Tuesday, 27 September 2016


Paramount hopes to hit hard this awards season with Fences, August Wilson's adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play. It's directed by Denzel Washington and also starring him; alongside the two-time Oscar-winner is two-time nominee Viola Davis, each actor reprising their Tony-winning roles in the hopes of securing Academy Award glory this time around. You get the message: this has awards written all over it, and the above trailer goes a good way toward proving why Paramount must be so confident that Fences will reap what it's attempting to sow. Released in the US on Christmas Day.


Gangster movies are rather less common than you might consider, at least within mainstream studio or arthouse fare. So it's consistently disappointing, though never surprising, when the next new gangster drama follows that same well-trodden path, that same tired template recycled over and over before and beyond themselves. Pablo Trapero's points of reference are inevitably similar and short in supply, but there's really no excuse for such a lack of vision. He takes a remarkable true story, shoehorns it into a pedestrian style of filmmaking, and relies on some brash artistic decisions and the reliable adequacy of his overall approach to fashion The Clan into the mediocre movie that it is. Indeed disappointing, and too rarely surprising. The real rub is that one waits patiently for Trapero to attempt something different, something original, to get something plainly right, and is only let down further by the plain wrongness of those attempts; a jarring edit or an obvious soundtrack choice occur only infrequently, and yet one may then find oneself pining for such wrongness once again - anything to disrupt the general monotony. The Clan's most compelling disruption is due to its fantastic cast, committed to their roles just as their director is committed to aping Scorsese. There just aren't words to describe the chilling menace of Guillermo Francella's disarming, enormously layered turn as Arquimedes Puccio, a patriarch with terrorist ties that prove as damaging to those inside the clan as to those outside it. That's yet another familiar beat of the gangster movie, and it's predictably underwhelming in being lifted straight from the pages of history. Francella goes deep, but Trapero's film is an altogether shallow slice of pallid pulp.


I'll admit to being sold already on The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch are talented and tasty performers, respectively, and Andre Ovredal earned his stripes with the critically acclaimed Trollhunter. This schlocky horror will show at the London Film Festival in October, and will open in the US on the 21st of December.


James Franco, you can get a brief, temporary pass if King Cobra is actually good, and if you're actually good in it. Otherwise, of course I'm here for a true story film about murder in the gay porn industry. And lead Garrett Clayton is perfectly cast as underage performer Brent Corrigan, not least because I'd rather watch his porn than Brent's. Out in the US on the 21st of October, after a screening in the London Film Festival. brb, just need to go to the bathroom for a bit...


'Verhoeven is now the same age as Bunuel when he directed That Obscure Object of Desire. May his French period last even longer'
Fernando F. Croce, MUBI's Notebook

'Paul Verhoeven at the height of his artistic powers'
Kenji Fujishima, Movie Mezzanine

'A tour de force turn from Isabelle Huppert'
Lisa Nesselson, Screen Daily

Now how did this happen? Having convinced us all that the Paul Verhoeven we all used to love (or hate) was nowhere to be found, with 2006's Black Book his only credit since 2000's Hollow Man save 2012's low-budget curio Tricked, which itself only arrived in US theatres this February, Paul Verhoeven teams up with David Birke, the writer of such classics as Freeway Killer and 13 Sins for Elle, one of the unexpected critical hits of 2016. Isabelle Huppert stars as a woman who uses her experience of being raped to turn her life around in strange, provocative ways. Huppert received raves when the film opened in Cannes, and it shot to the top of many lists as the frontrunner for the Palme d'Or; its exclusion from the jury awards was just one of several highly controversial decisions reached by George Miller's panel that day. The reception was so strong that Sony Pictures Classics picked the film up in order to give it an awards season run in the US, where it opens on the 11th of November. Its UK theatrical release arrives on the 24th of February, but not after it has screened at the London Film Festival next month, and you can bet it's on my programme!


The online film community was rather taken aback by the announcement of Ava DuVernay's documentary The 13th as the opening night film for the 2016 New York Film Festival. Little knowledge of her new project had been disseminated, with most focused on her OWN show Queen Sugar and her upcoming Disney film A Wrinkle in Time - surely enough work for one person! But her film about the US' treatment of its black citizens in the light of the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution looks to be one of the best of the year, documentary or otherwise, particularly with this impactful trailer. Netflix will open The 13th online in the US and the UK alike on the 7th of October, and will also handle its US theatrical release on the same date; the ever-reliable Dogwoof will oversee its British release, also on the 7th. It's also showing in the London Film Festival, following its NYFF world premiere.


A zombie apocalypse movie which uses its premise not so much as a platform on which to build shocks and scares, but a sage dissection of what it means to be human, both in how it defines us and in how we choose to express our humanity. Indeed, The Girl with All the Gifts is sage enough to acknowledge that these are concerns of such enormity that it can only pass comment upon them, submit a few pithy but provocative points to this debate, and thus earn the right to exploit the debate for its own benefit. Even when succumbing, as it regularly does, to the banal standards of the zombie movie template, Colm McCarthy's film finds innovative ways of staging these sequences and of using them to enrich its theoretical examination and to send the plot off in a mildly unexpected direction. Mike Carey's adaptation of his novel carries a vaguely nihilistic streak in its depiction of the frustrating, unrelenting futility of efforts to save ourselves, and our definition of humanity; he proposes that the only escape route is through love, which affords The Girl with All the Gifts a welcome warmth, though a trait that actually ends up stymying the film's potency. McCarthy's understated visual design is no doubt the product of budget restraints, but it allows for a greater focus on emotional and philosophical content, a more rewarding alternative. This approach itself allows the chance for the film's actors to shine, and they do - Glenn Close, in particular, hasn't been given the opportunity to go this deep on film for years, and, if for nothing else, The Girl with All the Gifts will forever hold a place in my heart for that fact alone.

Monday, 26 September 2016


'Confirms and strengthens the careers of two increasingly mature, prolific directors, captains of their own styles and own significance'
Diego Battle, Otros Cines

I was keen to include cinema not merely representative of diversity, but also diverse in its own diversity, in putting together my screening schedule for LFF next month. A South American film with LGBT+ themes is a perfect fit for fulfilling this agenda, and it is thus that Marco Berger and Martin Farina's Taekwondo made that schedule. Despite being a title of which I had no awareness prior to its announcement on the LFF slate, in meeting the aforementioned standard of contributing toward representing a wide range of films, in making an intriguing proposition in and of itself, and in showing at a time where I had no other arrangements, I was eager to include it on my programme. Popular gay filmmaker Berger teams up with cinematographer and documentary filmmaker Farina for their first collaboration, a sexy, suggestive light drama set on a vacation in Buenos Aires. Hawt!


For all that Antoine Fuqua may be a forceful director, ever seeking a dynamic set-piece and a capable director of action, he's a dismal storyteller. Tasked with remaking a classic remake of another classic, and handed a promising script by Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk, he yet again proves himself incompetent at dealing with the most basic elements of filmmaking, and The Magnificent Seven thus falls far short of the magnificence it touts. Whether smearing the screen with sun-dappled lens flare courtesy Mauro Fiore's insipid cinematography, or flattening out all the thematic texture with John Refoua's workmanlike edit and his own inability to stage dialogue, Fuqua ensures that, no matter what noble or exciting aspirations to which this film may strive, it'll eternally fail to strike one as anything nobler than just average. The warning signs arrive early - whatever hopes you may harbour that The Magnificent Seven might recreate the timbre of Hollywood's many iconic mid-century Westerns are succinctly dashed by sorry choices such as an unremarkable aesthetic scheme and an astonishing over-reliance on ADR (entire sequences feature not a single word visibly uttered on the screen, yet line after line exits the speakers). Better to sit back and anticipate the inevitably arresting action, which papers over some issues of confusion and continuity with its general fast pace and some committed performances. No-one commands the screen quite like Denzel Washington, and there are vivid turns from Vincent d'Onofrio, Lee Byung Hun and Peter Sarsgaard (the narrow winner of the most closely-contested game of 'Who Would Paddy Fuck First From The Cast?' in years). Strictly surface pleasures then, but pleasures nonetheless.


'Cristian Mungiu [is] one of the leading European filmmakers of the day... Graduation [is] his most mature film to date'
Dan Fainaru, Screen Daily

'A beautifully crafted work of storytelling that resonates long after you see it'
Nick James, Sight & Sound

'Gripping and meticulous'
David Jenkins, Little White Lies

As one of the most essential and influential auteurs of the modern era, it was inevitable that Cristian Mungiu's Graduation would make my list of potential titles for my 2016 visit to the BFI London Film Festival. The film won not only great reviews but an official jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival, where it premiered in May, before embarking on a predictably packed schedule of fest screenings through the rest of the year. The drama about a father's attempts to manipulate a corrupt system in order to secure his daughter entrance into a prestigious university in the UK has been hailed as yet another piercing account of contemporary Romanian society from Mungiu, one of the brightest lights in the Romanian New Wave. Graduation is bound to be one of the most talked-about and written-about films of 2016 for many years to come.