Tuesday, 28 October 2014


Here's the first trailer for Marvel's much-anticipated sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron. In 2012, The Avengers broke all sorts of box office records, and the film's follow-up looks likely to do similarly. Released in the British Isles on the 24th of April 2015, and in North America on the 1st of May, thus kicking off the official summer blockbuster season.


In a career characterised by the steady downward progression in quality of his upwardly 'prestigious' films, Stephen Daldry has shocked many by turning out a bona fide hit. Trashwhich is written by Richard Curtis, has won the top award at the Rome Film Festival. Daldry's film competed against a host of other titles for the audience award, since the fest did away with official juries this year. There were special awards to directors Miike Takashi and Walter Salles, a variety of artistic and technical awards and some high profile winners, including Gone GirlFull list of winners right here:

The BNL People's Choice Award: Gala
Trash (Stephen Daldry)

The BNL People's Choice Award: Cinema d'Oggi
12 Citizens (Zu Ang)

The BNL People's Choice Award: Mondo Genere
Haider (Vishal Bhardwaj)

The BNL People's Choice Award: Cinema Italia (Fiction)
Fino a Qui Tutto Bene (Roan Johnson)

The BNL People's Choice Award: Cinema Italia (Documentary)
Looking for Kadija (Francesco G. Raganato)

More winners after the cut!

Monday, 27 October 2014


Gregg Araki reimagines the past and the present in a space in between: his own personal space, informed by the influences of film noir, Laura Kasischke's source novel, '50s 'Womens' Pictures' and his own oeuvre. Araki's self-reflexive sensibility works neatly against these conscious references, feeding off itself in the end; White Bird in a Blizzard seems to communicate, in the end, what its language intends it to, its language inspired by the languages of other artistic styles, those styles repurposed for 2014 in Araki's queer communication. It's a smart notion the writer-director has - would that he were smarter than to force it to conform to his simplistic narrative and thematic strictures. We've been down these roads many times before - the dysfunctional suburban family unit, the teen coming-of-age drama, the missing person motif serving as a standard catalyst for catharsis in both - and thus the success of stories such as White Bird's lies primarily in the presentation; Araki has never been much use in this regard, his insistence on the validity of his penchant for scandalous sensationalism coming off as sad and shallow. As stock as White Bird's narrative's key elements may be, there's considerable scope in them for intelligent psychological investigation - Thomas Jane's police officer and Angela Bassett's shrink even blatantly signal toward this - and, given how much time is spent following Shailene Woodley's character, there's no good reason Araki couldn't have abandoned the kitsch for a moment and dug a little deeper. Hell, he could even have done both. The film is, after all, lacking in development, more of a snowflake than a full-on blizzard.


The horrors of war are translated into pure cinematic horror in Fury, David Ayer's exploitation-film account of the fortunes of an American tank in Germany in the closing days of WWII. Ayer employs crass action cliches either to accentuate and intensify the grimness of the circumstances or to leaven their impact; these circumstances can, independent of one another, be justified - their depiction possibly less so. It's not a portrait of a moment in time, one of undeniable depravity, but a celebration of the depraved power that these depictions can possess. Fury is technically impressive, and thus perhaps even more reprehensible, but not easy to dismiss. Though imagined with more ferocity than ingenuity, Ayer's concept of a dwindling conflict, fought by duelling sides of ideological maniacs, is vivid and memorable. It has a nasty kick, with Paul Ottosson's typically brutish sound design, a kick that renders Fury like a particularly polished video game, one with power and potency indeed, but still little more than an ode to the details of violent death as designed by artists in the entertainment business. Fury has the slickly sombre timbre of a film that intends to convey the numbing effect of mass-scale savagery on its audience, though also one that relies upon said savagery to engage said audience. It revels in its bloodlust, simultaneously hoping to use it to evoke disgust. I was more disgusted by the characters - heroes, supposedly, their callous camaraderie a shameless device present to cover up the more tasteless aspects of their hypocritical brutality. I can withstand any length of film in the company of such wretched boors as these, but Ayer's pushing it with such rancid reverence for their activities. That's the real horror of Fury.

Thursday, 23 October 2014


To wrap up my coverage of the 2014 BFI London Film Festival, here's my list of the best of the fest. Only one win per film, so some have had to make do with runner-up citations in lieu of officially placing first more than once.

Best Film
From What Is Before (Lav Diaz)
Lav Diaz does it again with yet another extraordinary rumination on the human condition. What a cliche that might be to say, but his films are just that profound and that monumental. I saw many great films at LFF this year, but none even came close to beating From What Is Before.
Last year's winner: Norte, the End of History (Lav Diaz)

Special Mention
Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait (Wiam Simav Bedirxan and Ossama Mohammed)
This gutting documentary is perhaps the most emotionally shattering film I've seen, and not just at LFF this year. It's brilliantly, beautifully cinematic, but as much a vital humanitarian document as an artistic one. Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait will be a documentary for the ages.
Last year's winner: 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)

Competition for these top awards came from Aleksey German's Hard to Be a God, primarily. Deserving winners would also have included The Duke of Burgundy, Foxcatcher, The Furthest End Awaits, Jauja and The Tribethough, truthfully, they didn't stand a chance.

Best Directing
Aleksey German (Hard to Be a God)
And he's dead! Completed by his widow Svetlana Karmalita, and his son, fellow filmmaker Aleksey German Jr., Hard to Be a God is the maverick Russian director's final film. It took roughly six years to even get off the ground, and just about that long to actually make thereafter, but the immensely long and complex production was wholly worth it. German's inimitable style is pushed to its extreme in this bewilderingly detailed stew of sense, nonsense and a wealth of unidentifiable shit (literally) in between. An obvious choice.
Runners-up: Chiang Hsiu Chiung (The Furthest End Awaits), Lav Diaz (From What Is Before)
Last year's winners: Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani (The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears)

Best Female Actor
Li Yi Qing (Dearest)
Peter Chan's Dearest is, unquestionably, the weakest film to win in any of these seven categories, but it's far from the least deserving winner when one considers why it's done so. I've seen few films so packed with great, truly great, performances as this one: child actors such as Zhou Pin Rui and Zhu Dong Xu, and adult performers like Huang Bo, Hao Lei and Zhao Wei, the latter two of whom would have been worthy winners in this category. But it's the very young Li Yi Qing who was my favourite, in a very small role as a young girl left in an orphanage when her mother is sent to prison. In just a few scenes, she'll completely and utterly break your heart.
Runners-up: Evelyn Vargas (From What Is Before), Zhao Wei (Dearest)
Last year's winner: Isabelle Huppert (Abuse of Weakness)

Best Male Actor
Body / Luke (White God)
The rules state that there may be no tied wins, but I had to make an exception in this case. You see, I couldn't tell the difference between Body and Luke, the two leads playing the same role, Hagen, in Mundruczo Kornel's gripping thriller White God. What's so remarkable about their win is that neither Body nor Luke is a human being - they're dogs! But the intensity and the spontaneity of their performances, and the incredible range of emotions both was fully capable of expressing with their whole bodies, made them the clear frontrunners for this win.
Runners-up: Zhu Dong Xu (Dearest), Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)
Last year's winner: Elyes Aguis (The Past)

Best Screenplay
Lisandro Alonso and Fabian Casas (Jauja)
Lisandro Alonso's superb western, relocated to colonial Patagonia, is awesomely well-considered, considering Alonso's sparing style of scripting. The concept and the themes behind it craft an innately intriguing drama, with a series of subtle but remarkable shifts in style and setting that will boggle the brain to brilliant effect. It's a wondrous film, and wonderfully written.
Runners-up: Wiam Simav Bedirxan and Ossama Mohammed (Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait), Lav Diaz (From What Is Before)
Last year's winners: Christophe Bataille and Panh Rithy (The Missing Picture)

Artistic or Technical Achievement
Faris Badwan and Rachel Zeffira (The Duke of Burgundy) - music
A beguiling, 1970s-inflected score from duo Cat's Eyes for Peter Strickland's film that might be described exactly as such. The music for The Duke of Burgundy slithers through chords and cadences into more chords and cadences, a semi-entrancing soundtrack of brief cuts drawn as much from the pop music sphere as from the classical. Not only a perfect compliment to the film's thematic, narrative and stylistic complexity, but an essential component of it too, and a marvellous standalone work.
Runners-up: Timo Salminen (Jauja) - cinematography, Sergey Kokovin, Georgy Kropachev and Elena Zhukova (Hard to Be a God) - production design
Last year's winner: Heidi Chan (Rigor Mortis) - makeup design


Picture the scenario: 30-odd young men trapped in an enclave. It's big and grassy, and surrounded by gigantic concrete walls, which encircle it for kilometres, seemingly, in the form of an enormous maze which none of the inhabitants have been able to solve. They've been there for years now, and have no memory of life beforehand. They do, however, remember how to speak English and how to act their age. They do not, however, remember how to curse, or not very much. Nor do they remember how to have sex - ok, so fantasies aside, isn't this kinda like prison? Don't even try to tell me none of these young, physically fit men ever once dropped the soap... intentionally! And, speaking of young, physically fit men: half way into The Maze Runner, a girl arrives. She must have booked her entrance into the clearing with a token token, just like the fat guy, and the young guy, and the non-Caucasian guys, and the aesthetically repulsive guys. One wonders what Patricia Clarkson's running here - a social experiment or an elaborate porno? No wonder she sends that girl in, which, btw, inspires not one of these young men to so much as get a semi. It's about time we had a female lead (she's not the lead by any stretch of the imagination, but she'll just have to be for now) in a male-dominated action film who wasn't there for the purpose of titillation, though Kaya Scodelario is hardly from the Kathy Bates school of character acting (read: unfuckability). I'll suspend disbelief for the hokiest of scenarios, but implausibility suddenly becomes a major bugbear for me when it gets in the way of my needs. If The Maze Runner wasn't going to be a good film, it could at least have been good wank-bank material.


One can read a lot into a film if one wishes to do so, and one can try to convince oneself that one's analysis of the film is valid and appropriate, and that it enhances one's appreciation of it. Yann Demange's '71 takes deliberate steps toward restricting any alternative analyses to that which it deems valid and appropriate - the Northern Irish conflict in recent decades, specifically in 1971 Belfast, depicted democratically, with both honour and dishonour on either side of the fight. That's a prettier picture to paint in retrospect; I suspect that the setting for '71 is an arbitrary detail, the ideal position in which to place the character of a wounded, abandoned soldier being in the midst of a civil war, in an English-speaking land for maximum commercial viability. As long as the specificities of the political animosity at play are kept buried, hidden so as not to disturb the tension or confuse the viewer, '71 is an excellent thriller. Demange has a straightforward directorial style, full of clarity and a boisterous energy that seeps away when he's not utilising it properly. In riveting sequences of violent action or, more often, the threat of violent action (which is much more effective, obviously), Demange exhibits an impressive verve for the techniques of thriller filmmaking, if little ingenuity. It's testament less to the abilities of anyone involved in making '71 than to the enduring strength of the stock genre elements employed in the film that their impact remains strong and sharp, no matter how many times we've experienced that impact before. But '71 functions well only as such a thriller - try to read into it any more than it asks of you, and you might only be underwhelmed by what you get.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


A look at the weekend's new releases, as an R-rated film sits at No. 1 for the fourth consecutive frame.

FURY [TOP SPOT] - $23,702,421
Against recent R-rated thriller Gone Girlwhich David Ayer's Fury has unseated from the top of the US box office, this is not a very strong start. But it's not bad either, by any means, and public reception has been promising. Awards buzz has rather dried up for the film, though, so don't expect it to play well beyond the autumn.
Prediction: $70-80m

THE BOOK OF LIFE - $17,005,218
A modest gross for a modest animated product. This marks a slight step up from Reel FX's last film, Free Birds, and, combined with the decent reception to the family film, one can expect it to perform better in the long run too.

Prediction: $50-60m

THE BEST OF ME - $10,003,827

By some margin, The Best of Me's opening is the lowest yet for a Nicholas Sparks movie. That's even including The Notebook, which didn't have quite the same level of positive brand recognition that this does. Whether or not this means that the film's audience simply hasn't rushed out to see the film remains unclear.

Prediction: $30-40m

BIRDMAN - $424,397

How to evaluate Birdman's rather enormous opening in just four theatres? It's over 125% what Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children made over the weekend, and it was in nationwide release. Its per-theatre average is the eighth-highest ever for a live action film. But then, wasn't that all to be expected? Its true success will be gleaned when it expands, and when awards season kicks off.

Prediction: $30-40m


This, to me, is the big success of the weekend. It's one of a mere handful of films to score a per-theatre average of over $30k, and was only one spot away from the Top 20 in only 11 theatres. Roadside Attractions will be looking to turn this into one of their biggest hits to date with a serious expansion plan.

Prediction: $10-20m

A MATTER OF FAITH - $138,677

Not even overwhelmingly positive reviews tend to result in high grosses for non-Miyazaki Studio Ghibli fare, but The Tale of the Princess Kaguya has achieved that. $18,305 per-theatre is an impressive gross for the film, which performed underwhelmingly in its native Japan.

Prediction: $0-10m

THE GOLDEN ERA - $48,000

Ann Hui's new film didn't attract the kind of critical response that was expected of it during the recent festival season. Chinalion must have hoped to make as much money as possible by putting the film into a peculiarly hefty 15 cinemas, and might just have succeeded. Just.

Prediction: $0-10m

RUDDERLESS - $37,440

One of those simultaneous VOD releases that was kinda asking for it. Why 18 theatres? Refer back to The Golden Era for a similar explanation.

Prediction: $0-10m


Why hasn't Listen Up Philip made as much as I expected it to? Did the arthouse crowd just not care? Well, why not? The critics certainly did care. This must be a bit of a disappointment for all involved.

Prediction: $0-10m


That'll do, ish. In five cinemas, a higher per-theatre average might have been hoped for, but this hasn't fallen flat enough to be considered a flop.

Prediction: $0-10m

GOD THE FATHER - $15,037


DIPLOMACY - $8,518
Opening in just one cinema, Volker Schlondorff's theatrical adaptation earns a fine amount. That's all. Once upon a time, he might have been looking at a lot more, but that was then, and this is now.

Prediction: $0-10m



CAMP X-RAY - $1,316
Dreadful... out of context. Considering that the vast majority of Camp X-Ray's audience is probably extremely tech-savvy, you can bet that this film has made a serious distance more on VOD, where it was released day-and-date with its theatrical opening. It'll be remembered more positively than this gross suggests, I expect.

Prediction: $0-10m


Although it will announce its choices for the best of 2014 in December, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association will host its annual awards event on the 15th of January. They've recently revealed the recipient of their Career Achievement Award for this year's ceremony, and it could hardly be a more worthy pick: the actor Gena Rowlands. Best known for her collaborations with her partner John Cassavetes, including seminal performances in films such as Faces, A Woman Under the Influence, Opening Night, Gloria and Love Streams, the 84-year-old star is one of the greatest living film actors, and wholly deserves the honour.


The London Film Festival only includes a small fraction of its selection each year, roughly 5%, in its official competition, but they're many of them excellent features. Critical mega-hit Leviathan won the top award from Jeremy Thomas' jury, reportedly the unanimous choice, beating my preferred choice, The Duke of BurgundyFull winners below:

Official Competition
Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

Special Mention

Girlhood (Celine Sciamma)

Documentary Competition
Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait (Wiam Simav Bedirxan and Ossama Mohammed)

First Feature Competition
The Tribe (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)

Best British Debut
Sameena Jabeen Ahmed (Catch Me Daddy)

BFI Fellowship
Stephen Frears

Monday, 20 October 2014


Love is a torment in Peter Strickland's The Duke of Burgundy, a third consecutive feature from the director to appear wildly ambitious and yet utterly effortless. His burgeoning, meticulous, vivid mise-en-scene presents content as context, a bountiful hive of concealed information - he delves as far into his characters' cerebrums as their crotches, and as the amplified atmospheric noise of insects, obsessively small, obsessively detailed, seeps into reality. But what is reality? Strickland toys with our expectations, turning askew situations around, and around again, and again, our senses luxuriating in the immense, idiosyncratic beauty of his film as our heads gasp for some clarity, some definite sense of place. We will not be afforded such distinctions; nor will his characters. Their carnal yet chaste relationship, obsessed with whatever extremities they feel compelled to pursue, takes the form of a Moebius strip, like a spiral of repetition, encompassing birth, death, rebirth, life and its byproducts to be consumed, a fetid pool of textures left swirling around them as does one's placenta, or perhaps one's faeces, if not taken proper care of. Proper care is perverted in The Duke of Burgundy, though, obsessively distorted to fit one's needs; what of the relationship's needs? Obsession is obsessed with itself, descending down that spiral to the most minute details. What pleasure Strickland permits us to derive from this film, of endless analytical value, is in his playfulness, that toying that he extends to so much of his work. It's self-reflexive style, progressive pastiche, and it's the most persuasive argument conceivable for non-narrative cinema: The Duke of Burgundy is of such enormous worth as said exercise, as a mosaic of exquisite artistry, be it in Andrea Flesch's supple fabrics and sensuous seams, Cat's Eyes' aptly non-classifiable score or just in Strickland's singular artistic intentions. It's an experience meant for those willing to experience it, and its premier message lies therein.


Jacob Cheung employs tools of simplicity and serenity to hysterical effect in The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom, an overblown and over-complicated martial arts picture that mistakes business for energy and melodrama for emotional sincerity. It's easy to see where he got waylaid - the plot doesn't exactly lend itself to restraint and carefulness, though with so many classical twists the film could have used much more of both - but stylistically this is a gauche and rather disrespectful film that will disappoint all but the hardiest fans of the genre. Cheung, whether knowingly or not, constructs a consciously artificial historical environment, responding to the magical elements of the text with a lack of imagination: the lens flare, the cumbersome production values and the brash, Westernised score (unfortunately now commonplace among many similar films) cheapen The White Haired Witch, which otherwise has enormous potential for sensory brilliance. Such cannily-selected details as the impressive authentic scenery or Timmy Yip's magnificent costumes are relegated to the background, as Cheung over-emphasises hollow spectacle, be it in interminable close-ups of mediocre acting, or poorly edited wuxia sequences. Tung Wei's action choreography is creative, but indistinguishable from the array of lacklustre stunt work spliced into these scenes. Indeed, Cheung displays a determination to render inherently dramatic aspects as banality, with his attentions apparently focused upon more questionable content: in particular, a wretched final scene that is just the wrong side of being an outrageous triumph of bad taste, but is therefore merely outrageously bad.

Sunday, 19 October 2014


The futility and the absurdity of law over a lawless landscape. In the struggle to exact their cultural identity upon Algeria's fearsome desert, men of all different heritages and creeds engage in a senseless conflict, feuding over a place in the world that eats them alive in great swathes. One detects the natural tension in David Oelhoffen's Far from Men, the perception that danger is forever present, even as supposed enemies are not. There's an otherworldly desolation to the score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, a notion that these men are aliens upon this land, their only real hope to see sense and abandon it. They may adapt through openness - the willingness to accept their shortcomings and realise their true, humble purpose in life. Tellingly, it is only the men whose 'honour' has been stripped of them who are capable of such - they are loners, outsiders, fittingly dwarfed in tremendous isolation by the impressive scenery. Oelhoffen's film is lean and succinct, as one expects a thriller of its kind to be, but not as one has to be. There's relatively little analytical scope in Far from Men, the intriguing complexities of out enigmatic leads revealed early to be mere hollow character descriptions, and Oelhoffen resists the opportunity to develop their relationship to its full potential. The film is mostly only as it seems: simple and plain, though effective in its plainness. Whether it's as densely textured as one hopes it will be or not, the fact is that Far from Men is a solid piece of work founded on solid thematic and stylistic grounds.

Saturday, 18 October 2014


The adult characters in Chiang Hsiu Chiung's exquisitely sensitive drama The Furthest End Awaits each experience the lure of memory, of familiarity, of an existence that has passed, abandoning them in a space from which they have not. It is when one runs from one's future that the real damage is done, but when one accepts the need to move forward - but with patience, always - that damage can be repaired. The Furthest End Awaits has the trappings of a gentle 'slice-of-life' drama, simple, uncomplicated, observant and non-judgemental. Those are valuable qualities for most films to possess; Chiang appreciates their true value by applying them to a concept that only gradually, with the same patience she admires in her characters, becomes apparent. The film formates positive, optimistic methods of adjustment to the complexities of pursuing a practical existence - in Japan, where it is particularly pertinent to feel rooted in both past and future, given its rich heritage and its lust for development in a great many regards. Old rituals and new technologies combine, and bridge gaps, heal discord, when their masters are of pure intention. Chiang's presentation is plain, her content clear, a vast reverence for the beauty of the natural world and all of the life therein showing in her careful attentiveness, her respect for the delicate textures and thin materials so prevalent on this narrow strip of islands, facing a gigantic ocean on one side and a gigantic continent on the other. She finds inroads to the deepest depths of her characters' souls, unveiling the benevolent, sincere desires that lie beneath all the unnecessary concerns of life. Their preoccupation with revisiting and returning becomes cleansed, a gracious comprehension of the healthier requirement of looking ahead replacing it. Families that have been broken or lost, its members left as isolated as they are at this rural tip, this furthest end, are re-found, bonds re-made, and harmony restored. This is a hugely spiritual, beautiful film.


The connection between the flourishing animated film culture in Japan to the fledgling one in Ireland may not be evident to all, but it's a connection that makes unexpected sense, despite the two nations being half a world away. Both are island nations at the edge of a continent - like many island nations, their culture on the whole is defined in no small part by the sea. Rural dwellers close to the shore live existences that are extensions of the water that faces them for as far as the eye can see in Tomm Moore's enchanting animation Song of the Sea. Moore makes full and sensitive use of Ireland's rich magical mythology, so well-developed by centuries of isolated living. The challenge when tackling material like this is to perfect the presentation; luckily, Moore and his art director Adrien Mericeau have a masterful aesthetic intuition, and Song of the Sea is, at times, an extraordinarily beautiful film, possibly even too beautiful to thoroughly digest all of its visual wonders in one sitting. The wealth of shades the employ to imbue their 2D images with vibrancy and character lend them a glowing quality that puts most expensive 3D animated designs from major American studios to utter shame. The stylistic reverence is apparent too, reinforcing the authenticity in Moore and writer Will Collins' concept. Moore has devised an elaborate window onto the natural world that exists within and beneath the increasingly-urbanised world we've attempted to create above it. His instinct to elucidate, visually, does render the film devoid of much mystery - the storytelling in Song of the Sea is rather prosaic as a result. But the magic remains, in glorious, wondrous beauty, allowing the film to rank among the finer features of recent years from those animation masters half a world away.


Misty Upham, one of cinema's most celebrated and recognisable Native American presences, has died. Following her disappearance earlier this month, police found a body, now confirmed by Upham's family to be hers, on the 16th of October. She first came to the attention of cinephiles when she appeared in the twice-Oscar-nominated Frozen River in 2008; the role earned her accolades including an award from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, and a nomination at the Spirit Awards. Since then, she's been seen in Django Unchained, Jimmy P and August: Osage County. She has been remembered in the press by famous friends and costars such as Melissa Leo, Meryl Streep and Juliette Lewis.


By and large, the boundaries between Greek tragedy, social satire and soap opera are thin and difficult to define, often set more by the tone of the project, rather than the content. Andrey Zvyagintsev is brave to utilise elements from all three dramatic genres in total earnest, even if his inevitably sharp cinematic intuition leads one to opine that his intentions in so doing were wholly self-aware. Leviathan is his most unambiguous essay on the modern human condition yet, so brilliantly represented, as ever, by the uncivilised citizens of a supposedly civilised country, his native Russia. The film is obvious, but always on target in its excoriating tirade against our own species, the ludicrous means to which we go to justify how viciously we abuse each other. These machines are rigged not only to reward the undeserving but to punish the victims in society, and Zvyagintsev observes no visible means by which to take said machine out. People of an overpopulated world end up as detritus on the beach, indistinguishable from the sand and rocks; their oppressors and murderers exploit that machine, that leviathan, to maximum advantage. If it seems ridiculous, objectively, the numerous stages of degradation which these innocent characters must undergo all make total sense within the film, its grandeur excusing all, its allegorical purpose excusing all, its position as Greek tragedy, or social satire, or soap opera excusing all, its humour excusing all. Equally unambiguous about Leviathan is its straightforward, honest humour. Zvyagintsev does not imply that we ought not to cry or despair, he just forces us to laugh through it. His comic touch is even more effortless than his flair for high drama, though its lasting impact is less.


Lisandro Alonso brings us on a journey back to reality, across unknown spaces in both geography and time. Jauja occurs as does a dream, its advent in some vague realm of understanding, giving way to the weight of the abstract that hovers above it, turning the image on Timo Salminen's grainy film acidic shades of chartreuse, lemon and beguiling blue tones. Red cuts through at times, a crude intrusion, its uncultured arrogance trespassing on these pastoral scenes, just as Alonso's cast of intruders do. They have become lost in ostentation and self-importance, imposing upon the land on which they tread unnatural laws and habits. First and last in Alonso's concern is that land, that which these humans purport to conquer; they are forever at its mercy, unengaged with it until they can avoid its dominance no longer. They are each so rigorously posed, occupying a supposedly impenetrable space in their environment, certain in their confidence, blind to what lies beyond each new horizon. Oh, those horizons. The eye scans either side of them for some sign of warmth and welcome - Jauja's beauty is soothing, almost distractingly so, but in a deceptive, cruelly beautiful way, and thus we do not doubt where the true power lies in this intriguing film. Viggo Mortensen's Danish captain's sense of self begins to wither as his physical strength and mental lucidity do - he embarks on that journey back to reality with us, encountering little but mystery at its end. The cryptic close of Jauja awakens us to our own arrogance, our innate apprehension that we will learn, we will understand, no matter how long it takes. It takes Captain Dinesen his whole life and longer, yet the landscape he will traverse to his death is the most unfamiliar of all.

Friday, 17 October 2014


Bennett Miller redefines the classic American male in terms such a male might understand. Or, in terms the man who has been conditioned to consider himself thus might understand. The coarse chanting that closes Foxcatcher reverberates through one's mind into the credits, the depth of its penetration frighteningly far into the psyche of a confused, broken, susceptible mind. Channing Tatum's face is a golden canvas for abuse, open, blank, the perfect receptacle for a ruthless hunter's warped insecurities. What John du Pont cannot comprehend - what none of these misguided men can - is that they are not the hunters: these vulnerable individuals are the prey of society, of a culture that plies them with praise in expectation, and rejects them in humiliation when they inevitably come up short. A sexless, mostly woman-less sealed environment, the wrestling circles of Foxcatcher provide a safe space for men who have failed to fit into that society, but such wounded souls, so unwilling to admit to their own deficiencies in the hope that they will, some day, meet what has been expected of them, are incapable of maintaining harmony here. Miller operates on the terms of his characters throughout, expressing emotional content through physical interpretation, touch and sight communicating what speech and thought can't. And injury to the body thereby means injury to the mind, degrading the male in his very essence; even the wealthy, irresponsible males who appear dominant to the classically superior, 'stronger' man at first are delivered a fitting pummelling - again, on their terms, through more direct psychological humiliation. du Pont must escape his own legacy, destined to reach its pathetic end at his hands, and the expectation that carries, and also his own physicality, and the shame it unavoidably brings upon him. Three men, three supposedly formidable forces, collide in this horrible comedy / hilarious horror film, their encounters reimagining the traditional sports drama in that most historically 'shameful' of concepts: latent homoeroticism. Foxcatcher mocks most specifically the culture that expects heteronormative simplicity, and rejects those unable to conform. The naive jock, the closeted creep and the sensitive bear dry hump themselves into obscurity, punishment and death, respectively. A fitting end for any would-be 'classic American male'.


The rich density of Pedro Costa's form meets the clinical purity of its application in Horse Money, his latest piece on hermetic environments influencing damaged minds. The coldness of his technique and the warmth of the devices he employs achieve a characteristic austere decadence, each individually isolated and given full, unlimited space to flourish. There's an unmistakable poetry to what Costa does, an intense, heady beauty, bringing with it the sensation of smothered life, all existence roasting under the oppressive cloak of despair. It's supreme style, but to what end? Costa unites all of his artistic tools to express a legacy of pain among the indigenous population of Cape Verde and their descendants, largely as borne out in Ventura, an ageing man struggling to locate his sanity, lost in an institution that will reveal to him the essence of the challenges he faces in overcoming the past. It's a simple, basic purpose to which Horse Money has been put, though ripe for intensive probing - after all, the theme here is no less than the collective grief of an entire people - probing which does not surface. Costa appears to enamoured with the grandeur of his construct, the theatricality he finds so alluring, the momentousness of his intentions that he leaves it alone, a monolith of symbolism and archaic notions of artistic integrity that feel ungainly, under-developed, and actually quite pointless. One character even remarks that life has always been hard for Cape Verdeans, in such direct terms - the film acknowledges as much, and then acknowledges it again, and again, and again etc. It's plain old poverty porn, but it remains undeniable that no-one knows how to frame an image like Pedro Costa, no-one possesses anything like the talent that lies behind the sensorial sumptuousness of his films. Whether that redeems an otherwise questionable film, or vice versa, is difficult to determine.


Rupert Wyatt's The Gambler is one of three movies Paramount is hoping it can vault into the awards race without anyone having seen it by November. That's brave of them, although with many films taking a similar path toward intended Oscar success, there are the spaces there for all three of their upcoming contenders (Interstellar and Selma make up the other two) in the race. The Gambler has just been announced to premiere on the 10th of November at AFI Fest, which will also host the first screening of another awards hopeful that has been flying under the radar recently, J.C. Chandor's A Most Violent Year as its festival opener. Here are three stills which mark our first look at the remake, starring Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Lange and Brie Larson.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


Bruno Dumont's chilly comedy exists both as an extension of his signature style and as a perversion of it. Li'l Quinquin possesses the same wry, aloof distance that has characterised his austere dramas thus far in his career, only it takes these qualities further than ever yet before, applying that sardonic edge to themselves. It's with this weary self-critiquing stance that Li'l Quinquin becomes a portrait of pessimism and profanity come full circle, fighting fire with fire, or perhaps ice with ice. Actually, Dumont's long pauses and the apparent simplicity and basic clarity of his mise-en-scene provide the perfect canvas for comedy, sourcing a certain, strange comic timing in the idiosyncrasy of his touch. In a landscape which, we come to observe, has been predictably smothered in an insidious evil, disguised in plain sight among the innocent naivety of these people and the bracing freshness of the Breton air, Dumont poses that we either hold our sides from laughing, or hold our heads in despair. The gutting final scene, after a gradual darkening in tone, assures the viewer that Dumont's inherent humanism has not been lost among all the politically incorrect humour. After over three hours, what qualities in Li'l Quinquin were once cute and beguiling have been unmasked as falsities, essentially, themselves disguising the harsh reality that Dumont desires us to take notice of - the film entire plays out like the slow, dispiriting realisation that the answers were there all along, staring you in the face, and you've spent too long enjoying yourself to make a difference now. Dumont's flippancy remains a tough sell, no matter how impressive his technique of introducing grandiose elements only to instantly degrade them, it can never offer genuine comfort. Where one may find such comfort in Li'l Quinquin, though, is in a peculiar attribute: the mentally handicapped actors here employed naturally project a dislocation with the rest of the world, but Dumont's world itself is so dislocated, that there's finally some small sense of belonging here.


83! That's a record number of countries to have submitted films for consideration for the Best Foreign Language Film award at the Oscars. Some of these are very heavy-hitters - Mommy, Two Days, One Night, Wild Tales, Winter Sleep and Leviathan, for example, were all big favourites at Cannes in May and will all have Oscar qualifying runs for the major categories too (with the exception of Wild Tales). And do I spy Norte, the End of History, Concrete Night and Gett: the Trial of Viviane Amsalem in contention? Plz plz plz world, do one thing for me and let Norte be nominated. Bake-off results will follow once finalised.

Afghanistan: A Few Cubic Metres of Love (Jamshid Mahmoudi)
Argentina: Wild Tales (Damian Szifron)
Australia: Charlie's Country (Rolf de Heer)
Austria: The Dark Valley (Andreas Prochaska)
Azerbaijan: Nabat (Elchin Musaoglu)
Bangladesh: Glow of the Firefly (Khalid Mahmood Mithu)
Belgium: Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne)
Bolivia: Forgotten (Carlos Bolado)
Bosnia and Herzegovina: With Mom (Frank Loncarevic)
Brazil: The Way He Looks (Daniel Ribeiro)
Bulgaria: Bulgarian Rhapsody (Ivan Nitchev)
Canada: Mommy (Xavier Dolan)
Chile: To Kill a Man (Alejandro Fernandez Almendras)
China: The Nightingale (Philippe Muyl)
Colombia: Mateo (Maria Gamboa)
Costa Rica: Red Princesses (Laura Astorga Carrera)
Croatia: Cowboys (Tomislav Mrsic)
Cuba: Conducta (Ernesto Daranas Serrano)
Czech Republic: Fair Play (Andrea Sedlackova)
Denmark: Sorrow and Joy (Nils Malmros)
Dominican Republic: Cristo Rey (Leticia Tonos)
Ecuador: Silence in Dreamland (Tito Molina)
Egypt: Factory Girl (Mohamed Khan)
Estonia: Tangerines (Zaza Urushadze)
Ethiopia: Difret (Zeresenay Berhane Mehari)
Finland: Concrete Night (Pirjo Honkasalo)
France: Saint Laurent (Bertrand Bonello)
Georgia: Corn Island (George Ovashvili)
Germany: Beloved Sisters (Dominik Graf)
Greece: Little England (Pantelis Voulgaris)
Hong Kong: The Golden Era (Ann Hui)
Hungary: White God (Mundruczo Kornel)
Iceland: Life in a Fishbowl (Baldvin Zophoniasson)
India: Liar's Dice (Geetu Mohandas)
Indonesia: Soekarno (Hanung Bramantyo)
Iran: Today (Reza Mirkarimi)
Iraq: Mardan (Batin Ghobadi)
Ireland: The Gift (Tom Collins)
Israel: Gett, the Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz and Shlomi Elkabetz)
Italy: Human Capital (Paolo Virzi)
Japan: The Light Shines Only There (Mipo O)
Kosovo: Three Windows and a Hanging (Isa Qosja)
Kyrgyzstan: Kurmanjan Datka Queen of the Mountains (Sadyk Sher-Niyaz)
Latvia: Rocks in My Pockets (Signe Baumane)
Lebanon: Ghadi (Amin Dora)
Lithuania: The Gambler (Ignas Jonynas)
Luxembourg: Never Die Young (Pol Cruchten)
Macedonia: To the Hilt (Stole Popov)
Malta: Simshar (Rebecca Cremona)
Mauritania: Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako)
Mexico: Cantinflas (Sebastian del Amo)
Moldova: The Unsaved (Igor Cobileanski)
Montenegro: The Kids from the Marx and Engels Street (Nikola Vukcevic)
Morocco: The Red Moon (Hassan Benjelloun)
Nepal: Jhola (Yadav Kumar Bhattarai)
Netherlands: Accused (Paula van der Oest)
New Zealand: The Dead Lands (Toa Fraser)
Norway: 1,001 Grams (Bent Hamer)
Pakistan: Dukhtar (Afia Nathaniel)
Palestine: Eyes of a Thief (Najwa Najjar)
Panama: Invasion (Abner Benaim)
Peru: The Gospel of the Flesh (Eduardo Mendoza)
Philippines: Norte, the End of History (Lav Diaz)
Poland: Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
Portugal: What Now? Remind Me (Joaquim Pinto)
Romania: The Japanese Dog (Tudor Cristian Jurgiu)
Russia: Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Serbia: See You in Montevideo (Dragan Bjelogrlic)
Singapore: Sayang Disayang (Sanif Olek)
Slovakia: A Step into the Dark (Miloslav Luther)
Slovenia: Seduce Me (Marko Santic)
South Africa: Elelwani (Ntshavheni Wa Luruli)
South Korea: Haemoo (Shim Sung Bo)
Spain: Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed (David Trueba)
Sweden: Force Majeure (Ruben Ostlund)
Switzerland: The Circle (Stefan Haupt)
Taiwan: Ice Poison (Midi Z)
Thailand: The Teacher's Diary (Nithiwat Tharathorn)
Turkey: Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
Ukraine: The Guide (Oles Sanin)
United Kingdom: Little Happiness (Nihat Seven)
Uruguay: Mr. Kaplan (Alvaro Brechner)
Venezuela: The Liberator (Alberto Arvelo)