Wednesday, 29 April 2015


Tributes and retrospectives have been announced for the 50th edition of the prestigious Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. The Czech fest will run from the 3rd to the 11th of July, and will feature programmes dedicated to Ukrainian filmmaker Larisa Shepitko and American actors John Cazale and Sean Penn, alongside a week focusing on Lebanese cinema. More details below:

A Week of Lebanese Cinema
  • E Meut (Corine Shawi)
  • Hors la Vie (Maroun Bagdadi)
  • A Perfect Day (Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige)
  • Sleepless Nights (Eliane Raheb)
  • Under the Bombs (Philippe Aractingi)
  • The Valley (Ghassan Salhab)
  • West Beirut (Ziad Doueiri)
  • Where Do We Go Now? (Nadine Labaki)
Four out of nine directors responsible for the eight films screening in KVIFF's special Lebanese programme are female, putting Cannes' current selections to shame. Features hail from between 1991 and 2014, and encompass a variety of genres and levels of recognition. A vital sidebar for fans of world cinema, who'll surely be in high attendance at this year's festival.

Take a look at the details on the Shepitko, Cazale and Penn retrospectives after the cut.


Moments of subtle, heart-stopping emotional grace and power elevate When Marnie Was There, an attractive anime that is otherwise a tad underwhelming. Yonebayashi Hiromasa has a delicate touch; he puts this to effective use in his direction, and the film has a particularly expressive aesthetic as a result. It risks expressing too much, in fact, as early developments appear to promise either much more or something much different to what the plot actually provides. Never mind, the film eventually acquires a depth of feeling that it has wholeheartedly earnt. As is (or ought to be) the norm for Studio Ghibli productions, When Marnie Was There is a rather wondrous experience, very much in its own way: we escape alongside the protagonist, quickly settling into the pastoral rhythm and tones, and soon seduced by the lure of a fantasy that Yonebayashi smartly avoids establishing too solidly as imaginary. For those who care, it's not imaginary, and if you care too you'll reap the rewards of investing in a story that comes to resolve itself in the most satisfactory of ways. Yonebayashi emphasises the fragility in his characters' designs - they thus seem to integrate into their environment without effort, and the film is quintessentially Japanese in its understanding of humanity's position within its natural surroundings. The musical score is complementary, if slightly unremarkable; similar could be said of the film itself, but its success in its scheme marks When Marnie Was There as too great an artistic achievement to be dismissed in such terms.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015


Tributes have been appearing online all day since the news of Andrew Lesnie's death yesterday. The 59-year-old Oscar-winning cinematographer is  believed to have suffered a heart attack on Monday the 27th of April 2015. A career making documentaries and music videos through the 1980s, the Australian received widespread worldwide acclaim with his breakthrough film, Chris Noonan's 1995 film Babe. It was his subsequent work, however, on Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy that established Lesnie as one of the most sought-after DPs in Hollywood, and he's collaborated with Jackson on every one of the writer / director's films since, also notching up credits on films such as I Am Legend, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Russell Crowe's recent debut The Water Diviner. Lesnie was inducted into the Australian Cinematographers Society' Hall of Fame in 2002, after winning an Oscar for The Lord of the Ring: The Fellowship of the Ring. Actors such as Magda Szubanski and Jamie Bell have paid tribute to their filmmaking colleague on Twitter. His vibrant compositions will be much missed by cinephiles, as the man himself will be much missed by friends and family.


Early word on Black Mass, the Whitey Bulger film from director Scott Cooper, is that it's good, which would make for a nice change for lead actor Johnny Depp. The jarring prosthetics may take a moment to settle into, but this is a smart and atmospheric trailer for the film nonetheless. A terrific cast is, however, very peen-heavy, at least that's how I choose to look at it. Cooper could do with a comeback after Out of the Furnace - American audiences will have the opportunity to see if he's succeeded when this is released on the 18th of September; British audiences when it's released on the 25th of September. Yes, the 25th of September! Lots of studios have chosen that date to release films this year as special birthday gifts for me.


Cannes loves a big American animated film to screen out of competition and increase its international publicity even further - this year, Kung Fu Panda director Mark Osborne's The Little Prince will fulfill such duties. The trailer looks impressive, full of emotion and lovely changes in animation style. Despite a star-studded voice cast and a major distributor behind it, the film doesn't yet have either North American or British release dates yet confirmed - only a number of European nations currently know exactly when they'll be receiving this title. Expect it before the end of the year, though, to capitalise on potential awards buzz if the reception is as good as it looks like it might be.


Luckily, Gaspar Noe's 3D boner-fest Love is, indeed, not the image above. Rather, that's Guillaume Nicloux's The Valley of Love - not a dissimilar title, then, but certainly not the same opening strategy for the two titles: Nicloux's film has been added to the main competition lineup for the Cannes Film Festival next month, while Noe's film - which had been tipped for a competition slot - will receive a Midnight Screening. Also joining The Valley of Love to bring the Palme d'Or competition slate to 19 films is Michel Franco's Chronic; you may remember Franco from his excellent film After Lucia, which featured a Michael Haneke tinge that, if present in his latest work, may have appealed to Thierry Fremaux when making his Cannes choices. It's also yet another English-language film to compete for the Palme this year, and yet another from a filmmaker who started their career making non-English-language projects. These are only some of the films that have marked late additions to the official lineup, and you can check out all of the newbies below:

In Competition
  • Chronic (Michel Franco)
  • The Valley of Love (Guillaume Nicloux)

Un Certain Regard
  • Alias Maria (Jose Luis Rugeles Gracia)
  • An (Kawase Naomi) - opening film
  • Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
  • Lamb (Yared Zeleke)
  • Taklub (Brillante Mendoza)

Special Screening
  • Don't Tell Me the Boy Was Mad (Robert Guediguian)

Midnight Screening
  • Love (Gaspar Noe)

Do I detect a hint of shade? Kawase, Mendoza and Weerasethakul all relegated to Un Certain Regard? I'm all for introducing some new blood into the competition lineup - and certainly enthused by some of Fremaux's less showy choices this year - but sacrificing these three former winners in favour of filmmakers like Paolo Sorrentino (been there, done that) and Denis Villeneuve (though he may yet prove himself) doesn't cut it for me. Still, a vibrant and promising selection on the whole for the festival this year. Alongside the main strands, have a look at the films that are set to screen in Critics' Week and Directors' Fortnight as well.


Collective hysteria is examined not with restraint but with respect in Carol Morley's The Falling. Suggestive remarks and insinuations, sometimes too bluntly explicated, make for a keener, richer experience than the melodramatic story requires; if interest in the basic narrative progression should wane, Morley has enough ideas interwoven through it to keep it up. She's too willfully abstruse for her own good, though, and with little success: The Falling is strewn with over-zealous editing, offensive soundtrack cues and a visual scheme that aspires toward vivid nostalgia but lacks the requisite verve. A simpler approach might have revealed a greater sense and sensitivity combined; as it is, the film is a hodgepodge of styles, never cohering as it both wants to and needs to. But if Morley's presentation of her intellectual ideas is awry, those ideas themselves exist in earnest all the same, and contribute toward a smart piece of work - smarter than you'd expect, given the potentially simplistic storyline. One is left with a plethora of conflicting notions, never doubting the validity of what has been shown, only doubting the nature of validity at all. Morley is clever enough to know that, despite her obvious understanding of the themes she explores, she can't offer up any compelling answers to the various questions that she raises in The Falling. The film has an air of intelligence about it, and eventually proves to have earned that air.

Monday, 27 April 2015


Telling, and deeply distressing, that one of the first and only thorough accounts of the Armenian genocide on film should be such a shoddy product, cobbled together from sporadic international funding, pieced together with parts of a wayward narrative never quite coalescing. It's a disappointment in and of itself, The Cut, and an unfortunate misfire from a filmmaker whom few expected to fail like this. Fatih Akin is not known for this type of film - he seems to substitute his signature verve for a more classic approach, but pursues the wrong elements of this tragic tale and in entirely the wrong manner, and loses his way. Akin usually does messy complexity in his work, which The Cut ought to be smothered in - instead, he dwells upon broad, browbeating emotions and a prosaic plot that undermines the horror and the sadness that are this film's true centre. It's undeniable, the impact that much of The Cut has, with its grave tragedy and shocking brutality, but Akin seems only concerned with depicting a chronicle of pain, rather than contextualising it. His technique is effective but brutishly so, and he risks trivialising an atrocity that has already been dismissed too much by too many. Pertinent points seem to rise accidentally through the story's wide fissures, only to sink back into their depths as Akin and co-writer Mardik Martin advance the story swiftly, yet tiresomely (the film runs well over two hours). The decision to replace Armenian dialogue with English was no doubt influenced by financial pressure; it's distancing in its inauthenticity, and clumsily handled by an inept cast. Tahar Rahim yields great benefits, in fact, as his character's ability to speak is taken from him, and his performance transitions from hokey to heartfelt. Would that the film could have followed suit.

Friday, 24 April 2015


Now, in 2015, that we've reached peak saturation point in the ever-expanding subgenre of superhero movies, an acknowledgment must be made: this is no subgenre any more but a fully-fledged genre of cinema, with its own style, its own tropes, its own language. Funny that Avengers: Age of Ultron, a most archetypal example of the modern-day superhero movie, actually relates more in tone and in construction to the comic books that begat it and its multitudinous ilk; this is as close as any such film has come to emulating its comic book sources and inspirations since Ang Lee's Hulk 12 years ago. That's emphatically a good thing - though I've never read a comic book myself - since it represents an admission of what these movies ought to be: the purposes they ought to serve, and the guidelines under which they generally work best. Alongside Age of Ultron's dynamic visual scheme, Joss Whedon designs a film whereby the obligatory action sequences feel earned, a succession of narrative and emotional set-ups leading organically to violent clashes. That the action is both overblown and over-drawn out is not a necessary evil for films like this, but it's tolerable when one feels that bit more sated with the preceding plot and character development, in the understanding also that the action must conclude at some point, and it's these more persuasive details that Whedon must return to. Additionally, Whedon handles the action scenes fairly well, generally demonstrating a fine eye for spatial geography, coherent editing and the right kind of flair both in construct and in execution. This new genre of movies may have swollen so grossly that, within the confines of its particular style, tropes, language etc, there could never be a truly perfect product to emerge from it. For now, Avengers: Age of Ultron sets a benchmark. Future filmmakers could do worse than to follow it.

Thursday, 23 April 2015


You may try to delve deeper into the meaning of Ryan Gosling's Lost River, in pursuit of the intensity of thought and feeling that I suppose the new writer / director aspires toward, but it's a shallow ditch of a waterway, rather than a grand cascade. Whether this is style over substance or not (and it is), the true test of films like these is whether or not they work on their own terms. What substance there ever may have been is not apparent here - it's not buried under thick layers of style, more like barely existing under a very thin layer. It's that style that Gosling instead tries to craft into a substance of his own, but therein lies the problem: it's not his own at all. He enlists Benoit Debie on cinematography because Enter the Void, Valdis Oskarsdottir on editing because Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Beth Mickle on production design because Drive... aha, there it is! A pastiche of finer works from finer filmmakers, the hollow employment of their legitimate techniques in service of artsy-fartsy wankery. Lost River thus functions entirely to appeal to the affected types, those of a similar constitution to Gosling, who might follow him down any little stream; there is no reasonable excuse for such silly concepts as these so indelicately treated. While Gosling may be well off the mark in thoroughly every respect, he at least provides Debie a rich canvas on which to work, which the talented DP does with customary invention and flair. The cast struggles with characters and dialogue deliberately under-developed; Ben Mendelson reaches breaking point at long last and collapses into self-parody. His egotistical dance routine is emblematic of Lost River's entire overblown enterprise, wholly misguided to the level of hilarity.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015


Whether it is in the art of constructing such rich, pointed scenarios, or in the art of recognising them in their natural state, there is undoubtedly true mastery at hand in Timbuktu. In naturally-lit compositions (electric or gas-powered lighting is sparingly used) of calm detachment and simple dignity, Abderrahmane Sissako devises a scene of silliness, a farce stripped to its barest in the pursuit of honesty, and thus a representation of the very opposite: reality revealing itself as folly. Sissako makes it easy to understand his situation, since it is so easily understood in its fundamental truths - power reconfigured as passion is fragile, and its fragmentation isolates its principles from its practices. In Timbuktu, order is applied through arbitrary enforcement of unjust rules and disproportionate punishment, one heavy layer of ignorance obfuscating the ideals to which these jihadists adhere so supposedly rigorously. Their very existence is nonsensical here, even more so as they attempt to revert society to a primitive state; this society that is depicted already as existing in a most elemental of states. Here, respect is earned, and itself respected; the filmmaking aspires to earn our respect too, both the nature of its conceit and in its treatment, visually, narratively, totally. Sissako's expressive restraint makes Timbuktu less a film that you feel, more an appropriately dispassionate facsimile of an impassioned mentality, that we might know more clearly his intents. No matter that it is a film that may not reside as vividly in one's memory as one feels it ought to - there is such mastery at hand in Timbuktu, and it's that mastery that will make this so powerful a film to revisit, as those memories wane.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015


I felt more enamoured with Bill Condon's Mr. Holmes when it was called A Slight Trick of the Mind - no mind, though, as the critics seem fairly enamoured with the Sherlock Holmes drama nonetheless. This trailer, the second one for this film, omits Laura Linney's housekeeper character entirely; I can understand the need to excise material that may be extraneous to such a tight summation of the film, but I hope this is just a necessary misrepresentation of what it's actually like. Out in the UK on the 19th of June and in the US on the 17th of July - with the right kind of buzz sustained through the year, this could certainly spell Oscar hopes for Ian McKellen.


Due to heavy-cast shade courtesy of Arnaud Desplechin and Miguel Gomes, the prestigious Directors' Fortnight programme at Cannes 2015 looks set to be one of the most formidable in the festival's history. Both saw their films shunned from competition for the Palme d'Or (no doubt in favour of lesser titles), and opted themselves to shun the Un Certain Regard sidebar and instead screen in Directors' Fortnight. Their films, respectively My Golden Days - the prequel to Desplechin's 1996 competition feature My Sex Life... or How I Got Into an Argument - and the six-hour-plus Arabian Nights, contribute to one of the finest slates for the sidebar in recent memory.

Gomes' latest entry into this selection is not the only one for a returning filmmaker here: Jeremy Saulnier made a big name for himself when he showed Blue Ruin in Directors' Fortnight two years ago, kicking off a promising career in feature films, while former Camera d'Or recipient Jaco van Dormael also has a film in play. Perhaps Thomas Bidegain, known for co-writing Cannes hits such as A Prophet and Rust and Bone could win that award this year; his film Les Cowboys appears also.

The Societe des Realisateurs Francais, which organises this section of the festival, has also selected three films by women and a number more focusing on women, marking a clear improvement over the main competition - with fewer competition titles here too - and one of two Garrel family films to open - veteran Philippe Garrel's In the Shadow of Women, while closing up will be heavily-hyped Sundance comedy Dope. And Miike Takashi makes yet another return to the Croisette with a film only Miike could have gotten a screening at the world's premier film fest, gangland thriller Yakuza Apocalypse: The Great War of the Underworld. Cannes 2015 runs from the 15th to the 24th of May. Full details below:

  • Allende, Mi Abuelo Allende (Marcia Tambutti)
  • Arabian Nights (Miguel Gomes)
  • The Brand New Testament (Jaco van Dormael)
  • Les Cowboys (Thomas Bidegain)
  • Dope (Rick Famuyiwa) - closing film
  • Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra)
  • Fatima (Philippe Faucon)
  • Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier)
  • The Here After (Magnus von Horn)
  • In the Shadow of Women (Philippe Garrel) - opening film
  • Much Loved (Nabil Ayouch)
  • Mustang (Deniz Gamze Erguven)
  • My Golden Days (Arnaud Desplechin)
  • Peace to Us in Our Dreams (Sharunas Bartas)
  • A Perfect Day (Fernando Leon de Aranoa)
  • Songs My Brothers Taught Me (Chloe Zhao)
  • Yakuza Apocalypse: The Great War of the Underworld (Miike Takashi) - special screening


Besides openly berating us, the greatest insult a filmmaker can deliver an audience is condescension, treating us as fools unaware of their schemes, too blinded by their filmmaking mastery to take stock of their manipulative techniques. It's not an accusation, it's an assumption, and it's one that Ramin Bahrani can't help but make. To give him credit, there's a large portion of the American populace that does need told, just not like this - 99 Homes' rabid redress of the crushing impact of ruthless corporate culture and individualism on working class American homeowners is too brutish, too contrived and too one-sided to even begin to take cohesive effect. Bahrani is so incredibly unsubtle, so grandiose in his statements and so dismissive of the need for a remotely believable narrative that not only will he fail to convert those whom 99 Homes is targeted toward, he'll likely inspire ridicule and a dismissal of his own from those who don't need told to begin with. If Bahrani's villains are truly villainous, he makes a gross mistake in engendering our sympathy for them - entirely unintentionally, I expect - and in presenting his supposedly 'sympathetic' figures as laughing stocks. Even the notes of character ambiguity he attempts to introduce are basic, each insisting on a flat response from the audience. The film is enormously didactic, and the debate it engages in wholly self-contained, closed to interpretation. This level of browbeating is near interminable; that Bahrani hopes to hide it behind layers of earnestness and a genuinely impressive verite style of directing only enhances the insult. And none of it blinds us, an audience too keen to concede to condescension, no matter how valiantly the actors try. At the very least, Bahrani's consistent suppression of independent female voices in his films is so shameful as to render 99 Homes the latest dud from this would-be auteur.

Monday, 20 April 2015


Following Thursday's announcement of the two slates for the most high-profile strands at the Cannes Film Festival, the main competition and Un Certain Regard, fest organisers have now confirmed the lineup for the Critics' Week strand. A list of ten titles has been whittled down from over 1,000, and Israeli actor / director Ronit Elkabetz will be the worthy chair of the jury determining which of these films will receive official festival awards. The lineup is heavy on local talent, with two French films showing in competition and all three special screenings hailing from the festival's native land. All films selected are either first or second films, including the directorial debut of popular French actor Louis Garrel, and the sophomore offering from Elie Wajeman - The Anarchists, which follows his debut Aliyah, which played in Cannes' other parallel programme, Directors' Fortnight, three years ago.

Critics' Week Competition
  • Degrade (Arab Abunasser and Tarzan Abunasser)
  • Krisha (Trey Edward Shults)
  • Mediterranea (Jonas Carpignano)
  • Ni la Ciel, Ni la Terre (Clement Cogitore)
  • Paulina (Santiago Mitre)
  • Sleeping Giant (Andrew Cividino)
  • La Tierra y la Sombra (Cesar Acevedo)

Critics' Week Special Screenings
  • The Anarchists (Elie Wajeman) - opening film
  • Les Deux Amis (Louis Garrel)
  • La Vie en Grand (Mathieu Vadepied)


Roy Andersson does not need to make it as painfully obvious as he does in A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, though it's refreshing to see a filmmaker deploy such frank self-awareness. If the accessible artsiness he generously infuses his films with is at least tempered by the sensation that even Andersson himself is not taking any of this seriously, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch might mark breaking point for that sensation - imbued with so pointed an allegorical meaning, the film is less enjoyable, more didactic than he has devised before. And the joke's wearing thin - it gets by on the sheer heft of its humour, mitigating the transparency of Andersson's conceit, but by now it's old hat, and one may crave something new from this most specific, stylised of filmmakers. That style is employed here in full force, and it's almost as beguiling as ever, with the pallid palette of faded lime greens and chartreuse, the stark lighting, the angularity of all these straight lines and flat surfaces. It's an immensely expressive mise-en-scene, even if Andersson is a touch too enamoured with it himself. What will forever mark the most effective tools he has for manoeuvring within such strict compositions are the tilts into unexpected territory, and you'll be surprised by what memorable results are engendered through use of simple images and sounds that seem wholly organic to this film's style, yet are revealed to represent quaint, poignant little aberrations. In truth, it's the occasional surrender to convention, that which this film purports to reject, that cuts deepest; Andersson continues to find comfort in discomfort, and vice versa, and so do we - he needs to abandon his comfort zone and explore further possibilities. For such a master artist, this ought to be a fruitful exploration indeed. I have my fingers crossed for the next film.

Saturday, 18 April 2015


The signs are all there, that the intention was not to posit Child 44 as just another dark, gloomy Hollywood thriller (as it has been marketed), but instead as a perceptive, pertinent historical drama, commanding in its breadth and disarming in its depth. So why can't we see it? Why does one come to this realisation, to the truth of the matter, only after the film has finished? Dear, naive director Daniel Espinosa must be held accountable, ditto writer Richard Price, who has done better work for better films. Throw in cinematographer Oliver Wood on charge of banality and you've got a compelling body of evidence. They're only under the notion that what they're creating is a grand, epic work - their techniques suggest a collective ignorance in how actually to create such a film. Principally, their insistence on Tom Rob Smith's narrative blueprint as a classically cinematic one is wholly misplaced - Smith's narrative is highly involving, but too ambitiously structured to feel sufficiently coherent if its psychological and political complexities are not probed. Yet Espinosa leaves it all on the screen, neither trimming down the content that demands a more sophisticated approach nor indulging it with the intelligence it deserves. His means don't fit his end, in that treating a story this expansive, this deliciously convoluted as a run-of-the-mill thriller (as he appears able only to do) won't afford it the gravity he's aiming for. Amid this mess, poor Tom Hardy is stranded in a film that has little idea what to do with his talent. What a fearsome performance Hardy supplies, yet again, and what a lacklustre film he supplies it to. He's there for those signs that Child 44 ought to have been a more momentous affair, in the meandering storyline and the relaxed plotting. Would that anybody else was. Acquittals for editors Pietro Scalia and Dylan Tichenor, production designer Jan Roelfs and also for Noomi Rapace, but only just.


Earlier this week, the teaser trailer for Dope dropped online. Here's the follow-up, a fuller look at what the award-winning comedy / drama has to offer. Out in the US on the 19th of June.


Frivolous fluff it may appear, but look closer and you'll see that Learning to Drive is directed by Isabel Coixet and, obviously, starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley. Sounds more promising than it looks, granted, but I'm not convinced that this accessible trailer gives away the full picture. Reactions last year at TIFF, where the film premiered, were mixed, with critics somewhat cold on the film, but audiences much more receptive to its commercial charm. Release date in the US is currently set for the 21st of August.


Matteo Garrone's ambition doesn't stop there, as he embarks on a star-studded fantasy drama, The Tale of Tales. Cannes has, unsurprisingly, accepted the film into its competition lineup for the Palme d'Or - Garrone's a regular at Cannes, and if this is anything as good as it appears to be on the back of this impressive trailer, it could mark his best shot yet at the festival's top prize.


All this flimsy, frothy sweetness may be too much, or, more accurately, too little, for the tastes of many; served correctly, though, it can make for a fine meal. Alan Rickman takes a delicate touch to a precious treatment, and his film is a joyous little treasure. Though marred by a few odd stylistic missteps, its the purpose of the imagery and their surrounding story, not the execution, that lingers longest. Ellen Kuras shoots in flat, shimmering tones, situating the human figures as enveloped by, an integral part of their environment, just as their environment is an integral part of the story. Rickman hasn't the strongest grasp on sensory storytelling - he lacks no conviction, only original thought and restraint in this regard - but one quite vividly senses the emotional thrust, not least due to Kate Winslet. The versatile actor seems to willingly blend into the texture of A Little Chaos, rather than force her feelings to the fore - it's an astute performance, and it makes her romantic scenes with Matthias Schoenaerts fairly powerful. If A Little Chaos is missing any broader, firmer context, it's because Rickman cares little to probe matters beyond the immediate purview of his narrative; the film is focused and affecting as a result, though too easily dismissed as a mere diverting trifle. It certainly is flimsy and frothy, but the design of A Little Chaos is dedicated to these qualities, and the film as a whole is a delectable, delightful trifle, then.

Friday, 17 April 2015


A senseless strain for profundity overshadows and undermines The Water Diviner, a film produced apparently entirely on the back of its director's misplaced ambition. Grand vistas, exotic locales and old-school stories of romance and war do not amount to classic, compelling filmmaking, no matter how earnest their delivery may be. It's that earnestness that shows Russell Crowe up, revealing quite clearly his inadequacies behind the camera, though it does frame him as a humble figure, something which he's not shy on exploiting in front of the camera. What that amounts to is a small degree of sympathy - certainly not sufficient to excuse the amateur direction that infuses 95% of The Water Diviner, but sufficient to engender some simple, touching moments, characterised by an unfussy quality that Crowe is obviously striving for. You come to slightly pity him for his tendency to skew gauche in his sensibilities, and that pity may soften your heart a little. My heart, alas, remained far too hard to excuse much - not the hasty cutting, not the awkward ADR, not the syrupy score, not the confused mise-en-scene with its ugly lighting and its resolute ignorance toward camera placement... there's far too much to excuse, and not enough excuses. Merely aping the classic dramas of 70-odd years ago doesn't cut it, not when you've little new to contribute yourself, and little skill to replicate them. The Water Diviner wants very badly to be a grand, monumental feature; its finest traits are its cutest, its quietest, and its most accidental - indeed, the traits it barely even knows exist.


Frankly, all J. J. Abrams needs to do is to ride on the nostalgic coattails of the original trilogy. Who cares if the films are any good? Out on the 18th of December in both the UK and the US.


Sarah Gavron and Abi Morgan's account of the roots of modern-day feminism in Britain reaches US theatres on the 23rd of October and UK theatres on the 30th. Focus Features will look to redeem itself with Suffragette, which had been tipped for awards consideration last year but was not selected for release; they're priming it for hefty nomination hauls this year, however, by the looks of things. Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff and Romola Garai star alongside Meryl Streep for a strong female-dominated production.

Thursday, 16 April 2015


Four weeks yesterday marks the start of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival; this far into April, then, what will the official lineup be? Today's announcement confirms the selections for a number of key strands, including the competition for the Palme d'Or, for which seventeen titles have been confirmed. Check out the slate below:

  • The Assassin (Hou Hsiao Hsien)
  • Carol (Todd Haynes)
  • Dheepan (Jacques Audiard)
  • The Lobster (Yiorgos Lanthimos)
  • Louder Than Bombs (Joachim Trier)
  • Macbeth (Justin Kurzel)
  • Marguerite and Julien (Valerie Donzelli)
  • Mia Madre (Nanni Moretti)
  • Mon Roi (Maiwenn)
  • Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhang Ke)
  • Our Little Sister (Koreeda Hirokazu)
  • The Sea of Trees (Gus van Sant)
  • Sicario (Denis Villeneuve)
  • A Simple Man (Stephane Brize)
  • Son of Saul (Nemes Laszlo)
  • The Tale of Tales (Matteo Garrone)
  • Youth (Paolo Sorrentino)
Hard to ignore this year's key trend: English-language features from directors who haven't worked in the language before, of which there are five... or four, ok, cos Denis Villeneuve has made a couple of films in English before. But Yiorgos Lanthimos, Joachim Trier, Matteo Garrone and Paolo Sorrentino are each making a stab at increasing their public profile by switching to English. It makes for a disappointingly English-heavy lineup this year, though one which promises a high turnout of Hollywood stars. And it's at least offset by strictly arthouse fare like the one-time potential Truffaut project Marguerite and Julien and Son of Saul, from Tarr Bela pupil Nemes Laszlo.
     About Marguerite and Julien - it's one of a mere two films currently announced from female directors. That's equal to last year's tally, and while that may have been an improvement on the relative drought of years prior, it's still hardly promising for the world's premier film festival. They couldn't have snuck Emmanuelle Bercot's Standing Tall in, no? Alas, it'll have to make do with being the first film directed by a woman to open the fest in 28 years!
      We eagerly await Son of Saul, Todd Haynes' much-anticipated Carol, and the even-more-anticipated The Assassin from Hou Hsiao Hsien - yes, it's completed, at last! Ethan and Joel Coen will preside over the TBA jury in deciding which of these films, and potentially a few more, will exit Cannes 2015 as award winners.

After the cut, the Un Certain Regard lineup and more.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015


The semblance of style is applied to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night in the dreams of pre-production and the desperation of post-production. The intentions are all there, though the means are not, and what meagre means are there are employed in the service of as shallow a hipster experience as they come, almost. To give Ana Lily Amirpour her due, she decorates her sparse ideas with a committed, consistent approach, and the film's process of defying our preconceptions and then reconfiguring them is understated and curiously involving - we're being duped, and we enjoy it. But that, and a flimsy core idea about finding and embracing one's own position within a hostile society, is about all the thematic or narrative substance that A Girl Walks Home has going for it. Amirpour's attention is otherwise solely devoted to honing her style, which is itself thin and deeply derivative. That new indie trope, a perversion of these films' forbears and immediate inspirations, of borrowing and borrowing and borrowing, creating supposed originality out of a collage of other artists' works, is one I may never wholly subscribe to. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, so comically bare and slow (the incessant slow-motion is close to sleep-inducing), hardly has an original stylistic notion in its dozy little head; that Amirpour's references are not only relentless but unconscionably 'cool' only compounds the tiresome, laughable laziness that lies behind them.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015


I reported last year on the middling response received for El Ardor upon premiering at the Cannes Film Festival. Well, judging by the above trailer, there's enough quality material in the alt-Western to manufacture a decent promo for the film, though I'm more swayed when they're not resorting to convoluted, out-of-context quotes from one or two critics no-one with any sense or intelligence gives a fuck about. Third-time director Pablo Fendrik's film was nominated for nine Argentinean Academy Awards last year.


I won't pretend that I think the trailer for Claudia Llosa's Aloft makes the film look brilliant, because I don't think it does, but I do think it makes the film look interesting. So too does its turbulent route to theatres, involving two separate festival cuts and a stuttering international rollout, seeing the film take in just three markets (two of them very small) in the 14 months since it first screened. Keep an eye out for this one.


Rick Famuyiwa's first attempt at directing a film that actually looks good is Dope, and it actually looks good. After winning an Editing Award and a lot of critical acclaim at Sundance earlier in the year, the comedy / drama is released in the US on the 19th of June.


I suppose this is how Hollywood sees history, even as it tries to present it in the terms of today. Woman in Gold is an alarming spectacle of the past repackaged for the present, its every creative endeavour seemingly drafted to undermine the immense gravity of its foundational material. Would that Nazis and the European bourgeoisie made far less ripe pickings for first-rate historical dramas, that second and third-rate filmmakers wouldn't care to cash in; would that Woman in Gold were allowed artists of even that measly talent. This is an affront to the tale it tells, directed in a pedestrian manner by the lazy Simon Curtis, whose approach appears to be to permit the material to shine in itself - Woman in Gold's 'material' amounts to a fraught, fascinating story, a pair of reasonable performances in the lead roles and an execrable screenplay by Alexi Kaye Campbell (it's his first, and you'd know it). Helen Mirren hams it up and Ryan Reynolds hums along - they meet somewhere in the middle of their respective abilities and generate fine chemistry, but only ever in service of a simple, soapy purpose, nothing like the fantastic, astonishing drama that Woman in Gold purports to depict. That unavoidable drama, in every last element of this incredible true story, provides perhaps this film's only positive attribute on a significant scale; it is, otherwise, wholly prosaic and, thus, an egregious offense to the magnificence of its inspirations.

Sunday, 12 April 2015


Andrew Niccol at least knows where to place his camera. Whether his storytelling arsenal is as keenly developed or not, whether his impressive visual compositions carry any significant metaphorical or philosophical weight or not, he at least knows what looks good and why it looks good. Good Kill looks good, and that's certainly its finest quality; this neat little drama definitely benefits from the breadth it is supplied by Niccol's simple understanding of how to please one's eyes. And more than pleasing the eyes, it's in Good Kill's aesthetic scheme that it earns its greatest and most lasting attribute - he successfully delineates the dislocation at the core of his screenplay via perceptive visual design. In Andrew Niccol's Las Vegas, all human beings are aliens, detached from any sort of identifiable human society, here also hemmed in by the technology that they have become so dependent upon. That's a common theme for this director; an extension further into politics than yet to date is powerfully handled only as far as his immediate comprehension itself extends, and it's here that Good Kill may seem most limited. Functional dialogue and a tendency to stereotype a little too swiftly diminish the quality of this film at its centre, and no amount of slick cinematography can cover for these crucial mistakes. And goodness knows we don't need another white guilt movie, which is what Good Kill may have best been remembered as were it not for Niccol's fine eye. He knows where to place his camera, and that's a blessing, particularly in a movie like this.

Saturday, 11 April 2015


If Paolo Sorrentino's Youth is not in Cannes this year, then it might as well be nowhere. Though maybe, with Sorrentino's status as a recent Oscar winner and a high profile English-language cast, there's a slight chance that Cannes rejects the film, making way for a more awards season friendly berth perhaps at Venice. And that's a definite possibility, what with the fact that so many other Cannes regulars will have English-language features in the marketplace this year. But Italian distributors Medusa Distribuzione seem confident, and have a 21st of May release date set, so Cannes looks to be the logical choice yet again for Sorrentino.

Thursday, 9 April 2015


Age is both a number and a way of life in Noah Baumbach's latest, typically astute feature on how we are shaped by the inescapable facts of life, no matter how we try to manipulate reality. Only in accepting our natural status within society can we expect to reap what benefits there may (or may not) be in its construct, though Baumbach's embrace of reality extends to an embrace of its contradictions and its contempt for whatever happiness we might seek there. While We're Young is a hard, pessimistic, slightly misanthropic film, but one that's content to be that way - thus, it bears an attractively relaxed quality, and speaks to the weary human-hater in all of us (or is that just me?). Baumbach in fact makes so much of his characters and their comic-tragic interactions that the self-reflexive stench he produces in the process almost overpowers the film at times; though a welcome addition to his canon of works, While We're Young doesn't exactly expand Baumbach's horizons, and he demonstrates very little in the way of new technique. Yet we appreciate the self-awareness - it's here that this film becomes so pleasurable an experience, in its richness and in its potential for endless re-evaluation upon repeat viewings. Ben Stiller does his thing in the lead, which isn't especially inspiring but he's perfectly cast so what does it matter; Naomi Watts impresses, rarely having seemed this comfortable in a role. The film is intentionally irritative, and your enjoyment depends on how comfortable you can be with that. Maybe it's about your maturity level. Maybe it's just your age.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015


If cinema is great escapism, then The DUFF offers among the most complete forms of escapism in cinematic history, since I largely couldn't wait to escape from it. In the near-annual tradition of trying to make fetch happen, another Mean Girls knock-off arrives in theatres, its transparent desperation and dependence worn on its cheap, tacky sleeves, lest any of us believe it to be a piece of any originality. The DUFF utterly would not exist without the dozens of high school films that have come before it, not merely for establishing the framework on which it is built but for actually providing the cultural and thematic exposition as well. How dreadfully sad that a film so insistent on spelling out every trite thought in its writers' heads can't even muster up the energy to spell out a coherent visual language, nor even intimate the suggestion of expensiveness. For a film whose relationship toward character labels is so complex / confused, its heavy reliance on said labels is contradictory to its own overblown notions of social intelligence. But, yes, ok, The DUFF did make me laugh... at times. It's not completely terrible, there's some satisfactory acting, and every now and then it drops its guard and reveals something peculiarly humorous for a film so grotesquely concerned with its appearance. But fetch is still just not happening, guys, and I'm sick to death of watching you try, try, try so fucking hard, every fucking year.


A temporary break from the site prevented me from posting an obituary for Manoel de Oliveira, who died on the 2nd of April 2015 at age 106. The acclaimed Portuguese auteur was often considered to be the world's oldest filmmaker; what was most remarkable was the frequency and the quality of the work he continued to produce well into his eleventh decade. Initially a director of documentary shorts, a transition into feature length and fiction filmmaking was not entirely smooth under Salazar's dictatorship. However, since the early '80s, he has been one of Europe's foremost cinematic artists, with accolades to his name such as career / lifetime achievement awards from the Venice Film Festival, the Locarno International Film Festival and the Portuguese Golden Globes and honorary awards from the Cannes and Berlin fests and the European Film Awards, alongside three FIPRESCI prizes. He is survived by his wife Maria, their four children Manuel, Jose, Maria and Adelaide and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. de Oliveira will be much missed by the cinematic community worldwide, though we may look forward to the release of his 1982 feature Memories and Confessions, which he had dictated only to be shown after his death.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015


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Friday, 3 April 2015


Much as we don't need another celebrity bio-doc, and much as this trailer maybe overdoes it on the melodramatic portentousness, there's little doubting that Amy looks to be a fascinating film. Great subject, great talent, hopefully great film from Asif Kapadia. Out in the UK on the 5th of July.


There's nothing so absurd as the banal. I wonder what M. Houellebecq makes of his dip, or rather his head-first dive into film. Is its comedy too broad, or nowhere near vulgar enough? Is its social commentary accurate, or immature? Is its accessibility a silly triviality, or a charming virtue, or is The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq even accessible at all? Guillaume Nicloux's film's duelling idiosyncrasies keep it fresh and buoyant throughout, thus that as the premise wears ever thinner, the scenarios become ever richer. Nicloux develops an enclosed environment that is somehow far more expansive than that in which his subject starts this film, itself a curious combination of spaces both formidably bare and uncomfortably cramped. If the notion of a film extolling elemental human attributes and values is gauche and overplayed, Nicloux does more to prove his point than most filmmakers, and in far more persuasive style: as the relationships upon which The Kidnapping... is based grow in depth and detail, the characters gradually revealing their truest nature whether wittingly or not, the film itself grows in intelligence and, crucially, enjoyability. The meta aspect of Michel playing himself is gratifyingly shrugged off, mainly employed to enhance the philosophical content of the film to those attuned to it, and to aid the sense of verisimilitude that's so unexpectedly well-mastered here. Whatever M. Houellebecq makes of this enterprise, and no doubt he makes very much of it one way or another, his involvement alone marks a seal of approval that's easy to comprehend.

Thursday, 2 April 2015


Alex Gibney's Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief operates in the understanding that most of us don't need a Scientology expose, but Hollywood does. I'd call this a star-flecked documentary, rather than star-studded, but it's nevertheless a fairly elite affair. And why not? What better way to grab our attention? The church / cult employs the same methods, only more covertly, more contemptuously. Gibney's celebrities don't distract much from his sober pacing and often dry, repetitive style - it's highly dependent on the quality of the material he unearths. Going Clear contains much scandalous, sensational material, but it unearths precious little of it, and while the outrage it inspires may be true, it's not fresh. The sadness that seeps in toward the end is what lingers. For all that Gibney insists on shocking, he neglects to paint a broader picture - the massive crowds attending the group's vulgar arena shows are left faceless, thus drawn appropriately as the lily-livered sheep they indeed are. But what of the practices of Scientology? What, in fact, is so appealing about this movement, given that it seems so patently unappealing from any significant distance? The litany of abuses committed by both the 'church' and its current leader, David Miscavige, can only appall us so far in such thin context, though you'll be hard pushed (or perhaps hard audited) to forget them. Situated among these stars, and the stars up above which may one day be yet another home should Xenu opt to relocate our crowded asses once more, the most compelling of all is Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. His creation is described here as something like an education into his mindset. It's quite the education, I learned a lot. srsly on OTVIII rn

Wednesday, 1 April 2015


An accessible film about no more than it purports to be about, Frederick Tcheng's Dior and I is thoroughly watchable, and a valuable document of a defining moment in modern fashion history. Faint praise indeed, but praise nonetheless - there's nothing particularly wrong with Dior and I, not least since it seems to achieve all that it aspires to. In essence, this is an unashamed love letter to the house of Dior, profiled in reminiscences of its founder and in examinations of its current helmer. Tcheng deviates from this structure often, to focus on the house's ateliers. They are both welcoming and, within this film, welcome, though little is discerned of their construction process and the immense detail that goes into creating the most anticipated couture collection in years. Nor, in fact, is creative director Raf Simons' process delineated much, as Tcheng favours an approach that's as airy yet clustered as Dior's workrooms. For a definitive portrait of both Dior and Simons, Dior and I is piercing on neither figure, perceptive on neither's work. The clothes are the film's saving grace, and it's the unabashed joy that they inspire, not only in the audience at Simons' debut Dior show but in the ateliers, the filmmakers and the film's viewers, that elevates Tcheng's work. They fill in the blanks in his depiction of their creation, and, if nothing else, simply look stunning, even three years down the line. Simons found inspiration in the archives, in clothes, and Tcheng does too.


It's not where it went wrong, it's how nobody noticed how wrong it went. Seventh Son boasts the kind of premise that'd only form a successful film in the most wondrous of hands, under the guidance of the most exceptionally talented filmmakers. Alas, they've none of them turned up to work, and you can imagine what that means. Still, you'd expect a lot more even from this assemblage, and most viewers will be quite certain of the kind of quality they ought to expect from actors like Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore. Respectively, they neatly encapsulate the foremost flaws of Seventh Son, its twin terrors: trying way too hard at entirely the wrong thing, and not trying at all. Would that this cacophonous mess were unwittingly funny, since it appears to bear more potential in that direction than in the way of actually being a decent film; it's not funny, not at all, nor is it thrilling, nor dramatic, nor scary nor even curiously odd - none of the qualities that, again, we ought to expect from this breed of fantasy thriller. The shabby cinematography, the abysmal effects, that risible screenplay... surely someone somewhere must have been able to identify Seventh Son as a total disaster, a work of outrageous idiocy, a massive misfire even considering its modest targets? I took whatever solace I could find in the production design, from Dante Ferretti, and even this master is functioning on a lower level of artistry than one ought to expect. All involved should be sent to movie jail for 12 months, if not for their own bad work then for not noticing the bad work of everybody else.