Wednesday, 27 July 2016

REVIEW - THE BFG (STEVEN SPIELBERG)


Real magic happens when you're not looking. Turn your attention to the trick, and that magic is lost - though we think we want to know, we never truly do. You likely weren't looking for, nor expecting, real movie magic when you sat down to your favourite film, the one most likely to evoke a sense of satisfaction and nostalgia in your memory. Steven Spielberg trades in this stuff regularly, and herein lies the issue: he wants to evoke those same senses in his audience, but the production of nostalgia relies upon the reproduction of an experience in the mind, and it's impossible to reproduce an experience in the same moment in which it's occurring. Thus, The BFG, which is so overtly an attempt to actively produce nostalgia, comes across more as a magic trick with all the sleight of hand made manifest in its every movement, rather than the real movie magic to which it aspires. The technique is strong, the execution stronger still, but the purpose is corrupt. The film is better when it lays off the wonder and whimsy, and hones in on character. A most British film in style and tone when dialogue takes over, here is where this most American director finds his feet. The BFG exploits the charm of Roald Dahl's prose and the skill of actor Mark Rylance to create a work that's as affable and heartwarming as it's intended to be. It's a broad comedy adventure in the mould of a dramatic family film, and boldly commits to its wholesome British eccentricity. Spielberg's regular collaborators turn in smart work, from Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg's lovely production design to John Williams' score, one of his best in recent years.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL ANNOUNCES FIRST BATCH OF 2016 FILMS


Here's your first gander at the films most intent upon scoring with the awards ceremony set to arrive later this year, and a few others, simply content with the raise in profile that an appearance at a major international festival provides. The Toronto International Film Festival takes place between the 8th and the 18th of September this year, and will serve as a launching pad for many of the year's most popular films, no doubt, not least given the sheer number of world premieres in the below lists. It's a big fest, so this big list - comprising Galas and Special Presentations (and likely not even all of them) - will only get bigger over the coming days and/or weeks, with further strands being announced. Take a look at the lot below:

Galas
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)
Deepwater Horizon (Peter Berg)
The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig) - closing night film
The Headhunter's Calling (Mark Williams)
The Journey Is the Destination (Bronwen Hughes)
JT + the Tennessee Kids (Jonathan Demme)
LBJ (Rob Reiner)
Lion (Garth Davis)
Loving (Jeff Nichols)
The Magnificent Seven (Antoine Fuqua) - opening night film
A Monster Calls (J. A. Bayona)
Planetarium (Rebecca Zlotowski)
Queen of Katwe (Mira Nair)
The Rolling Stones Ole Ole Ole!: A Trip Across Latin America (Paul Dugdale)
The Secret Scripture (Jim Sheridan)
Snowden (Oliver Stone)
Strange Weather (Katherine Dieckmann)
Their Finest (Lone Scherfig)
A United Kingdom (Amma Asante)

Special Presentations
The Age of Shadows (Kim Jee Woon)
All I See Is You (Marc Forster)
American Honey (Andrea Arnold)
American Pastoral (Ewan McGregor)
Asura: The City of Madness (Kim Sung Soo)
Barakah Meets Barakah (Mahmoud Sabbagh)
Barry (Vikram Gandhi)
Birth of the Dragon (George Nolfi)
The Birth of a Nation (Nate Parker)
Bleed for This (Ben Younger)
Blue Jay (Alex Lehmann)
Brimstone (Martin Koolhoven)
BrOTHERHOOD (Noel Clarke)
Carrie Pilby (Susan Johnson)
Catfight (Oner Tukel)
City of Tiny Lights (Pete Travis)
The Commune (Thomas Vinterberg)
Daguerrotype (Kurosawa Kiyoshi)
A Death in the Gunj (Konkona Sensharma)
Denial (Mick Jackson)
Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
Foreign Body (Raja Amari)
Frantz (Francois Ozon)
The Handmaiden (Park Chan Wook)
Harmonium (Fukada Koji)
I Am Not Madame Bovary (Feng Xiao Gang)
The Journey (Nick Hamm)
King of the Dancehall (Nick Cannon)
La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
The Limehouse Golem (Juan Carlos Medina)
Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
Mascots (Christopher Guest)
Maudie (Aisling Walsh)
Neruda (Pablo Larrain)
Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford)
The Oath (Baltasar Kormakur)
Orphan (Arnaud des Pallieres)
Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola)
Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)
The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi)
Salt and Fire (Werner Herzog)
Sing (Garth Jennings)
Souvenir (Bavo Defurne)
Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Love)
Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)
Trespass Against Us (Adam Smith)
Una (Benedict Andrews)
Unless (Alan Gilsenan)
The Wasted Times (Chang Er)

WOMEN AT THE FORE IN 2016 VENICE DAYS SELECTION


The Venice Days section, an unofficial sidebar of the Venice Film Festival, has announced its screenings for its 2016 edition. Films from female directors are given special prominence in this year's lineup, with 7 of the 19 titles hailing from women. The competition entries here will compete for the Venice Days award, worth €20,000, with the top prize decided upon by a jury presided over by Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce - certain to produce an interesting result! Additionally, there will be an audience award for the section, and the several first works in the selection will also be eligible for the Luigi de Laurentiis award, which covers all of the festival's strands. Venice Days' 12th edition will take place between the 31st of August and the 10th of September. Check out their choices below:

Competition
Guilty Men (Ivan D. Gaona)
Heartstone (Guomundur Arnar Guomundsson)
Hounds of Love (Ben Young)
Indivisible (Edoardo de Angelis)
Pamilya Ordinaryo (Eduardo Roy Jr.)
Polina (Valerie Muller and Angelin Preljocaj)
The Road to Mandalay (Midi Z.)
Quit Staring at My Plate (Hana Jusic)
Sami Blood (Amanda Kernell)
The War Show (Andreas Dalsgaard and Obaidah Zytoon) - opening film
Worldly Girl (Marco Danieli)

Women's Tales Project
Seed (Kawase Naomi)
That One Day (Crystal Moselle)

Special Events
Always Shine (Sophia Takal)
Coffee (Cristiano Bortone)
Il Profumo del Tempo delle Favole (Mauro Caputo)
Rocco (Thierry Demaiziere and Alban Teurlai)
Vangelo (Pippo Delbono)
You Never Had It - An Evening with Bukowski (Matteo Borgardt)

REVIEW - STAR TREK BEYOND (JUSTIN LIM)


The first, last and strongest feeling one detects in Star Trek Beyond is one of liberation. Free from the fanboy-baiting wankery of predecessor Star Trek Into Darkness, this refreshed franchise ironically returns to the kind of quaint charms that once built such a fervent fanbase. Granted, there was always something slightly ropey about both the design and the execution of even these modern editions, but Beyond may be the first in a long time to truly embrace its inferiority in a landscape dominated by mega-blockbusters and their expanded cinematic universes. If the mistakes of the previous film are corrected, though, this film acquires some of its own - it's fitfully entertaining, but never the breathtaking thrill-ride it aspires to be. Justin Lim directs with a lack of visual imagination, and perhaps even a curious bewilderment in the action scenes; a Fast & Furious veteran, you'll not see much of his usual aptitude for action in this film's cluttered, incoherent setpieces. That same lack of imagination extends into Beyond's scenario, arguably even originating from it, as Doug Jung and Simon Pegg's script offers little more than the same old storylines. If that's what allows the film to recapture some of the old Star Trek spirit, it also prevents it from venturing, well, beyond it. It's all distinctly average and predictable; thus, one's attention is drawn to whatever standout details it can find. The makeup effects are quite spectacular! Michael Giacchino's score is typically magisterial! Sofia Boutella really cannot act! Shame, but aren't they all having fun? A little more liberation, and then maybe I'll be having fun too.

OBIT - MARNI NIXON


Arguably the most recognizable film star with only three visible appearances on screen, legendary vocalist Marni Nixon has died. She had breast cancer and was 86, and passed on Sunday the 24th of July. Contracted as a replacement for the singer hired to dub Deborah Kerr's voice for the musical numbers in the 1956 classic The King and I after the first singer's sudden death, Nixon's career took off with this high-profile appointment. You couldn't quite say she shot to fame, however; the studio refused her a credit and threatened to kick her out of Hollywood should anyone ever find out that it was her voice, not Kerr's, on the soundtrack. But her screen credits racked up from there: An Affair to Remember, again dubbing for Kerr, West Side Story for Natalie Wood, and My Fair Lady for Audrey Hepburn. She appeared in The Sound of Music in a brief role as Sister Sophia, and can be heard on the soundtracks to Disney animated films Cinderella and Mulan. Quite an estimable resume, one which Nixon justly exploited to good end with a successful career on the stage following her experiences in film. Married three times, including to Oscar-winning composer Ernest Gold, Nixon is survived by her three children, Andrew, Martha and Melanie.

Monday, 25 July 2016

REVIEW - MARGUERITE & JULIEN (VALERIE DONZELLI)


A bold, thoughtless experimental work from a director who might have taken the care to test her experiments out beforehand were she a smarter stylist. Valerie Donzelli runs on ambition and intuition alone in Marguerite & Julien; ideas and inspiration abound, but mostly untethered to any particular tenet of the film's core concerns. Even where one detects some degree of connection between concept (the multitudinous anachronistic details) and purpose (evoking a sense of timelessness in the love story), one does not detect any similar degree of substance to the connection - it's juvenile and lacking proper form. The film exists on no solid ground, an exercise in flimsy silliness - there's a soap opera quality to the controversial plot and its melodrama-courting extremities of emotion, though bereft of the spectacular commitment that many such soaps or telenovelas invest in service of their storylines, Donzelli thus betrays the very nature of her project. Rather, it often seems like the loose, frantic daydreams of a romantic adolescent, with even the awkward half-heartedness of a teenager's uneducated embrace of sexuality. In this regard, Donzelli truly strikes a miss: Marguerite & Julien is pure taboo, suffused with salacity from start to finish. Here, the taboo is broken early and often, though generally only in theory, or in indirect discussion. The openness negates the essential scandalousness of the subject by largely not following through on it, instead leaving it unacknowledged, thereby failing either to maintain the taboo (and so fatally dismantling the controversiality) or to deconstruct it (and so perpetuating it). Points for trying something different, though the actual act of 'trying' is in dispute.

Friday, 22 July 2016

REVIEW - WEINER (JOSH KRIEGMAN AND ELYSE STEINBERG)


If a week is a long time in politics, you'd hope that Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg's detail of New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner's 2013 election campaign would keep things moving: the timeframe here is eight weeks! Luckily, Weiner is a fast-paced film indeed, hurtling through the infamous, incendiary, incredible events of this period, chronicling the politician's brief, redemptive rise from public humiliation, and then his extraordinary, prolonged meltdown. It's a most sensational, salacious story, one of enormous peaks and gargantuan troughs in Weiner's circumstances; the kind of thing you probably could make up, but just wouldn't. The momentum, whether positive or negative, of the campaign is captured perfectly in the snappy editing, thus keeping Weiner buoyant and involving; better, though, than its sheer speed is the artistry contained within this relentless forward motion. Editor Eli B. Despres has a real feeling for the construction of mood and tone through his process, both matching and accentuating the piquant emotional and political observations in Kriegman and Steinberg's probing direction. Tension and excitement bubble up through the mania, and cheeky black comedy is knowingly purveyed, with even the film's more sympathetic figures not immune to being targeted. Still, Weiner is a thoroughly light affair - lighthearted and lightweight, an unexpected piece of popcorn entertainment that's perhaps unambitious, but certainly put together with skill and perceptiveness.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

REVIEW - NED'S PROJECT (LEMUEL LORCA)


It's easy to see how a film so slight as Ned's Project could be pulled up, or dragged down by the slightest of shifts. The film is compassionate, to its benefit, and tasteful, to a fault; it's a gentle, sensitive, somewhat soapy drama, content enough in its adequacy that it seems not to even care to court such a shift, thus allowing for one accidental shift upward, and at least two downward. You, the viewer, might not be so content, begging for a meaningful change in tone or topic, albeit appreciative of the film's lulling simplicity, only to find yourself appalled at the eventual choice of change. A crucial plot development in the final act marks a major misjudgement, one that virtually nullifies the impact of other, more mildly problematic points in the depiction of the LGBT lifestyle, itself excusable given the national context. Ned's Project is a wholly inoffensive film until it lands a most offensive blow. That and a chintzy, intrusive score make for regrettable shifts downward; lifting the film back up, from first moment to last, is Angeli Bayani and her superb performance. This is the kind of work that earns legendary status in the right circumstances, and rightfully so; it's the perfect synergy of elements, from Bayani's incisive understanding of character, to her commitment to emotional expressiveness, to her absolute physical embodiment, to her resolute adherence to naturalism even with the more intense material. As tepid as the film around her may be, and as toxic as it may become, Bayani alone elevates Ned's Project and makes of it a genuinely worthwhile watch. Alas, in almost every other regard, this film requires a great deal more elevation to come even close to matching her.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

REVIEW - MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART (JIA ZHANG KE)


A subtle reconstruction of Jia Zhang Ke's artistic signatures, though not a repurposing of them, Mountains May Depart is at once his most direct and most indirect portrait of modern China. A typically penetrating, profound work, Jia again presents his inquiries as thesis; few of his peers are so skilled in the process of utilizing identifiable realities for their subtextual import. We see the world as it truly is - both from a recognizable perspective and from a new, altogether more incisive perspective. If politics shape these realities as we perceive them, Jia exploits reality for political purpose, and always with the smoothest, softest of touches. In Mountains May Depart, reality is ironically foregrounded amid a bold lurch in the direction of melodrama. Finally, a picture of people that puts the people first, though Jia's usual (and ever-welcome) focus on expressive imagery and socio-geographical significance remains a premier apparatus in his ideological efforts. In this, Jia falters - the stories he tells harbour expected heft, both emotionally and metaphorically, and they're performed with marvellous grace and sensitivity by the ensemble cast, but they're often plodding and didactic. This is a most earnest, unaware melodrama, in the service of something admirable, but too rarely admirable in its own right. Only in the end, as all of Jia's political, humanistic, stylistic and narrative concerns come together in a brilliant final scene, does Mountains May Depart reveal its true worth. For all its flaws, this film remains indubitably the product of a master artist's ever-expanding mind.