Friday, 24 February 2017

REVIEW OF 2016 - THE NOMINATIONS



Screen On Screen is totally done with 2016 and the cinematic offerings it provided. As with every year in film since the origin of the medium, it was a rather good one, so here are 52 categories to celebrate the finest achievements in filmmaking from last year. And three categories to demean the worst achievements. Winners will be announced on Sunday, prior to the Academy Awards.

Best Film
Heart of a Dog (Laurie Anderson and Dan Janvey)
My Life as a Courgette (Claude Barras, Marc Bonny, Armelle Glorennec, Pauline Gygax, Max Karli, Kate Merkt and Michel Merkt)
Raw (Jean des Forets and Julia Ducournau)
Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, Jonas Dornbach, Janine Jackowski and Michel Merkt)
The Woman Who Left (Lav Diaz)

Best Direction
Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann)
Khalik Allah (Field Niggas)
Claude Barras (My Life as a Courgette)
Lav Diaz (The Woman Who Left)
Julia Ducournau (Raw)

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Amy Adams (Arrival)
Angeli Bayani (Ned's Project)
Isabelle Huppert (Valley of Love)
Sandra Huller (Toni Erdmann)
Rooney Mara (Una)

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Gabriel Epstein (Taekwondo)
Guillermo Francella (The Clan)
Jean-Pierre Leaud (The Death of Louis XIV)
Matthias Schoenaerts (Disorder)
Peter Simonischek (Toni Erdmann)

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Lily Gladstone (Certain Women)
Jeon Hye Jin (The Throne)
Kim Hwan Hee (The Wailing)
Kirin Kiki (After the Storm)
Abbey Lee (The Neon Demon)

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Lee Hyo Je (The Throne)
John Lloyd Cruz (The Woman Who Left)
Ogata Issei (Silence)
Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)
Tsukamoto Shin'ya (Silence)

Best Original Screenplay
Dane Komljen (All the Cities of the North)
Thierry Lounas and Albert Serra (The Death of Louis XIV)
Anna Biller (The Love Witch)
Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight)
Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann)

Best Adapted Screenplay
Whit Stillman (Love & Friendship)
Claude Barras, Morgan Navarro, Celine Sciamma and Germano Zullo (My Life as a Courgette)
Jay Cocks and Martin Scorsese (Silence)
David Harrower (Una)
Lav Diaz (The Woman Who Left)

Even more categories after the jump...

Thursday, 23 February 2017

REVIEW - 20TH CENTURY WOMEN (MIKE MILLS)


The smug, obnoxious fawning of the heterosexual white male who latches onto feminism, whether earnestly or not, bears out mixed results in Mike Mills' 20th Century Women. He's hardly any less twee nor near-sighted as an auteur than he was six years ago in his homage to his father, Beginners, but with that earnest adoration informing every frame of his new work, and with a maturity that grows as his protagonists commensurately shrink, he once again gets away with it. 20th Century Women is fine with breaking no moulds, pushing no envelopes, relating its every motion back to Mills' narcissism, and I guess we have to be fine with that too if we're to appreciate all of the good things that this film has to offer. Characters defined by shallow motifs and platitudes are rarely satisfying, though it's thus that one might feel in rare territory here - this is the kind of material in which actors relish, and so they do. A good actor will embody what's in the script, though may neglect to invent further; a great actor will figure to do both, and Annette Bening has simply never been as great before as she is in 20th Century Women. Mills' film is an exercise in understanding this woman, a fictionalized version of his mother, and is thereby in service of Bening and her role; yet this role is always in service of advancing our understanding of Mills himself, and he takes the regrettable route of turning a potential feminist statement into a man's statement about feminism in the enlightened man. Besides this particularly ugly trait, this is in fact a rare film in several other regards, most notably its palpably accurate, unpretentious recreation of a recent past, and its invocation of a sense of nostalgic trepidation in that this past depicts a country on the precipice of horrible, historical change.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

COSTUME DESIGNERS GUILD DECLARES ITS 2016 AWARD WINNERS


As awards season winds up, the Costume Designers Guild rings in with its choices for excellence in film for 2016. Oscar nominees are snubbed in two of the CDG's three film categories, with Doctor Strange and Hidden Figures winning prizes instead, and La La Land continuing its dominance of the guild awards. Nominations at this link, and full details of winners right here:

Excellence in Period Film
Renee Ehrlich Kalfus (Hidden Figures)

Excellence in Fantasy Film
Alexandra Byrne (Doctor Strange)

Excellence in Contemporary Film
Mary Zophres (La La Land)

Career Achievement Award
Jeffrey Kurland

Distinguished Collaborator Award
Meryl Streep

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

REVIEW - THE LAST OF US (ALA EDDINE SLIM)


A film without conversation, intent on provoking contemplation. Alas, The Last of Us' intentions are too clear, and the end effects of that contemplation too unclear, and what is otherwise a finely crafted work of art crumbles under this precarious balance. You know you're in fairly dire straits when you resort to introducing a hairy, grunting wild man, wandered off from the set of The Clan of the Cave Bear 30 years ago and in serious need of a wash, wrapping leaves around your mute protagonist's leg wound in order to liven up your film, and direr straits still when said character only makes your film more pitiful. I have no doubt that Ala Eddine Slim has something to say about consumerism and its impact on post-colonialist, impoverished parts of the world, but since nobody in his film actually says anything at all, it's pretty tough to work out what that something is. In that The Last of Us' flaws are conceptual, thus, it'd be more accurate to brand it an innately flawed work of art redeemed by smart execution. Amine Messadi's cinematography luxuriates in dusty brown tones and picturesque exteriors, creating several compositions far more memorable than the overall film itself. In the film's least ambiguous, allegorical stretch, there's an all-too-brief ride in the back of a small truck, its ineffective canvas curtain flapping in the wind to provide fleeting glimpses of a landscape left behind - it's an enormously evocative moment, and one whose extension might well have been more engaging than what Slim devises in its aftermath. One admires him for his willingness to go against the grain, but there are certain grains that exists for good reasons, and there's very little good in going against them.

REVIEW - ALL THE CITIES OF THE NORTH (DANE KOMLJEN)


A search for purpose in a place without meaning. Dane Komljen detaches himself from the precondition of mutual understanding between artist and audience, in the process transforming his work from a metaphoric statement into an integrally artistic one. All the Cities of the North is boldly, beguilingly opaque, to such an extremity that it repels practically all attempts to make proper sense of its content; extremities are good - nobody wants a half-arsed effort. If one were to describe this dense, curious film using the hackneyed phrase 'tone poem,' one wouldn't be inaccurate, as Komljen contributes only ever more to the intellectual abstraction and indecipherability of his conceit with each new shot or scene. He evokes contemplation without ever encouraging any resolution to it, suspending the viewer in rapturous appreciation of his artistry without ever allowing them to reach a satisfactory conclusion. The mystery of All the Cities of the North is thus essential to its success, and a guarantee that this is a work whose character will remain unclear not merely upon viewing but upon re-viewing and re-viewing. Yet what one receives in return for their patient perplexion is the value of participating in a truly unique cinematic experience, and the knowledge that the more one puts into it, the greater the imaginative and intellective returns are likely to be. We, as the silent figures we see on the screen, may never be any closer to conclusion in our search for purpose in this film, but the search itself is worth the effort.

Monday, 20 February 2017

MOONLIGHT WINS FIVE SOS CRITICS TALLY AWARDS


They're not always the most reliable, but you can usually count on the critics to make the smart choices. Moonlight wins five awards from the Screen On Screen Critics Tally awards, which compiles the results of dozens of critics groups and polls and assigns those results specific points values. The nominations - which have been amended following yesterday's International Cinephile Society awards announcement - can be viewed here, and the final, confirmed list of winners is...

Best Picture
Moonlight (Dede Gardner, Barry Jenkins, Jeremy Kleiner and Adele Romanski)

Best Director
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Natalie Portman (Jackie)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Viola Davis (Fences)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

Best Original Screenplay
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)

Best Adapted Screenplay
Eric Heisserer (Arrival)

Best Cinematography
James Laxton (Moonlight)

Best Editing
Tom Cross (La La Land)

Best Production Design
David Wasco (La La Land)

Best Music
Justin Hurwitz (La La Land)

Best Ensemble Cast
Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Alex R. Hibbert, Andre Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Janelle Monae, Jaden Piner, Trevante Rhodes and Ashton Sanders (Moonlight)

Best Animated Feature
Zootopia (Jared Bush, Byron Howard and Rich Moore)

Best Documentary
O.J.: Made in America (Ezra Edelman)

Best Foreign Language Film
The Handmaiden (Park Chan Wook)

TONI ERDMANN WINS FIVE ICS AWARDS


We've slogged through awards season for a fairly dull three months now, almost, and it's likely to end with nothing short of crushing ignominy with this weekend's Oscars. Can't it just end now? The International Cinephile Society award nominations were worth that slog, and their actual awards now are equally worth it. Just stare at this bright spot until your eyes go blind.

Best Picture
1. Toni Erdmann
2. Elle
3. Moonlight
4. Things to Come
5. Manchester by the Sea
6. Silence
7. Julieta
8. Cemetery of Splendour
9. Certain Women
10. Jackie

Best Director
1. Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann)
2. Paul Verhoeven (Elle)

Best Actress
1. Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
2. Sandra Huller (Toni Erdmann)

Best Actor
1. Peter Simonischek (Toni Erdmann)
2. Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)

Best Supporting Actress
1. Lily Gladstone (Certain Women)
2. Sandrine Kiberlain (Being 17)

Best Supporting Actor
1. Andre Holland (Moonlight)
2. Tom Bennett (Love & Friendship)

Best Original Screenplay
1. Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann)
2. Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. David Birke (Elle)
2. Whit Stillman (Love & Friendship)

Best Cinematography
1. David Gallego (Embrace of the Serpent)
2. Rodrigo Prieto (Elle)

Best Editing
1. Job ter Burg (Elle)
2. Joe Walker (Arrival)

Best Production Design
1. Ryu Seong Hee (The Handmaiden)
2. Dante Ferretti (Silence)

Best Score
1. Mica Levi (Jackie)
2. Cliff Martinez (The Neon Demon)

Best Ensemble
1. Moonlight
2. Certain Women

Best Animated Film
1. The Red Turtle
2. My Life as a Courgette

Best Documentary
1. Fire at Sea
2. No Home Movie

Best Film Not in the English Language
1. Toni Erdmann
2. Elle
3. Things to Come
4. Julieta
5. Cemetery of Splendour
6. Embrace of the Serpent
7. Being 17
8. Aquarius
9. Mountains May Depart
10. Cosmos
11. The Handmaiden

MOONLIGHT AND ARRIVAL TAKE WGA HONOURS


Sorry, Lion! Alas, Luke Davies' script wasn't eligible for the Writers Guild of America awards, and also I'm totally not sorry. But a tremendous coup for Moonlight, as its standing in the Adapted Screenplay Oscar race only improves with a win in Original Screenplay with the WGA. Indeed, with yet another contender to fend off this weekend in the Adapted victor here, Arrival, Barry Jenkins' groundbreaking drama nevertheless becomes an even stronger candidate by beating presumed frontrunners La La Land and Manchester by the Sea. And deservedly, too. All the details of the film award nominees at this link, and the winners below.

Best Original Screenplay
Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight)

Best Adapted Screenplay
Eric Heisserer - based on the story Story of Your Life by TEd Chiang (Arrival)

Best Documentary Screenplay
Robert Kenner, Brian Pearle, Kim Roberts and Eric Schlosser - based on the book Command and Control by Eric Schlosser (Command and Control)

MAKE-UP ARTISTS AND HAIR STYLISTS GUILD AWARDS SPLIT ACROSS THE BOARD


Kudos to the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild. They're capable of recognizing quality in their craft across a wide variety of titles, and their slate of award winners this year (and that for nominations) makes that quite evident. Five categories and five winners, and fairly smart choices on the whole. Take a look below:

Best Period and/or Character Make-Up
Alessandro Bertolazzi (Suicide Squad)

Best Period and/or Character Hair Styling
Cydney Cornell, Matt Danon and Pauletta Lewis-Irwin (Hail, Caesar!)

Best Contemporary Make-Up
Donald Mowat, Elaine Offers and Malanie J. Romero (Nocturnal Animals)

Best Contemporary Hair Styling
Frida Aradottir, Barbara Lorenz and Jackie Masteran (La La Land)

Best Special Make-Up Effects
Richie Alonzo and Joel Harlow (Star Trek Beyond)

2016 MPSE AWARD WINNERS ANNOUNCED


Hacksaw Ridge takes a healthy step closer to winning the Sound Editing Oscar with victory in two categories from the Motion Picture Sound Editors. It's the only winner in more than one field here, possibly confirming that the war film is a real contender in the Oscar tech categories for which it's nominated. MPSE nominations are here.

Best Sound Editing - English Language - Effects / Foley
Steve Burgess, Alex Francis, Robert MacKenzie, Liam Price, Mario Vaccaro and Tara Webb (Hacksaw Ridge)

Best Sound Editing - English Language - Dialogue / ADR
Justine Angus, Jed Dodge, Kimberly Harris, Michele Perrone and Andy Wright (Hacksaw Ridge)

Best Sound Editing - Animation
Thom Brennan, Jonathan Borland, Pascal Garneau, Earl Ghaffari, Lee Gilmore, Matthew Harrison, Tim Nielsen, Dan Pinder, Shelley Roden and John Roesch (Moana)

Best Sound Editing - Documentary
Pete Horner, Al Nelson and Andre Zweers (The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble)

Best Sound Editing - Foreign Language - Effects / Foley / Dialogue / ADR
Fredrik Dalefjell, Erlend Hogstad, Jens Johansson, Ingela Jonsson, Lucas Nilsson, Espen Ronning and Christian Schaanning (The King's Choice)

Best Sound Editing - Musical
Jason Ruder (La La Land)

Best Sound Editing - Music
Michael Bauer and Peter Myles (Warcraft)

Verna Fields Award for Student Filmmakers
Juhasz Zoltan (Fishwitch)
Gerry Vasquez (Icarus)

MPSE Filmmaker Award
Guillermo del Toro

MPSE Career Achievement Award
Harry Cohen

FINDING DORY / LA LA LAND / THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS WIN CAS AWARDS


Saw it coming. The only people who didn't weren't watching. Check out the Cinema Audio Society's nominations here, and their 2016 winners below.

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing - Live Action
James Ashwill, Nicholai Baxter, David Betancourt, Lee Ai Ling, Steven Morrow and Andy Nelson (La La Land)

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing - Animated
Scott Curtis, Doc Kane, Nathan Nance, Michael Semanick and Thomas Vicari (Finding Dory)

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing - Documentary
Dennis Hamlin, Peter Horner and Dimitri Tisseyre (The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble)

ON BODY AND SOUL WINS BERLIN GOLDEN BEAR


Berlinale 2017 has come to its close with the presentation of awards. The year's first major film festival makes Hungarian director Enyedi Ildiko's On Body and Soul the year's first major festival winner, taking the Golden Bear from the main competition, whose jury was led by Paul Verhoeven, and also faring very well from other juries in attendance. Check out the results in full below.

Golden Bear
On Body and Soul (Enyedi Ildiko)

Silver Bear for Jury Grand Prix
Felicite (Alain Gomis)

Silver Bear for Best Director
Aki Kaurismaki (The Other Side of Hope)

Silver Bear for Best Actress
Kim Min Hee (On the Beach at Night Alone)

Silver Bear for Best Actor
Georg Friedrich (Bright Nights)

Silver Bear for Best Script
Sebastian Lelio and Gonzalo Maza (A Fantastic Woman)

Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution
Dana Bunescu (Ana, Mon Amour)

Silver Bear for Alfred Bauer Prize
Spoor (Agnieszka Holland)

More awards after the cut:


Sunday, 19 February 2017

REVIEW - JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (CHAD STAHELSKI)


There's always something from which to run away. One's past, one's present, one's responsibilities. In the case of John Wick: Chapter 2's opening scene, it's a case of driving away, and being pursued. But by whom? And for what? This sequel swiftly runs away from its opener, and strands it without any meaning, any significance - no rly, I have no idea what was going on in that scene. Anyway, it's a cracking start, and the rest of the film is up to the standard. Chapter 2 delivers more of the skills in which its predecessor excelled, and the uptick in scale is actually to the film's benefit. Chad Stahelski may be little more than a competent, efficient, adequate director, but such qualities are nothing if not invaluable in action filmmaking. More is not necessarily always more, in relation to the impact of Chapter 2's successes, but it never sells you short, never skimps on its promises. It's peculiarly attractive for a film of its ilk, with genuinely stylish production values ranging from sumptuous neo-Rococo interiors to shots lit in smouldering neon hues of fuschia, chartreuse, and indigo. The stunt work is as remarkable as you'd expect, once again asserting that a good action sequence requires nothing more than good stunt choreography, and doing so with persuasive conviction. Highlights include a shoot-em-up set in an art gallery, as Keanu Reeves' titular hitman turns his assailants' bodily fluids into installations of their own, followed by a tense sequence in a hall of mirrors, which is probably taking things a bit too far but hey, it works; a never-more-attractive Riccardo Scamarcio (credit the tailoring); a substantial role for a dog; a sexy suicide - or is that a lowlight? Not too many of those, however. Things are looking up for the inevitable Chapter 3. Hooray!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

REVIEW - PATRIOTS DAY (PETER BERG)


Peter Berg's latest right-wing propaganda piece is also his most devious. The average American worker is exalted for their devotion to their duty, the forces that dictate the nature of that duty are lambasted for their abstract intelligence, and America's enemies are demonized for their, well, devotion to their duty. Wrapping up their fascist disdain for complex thought in complex distractions only demonstrates the filmmakers' complicity in wilfully peddling the most conservative interpretation available of the facts. Patriots Day is a predictably impressive piece of technical work, and thus impossible for me to dismiss outright, much as I'd love to given the insidious toxicity of its political stance. But it never wholly overcomes that toxicity, instead using its technical competence and an array of diversions to allay the suspicions of its more discerning audience members. Sturdy, muscular filmmaking begets expertly-crafted action sequences featuring effective editing, excellent sound design, and strong stunt work; Berg is a talented director the more he identifies and hones his particular skill set, and the less he wastes his time with lacklustre dramatic content. Patriots Day's screenplay is loaded with scene after scene of the kind of soapy emotional exposition that actors love and that intelligent audiences abhor, most of it blatantly fictional, designed only to deliver further potency to the film's coarsely conservative message. And thus, when it's not focused on its burgeoning capacity for technical prowess, it becomes entirely possible again to dismiss Patriots Day outright, if only for a while. In that regard, at least Peter Berg has given this liberal a little of what he loves to do.

Friday, 17 February 2017

TRAILER #2 FOR COLOSSAL


Sometimes, a movie receives mixed reviews from critics and you think, 'Eh... maybe not.' But other times, a movie receives mixed reviews and you think, 'Fuck yeah!' This is such a time. Colossal might not be colossally good, but it looks like the kind of film which I'll have to see to find out. Out in the US on the 7th of April; you can see its first trailer, btw, right here.

REVIEW - LOVETRUE (ALMA HAR'EL)


Young love, that which shapes us; old love, that which changes us. The expectations and the memories, the desires and the scars, the hopes and the heartbreaks. LoveTrue is a rough, poetic little gem that's as deep with empathy as it is unsure how to communicate it. Alma Har'el explores her subjects' separate milieus with such deft, supple, compassionate insight, and then expresses it with such innovation and artistry as to obfuscate exactly what her point is. Indeed, Har'el's utter rejection of the traditional documentary standard of linear, plot-driven procedural repels easy conclusions, though what she provides in its place is arguably no more satisfactory. LoveTrue is a pretty lovely experience up to an indefinite point, whereupon its minor modulations neither sustain its buoyant, tender tone nor supply an adequate replacement, and a work that has heretofore been varying degrees of delightful begins to become repetitive. Nor does it linger long - these are strictly ephemeral pleasures, though at least they are pleasures at all. Har'el employs a variety of narrative devices, adding expressive stylistic elements to poeticize her film's swoony ruminations on love. Keeping this touch playful and its application sporadic, it's far more effective than it reads, and serves both to compliment each of LoveTrue's individual stories and to unite them all via common threads we might otherwise have missed. Love, whether young or old, past or present, hopeful or heartbreaking, has a common effect on all of us. For all its little flaws, LoveTrue does a fine job of evincing something similar in its audience.

REVIEW - EXTREMIS (DAN KRAUSS)


Dan Krauss continues to pay worthy tribute to America's unsung heroes, its professionals burdened with life-or-death responsibilities on whom the nation relies for its safety and welfare. His short film Extremis takes a compassionate look at end-of-life care for terminally ill patients and the decision-making process on their ongoing dependency upon life support. It's an issue that demands a sensitive touch; Krauss' documentary chronicles are as intimate as they are detached, his purview ever centred on those toughest, truest emotions that guide people through that process. Extremis exists only through its understanding, affording the viewer the requisite insight without any potential for more troubling, affecting emotional attachment of our own. Whether it's Krauss' focus on the mundanity of life in even these most exceptional of circumstances, his refusal to dramatize, or the simple brevity of his film, there stands a robust barrier between action and viewer reaction. That perhaps hobbles this film, which one would willingly excuse extending for four or five times its runtime so that Krauss could further exercise his sympathetic inquisitiveness. Yet as a brief tribute to the medical teams overseeing these painful times, and to those undergoing them, Extremis is a fine and noble enterprise, resolutely respectful and appropriately polished. Dan Krauss himself is the kind of dedicated professional whom he profiles in his own work, and the kind of which the world could do with many more.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

REVIEW - A MAN CALLED OVE (HANNES HOLM)


Even Scandinavia's comedies are well-organized. Walking a well-trodden path square in the middle of humour and pathos, A Man Called Ove has its tonal and narrative destination in sight right from the start, and stays true to its intentions throughout. Hannes Holm's faithfulness to his vision is commendable, though that vision itself is less so, and one might wish he'd seen fit to deviate from it here and there. Order is all very appealing, and Holm certainly knows how to put together a solid piece of work, but predictability is not, and it's in settling into such a comfortable mould that A Man Called Ove chips away at its modest appeal. Such is the security of Holm's guidance that it rapidly begins to feel too forceful for its own good, and it becomes especially enervating when one experiences a flash of the prescribed emotion before instantly clocking the machinations that led one to that experience. It's blatant manipulation - excessively blatant, indeed, since this is a story that needed not to indulge in such unnecessary over-development. Delicate direction and a charming empathy mitigate the slight preciousness to craft a most engaging, entertaining film at its best, blessed with fine performances and attractive production values (though the score is a gobsmacking rip-off). The whole enterprise chugs along smoothly, which needn't be to the film's detriment and often isn't - rough edges are evidently not Holm's trade, though exploiting the rigour of his approach to emphasize the contradictions and complications that are unavoidable in real life is far preferable to resigning to easy, simplistic solutions. A Man Called Ove stays both fortunately and unfortunately true to itself regardless of its best interests, and is all the more mediocre for it.

REVIEW - CAMERAPERSON (KIRSTEN JOHNSON)


If a memoir inevitably looks to the past, it's most stimulating to witness Kirsten Johnson's testament for the future, Cameraperson. It's less a highlights reel than a lowlights reel, a compilation of all we've missed and not a condemnation but an explanation of how we missed it. Her memories shaped our own with indirect force - now she presents the details of that process with direct force, and reframes our interpretations of the past with simple, straightforward honesty. Cameraperson is thus more persuasive and more enlightening as a statement in its entirety; individual scenes oscillate between plain beauty and plain ugliness, dramatic integrity and dramatic stagnancy - necessary differences given the range of sources, though the film is thereby rendered close to an anthology feature in its effect. What Johnson, whose voice is frequently heard on the consistently diegetic sound mix, proves with every image, however, is the vitality of the cinematographer in documentary filmmaking, and the extent of the viewer's dismissal of their role. Indeed, that dismissal is argued here as being greater the less the artist fights against it, and so it's fulfilling indeed to examine the nature of that role and its cruciality in the production of earnest, effective documentaries. The revelatory power of Johnson's images may deplete commensurately with their level of development; she combats this with sensitive cross-cutting whose impact is possibly a little too blunt. But these are her memoirs, and she may do as she pleases with them. And what she does is noble, skillful and resolutely valuable.

REVIEW - IT'S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD (XAVIER DOLAN)


But would that it were! Xavier Dolan assembles a quintet of performers from whose company I'd flee even if the apocalypse were imminent, to see which one can bellow into the void with the most futile fervour. It'd be beguilingly odd if It's Only the End of the World wasn't so blatantly pretentious, for Dolan's impression of life remains remarkably dissimilar to anything resembling reality, and his attraction to theatrical works does him no favours. Whether or not it looks like the real thing - and Andre Turpin remains Dolan's greatest asset, for End of the World at least looks lovely - it certainly doesn't sound like the real thing, whether it's incessant verbosity or pompous silence. Characters drone on in monologues that seem intended to express a great deal about themselves, though whose abstract imprecision and florid style consistently only express a great deal about their writer. With receipt neither from their companions within the screen nor from their audience beyond it, the result is dull, draining and wholly lacking in insight. And that's a shame, because Dolan is genuinely on to something in his choice of mise-en-scene. The claustrophobic close-ups are easily dismissed, given their inevitable ineffectuality when set against that heinous dialogue, and their necessary unpleasantness, but they are collectively an intelligent, empathetic idea. The boldness of Dolan and Turpin's approach may convey only one pertinent thematic notion, but it does so succinctly, which is a quality elsewhere absent from End of the World. Altogether, it's a fascinating misfire, albeit one that would be much more fascinating if it weren't for its insufferability. Spend your days, whether or not they be your last, watching something else.

REVIEW - THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (CHRIS MCKAY)


Here, now, in Trump's America, it's more important than ever to prepare for the worst, whether or not you intend to continue hoping for the best. We ought to have seen this coming, given what happened to the Transformers franchise after its vaguely-promising first film. The Lego Batman Movie doubles down on all the things that made its predecessor famous, if not made it successful; it's a distillation of its most questionable attributes, fitting the same formula to a premise altered only to better serve its worst qualities. That it's aesthetically impressive, with outstanding effects, is of negligible worth by the time it has overused its every visual motif; that it's funny is of equal worth by the time it has negated each clever quip with an ignorant or overworked one. No matter how hard he tries - and would one ever given such a wilfully noxious protagonist - the heterosexual white man just can't seem to get woke, and the viewer might wish Chris McKay and his team of five writers had just embraced this character's fascistic tendencies comme Christopher Nolan and run with it. But Warner Bros. knows what its demographic wants these days, and how to placate a gullible audience of would-be detractors; Lego knows what sells too, and there's nothing at all fundamentally intelligent or aware about bricks. The Lego Batman Movie is cheap, simplistic pandering to very little effect, and only rescued by its own intermittent technical competence. Colourful fun for the kids, no doubt, though perhaps that's all it is for the rest of us too.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

REVIEW - KEKSZAKALLU (GASTON SOLNICKI)


Doors are opened in Kekszakallu, yet remain inevitably closed to those incapable of, or perhaps just unwilling to pass through. Gaston Solnicki's oblique denunciation of cyclical societal systems, feeding inequality as they simultaneously reap rewards from it, is nothing if not abstract in its treatment of an abstract idea. Solnicki is unyielding as an artist; his work may be distancing and divisive, but it's a marvellous, singular experience. Though he's not one to linger unnecessarily, his sparse shot constructions ironically reveal the abundance of thematic content in Kekszakallu, the process thus asserting Solnicki's impressive skill. The film is an art piece, without doubt, though one whose most appropriate medium of expression has correctly been diagnosed as cinema. Its sustained crypticity might withhold the very texture of what it intends to convey upon watching, though this quality is only deceptively difficult - Kekszakallu's form only becomes fuller in retrospect, enriched by the viewer's internal process of interpretation, and if that offers little solace to those shelling out and sitting down for an experience, there are always those images. This is a startlingly, uncommonly stimulating sensory work, with all range of technical aspects presented at the peak of their potential. Solnicki is a master in the making - he's arguably already there - but special mention must be afforded to cinematographers Fernando Lockett and Diego Poleri, and who could but enthuse until their beard turned blue at the posthumous contributions of that master among masters, Bartok Bela himself?

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

REVIEW - BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK (ANG LEE)


The grandest folly of all on the grandest scale of all. Ever a fresh, innovative filmmaker, Ang Lee has here wedded himself to a technical undertaking of such magnitude it seems to overwhelm even him. Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk composites dazzling aesthetics over derisory dialogue, a bizarre jumble of perspectives both narrative and visual, a film in which each performer seems to have read a different script, each shot serving a different purpose, each scene adopting a different character. If Lee can't but indulge himself, it's to his credit - only through the remarkable panache with which he wields his limitless arsenal of tools as director can Billy Lynn's essential thematic tenor be expressed. For every element that hits, there's another that misses, though when each concurrent element is in perfect alignment, this is a glorious work of bravura ambition. In its wayward attempts at forging a narrative scope on par with its visionary technical design, Billy Lynn dulls its impact with an array of substandard subplots; their influence is of little cumulative value, as it's only under Lee's guidance that its poignancy begins to take effect. He steers a mildly militaristic script in a few wrong directions of its own, but in pursuing a commentary upon the commodification of war and the identity-related damage it causes to the individual, he's eloquent and persuasive. As enlivened by its startling technical construction as it is hampered by corniness and a problematic approach to gender representation - epitomized in appalling scenes with the title character's love interest - Billy Lynn comes off like a crazed cartoon, a case of too many cooks with too many ideas spoiling the comic book, and it's the closest thing Lee has made to his own, underrated comic book movie, Hulk. Maybe it's a too-big, brave step into new frontiers, or maybe it's just a fascinating folly. Just ignore the public's own ignorance, and trust me: this is, for good or bad, a must-see movie.

REVIEW - RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER (PAUL W. S. ANDERSON)


Whether it's just a trend or a legitimate line of critical thinking, the concept of vulgar auteurism is one which has yet to properly win me over. I appreciate the integrity of Paul W. S. Anderson's vision, and I often admire the beauty and clarity of his skill - the auteurist element of this concept is not what irks me. It's the vulgarity which, though regularly a quality which I favour in art, is simply not to my liking in Anderson's Resident Evil series. Spatial dynamism, relentless forward momentum, aesthetic symmetry, all integral components in the nucleus of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter's identity, and all valuable components too, offering bountiful viewing pleasures for the casual fan and the critical thinker alike. And then there's the sheer, simple atrociousness of fellow components such as the writing and the acting - less integral to this particular identity of film, perhaps, but still never less than essential to my own viewing pleasure. Am I a latent traditionalist in my own nucleus as a cinephile? Those critics and fans may seek to defend Anderson in dismissing the importance of these failings, primarily due to the intentionality of their failure, but that argument won't wash with me. There's no convincing purpose in employing poor actors to perform a poor script, regardless of its relevance to the formation of vulgar auteurism as a valid artistic concept. In developing that formation further, The Final Chapter offers nothing new of significance except a more fundamental grasp of basic filmmaking principles - possibly only indicating how low Anderson had set his own bar - whilst also emphasizing the hardiness of Anderson's technique, buried as it is beneath yet more and more layers of, well, vulgarity.

Monday, 13 February 2017

2016 SATELLITE AWARDS ANNOUNCED


No idea when the Satellite Award winners were announced, but I care about as little now as I ever did. Their nominations, which I dismissed as 'atrocious' at the time but which, at the other end of awards season, now seem entirely banal, are here, btw.

Best Motion Picture
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea

Best Director
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)

Best Actress
Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Ruth Negga (Loving)

Best Actor
Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Naomie Harris (Moonlight)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)

Best Screenplay, Original
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

Best Screenplay, Adapted
Kieran Fitzgerald and Oliver Stone (Snowden)

Best Cinematography
Bill Pope (The Jungle Book)

Best Film Editing
John Gilbert (Hacksaw Ridge)

Best Art Direction and Production Design
Jean Rabasse (Jackie)

Best Costume Design
Madeline Fontaine (Jackie)

Best Sound (Editing and Mixing)
Peter Grace, Robert MacKenzie, Kevin O'Connell and Andy Wright (Hacksaw Ridge)

Best Visual Effects
Andrew R. Jones, Robert Legato, Dan Lemmon and Adam Valdez (The Jungle Book)

Best Original Score
Justin Hurwitz (La La Land)

Best Original Song
'City of Stars' (La La Land)

Best Ensemble
Hidden Figures

Best Motion Picture, Animated or Mixed Media
My Life as a Courgette

Best Motion Picture, Documentary
13th

Best Motion Picture, International Film
The Salesman

Best First Feature
Russudan Glurjidze (House of Others)

Auteur Award
Tom Ford

Humanitarian Award
Patrick Stewart

Mary Pickford Award
Edward James Olmos

Tesla Award
John Toll