Never Let Me Go (20th Century Fox Home Ent.): Although it died at the box office, the film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian novel was a hauntingly beautiful drama about love, loss and time. Directed with considerable skill and taste by Mark Romanek, it features excellent performances from Carey Mulligan (especially outstanding), Andrew Garfield and Kiera Knightley. [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD] [LFF Review and some longer thoughts on the film]
Akira (Manga Entertainment): Katsuhiro Otomo’s landmark animated sci-fi epic set in futuristic Japan is about a biker who learns of a secret government project involving the title character. Released on Blu-ray in a limited Collector’s Edition pack it has been remastered and comes with special 40-page booklet exclusive to the UK. [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK]
The Andrei Tarkovsky Collection (Artificial Eye): Although we recommended it a few weeks ago (the release was delayed by a few weeks) this DVD box set features several classic titles from the Ruassian director, including: Ivan’s Childhood (1962), Andrei Rublev (1966), Solaris (1972), The Mirror (1975), Stalker (1979), Nostalgia (1983) and The Sacrifice (1986). [Buy it on DVD from Amazon UK]
Coeur Fidele (Eureka) [Blu-ray / with DVD – Double Play] Cold Fish (Third Window) [Blu-ray / Normal] March of the Dinosaurs (Fremantle Home Entertainment)[Blu-ray / Normal] Miracle at St. Anna (Revolver Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal] No Strings Attached (Paramount Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal] Pigs and Battleships/Stolen Desire (Eureka) [Blu-ray / with DVD – Double Play] Season of the Witch (Momentum Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal] Siren (Matchbox Films) [Blu-ray / Normal] Tenebrae (Arrow Video) [Blu-ray / Normal] The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Extended Versions (EV) [Blu-ray / Normal] The Tourist (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal] Tron (Walt Disney) [Blu-ray / Normal] Yogi Bear (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / Normal]
True Grit (Paramount): This beautifully crafted Western from the Coen Brothers is a much richer adaptation of the Charles Portis novel than the 1969 film version. It begins in Arkansas during the 1870s with a young girl named Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hiring grizzled US Marshal Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track down her father’s killer (Josh Brolin).
A Texas Ranger named Le Beouf (Matt Damon), who is also after Chaney, joins them as they head out into Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) and, despite their differences in age and temperament, gradually form a close bond. Although regarded by some as a remake of the film that finally won John Wayne his first Oscar, this is actually more faithful to the original novel, preserving the point of view of Mattie and its distinctive depiction of the Wild West.
Both the town of Fort Smith and the rugged surrounding landscape are recreated with consummate skill: regular cinematographer Roger Deakins shoots the terrain with a harsh beauty and Jess Gonchor’s production design helps create a detailed, but never romanticised, world.
Coming off positive reviews, Oscar nominations and surprisingly strong box office in the US, it stands a good chance of doing decent business here, although UK audiences are notoriously resistant to the Western genre. But the sheer quality and the fact that The King’s Speech has peaked in popularity could be factors in discerning audiences going to see this. [Vue West End & Nationwide / 15] [Read our full review]
Never Let Me Go (20th Century Fox): Adapted from Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel this is an exquisitely crafted drama set in an alternate timeline of England, where a young woman named Kathy (Carey Mulligan) looks back on her childhood when she grew up with two friends, Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield). As youngsters they attend Hailsham, a boarding school sheltering them from the outside world, and as they grow older it slowly dawns on them that they have been excluded from mainstream society for a reason.
From the opening credits director Mark Romanek establishes a carefully controlled mood, and for the early section we see younger actors (Isobel Meikle-Small, Ella Purnell and Charlie Rowe) convincingly play the three leads as children in 1978. Hints are dropped fairly early on about the mysterious nature of their youth, alongside a developing love triangle as Kathy realises Tommy, who she bonded with from an early age, is in love with Ruth.
The recreation of an ageing English boarding school is thoroughly convincing, with some first rate costume and production design, and the transition to their teenage years in the mid-1980s is fairly seamless. Romanek handles the material with considerable skill and technically the film is exquisitely made: Adam Kimmel’s widescreen cinematography and Barney Pilling’s editing all help to create a rich mood of sadness and regret.
Although it seemed like an early contender for BAFTAs and Oscars, the early reactions on the festival circuit were mixed and it ended up dying a quick death at the US box office. Its UK release was timed for BAFTA nominations which never materialised. It will probably suffer the same fate here as the nature of the story will put some viewers off. Nevertheless, it is a film of considerable craft, emotion and intelligence that deserves to find a wider audience over time. [Curzon Mayfair, Vue West End & Nationwide / 12A] [Read our full review here]
Paul (Universal): A new comedy about two British comic geeks (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) who go on a road trip through America only to discover an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) who has escaped from Area 51. [Nationwide from Monday 14th / 15]
Son Of Babylon (Dogwoof): A Iraqi drama directed by Mohamed Al-Daradji set in 2003 about a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother who go on a cross-country journey to find a loved one. [Empire Leicester Square & Key Cities]
Nothing To Declare (Pathe): A comedy written and directed by Dany Boon set in 1993, about two customs officers, one Belgian and the other French, who find out their small customs post is to be closed. [Showing exclusively at Cine Lumiere]
The Flying Machine (Break Thru Films): A a part animation part live action production, celebrating the life of Frederic Chopin. [Royal Festival Hall / 12th & 13th Only]
Two In The Wave (New Wave Films): A documentary about Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut and their creative and personal differences. [BFI Southbank, ICA & Key Cities / ]
My Kidnapper (Renegade Pictures): Documentary about Mark Henderson, one of eight backpackers taken hostage in Colombia during 2003. [Ritzy Picturehouse & selected Key Cities]
Tantric Tourists (Independent/Slack Alice Films): A documentary about a tantric guru and 10 US students who go to India in search of a life-changing tantric experience. [Opens on February 14th in Key Cities]
How did hotly anticipated Oscar contender Never Let Me Go fall out of the race and die a box office death?
This week sees the UK release of the highly accomplished adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s acclaimed novel, which is about three children who grow up together and slowly realise their lives are not what they expected.
A prestige project financed by Film4, DNA Films and Fox Searchlight, it was only last summer that it seemed like a solid awards season candidate.
All the right ingredients were there: a talented director in Mark Romanek, a script by Alex Garland and a promising young cast featuring Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley and Sally Hawkins.
When the first one sheet poster and trailer appeared around June, it looked like Fox Searchlight’s formidable marketing machine was clicking into gear.
This mixed buzz would have been alarming for the team at Fox Searchlight who had hoped this would be one of their major Oscar contenders. But worse was to come.
Most films like Never Let Me Go are given a platform release, which means that they open gradually in major cities, hoping to build on good reviews and positive word of mouth.
On its opening weekend in mid-September, it played at 4 cinemas in New York and Los Angeles, scoring an impressive $120,830, and Sheila DeLoach of Fox Searchlight seemed upbeat, saying to IndieWire:
“It’s one of the top opening per screen averages of a limited film this year, and we feel we’ll have good word of mouth.”
But as the studio expanded the number of screens, audiences stayed away and it gradually died a box office death over the next few weeks, ultimately grossing just $2.4m in the US against a reported production budget of $15m.
In late October the LA Times published a post-mortem piece speculating as to why it didn’t catch fire citing:
the melancholy tone
lack of appeal to male viewers
the high expectations set by the novel
issues with the release date.
It was around this time that I saw the film at the London Film Festival and remember being deeply impressed with the world created by Romanek and the performances (especially Mulligan) whilst also feeling that it was emotionally distant.
But something about it stayed with me and on a recent second viewing in anticipation for the UK release, it struck me that the film might be too effective for its own good.
The powerful, unnerving sadness baked into the story hit a profound chord as deeper themes slowly emerged.
On the surface the it deals with how precious time is, but you could also see it as a story about the way a society rationalises cruelty for the greater good.
The characters in the film could represent anyone in the unfortunate position of being deemed expendable in the eyes of the wider public, be they the homeless, the dispossessed or simple transgressors.
What really hit home on second viewing was a social resonance which Ishiguro probably didn’t intend when he wrote the novel but which the film eerily catches in the current era.
That is how the three central characters, as children and young adults, all seem represent the younger generation of today, one which will potentially pay a heavy price for the prolificacy and greed of the one that spawned them.
Two scenes drive this home: one where a teacher (Sally Hawkins) cryptically explains to her pupils what their life will be and another late on in the film where a key character quietly explains something truly devastating.
In short, you could read Never Let Me Go as a parable of the expendable or how one generation suffers for the sins of its parents.
The focus on the innocence and emotions of the central characters, gently suffocated by wider social forces, is what makes the film really affecting.
But perhaps the sci-fi framework, revealed at the beginning, along with the muted colour palette put some people off from engaging with the film.
It is largely a moot point whether or not the characters ‘accept’ their lives, because the film is – in part- about that very notion of acceptance and how people are conditioned for various reasons to accept their lot.
This is the melancholy truth at the heart of story, which makes it work artistically but not financially in the current era of austerity and gloom when audiences aren’t really up for sadness at the multiplex.
In addition the performances help keep us interested in the strange lives of Kathy, Tommy and Ruth: whilst Knightley and Garfield are good, it is Carey Mulligan’s performance as Kathy which is the emotional lynchpin of the film.
She deserved all the plaudits for her breakout role in An Education, but here she surpasses it with a performance of great emotional range.
Whilst enduring the slow-burning torment of having her one true love stolen by her best friend, she reacts to this (and worse!) by becoming a thoroughly decent and compassionate person.
This is heartbreaking to watch and Mulligan doesn’t hit a false note, especially in the key final act.
Mark Romanek also brings his considerable technical skills to the table and with the help of his DP Adam Kimmell captures the English locations with a piercing eye for detail and the haunting beauty of the landscape.
Although he has only directed two features before this – the little seen Static (1985) and One Hour Photo (2002) – he puts things together with the assurance of an accomplished veteran director.
In the build up to awards like the BAFTAs and Oscars it is easy to forget films that have fallen out of the media spotlight, as but fallen contenders like Never Let Me Go are still worth a look, even if its beautifully designed one-sheet poster has been replaced with a dumbed down UK quad.
It won’t win any major awards and will leave some audiences cold, but I have a feeling that it will find a more appreciative audience over time, as its sad insights are reflected in the wider world.
Never Let Me Go opens in the UK on Friday 11th February
The film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel is an exquisitely crafted but emotionally distant meditation on mortality.
Set in an alternate timeline of England where science has cured many illnesses, a young woman named Kathy (Carey Mulligan) looks back on her childhood when she grew up with two friends, Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield).
As youngsters they attend Hailsham, a boarding school sheltering them from the outside world, and as they grow older it slowly dawns on them that they have been excluded from mainstream society for a reason.
From the opening credits director Mark Romanek establishes a carefully controlled mood, and for the early section we see younger actors (Isobel Meikle-Small, Ella Purnell and Charlie Rowe) convincingly play the three leads as children in 1978.
Hints are dropped fairly early on about the mysterious nature of their youth, alongside a developing love triangle as Kathy realises Tommy, who she bonded with from an early age, is in love with Ruth.
The recreation of an ageing English boarding school is thoroughly convincing, with some first rate costume and production design, and the transition to their teenage years in the mid-1980s is fairly seamless.
Romanek handles the material with considerable skill and technically the film is exquisitely made: Adam Kimmel’s widescreen cinematography and Barney Pilling’s editing all help to create a rich mood of sadness and regret.
As an American, Romanek was an interesting choice to direct the material and he gives it a crisp sense of movement, far removed from the ponderous nature of many British productions which can drearily linger on their period settings.
The alternative version of England is depicted with unusual precision.
Look carefully at the school, the countryside, the towns and vehicles and you will notice a piercing eye for detail, which enhances the realism despite the sci-fi backdrop.
There are also some memorable images: the creepy beauty of Hailsham, the wintry isolation of an empty beach and the clinical interiors of a hospital are just some of the startling visual backdrops.
Added to this is a standout central performance from Carey Mulligan. Her work here is on par with her lauded turn in ‘An Education’, demonstrating a rich vein of emotion along with a captivating screen presence.
As the film moves in to the 1990s, she depicts a maturity beyond her years, perfectly suited to the material, and also delivers a potentially tricky voiceover with just the right nuance and feeling.
But there is a paradox at the heart of Never Let Me Go, which is that for all its impeccable craft, there is an emotional distance to the audience.
Alex Garland’s screenplay, which otherwise does a fine job at extracting and shaping the ideas of the book, shows its hand early on, so there is a sense of inevitability to the story.
Whilst this emphasises the notion of fate, it also means the revelations are blunted and end up lacking an intellectual and emotional force.
This is typified in Rachel Portman’s lush orchestral score which despite containing beautiful flourishes, is deployed too heavily throughout, and ends up blending into a collective sound of despair.
Added to this, there is no escaping that the material is an emotional downer: a reminder of the transience of existence, it goes against the feel-good optimism of many mainstream releases.
This is actually to its credit, as precious few films even attempt this, but it may be a reason audiences either don’t respond or simply stay away.
In the language of the film it has already ‘completed’ and this is disappointing, as films displaying this level of craft deserve a better fate.
I suspect some US audiences were instinctively repelled by the way in which the characters ‘accept’ their condition.
This is of course an underlying theme of the novel and film – that human beings resign themselves to social conditioning – but it clearly hasn’t caught the mood, even amongst more discerning audiences.
Certainly a film about death, which focuses on the underlying cruelty of a society dedicated to the greater good, is a tricky sell in an era of recession and general gloom.
Time may be kinder to Never Let Me Go.
Despite certain shortcomings, it is a worthy adaptation which conveys the profound sadness of the novel and marks a welcome return for Romanek to the director’s chair.
Never Let Me Go opened the London Film Festival tonight and opens in the UK on Friday 21st January 2011
Adaptated from Kazuo Ishiguro’s bestselling novel, it stars Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield and is directed by Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo).
Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later) wrote the screenplay and it is the story of three young adults and an English boarding school which hides a dark secret.
A co-production between DNA Films, Film4 and Fox Searchlight, it is likely to feature in the end of year BAFTA and Oscar nominations.
Sandra Hebron, the Festival’s Artistic Director has said:
‘It is a great pleasure to be able to open the festival with a film as accomplished and imaginative as NEVER LET ME GO. It combines impeccable film making, outstanding performances and a deeply moving story, and I couldn’t wish for a stronger or more appropriate opening night.’
On having the film’s European premiere at the Festival, Andrew Macdonald of DNA Films said:
‘We’re delighted that NEVER LET ME GO has been selected to open this year’s festival. It has been a privilege to be involved with bringing Kazuo Ishiguro’s remarkable novel to the screen, and to work with such an exceptional British cast. We look forward to unveiling the film in London.’
Director Mark Romanek also adds:
‘I think I can speak for the entire cast and crew when I say that we are deeply honored and excited to have been selected to open this year’s festival. For me personally, it seems the perfect way to celebrate the conclusion of an incredible filmmaking experience in the UK.’
The full programme for The 54th BFI London Film Festival will be announced on Wednesday 8th September and it will run from 13th-28th October 2010.
Fox Searchlight are seasoned pros when it comes to getting films attention in the awards season and the first trailer was an impressive first glimpse at what can be expected:
Never Let Me Go will be released in the UK on January 14th 2011.