Saturday, 31 October 2015

TRAILER #2 FOR BY THE SEA


All I read about this is 'vanity project' and 'at least it looks pretty'. Stfu haters, By the Sea looks fucking fantastic! I hope it's brash and campy as hell and that my girl doesn't hold back at all. Here's the first trailer too for the drama, which opens in the US on the 12th of November after an AFI Fest premiere on the 5th, and in the UK on the 11th of December.

Friday, 30 October 2015

REVIEW - BEASTS OF NO NATION (CARY FUKUNAGA)


No nation, no responsibility. The temptation to accuse first world filmmakers of exploiting third world problems must be avoided; Beasts of No Nation is a problem of its own kind, and of their making. In establishing its specific setting as an unspecified one, Cary Fukunaga's film glides through its subject of the experiences of child soldiers in an indistinct haze. Fukunaga's direction both reflects and encourages this, and in so doing neglects to depict these experiences with any sense of clarity. They occur, and that's all there is to it; the film is related to us from the perspective of a child soldier himself, and such inconclusive objectivity would seem fitting when considered thus, but the filmmaking is comprehensively from the perspective of an adult artist. Fukunaga finds many impressive techniques with which to relate these experiences, though fails to find any means of relating the technique to them, thereby negating any potential power inherent in the material. Beasts of No Nation strives so hard to be an indelible, immersive experience for its viewer that it ends up a rather distancing one, in spite of its basic technical prowess and of its fine performances. You can feel the cogs turning, spinning a story that resembles the truth, but is too concerned with establishing universality to acknowledge the real truth in such an endeavour: universality is achieved through utmost specificity and honesty, neither of which Beasts of No Nation possesses.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

REVIEW - MISSISSIPPI GRIND (ANNA BODEN AND RYAN FLECK)


Life is what we make of it in Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's Mississippi Grind, an assertion of independence, albeit both engendered and restricted by what society makes of our lives. It can be fantastical and fantastic, if will and luck should converge, and the path toward self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction is taken in earnest. The path is the point, or 'the journey is the destination', but since this movie must have a definite destination, it at least makes good on its journey. That destination is a contrivance so almighty it justifies itself - it's so colossal compared to what has come before that it practically becomes this movie, rather than overwhelming it. It can't quite justify the filmmakers' reliance on contrivance through Mississippi Grind as a whole - this detail sits at odds with the loose, conversational tone that Boden and Fleck establish with considerable success, thus the whole enterprise lacks cohesion and often a sense of purpose. Their character-focused approach is sound, however, since their ear for dialogue is particularly astute; canny casting is the final, crucial piece to this puzzle. Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynolds are appropriately awkward, figures caught between forced confidence and resigned hopelessness, engaging in heartfelt yet insincere banter and forming a tenuous relationship built on uncertain terms. Their performances, as well as those of the rest of the cast, are spot-on. They forge a genuine belief in their characters, one which completes the filmmakers' vision of their lives. These sad spawns of society make what they can of those lives, and make Mississippi Grind a better movie for it.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

REVIEW - THE LOBSTER (YORGOS LANTHIMOS)


A window unto the weird, through which we see no wonderful world of fantasy, but a reflection of reality. Naturally, The Lobster is designed as such - to comment upon the absurdities of human interaction, or upon our engagement (or disengagement) with this notion - but its picture of peculiarity remains adequately fresh as to catch us off guard. Perhaps it's narcissism - we don't care how we see ourselves, just as long as we see ourselves. The Lobster is fresh because it is funny, possessed of a disarming wit that it sources, wisely, from its abundant absurdity. It's a surprising sense of humour, in that it shifts to best fit the material, though consistent in tone and delivery. This humour begins to dry up as the film moves beyond its initial scenario, not because it becomes tired (since it doesn't) but because it becomes scarcer; the level of invention in the overall scenario also starts to thin out, as The Lobster reaches for greater dramatic profundity in their place. By its callously inconclusive final shot, it's debatable whether or not it has reached it. One feels that the film might have been more successful had its two halves been reversed, essentially, thus to close on a comedic culmination (ofc this would make precious little sense narrative-wise, and the film is quite neatly done on the whole, so this is purely hypothetical). After all, The Lobster is finer as a comedy than as a drama, though despite its slackening of pace and purpose, it's nonetheless easy to appreciate the detail in the film's design.

2015 EUROPEAN FILM AWARDS TECH CATEGORY WINNERS ANNOUNCED


A fine selection of films became a deserving selection of award winners as a seven-strong jury decided on six European Film Award categories yesterday in Berlin. Among the winners were festival favourites such as The Lobster, Arabian Nights and The Duke of Burgundy, whose wins were secured after Anna Asp, Daniela Ciancio, Mathieu Cox, Uberto Pasolini, Adam Sikora, Kjartan Sveinsson and Monika Willi convened. Check out the honorees in all six tech categories below, announced prior to the group's awards ceremony on the 12th of December. Details of the full selection of eligible titles, including the three films competing for the Animation award, the five competing for Debut Film and the 15 competing for Documentary and Short Film both, on the EFA's website.

European Cinematographer Award
Martin Gschlacht (Goodnight Mommy)

European Editor Award
Jacek Drosio (Body)

European Production Designer Award
Sylvie Olive (The Brand New Testament)

European Costume Designer Award
Sarah Blenkinsop (The Lobster)

European Sound Designer Award
Miguel Martins and Vasco Pimentel (Arabian Nights: Volume 1 - The Restless One / Arabian Nights: Volume 2: The Desolate One / Arabian Nights: Volume 3 - The Enchanted One)

European Composer Award
Faris Badwan and Rachel Zeffira (The Duke of Burgundy)

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

REVIEW - SPECTRE (SAM MENDES)


'The dead are alive' proclaims Sam Mendes' Spectre, the 24th official James Bond film in which the preceding 23 seem to rise from the graveyard of history and reassert themselves. Spectre is like a grand resurrection, and fitting too, given the film's foreboding tone and overall obsession with death. Bond is torn down on this tour of his past, both personal and cinematic, emotionally and physically pulverised as any one of many buildings whose crumbling demises are captured here. There's the constant threat that the same might happen to our hero, though it's more a tease than a threat. In similar spirit, Spectre is unexpectedly enjoyable, shot through with lightness and humour, even in its most intense of action sequences. The throwback style supplies the charm, its application - suggesting the culmination of a career - supplies the dread, and the former somewhat undercuts the latter by the end, as Spectre eventually amounts to rather less than it promises to be. It's slickly made, with powerful and purposeful action and excellent tech creds, but the constant revisiting contributes to a feeling that we've seen all this before. Even the plot is modelled on too many old Bond films, with every twist and turn signposted if not by obvious foreshadowing than by our expectations. But if those expectations are met, then so too are all of our expectations, from the negative - a regressive stance on gender politics, not least in light of more recent Bond films - to the positive - rich, grainy cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema, blistering sound design and a much-improved score by Thomas Newman.

Monday, 26 October 2015

REVIEW - EXPERIMENTER (MICHAEL ALMEREYDA)


Experimenter is a playful experiment of Michael Almereyda's own. Exhausting his subjects' full intellectual capacity, and forming at once a period point to the psychological debate it enters into and a defiant snub to much of that debate, Almereyda seems to find no alternative but to soak his potentially dry, analytical biopic in humour. There's a certain smugness to it all, no doubt, but it somehow feels earnt - Experimenter is an intelligent piece of work, and its self-satisfaction is mitigated by an equal sense of subversion that leavens the tone. If he neglects to mirror Stanley Milgram's techniques of deception and illusion, Almereyda seeks a similar purpose: hoodwinking his viewer one way after another, screwing with the standards we expect from biopics, or psychological inquiries, or formalistic chamber pieces. It's under such an analysis that almost anything in Experimenter becomes excusable - damaging details such as a slackening in the direction in the film's latter half, or a tendency to comment upon the philosophical discourse which it both depicts and contributes to in such a manner as to discourage further commentary, are actually wholly forgivable in the context of the film's wider scheme. Some of Almereyda's ploys are a little too overt (the literal elephant in the room being overtly overt), but even their negative impact is negligible in a film so full of thought and thoughtfulness. Peter Sarsgaard is as subtly effective as ever (though his fake facial hair is less subtle), and Winona Ryder turns in mature character work, the likes of which she's rarely remembered for, yet has always been best at.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

REVIEW - PAN (JOE WRIGHT)


This is where things get ugly. And they certainly shouldn't - one glance at director Joe Wright's previous films and anyone would conclude that he's incapable of making an ugly film. It's not for want of effort, since Pan is a heavily designed film full of colour and light, only that it's so full of colour and light as to be suffocating in its visual schematics. Wright knows how to construct a memorable image, and how space and location can inform the mental and emotional impacts of a shot or a scene; would that Jason Fuchs' screenplay were as thoughtful. It follows a familiar narrative path with a familiar attitude toward character and dialogue, developing its set story with a sense of resignation to its inevitability. True, it's pretty obvious where Pan is destined to wind up, more so with each and every new development, but it ought not to be so obvious how disappointing that path to its conclusion must be. Wright's resignation to the screenplay is understandable - he's never been the most literate of filmmakers - but the sheer unattractiveness of his own approach is most unlike him; he seems to have sacrificed quality for quantity, simply filling the screen with razzle dazzle in the hope of creating the most sparkling 3D blockbuster experience. Uglier still is the soundtrack from John Powell, a heavy-handed attempt at resembling John Williams, blighted by the unfortunate decision to incorporate contemporary rock songs in the most cringeworthy way conceivable. Even uglier again is Pan's attitude toward race, apparent in its dismissal of a multi-racial ensemble of extras and its elevation of its white characters, not to mention the well-documented race reversal of key roles in a missed opportunity to correct the crassness of J. M. Barrie's text.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

OBIT - MAUREEN O'HARA


A true great of Hollywood's golden age, Maureen O'Hara, has died. The tall, striking, multi-talented redhead from Dublin, where she was born Maureen FitzSimons, was one of the film industry's most iconic figures from the late '30s to the early '60s, starring in some of the era's best-remembered titles and working with many of the great directors of the time - Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Borzage and Carol Reed among them. Not necessarily the most popular performer among awards voters, her legacy as a legend of the screen has only grown over time, as modern audiences have discovered her invaluable work in films such as Jamaica Inn, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, How Green Was My Valley, Miracle on 34th Street, Bagdad, Rio Grande, The Quiet Man and The Parent Trap. Her on-screen partnership with John Wayne over five films is one of the most memorable in all of cinema history. Not only an accomplished actor, O'Hara was also a natural athlete, a skilled soprano singer, and, following the death of her aviator husband General Charles Blair in 1978, president and CEO of Antilles Airboats. Late last year, she received the greatest film honour of her career, an Honorary Academy Award. O'Hara died at home in Boise, Idaho at age 95. Though not having starred in a feature film since 1991, she'll be much missed by audiences worldwide for her unmistakable screen presence, and for her stunning beauty.

Friday, 23 October 2015

REVIEW - SUFFRAGETTE (SARAH GAVRON)


An angry resolve runs through Suffragette, a straightforward stance on common sense and justice that is integral to this story. One could theorise that this stems from hindsight - a short glance at the short list of nations in which equal voting rights are available to women shoots that theory down. One could theorise that this stems from a female perspective, Suffragette having been written, produced and directed by women - a short glance at the film itself, at its depiction of a fight for equality that not all are equally invested in, and that theory gets shot down too. The baton blows and the force feeding sting as hard as they do because 2015's audience knows too well that this fight for equality is not yet over, or that much of this audience doesn't know nearly well enough. Suffragette is a polemic, and on that ground it's difficult to find fault with: it is earnest, embittered but determined, its sense of justice informing its stance on these critical historical events. As this straightforwardness extends to Abi Morgan's stance on writing and Sarah Gavron's on directing, one feels a less stringent sting that these events deserve a more nuanced approach, or a more accurate one, just as one feels the power behind the message that their overly didactic methods carry. That resolve that runs through the film seems resolved to overcome the structural mediocrity and the visual inadequacy, in service of justice. A great cause such as this perhaps does deserve greater treatment, but what's greatest of all is that it is being treated on film. An angry resolve 100+ years in the running. May it never give up the fight.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

FIRST LOOK AT NATALIE PORTMAN IN JANE GOT A GUN


As tentatively as you can take this, it looks like the studios are being tentative about Jane Got a Gun anyway, so there's maybe no need to worry about this troubled Western any more. At least, if you were worried about when you'll get to see it - US distributors The Weinstein Company evidently didn't feel like they had a sure thing on their hands when they bumped it last minute from its August release date to a February 2016 one, having released not one promo for the film. This is the first, from France, where we have an official upcoming release of the 25th of November; it's supposedly scheduled for a UK release in the same month, but precisely when is unknown. And don't count on that February bow, American readers - Weinstein have thoroughly buried Suite Francaise, whose international rollout has been going on for almost a year now, with no US date set at present. Chances are, Jane Got a Gun isn't half the film it could have been, nor should have been, and we should all feel very sorry about that indeed. But at least we've got a fucking trailer!

THE DAUGHTER - TRAILER #1


Actor Simon Stone makes his feature-length directorial debut with The Daughter (he'd previously helmed a segment of the anthology film The Turning). The acclaimed drama screened in competition in the Sydney Film Festival in June as its premiere, before moving onto several more prominent festival slots, including in competition at London, in the Venice Days comp at Venice and as a special presentation at Toronto. No exact US nor UK release dates are confirmed for The Daughter at present, but keep an eye out - this is a well-reviewed film from a promising filmmaker.

REVIEW - THE PROGRAM (STEPHEN FREARS)


A biopic that's not quite a biopic, more a snapshot of a sequence in one man's life. It's the kind of story that makes for the finest of biopics, though such a conventional stance on this story is the kind that makes it little more than, alas, just another biopic. The Program moves forward with the speed of the most doped-up of cyclists, but with a staid simplicity that's a questionable fit for this most doped-up of cyclists, its subject Lance Armstrong. Ben Foster nails the man's demonic determination, but not the chillingly crazed expression in his eyes, that which makes Armstrong at once so transparent and yet so unknowable. Stephen Frears' film ought to simmer with that same crazed volatility, whereas it merely simmers with the threat of storming into life, peering deep into this madman's soul. The issue with The Program is just that - it plainly isn't deep enough, and it's thus wrong to regard it as Frears' film. Writer John Hodge floats fascinating ideas, verifiable truth all of it, and then skips ahead to the next, failing to establish the magnitude of any of these events. It's a flat depiction, all fact and no fuss; Frears is a brilliantly perceptive director with a straightforward style, and if The Program possesses any of the spirit it should, it's his doing, but the success of his style is so dependent on the quality of the script he's working from that even his strong work can't stir up much life in this film. It ends up just another biopic, when it's clearly not supposed to be.

2015 GOTHAM AWARD NOMINEES - THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL LEADS WITH 4


Nominations for the 2015 IFP Gotham Independent Film Awards have been announced! Over a small and select group of categories, Marielle Heller's The Diary of a Teenage Girl has chalked up the most mentions, earning nominations across four, with several films including fellow Best Feature nominees Carol and Tangerine scoring three each. Winners will be announced at the group's awards ceremony on the 30th of November. Check out all the nominations below:

Best Feature
Carol (Todd Haynes, Elizabeth Karlsen, Tessa Ross, Christine Vachon and Stephen Woolley)
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Miranda Bailey, Anne Carey, Bert Hamelinck, Marielle Heller and Madeline Samit)
Heaven Knows What (Sebastian Bear-McClard, Oscar Boyson, Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie)
Spotlight (Steve Golin, Tom McCarthy, Blye Pagan Faust, Nicole Rocklin and Michael Sugar)
Tangerine (Sean Baker, Karrie Cox, Marcus Cox, Darren Dean and Tsou Shih Ching)

Best Actor
Christopher Abbott (James White)
Kevin Corrigan (Results)
Paul Dano (Love & Mercy)
Peter Sarsgaard (Experimenter)
Michael Shannon (99 Homes)

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett (Carol)
Blythe Danner (I'll See You in My Dreams)
Brie Larson (Room)
Bel Powley (The Diary of a Teenage Girl)
Lily Tomlin (Grandma)
Kristen Wiig (Welcome to Me)

Best Screenplay
Noah Baumbach (While We're Young)
Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl)
Michael Alan Lerner and Oren Moverman (Love & Mercy)
Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (Spotlight)
Phyllis Nagy (Carol)

Best Documentary
Approaching the Elephant (Jay Craven, Robert Greene and Amanda Rose Wilder)
Cartel Land (Matthew Heineman and Tom Yellin)
Heart of a Dog (Laurie Anderson and Dan Janvey)
Listen to Me Marlon (John Battsek, George Chignell, R. J. Cutler and Stevan Riley)
The Look of Silence (Signe Byrge Sorensen and Joshua Oppenheimer)

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award
Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behaviour)
Jonas Carpignano (Mediterranea)
Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl)
John Magary (The Mend)
Josh Mond (James White)

Best Breakthrough Actor
Rory Culkin (Gabriel)
Arielle Holmes (Heaven Knows What)
Lola Kirke (Mistress America)
Kitana Rodriguez (Tangerine)
Mya Taylor (Tangerine)

Gotham Jury Award
Brian d'Arcy James, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci (Spotlight)

Calvin Klein Spotlight on Women Directors 'Live the Dream' Award
Chanelle Aponte Pearson (195 Lewis)
Claire Carre (Embers)
Deb Shoval (AWOL)

Gotham Independent Film Audience Award
Approaching the Elephant
Appropriate Behaviour
Carol
Cartel Land
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Heart of a Dog
Heaven Knows What
James White
Listen to Me Marlon
The Look of Silence
Mediterranea
The Mend
Spotlight
Tangerine

BEST OF LFF 2015


My verdict on the 20 titles that I caught at the 2015 BFI 59th Annual London Film Festival. Alas, for the first time since my first fest, I did not see the film which the official jury declared Best Film from Official Competition - Athina Rachel Tsangari's Chevalier. But I did see very many other great films, including four 4-star films, the most of my three visits here to date. Only one award per film, so worthy winners in more than one category have had to make to with just the one win, making way for other films to prevail elsewhere.

Best Film
The Assassin (Hou Hsiao Hsien)
Last year's winner: From What Is Before (Lav Diaz)

Special Mention for Best Film
Park Lanes (Kevin Jerome Everson)
Last year's winner: Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait (Wiam Simav Bedirxan and Ossama Mohammmed)

Runners-up for Best Film / Special Mention
The Forbidden Room (Evan Johnson and Guy Maddin) / Carol (Todd Haynes)

Best Directing
Evan Johnson and Guy Maddin (The Forbidden Room)
Runners-up: Hou Hsiao Hsien (The Assassin) / Kevin Jerome Everson (Park Lanes)
Last year's winner: Aleksey German (Hard to Be a God)

Best Female Actor
Kwon So Hyun (Madonna)
Runners-up: Rooney Mara (Carol) / Cate Blanchett (Carol)
Last year's winner: Li Yi Qing (Dearest)

Best Male Actor
Ralph Ineson (The Witch)
Runners-up: Karim Pakachakov (Under Electric Clouds) / Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash)
Last year's winner: Body / Luke (White God)

Best Screenplay
Phyllis Nagy (Carol)
Runners-up: Aleksey German (Under Electric Clouds) / Robert Eggers (The Witch)
Last year's winner: Lisandro Alonso and Fabian Casas (Jauja)

Artistic or Technical Achievement
Elena Okopnaya (Under Electric Clouds) - art direction
Runners-up: Lee Ping Bin (The Assassin) - cinematography / Huang Chih Chia and Liao Ching Song (The Assassin) - editing
Last year's winner: Faris Badwan and Rachel Zeffira (The Duke of Burgundy) - music

REVIEW - CRIMSON PEAK (GUILLERMO DEL TORO)


A grand Gothic fantasy is truncated in Guillermo del Toro's odd little wannabe Crimson Peak. It boasts both the design and the ambition of del Toro's magnum opus, a classic horror film like those it lovingly imitates, yet is stymied by a peculiar lack of depth and development. Nothing in this film is allowed to stew for long enough to truly boil over, and its rabid hurry from one half-hearted scene to the next is thus defined by its hollowness. That's a particular shame given that this particular filmmaker is normally prone to guard against such a claim, but Crimson Peak's fantasy bears closer structural resemblance to throwaway indie horror movies than to del Toro's past entries in the genre. The plainness of the story, the crudeness of the dialogue and the predictability of the whole thing sit at odds not only with the viewer's expectations but also with the film's own achievements - it's ravishingly beautiful, with a rich and varied colour palette meeting with del Toro's theatrical approach to spatial dynamics and atmosphere to produce an experience that's almost overwhelming in its excess. You can tell where all the effort, and all the money, went. And yet to such measly ends, as overeager editing saps the portent out of perhaps every scene, and overcooked sound design spoils the horror - that which, in a horror movie, ought to be the most salient selling point. Crimson Peak is wholly overworked, yet underdone. It bears the sensation of the work of a great artist whose vision was not trusted by his cruel financiers; Universal sank $55 million into this film, which leads one to wonder how the bloody hell this all went so wrong?

Monday, 19 October 2015

CHEVALIER WINS LFF TOP PRIZE AS WOMEN DOMINATE AWARDS


Saturday was a triumphant occasion for female filmmakers as the BFI London Film Festival (remember that?) wrapped up its official competition, one day prior to Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs closing the festival. Of the four competitive awards, only one was received by a man (whose film's lead is a woman anyway), and the other four winners were all female. To boot, the BFI Fellowship recipient, who was confirmed prior to the festival, was a woman as well: Cate Blanchett, who had been in attendance for the American Express gala premiere of Carol on Wednesday and was also present for Saturday's special presentation premiere of Truth. The success of women at the awards ceremony aligned perfectly with the 59th BFI LFF's theme of strong women. Details below:

Best Film - Official Competition
Chevalier (Athina Rachel Tsangari)

Sutherland Award for Best First Feature
The Witch (Robert Eggers)

Grierson Award for Best Documentary
Sherpa (Jennifer Peedom)

Best Film - Short Film Competition
An Old Dog's Diary (Shumona Goel and Shai Heredia)

BFI Fellowship
Cate Blanchett

Sunday, 18 October 2015

LFF REVIEW - SUNSET SONG (TERENCE DAVIES)


The world outside is transformed inside, the land itself enduring in the mind. Terence Davies pits the physical against the emotional and the theoretical, arranging a conflict that he never manages to fully wrestle out of Lewis Grassic Gibson's novel. Only when he reconciles these elements does Sunset Song cohere, whereupon it makes total sense: Scottish farm owners with little active awareness of the rest of the world, defining themselves by their thoughts and feelings, as Davies does too. His didactic, decontextualised style strips characters of their situational identity, instead rendering them as fleshed-out entities by their manners of expression. They are presented as individuals, Davies bringing forth a heartfelt directness from each; there's a benevolent complexity that he in turn brings forth from Gibson's writing, and the combination of directness and indecision is more conceptually satisfying than dramatically. Sunset Song eventually resolves into a film which both Davies and his audience might be able to sink their teeth into - a politicised war movie with an increasingly impassioned performance from Agyness Deyn at its centre. This is rousing stuff, and you can feel the conviction of belief that has brought it from page to screen and into our hearts upon watching. A pity it arrives after 90 minutes of what amounts to little more than character building and narrative exposition - sensitive, indeed, and evidently the work of a great filmmaker, but not one working at his greatest. Sunset Song is a rewarding film, though, suffused with rich sensorial details like the rustle of tissue paper or a linen wedding veil, the sensuality of a woollen sock slowly rolled down or a bread loaf being kneaded. These linger longest of Sunset Song's many attributes, but its failing is in not ensuring that its other attributes lingered longer still.

LFF REVIEW - THE SKY TREMBLES AND THE EARTH IS AFRAID AND THE TWO EYES ARE NOT BROTHERS (BEN RIVERS)


Is it just me? Am I too set in my ways, too fixed in my thinking? Are my thoughts and opinions on art, any art whether good or bad, legitimate? How is it that I might sit through something so keenly composed as Ben Rivers' The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers and resent every moment of it? I care not for its aesthetic beauty, since it seems to serve no purpose beyond prettiness; I care not for Rivers' portentousness, since it seems to suggest that there's profundity in the prettiness. Am i not as open-minded as I'd like to be, closed off to alternative forms of expression if they don't express anything to me? I've seen films like The Sky Trembles before, indeed even from Rivers himself, and witnessed the exuberance with which they've been greeted, often with terms such as 'transcendent' and 'groundbreaking'. This film communicates nothing to me, and is thus of very little effect upon me; close-minded or not, I can't enjoy it, and can't recommend it - to do so would be a true sacrifice of the legitimacy of my opinion. Rivers explores the exploitation of the landscape and the people of Morocco, himself exploiting these things in that knowingly 'ironic' manner that is so very grating. He also explores the illusion of cinema and of creating it, though to what extent he develops this notion beyond a few perfunctory debunks early on went way over my head if it even extended further. That's where Rivers loses me completely - even if The Sky Trembles is every bit as transcendent and as groundbreaking as its self-satisfied, phony strains in the way of art insist it is, it never succeeded in convincing me. Maybe it is just me. But it's just me writing this review too.

LFF REVIEW - PARK LANES (KEVIN JEROME EVERSON)


The seriousness of 'slow cinema' is reconfigured as superfluity in Kevin Jerome Everson's Park Lanes, the attentiveness it requires replaced by a casual regard for the process of consuming art. Even the process of creating art is distorted by this film, the incidental rendered as valid, the illusion of it rendered even the only validity in Park Lanes' production. If this is what film could or even should be, then perhaps this is merely the mediocre seed of a majestic forest of films to come; for today, it's majestic in itself. Surrendering to the rhythm of reality has rarely been captured so compellingly - watching this film will represent a new experience even for those accustomed to extended runtimes (Park Lanes lasts 480 minutes) due to Everson's intention to recreate an average working day for American factory labourers. His mise-en-scene actually encourages interruption of thought, even of the viewer's presence, such that the act of daydreaming becomes an integral component in the fabric of the film. It's part coping mechanism - the necessity of such testament to the success of Everson's scenario - part product of an experience that's so genuine and so immersive that it circles around and becomes simultaneously distancing. The plainness of Everson's images, edited with great acuity and filmed with a perfect unfussiness, is plain in its instruction, blankly informing the viewer of exactly how to react, awakening one to the essentiality of the act of observation just in noticing as much. We query how much of what we deduce is our own projection, like the daydreams we're freely permitted to indulge in, and made aware of our awareness and our inawareness, the action and the inaction of the filmmaking, the processes of working and playing, the universality of what is achieved in Park Lanes through so singular and decontextualised yet so expansive a project.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

LFF REVIEW - MADONNA (SHIN SU WON)


A vivid and frequently very distressing drama with a social conscience that only expands in its breadth and intensifies in its purpose as its depravity deepens. Madonna is conscience through controversy, and is controversial in this regard alone - Shin Su Won skirts the boundaries of utter nihilism in her depiction of a life of innocence brought down by the cruelty and literal carelessness of society, and builds her bitter tirade upon this outlook. Some will undoubtedly take deep offence at her treatment of women, and with equal legitimacy to those who regard Madonna as a desperate, almost defeatist but defiant statement of gender equality, even superiority. Women fill the cast of this startling film, subservient throughout but subtly insistent on wrestling some control from societal situations that punish them by mere virtue of existing as women. Everyone scrapes for what comfort or happiness they can achieve in this overtly pulpy film, and Shin portrays her women as rigging a rigged game in their own favour, even if it means showing some small degree of care and concern under a masculine mandate of discovery, or soliciting a blow-job in the place of full, non-consensual intercourse. Care and consent are central to this otherwise brutal story, being the admission the lack thereof, drained by cultural constructs that dismiss the basic needs of the most vulnerable citizens. Madonna is a more keenly-constructed thing, more so than its stuttering opening and overlong ending suggest. It's founded on an intense, right but not righteous anger, one that only becomes fully formed the more that the viewer is encouraged to engage with it.

LFF REVIEW - UNDER ELECTRIC CLOUDS (ALEKSEY GERMAN)


Each scene, each moment within a scene, each dream within a sequence within a chapter within Aleksey German's Under Electric Clouds is like a microcosm of the film itself. The filmmaker son of his namesake father shares a familial interest in theme and technique, a certain distance and density of style that feels wholly idiosyncratic, and a talent for directing that produces consistently interesting work. German Jr. studies the notion of historical cycles in Under Electric Clouds, a view of the future that is nevertheless one of the past, of the future of the past and of the past of the future. Naturally, it's thus about the present, whose immortality ensures its own consistency - nothing ever truly changes in an infinite cycle. The manners by which this theme is expressed are immensely varied; this is so very dense a film that it'd take many viewings and much further analysis to identify and decipher all of them, but they range from structural to stylistic, metaphorical to overt, character-based to event-based, visual to sonic and surely more and more still. It's a funny, touching and beautiful film to experience for the first time too, and admirable in the depth of German's vision, ably supported by outstanding crew credits, including senior art director Elena Okopnaya and cinematographers Sergey Mikhalchuk and Evgeniy Privin. As an inhabitant of the present, as we all are, German presents an internal perspective on life therein, ruminating on our ignorance, our capacity for triviality and distortion of priorities, our ignorance of the fallibility of many of the notions that define our existence. He insists that we be led, shown the way as his characters are if ever we are to progress; yet Under Electric Clouds is a film not about progression but about stagnation. We can travel as far as we like along this cycle, but we'll always end up back in the present.

Friday, 16 October 2015

LFF REVIEW - THE PEARL BUTTON (PATRICIO GUZMAN)


A constant stream of digression, as in the opening quote, 'We are all streams from one water'. The Pearl Button finds beauty and life in the tales it tells from the water, a documentary that's both detached in its restlessness and delectable in its tangible empathy. Patricio Guzman tells the first tale of the water itself, impeccably captured so as to emphasise its essentiality; Katell Dijan's photography is as magical as it was in Guzman's last film, the similar (and superior) Nostalgia for the Light. He tells the second tale from the water, of Chile's indigenous people, detailing their way of life then and their struggle for life now. He tells the third tale, of a country that has separated itself from the water, allowing its resources to be exploited and its inhabitants to be massacred. Guzman has previously theorised about the inexistence of the present, that all we can know or experience resides in the past; his argument that Chile's past crimes continue to resonate today, still flowing through its vast waters, is potent and powerful. His embrace of water as a subject, if not so much as a theme, in The Pearl Button yields bountiful visual rewards, a soothing presence through a film that's often in need of this such lightness. And the attention he pays to a dwindling race of forgotten people is honorable and touching. But despite the connections between The Pearl Button's three narrative strands, connections which are barely stated though implicit in the evidence, Guzman can't cause them to coalesce in a manner that justifies their juxtaposition in one feature. He digresses, and does so with earnestness in his heart and an obvious eye for obvious beauty, but his digressions decrease the importance of these key directorial traits.

REVIEW - REGRESSION (ALEJANDRO AMENABAR)


Less a story of reason conquering religion than one of reason pushing against humanity's innate tendency to deny it, to grasp onto fanciful suggestions of spirituality. Regression eventually unfurls itself from the baffling tangle of suggestions that it sets against us, the lack of clarity in Alejandro Amenabar's screenplay entirely obfuscating where he's going and what he's getting at; in the end, it's both far more scientifically intriguing than it has the intelligence to realise, and far less sensationalistically satisfying than it has the sense to realise either. It aims for suspense, but fails to establish strong enough stakes in any direction to actually generate any, Amenabar somehow making many of his narrative foils crushingly obvious well in advance of their reveal yet also muddying the water with too many strands of suspicion, most of which turn out to be empty and useless. Regression isn't quite a complete write-off - even if the talent that inspired its writer-director to better work in the past has diminished, it hasn't disappeared. While he may struggle to spin this true story into a convincing critique on any particular thing, his mistrust toward small-town mentalities and religious ignorance ring true to this viewer at least; he gets a lift off zero simply by constructing this story as a detective thriller, and gets further boosts by sensitive performances from David Dencik, Dale Dickey and lead Ethan Hawke. The less said about Emma Watson's dud turn the better, then, though she almost gets a pass for the blatant fakery of her work here by a final act twist that's nevertheless plain to see from long before the final act.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

LFF REVIEW - THE HOST (MIRANDA PENNELL)


Aliens descend upon the earth, delivering knowledge, transporting culture, enlightening societies. Seductive and sinister, and only slightly less outrageous than it reads when seen from the perspective of British colonialists in the early and mid-20th Century. Miranda Pennell takes no such perspective, despite the connections that she can't help but make between her own experience - an essential component to this cool but absorbing documentary - and theirs. The Host takes a somewhat sympathetic perspective of its own, impressively overcoming the objectivity of its stylistic abstraction, objectivity that colonial narratives placed upon their subjects. In Pennell's search for clarity and reason, she discovers a new outlook on such topics, one in which neither could truly be considered to exist - in a canny interpretation of the events of the past and those of the future of the past, she renders time as a non-chronological entity; The Host itself becomes an artefact of the present, a gallery of artefacts of other times, the analysis of whose purpose will shift as our perspective upon time does too. In sample sounds and archive imagery, Pennell's poetic imposition of one upon the other crafts a narrative of her own, and one of each viewer's own - an essay on the changeability of perspective from one person to the next, one image to the next, one time to the next. The Host is cheerful in delivery, its dryness only developing the more one allows it to, and concise in its length. What Pennell attempts is entirely clear; what she achieves is entirely the opposite, and entirely dependent upon perspective.

LFF REVIEW - TAKLUB (BRILLANTE MENDOZA)


Life goes on in the wake of natural disasters, quietly, resignedly, out of sight and/or mind of those who see only death, only that disaster. More than ever, this life takes genuine effort to be sustained for those who can find any purpose in it - there's an appropriateness in Brillante Mendoza's refusal to search for a purpose in Taklub, his portrait of a community struggling to cope in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, or is it just his failure to do so? Honeylyn Joy Alipio's screenplay serves this maverick filmmaker poorly, giving the film a structure that's loose in its outlook yet rigorous in its adherence to conventionality. Mendoza finds little inspiration therein, neither to discover any particular artistic approach to the material nor to imbue it with any grander sense of significance. It's a film of floating attributes, few especially positive or negative; if Taklub's lack of magnitude as a film is negligible, it nevertheless boasts indubitable consequence as an account of human suffering and tragedy that's both intensely personal and subjective yet horribly universal. Mendoza focuses upon activity and discipline, without stressing it - his direction has a simplicity and a directness that stimulates sympathy above all else, though the detachment he also demonstrates is distancing, and Taklub eventually even falters in achieving its one, modest intention as such. It's rough around the edges, and curiously sentimental in ways that felt foreign to my sensibilities - I then regarded Taklub from the perspective of Eastern ensemble melodramas, and I finally wondered if I'd found a purpose for this otherwise rootless film.

LFF REVIEW - CAROL (TODD HAYNES)


Todd Haynes sacrifices in order to document the process of sacrificing - of relinquishing that which we are convinced makes life worth living so as to actually make life worth living. He abandons his artifice, as seductive as it was, and creates a film that exists purely for the beauty and the wonder and the self-satisfaction of itself. To watch Carol is to participate in that satisfaction, one of emotional yearning and physical sensuality, of tension that tingles in its intensity only to yield to resolution of equal intensity. The characters sacrifice so much to surrender to this satisfaction, to do as never was done in 1950s America, to have the courage simply to embrace pleasure and to express and assert independence - this film must be an exquisite, exciting emotional experience for anyone who watches it, but it's especially so for someone who knows what these sacrifices take, and what the irresistible lure of forbidden, true, honest love feels like. The film itself is an embrace, one of immaculate design that communicates a vast wealth of sensitivity in its framing, its performances, its sound design, Haynes' breathtaking (it literally took my breath away) delicacy as he stages a gesture or a glance with full comprehension of the significance that such intimate moments can hold. The dialogue, by Phyllis Nagy from Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt, expresses itself with a concision that recalls Ingmar Bergman at his best, perhaps in another exploration of the female mind, Cries and Whispers, whose aesthetic sensuality Ed Lachman's photography itself recalls. A film of total, unequivocal beauty, as much in its technical design as in its emotional design.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

LFF REVIEW - CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR (APICHATPONG WEERASETHAKUL)


The whole world rises to greet Apichatpong Weerasethakul, a world of dreams and spirituality, of past and future, of life and death, of sleep and wakefulness. Cemetery of Splendour is Weerasethakul's bittersweet vision of that present, where all of the above converges, and the film is like a wide-eyed awakening of our own, a mundane yet mystical glance through the prism of the mind of a genius. As a reflection both of and on the Thailand that he has known, and may no longer know again, Weerasethakul's film may be his most direct to date, despite its obvious abstractions, and his most sincere and insular. Its purpose seems to wither the further your thoughts drift from its action, configuring Cemetery of Splendour as a great, subtle work of art unto itself. And your thoughts will drift, into dreams of the semi-conscious and the subconscious, sweetly matching the film's dreamy obscurity. Weerasethakul dwells upon enchanting visual details, concealing the true purpose of his directorial gaze: allowing, or perhaps forcing, the viewer's mind to make itself up about the significance of what it witnesses. What a lot to witness, too, with a beguiling soundscape, layered like the richest mise-en-scene of the most visually literate filmmakers, of whom Weerasethakul is surely one. Light and sound dictate our interpretation of events, even serving as the only actual events depicted in Cemetery of Splendour. The eyes and the ears are each treated to wondrous cinematic delights, the theatre of the screen (and on the screen) joined by the theatre of the mind and the theatre of the senses. A film for the whole body to enjoy, and would that the whole world knew it.

REVIEW - THE WALK (ROBERT ZEMECKIS)


The guy who says he gets scared on a stool step? That's me. He quivers with fear standing by the glass wall overlooking the World Trade Centre lobby, though dangles off its roof later on with a peculiar lack of hesitation - that's not me. I caught myself out in The Walk, barely registering that I'd craned my neck around so as to barely glimpse what was on the screen, only doing so when the 3D effects began to distort. It's the most intensely frightening film, a bravura showpiece of directorial prowess, an extraordinary sensory account of an extraordinary act; it's a dreadful drama with ugly 3D, regressive gender politics, an insufferable lead performance in an insufferable part and some of the year's very worst dialogue. It rather depends on where you are in The Walk. The first half is mostly risible, weighed down by cutesy comedic affectations and an oppressive lack of stylistic appreciation - Robert Zemeckis tries, but all you notice is the effort, and none of the results. The second half is mostly remarkable, a demonstration of the power of cinema to evoke fear and excitement and to raise them to near-ecstatic levels. Zemeckis utilises a most unique environment to craft an astounding study in spatial dynamics in cinema, with the human component that is this film's driving force (and often its downfall) providing the perfect emotive counterpoint to all this geometric effects work. It scared the stools out of me, brilliantly and beautifully. It's a masterpiece of filmmaking spoilt by some of the worst filmmaking in contemporary Hollywood.

LFF REVIEW - EXOTICA, EROTICA, ETC. (EVANGELIA KRANIOTI)


An invisible protagonist, neither seen nor heard but felt throughout, haunts Exotica, Erotica, etc. It is the filmmaker herself, Evangelia Kranioti, conducting a study of solitude, an anthropological examination of the ways of seamen and their loves and lovers in which Kranioti's active participation begets a palpable depth of emotion. She, a photographer and this film's sole crew member aboard these ships, captures images of bracing beauty and power, yet it is their precise significance in this precise context that imbues them with Exotica, Erotica, etc.'s essential emotive strength. The expression of the subjectivity of her experience, and of those whom she features, is pure in its delivery and intense in its recollection; her editorial fragmentation produces a melancholy disconnect, layered elements almost like early Frederick Wiseman, like waves of memories and messages from the past. There's a bruised physicality to Kranioti's images, a sense of physicality in them, a textural richness that is appealingly matched by the erotic remembrances of Chilean prostitute Sandy, whose segments provide Exotica, Erotica, etc. with a salient perspective that helps to characterise the film, even if these lack the gravity that the more abstract segments themselves provide. But all parts of this film combine to form a sumptuous, seductive snapshot of a way of life that is perceptibly disappearing, regressing into remoteness, briefly brought back to life in this film - a whole life, many whole lives, in a mere few minutes.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

LFF REVIEW - EVOLUTION (LUCILE HADZIHALILOVIC)


A discomforting dip into a filmmaker's fantasy that's more complete and creatively successful than it initially appears to be. Natural, unnatural and one masquerading as the other concentrated within an environment that's as worldly as it is otherworldly, as rooted in reality as it is in dream. Evolution is a startling film, perhaps needlessly so, not least since Lucile Hadzihalilovic's stylistic rigour often feels like either an attempt to subdue the thematic concerns of her fairly simple concept or a misguided compliment to those concerns. It's not a horror film in its heart, though it seems to be in Hadzihalilovic's head, and the strangeness that is central to Evolution descends into soulless sensationalism in the process of mangling it into one. Even as it lacks clarity as an endeavour, it doesn't lack artistry, and is thus a consistently compelling sit (even if that's sometimes more due to the promise of quality rather than the application of it). The arresting aesthetic design includes digital cinematography by Manuel Dacosse, itself masquerading, as Hadzihalilovic's desire to express a perceptibly physical atmosphere provokes an analogue grittiness to the images, capturing the befuddled imprecision of dream and the tactility of real life. Jesus Diaz and Zacarias de la Riva's score is pleasingly suggestive, at first beguiling and then insidiously so. More often than not, Evolution's stylistic success is in service more of thematic significance than narrative, though Hadzihalilovic stretches that thinly-drawn narrative to surprising lengths, particularly surprising in how they overcome and overwhelm the film's horror aspirations and redirect its purpose back to reality. In that sense, it's actually really good.