Monday, 31 August 2015


No director of horror movies was as influential in the modern era as Wes Craven. It is thus with regret that I write an obituary to the great man, who died yesterday, the 30th of August, aged 76, after a three-year battle with brain cancer. Alongside writing and directing some of the most seminal films of the last 45 years, Craven was also a keen bird conservationist and a novelist, but will be best known to the general public for his array of classics. The Last House on the Left can claim to be one of the most influential horror titles of all time and also one of American cinema's most compelling debut features; after that, he went on to make other memorable films such as The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The People Under the Stairs, New Nightmare and Scream. He, like many horror filmmakers, was never popular with industry voting bodies, but impressed audiences and critics alike throughout his career, regularly bouncing back from a number of flops to turn out yet another work of genre excellence. He is survived by his wife, former Disney vice president Iya Labunka and his two children from a former marriage.

Sunday, 30 August 2015


A look inside a generation, or a subset within a generation, from two insiders. You know you're getting the real deal when those insiders are as incisive as Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig are, though for all the sense they infuse into their subjectivity, Mistress America is perhaps too sensitive to truly formulate a cohesive idea of what that generation represents. The film is a broad portrait with a fine touch, and too certain of its strengths as such to identify any of the weaknesses in itself that it finds, exploits and embraces in its characters. It's that embrace that brings Mistress America down, as it eventually betrays the coarseness that made its knife-edge dance of character development tolerable. Baumbach and Gerwig love these people, even as they encourage us to loathe them, and that bestows upon Mistress America a generous empathy that the actors run with, alongside a slight sycophancy mixed with superiority that, frankly, ought to be expected. The film's flaws are hard to forgive, in retrospect, since they emerge fully formed only toward its closing passage - until this point, it's a rather delightful, acerbic portrait of lost souls seemingly determined on never being found, forget about actually finding themselves. That knife-edge between astute and obnoxious is largely traversed with admirable precision, particularly in a variety of strong, perceptive performances; Gerwig is especially good at incorporating the comedic elements of her writing into the integral fabric of her character, and while the result may be too subtle for some, it's pretty super for the rest of us. That's the kind of detail that both invigorates Mistress America and somewhat spoils it - an obsessive intelligence on the behalf of its insider filmmakers.

Friday, 28 August 2015


Engaging escapism from Matteo Garrone, a filmmaker whose admirable desire to depart from his own formula bears the same force as that formula once did, so abrupt is this departure. He approaches Tale of Tales with the same purity of style that one expects from Garrone, and suggestions that he puts said style to similar purposes here than before, though the effect is strikingly different. It's also simply striking, as Tale of Tales is a dazzling fantasy, a sensory feast fit for any of the film's royalty. This is the film's greatest asset, even if it's often stunted by lapses in quality and squandered on a project whose constituent parts barely even seem to be intended to coalesce into a whole. Three separate stories, each of them additionally fragmented perspectively, are edited together in a manner that works in terms of pace (the mythical grandeur of each of them better served by the 2-hour running time than were they isolated and their lengths abbreviated), but not in terms of narrative nor of tone. Therein, Garrone fumbles plot details - one story concludes with a pair of seemingly straightforward yet utterly indecipherable scenes - and indulges in overly-ornate dialogue, thereby ruining potentially fine performances from an able cast - one tale involving two elderly women and a besotted king in particular benefits from strong work by Hayley Carmichael and Shirley Henderson. But all serve a higher power, and one that redeems Tale of Tales in just about every shot: its stylistic stature. Garrone's visual schemes are allegorically moot and thematically empty, but they're nonetheless spectacular. He recreates a visual version of the past set fantastically askew, captured in some of the finest cinematography Peter Suschitzky has ever produced, decorated with stunning production and costume designs, and adorned with Alexandre Desplat's beguiling score.


Sebastian Silva is well-liked at Screen On Screen. He's an indie filmmaker with genuine talent and a genuinely singular artistic countenance, and he's made consistently strong features to date. The inclusion of Kristen Wiig in the ensemble of his latest film, Nasty Baby, ought to help increase his international profile further. The film, whose first trailer is above, has screened only at festivals thus far this year, with early year showings at Sundance and Berlin. It's due to be released theatrically in the US on the 23rd of October, and would be a wise choice for arthouse audiences in select cities when it comes out.

Thursday, 27 August 2015


A pointless film chronicles a pointless existence in Ben and Joshua Safdie's Heaven Knows What. And that's not criticism, it's recognition of the Safdies' formal mastery, and their empathetic acuity, though while they do possess the skill to turn so bleak and distressing a story as this into a compelling feature, as pointless as it may appear to be, one does occasionally wish for something more substantial to latch onto. The viewer slides down the slippery surface of this film, a gossamer-thin layer of sorrow and sheer hopelessness, hoping that the filmmakers might pierce through this layer at some point and pry deeper within; alas, we fall off its withering edge in the end, to see as we only could from a distance - its slight surface was all the substance it ever had. Perceptively edited to distort the passage of time as we understand it, we who have roofs over our heads, Heaven Knows What truly is an exceptionally expressive film, employing the full array of technical tools available to its team of dedicated indie filmmakers that it might depict its scenarios with unflinching honesty. That they do so without the pretense to impose upon their film any social commentary or metaphorical subtext is admirable and likely wise - their subjects themselves have few concerns beyond their basic, brutal needs. Arielle Holmes, whose own experiences the film is based directly upon, is first among equals in a cast of mostly non-pro performers, each and all of them both grounding the film in the kind of tonal accuracy it requires and elevating it in the process. Heaven Knows What has been made with a singularity of vision among all of its contributors - a difficult vision, no doubt, but a fine one.

Monday, 24 August 2015


A quiet little revolution, or an unassuming silent protest. It's an unexpected treat, to feel like you're witnessing something this fresh, when in fact it's as traditional as filmmaking gets. Alice Rohrwacher returns to rurality in The Wonders, a film of lulling beauty and charming, though not contrived simplicity. She recalls a way of life that is receding from the western world, and does so with a faintly nostalgic joy and sensitivity; simultaneously, she depicts encroaching modernity with a gleeful tackiness, one which she seems to imbue with almost equal artistic credence. Like Gelsomina, her enigmatic, wise young protagonist, Rohrwacher is torn between her love for one thing and her desire for another, yet her optimistic, emotionally-astute style of directing mitigates the melancholy with good-humoured grace. The Wonders is thus an enjoyable, affecting experience, whose emotive power is wholly earned, both through the quality of the direction and through the honest empathy of the screenplay. And even if it doesn't touch you as it touched me, even if its absurd strokes struck you as silly and its profound ones struck you as shallow, there's limitless beauty to behold in the glowing cinematography and the authentic production design. The landscape is crucial to The Wonders, whether natural or not, and perhaps most crucial of all to the success of Rohrwacher's conceit is the connection she ably forms between her characters and their surroundings, their lifestyle and that of the world they situate it in. The film doesn't so much suggest going back to nature, rather it lauds the cultivation of our role within nature. It's a lifestyle that she reconstructs, then swiftly deconstructs, and the result is a fleeting glimpse of magic.

Sunday, 23 August 2015


Nanni Moretti makes movies like the great playwrights of old made plays - seemingly free of influence or interference, and defined more by their characters, their dialogue and their ideas than any sense of structure or form. What idiosyncratic structural value the works of those playwrights acquired, however, eludes Moretti, and Mia Madre is the latest example of this shortcoming, and perhaps its most profound to date. The depth and detail that radiates from this film at times is wholly absent from it at others, and the dichotomy is pronounced: Moretti has a handle on his lead character, though not on her work; emotional exchanges of dialogue, not philosophical nor narrative; a select few figures in his ensemble, and none of the others; drama, not comedy, as he attempts both. There's that lack of interference, that which is so valuable in European filmmaking, even as it entails that films such as Mia Madre will inevitably be made. Though the director himself stars in this film, he is clear that his psychological surrogate is Margherita Buy's filmmaker (naturally) - the metatextual significance that her profession contributes is unflattering to the film, as Moretti stages scenes of cumbersome metaphorical heft, betraying the inadequacy of his own mise-en-scene and naively reframing it as hers. Only in Buy's performance does the film suggest a higher level of quality, and she stresses the strain on her character in upholding different responsibilities to different people and purposes, always in a sensitive, heartfelt, naturalistic manner. There's a fantastic film in her face alone, better than the one her character is making, and better than Mia Madre.

Friday, 21 August 2015


The newest additions to TIFF 2015's already expansive slate have been revealed. Organisers have declared new gala and special presentation titles, including the official closing night film, Paco Cabezas' Mr. Right with Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick and Tim Roth. Alongside the initial wave of 2015 titles, you can check out the films showing in other sidebars here, and the newly-created Platform strand here. All the new screenings are below:

  • Disorder (Alice Winocour)
  • Man Down (Dito Montiel)
  • Miss You Already (Catherine Hardwicke)
  • Mississippi Grind (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)
  • Mr. Right (Paco Cabezas) - closing night film

Special Presentations
  • 45 Years (Andrew Haigh)
  • About Ray (Gaby Dellal)
  • Angry Indian Goddesses (Pan Nalin)
  • Being Charlie (Rob Reiner)
  • Body (Malgorzata Szumowska)
  • Equals (Drake Doremus)
  • I Saw the Light (Marc Abraham)
  • London Fields (Matthew Cullen)
  • Ma Ma (Julio Medem)
  • The Meddler (Lorene Scarafia)
  • Mr. Six (Guan Hu)
  • Mustang (Deniz Gamze Erguven)
  • My Mother (Nanni Moretti)
  • Our Brand Is Crisis (David Gordon Green)
  • A Tale of Love and Darkness (Natalie Portman)
  • A Tale of Three Cities (Mabel Cheung)
  • Truth (James Vanderbilt)
  • The Wave (Roar Uthaug)
  • The Witch (Robert Eggers)


Nominations for three of five categories for the 2015 World Soundtrack Awards have been announced by the World Soundtrack Academy. Alexandre Desplat, Johann Johannsson and Hans Zimmer - all nominees for last year's Oscar (with Desplat the winner for The Grand Budapest Hotel) each receive two nominations, including Composer and Original Film Score. Nominations for Discovery of the Year are yet to be announced, and voting is open for the Public Choice Award on the WSA website. Current nominations are featured below:

Film Composer of the Year
  • Bruno Coulais (3 Hearts / Diary of a Chambermaid / Fly Away Solo / Gemma Bovery / Mune, le Guardien de la Lune / Song of the Sea)
  • Alexandre Desplat (Everything Will Be Fine / The Imitation Game / Tale of Tales / Unbroken)
  • Michael Giacchino (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes / Inside Out / Jupiter Ascending / Jurassic World / Tomorrowland)
  • Johann Johannsson (The 11th Hour / Sicario / The Theory of Everything)
  • Hans Zimmer (Chappie / Interstellar)

Best Original Film Score of the Year
  • Alexandre Desplat (The Imitation Game)
  • Patrick Doyle (Cinderella)
  • Johann Johannsson (The Theory of Everything)
  • Antonio Sanchez (Birdman)
  • Hans Zimmer (Interstellar)

Best Original Song Written for a Film

  • Diego Luna, Gustavo Santaolalla and Paul Williams - 'The Apology Song' (The Book of Life)
  • Lonnie Lynn, Che Smith and John Stephens - 'Glory' (Selma)
  • Rita Ora and Diane Warren - 'Grateful' (Beyond the Lights)
  • John Padgett and Saoirse Ronan - 'Tell Me' (Lost River)
  • Christopher Taylor and Joseph Trapanese - 'Carry Me Home' (Insurgent)


Nominations for three of five categories for the 2015 World Soundtrack Awards have been announced by the World Soundtrack Academy. Alexandre Desplat, Johann Johannsson and Hans Zimmer - all nominees for last year's Oscar (with Desplat the winner for The Grand Budapest Hotel) each receive two nominations, including Composer and Original Film Score. Nominations for Discovery of the Year are yet to be announced, and voting is open for the Public Choice Award on the WSA website. Current nominations are featured below:

Film Composer of the Year
  • Bruno Coulais (3 Hearts / Diary of a Chambermaid / Fly Away Solo / Gemma Bovery / Mune, le Guardien de la Lune / Song of the Sea)
  • Alexandre Desplat (Everything Will Be Fine / The Imitation Game / Tale of Tales / Unbroken)
  • Michael Giacchino (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes / Inside Out / Jupiter Ascending / Jurassic World / Tomorrowland)
  • Johann Johannsson (The 11th Hour / Sicario / The Theory of Everything)
  • Hans Zimmer (Chappie / Interstellar)

Best Original Film Score of the Year
  • Alexandre Desplat (The Imitation Game)
  • Patrick Doyle (Cinderella)
  • Johann Johannsson (The Theory of Everything)
  • Antonio Sanchez (Birdman)
  • Hans Zimmer (Interstellar)

Best Original Song Written for a Film
  • Diego Luna, Gustavo Santaolalla and Paul Williams - 'The Apology Song' (The Book of Life)
  • Lonnie Lynn, Che Smith and John Stephens - 'Glory' (Selma)
  • Rita Ora and Diane Warren - 'Grateful' (Beyond the Lights)
  • John Padgett and Saoirse Ronan - 'Tell Me' (Lost River)
  • Christopher Taylor and Joseph Trapanese - 'Carry Me Home' (Insurgent)


Oliver Hirschbiegel's Downfall felt like part of a nation's attempt at understanding its shameful history; Oliver Hirschbiegel's 13 Minutes feels like an attempt at understanding one man, from filmmakers who already seem to think they do. The process of rendering extraordinary moments in history as banal accounts of contrived histrionics and faux nobility is one well covered in cinema, a tradition that informs 13 Minutes down to the slightest stylistic detail. It's not merely a humdrum film, it actually makes its remarkable true story seem humdrum too. Christian Friedel plays Georg Elser, a man who singlehandedly concocted a plan and created a bomb that very nearly killed Hitler mere weeks into WWII, and who was then incarcerated in Dachau until the end of the war, when he was shot dead just days before the camp was liberated... but that's not important. What's important is that he's a sensitive, charming, intelligent, honorable, non-violent, self-righteous, sexually-irresistible, morally-infallible genius! Women fawn over him, the Nazis respond to his pompous animosity with patience and reverence, and history shines upon him as one of the great human beings of all time. Hooray! 13 Minutes offers a few tantalising hints - intriguing suggestions of where its historical inquiry may lead - about a deeper, richer purpose to its pretentiousness: a potential rumination on the endurance of ideas and independent thought. These hints are few, though, and that inquiry never truly materialises - this screenplay already knows it has all its own answers, and is so eager to prove it that it gives its own game away in the first ten minutes, which are its strongest by a clear margin. Humdrum, hokey and an almighty missed opportunity.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015


Robert Eggers' debut film as director has received better reviews out of Sundance than most directors achieve at any point in their careers. The film won Eggers the Best Director award at the festival. The Witch has only festival releases currently on the slate, but no doubt A24 will mount a typically effective marketing campaign in the US when they take it to theatres.


A deftly constructed coming-of-age tale, not least in that it never identifies itself as such until its central character has reached such a level of maturity. It's a moment of uncertainty in narrative terms, yet resolve and resolution in character terms: a decision is reached, not to act but to think, to engender one's own agency of thought, acquired via interaction with other people and with testing circumstances. The figures in Theeb bear scant backstories, as Theeb himself will too; the film explicates what it takes to become such a figure, and the challenges of adapting to an ever-adapting world as a vulnerable child. The child becomes an adult in a moment that initially strikes the audience as contrived - adjust your expectations, viewers, as Theeb contains several such moments, and your reaction to them ought not to be based on how you feel this film's plot should progress, but on your appreciation of what has come before and what is yet to come within this plot. Theeb learns even as we don't, observes and accumulates knowledge and skills; the film tests Theeb, and thus documents his transition from bystander by necessity to instigator within his own life. Theeb is shot and scored perceptively, with situations and surroundings ostensibly minimised, yet presented as inherently influential - location is as important here, if not more so, than Theeb's companions in defining how he acts, how he reacts and whom he becomes. That is to say that you won't notice how Naji Abu Nowar does it, but he definitely does it alright. A surprising film, though unsurprisingly good.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015


The Diary of a Teenage Girl possesses both an ease and an uneasiness, comfort combined with discomfort, a mixture emblematic of the frankness with which this film has been assembled. It's a neat, necessary reflection of the duality of the film's purview as rendered in our objective minds, considering what is right and what is true, what is felt by one person and what is felt by another; Marielle Heller is sympathetic in her presentation of the film's supporting characters as legitimate living entities in this regard, though the film is unapologetically narrow-minded in its own character, as the uncensored thoughts of an unabashed teenage girl. What has been restricted from her as a minor is liberated, as she discovers that human nature rather rejects true liberation, and goes from feeling enslaved to a desire to being enslaved to a new reality. Funny how what we force away from our children will only force itself upon them in time, and to far more damaging effect - that's my interpretation, though, not the film's. The Diary of a Teenage Girl is to each of us what we individually make of it, but the film itself is what its lead individually makes of her own situation: narrow-minded in its portrait of a broad mind. That bestows upon Heller's film an affable, singular outlook, yet the film strangely limits itself as such, and makes fitful connections to the world around it in a manner that seems to betray its otherwise obsessively clear focus. Perhaps this is just another of this film's beguiling dichotomies, its restless refusal to relent to definite distinctions - even so, it hinders an emotionally rich film from becoming equally formally rich.


For everything particularly right about Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer's Trainwreck, there's nothing particularly wrong about it. It's a flattering characteristic of a consistently engaging film, one which invites the viewer in through Schumer's generosity as an artist. She's a ballsy performer, with a finely-honed repertoire of a variety of gags, and her style of comedy is winning in its openness - she wants to make you laugh, at almost any expense. Schumer takes on her Trainwreck role with a relaxed countenance that strips away the potential self-awareness, thus you only rarely (if ever) feel like she's grovelling for admiration the way some supposedly self-effacing comedians do. She courts too controversial a line at times - not that her material is too racy, just that neither she nor director Judd Apatow is capable of framing her racy jokes in an appropriate context - and her humour is hardly revolutionary, but it is really good. Would that Apatow could contribute more to a film that, alas, features his name first over the end credits. He resigns himself to his lead, allowing her to take over, while subtly shading each scene in his own, tired tones. Trainwreck is tempered by Apatow's commercial sensibilities - perhaps thankfully, but you wish for a more radical approach to the direction, something in the visuals and the pacing to match the quality of the dialogue. Too often, Trainwreck succumbs to rom-com formula, most notably in its plot, and the ephemerality of a good gag here and there won't suffice to rescue it. Still, there's nothing particularly wrong about it, and that's particularly right.


Hot favourites proved victorious at the Locarno International Film Festival over the weekend. Korea's most prolific arthouse filmmaker Hong Sang Soo picked up his second award from the acclaimed fest, having won the Best Director trophy two years ago for Our Sun Hi, but this time went one better and won the main prize, the Golden Leopard, for Right Now, Wrong Then, which also won lead Jung Jae Young the Best Actor award. The Asian acting winners continued into the Best Actress category, where the win was shared by Happy Hour's ensemble of Kawamura Rira, Kikuchi Hazuki, Mihara Maiko and Tanaka Sachie. The Best Director winner was veteran Polish director Andrzej Zulawski for Cosmos, in what appears to be a grand return to form for the experimental filmmaker. All the winners can be seen below:

Golden Leopard
Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang Soo)

Special Jury Prize
Tikkun (Avishai Sivan)

Best Director
Andrzej Zulawski (Cosmos)

Best Actor
Jung Jae Young (Right Now, Wrong Then)

Best Actress
Kawamura Rira / Kikuchi Hazuki / Mihara Maiko / Tanaka Sachie (Happy Hour)

Special Citation
Shai Goldman (Tikkun)

UPS Public Prize
The People vs. Fritz Bauer (Lars Kraume)

Variety Piazza Grande Award
Summertime (Catherine Corsini)

Cinema of the Present - Best Feature
Thithi (Raam Reddy)

Cinema of the Present - Special Jury Prize
Dead Slow Ahead (Mauro Herce)

Cinema of the Present - Special Commendation
Kaili Blues (Bi Gan)

Swatch Award for Best First Feature
Thithi (Raam Reddy)

Swatch Award - Special Commendation
Kaili Blues (Bi Gan)
Kiev / Moscow. Part 1 (Elena Khoreva)
Paradise (Sina Ataeian Dena)

Monday, 17 August 2015


Following its announcement as the American Express Gala at the 2015 BFI London Film Festival, UK distributors StudioCanal have released the British trailer for Todd Haynes' Cannes hit Carol. The film has been widely tipped for serious awards recognition later in the year - not least due to the presence of its Oscar heavy-hitting US distributors The Weinstein Company - and won lead Rooney Mara the joint Best Actress award at Cannes in May. The adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt is released in the US on the 20th of November and in the UK on the 27th, with its British premiere at the LFF on the 14th of October.

Sunday, 16 August 2015


Films like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. can get away with a lot. They can swiftly make up for all their shortcomings with the right spirit and the right style. They're not intended to be 'about' anything, rather they seek to entertain in a purer, simpler, more straightforward way. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a delightfully chic romp through 1960s Europe with a fab wardrobe, wondrous locales and a cast whose aesthetic value almost trumps the lot... if only it knew it. The film is peculiarly askew, not fundamentally, only in details that are minor and many. The dialogue is lazy when it should be snappy, sidling through pressing plot points with half-hearted quips when it ought to be shooting forth one zinger after another. It's also peppered with anachronisms that are mirrored in Guy Ritchie's direction - his maximalist style does inject some pep into proceedings, but it clashes with the laidback chicness that is the film's driving desire. The plot makes sense, yes, and it's not hard to follow, no, but it's bandied around sporadically with the kind of nonchalance that inspires no interest in what could happen next - a loose, carefree swagger that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. undoubtedly requires, but not in this regard. The cast is well picked, and everybody looks the part, but not everybody acts it: Armie Hammer has no-one convinced that he's anything but a big softie through and through, and Alicia Vikander aims for aloofness but hits brittle, and mostly just looks like she'd rather be off trying to win an Oscar. Their cumulative discordance is negated by the efforts of the other principals, like the achingly glamorous Elizabeth Debicki, and a game Henry Cavill. Those two could certainly get away with a lot.

Saturday, 15 August 2015


Not as good as the first trailer, perhaps because it seems to be courting the male audience by featuring Benicio del Toro's character more prominently than Emily Blunt's... as if anyone could give a shit. It's Blunt's show, bitches, and you'll all have a chance to experience it when Sicario opens in the US on the 18th of September and in the UK on the 9th of October.

Thursday, 13 August 2015


On one of my reclusive days, the Toronto International Film Festival sneakily announced that it would be holding a juried awards programme at this year's fest. The Platform strand of TIFF 2015 will feature 12 titles - eight of them world premieres - which will compete for a top prize of CAN$25,000. Details of all the films and their directors can be observed below:

  • Bang Gang (Eva Husson)
  • The Clan (Pablo Trapero)
  • French Blood (Patrick Aste)
  • Full Contact (David Verbeek)
  • High Rise (Ben Wheatley)
  • Hurt (Alan Zweig)
  • Land of Mine (Martin Zandvliet)
  • Looking for Grace (Sue Brooks)
  • Neon Bull (Gabriel Mascaro)
  • The Promised Land (He Ping)
  • Sky (Fabienne Berthaud)
  • The White Knights (Joachim Lafosse)


A sprightly trailer for Women He's Undressed, Gillian Armstrong's new film. It tells the story of the life of costume designer Orry Kelly, whom I have heard of, and his fabulous career as one of Hollywood's most influential and talented designers... EVER!! After a Toronto screening, who knows what next for the film - an Australian release has been and gone, and further international releases are bound to follow swiftly after its TIFF bow.


It ought to be a pleasure to finally experience an Arturo Ripstein film in a cinema, if I should even get the chance... Toronto-headed Bleak Street is the Mexican auteur's first film since 2011's The Reasons of the Heart, and it looks to be an idiosyncratically rich offering from the talented filmmaker. Check out the enigmatic, yet singularly expressive trailer, above.


A good subject can often make a good documentary, and that's what Du Hai Bin appears to have in his film A Young Patriot. The everyday life of 20-something Maoist in contemporary China is chronicles in documentarian Du's third theatrical feature, which is headed to TIFF as part of its TIFF Docs strand next month, its fourth festival booking this year.


Never before released, Amazing Grace is the new film, though 43 years old, by deceased Oscar-winning filmmaker Sydney Pollack. His filming of the recording of Aretha Franklin's record-breaking gospel album Amazing Grace will receive its first ever public screening at the Toronto International Film Festival in its TIFF Docs strand next month. This ought to be a must-see event for fans of Franklin and/or gospel music, and Pollack and/or documentary fans.


A homeless life in a shapeless film. Oren Moverman is good at imitating the psyche of his characters in the form of his films - good, but not great. It's the dislocation engendered from his choice of protagonist, and his dedication to the purity of his scheme on a technical level. Emotionally, Moverman is more romantic than he may like to admit, which imbues Time Out of Mind with a strange sensation of hope unfulfilled. We're led to hope for satisfaction that never arrives, a purpose to the obscurity of Moverman's technique, some sort of solidity somewhere within his creation. His commitment to his cause is admirable, and no doubt it's crafted with sensitivity and artistic astuteness, but it makes Time Out of Mind a somewhat monotonous experience. Not that it drags - in fact, most of the film's finest moments occur later on, into the second hour, as we acclimatise to the directorial approach. Moverman's insight, and the verisimilitude he seeks to achieve (and largely does) sustain the film, and equally incisive performances from a cast of familiar faces, proving their worth with impressively naturalistic turns, have a similarly enlivening effect. The film's wandering structure may be central to the aforementioned verisimilitude, but as persuasive a representation of real life can be created without such overpowering adherence to stylistic strictures, without sacrificing the sense of immediacy that characterises Time Out of Mind. A little more indulgence on the filmmaker's side might give the viewer a little more to indulge in too.


No, rly, Bryan Cranston actually presents this trailer. Appropriately, he also stars in this film: Trumbo, a biopic of the blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. If mid-range American biopics of historical characters whose surnames form the titles of their films are your thing, then this one's for you, along with many other mediocre alternatives. Trumbo merits inclusion on this site because I rather got into the spirit of it, with its shamelessly anti-authoritarian, left-wing stance. Could be fun, probably won't be much more (Jay Roach is the director). After a Toronto Special Presentation, the film is released in the US on the 6th of November, and in the UK on the 22nd of January, suggesting that Oscar hopes may be high. My only hope is that they're not too high...


Enough of a hit earlier this year in Denmark to secure it prominent festival slots at Neuchatel and Toronto, though not quite enough to secure it major international distribution outside of that, Anders Thomas Jensen's comedy Men & Chicken's trailer has just popped up on YouTube via TIFF Trailers. No doubt likely to prove an acquired taste, the film's promo made me chuckle, so count me in. US and UK release dates are unavailable at present.


The New York Film Festival has announced which of this summer's most buzzed-about festival hits, and which of this autumn's most anticipated awards contenders, will fill out its 2015 slate. From the 25th of September (my birthday, natch) to the 1st of October, NYFF will feature titles from fest veterans Arnaud Desplechin, Hong Sang Soo and Michael Moore and new directors Thomas Bidegain and Don Cheadle. There'll be galas for Robert Zemeckis' The Walk (opening night), Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs (centrepiece) and Cheadle's Miles Ahead (closing night). Zemeckis' and Cheadle's titles will receive their world premieres, alongside Laura Israel's Don't Blink: Robert Frank and Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies. The full lineup can be viewed below:

  • Arabian Nights: Volume 1, The Restless One (Miguel Gomes)
  • Arabian Nights: Volume 2, The Desolate One (Miguel Gomes)
  • Arabian Nights: Volume 3, The Enchanted One (Miguel Gomes)
  • The Assassin (Hou Hsiao Hsien)
  • Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg)
  • Brooklyn (Nick Hornby)
  • Carol (Todd Haynes)
  • Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
  • Les Cowboys (Thomas Bidegain)
  • Don't Blink: Robert Frank (Laura Israel)
  • Experimenter (Michael Almereyda)
  • The Forbidden Room (Evan Johnson and Guy Maddin)
  • In the Shadow of Women (Philippe Garrel)
  • Journey to the Shore (Kurosawa Kiyoshi)
  • The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)
  • Maggie's Plan (Rebecca Miller)
  • The Measure of a Man (Stephane Brize)
  • Mia Madre (Nanni Moretti)
  • Microbe & Gasoline (Michel Gondry)
  • Miles Ahead (Don Cheadle) - closing night gala
  • Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhang Ke)
  • My Golden Days (Arnaud Desplechin)
  • No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman)
  • Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang Soo)
  • Steve Jobs (Danny Boyle) - centrepiece gala
  • The Treasure (Corneliu Porumboiu)
  • The Walk (Robert Zemeckis) - opening night gala
  • Where to Invade Next (Michael Moore)


Full disclosure: I made the choice to see Chris Columbus' Pixels not out of desire, nor a sense of obligation, nor anything approaching respect. I made that choice out of boredom. And I left the theatre as bored as I had walked in, only with a renewed excitement, that the remainder of my day could only get better, that reality could only improve upon this trite, juvenile fantasy, that it'd be a long, long time before I'd have to sit through another film of comparable quality (or lack thereof). I can attest that my day did, indeed, get better, and that reality has improved upon Pixels' fantasy to an infinite degree. This is a stupid film made by stupid people for stupid people, with stupid characters, a stupid concept, a stupid plot and stupid dialogue. It is brazenly sexist, racist and homophobic, and I'll offer no receipts because: a) I don't need to; and b) I don't care. It's a CGI-driven film in which the CGI is bland and unimpressive. It's a comedy in which the humour is all but absent entirely, unless you're a member of this film's target demo: teen boys, they presume, though I'd add that those among said demo with any sense of morality or maturity ought to exclude themselves out of respect for their own intelligence. The cast's burgeoning troop of man-children bide their time through this cinematic squalor by effectively challenging one another to a contest of increasing asininity and boorishness, and Michelle Monaghan is there too, like a citrus-sweet burst of fresh air among the general odour of stale farts, dried-on jizz and a variety of lipids. And to think - a movie this repulsive actually bored me. It's not just hideous, it's hideously dull!


Despite a softer start than had been expected at Cannes, judging by the critical response, anticipation remains fairly high for Joachim Trier's Louder Than Bombs as it prepares to roll out internationally. Trier's first English language feature will hope to build an audience at least in part based on the popularity of his back catalogue - it's that which both stokes and staves off my excitement for the film, which stars Jesse Eisenberg, Gabriel Byrne and Isabelle Huppert. No exact release dates are currently available.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015


Four new lineups join the official TIFF 2015 selection, as Masters, Midnight Madness, TIFF Docs and Vanguard slates are revealed. Lots of high profile titles among the new additions, as expected; the quality ratio appears to be pretty high, though most of the expected Oscar contenders at Toronto will likely have been announced in the first batch. Full details below:

Masters Programme
  • 11 Minutes (Jerzy Skolimowski)
  • The Assassin (Hou Hsiao Hsien)
  • Bleak Street (Arturo Ripstein)
  • Blood of My Blood (Marco Bellocchio)
  • Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
  • Francofonia (Aleksandr Sokurov)
  • In the Shadow of Women (Philippe Garrel)
  • Our Little Sister (Koreeda Hirokazu)
  • The Pearl Button (Patricio Guzman)
  • Rabin, the Last Day (Amos Gitai)
  • Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang Soo)
  • Taxi (Jafar Panahi)

Check out the Midnight Madness, Docs and Vanguard selections after the cut:

Tuesday, 11 August 2015


No film exists entirely independently, untainted by the circumstances surrounding its existence, the contextual content that informs our appreciation of each film as we experience it. It's a shame to those of us who are familiar with Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl movie to see her talents wasted as they are in Dark Places, since we know that those talents actually do exist; those unfamiliar with the former film will wonder what all the fuss was about upon encountering this sleazy, snoozy skeeze-fest. Gone Girl ought to have informed writer/director Gilles Paquet-Brenner how to approach Flynn's writing: Dark Places' plot makes little sense past being dismissed as potboiler mystery, but only in its most basic form. Pry, imply, invent, Gilles! Search for character clues hidden within Flynn's prose, enrich your own with subtle suggestion and blatant accusation! No good mystery, and this is no exaggeration, was ever made great by the whats, the whens, the wheres and the whos. Who cares! It's the whys that matter, as I wonder why I - not a writer, nor a director, nor a film professional of any variety - understand so fundamental a detail as this, and Gilles Paquet-Brenner does not, on his seventh feature as director (there's a little more telling context for you)! Flynn's plot, though simplistically rendered, is engaging at the least, and no matter what contrivances the film must employ to resolve itself, the resolutions are suitably distressing. Charlize Theron is effective in the lead role, though the script's lack of enquiry into any of its characters, including hers, limits her performance as it is presented. Alas, we know Theron is capable of better than this, as good as she may be in Dark Places. We know because we have the contextual content to support that fact. Context is at once Dark Places' saving grace and its downfall.

Sunday, 9 August 2015


The commentary that The Gift unwittingly provides on the state of American cinema today is as perverse as the method by which it passes it. Appropriate too, that we should come upon a stock thriller of genuine worth through manipulation of cinematic shorthand that has been abused in service of inferior work for years - Joel Edgerton's film encourages us to expect one thing, then delivers another, just as it encourages us to expect far less of it. It's a fine film, though none of Edgerton's achievements transcend its essential character as a stock thriller. Your brain scurries around, searching for clues, aware that all is not as simple as it seems - that awareness mitigates the surprise engendered by any number of The Gift's narrative feints, even as Egerton engenders them from places your brain has barely sought to search. Sensitive casting and typically actor-centric character development are crucial components, not in elevating the film but in enabling it. The Gift is less a character study than trial and judgement, and the roundabout manner in which true characters are revealed feels genuine in this framework. The film has an outwardly linear structure, yet is thoroughly non-linear in its dissection of a plot obfuscated by time and the people who exploit its passing. It's maybe not as profound as it makes you believe (any bog-standard telenovela produces similar catharses), but it's very well-constructed in itself. The best casting coups are the leads: Rebecca Hall is the heart and soul of the film, as her role demands, though suffers a little from Scully Syndrome (an honorable, capable character defined more by what is done to her than what she actually does); Jason Bateman is a terrific foil, and whether or not the film shows its hand with him a tad too early, the manner in which he upends our expectations is The Gift's most shocking surprise.

Friday, 7 August 2015


Now here's hoping. The trailer for About Ray doesn't make it look like anything to get excited about, artistically. But do consider that this is a film about a young trans boy, starring women in all three of its leading roles, written by two women and directed by one of them. So the trailer's hardly exciting, but here's hoping that the film is something to get excited about indeed. Some genuine excitement in that it could be an awards contender - The Weinstein Company is distributing the film both in the US and in writer-director Gaby Dellal's native UK; even if it proves to be more of a St. Vincent style autumn release for the studio, they made proper bank on that title and earned several awards nominations, including a SAG mention for About Ray lead Naomi Watts. Out in the US on the 11th of September.


Angelina Jolie's follow-up to last year's disappointing Unbroken is By the Sea, a shamelessly tabloid-courting melodrama that reunites Jolie and her husband on screen for the first time since their relationship began so sensationally in Mr. & Mrs. Smith ten years ago. Juicy stuff, eh? If you're not gagging to watch what promises to be the year's most underwhelming awards contender, you're not doing it right. Out in the US on the 13th of November and in the UK on the 11th of December. Also starring Melanie Laurent, Melvil Poupaud and Niels Arestrup; lensed by Christian Berger, scored by Gabriel Yared and costumes designed by Ellen Mirojnick.


And there's that. Who cares who's responsible? 20th Century Fox has no doubt mauled Josh Trank's Fantastic Four, diminishing whatever value it might once have possessed, yet no doubt that value was negligible at best. It's hurried yet inconsequential, blusterous yet banal, expensive yet strangely cheap, bad yet... just bad. And you know how bad it is already - so bad that I feel disheartened even having to will myself to pen a write-up on it, because you all know exactly what's bad about it. Imagine a Saturday morning superhero cartoon - not much of a stretch, indeed, since Fantastic Four is a superhero movie - and the level of quality of this imaginary cartoon. It's terrible, isn't it? The superheroes do little other than pose for the camera, awaiting the beat where one of them blurts out some hideously blunt command or ridiculous theory. They exist in an ugly, visually limited world, with spaces designed merely as vehicles for action, and crude CGI animating the backgrounds; there, they act apparently without motive, thought or appreciation of consequence, and succeed on the basis that they're the good guys, and that's how these cartoons work. That imaginary cartoon is this movie, with the kind of half-arsed attempts at backstory and fleeting acknowledgements of supposedly pertinent social and political issues that you'd expect from something so shoddily formed, crafted almost solely to satiate the easily-distracted minds of otherwise mindless children. Fantastic Four surrenders to nearly every cliche it courts, failing to find the inspiration to mount alternative propositions to these bankrupt creative concepts and instead allowing them to swiftly meet their expected (low) targets and move on to the next. Who cares whose fault this movie is? It'll be your fault for watching it!


A longer trailer than the first for Hou Hsiao Hsien's The Assassin. His historical drama / wuxia won him the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival in May, though its absence from current fall festival lineups suggests that it may be Cannes' most high profile title this year to skip that part of the 2015 film calendar. Asian releases exclusively through the end of the year; Western releases kick off in January with a French theatrical bow, and don't expect it any sooner in the UK nor in the US.