. World Premiere. DAY ONE

A Boy, A Girl, A DreamA Boy, A Girl, A Dream. / U.S.A. (Director: Qasim Basir, Screenwriters: Qasim Basir, Samantha Tanner, Producer: Datari Turner) — On the night of the 2016 Presidential election, Cass, an L.A. club promoter, takes a thrilling and emotional journey with Frida, a Midwestern visitor. She challenges him to revisit his broken dreams – while he pushes her to discover hers. Cast: Omari Hardwick, Meagan Good, Jay Ellis, Kenya Barris, Dijon Talton, Wesley Jonathan. World Premiere

An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn / United Kingdom, U.S.A. (Director: Jim Hosking, Screenwriters: Jim Hosking, David Wike, Producers: Sam Bisbee, Theodora Dunlap, Oliver Roskill, Emily Leo, Lucan Toh, Andy Starke) — Lulu Danger’s unsatisfying marriage takes a fortunate turn for the worse when a mysterious man from her past comes to town to perform an event called ‘An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn For One Magical Night Only.’ Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Emile Hirsch, Jemaine Clement, Matt Berry, Craig Robinson. World Premiere

Clara's GhostClara’s Ghost / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Bridey Elliott, Producer: Sarah Winshall) — Set over the course of a single evening at the Reynolds’ family home in Connecticut, Clara, fed up with the constant ribbing from her self-absorbed showbiz family, finds solace in and guidance from the supernatural force she believes is haunting her. Cast: Paula Niedert Elliott, Chris Elliott, Abby Elliott, Bridey Elliott, Haley Joel Osment, Isidora Goreshter. World Premiere

Madeline’s Madeline / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Josephine Decker, Producers: Krista Parris, Elizabeth Rao) — Madeline got the part! She’s going to play the lead in a theater piece! Except the lead wears sweatpants like Madeline’s. And has a cat like Madeline’s. And is holding a steaming hot iron next to her mother’s face – like Madeline is. Cast: Helena Howard, Molly Parker, Miranda July, Okwui Okpokwasili, Felipe Bonilla, Lisa Tharps. World Premiere

Night Comes On / U.S.A. (Director: Jordana Spiro, Screenwriters: Jordana Spiro, Angelica Nwandu, Producers: Jonathan Montepare, Alvaro R. Valente, Danielle Renfrew Behrens) — Angel LaMere is released from juvenile detention on the eve of her 18th birthday. Haunted by her past, she embarks on a journey with her 10 year-old sister that could destroy their future. Cast: Dominique Fishback, Tatum Hall, John Earl Jelks, Max Casella, James McDaniel. World Premiere

Skate KitchenSkate Kitchen / U.S.A. (Director: Crystal Moselle, Screenwriters: Crystal Moselle, Ashlihan Unaldi, Producers: Lizzie Nastro, Izabella Tzenkova, Julia Nottingham, Matthew Perniciaro, Michael Sherman, Rodrigo Teixeira) — Camille’s life as a lonely suburban teenager changes dramatically when she befriends a group of girl skateboarders. As she journeys deeper into this raw New York City subculture, she begins to understand the true meaning of friendship as well as her inner self. Cast: Rachelle Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, Jaden Smith, Nina Moran, Ajani Russell, Kabrina Adams. World Premiere

We The AnimalsWe The Animals / U.S.A. (Director: Jeremiah Zagar, Screenwriters: Daniel Kitrosser, Jeremiah Zagar, Producers: Jeremy Yaches, Christina D. King, Andrew Goldman, Paul Mezey) — Us three, us brothers, us kings. Manny, Joel and Jonah tear their way through childhood and push against the volatile love of their parents. As Manny and Joel grow into versions of their father and Ma dreams of escape, Jonah, the youngest, embraces an imagined world all his own. Cast: Raul Castillo, Sheila Vand, Evan Rosado, Isaiah Kristian, Josiah Santiago. World Premiere

White RabbitWhite Rabbit / U.S.A. (Director: Daryl Wein, Screenwriters: Daryl Wein, Vivian Bang, Producers: Daryl Wein, Vivian Bang) —A dramatic comedy following a Korean American performance artist who struggles to be authentically heard and seen through her multiple identities in modern Los Angeles. Cast: Vivian Bang, Nana Ghana, Nico Evers-Swindel, Tracy Hazas, Elizabeth Sung, Michelle Sui. World Premiere

PREMIERES
A showcase of world premieres of some of the most highly anticipated narrative films of the coming year. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include The Big Sick, Call Me By Your Name, Boyhood and Mudbound.

The Long Dumb Road / U.S.A. (Director: Hannah Fidell, Screenwriters: Hannah Fidell, Carson Mell, Producers: Hannah Fidell, Jacqueline “JJ” Ingram, Jonathan Duffy, Kelly Williams) — Two very different men, at personal crossroads, meet serendipitously and take an unpredictable journey through the American Southwest. Cast: Tony Revolori, Jason Mantzoukas, Taissa Farmiga, Grace Gummer, Ron Livingston, Casey Wilson, Ciara Bravo. World Premiere

Private Life / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Tamara Jenkins, Producers: Anthony Bregman, Stefanie Azpiazu) — A couple in the throes of infertility try to maintain their marriage as they descend deeper into the weird world of assisted reproduction and domestic adoption. When their doctor suggests third-party reproduction, they bristle. But when Sadie, a recent college dropout, re-enters their life, they reconsider. Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, Molly Shannon, John Carroll Lynch, Kayli Carter. World Premiere

A Kid Like Jake / U.S.A. (Director: Silas Howard, Screenwriter: Daniel Pearle, Producers: Jim Parsons, Todd Spiewak, Eric Norsoph, Paul Bernon, Rachel Song) — As married couple Alex and Greg navigate their roles as parents to a young son who prefers Cinderella to G.I. Joe, a rift grows between them, one that forces them to confront their own concerns about what’s best for their child, and each other. Cast: Claire Danes, Jim Parsons, Octavia Spencer, Priyanka  Chopra, Ann Dowd, Amy Landecker. World Premiere

Beirut / U.S.A. (Director: Brad Anderson, Screenwriter: Tony Gilroy) — A U.S. diplomat flees Lebanon in 1972 after a tragic incident at his home. Ten years later, he is called back to war-torn Beirut by CIA operatives to negotiate for the life of a friend he left behind. Cast: Jon Hamm, Rosamund Pike, Shea Whigham, Dean Norris. World Premiere

The Catcher Was a Spy / U.S.A. (Director: Ben Lewin, Screenwriter: Robert Rodat, Producers: Kevin Frakes, Tatiana Kelly, Buddy Patrick, Jim Young) — The true story of Moe Berg – professional baseball player, Ivy League graduate, attorney who spoke nine languages – and a top-secret spy for the OSS who helped the U.S. win the race against Germany to build the atomic bomb. Cast: Paul Rudd, Mark Strong, Sienna Miller, Jeff Daniels, Guy Pearce, Paul Giamatti. World Premiere

Colette / United Kingdom (Director: Wash Westmoreland, Screenwriters: Wash Westmoreland, Richard Glatzer, Producers: Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon, Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley) — A young country woman marries a famous literary entrepreneur in turn-of-the-century Paris: At her husband’s request, Colette pens a series of bestselling novels published under his name. But as her confidence grows, she transforms not only herself and her marriage, but the world around her. Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Fiona Shaw, Denise Gough, Elinor Tomlinson, Aiysha Hart. World Premiere

Come Sunday / U.S.A. (Director: Joshua Marston, Screenwriter: Marcus Hinchey, Producers: Ira Glass, Alissa Shipp, Julie Goldstein, James Stern, Lucas Smith, Cindy Kirven) — Internationally-renowned pastor Carlton Pearson — experiencing a crisis of faith — risks his church, family and future when he questions church doctrine and finds himself branded a modern-day heretic. Based on actual events. Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover, Condola Rashad, Jason Segel, Lakeith Stanfield, Martin Sheen. World Premiere

DAMSELDamsel / U.S.A. (Directors and screenwriters: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Producers: Nathan Zellner, Chris Ohlson, David Zellner) — Samuel Alabaster, an affluent pioneer, ventures across the American Frontier to marry the love of his life, Penelope. As Samuel, a drunkard named Parson Henry and a miniature horse called Butterscotch traverse the Wild West, their once-simple journey grows treacherous, blurring the lines between hero, villain and damsel. Cast: Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, David Zellner, Robert Forster, Nathan Zellner, Joe Billingiere. World Premiere

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot / U.S.A. (Director: Gus Van Sant, Screenwriters: Gus Van Sant (screenplay), John Callahan (biography), Producers: Charles-Marie Anthonioz, Mourad Belkeddar, Steve Golin, Nicolas Lhermitte) — John Callahan has a talent for off-color jokes…and a drinking problem. When a bender ends in a car accident, Callahan wakes permanently confined to a wheelchair. In his journey back from rock bottom, Callahan finds beauty and comedy in the absurdity of human experience. Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black. World Premiere

Futile and Stupid Gesture / U.S.A. (Director: David Wain, Screenwriters: John Aboud, Michael Colton, Producers: Peter Principato, Jonathan Stern) — The story of comedy wunderkind Doug Kenney, who co-created the National Lampoon, Caddyshack, and Animal House. Kenney was at the center of the 70’s comedy counter-culture which gave birth to Saturday Night Live and a whole generation’s way of looking at the world. Cast: Will Forte, Martin Mull, Domhnall Gleeson, Matt Walsh, Joel McHale, Emmy Rossum. World Premiere

The Happy PrinceThe Happy Prince / Germany, Belgium, Italy (Director and screenwriter: Rupert Everett) — The last days of Oscar Wilde—and the ghosts haunting them—are brought to vivid life. His body ailing, Wilde lives in exile, surviving on the flamboyant irony and brilliant wit that defined him as the transience of lust is laid bare and the true riches of love are revealed. Cast: Colin Firth, Emily Watson, Colin Morgan, Edwin Thomas, Rupert Everett. World Premiere

Hearts Beat Loud / U.S.A. (Director: Brett Haley, Screenwriters: Brett Haley, Marc Basch, Producers: Houston King, Sam Bisbee, Sam Slater) — In Red Hook, Brooklyn, a father and daughter become an unlikely songwriting duo in the last summer before she leaves for college. Cast: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Sasha Lane, Blythe Danner, Toni Collette. World Premiere

Juliet, Naked / United Kingdom (Director: Jesse Peretz, Screenwriters: Tamara Jenkins, Jim Taylor, Phil Alden Robinson, Evgenia Peretz, Producers: Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel, Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa) — Annie is the long-suffering girlfriend of Duncan, an obsessive fan of obscure rocker Tucker Crowe. When the acoustic demo of Tucker’s celebrated record from 25 years ago surfaces, its release leads to an encounter with the elusive rocker himself. Based on the novel by Nick Hornby. Cast: Rose Byrne, Ethan Hawke, Chris O’Dowd. World Premiere

OPHELIAOphelia / United Kingdom (Director: Claire McCarthy, Screenwriter: Semi Chellas, Producers: Daniel Bobker, Sarah Curtis, Ehren Kruger, Paul Hanson) — A mythic spin on Hamlet through a lens of female empowerment: Ophelia comes of age as lady-in-waiting for Queen Gertrude, and her singular spirit captures Hamlet’s affections. As lust and betrayal threaten the kingdom, Ophelia finds herself trapped between true love and controlling her own destiny. Cast: Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, Clive Owen, George MacKay, Tom Felton, Devon Terrell. World Premiere

Puzzle / U.S.A. (Director: Marc Turtletaub, Screenwriter: Oren Moverman, Producers: Peter Saraf, Wren Arthur, Guy Stodel) — Agnes, taken for granted as a suburban mother, discovers a passion for solving jigsaw puzzles which unexpectedly draws her into a new world – where her life unfolds in ways she could never have imagined. Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, David Denman, Bubba Weiler, Austin Abrams, Liv Hewson. World Premiere

Untitled Debra Granik Project / U.S.A. (Director: Debra Granik, Screenwriters: Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini, Producers: Anne Harrison, Linda Reisman, Anne Rosellini) — A father and daughter live a perfect but mysterious existence in Forest Park, a beautiful nature reserve near Portland, Oregon, rarely making contact with the world. A small mistake tips them off to authorities sending them on an increasingly erratic journey in search of a place to call their own. Cast: Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, Jeff Korber, Dale Dickey. World Premiere

What They Had / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Elizabeth Chomko) — Bridget returns home to Chicago at her brother’s urging to deal with her mother’s Alzheimer’s and her father’s reluctance to let go of their life together. Cast: Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon, Blythe Danner, Robert Forster. World Premiere

DOCUMENTARY PREMIERES
Renowned filmmakers and films about far-reaching subjects comprise this section highlighting our ongoing commitment to documentaries. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include An Inconvenient Sequel, The Hunting Ground, Going Clear and What Happened, Miss Simone?

Akicita: The Battle of Standing Rock / U.S.A. (Director: Cody Lucich, Producers: Heather Rae, Gingger Shankar, Ben-Alex Dupris) — Standing Rock, 2016: the largest Native American occupation since Wounded Knee. Thousands of activists, environmentalists and militarized police descend on the Dakota Access Pipeline in a standoff between oil corporations and a new generation of Native Warriors. This chronicle captures the sweeping struggle, spirit and havoc of a People’s uprising. World Premiere. THE NEW CLIMATE

Bad Reputation / U.S.A. (Director: Kevin Kerslake, Screenwriter: Joel Marcus, Producers: Peter Afterman, Carianne Brinkman) — A look at the life of Joan Jett, from her early years as the founder of The Runaways and first meeting collaborator Kenny Laguna in 1980 to her enduring presence in pop culture as a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer . World Premiere

Believer / U.S.A. (Director: Don Argott, Producers: Heather Parry, Sheena M. Joyce, Robert Reynolds) — Imagine Dragons’ Mormon frontman Dan Reynolds is taking on a new mission to explore how the church treats its LGBTQ members. With the rising suicide rate amongst teens in the state of Utah, his concern with the church’s policies sends him on an unexpected path for acceptance and change. World Premiere

Chef FlynnChef Flynn / U.S.A. (Director: Cameron Yates, Producer: Laura Coxson) — Ten-year-old Flynn transforms his living room into a supper club, using his classmates as line cooks and serving a tasting menu foraged from his neighbors’ backyards. With sudden fame, Flynn outgrows his bedroom kitchen and mother’s camera, and sets out to challenge the hierarchy of the culinary world. World Premiere

The Game Changers / U.S.A. (Director: Louie Psihoyos, Screenwriters: Mark Monroe, Joseph Pace, Producers: Joseph Pace, James Wilks) — James Wilks, an elite special forces trainer and winner of The Ultimate Fighter, embarks on a quest for the truth in nutrition and uncovers the world’s most dangerous myth. World Premiere

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

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

Jane Fonda in Five Acts / U.S.A. (Director: Susan Lacy, Producers: Susan Lacy, Jessica Levin, Emma Pildes) — Girl next door, activist, so-called traitor, fitness tycoon, Oscar winner: Jane Fonda has lived a life of controversy, tragedy and transformation – and she’s done it all in the public eye. An intimate look at one woman’s singular journey. World Premiere

King In The Wilderness / U.S.A. (Director: Peter Kunhardt, Producers: George Kunhardt, Teddy Kunhardt) From the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to his assassination in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. remained a man with an unshakeable commitment to nonviolence in the face of an increasingly unstable country. A portrait of the last years of his life. World Premiere

Quiet HeroesQuiet Heroes / U.S.A. (Director: Jenny Mackenzie, Co-Directors: Jared Ruga, Amanda Stoddard, Producers: Jenny Mackenzie, Jared Ruga, Amanda Stoddard) — In Salt Lake City, Utah, the socially conservative religious monoculture complicated the AIDS crisis, where patients in the entire state and intermountain region relied on only one doctor. This is the story of her fight to save a maligned population everyone else seemed willing to just let die. World Premiere

RBG / U.S.A. (Directors and producers: Betsy West, Julie Cohen) — An intimate portrait of an unlikely rock star: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. With unprecedented access, the filmmakers show how her early legal battles changed the world for women. Now this 84-year-old does push-ups as easily as she writes blistering dissents that have earned her the title “Notorious RBG.” World Premiere

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind / U.S.A. (Director: Marina Zenovich, Producers: Alex Gibney, Shirel Kozak) — This intimate portrait examines one of the world’s most beloved and inventive comedians. Told largely through Robin’s own voice and using a wealth of never-before-seen archive, the film takes us through his extraordinary life and career and reveals the spark of madness that drove him. World Premiere

STUDIO 54STUDIO 54 / U.S.A. (Director: Matt Tyrnauer, Producers: Matt Tyrnauer, John Battsek, Corey Reeser) — Studio 54 was the pulsating epicenter of 1970s hedonism: a disco hothouse of beautiful people, drugs, and sex. The journeys of Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell — two best friends from Brooklyn who conquered New York City — frame this history of the “greatest club of all time.” World Premiere

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? / U.S.A. (Director: Morgan Neville, Producers: Caryn Capotosto, Nicholas Ma) — Fred Rogers used puppets and play to explore complex social issues: race, disability, equality and tragedy, helping form the American concept of childhood. He spoke directly to children and they responded enthusiastically. Yet today, his impact is unclear. Have we lived up to Fred’s ideal of good neighbors? World Premiere. SALT LAKE CITY OPENING NIGHT FILM

MIDNIGHT
From horror and comedy to works that defy genre classification, these films will keep you wide awake, even at the most arduous hour. Films that have premiered in this category in recent years include The Little Hours, The Babadook and Get Out.

Arizona / U.S.A. (Director: Jonathan Watson, Screenwriter: Luke Del Tredici, Producers: Dan Friedkin, Bradley Thomas, Ryan Friedkin, Danny McBride, Brandon James) — Set in the midst of the 2009 housing crisis, this darkly comedic story follows Cassie Fowler, a single mom and struggling realtor whose life goes off the rails when she witnesses a murder. Cast: Danny McBride, Rosemarie DeWitt, Luke Wilson, Lolli Sorenson, Elizabeth Gillies, Kaitlin Olson. World Premiere

Assassination Nation / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Sam Levinson, Producers: David Goyer, Anita Gou, Kevin Turen, Aaron L. Gilbert, Matthew J. Malek) — This is a one-thousand-percent true story about how the quiet, all-American town of Salem, Massachusetts, absolutely lost its mind. Cast: Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Abra, Bill Skarsgard, Bella Thorne. World Premiere

MANDYMandy / Belgium, U.S.A. (Director: Panos Cosmatos, Screenwriters: Panos Cosmatos, Aaron Stewart-Ahn, Producers: Daniel Noah, Josh Waller, Elijah Wood, Nate Bolotin, Adrian Politowski) — Pacific Northwest. 1983 AD. Outsiders Red Miller and Mandy Bloom lead a loving and peaceful existence. When their pine-scented haven is savagely destroyed by a cult led by the sadistic Jeremiah Sand, Red is catapulted into a phantasmagoric journey filled with bloody vengeance and laced with fire. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Olwen Fouéré, Richard Brake, Bill Duke. World Premiere

Never Goin’ Back / U.S.A.  (Director and screenwriter: Augustine Frizzell, Producers: Toby Halbrooks, Liz Cardenas , James Johnston, David Lowery) — Jessie and Angela, high school dropout BFFs, are taking a week off to chill at the beach. Too bad their house got robbed, rent’s due, they’re about to get fired and they’re broke. Now they’ve gotta avoid eviction, stay out of jail and get to the beach, no matter what!!! Cast: Maia Mitchell, Cami Morrone, Kyle Mooney, Joel Allen, Kendal Smith, Matthew Holcomb. World Premiere

Piercing / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Nicolas Pesce, Producers: Josh Mond, Antonio Campos, Schuyler Weiss, Jake Wasserman) — In this twisted love story, a man seeks out an unsuspecting stranger to help him purge the dark torments of his past. His plan goes awry when he encounters a woman with plans of her own. A playful psycho-thriller game of cat-and-mouse based on Ryu Murakami’s novel. Cast: Christopher Abbott, Mia Wasikowska, Laia Costa, Marin Ireland, Maria Dizzia, Wendell Pierce. World Premiere

Revenge / France (Director and screenwriter: Coralie Fargeat, Producers: Marc-Etienne Schwartz, Jean-Yves Robin, Marc Stanimirovic) — Three wealthy married men get together for their annual hunting game in a desert canyon. This time, one of them has brought along his young mistress, who quickly arouses the interest of the other two. Things get dramatically out of hand as a hunting game turns into a ruthless manhunt. Cast: Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchede, Jean-Louis Tribes. Utah Premiere

Summer of '84Summer of ’84 / Canada, U.S.A. (Directors: Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann Whissell, Screenwriters: Matt Leslie, Stephen J. Smith, Producers: Shawn Williamson, Jameson Parker, Matt Leslie, Van Toffler, Cody Zwieg) — Summer, 1984: a perfect time to be a carefree 15-year-old. But when neighborhood conspiracy theorist Davey Armstrong begins to suspect his police officer neighbor might be the serial killer all over the local news, he and his three best friends begin an investigation that soon turns dangerous. Cast: Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Grüter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye, Rich Sommer. World Premiere

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | PARK CITY, UTAH | JANUARY 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

Last Flag Flying (2017) **

Dir.: Richard Linklater; Cast: Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston, J. Quinton Johnson, Yul Vazquez; USA | 124′

It’s difficult to believe that LAST FLAG FLYING was directed and co-written by the filmmaker of Boyhood, Richard Linklater. Based on the 2004 novel by Darryl Ponicsan, who also wrote Last Detail (1970), later filmed by Hal Ashby, This is a tired road movie which vehemently contradicts its opening message in the sentimental closing stages. ‘Doc’ Shephard (Carell) is looking for his Vietnam buddies Richard Mueller (Fishburne), now a Reverend, and Sal Neaton (Cranston), an alcohol dependent bar owner. Shephard wants their support in burying his own son, who has been killed in Iraq, where he was on a tour with the Marines. Doc, who was a paramedic, actually tried to talk his son out of his decision. So the trio set out to bury Doc’s son in Arlington, bickering among themselves and the government, old and new, who send the soldiers into one mess after another. Meeting Washington (Johnson), a fellow soldier of Shephard junior, it then transpires that the young man was killed whilst buying Coca Cola for his buddies (it was actually Washington’s turn) – not the heroic death the army suggested. But slowly, despite being put off by a robotic Colonel (Vazquez), the Vietnam veterans get into the swing of things, and in the end come to an agreement that the young soldier’s death was heroic after all, ”because we are an okay country, even if the government sends young people out to die in foreign countries”. Very much inferior to Ashby’s Last Detail, of which it is supposed to be a sequel, LAST FLAG FLYING is much too wordy, the characters are one-dimensional, and the trip with the coffin across the country feels somehow awkward. A very unfunny road movie, with a dubious final message. AS

SCREENING AT ARTHOUSES NATIONWIDE | 17 JANUARY 2018

The Final Year (2017)***

Dir.: Greg Barker; Documentary with Barack Obama, John Kerry, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes, Susan E. Rice; USA 2017, 89 min.

There are no surprises in this fascinating but vanilla portrait that echoes the restraint and diplomacy of Obama’s term of office.  

Director/writer Greg Barker (The Thread) follows the foreign policy team during the final year of the Obama administration. What emerges is predictable but certainly worth a watch. Obama, along with John Kerry (Secretary of State), Ben Rhodes (Foreign Policy speechwriter and Adviser), Samantha Power (US Ambassador to the UN) and Susan E. Rice (National Security Adviser)  work well as a team during the low-key administration, in stark contrast to what will follow when Trump takes over the reins.

The most interesting member of the team is Irish born Samantha Power, every step the idealistic academic, wearing her heart on the sleeve. She came to the Obama campaign in 2008 via the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy at Harvard in 2008; the future president took note of the Pulitzer Prize Winner’s book, Genocide: A problem from Hell. In office, she engaged in the Boko Haram kidnapping, trying locally to negotiate. Juggling the care for her two young children with the demand of her position, she seems to be eternally patient. But she also was a fierce adversary of her Russian counterpart at the UN, whom she attacked for the invasion of the Ukraine, and the annexation of the Crimea. John Kerry is much more the classic diplomat, who can be sometimes be a little pompous. Having served in the Vietnam War, he is still “no pacifist”, and one has to believe him. Kerry has a rather ambivalent position on the Asian territories he helped to invade as a soldier. For example Laos, where the US dropped more bombs during a “dirty”, six year long war in the late ’60s and early ’70s, than the combined load dropped on Germany and Japan in WWII combined. But Kerry has also learned from recent history: when criticised about the lack of military intervention in Syria, he explained that any lasting settlement would have meant a long-term occupation of the country – something which has failed in Iran and Afghanistan.

Ben Rhodes emerges the most pragmatic of Obama’s advisers. He is foremost a journalist, and used to showing critical situations in a more positive light. Always trying to find a positive opening, he sometimes clashes with Power, who is more (self)critical. But Rhodes is also a good team player who does not let his side down. Susan E. Rice has been an Obama confidant since their time in local politics in Chicago. Heavily (and unjustly) attacked by Republicans for her role in the Libya disaster, which ended with the death of the US ambassador, she kept her cool with dignity. Her work on the change of the US Cuba politic cannot be underestimated. On the night of Trump’s triumph, the reaction was very different: Rhodes was so shattered, he could hardly speak and simply gasped for air. Obama, like a teacher, spoke about “history not being a linear development, but an up-and-down process”. Power was all resistance “Well, there is no going quietly into the good night”. How true that turned out to be. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19 JANUARY 2018

Brute Force (1947) | Mubi

Dir| Jules Dassin | Crime drama | US  | 97’

There are prison dramas and there are prison dramas. Jules Dassin’s 1947 crime thriller falls into that strange arena of social hell where its prison bars also exist outside of a real prison. BRUTE FORCE is an allegorical movie, but not quite in the existential manner as viewed by some film commentators. They cite Sartre’s No Exit as a reference point. Yet rather than hell being the never-ending company of other people, it’s more that hell is the forced accommodation of prison codes that inhibit freedom. When the drunkard Dr. Walters (Art Smith) says, at the tragic climax of Brute Force, that “Nobody’s really free.” thereby denouncing a crushing, unjust and regulated system that pervades society as a whole.

“The point hammered home is that the prison system reflects the values of a society, Dassin castigates society for creating and then turning a blind eye towards the brutality and insensitivity of a prison system that offers no chance for rehabilitation.”

Dennis Schwartz Ozus ‘ World Movie Reviews’ 2004

Things “hammered home” with “no chance for re-habiliation” is also the outcome of Audiard’s 2009 film A Prophet. Gradually it dawns that only death, in the form of the gangster driven car that follows Tahar Rahim, outside the prison gate, will release him from his stress. Or maybe just before that you decide to risk everything, ram the gate with a truck (Brute Force) to create an apocalyptic inferno (Fire, explosions and machine-gunning of inmates) sharing a kinship with James Cagney’s ecstatic ‘madness’ at the end of White Heat. Here are some plot details to keep such fatalism percolating.

Brute Force sees Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) returning from solitary confinement in Westgate Prison. He is firmly decided to escape. Westgate’s tired and ineffectual Warden Barnes (Roman Bohnen) is being pressured to improve discipline. Jailor Captain Muney (a name you want to pronounce as Monster), played by Hume Cronyn, is a Nazi thug who listens to Wagner’s Tanhauser overture as he beats prisoners with his rubber truncheon. Prisoner violence inflicted on prisoner informers means that horrible restrictions are imposed. Dr.Walters warns of the explosion that will happen. He demands a radical overhaul of prison treatment and secretly confides with Collins. Yet reforms will be a long time coming. “Nothing is OK. No way. Till we’re OUT!” snarls, the often half-naked Burt Lancaster at his most primal.

Brute Force belongs to a group of film noirs directed by Dassin. That is Thieves Highway, Night and the City and The Naked City. The cinematographer of Brute Force and The Naked City is the veteran William Daniels. The first film has a poetic realism whilst the second is justly famous for its location shooting. The look of Brute Force is one of unremitting despair and confinement. Its fatalistic tone is made immediately apparent in the opening sequence shot in the rain; an intense black and white rain that looks as if it will chill the bones of everyone. Difficult to make rain look both frightening and ominous yet Daniels brilliantly creates such atmosphere (The only rain I can recall as bleak as this is the downpour during the freaks revenge in Tod Browning’s Freaks). William Daniels is most celebrated for helping to create the screen image of Greta Garbo. But he was also responsible for the harrowing Death Valley desert scenes of Stroheim’s Greed. He was a remarkable artist capable of producing tortuous extremes of weather and painting human suffering for the camera, whilst making Garbo luminous.

Brute Force’s script is tough and anti-establishment. Two months after the film’s release, the HUAC (House of Un-American Activities) was formed. Brute Force was suspiciously viewed as the work of communist infiltrators. There are vivid performances from Burt Lancaster and Hume Cronyn. Some cracking direction by Dassin – especially in Brute Force’s final electrifying 15mins. I love the way fire curls round the base of the prison-gate clock, seemingly ticking on as if to say “I’ll survive this, whilst you will burn doing time here.” If Brute Force has a niggardly fault then it’s to be found in the casting of the Trinidadian actor Sir Lancelot as Calypso. He is a perfectly good actor but unfortunately his part was written up as a chorus for the film in the form of calypso-style ballads. They sound far too pat and badly underline the despair of the film. Thankfully after half an hour, the songs are dropped and only very briefly re-appear at the end.

Apart from A Prophet, the greatest foreign prison break films are still Bresson’s A Man Escaped and Becker’s Le Trou. The best British prison-life film is Joseph Losey’s The Criminal. And whilst acknowledging the power of Siegel’s Escape from Alcatraz, trying hard to forget The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, then Brute Force maybe my favourite Hollywood prison drama. It’s all about incarceration and the rules of the game will never be lightened. ALAN PRICE©2018 ****

TALES FROM THE URBAN JUNGLE: BRUTE FORCE and THE NAKED CITY now available on Arrow Academy Blu-Ray | and on MUBI

Women on Top | 2017

Hollywood may still be struggling with female representation as 2018 gets underway, but Europe has seen tremendous successes in the world of indie film where talented women of all ages are winning accolades in every sphere of the film industry, bringing their unique vision and intuition to a party that has continued to rock throughout the past year. Admittedly, there have been some really fabulous female roles recently – probably more so than for male actors. But on the other side of the camera, women have also created some thumping dramas; robust documentaries and bracingly refreshing genre outings: Lucrecia Martel’s mesmerising Argentinian historical fantasy ZAMA (LFF/left) and Julia Ducournau’s Belgo-French horror drama RAW (below/right) have been amongst the most outstanding features in recent memory. All these films provide great insight into the challenges women continue to face, both personally and in society as a whole, and do so without resorting to worthiness or sentimentality. So as we go forward into another year, here’s a flavour of what’s been happening in 2017.

It all started at SUNDANCE in January where documentarian Pascale Lamche’s engrossing film about Winnie Mandela, WINNIE, won Best World Doc and Maggie Betts was awarded a directing prize for her debut feature NOVITIATE, about a nun struggling to take and keep her vows in 1960s Rome. Eliza Hitman also bagged the coveted directing award for her gay-themed indie drama BEACH RATS, that looks at addiction from a young boy’s perspective.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, BERLIN‘s Golden Bear went to Hungarian filmmaker Ildiko Enyedi (right) for her thoughtful and inventive exploration of adult loneliness and alienation BODY AND SOUL. Agnieska Holland won a Silver Bear for her green eco feature SPOOR, and Catalan newcomer Carla Simón went home with a prize for her feature debut SUMMER 1993 tackling the more surprising aspects of life for an orphaned child who goes to live with her cousins. CANNES 2017, the festival’s 70th celebration, also proved to be another strong year for female talent. Claire Simon’s first comedy – looking at love in later life – LET THE SUNSHINE IN was well-received and provided a playful role for Juliette Binoche, which she performed with gusto. Agnès Varda’s entertaining travel piece FACES PLACES took us all round France and finally showed Jean-Luc Godard’s true colours, winning awards at TIFF and Cannes. Newcomers were awarded in the shape of Léa Mysius whose AVA won the SACD prize for its tender exploration of oncoming blindness, and Léonor Séraille whose touching drama about the after-effects of romantic abandonment MONTPARNASSE RENDEZVOUS won the Caméra D’Or.

On the blockbuster front, it’s worth mentioning that Patty Jenkins’ critically acclaimed WONDERWOMAN has so far enjoyed an international box office of around $821.74 million, giving Gal Godot’s Amazon warrior-princess the crown as the highest-grossing superheroine origin film of all time.

The Doyenne of French contemporary cinema Isabelle Huppert won Best Actress in LOCARNO 2017 for her performance as a woman who morphs from a meek soul to a force to be reckoned with when she is struck by lightening, in Serge Bozon’s dark comedy MADAME HYDE. Huppert has been winning accolades since the 1970s but she still has to challenge Hollywood’s Ann Doran (1911-2000) on film credits (374) – but there is plenty of time!). Meanwhile, Nastassja Kinski was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Honour for her extensive and eclectic contribution to World cinema (Paris,Texas, Inland Empire, Cat People and Tess to name a few).

With a Jury headed by Annette Bening, VENICE again showed women in a strong light. Away from the Hollywood-fraught main competition, this year’s Orizzonti Award was awarded to Susanna Nicchiarelli’s NICO, 1988, a stunning biopic of the final years of the renowned model and musician Christa Pfaffen, played by a feisty Trine Dyrholm. And Sara Forestier’s Venice Days winning debut M showed how a stuttering girl and her illiterate boyfriend help each other overcome adversity. Charlotte Rampling won the prize for Best Actress for her portrait of strength in the face of her husbands’ imprisonment in Andrea Pallaoro’s HANNAH. 

At last but not least, Hong Kong director Vivianne Qu (left/LFF) was awarded the Fei Mei prize at PINGYAO’s inaugural CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON film festival and the Film Festival of India’s Silver Peacock  for her delicately charming feature ANGELS WEAR WHITE that deftly raises the harrowing plight of women facing sexual abuse in the mainland. It seems that this is a hot potato the superpowers of China and US still have in common. But on a positive note, LADYBIRD Greta Gerwig’s first film as a writer and director, has been sweeping the boards critically all over the US and is the buzzworthy comedy drama of 2018 (coming in February). So that’s something else to look forward to. MT

CATE BLANCHETT WILL HEAD THE JURY AT 71st CANNES FILM FESTIVAL | 8-19 MAY 2018

 

 

 

 

Hostiles (2017) ***

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

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

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

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

ON RELEASE FROM 5 January 2018

https://youtu.be/wuZcyScmW_k

 

Five Sensationalist Movies of the 1930s

Sensationalism in the media is not a new trend: as early as 1930, film production companies have been luring audiences into cinemas with spectacular war films, swashbuckling historical dramas and lurid tales of the supernatural.


And who better to start with than Howard Hughes, the master of thrills and scandals – in his films and in private life. Hell’s Angels (1930) was planned as a silent film, but the sound revolution made Hughes change his mind. It took over two years to complete after shooting finished as the new technique had to be married to the older version. During the process of shooting, producer Hughes went through four directors: Marshall Neilan; Luther Reed; Edmund Goulding and James Whale. None of them lasted long, and when the feature was released, the credits just named Hughes as the director. The Danish silent-film star Greta Nissen was supposed to play the role the femme-fatale Helen, but Hughes ‘discovered’ the 18 year old Jean Harlow, who would have a successful but short career (she died aged 26 of kidney failure). The filming of the many aerial combat scenes cost the lives of three pilots, and Hughes himself was hospitalised after crashing his plane. By far the most expensive of the five features, Hell’s Angels would cost today 45 Million Dollars. But, compared to contemporary times the story was somehow mundane. Brothers Monte and Ray live in Oxford and join the Royal Flying corps at the outbreak of WWI. Monte is a womaniser, even having an affair with his brother’s girl friend Helen (Harlow)who is shown as a slut. Meanwhile Monty is denounced as a coward and will be dragged by his brother into a daring raid on a German munitions depot. But the escape is successful and their true colours come through when they are captured by the enemy.

Danish director Carl-Theodor Dreyer (Ordet) is known for his austere and minimalist features. Vampyr (1932) is quietly terrifying: DoP Rudolph Mate (D.O.A.) creates an unsettling atmosphere: constantly changing  angles as the protagonists emerge from an eerie world of shadows. The vampire in question is an old lady, Marguerite Chopin (Henrietta Gerard). But the real devil is the village doctor who poisons the young Gisele to lower her defences so that the vampire can attack her. Saviour Nicolas de Gunzburg (Allen Gray) has a particularly nasty revenge in mind for the doctor: he suffocates him in a silo of flour, before driving an iron stake through his heart. Vampyr is a poem of subtle images,minimalist in dialogue and sound, the inter-titles more effective than the spoken words.

William Dieterle, Hollywood emigrant from the famous Max Reinhardt Theatre in Berlin, filmed Victor Hugo’s classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) as a cautionary tale and a timely reminder of xenophobia and societal prejudice against outsiders. Charles Laughton excels as the titular hunchback Quasimodo, and Maureen O’Hara is Esmarelda. Frollo, the Chief Justice is besotted by Esmeralda, even though she is married. After the Phoebus, Captain of the Guards, is killed, Esmeralda is accused of his murder by the jealous Frollo. Quasimodo and the King of the Thieves join forces to free the innocent woman. Dieterle uses the same fable-like style as in A Midsummer’s Night Dream (1935). Dieterle remains true to his theatrical background in this spectacularly surrealist outing, whose subtle nuances lie in the spoken word.

James Whale (Frankenstein) is the Daddy of the modern horror feature. The Invisible Man (1933) (main picture), based on H.G. Wells’ novel, is a brilliant variation of the “Mad Scientist” genre. Chemist Dr, Jack Griffin (Claude Rains) invents a medicine which makes him invisible. His fiancée Flora Cranley (Gloria Stuart), daughter of Griffin’s boss, literally loses him from the beginning, while Griffin is staying in an inn, trying desperately to reverse the process. But the drug makes him aggressive and murderous, and his victims pile up – particularly during the train crash which sees the police hot on his trail. As always, there are darkly comic moments with Whale: Griffin’s underpants, ‘run’ around on their own, to the consternation of onlookers. The Invisible Man is much more subtle than Frankenstein because Griffin’s metamorphosis is truly chilling.


King Kong
, directed in 1933 by Merian C, Cooper and Ernest B. Schloedsack is, in spite of three re-makes, by far the most spectacular version of the tale of ‘beauty and beast’. The gigantic ape falls madly in love with Fay Wray and the ending on the Empire State Building still has an emotive pull that’s never repeated in the much more expansive and expensive modern versions. Having seen it for the first time as a student in Berlin, I remember many of us leaving the cinema, hollering just like King Kong under the arches, as the trains roared past above. AS

FILMS AVAILABLE ON AMAZON PRIME; EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA, 

The Sin of Nora Moran (1933)

Dir: Phil Goldstone | Writer: Frances Hyland from the play by Willis Maxwell Goodhue | Cast: Zita Johann, Alan Dinehart, Paul Cavanagh, Claire DuBrey, John Miljan, Henry B. Walthall, Cora Sue Collins | USA / Drama / 65 min

Although this poverty row avant-garde masterpiece plainly avails itself of the relaxed censorship of pre-Code Hollywood, it’s quite unlike anything else from that era; its most obvious pre-Code hallmark being the astonishing amount it manages to pack into just over an hour’s running time. Long before the end, your head is spinning from the film’s unending assault on your senses, and critics at the time just didn’t get it (not helped by the catchpenny title derived from ‘The Sin of Madelon Claudet’, for which Helen Hayes had recently received an Oscar; the working title had been ‘The Woman in the Chair’). Mordaunt Hall of The New York Times, for one, dismissed it simply as “all very muddled and parts of it are apt to be exceedingly depressing.” He also claimed that it “strives to emulate the “narratage” story treatment as it was done in ‘The Power and the Glory'”. Since production of ‘The Sin of Nora Moran’ wrapped at the end of June 1933 while William K. Howard’s ‘The Power of the Glory’ (often stated to have inspired the non-linear structure of ‘Citizen Kane’) opened in August, this has to have been simple coincidence, and ‘The Sin of Nora Moran’ goes way, way beyond Howard’s more celebrated film in its use of the form. To Hall, ‘Nora Moran’ was just “a bewildering mass of scenes”, but seen today it’s perfectly easy to follow; you just never know what new technical flourish the extraordinary hybrid of narrative and visual elements past, present and future this film is going to next throw in your face.

Polish-born independent producer-director Phil Goldstone (1893-1963) was a silent film veteran and former president of Tiffany Pictures who had recently acquired the poverty row outfit Majestic Pictures with the intention of upgrading its product. ‘The Sin of Nora Moran’ was the first of only two talkies he directed (the other being a 1937 version of that old exploitation warhorse, Eugène Brieux’s ‘Damaged Goods’); which makes his mastery of the new medium all the more remarkable, aided by Ira Morgan’s Germanic photography and editing by Otis Garrett (later a director himself) that makes Eisenstein look like Mizoguchi. (An uncredited Heinz Roemheld contributes an energetic score that never lets up for a moment, adding to the film’s continental feel.) The film completed, Goldstone continued to demonstrate his commitment to this labour of love by commissioning a sophisticated (if extremely misleading) poster from Alberto Vargas that is better known today than the film itself.

The most surprising thing about this film is that it’s not a remake of a European original, since it certainly feels like one. It was actually based on a play by newspaperman Willis Maxwell Goodhue (1873-1938) originally titled ‘Burnt Offering’; and as befits the title, the script at one point goes into remarkably graphic detail about the process of execution in the electric chair. Nora is injected with an “opiate” (the word used) to prepare her for the end, which paves the way for the hallucinatory stream of consciousness that follows. Sometimes it feels like a German silent kammerspielfilm, at others like forties ‘film noir’ and still others like a wide range of art cinema yet to come (including late Dreyer and early Bergman, Resnais and Oshima). The nearest equivalent I’ve hitherto come across to the remarkable associational non-linear structure of this film – constantly jumping between times, places and viewpoints – is in another neglected masterpiece (from Japan of all places!) Keisuke Kinoshita’s ‘Snow Flurry’ (1959).

Dark-eyed Zita Johann, whose short-lived film career was nearing its end when she made this film, looks haunted as only she could in the demanding title role; while Alan Dinehart is given rather more to get his teeth into, and a somewhat more nuanced characterisation than he was usually accustomed to. Highly recommended. RICHARD CHATTEN

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLuQgtTVPNE

Brad’s Status (2017) ****

Dir/Writer:  Mike White | Cast: Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fisher, Michael Sheen Luke Wilson | Comedy drama | US | 102′

This welcome addition to the intergenerational conflict genre sees Ben Stiller as a father fraught with past regrets and present doubts on a trips that threatens to sabotage the boy’s hopes for the future.

Although BRAD’S STATUS sounds like a maudlin affair, it turns out to be hilarious, insightful and upbeat. Written and directed by Mike White who also stars as one of Stiller’s old school friends – a gay man who has found the same success on screen as he has in real life – this could turn out to one of best comedies of 2018. Stiller plays Brad with a wealth of subtle mannerisms that succinctly convey the modern angst of his midlife crisis in what White terms as “whiteman’s first world problems”, but we all empathise with him in his constant social-media meltdown. Similar to Stiller’s recent role in Noah Baumbach’s Meyerowitz Stories – here he plays the father rather than the offspring, but he’s a man who is essentially happy with his middle class life as founder of a worthwhile nonprofit group who enjoys a stable marriage and a decent rapport with his talented teenager. But a touch of envy and ego creeps in when he ruminates over the perceived successes of his old friends. Brad feels deflated by their fame and financial status, but also at the feeling of being left out of an invitation to a recent reunion gathering, an omission that he puts down to the fact that: “it wasn’t friendship that bonded them, but a perceived level of success”, in a peer group where he feels the inferior member. All these anxieties are relayed in Brad’s stream of consciousness as the two make their way to Boston and Cambridge (Massachusetts). Son Troy is played thoughtfully by Austin Abrams.

Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson and Jemaine Clement also give flawless performances as his successful friends. The humour lies in the series of comedy scenarios showcasing their ‘perfect’ sex and money-filled lifestyles. In contrast  Brad ‘sees himself soldiering with his sad little life. And there’s a hint of amusing narcissism too in the way he ‘blames’ wife Melanie (Jenna Fisher) for being too content with her life and not being demanding enough about their choices. The only criticism here is the over-grating score. BRAD’S STATUS is a heart-warming film because Brad is just such a convincing character and one who chimes with us all as we overthink and reflecting on our lives, often to our own detriment. This is cleverly brought to a head by an incident involving Troy’s newfound friend (Shazi Raja), who confronts Brad with his own self-pity and solipsism in an ego-crushing moment that he had hoped might lead to an opportunity for an oldest-swinger-in-town flirtation. The final scenes navel-gazing as the regrets of the past meet the hopes for the future. It’s amusing and highly relevant in capturing today’s mood of mindfulness As Melanie so rightly says: “Be present, I love you”. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 5 JANUARY 2018

 

 

 

Force of Evil (1948) | Bluray release

Dir.: Abraham Polonsky; Cast: John Garfield, Thomas Gomez, Beatrice Pearson, Marie Windsor, Roy Roberts, Howland Chamberlain; USA 1948, 78’

Director/co-writer Abraham Polonsky’s stylish noir thriller is a critique of capitalism and shows how corruption affects nearly everyone in America who strives for financial gain.

Lawyer Joe Morse (Garfield), obsessed by rising from his humble background in the slums, is determined to become indispensable to his gangster master Ben Tucker (Roberts), a numbers racketeer. Morse wants to consolidate all the small-time racket operators into a single powerful organisation. But, his older brother Leo (Gomez) is one of the small and ‘honest’ operators, and he wants things to stay the way they are, rather than dealing with the gangsters who dominate the big-time. Morse must come to a decision. He offers his brother an integration into Tucker’s scheme but falls head-over heals in love with Leo’s secretary Doris (Pearson in her final screen appearance), having fought off advances from femme-fatale Edna (an elegantly poised Windsor), Tucker’s alluring wife. After a struggle, Leo agrees to Morse’s plan but then gets arrested along with Doris. The accountant Bauer (Chamberlain) gets killed by Tucker’s new mob partner, and Joe tries to shoot his way out of a dark room, chased by Tucker and the even more ruthless partner, while Doris wants to save his soul.

DoP George Barnes (Rebecca, Spellbound), who shot 144 features between 1918 and his death in 1953, excels in lighting the different locations in diffuse shades of black and grey: only the exterior shots in New York have some sort of clear light, the rest is all mysterious shadows made even dramatic by David Ruksin’s commanding orchestral score. The highlight, the gunfight in the dark, is symbolic of the merciless pursuit of money that drives the characters forward.

Both, director Abraham Polonsky (1910-1999) and the film’s star, John Garfield (1913-1952) were victims of the HUAC (House of Un-American Activities Committee) in the late 1940s. Garfield’s Hollywood career was over and he died, only 39, from a heart attack. Polonsky, who shot a feature in 1957 un-credited, at least made a come-back in 1969 with Tell Them,Willie Boy is Here, before bowing out with Romance of a Horse Thief, a war movie set in Russia in 1905. Had he not been blacklisted, Polonsky may have gone on to have a more prodigious film career. AS

NOW AVAILABLE AS PART OF FOUR NOIR CLASSICS FROM ARROW ACADEMY | www.Arrowfilms.com

Menashe (2017) |

Dir: Joshua Z Weinstein |Documentary | USA / Israel | Yiddish, English | 81 min · Colour

There’s a faint but unintentional whiff of Woody Allen to Joshua Weinstein’s sorrowful cinema verite portrait of a put-upon Hasidic Jew struggling to survive between the modern world and orthodoxy. This is also the first full length feature in Yiddish for 70 years.

According to the Talmud, the definition of happiness is: “a nice wife, a nice home and clean dishes” but Menashe’s Brooklyn home is an untidy flat where he lives with his young son Rieven after the death of his wife Leah. Chastised by the strictures of his ultra religious local community and particularly ‘The Ruv’, an Hasidic overlord, who demands he re-marry according to the Talmudic Laws, Menashe is desperate to keep his son who is his only consolation as he battles to hold down a job in the deli run by an equally unforgiving boss.

In this predominantly male feature, Weinstein paints womenfolk into a dark corner where their ‘kvetching’ (nagging) and overbearing nature is one of the downsides to life rather than a joy, but it’s very much a case of “you can’t live with them, but you can’t live without them” and this adds to Menashe’s rather miserable situation. Infact, the tubby but likeable chap cannot seem to do anything right either at home or work although he prays desperately to his memorial candle and pleads with his brother in law to let him bring up Rieven. But living with his son is not permitted unless he takes another wife, because “man cannot live alone”, according to the scriptures.

Far from downbeat, MENASHE is an enjoyable and fascinating insight into the Brooklyn Hasidic community and Weinstein adds cinematic texture with vivid street life, lively musical interludes of the men singing and dancing and sweeping views over the glittering skyline. Menashe plays himself and comes across as a rather bumbling but sincere and sensitive father who clearly loved his wife despite their early arranged marriage and discord largely arising from difficulties in conceiving their cherished son, and Menashe buys a tiny pet bird and regales Rieven with nature stories complete with sound effects, to give him a break from his uncle’s stern and rather insipid contribution.

The three-handed script is wise and full of local flavour and insight exploring the nature of fatherhood and religious observance, and a palpable tension builds during the preparations for Leah’s memorial service which Menashe hopes to hold at home, despite his brother in law’s objections on the grounds of its general unsuitability. A surprising denouement offers hope in this heart-warming and affecting snapshot of a niche community dovetailing into the contemporary world. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE VENUES 8 DECEMBER 2017

 

No Stone Unturned (2017)

Dir.: Alex Gibney; Documentary; UK/US 2017, 111 min.

US Oscar winning writer/director Alex Gibney’s fascinating cold-case documentary about a pub massacre in Northern Ireland is more fascinating than any feature film story, and together with the political implications amounts to a Brechtian “Lehrstück” about the uncertain role of the state when it comes to crime and punishment.

On the 18th of June 1994 O’Toole’s Pub in Loughinisisland, County Down, Northern Ireland had a full house enjoying a Football World Cup match between the Republic of Ireland and Italy taking place in New Jersey, USA. The pub was known for its Catholic clientele and shortly after the ROI team scored, two men burst into the bar – one holding the door open, whilst his accomplice killed six men, shooting them in the back with his automatic rifle, injuring many others. This was an exceptional massacre even by Troubles standards (the three decades long civil war between Catholics and Protestants). The citizens of Loughinisisland had enjoyed a peaceable existence up to then, and the shocked community of Catholics and Protestants, attended a funeral for the victims. But for the victims’ relatives, the wait for the identification of the killers would last for over 22 years.

Whilst the Secretary for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew declared shortly after the shooting on TV: “we will left no stone unturned” to put the killers into jail for a long time, the investigation itself was strangely hampered from the beginning. The killers’ get-away car was found a day later in a field nearby, but ended up in a scrapyard; interview transcripts were mysteriously lost, and forensic research was patchy, to say the least. The relatives had no answers for over ten years, and finally they convinced the Ombudsman in 2007 to come up with a report investigating the police procedures. Whilst certain irregularities were noted, no action was taken. Only the second Ombudsman report of 2016 shed light on what really happened in that night in 1994. Although the report did not name any names, Gibney and his team helped to put names to the code figures in the report. As it turned out, the killers were members of the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force), who wanted to avenge the killing of Protestants by the IRA a few days earlier. The investigation showed a bizarre picture: the police was given the name of the killer by a female informant, who turned out to be the wife of the perpetrator avenging her husband’s infidelity with his denouncement. These two, still married, continue to live near the scene of the crime, running a business.

At the heart of the matter lays the well-known ‘collusion’ of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) with the protestant paramilitary forces. Often, RUC infiltrators became engaged in killings on both sides, and the police forces had to protect their ‘assets’, even if it meant, like in this case, ‘bending’ the system and leaving the victims and their families without justice. This problem is neither a British one or confined the conflict in Northern Ireland: the State has always used infiltrators in the fight against alleged or real terror. But for the surviving relatives of the victims, this rationale is not enough: “They never lifted a stone, never mind turning it”. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Suburbicon (2017)

Dir: George Clooney | Co-writers: Cast: Julianne Moore, Matt Damon, Oscar Isaac, Noah Jupe | Drama | US | 105′

Matt Damon and Julianne Moore star in this seductive but flawed satire that touches on social greed, marital dissatisfaction and insurance fraud. Directed by Clooney from a script by Joel and Ethan Coen, Suburbicon parades as a pastel and pristine 1950s family drama, but behind the scenes matters are going seriously awry in the moral compass of its squeaky clean citizens.

Gardner Lodge (Damon) is a family man who is clearly dissatisfied with his seemingly peaceful existence due to his desire for Margaret (Moore), his crippled wife’s live-in sister. Gardner and Margaret form a covert plan to stage a home invasion, collect the insurance money, and clear the decks of his wife (also played by Moore) and run away to Aruba. But the idea flounders due to the interference of Oscar Isaac’s shrewd loss adjuster – echoing TV detective  Columbo – and Gardner’s appealingly astute son (Noah Jupe).

This 1950s pastiche plays out in the style of a Noirish version of Mad Men that reveals a tawdry face racial hatred and marital disquiet behind the manicured gardens of this plastic paradise. Performances are pitch-perfect as the tale’s tone claws at the edges of unsettling paranoia. SUBURBICON is ultimately a suspenseful and highly entertaining film that throws its toys out of the pram in a misjudged melodramtic meltdown  in the final scenes.

George Clooney was born in Lexington, Kentucky. He is an Academy Award–winning actor, producer, writer, and director. His filmmaking credits include Good Night, and Good Luck (05), and the Festival selection The Ides of March (11). Suburbicon(17) is his latest film. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2017 REVIEW

Buster Keaton: The General, Sherlock Jr, Steamboat Bill | Bluray release

Between 1920 and 1929, Buster Keaton created a peerless run of feature films that established him as one of the greatest actor-directors in the history of film. Three films in particular showcase his talents Sherlock Jr, The General and Steamboat Bill, Jr.

SHERLOCK JR (1924) A film projectionist and amateur sleuth offers to solve the case of a missing watch, but is instead framed for the crime. In his obsession to clear his name he literally steps into the screen to bring his fantasies to life, in one of the most remarkable sequences in cinema history.

THE GENERAL (1926) A courageous railway engineer crosses enemy lines to pursue some union spies who have stolen his locomotive, and his girl. Widely considered to be Keaton’s masterpiece, it stages some of the most enjoyable chase sequences ever committed to film.

STEAMBOAT BILL, JR (1928) A steamboat caption receives notice that his son intends to make a visit for the first time in many years. What emerges is not the strapping youth of his dreams, but a boy who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, let alone help him to compete with his arch-rival. Best remembered for its climactic cyclone sequences in which Keaton performs a number of  death-defying stunts whilst an entire town is destroyed around him, this was Keaton’s last independent silent comedy and also one of his best.

NOW ON BLURAY FROM 20 NOVEMBER 2017 COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA.

Trophy (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Marjorie Prime (2017)

Dir.: Michael Almereyda; Cast: Lois Smith, John Hamm, Geena Davis, Tim Robbins; USA 2016, 99 min.

Director/co-writer Michael Almereyda (Experimenter) adapts Jordan Harrison’s play for the screen in an un-stagey  triumph that interweaves Beckett, Sartre and Phil Dicks, exploring themes such as memory, family and death – the latter not only on a personal level, but concerning humanity as a whole: “Computers have all the time in the world”.

Eighty-five year old Marjorie (Smith) is suffering from the onset of Alzheimers and her loving family, daughter Tess (Davis) and her husband Jon (Robbins), have installed a simulated, personalised digital projection of her dead husband Walter (Hamm) in the futuristic house near the beach. Walter is in his prime, around forty, and received daily tuition by Tess and Jon about Marjorie’s life – the exception being the death of her son. Walter is also instructed to look after Marjorie’s health; he tries to make her eat and drink regularly. But basically, his function is to make Marjorie’s decline more palatable for her. They reminisce over the feel-good features of her youth, such us the crush on a high-ranging French tennis player. And Tess reminds her husband that the man in question was hardly French, just Canadian, and only an amateur player. But Jon shrugs this off: allowing Marjorie a great deal of slack, and flattery is only a minor sin. The longer the ‘interactions’ go on, the more one suspects that all participants are holograms – something author and director have clearly intended. Computers may have all the time in the world, but the human race is only too ready to be replaced by them. To start with, they have a much more precise recollection than the human race. What stands for memory, is just the recollection of the original incident, re-memorised and re-told so often that the original event assumes only a random connection to the present.

DoP Sean Williams uses the house in Long Island as a perfect background for this placcid chamber piece. Colours are subdued and the functional building is just the perfect bland showcase for the holograms. Late Schubert strings are the ideal score for this endgame, where everything is in the past; the waves of the ocean more pacifying and reliable than humans. It is good to see Geena Davis in a major role again, but Lois Smith is the centre of this Artificial Intelligent drama which plays out as a long good-bye. AS

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FRO 8 NOVEMBER 2017

BFI Gloria Grahame Retrospective | Film Noir | Nov/Dec 2017

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This Winter the BFI are celebrating the life of screen siren GLORIA GRAHAME with a retrospective of a smouldering film career showcasing her talents – usually in supporting roles – garnering her critical acclaim and an Academy Award for her nine-minute role in THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952) starring alongside Kirk Douglas, who was nominated but went away empty-handed. 

Gloria Grahame appeared in more than 30 films during the 1940s and 50s and died shortly after returning to her native New York, from a visit to her friend Peter Turner, a stay which forms the basis for the 1987 biography Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Paul McGuigan biopic drama which opens the retrospective on 14 November 2017, and stars Annette Bening as Grahame.

Born Gloria Hallward, in Pasadena, California on November. 28, 1923 to the British actress, Jean Hallward, who had played Shakespearean and other classical roles on the British stage, Gloria Grahame made her stage debut in Chicago soon after finishing high school. Broadway then beckoned, where she worked as understudy in Thornton Wilder’s play By the Skin of Our Teeth, an a number of other stage roles. Her Hollywood debut was in 1944 with Richard Whorf’s comedy flop BLOND FEVER. She went on to star as Ginny in Edward Dmytryk’s 1947 racially-charged noir thriller CROSSFIRE, alongside Robert Mitchum. She later claimed Ginny was her favourite role and she was nominated for an Academy Award which sealed her success for the following decade in titles such as THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (1952) and OKLAHOMA! (1955).

Offers dwindled during the 1950s as she brought up her family with Nicholas Ray, occasionally appearing in TV and stage outings, particularly in comedy roles in The Man Who Came to Dinner; Head Over Heels. She was married to Stanley Clements, Nicholas Ray, Cy Howard and Anthony Ray. MT

Here is the BFI Line-up:

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

UK 2017. Dir Paul McGuigan. With Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave. 105min. Digital. Cert tbc. Courtesy of Lionsgate

Ageing Hollywood star Gloria Grahame (Bening), a goddess of the silver screen in the 1940s, now resides in Liverpool doing small theatre gigs to help support her children. While dealing a health scare, she develops an unlikely romance with charming 20-something Peter Turner (Bell) – a relationship that’s soon tested to its limits.

Tickets £15, concs £12 (Members pay £2 less)

Gloria Grahame: Femme Fatale Film Noir Icon | TRT 90min | TUE 14 NOV 18:10 NFT1

This lavishly illustrated talk by Adrian Wootton OBE, CEO of Film London, will celebrate the onscreen brilliance that defines Gloria Grahame as one of the iconic femme fatale heroines of the era. Wootton will explore her working relationships with major filmmakers such as Frank Capra, Fritz Lang and Vincente Minnelli, as well as her tumultuous and often controversial personal life. Tickets £6.50

IN A LONELY PLACE | MON 13 NOV 18:20 NFT3

USA 1950. Dir Nicholas Ray. With Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy. 98min. Digital. PG. A Park Circus release.

Nicholas Ray’s beguiling blend of murder mystery and unusually adult love story is one of the finest American movies of the early 50s. The lonely place is Hollywood: scriptwriter Dix (Bogart) is prime suspect in the murder of a young woman, until neighbour Laurel (Grahame) provides him with a false alibi. But as the pair embark on a romance, his volatile temper – exacerbated equally by the studio and the cops – makes her wonder whether he might have been guilty… Brilliantly adapted from Dorothy B Hughes’ novel, Ray’s tough but tender film is spot-on in its insightful characterisation of Tinseltown and of the troubled lovers. Marvellously cast, Bogart and Grahame bring an aching poignancy to their painful predicament.

nullTHE BIG HEAT | FROM FRI 24 NOV

USA 1953. Dir Fritz Lang. With Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando, Lee Marvin. 89min. Digital. 15. A Park Circus release

Fritz Lang’s stark thriller about a cop fighting city-wide corruption is also a classic tale of revenge and redemption. After a senior policeman kills himself, detective Dave Bannion (Ford) begins to suspect a cover-up between his superiors, local politicians and a seemingly inviolate crime-lord. Persisting with his investigations, he comes under attack, at which point his mission turns personal rather than professional. Famous for its (off-screen) violence – notably a scene involving Gloria Grahame, Lee Marvin and boiling coffee – Lang’s film is pacy, unsentimental and to the point in exploring the thin line between the law and rough justice. The robust direction, terse script and unfussy performances ensure the movie feels strangely modern.

CROSSFIRE | FROM FRI 24 NOV

USA 1947. Dir Edward Dmytryk. With Gloria Grahame, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Robert Young. 86min. 35mm. PG

This was one of Grahame’s earliest substantial roles. Her portrayal of a dance-hall girl who witnesses a murder earned her an Oscar® nomination and also set the mould for her screen persona. As the police investigation into the crime leads to a manhunt for a missing GI, the film takes an uncompromising look at the problems men had readjusting to life after war.

WED 15 NOV 18:30 NFT2 / SAT 18 NOV 18:30 NFT2

Sudden Fear + intro by Adrian Wootton OBE, CEO of Film London*

USA 1952. Dir David Miller. With Gloria Grahame, Joan Crawford, Jack Palance. 111min. Digital. PG

Gloria Grahame read Macbeth in preparation for the role of Irene Neves – looking to Lady Macbeth to locate the emotional drive to manipulate a man to murder, as she does with Palance’s actor-cum-fraudster Lester Blaine. Joan Crawford is at the film’s core and plays the melodramatic angle to perfection but Grahame is compelling as the driving force behind the murderous plot

THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL | MON 13 NOV 20:30 NFT2* / SUN 19 NOV 17:00 NFT2

USA 1952. Dir Vincente Minnelli. With Gloria Grahame, Kirk Douglas, Lana Turner, Dick Powell, Walter Pidgeon. 118min. 35mm. PG

This classic Hollywood take on the movie business tells the tale of a ruthless producer and the effect his dealings have on his friends and colleagues. Grahame received a Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar® for her portrayal of Rosemary, the wife of screenwriter James Lee Bartlow (Powell), despite being on screen for only nine minutes.

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THE GLASS WALL | FRI 17 NOV 18:20 NFT2 / THU 30 NOV 20:35 NFT2

 + intro by season curator Jo Botting, BFI National Archive*

USA 1953. Dir Maxwell Shane. With Gloria Grahame, Vittorio Gassman, Ann Robinson. 85min. 35mm. PG

One of Grahame’s lesser-known titles, this film also offered her a rare starring role. She appears opposite Italian star Vittorio Gassman, who plays a Hungarian illegal immigrant determined to remain in the US, with one night to track down the person who can save him from deportation. Grahame gives an exquisite performance as a woman on the breadline who forms a bond with the desperate man.

HUMAN DESIRE | MON 20 NOV 18:20 NFT2* / MON 27 NOV 20:40 NFT

USA 1953. Dir Fritz Lang. With Gloria Grahame, Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford. 91min. 35mm. PG

The role of Vicki Buckley in this classic noir about a man’s affair with a married woman shows Grahame at her most complex and scheming. As the film progresses the layers of her character are slowly peeled away, and the audience teeter between sympathy for her tragic life and abhorrence at her capacity for manipulation

THE COBWEB | TUE 21 NOV 18:20 NFT3 / SUN 26 NOV 14:45 NFT1

USA 1955. Dir Vincente Minnelli. With Gloria Grahame, Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Charles Boyer, Lillian Gish. 123min

Vincente Minnelli’s lush melodrama revolves around the struggle for power among staff and inmates at a psychiatric hospital. Grahame plays the neglected wife of Dr McIver (Widmark), frustrated by his dedication to his work and stifled by the small-town mentality of those around her. The colour photography emphasises her brassiness, enhancing her waspish yet sensual performance.

OKLAHOMA! | DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER TBC

USA 1955. Dir Fred Zinnemann. With Gloria Grahame, Shirley Jones, Gordon MacRae, Rod Steiger. 145min. U

While she was not a natural chanteuse (she was tone-deaf) Grahame’s naïve, endearing vocal style in this musical western brings genuine charm to her portrayal of Ado Annie and she sung the role completely without dubbing. Annie’s romantic to-ing and fro-ing offers comic relief from Rod Steiger’s menacing pursuit of the wholesome Laurey (Jones), while the whole is interspersed with some of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s liveliest tunes.

NAKED ALIBI | DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER TBC

USA 1954. Dir Jerry Hopper. With Gloria Grahame, Sterling Hayden, Gene Barry. 86min

A policeman pursues a suspected murderer to a Mexican border town, both men driven by desperation and their own personal demons. Grahame is at her most seductive as a nightclub singer caught between them; she finally finds the love she’s desperate for, but will the chance for happiness come too late?

DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER TBC

Merton of the Movies

USA 1947. Dir Robert Alton. With Gloria Grahame, Red Skelton, Virginia O’Brien. 82min

Showing how fast Hollywood forgot its roots, this broad parody of silent cinema was made barely 20 years after the coming of sound. Red Skelton was coached in physical comedy by Buster Keaton for his performance as a small-town boy seeking fame and fortune in the movies. Grahame luxuriates in the glamour of her role, as a film star who seduces the innocent abroad.

nullODDS AGAINST TOMORROW | DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER TBC

USA 1959. Dir Robert Wise. With Gloria Grahame, Robert Ryan, Harry Belafonte, Shelley Winters. 96min

Director Robert Wise offers a heist movie with a twist, as Robert Ryan’s troubled WWII veteran confronts his prejudices when he embarks on a bank job with a black jazz performer (Belafonte). A very personal project for Belafonte, the film is one of the last Hollywood noirs ever produced. Grahame makes an impression in the small role of Ryan’s sexually frustrated neighbour, in her swansong as a screen siren.

DATES AND TIMES IN DECEMBER STILL TO BE CONFIRMED 

 

Silence of the Lambs (1991) | BFI Thriller Series | Oct-Dec 2017

 Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 411879fv ) 'THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS' - Anthony Hopkins - 1991 VARIOUS


Mandatory Credit: Photo by Everett Collection / Rex Features ( 411879fv )
‘THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS’ – Anthony Hopkins – 1991
VARIOUS

Dir. Jonathan Demme; Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Jame Gumb, Anthony Head, Brooke Smith; USA  114′

Jonathan Demme, who died this April at the age of 73, made some excellent films such as Philadelphia (1993) and Swimming to Cambodia (1987). But he will be best remembered for SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, which won Oscars for Best Film and Best Director. Based on the novel by Thomas Harris and written by Ted Tally, SILENCE is one of the few feminist thrillers of its era.

Centred around FBI agent Clarice Starling (Foster) who is sent by her boss Jack Crawford (Glenn) to interview imprisoned mass murderer and psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins). The idea is to get his imput with a new case: a serial killer, called Buffalo Bill, who skins his female victims. In a cat and mouse game, Clarice gets Lecter to tell her the name of the killer who once his patient. After having kidnapped Catherine Martin (Brooke Smith), the daughter of an US senator, Buffolo Bill (Gumb), is tracked down by Clarice.

Clarice is much more emancipated woman than she appears in the film. She is well aware that the older Crawford has an Electra crush on her but still calls him “Sir”, knowing she has the upper hand emotionally, slipping out of his command even though she is just a trainee in the last stages of her studies. Howard Shore’s score provides a foreboding undercurrent, reminiscent of Bernhard Herrman, throught her prisom encounters with Lecter which plays out as a cat-and-mouse game. Crawford has warned her never to disclose any personal information to the psychiatrist, Clarice makes a bargain