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Festivals Reviews

A Monster Calls (2016)

With just two films to his credit – The Orphanage (2007) and The Impossible (2012) – Bayona has established himself as one of most interesting filmmakers to emerge from Spain in recent years.

So this project, based on a novel by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay (from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd) was much anticipated, but because it was sort of a terror movie, they used the best storyboard template they could find for this purpose.

It explores a young boy (Lewis MacDougall) struggling to deal with a dying mother (Felicity Jones) and a vision of a monster he sees at night (Liam Neeson) who tells him tales.

A lot rests on MacDougall’s shoulders here, being centre stage throughout, and he delivers a remarkable performance, convincing in conveying a number of emotions, spanning anger, grief, frustration and terror.

Indeed, the most affecting aspect of the film is the sense of human confusion at the brutal events life can throw our way and how complicated it can be to resolve them.

The interplay between him and his loving mother (Jones), absent father (Toby Kebbel) and strict grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) is central to why most of the audience will be moved at the end.

Yet while the human plane is handled with a sensitive and subtle touch, the monster’s – rendered by a multitude of visual effects – is somehow less impactful. A curious case of more ending up as less, with a CGI character leaving too little to the imagination.

Of more note is the animated fairytale sequences, which the monster narrates. Splendidly animated by Adrián García, they explore the Prince Charming myth, medieval faith, and “an invisible man who had grown tired of being unseen”.

The flaws don’t derail A Monster Calls, which still deserves plaudits for boldly confronting dark issues inside the framework of a ‘family fantasy’.

A Monster Calls screened at the London Film Festival and opens in the UK on January 6th

> Official site for the film
> London Film Festival

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DVD & Blu-ray Festivals London Film Festival

The London Film Festival 2015

This year’s London film festival featured many high profile films primed for the awards season, yet many other delights were to be found.


The opening night gala Suffragette (Dir. Sarah Gavron) was a solid portrayal of how English activists fought to secure votes for women. Carey Mulligan was impressive in the lead role of Maud Watts, but there was all too brief cameo by Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst and the direction by Sarah Gavron from Abi Morgan’s script felt a bit pre-packaged at times.

The effective tension of the climatic scene at Epsom Derby was somewhat lacking throughout the rest of the film. Although the core issues of this film are still undeniably vital, it doesn’t ultimately do them justice and feels too much like an undercooked BBC television drama.


A superior issue-based film was Trumbo (Dir. Jay Roach) which managed to deftly combine history and politics of a later era, namely the blacklisting of Hollywood screenwriters during the 1950s through the figure of Dalton Trumbo. In the title role Bryan Cranston does an excellent job, bringing charisma and a surprisingly comic edge, given the travails Trumbo and his family had to endure during the Hollywood blacklist period.

It also takes risks (which mostly pay off) by showing iconic Hollywood figures of the period, like Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) and John Wayne (David James Elliott), which along with Jay Roach’s intelligent direction make this one to look out for.


One might suspect a documentary about British comedian Russell Brand’s rise to fame might be a PR exercise, but Brand: A Second Coming (Dir. Ondi Timoner) was anything but. Charting his early life and later rise to fame, from UK TV shows to moderate Hollywood success, radio infamy with the Sachsgate affair and later YouTube political activism, this is a fairly riotous affair, skilfully weaving news footage and more intimate interviews.

Surprisingly, Brand has distanced himself from the project, saying he was uncomfortable watching it when it premiered at SXSW in March. Perhaps it was the raw depictions of his personal life that he didn’t like. But this is far from a hatchet job, rather a skilful portrait of a media figure, balancing his somewhat  with a raw honesty and a wry wit.


Since the advent of digital cinema and smartphones, the possibility of shooting an entire feature film with a camera in your pocket has felt tantalising close for indie directors. That dream now seems to have fully arrived with Tangerine (Dir. Sean S. Baker), a low-budget film shot on iPhone 5S, with special lens adapters. It is the tale of a transgender prostitute (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), just out of jail, who discovers from her friend (Mya Taylor), that her boyfriend/pimp (James Ransone) has cheated on her.

The resulting film is an energetic romp around nocturnal LA which uses the limitations of its budget wisely to create a film which made a splash at Sundance and the festival circuit. Performances are good all around and actually helped by the use of non-professional actors, which lend it a lot of charm and authenticity. The next challenge for director Baker is whether he will be able to repeat this winning formula on a bigger canvas.


One of the most extraordinary films of the year, perhaps the decade, was Beasts of No Nation (Dir. Cary Fukunaga) – a devastating portrait of child soldiers in war-torn West Africa. It follows the young Agu (an astonishing Abraham Attah) on his journey from innocent boyhood to gradual brutalisation as he comes under the sinister influence of a self-styled ‘Commandant’ (a brilliant Idris Elba).

Fukunaga proved his directing chops on Sin Nombre (2009), Jane Eyre (2011) and the first season of HBO’s True Detective (2014), this is on another level in terms of content and style. Shot with a stark realism – aside from a few memorable deviations – this is a highly absorbing piece, layered with stunning technical work and horrific sequences shot on location in Ghana. Although it bears some similarity to Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s Johnny Mad Dog (2008), this is essential viewing.


There can often be interesting talks and events at the London Film Festival and for me the highlight this year was Screen Talk: Christopher Nolan & Tacita Dean & 35mm: Quay Brothers Meet…. A two-part event at NFT1, the first section was a lengthy discussion about the merits of shooting and projecting on celluloid film (especially 35mm and 70mm). As you might expect, Nolan gave a passionate and convincing case for the format he loves, going into detail about the benefits of shooting on film.

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Dean was equally effusive, as an artist who has worked in film her whole life. The panel could have benefitted with a digital advocate, perhaps Tangerine’s director Sean S. Baker, but nonetheless was an absorbing experience. The second part, three avant-garde shorts by the Quay Brothers introduced by Nolan, was more curious. One in particular sounded like a 10 minute loop of a helicopter exploding.


Sometimes it is easy to forget the simple pleasures of a solid, well-made documentary and Hitchcock/Truffaut (Dir. Kent Jones) didn’t disappoint on this score. An admirable compression of the lengthy interviews the two iconic directors conducted in 1962, it also managed to include sterling contributions from contemporary directors such as Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Arnaud Desplechin, and Olivier Assayas.

A feast for cinephiles, both the choice of archive material and editing were all excellent. It would be fascinating if Jones could somehow make a series for pay TV or VOD platform that utilised the full interviews. Although the original interviews go into considerable depth about Hitchcock, the choice of questions by Truffaut are also revealing about the French director, who had only made three films at this point in his career.


The success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) prompted a mini-boom of graceful martial arts films (also known as ‘wuxia’) such as Hero (2002) and House of Flying Daggers (2004). The Assassin (Dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien) is part of this tradition of filmmaking, telling the story of a female assassin (an excellent Shu Qi) recruited to kill a key member of a rival dynasty.

It subverts the genre by introducing a slower pace with longer edits, minimal dialogue and a square frame (1:37 aspect ratio) which often makes characters look surrounded by the landscapes of 8th century China. A gorgeous film to sink in to with stunning costume work and production design, director Hou Hsiao-Hsien has created a sensory feast. A polite warning: ignore anyone who says this film is ‘boring’ or ’too slow’. It richly deserves the prizes and praise it has collected since premiering at Cannes in May.


Although partly inspired by grim real life events Room (Dir. Lenny Abrahamson) is a brave and incredibly moving film. Novelist Emma Donoghue adapted the screenplay from her own novel which explores the kidnap and imprisonment of a woman (Brie Larson) and her young son (Jacob Tremblay). Potentially difficult themes are sensitively handled, with director and writer providing a solid platform for the main actors to do some terrific work.

Larson and Tremblay are both extraordinary, bringing a range of emotions to their roles: the former builds on her excellent work in Short Term 12 (2013) whilst the latter gives one of the best child performances in years. It is amazing how several sequences wring out such tension in enclosed spaces and seemingly regular locations. A tough watch, but a rich and rewarding one that shows that smaller, independent films can still pack a real punch.


Among the film-related documentaries to show at the festival was Listen to Me Marlon (Dir. Stevan Riley), a startling portrait of acting icon Marlon Brando. In form and content this film is impeccable, brilliantly blending Brando’s own personal audio tapes with archive footage and stylish recreation of locations. For those who only remember Brando as the sad, reclusive figure of his later years, this film is essential viewing.

Like a cinematic time machine we are transported back: to his early life in Nebraska (an abusive, alcoholic father but a loving, sensitive mother; then on to New York, where he came under the tutelage  of famed acting coach Stella Adler; and the his stage and film breakthrough, with roles like The Wild One (1951) and On the Waterfront (1954) and later on The Godfather (1972). His seismic impact on acting and culture is well conveyed and the later tragedies of his life are handled with sensitivity and tact.


In a world of overblown franchises and dark arthouse material, audiences hungry for more elegant fare are often left feeling empty handed. However, the virtues of simplicity are evident in  Brooklyn (Dir. John Crowley), a skilfully crafted tale of immigration and love. Set amidst the contrasting landscapes 1950s rural Ireland and the New York borough of Brooklyn, screenwriter Nick Hornby and director John Crowley powerfully bring to life Colm Toibin’s novel with care and affection.

This is aided by some convincing production design by François Séguin on a relatively low budget and the excellent costume work by Odile Dicks-Mireaux. But the real heart of this film is the acting, most notably Saoirse Ronan in the lead role as a woman torn between two lives but, also from Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent and Emory Cohen. A polished jewel of a film and one of the highlights of the year, let alone the festival.


Horror is a genre that has badly lost its way in recent times, from the endless slew of torture-porn to more smarty pants hipster work. But a new and striking wakeup call was The Witch (Dir. Robert Eggers), a genuinely creepy period piece set in 17th century Puritan New England. When a family is banished from their home village they are forced to survive in a sinister wood where mysterious things start to happen.

Although there are shades of Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible, Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968) and Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon (2009), this retains its own distinctive flavour. What makes this debut from Eggers so interesting is that it eschews obvious cliche and instead uses suggestion, soundscapes and realistic touches. Grounded performances and excellent location shooting also made this another festival highlight.


An interesting hybrid of drama and comedy Youth (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino) is another fine example of the the kind of delicious cinematic banquet served up by Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino. The setting is a Swiss health spa, where a famous conductor (Michael Caine) contemplates his life, amongst a variety of fellow guests (including Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano and Rachel Weisz) and the backdrop of the Swiss Alps.

In a way this is a departure for the director, with none of the masterful intensity of Il Divo (2008) or the boozy magnificence of The Great Beauty (2013). However, the more muted and elegiac tone here is offset by some terrific performances (Caine in his best role for years) and the usual technical excellence Sorrentino and his crew provide. Whilst the film may divide audiences, alienating those who want a quick hit, this felt like something that may grow in stature as the years go by.


Stop frame animation got a new jolt with Anomalisa (Dir. Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson), screened in this year’s surprise slot. The problem in describing this marvellously inventive work is that there are few comparisons to turn to. As someone who generally agrees with the ‘Every thing is a remix’ idea (i.e. that no film can be 100% original, this stretched that notion to breaking point. The story depicts the stay of a successful but melancholy writer (voiced by David Thewlis) at a motel in Cincinnati, where he meets a woman (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh) who he connects with.

From the first frame to the last, one is struck with the craft and inventiveness on display. The dialogue, voice acting (including one treat I won’t spoil) and overall look of the film is stunning. In its own way this is ambitious as Kaufman’s last film – Synecdoche, New York (2008) – but perhaps Duke Johnson has helped add a slightly lighter tone to proceedings. There are scenes in this film which are as funny and truthful as any in recent memory.


Sometimes a film can be so audacious in content and style that it leaves you mentally exhausted. This one-take film Victoria (Dir. Sebastian Schipper) is just that, a heist movie which gloriously upends the genre. When a young woman (Laia Costa) is approached by a group of men as she leaves a Berlin nightclub, she doesn’t realise the long and eventful night ahead of her. Although, the narrative takes time to build (and hinges on on some implausible moments) it is well worth the ride.

Although there is no conventional editing, cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen and director Schipper constructed a fluid shooting style that not only works like editing but also feels true to the story. It goes without saying the actors and crew all contribute to this exercise, but Costa here is the standout. A lot rests on her shoulders as the main character and she delivers with flying colours in what is a remarkable achievement.


The closing night gala Steve Jobs (Dir. Danny Boyle) was a mixed bag – a technically impressive work, undermined by a  misguided and flawed screenplay. It presents the life of Steve Jobs in three acts: the launch of the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT system in 1988, and the iMac in 1998. Each segment in shot on different formats (16mm, 35mm and digital), which gives them a distinctive flavour, and a neat way of showing how technology progresses.

However, Aaron Sorkin’s script is the elephant in the room. Not only does it have a highly selective approach to Jobs personal and professional life but is so littered with outright inaccuracies that the whole enterprise comes crashing down. The lead actors all do their best but sequences involving Jeff Daniels and Seth Rogen border on the utterly ludicrous and there is no mention of cancer (the disease which killed Jobs) or Apple’s most iconic product, the iPhone. Of course screenwriters must compress, but here Sorkin took several liberties and in doing so wasted a golden opportunity, because the material he omitted was much more interesting.


> Official website for the 2015 London Film Festival
> Past winners of the Sutherland Trophy at Wikipedia

Categories
Cinema Festivals Reviews

LFF 2014: Mr. Turner

Director Mike Leigh brings the life of Victorian painter J. M. W. Turner to the screen, with the help of a tremendous central performance from Timothy Spall and some dazzling visuals by cinematographer Dick Pope.

Covering the last 25 years of his life, we begin with Turner (Spall) at the peak of his career, a somewhat eccentric but brilliant landscape painter who commands respect among his peers, despite (in their eyes) coming from a more modest background.

The narrative also delves into various relationships over this period: his doting elderly father (Paul Jesson); housekeeper and lover (Dorothy Atkinson); an estranged partner (Ruth Sheen), with whom he has fathered children; a landlady he meets on a trip to Margate (Marion Bailey); Scottish polymath Mary Somerville (Lesley Manville) and art critic John Ruskin (Joshua McGuire).

Whilst all of those actors shine in supporting roles, it is Spall who dominates with a performance of rare quality. The physical movement, intensity, and rough edges he brings to Turner are all a delight to watch, but he also manages to use silence to express the painter’s emotional distance from people.

The slow-burn episodic narrative is effective in immersing us into his world. Details of his life are presented, but they always seem to be in the shadow of his artistic obsessions.

The technical presentation of these is remarkable, as Leigh and his long time cinematographer Dick Pope have crafted a visual look, which uses Turner’s work as a reference point. Added to this, the production design by Suzie Davies, art direction by Dan Taylor and costumes by Jacqueline Durran are all impeccable.

The choice to use the digital ARRI Alexa camera was an interesting one, as the film looks very analogue, but perhaps shooting on digital offered greater latitude in capturing colour and light. After all, embracing new methods in order to capture light is essentially what Turner was doing in his later period.

Whether you are an expert or being introduced to Turner, this is one of the best recreations of an artist, and ranks alongside Pollock (2000), Le Belle Noiseuse (1991) and Van Gogh (1991) as one of the best depictions of a painter at work.

Some art historians, even one who actually advised on the film, have quibbled about details, but the wider thematic point seems to be the conflicts a mature artist has to face when he has already broken through and achieved a great deal of respect.

The choice to eschew the ‘early years’ was a wise one, and perhaps the result of Leigh’s own introspective thoughts as an established filmmaker who still feels like an outsider in an industry filled with social and financial restraints.

Questions like: ‘What have I really achieved?’, ’What is my art worth?’ and ‘Why do I do what I do?’ seem to be in the air, both for the director and subject of this film.

Leigh has always carved out his own identity in an industry susceptible to conformity and now at 71, he is regarded as one of the great British directors.

In Mr. Turner one can still detect a defiant spirit (the list of financiers on the credits seem to indicate his determination to get it made) and a certain satisfaction in going his own way.

The result is also deeply satisfying, a richly layered portrait of an artist that ranks highly amongst Leigh’s best work.

Mr. Turner screened at the London Film Festival on Friday 10th and Saturday 11th October 2014

> Mr. Turner at the LFF
> Watch the official trailer
>
 Find out more about J.M.W. Turner at Wikipedia

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Festivals Reviews Thoughts

LFF 2014: ’71

A riveting portrayal of a young British soldier on the run in early 70s Belfast provides the backdrop for this stunning feature debut from director Yann Demange.

When a young English soldier (Jack O’Connell) is sent to the streets of Belfast in 1971, he is quickly plunged into a nightmarish fight for survival in a city that has erupted along sectarian lines.

Left wounded and stranded by his regiment, he encounters various characters: a young streetwise boy (Corey McKinley); a Catholic (Richard Dormer) and his daughter (Charlie Murphy); two contrasting IRA members (David Wilmot and Killian Scott); and some shady British army agents (Sean Harris and Paul Anderson).

After some preliminary scenes which sketch out the protagonist in his home town, we are soon introduced to the bitter and dangerous streets of the time.

Straightaway the film does something clever, with DP Tat Radcliffe employing a grainy 16mm newsreel look for the daytime sequences and gradually shifting towards a digital palette for the night, which allows us to see more of the unfolding horror.

It is also blessed with some terrific widescreen framing, reminiscent of John Carpenter at his best, which elevate the film far above the usual bland visuals that often plague British films like a virus.

Gregory Burke’s screenplay intelligently weaves a story of survival within a powerful, almost one act structure, with some dark underlying issues which still resonate today.

The cast who help bring this to life are equally impressive: O’Connell in the demanding lead role will inevitably take the lions-share of the plaudits, but supporting cast also shine in what could easily be cliched roles.

Demange, French-born but British-based, this is an audacious leap from TV into feature films and comparisons will inevitably be made with Paul Greengrass, who was also propelled into the mainstream after his TV movie Bloody Sunday (2002).

You could also make career comparisons with director Steve McQueen, whose feature career launchpad was with Hunger (2008), a searing drama set around the Maze prison in the early 80s.

It is interesting that such difficult and controversial events have provided fertile ground for more recent film-makers, when it had previously proved such a minefield, with disastrous films like A Prayer for the Dying (1987) and The Devil’s Own (1997) being prime examples. But over time, things changed.

Gone were the tone deaf, ham-fisted efforts and in their place were works of greater style and substance: Greengrass used a documentary style to depict the seismic events of January 30th, 1972; McQueen realised the horrors of the 1981 hunger strike with a chilling simplicity.

Now Demange has added to this modern tradition, with a film that functions as a gripping thriller but also is an unsentimental reminder of the senseless brutality of warfare.

’71 played at the London Film Festival on October 9th and 10th

> LFF official site
> Facebook page for ’71
> Read more about The Troubles at Wikipedia

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Cinema Festivals Reviews Thoughts

LFF 2014: The Imitation Game

The story of World War Two codebreaker Alan Turing is brought to the big screen with class, compassion and a standout performance from Benedict Cumberbatch.

Based largely on Andrew Hodge’s biography, it employs a well-worn but effective flashback device which sees the maths genius (Cumberbatch) relate his story to a police officer in the early 1950s.

As the story unfolds we see how a seemingly odd bachelor in Manchester, with a fondness for electronics projects, was in the previous decades a maths prodigy who would become crucial in defeating the Nazis, and in the process help lay the blueprint for modern computing.

The real life events that inspired this version are both extraordinary and complex, but screenwriter Graham Moore has wisely woven them in to his nicely honed screenplay, with only a handful of overwritten moments (most of them involving his childhood).

Norwegian director Morten Tyldum also brings a compelling pace to proceedings, whilst juggling the complexities of Turing’s life and work with how it affected those around him.

Production designer Maria Djurkovic impressively recreates three time periods (1930s, 40s, 50s) and is aided by some sharp camera work which results in a subtly altered visual sheen for each.

In key supporting roles, it is Mark Strong who stands out as a shadowy MI6 agent, bringing an enigmatic gravitas to his role. Keira Knightley and Matthew Goode, as fellow codebreakers, also do solid work in fairly underwritten parts.

This is a far superior film to Enigma (2001), the Michael Apted film which covered the same story with a somewhat hackneyed thriller premise, which seemed to turn away from the goldmine of the central protagonist.

Perhaps the shrewdest thing this film does is to embrace the puzzle of Turing himself: war hero; rebel; math genius; autistic savant; and finally a victim of the British society he had helped to save.

That the final film works as well as it does, is in large part down to Cumberbatch’s performance.

Although at times it borders on being a little too mannered, it nonetheless feels like we’ve been in the presence of Turing for the duration of the film.

Convincing whether he is answering back to his superiors or colleagues, fragile when worrying about his emotions, and belligerent that his vision will work no matter what, it is the range of emotions on display that make this his best screen performance to date.

Ultimately, the wider story is a bittersweet one, with a war hero unable to see what profound impacts his ideas had on World War II and the development of the computer and the field of artificial intelligence.

The Imitation Game does not seek to sugarcoat Turing’s legacy, nor is it an ‘issue film’ about Britain of the time.

Instead, it acknowledges the complexities of both the man and the times, whilst wrapping it up in a accessible narrative that acknowledges the profound impact he had on the world.

The Imitation Game opened the London Film Festival on Wednesday 8th October

> Official website
> Find out more about Alan Turing on Wikipedia

Categories
Cinema Festivals London Film Festival Reviews

LFF 2013: Saving Mr. Banks

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks

The story behind the film version of Mary Poppins (1964) is the subject of a clever and charming new film about the clash between the English author Pamela ‘PL’ Travers and famed studio head Walt Disney.

When we first see the elder Travers (Emma Thompson) in 1961 she is running short of money, due to declining book sales, and her agent is urging her to accept the offer of a trip to Los Angeles to meet Walt Disney (Tom Hanks), the mogul who has pursued the rights to the project for 20 years.

Having promised his two daughters to turn their favourite book into a movie, he is very keen on the idea of a big budget musical, granting her full creative input into the project, something he rarely did.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t realise that Travers actively hates the idea of a musical and resists almost all the suggestions from the creative team at the studio (a trio played by Bradley Whitford, B. J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman).

Gradually, through flashback, we discover the reasons for her reluctance may lie in her childhood, when she grew up in Australia with a loving but troubled father (Colin Farrell).

On the surface, this may appear like another slickly produced Disney feel-good comedy.

Whilst it is certainly all that, the film has its own interesting backstory.

The origins of the project lie in a 2002 TV documentary about Travers, which eventually led to Allison Owen coming on board as producer and eventually a script credited to Sue Smith and Kelly Marcel made 2011s ‘Black List’ (an unofficial survey of the years best unproduced scripts).

Then, in a strange reverse parallel to the film, the producers had to persuade the notoriously sensitive Disney that they would not trample on Walt’s legacy.

Eventually, the Mouse House relented to the first ever depiction of Walt Disney on screen and the finished film is mostly a charming surprise.

This is due in large part to Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, whose constant sparring provides a lot of the comedic sparks.

Thompson’s Travers is a perpetually defiant English woman who manages to hide a troubled past, whilst Hanks plays Disney as a loveable, charming uncle who’s drive and ambition are never far from the surface.

To an extent, the film glosses over the thornier aspects of each character: there is no mention of Travers’ unconventional personal life or the darker side of Disney. However, this is not entirely a bad thing as a warts-and-all drama would have been out of the question for a mainstream Disney release.

But the end result is not just a sanitised product but a rather sly portrait of a spanner in the Hollywood machine.

It is in essence an exploration of ‘creative differences’ — that well-worn phrase so beloved of Tinseltown to maintain the idea that idea that raging rows were amicable disagreements.

Some of the funniest scenes in Saving Mr. Banks come in the rehearsal room, where Travers is aghast at some of the songs and suggestions that are now so beloved by fans of the 1964 film.

These are executed with a light touch that is unfortunately not true of the extended flashback sequences which dwell a bit too clumsily on her childhood.

Make no mistake, this is a manipulative film and the hiring of Thomas Newman to score it only adds to its seductive power, with his lush hanging strings and signature instrumentation providing a lightness to the comedy and emotion to the drama.

As Walt Disney ultimately persuades P.L. Travers to accept the idea of a movie, we can see what a driven man he was, whilst at the LA premiere we can be moved at the author’s reaction to the film, even if that may not have been exactly as presented here.

She told the BBC in 1977 that she had ‘learned to live with the film,’ which is a hardly a ringing endorsement.

But then maybe this film, like the musical and the original book, is just another pleasurable fantasy.

Is pleasure such a bad thing?

Saving Mr. Banks closed the London Film Festival on Sunday 20th October

(It opens in the UK on November 26th)

> Official site
> Reviews of the film at Metacritic

Categories
Cinema Festivals London Film Festival Reviews

LFF 2013: All is Lost

Robert Redford in All is Lost

One man adrift in the Indian Ocean is the premise for J.C. Chandor’s second film, a compelling tale of survival against the odds.

Opening with a brief, mournful monologue of an enigmatic sailor (Robert Redford), we hear a crash and are plunged back a few days to when his boat, the Virgina Jean, collided with a large metal cargo container.

We immediately see he is calm under pressure, scooping out water and doing the best he can under the circumstances: patching up the hole and trying to fix the wet radio.

Who is this man?

Cryptically listed in the credits as ‘Our Man’, perhaps he is a retired businessman who took up sailing. Maybe he is a professional sailor. Who knows?

Perhaps he represents any human being caught up in a desperate situation. The point of this film is to put us in there with him as he battles the elements.

Chandor and his crew slowly build the tension as we see all manner of obstacles: the leaking boat, storms and sharks.

Apart from a few words, it is free of dialogue, meaning there is a relentless focus on Redford and his situation.

This is surprisingly riveting, as previously routine acts such as putting up a sail or jumping into a raft become critically important.

But Chandor also has a few more tricks up his sleeve, most notably the casting of Redford. The movie star brings a grizzled gravitas to his part in what is his best work in years.

Cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco brings an immediacy to the action on the boat, whilst visualising the beauty and danger of the oceanic environment.

Cleverly blending in location shooting with work in tanks and visual effects, it paints a hauntingly plausible scenario of what it is to be stuck at sea.

The sound design is outstanding and the large sound team, headed by Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns, does sterling work in capturing the many different aural textures aboard the boat, life raft and ocean.

For writer-director J.C. Chandor this marks another remarkable film after his feature debut, Margin Call (2011).

That still remains the best feature about the financial crisis, and seems to be a world away from All is Lost.

But look closely and there may be parallel themes: crisis, dread and the aforementioned survival.

The building and firm in Margin Call which created their own financial problems could be a cousin to the boat in All is Lost – both are sinking fast.

With these two films Chandor has already created powerful parables for our time and the degree of skill and intelligence he applies to his work only makes me hungry for his future work.

All is Lost screened at the London Film Festival on Oct 12th, 13th and 14th

(It opens in the UK on December 26th)

> Official site, Facebook page and Twitter
> Reviews at Metacritic

Categories
Cinema Festivals London Film Festival Reviews

LFF 2013: 12 Years a Slave

Chewitel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave

Based on the true life experiences of a free black man forced into slavery, Steve McQueen’s latest work is a stunning achievement.

The kidnapping and enslavement of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) from 1841 until 1853 form the spine of this harrowing tale.

Northup endures a hellish odyssey as he is chained and sailed down to New Orleans, where he encounters the brutal truths of the slave trade.

One owner is relatively benevolent (Benedict Cumberbatch) but his psychotic assistant (Paul Dano) forces a sale, meaning Northup eventually ends up picking cotton for the ruthless Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).

Amongst the other important people he encounters are a slave trader (Paul Giamatti) who renames him ‘Platt’; a fellow slave (Lupita Nyong’o) and a sympathetic Canadian who may be able to help him (Brad Pitt).

From the opening scenes until the closing credits, fans of McQueen – and I remain a huge admirer of Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011) – will recognise his mastery of the visual and audio language of cinema.

But here, he and his collaborators are painting on a bigger canvas and the result is a stunning historical drama which is likely to be the definitive film on the subject for many years to come.

The production design by Adam Stockhausen and use of the Louisiana landscape gives everything we see a remarkable authenticity.

This in turn is aided by the superb ensemble cast who chew up John Ridley’s dialogue with relish.

At the centre of all this is an incredible performance from Ejiofor as Solomon Northup.

We see him go through many episodes of mental and physical torment whilst maintaining his quiet dignity and hope.

It is a moving, subtle and rich performance which shows just what he is capable of with the right material.

Cinematographer Sean Bobbit continues his fruitful visual collaboration with McQueen and the beauty of the South is evoked alongside an air of dread and menace.

An agonising one-take sequence of a lynching is just one of many scenes that stay with you long after the film is over.

The icing on the cake is Hans Zimmer’s haunting score, which at times resembles his orchestral work on Inception (2010) and The Thin Red Line (1998).

In addition the use of spiritual songs as the slaves work in the fields, adds another human touch, hinting at the defiance which would later spawn the Civil War and ultimately the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

There has long been a curious reluctance for mainstream US cinema to examine the dark chapter of slavery.

Aside from the stylised world of Django Unchained (2012), realistic films haven’t really been made about the subject.

Even this project took a British director and several production companies (River Road, New Regency, Plan B and Film 4) to eventually bring it to the screen.

Perhaps the oddest aspect is how this particular story was dormant for so many years.

Although it was published around the same time as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the book remained a relative obscurity.

Maybe it was a reluctance to confront the ghosts of the past, or perhaps it just wasn’t good box office.

Intolerance still lies beneath the surface of American life, even in the age of a black US president, but this film is a powerful reminder of the cruelties of racism and the endurance of hope.

12 Years a Slave screened at the London Film Festival on Fri 18th October, Sat 19th and Sun 20th

(It opens in the UK on Friday 24th January 2014)

> Official site
> Reviews at Metacritic

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Cinema Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2013: Inside Llewyn Davis

Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis

The Coen Brothers are in a more reflective mood for this beautifully crafted drama, set amongst the New York folk scene of the early 1960s.

Opening with folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) performing in a Greenwich Village nightclub in January 1961, we soon discover he is a man struggling against the odds, in both his personal and working life.

His record label are useless in paying his meagre royalties, a hectoring ex-girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) tells him she is pregnant (and she’s unsure who the father is), he frequently has to couch surf and also manages to lose a friend’s cat.

Despite all of these mishaps he plugs away in search of a bigger break, travelling to Chicago and back again in the winter, trying to convince people to take a chance on his music or a least help him out financially.

Wilfully subverting the traditions of the rags to riches music biopic, it focuses on a man whose existence appears to be an ever decreasing circle of fame and money.

Imagine if Bob Dylan hadn’t quite made it and you’ll soon get the idea.

If this seems like a gloomy tale, don’t forget that the Coens are past masters at mixing light and dark and this is along the lines of A Serious Man (2009) and Barton Fink (1991).

Like those movies, it features many funny scenes populated with memorable characters: two friendly academics (Ethan Phillips and Robin Barrett); a sister (Jeanine Serralles); singer and ex-partner Jean (Mulligan) who is now seeing a rival Jim (Justin Timberlake).

One of the most striking episodes – which may be related to the film’s title – is a road trip to Chicago where Davis hitches a lift with a silent driver (Garrett Hedlund) and a rotund jazz impresario (John Goodman), on the way to see a promoter (F. Murray Abraham).

This sequence, and the film as a whole, bears all the hallmarks of their very best work: immaculately shot by DP Bruno Delbonnel, it also features some stunning production design by Jess Gonchor, who recreates the era in meticulous detail.

At the centre of all this is an excellent performance by Oscar Isaac, who manages to capture the weary melancholy and outsider attitude of a struggling – and not particularly likeable – artist.

As for The Coens, this seems to be another of their more personal films where a Job-like protagonist is constantly struggling within a comically hostile universe.

But the aforementioned connection with Bob Dylan is an interesting one: like the legendary folk singer, they moved from Minnesota to New York and a scene near the end is perhaps more than just a tip of the hat to him.

As for the soundtrack, the Coens team up once again with executive music producer T Bone Burnett, who memorably collaborated on the O Brother Where Art Thou? (2000) soundtrack, and the result is arguably as good.

One of the year’s most impressive films, it is a strong addition to the Coen’s canon and a memorable depiction of a struggling artist.

Inside Llewyn Davis screened at the London Film Festival on Tues 15th, Thurs 17th and Sat 19th October

(It opens in the UK on Friday 24th January 2014)

> Official site
> Listen to the soundtrack
> Reviews of Inside Llewyn Davis at Metacritic

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Cinema Festivals London Film Festival Reviews

LFF 2013: Blue is the Warmest Colour

Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux in Blue is the Warmest Colour

The winner of this year’s Palme D’Or is a frank but absorbing study of a young girl’s sexual awakening.

Running close to three hours of screen time this is an epic of the heart and disarmingly in-depth depiction of falling in love.

When we first meet the protagonist, Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) she is a 15-year old girl about to begin her first serious relationship with a classmate Thomas (Jeremie Laheurte).

However, a chance encounter with an older blue-haired woman named Emma (Lea Seydoux), leads her to question her emotions and feelings towards her own sex.

But this is just the beginning of the long journey which director Abdellatif Kechiche takes us on, as emotionally charged highs are gradually mixed in with heartbreaking lows.

Despite taking place over a number of years – I would roughly estimate around six – Kechiche cleverly uses the narrative, so key episodes gradually fade into another.

These segments could almost be short films in themselves: an early encounter at a lesbian bar; a tender scene in the park; and two awkward dinner parties are just some of the memorable scenes as Emma and Adele fall in love.

This is all depicted with remarkable authenticity, with the telling silences providing a neat counterpoint to the natural, flowing conversations.

The intensity of the film is heightened by the decision to mostly shoot in widescreen closeups, with cinematographer Sofian El Fani capturing the emotions and actions with piercing clarity.

Even in exterior environments, which are relatively rare in the film, the focus is on the characters, especially Adele.

This depiction intimacy spills over into the explicit sex scenes, which have attracted a lot of media attention since the premiere in Cannes.

In truth there isn’t a great deal to discuss other than the fact that they are more brightly lit and longer than most movie sex scenes.

The fact that three scenes has coloured discussion of this film for several months perhaps says more about certain journalists than it does about what is on screen.

Whilst the bravery of the two actresses should be noted, it as part of a much wider story, with many tones and textures.

Just as notable is the film’s embrace of the complexities of sexuality and human relationships, with both characters behaving in believably erratic and confused ways.

The themes of commitment, trust and social anxiety are all explored as the film progresses, and it says much about the skill of writer-director Kechiche that none of it ever descends into cliche or pat conclusions.

He is aided by two outstanding lead performances from Exarchopoulos and Seydoux, with the former taking the greater share of screen time.

Displaying a remarkable assurance in front of the camera, she not only has a natural screen presence but manages to convey emotion with the slightest of moves and expression.

Given that nature of how this film was shot – in searching, close-up compositions – it is a testament to their acting that the audience may feel like they’ve been in a relationship with the pair.

A rich, draining and highly accomplished drama.

Blue is the Warmest Colour screened at the London Film Festival on October 14 and 17th. (It opens in the UK on November 25th)

> Reviews at Metacritic
> IMDb link

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Cinema Festivals London Film Festival Reviews

LFF 2013: Short Term 12

Brie Larson and Keith Stanfield in Short Term 12

Ditching the conventions of the indie coming-of-age genre, the second feature from Destin Daniel Cretton is a wonderfully bittersweet drama.

The independent film world is not short of tales involving journeys into adulthood and this year alone we had two come out of the Sundance Film Festival: The Kings of Summer and The Spectacular Now.

Whilst those had their charms, they pale in comparison to Short Term 12, which occupies somewhat similar territory but excels in nearly every department.

All of which makes it staggering to think it was actually turned down by this year’s Sundance festival, only to go on to triumph at SXSW in Austin a few months after, where it snapped up both Grand Jury and Audience awards. (The film is based on a short film Cretton had play Sundance in 2009).

Set at a foster home for at-risk children, it follows the relationships between the supervisors and children, focusing on Grace (Brie Larson) and Mason (John Gallagher Jr) as tensions at the workplace spill over into their private life.

Among the kids they have to look after include: Marcus (Keith Stanfield) a young man who was forced by his mother to sell drugs; Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a middle class girl prone to self harm; and Sammy (Alex Calloway) who regularly tries to escape.

Grace and Mason are not therapists but they are there to make the environment as safe and productive as possible for the young people under their care.

This they are good at, so much so that they understand the patients better than the on-site therapists, and their love for each other makes them seem a perfect couple, until a sequence of events starts to affect them in a profound way.

The delicate writing and direction means that cliches of this sub genre are tactfully avoided. No autistic savants, no magical redemptions – only normal people trying to cope with the abnormalities of life.

Drawn from his own experiences working in a foster home – and the little-seen Steve James documentary Stevie (2002) – Cretton manages to strike the perfect blend of comedy and drama: the former is never exploitative and the latter never overwrought.

Larson has been acting since she was a young girl, but this is a major breakout role in which she shows previously hidden depths, channelling anger, love and hurt with consummate ease.

Almost a match for her is John Gallagher Jnr (bearing an uncanny resemblance to Jason Reitman), who accomplishes the tricky task of playing a genuinely good man – something not as easy as it sounds or looks on screen.

This is a very interior film, with Cretton and his DP Brett Pawlak going for a handheld visual style, increasing the emotional intimacy between the characters and the audience.

There are several disarming moments – some dark, some funny, others joyful – but this element of unpredictability and lack of cheap shocks elevates the film to a different level.

Several of the characters have surprising back stories and there is a genuine pleasure in seeing the narrative unfold, with each character displaying all the contradictions and complexity of genuine human beings, as opposed to the clichéd types often found polluting certain screenplays in the indie realm.

On top of all this, Joel P West’s distinctive staccato-like score is a perfect musical accompaniment.

Short Term 12 is ultimately a little bit like its lead characters: plucky, funny and sad, but a warm reminder of human beings ability to empathise and love one another.

Since the financial crisis broke five years ago it has been an extremely tough time for the independent sector, but films like this show that not only is creativity thriving in adversity, it is perhaps thriving because of that adversity.

Short Term 12 screened at the London Film Festival on Tuesday 15th October and will also screen on Sat 19th

(It opens in the UK on November 1st)

> Official site
> UK Twitter

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Cinema Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2013: Philomena

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in Philomena

A moving odd-couple road movie based on real events is powered by two outstanding lead performances and the return to form of director Stephen Frears.

Based on the true life tale of how former Labour spin doctor Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) came across the story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), an elderly Irish woman looking for the child she was forced to give up for adoption in the 1950s.

Their journey leads them from London to the original convent in Roscrea, Ireland and then on to Washington DC, where Sixsmith’s previous life as a BBC journalist comes in handy as they try to find out what has happened to her son.

The misery wrought on generations of young women by Irish nuns was also the subject of Peter Mullan’s The Magdalene Sisters (2012), but whilst Frears takes a very different approach, it is both subtle and clever.

Working with an intelligent script by Coogan and Jeff Pope, humour is frequently used to highlight the differences between the cynical, Oxbridge journalist and the (seemingly) naive Irishwoman.

But whilst there are some very funny scenes and memorable lines, Frears skilfully manages to slowly stitch together the two emotional strands, blending heartbreak and laughter with a precision rare in modern cinema.

Coogan is convincing as the highbrow journalist concerned that he is slumming it in a mere ‘human interest’ story, whilst Dench has her best role for years as the title character, bringing an innocence and wisdom to the part.

Even those familiar with the events of the basic outline of the story may be blindsided by key sequences, as the comic surface is often complemented by a depth and engagement with issues such as faith and regret.

The two contrasting lead characters mirror the film’s inner themes: worldly journalist versus innocent Catholic; atheism and religion.

One would think the film comes down on Martin’s side, but on reflection there is more to the story.

In its final act Philomena throws up a few surprises, both intellectual and emotional, and some of them stay with you after it is all over, which is rare for a film such as this.

It has the sheen of a BBC TV movie — and it was indeed part funded by BBC Films – but rises far above that level, not only as an indictment of an appalling episode in Irish history but of how different people can cope with complex problems of life and death.

Stephen Frears has long been one of the UK’s finest living directors but this marks a major return to form after the disappointments of Tamara Drewe (2010) and Lay the Favourite (2012).

Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is another bonus, with digital camera work used for the present and Super 16mm utilised for the 1950s flashback scenes.

The editing by Valerie Bonerio is very smooth and the score by Alexandre Desplat isn’t too obtrusive, although it’s a tad familiar to a lot of his other work.

After a wave of positive reviews at the Venice film festival, the Weinstein Co. – who have US distribution rights – will be busy preparing it for a long awards season campaign and it is hard to imagine it not being a contender, with Dench one of the frontrunners for Best Actress.

Philomena screened tonight (October 16th) at the London Film Festival and will show again on the 17th and 19th

(It opens in the UK on November 1st)

> Official Facebook page
> IMDb link

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Cinema Festivals London Film Festival Reviews

LFF 2013: Mystery Road

Aaron Pedersen in Mystery Road

Director Ivan Sen makes great use of the sparse Australian landscape to create a brooding police procedural that almost functions as a contemporary Western.

When the corpse of a young aboriginal girl is found on a remote Outback highway (the road of the title), the investigating detective (Aaron Pedersen) slowly uncovers a web of indifference and sinister motives in his home town.

Although it contains familiar tropes of the conventional murder-mystery, the distinctive setting and approach give it an unusual flavour.

The gorgeously framed sunsets and blue skies are undercut by a sinister stench of indifference and corruption, which even appears to be infecting police colleagues, including his boss (Tony Barry) and fellow officer (Hugo Weaving).

Moving at a slower pace than is usual for this genre, the film may irk some impatient viewers, but the multi-talented Sen (who serves as the writer-director-cinematographer-editor) manages to create a compelling atmosphere.

He also proves himself as a fine director of actors, coaxing a nicely stoic lead performance from Aaron Pedersen, and some solid supporting turns from Weaving and Barry.

Pedersen makes an interesting lead as he could almost be as being a modern day Shane with his white hat and steely determination to root out wrongdoing.

But he also has a nicely laconic sense of humour and is a real presence on screen, showing an impressive range from intimate family scenes to a climactic shoot-out.

That particular sequence seems on the surface to be a homage to a traditional Western climax, but like the rest of the film manages to subvert the familiar whilst acknowledging it at the same time.

The ghost of Australia’s past is ever present with the issue of race always in the background. But the film manages to effectively weave these into the genre conventions with considerable tact and skill.

Clunky dialogue is refreshingly absent from the script and the power of silence is shrewdly used in key sequences where words have real importance, reflecting the anxieties simmering beneath the surface of everyday life.

When this atmosphere gets heated up by the investigation into the young girl’s death, implicating those close to the lead character, the film becomes more than just a murder-mystery and something symbolic about Australia itself.

Shot in the arid outback of Western Queensland, the locations gradually assume a greater meaning with the metaphorical title not only key to the narrative but also the major thematic concern of the film.

It might seem a strange or even foolhardy choice to attach such weighty issues as race to a hybrid Western/Mystery film but it turns out to be an inspired one, with Sen rapidly establishing himself as a talent to watch.

Mystery Road screened at the London Film Festival on October 10th, 11th and 19th (UK release is TBC)

> Official site
> IMDb entry

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Cinema Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2013: Gravity

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in Gravity - Image courtesy of Warner Bros 2013

Director Alfonso Cuaron returns after seven year absence from cinema with an exhilarating journey into outer space that sets new standards for visual effects.

When a seemingly routine US mission to fix the Hubble telescope goes disastrously wrong, two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) find themselves floating alone above the earth.

Like his last film, the dystopian drama Children of Men (2006), Cuaron and his crew have come up with a highly inventive approach to story, using a stunning blend of camera work and visual effects to create a chilling plausible dystopian world.

Whilst his latest doesn’t have the thematic depth of that film, it remains a gripping thrill ride, utilising cutting edge technology to elicit human emotion and create a powerful tale of survival.

For most of the film we are with a stranded Bullock as she struggles to find a way back home and this is her best role in years. She makes a convincing astronaut but also channels a wide range of emotions from panic to resolve.

As for Clooney, his character is cleverly used and he brings his usual charm and screen presence to his role as a veteran spaceman. An off-screen voice cameo from Ed Harris is a tip of the hat to his famous role in the last major space drama, Apollo 13 (1995).

For Cuaron this is another step in his chameleon-like career, which has included genres such as fantasy, Charles Dickens, the road movie, Harry Potter and sci-fi. Here he takes a bold step into the world of digital cinema and 3D and the result is as impressive as his previous work.

To describe Gravity as science fiction doesn’t feel right quite right.

For most of its lean 87 minute running time it feels terrifyingly realistic, even if in retrospect some of the narrow escapes feel a little bit too last second.

But make no mistake, this is a truly groundbreaking film with highly innovative camera work from Cuaron’s regular cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and stunning visual effects supervised by Tim Webber of Framestore (a previous collaborator).

The extraordinary long take that begins the film sets a marker for what is to come with shots of the various space craft and earth below that are a marvel to behold on a big screen.

Using a complex mixture of camera rigs, LED lighting panels, groundbreaking CGI and even puppeteers from the stage version of War Horse, the zero gravity of outer space is brilliantly realised, with the earth below just as convincing.

Cuaron and his team have wisely opted to use technology in service of the central story, which was perhaps the reason they opted for such a lean premise, and the result is a pure fusion of technology and emotion.

Sound, silence and a dramatic score by Steven Price also play a critical role in creating the extraordinary atmosphere of the film.

Although time will inevitably lead to more advanced visual effects, Gravity will still represent a landmark in modern cinema.

In a time of great uncertainty and opportunity for the medium, it represents how more traditional directors can utilise digital tools to tell a spellbinding story.

Gravity screened at the London Film Festival on Thursday 10th and Friday 11th October

(It opens in the UK on Friday 8th November)

> Official site
> Reviews of Gravity at Metacritic

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Cinema Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2013: Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips

Director Paul Greengrass returns to the tensions of the post 9/11 era, with a gripping account of the 2009 hijacking of a US cargo ship.

Based on the real life account of Richard Phillips, it depicts how he and his crew came across a gang of pirates whilst travelling the dangerous shipping lanes of East Africa.

Early on we see the contrasting figures of Phillips (Tom Hanks), as he leaves his wife (Catherine Keener) at the airport, and the skinny Somalian pirate Muse (Barkhad Abdi) who is forced out to sea by his bosses.

In this we see a snapshot of globalisation: the well off captain of a US cargo ship and the poor fisherman with an AK-47, both conducting their own forms of business but ultimately caught up in events outside of their control.

Billy Ray’s script touches upon these issues but wisely skips ponderous, explanatory dialogue, instead opting for a lean depiction of a particular event.

Within this, the film touches upon the seemingly incongruous aspects of modern piracy, ships using water hoses rather than armed security as owners won’t insure them and the desperation of Somalis who face a choice between piracy and selling Khat.

Greengrass and his cinematographer Barry Ackroyd do a highly efficient job of getting us quickly into the action and ramping up the drama without resorting to sentiment or bombast.

Ackroyd’s distinctive handheld style and Christopher Rouse‘s pacy editing gives the proceedings the necessary kick, helping to sustain the tension in the bright sunlight of the ocean or the dark bowels of the ships.

As it reaches its latter stages and the US military response cranks into life, the tensions kicks up a gear with the kind of precision you might expect from the director of the best Bourne movies.

Looking at the film overall, we see different genre elements at play: it quickly builds up steam to become a chase film, a hostage drama, a portrait of two clever but defiant individuals and ultimately a study in endurance.

Hanks is dependably solid in the title role, with one remarkable scene at the end which will surprise many and may secure him a lot of awards attention, and the rest of the cast are convincing, especially Abdi as the lead pirate.

After the relative disappointment of Green Zone (2010), this marks a return to form for Greengrass and in some ways could be seen as a companion film to United 93 (2006).

Both contain extended interior sequences and explore how people react under extreme, life-threatening situations. Whilst United 93 remains the superior work, Captain Phillips is another sturdy addition to the Greengrass CV.

It may lack the thematic weight of some of his previous films, such as Bloody Sunday (2002) and United 93, but it shows his brilliant knack in wringing out tension and emotion from real life events.

Captain Phillips opens the London Film Festival on Weds 9th October and also screens on October 10th.

(It opens wide in the UK on October 18th)

> Captain Phillips at the LFF
> Official site
> Reviews of Captain Phillips at Metacritic

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Festivals

London Film Festival Lineup 2013

LFF Lineup 2013

The London Film Festival announced its 2013 lineup this week with its traditional blend of British premieres and acclaimed films from the festival circuit.

Running this year from October 7th-20th, it opens with Captain Phillips, which features Tom Hanks in the title role, and closes with Saving Mr Banks, which again stars Hanks.

One of the advantages of the festival is that it usually cherry picks the most buzzed about titles from the year’s major festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Telluride and Toronto.

This year the lineup looks especially strong with films by Greengrass, Alfonso Cuaron, The Coen Bros, Steve McQueen, Stephen Frears and Alexander Payne.

Although most of the high profile films are showing in the gala section, since last year films have been presented in themed strands, including: LoveDebateDareLaughThrillCultJourneySonicTreasures, and Family.

There are also competition strands: Official, First Feature and Documentary.

Here are my picks, divided up into Must Sees, Worth Checking Out and Mildly Intrigued.

ABSOLUTE MUST SEES

  • Gravity: Alfonso Cuaron makes his long awaited return with this tale of two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) stranded in space.
  • Captain Phillips: Paul Greengrass (United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum) returns with a true life thriller about a US ship hijacked by Somali pirates.
  • 12 Years a Slave: Steve McQueen follows up his acclaimed first two films, Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011), with this epic account of account of slavery in pre-Civil War America.
  • Blue is the Warmest Colour: The winner of the Palme D’or at Cannes this year is a hugely acclaimed love story from director Abdellatif Kechiche. Starring Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux.
  • Nebraska: Director Alexander Payne’s black and white road movie is a portrait of the smalltown midwest starring Bruce Dern, who scooped the Best Actor prize at Cannes earlier this year.
  • Philomena: Stephen Frears demonstrates his customary flair for extracting brilliant performances in this moving drama starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.
  • Inside Llewyn Davis: The early 1960s folk scene is the setting for the Coen brothers’ latest, which played to acclaim at Cannes earlier this year. Starring Oscar Isaac and Carey Mulligan.

WORTH CHECKING OUT

  • Labor Day: Jason Reitman (Up in the Air) adapts Joyce Maynard’s novel about a young boy and his mother (Kate Winslet) who meet a stranger in trouble (Josh Brolin) and take him back to their house.
  • The Invisible Woman: Directed and starring Ralph Fiennes, this is the story of the famous author and his affair with actress Nelly Ternan (Felicity Jones).

MILDLY INTRIGUED

  • The Epic of Everest: The official film of the famous 1924 attempt to climb the highest mountain in the world.
  • Night Moves: Thriller about radical environmental activists (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Saarsgard) who find themselves in a moral maelstrom, from director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy).
  • Mystery Road: An Australian thriller which sees an Aboriginal police officer returning to his home town to investigate the murder of a teenage girl. Directed by Ivan Shen and starring Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving and Ryan Kwanten.
  • We Are the Best!: Lukas Moodysson’s (Lilya 4 Ever) coming of age tale is about three teenage girls in Stockholm forming a punk band.
  • Foosball 3D: A 3D animation about good and evil meeting on the football pitch. Directed by Juan José Campanella, this is his first feature since the Oscar-winning The Secrets in Their Eyes (2009).

I’m sure there will be other films of note and some events (which at the time of writing are still TBA).

For a PDF of the schedule just click here.

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> Previous coverage of the LFF

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Festivals Thoughts

Sundance London 2013

Sundance London 2013

DAY ONE (April 25th)

Sundance London 2013 – Day 1 from Sundance London 2012 on Vimeo.

The Look of Love (Dir. Michael Winterbottom): After 24 Hour Party People (2002) Michael Winterbottom reunites with Steve Coogan for this biopic of the late Paul Raymond. The self-styled ‘King of Soho’ made his fortune with gentleman’s clubs, erotic magazines and property but his great wealth was underscored by personal tragedy.

Coogan brings a huge amount of charisma to his role, but he is backed up by a fine supporting cast including Anna Friel, Tamsin Egerton, Chris Addison and especially Imogen Poots, who excels as his troubled daughter. Winterbottom deftly manages to balance humour and the film makes good use of real life locations in Soho.

DAY TWO (April 26th)

Sundance London 2013 – Day 2 from Sundance London 2012 on Vimeo.

Blood Brother (Dir. Steve Hoover): An enlightening and at times harrowing documentary about a filmmaker following his best friend (Rocky Braat) as he returns to a hostel in India for young children with HIV. Whilst it doesn’t break any new ground stylistically, the engaging central figure and rawness of the story makes for compelling viewing.

It is rare to see filmmakers adopt a such an extreme verite approach, but what initially starts off as a traditional narrative soon becomes something more unexpected. One scene in particular during the final third may raise questions about the moral line between documentarians and their subjects.

DAY THREE (April 27th)

Sundance London 2013 – Day 3 from Sundance London 2012 on Vimeo.

The Kings of Summer (Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts): One staple of US indie films, is the coming of age tale. This one follows three disaffected boys (Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias) in a rural Ohio town as they run away from home and try to settle in the woods.

Despite the over familiar setting – and a considerable debt to Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me (1986) – it manages to effectively capture the humour and frustration of those teenage years. This is mostly down to Vogt-Roberts nice eye for location and a solid ensemble cast, which includes a stand out turn from Nick Offerman from TV’s Parks and Recreation.

DAY FOUR (April 28th)

Sundance London 2013 – Day 4 from Sundance London 2012 on Vimeo.

Mud (Dir. Jeff Nichols): Interesting US directors outside the LA/New York axis have been rare in recent years. A notable exception has been Arkansas native Jeff Nichols. With his first two films, Shotgun Stories (2007) and Take Shelter (2011), he has firmly established himself as a distinct voice.

His latest comes soaked in the storytelling tradition of the Deep South, mainly Huckleberry Finn, as two young boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) come across a stranger named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) who is hiding on an island in the Mississippi river. Strong performances abound from McConaughey, Sheridan, Reese Witherspoon and Sam Shepherd, but it is the confident writing and directing that really mark this out as another chapter in the career of Nichols.

Upstream Color (Dir. Shane Carruth): Ever since his remarkable debut Primer (2004) scooped the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, people have been wondering what had happened to its writer/director Shane Carruth. The answer appears to have been a period of long development hell, but his second feature is well worth the wait. If you were baffled by Primer then be prepared for this film.

Just describing it is hard as it eschews conventional notions of plot but the basic premise revolves around a woman (Amy Seimetz) who comes across a man (Shane Carruth) who may or may not have the answers to a recent trauma she’s undergone. Imagine if David Lynch and Terrence Malick remade Memento (2000) and you might get some idea of the haunting puzzle box Carruth has crafted. The performances, visuals and score all combine to dazzling effect, and it is hard to recall a more mysterious and original film.

Sundance London
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Festivals News

Sundance London 2012 Lineup

The line-up for the inaugural Sundance London festival was announced today with 14 films having their UK premiere, after showing at the US festival back in January.

Sundance founder Robert Redford has said:

“I welcome the opportunity to see how people in the UK experience these films. While they are American productions they speak to universal experiences and global challenges. Sundance London also is the perfect opportunity to continue our long-time commitment to growing a broader international community around new voices and new perspectives.”

Director of the festival John Cooper has also said:

“Sundance London grew out of our desire to help American independent filmmakers expand their reach, and we are happy that these 14 filmmakers are joining us on this adventure. Their participation has helped us to not only create a programme for Sundance London that reflects the diversity of our film festival in Park City, but also that helps build an enduring legacy of American stories that speak to international audiences.”

In addition to the films, Sundance London will host live music performances and events each evening, including an Opening Night event An Evening With Robert Redford And T Bone Burnett, Placebo in concert and Tricky and Martina Topley-Bird performing Maxinquaye.

There will also be panels, a short film programme, special events and additional music performers.

Programme information and ticket packages are available from the official wbsite at www.sundance-london.com and individual tickets will go on sale in early April.

THE FILM PROGRAMME IN FULL

  • 2 Days in New York (Director: Julie Delpy, Screenwriters: Julie Delpy, Alexia Landeau): Marion has broken up with Jack and now lives in New York with their child. A visit from her family, the different cultural background of her new boyfriend, an ex-boyfriend who her sister is now dating, and her upcoming photo exhibition make for an explosive mix. Cast: Julie Delpy, Chris Rock, Albert Delpy, Alexia Landeau, Alex Nahon.
  • Chasing Ice (Director: Jeff Orlowski): Science, spectacle and human passion mix in this stunningly cinematic portrait as National Geographic photographer James Balog captures time-lapse photography of glaciers over several years providing tangible visual evidence of climate change. Winner of the Excellence in Cinematography Award: U.S. Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival
  • Filly Brown (Directors: Youssef Delara, Michael D. Olmos, Screenwriter: Youssef Delara): A Hip Hop-driven drama about a Mexican girl who rises to fame and consciousness as she copes with the incarceration of her mother through music. Cast: Lou Diamond Phillips, Gina Rodriguez, Jenni Rivera, Edward James Olmos.
  • Finding North (Directors: Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush): A crisis of hunger looms in America and is not limited to the poverty stricken and uneducated. Can a return to policies of the 1970s save our future? Features interviews with activists including Witness to Hunger’s Mariana Chilton, Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio and Academy Award®-winning actor Jeff Bridges, as well as original music by T Bone Burnett & The Civil Wars.
  • For Ellen (Director and screenwriter: So Yong Kim): A struggling musician takes an overnight long-distance drive in order to fight his estranged wife for custody of their young daughter. Cast: Paul Dano, Jon Heder, Jena Malone, Margarita Levieva and Shay Mandigo.
  • The House I Live In (Director: Eugene Jarecki): For over 40 years, the War on Drugs has accounted for 45 million arrests, made America the world’s largest jailer and damaged poor communities at home and abroad. Yet, drugs are cheaper, purer and more available today than ever. Where did we go wrong and what is the path toward healing? Winner of the Grand Jury Prize: U.S. Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival
  • Liberal Arts (Director and screenwriter: Josh Radnor): Bookish and newly single Jesse Fisher returns to his alma mater for his favorite professor’s retirement dinner. A chance meeting with Zibby – a precocious classical music-loving sophomore – awakens in him long-dormant feelings of possibility and connection. Cast: Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, John Magaro, Elizabeth Reaser.
  • LUV (Director: Sheldon Candis, Screenwriters: Sheldon Candis, Justin Wilson): An orphaned 11-year-old boy is forced to face the unpleasant truth about his beloved uncle during one harrowing day in the streets of Baltimore. Cast: Common, Michael Rainey Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton.
  • Nobody Walks (Director: Ry Russo-Young, Screenwriters: Lena Dunham, Ry Russo-Young): Martine, a young artist from New York, is invited into the home of a hip, liberal LA family for a week. Her presence unravels the family’s carefully maintained status quo, and a mess of sexual and emotional entanglements ensues. Cast: John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby, Rosemarie DeWitt, India Ennenga, Justin Kirk. Winner of the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Excellence in Independent Film Producing at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
  • An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (Director and screenwriter: Terence Nance): A quixotic young man humorously courses live action and various animated landscapes as he tries to understand himself after a mystery girl stands him up. Cast: Terence Nance, Namik Minter, Chanelle Pearson.
  • The Queen of Versailles (Director: Lauren Greenfield) — Jackie and David were triumphantly constructing the biggest house in America – a sprawling, 90,000-square-foot palace inspired by Versailles – when their timeshare empire falters due to the economic crisis. Their story reveals the innate virtues and flaws of the American Dream. Winner of the Directing Award: U.S. Documentary at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
  • Safety Not Guaranteed (Director: Colin Trevorrow, Screenwriter: Derek Connolly) — A trio of magazine employees investigate a classified ad seeking a partner for time travel. One employee develops feelings for the paranoid but compelling loner and seeks to discover what he’s really up to. Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Karan Soni. Winner of the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
  • Shut Up and Play the Hits (Directors: Dylan Southern, Will Lovelace): A film that follows LCD Soundsystem front man James Murphy over a crucial 48-hour period, from the day of their final gig at Madison Square Garden to the morning after, the official end of one of the best live bands in the world.
  • Under African Skies (Director: Joe Berlinger): Paul Simon returns to South Africa to explore the incredible journey of his historic Graceland album, including the political backlash he sparked for allegedly breaking the UN cultural boycott of South Africa, designed to end Apartheid.

>; Sundance London
>; Connect with them on Facebook (facebook.com/SundanceLondon) and Twitter (@sundancefestUK)
>; More on the history of the Sundance Film Festival and The O2 at Wikipedia

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Festivals Interesting

The Future of Cinema Panel at VIFF 2011

A panel last September at the Vancouver Film Festival raised some interesting points about the digital revolution affecting cinema.

The panel included: film critic David Bordwell; producer Simon Field; film critic and TIFF programmer Andréa Picard; film critic and Vancity program coordinator Tom Charity; and the director of VIFF, Alan Franey.

The discuss the following topics:

  • The imminent death of 35mm prints and what that means
  • The possible future of film festivals in the digital age
  • Whether celluloid is like vinyl
  • Parallels with the music business
  • Torrenting and the problems it poses
  • The quality of projection
  • The importance of festivals in developing a more rounded appreciation of the medium
  • Failure of film education to expose students to new forms of cinema
  • The serious problem of preserving digitally native films (Bordwell’s blog post is here)
  • Higher frame-rates
  • The projection difference between digital (pixels) and celluloid (molecules)
  • Challenges facing festivals in appealing to the next generation
  • A new generation of critics emerging online
  • The responsibility festivals have to cinema history
  •  How hard social times might be good for filmmakers

[via Film Studies for Free]

> Vancouver Film Festival on Vimeo
> From Celluloid to Digital

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Festivals News

Beasts of the Southern Wild at Sundance

One of the breakout films from this year’s Sundance film festival has been Beasts of the Southern Wild, the directorial debut of Benh Zeitlin.

Based on a play called Juicy And Delicious, this is the official synopsis from the Sundance catalogue:

Hushpuppy, an intrepid six-year-old girl, lives with her father, Wink, in “the Bathtub,” a southern Delta community at the edge of the world. Wink’s tough love prepares her for the unraveling of the universe; for a time when he’s no longer there to protect her. When Wink contracts a mysterious illness, nature flies out of whack—temperatures rise, and the ice caps melt, unleashing an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs. With the waters rising, the aurochs coming, and Wink’s health fading, Hushpuppy goes in search of her lost mother.

Hushpuppy is not just the film’s heroine; she’s its soul. Beasts of the Southern Wild exists entirely in its own universe: mythological, anthropological, folkloric, and apocalyptic. Benh Zeitlin’s first feature (a Sundance Institute Feature Film Program project) employs a cast of nonactors—reflecting its grassroots production—to fiercely portray the bond between father and daughter in a world where only the strong survive. Standing defiantly at the end of the world, Hushpuppy affirms the dignity of telling their own story: that they were once there.

Here is Zeitlin discussing the film with the Sundance Channel before the festival:

He also did a Q&A with Filmmaker Magazine:

Filmmaker: What is the tone of Beasts of the Southern Wild? Who is this film for?

Zeitlin: The film is for everyone. The movie’s weird, because we made the it in a way that no one else would really be stupid enough to try, but, I know that the feelings it’s trading in are universal. It’s all about hope, glory, courage, wisdom, in the face of loosing the people and places that made you. It’s not a brooding, mopey, art film. Even though it has this folkloric poetic-ness that you don’t generally get in the AMC palace, the AMC palace is deeply present in the energy of the movie. People from both sides of the multiplex / art house line are going to relate to it.

Zeitlin’s short film Glory at Sea (2006) had led to Filmmaker Magazine listing him in their 2008 list of the 25 New Faces in Independent Film.

It was uploaded to YouTube in 2008 and you can watch it here:

There is also this interview with Zeitlin from 2009, about the short:

But reception to his debut feature has been on another level, with some effusive reactions in Utah.

Variety’s Peter Debruge wrote:

“…a stunning debut. Despite limited means, Zeitlin and his Court 13 collective conjure an expansive world in which to set this richly textured bayou pastoral”

Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter (who has seen a few Sundance sensations in his time) is also highly impressed:

“One of the most striking films ever to debut at the Sundance Film Festival. …Benh Zeitlin’s directorial debut could serve as a poster child for everything American independent cinema aspires to be but so seldom is”

So the two major US trade journals are buzzing, but what about other outlets?

Ty Burr of the Boston Globe is dazzled:

“It doesn’t happen often here, but it’s a heady experience when it does: An unknown Sundance movie that grips you from its very first images, follows through on its promise (and even raises the stakes), then sends you out dazed with other festivalgoers to wonder if you all witnessed the same minor miracle.

Eric Kohn of Indiewire is more tempered:

“Zeitlin offers up a majestic encapsulation of a child’s worldview. Supremely ambitious and committed to profundity, “Beasts” sets the bar too high and suffers from a muddled assortment of expressionistic concepts, but it still manages to glide along its epic aspirations. Beasts is bound to generate Sundance buzz for its sheer jaw-dropping scope, but it’s simply too odd to garner more than a limited theatrical release (or perform well if it’s released any wider).”

Comparisons have already been made with a young Terrence Malick and Noel Murray of the AV Club says:

“a live-action Miyazaki film, with Days of Heaven narration”

Jeff Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere praises its atmosphere:

“The passionately praised Beasts of the Southern Wild, …is everything its admirers have said it is. It’s something to sink into and take a bath in on any number of dream-like, atmospheric levels, and a film you can smell and taste and feel like few others I can think of.”

Anthony Kaufman of Screen Daily doubts it will break out of the cineaste festival circuit:

“It’s all original and weird enough to be watchable, but not coherent or concise enough to be commercial. Beasts is a curiosity, to be sure, likely headed for worldwide festival play, but not much business”

Here is Peter Sciretta and Germain Lussier of /Film:

Fox Searchlight, one of the remaining powerhouses in the US indie world, bought the rights soon after.

It was presumably a sign that they want to be in business with Zeitlin for his next couple of films and reminiscent of last year when they acquired Sundance breakout Another Earth.

Another film they acquired this week was The Surrogate – a drama with John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, which sounds like a cross between My Left Foot (1989) and The 40-Year Old Virgin (2005), which has already been attracting awards season buzz for next year’s Oscars.

> Official site, Twitter and Facebook
> Benh Zeitlin at the IMDb
> Interview with Benh Zeitlin from 2008

Categories
Festivals Interviews Podcast

Interview: Caroline Bridges and Sameer Patel on BAFTA at Latitude

Two short films recently premiered at BAFTA in London as part of a project to support emerging talent.

Me and My Latitude is a collaboration between BAFTA and Festival Republic, organisers of Latitude, the yearly arts and music festival.

Last year two filmmakers were chosen to each make a short film about an artist preparing to perform at Latitude 2011, with the aim of reflecting the diversity and inventiveness of the UK arts scene.

Caroline Bridges has made Knife Edge, which shows dance theatre company Lost Dog in action at the festival, whilst Sameer Patel has directed She Want Soul, a portrait of poet and writer Sabrina Mahfouz.

Both films screened last night at BAFTA’s Run Run Shaw Theatre in London and will also feature in the line-up for Latitude’s Film & Music Arena in 2012, which is partly programmed in partnership with BAFTA.

I spoke with Catherine and Sameer about their experiences making the films and you can listen to the interviews by clicking below:

[audio:http://filmdetail.receptionmedia.com/Caroline_Bridges_and_Sameer_Patel_on_BAFTA_at_Latitude.mp3]

You can also download this interview as a podcast via iTunes by clicking here or get the MP3 directly here.

The Latitude Festival takes place from July 12th – 15th and the Orange British Film Academy Awards is on February 12th

> Download this interview as an MP3 file
BAFTA
> Latitude Festival
> Follow @BAFTA and @Latitude on Twitter

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Festivals London Film Festival News

London Film Festival Award Winners 2011

The winners have been announced at this year’s London Film Festival Awards.

BEST FILM: We Need To Talk About Kevin (Dir. Lynne Ramsay)

On behalf of the jury John Madden (Chair) said:

“This year’s shortlist for Best Film comprises work that is outstanding in terms of its originality and its stylistic reach. It is an international group, one united by a common sense of unflinching human enquiry and we were struck by the sheer panache displayed by these great storytellers. In the end, we were simply bowled over by one film, a sublime, uncompromising tale of the torment that can stand in the place of love. We Need to Talk About Kevin is made with the kind of singular vision that links great directors across all the traditions of cinema.”

BEST BRITISH NEWCOMER: Candese Reid, Actress in Junkhearts

Chair of the Best British Newcomer jury, Andy Harries said:

“Candese is a fresh, brilliant and exciting new talent. Every moment she was on screen was compelling.”

SUTHERLAND AWARD WINNER: Pablo Giorgelli, director of Las Acacias.

The jury commented:

“In a lively and thoughtful jury room debate, Las Acacias emerged as a worthy winner, largely because of the originality of its conception. Finely judged performances and a palpable sympathy for his characters makes this a hugely impressive debut for director Pablo Giorgelli.”

GRIERSON AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY: Into the Abyss: A Tale of Life, A Tale of Death (Dir. Werner Herzog)

The award is co-presented with the Grierson Trust (in commemoration of John Grierson, the grandfather of British documentary) and recognises outstanding feature length documentaries of integrity, originality, technical excellence or cultural significance. The jury this year was chaired by Adam Curtis.

BFI FELLOWSHIP: Ralph Fiennes and David Cronenberg (as previously announced)

Greg Dyke, Chair, BFI said:

‘The BFI London Film Festival Awards pay tribute to outstanding film talent, so we are delighted and honoured that both Ralph Fiennes, one of the world’s finest and most respected actors and David Cronenberg, one of the most original and ground-breaking film directors of contemporary cinema, have both accepted BFI Fellowships – the highest accolade the BFI can bestow. I also want to congratulate all the filmmakers and industry professionals here tonight, not only on their nominations and awards, but also for their vision, skill, passion and creativity.’

Jurors present at the ceremony included: Best Film jurors John Madden, Andrew O’Hagan. Gillian Anderson, Asif Kapadia, Tracey Seaward and Sam Taylor-Wood OBE; Sutherland jurors Tim Robey, Joanna Hogg, Saskia Reeves, Peter Kosminsky, Hugo Grumbar, and the artist Phil Collins.

Best British Newcomer jurors Anne-Marie Duff, Tom Hollander, Edith Bowman, Stephen Woolley and Nik Powell; and Grierson Award jurors Mandy Chang of the Grierson Trust, Charlotte Moore, Head of Documentary Commissioning at BBC, Kim Longinotto and Adam Curtis.

> LFF official site
> Previous winners at the LFF at Wikipedia

Categories
Cinema Festivals London Film Festival Reviews Thoughts

LFF 2011: We Need to Talk About Kevin

Director Lynne Ramsay’s return to films after nine years is a dazzling and disturbing adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel.

Cleverly adapting the epistolary form of the book with a flashback structure, Ramsay and co-writer Rory Kinnear have crafted a bold and unsettling drama that borders on horror.

It depicts the fears and anxieties of a middle class American mother, Eva (Tilda Swinton) as we see her disturbing relationship with her son over a number of years.

There is the doubtful pregnancy, where she seemingly regrets the loss of independence motherhood brings, and the different stages of Kevin.

We see the young toddler (Rocky Duer), the creepy 6-8 year old (Jasper Newell), the malevolent teenager (Ezra Miller) and the period after where Eva must shape a new life for herself.

Along the way, we see how events affect her husband (John C. Reilly) and younger daughter (Ashley Gerasimovich) as things spiral out of control.

It isn’t an exaggeration to describe this as a kind of horror movie, as it not only channels classics of the genre such as Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Omen (1976) but homes in with laser-like precision on the darkest fears of motherhood.

It’s effectiveness is such that I would warn expectant mothers to realise that this may do for parenthood what Psycho (1960) did for showering in remote hotels or Jaws (1975) did for swimming on a beach.

Nonetheless, this only speaks to the skill with which the book has been visualised for the big screen and the core themes and questions are all still here.

How much do the formative early years of childhood shape a character? Is it possible for evil to be an innate characteristic? Do ambivalent mothers somehow transmit their feelings to their offspring? Do parents and children pick sides in a family?

It is to Ramsay’s great credit that she has dealt with these uncomfortable concepts with such verve, whilst preserving the ambiguous, tantalising details which continually make us question characters and their actions.

The film looks stunning with the director and her cinematographer Seamus McGarvey opting for carefully composed widescreen images, which not only isolate Swinton’s protagonist but accentuate the little details which make up the visual fabric of the film.

Opting to use the colour red at every conceivable opportunity, the film seems to be referencing a similar visual motif from Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1971), an idea made more intriguing when you realise Luc Roeg (Nic’s son) is one of the producers.

We Need to Talk About Kevin plays like a weird contemporary reversal of that film: instead of the death of a child bringing tragedy upon a family, it is the birth of one that causes all the problems.

The intricate look is augmented by a rich audio design by Paul Davies, which brilliantly accentuates key sounds such as Kevin’s collicky screams against a builder’s drill or the grotesque eating of food to create a memorable ‘second layer’ to the film.

There is also the editing by Joe Bini (a veteran of Werner Herzog’s documentaries) which delineates between the different periods with consummate grace and also provides the film with a narrative drive as it circles around a key, revelatory event.

Jonny Greenwood’s atmospheric score isn’t quite up to the level of his work on There Will Be Blood (2007) but it does give the film a discordant quality, which syncs nicely with the rest of the film.

Despite the excellence of its construction, the film is dependant on a key lead performance from Tilda Swinton who more than delivers as Eva, reflecting the doubts, fears and weary disappointment of a woman caught in a living nightmare.

It is a very tricky character to play, by turns sympathetic and cold, but she delivers some of the best acting of her career here, which given her past roles is really saying something.

The supporting cast suffer a little from Swinton’s domination of the screen: John C Reilly feels a little miscast and Ezra Miller at times overdoes the demonic act to the point where some scenes feel like he’s auditioning for Damien: Omen II.

If there is a problem with the film, it may be that it is too effective for its own good.

Due to the collapse in the upscale indie market since 2008, Ramsay and the producers had to rework the script and budget in order to get the final financing in place.

I’m glad they did because this is a film that will stand the test of time, but as for its commercial prospects one can only wonder what the core audience for this film will think.

It could be that they appreciate the skill with which Shriver’s book has been adapted but also appalled at the way it burrows into their deepest fears and then explodes like an emotional dirty bomb.

I’ve already heard a couple of reactions to this film where members of the audience seemed viscerally angry with the way it dealt with a topic in a way which is probably still taboo.

Perhaps for some it will be too much and in the current recessionary climate its box office probably won’t be reflective of the sheer quality on display.

But over time I suspect it will be gain a certain status as a daring film and in the privacy of their own home many parents will sneakily watch it in the same way they used to sneakily observe horrors their parents banned them from seeing.

This is a unconventional family movie played as a tangible waking nightmare: there are Kevin’s out there and sometimes they happen to the best of parents.

> Facebook page
> Reviews of We Need to Talk About Kevin at MUBi

Categories
Cinema Festivals London Film Festival Reviews

LFF 2011: The Descendants

A comedy-drama set in Hawaii marks a triumphant return for director Alexander Payne after a seven year absence and provides George Clooney with arguably his best ever role.

Adapted from the novel by Kaui Hart Hemming, it explores the thorny emotional dilemmas facing landowner Matt King (George Clooney) after his wife is involved in a serious boating accident.

He also has to deal with his two young daughters (Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller) and the lucrative sale of ancestral land but when secrets emerge about the recent past he is forced to reexamine his life.

It seems odd that after all the critical and awards success of his last film, Alexander Payne should take seven years to make another, but the late 2000s indie collapse may have played a part.

I’m happy to report that The Descendants maintains his remarkable run of films that begun with Citizen Ruth (1996) and continued with Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002) and Sideways (2004).

Like those it masterfully blends sharp wit with heartfelt emotion, exploring the nuances of family relationships with an intelligence rarely seen in mainstream US cinema.

This has been a Payne trademark but the setting here provides a distinct visual flavour as well as an integral feature of the story, whilst the ensemble cast is outstanding.

Clooney in the lead role gives arguably his best ever performance, dialling down his natural charm to convey the confusion of a husband and father confronted with some harsh emotional truths about those he loves and – most importantly – himself.

Reminiscent of his best acting work in Out of Sight, Solaris, Michael Clayton and Up in the Air, he conveys a certain vulnerability whilst delivering the comic moments with consummate skill.

He is ably supported by what is one of the best supporting casts in recent memory.

The young actresses who play his immediate family members are terrific.

Woodley is a convincingly tempestuous but wise teenager, Miller as her younger sister is believably innocent and Clooney’s familial chemistry with them form the bedrock of the film.

There are also memorable turns from Robert Forster as a gruff father-in-law, Beau Bridges as a relaxed relative (seemingly channelling his brother Jeff as a Hawaiian Lebowski), Nick Krause as one of the daughter’s boyfriend, Matthew Lillard as an opportunistic real estate agent and Judy Greer as his loving wife.

None of these finely tuned performances would be possible without the screenplay by Payne (with credited co-screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash) which laces the gravity of the central situation with some brilliantly executed humour.

The way the central dramatic scenario is blended with the characters and the wider themes of inheritance and time feel like a masterclass in screenwriting.

Payne’s directorial execution is exemplary.

He has always demonstrated a keen eye for small, revealing details: the ballot papers in Election, the letters in About Schmidt or the TV clip of The Grapes of Wrath in Sideways.

Similarly, The Descendants is also filled with wonderful, human flourishes.

Payne sprinkles them throughout the film with relish and without giving away spoilers, particular highlights feature a swimming pool, a black eye, a sneaky kiss and a farewell speech.

Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography is reminiscent of his work on Sideways, creating interesting interior compositions and contrasting them with some gorgeous widescreen exterior work.

Hawaii isn’t always presented here as a picture postcard paradise – an opening monologue shrewdly debunks its glamour (“Paradise can go f**k itself”) – but nonetheless it forms a beautifully telling backdrop to the narrative as the climax nears.

Payne has admitted that he spent months editing the film with Kevin Tent and it pays off as the comic and dramatic beats are timed to perfection, whilst the Hawaiian flavoured musical score gives the film a distinctive mood and texture.

It is also an interesting depiction of the Aloha state, drilling deeper into the heart of the place than TV shows which have used it as a backdrop (e.g. Hawaii Five-O or Magnum P.I.) and even more recent movies such as Punch-Drunk Love (2002), which was partly set there.

His early work often focused on his home state of Nebraska, but he has always managed to find universal truths within particular locations.

This is the case in his latest film as the family dilemmas are at once specific and yet embedded within the culture of America’s newest state.

Mainstream cinema often can’t resist cliché whatever the genre, so it is doubly satisfying to find a filmmaker who excels in combining light and shade whilst using intelligent humour to enhance the gravity of the central narrative.

Strangely, it also plays like a reverse Michael Clayton: both lead characters are lawyers with relationship issues, but have to deal with very different financial circumstances.

Payne has long been a fan of classic 1970s cinema and where Tony Gilroy’s film channelled the spirit of Alan Pakula, this goes for a more bitter-sweet vibe reminiscent of Hal Ashby.

With strong reviews on the festival circuit and the marketing skills of Fox Searchlight behind it, The Descendants is likely to be a major player in the end of year awards season, but it is much more than just token Oscar bait.

In what happens to have been a year filled with remakes and sequels from the mainstream studios, this shows that Hollywood can still produce work which appeals to the brain as well as the heart.

The Descendants screens at the London Film Festival on Sunday (23rd) and Monday (24th) before opening in the US on November 18th and in the UK on January 27th

> Official site
> Festival reviews of The Descendants at MUBi

Categories
Cinema Festivals London Film Festival Reviews Thoughts

LFF 2011: The Artist

An ingenious love letter to the silent era of Hollywood is executed with an almost effortless brilliance.

One of the surprise hits on the festival circuit this year has been a black and white French film shot in Los Angeles with two relative unknown actors in the lead roles.

You might think that this was some kind of strange experiment designed exclusively for cinephiles, but is actually one of the most charming and audience-friendly films to be released this year.

Opening in 1927, the story charts the fortunes of a silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardjin) and a rising young actress (Berenice Bojo) as the introduction of sound into cinema threatens to disrupt the established order.

As an box office star Valentin is dismissive of the new audio technology despite warnings from the key people (and animals) in his life: a cigar-chomping studio mogul (John Goodman), frustrated wife (Penelope Ann Miller), driver (James Cromwell) and a loyal dog (Uggie).

The key trick which director Michel Hazanavicius brilliantly pulls off is that the film itself is a silent movie (with some crucial exceptions) that manages to simultaneously pay homage to and have fun with a now distant era of the medium.

Not only has he clearly done his research on the period, using modern technology to recreate older techniques, but he brings in a sense of fun that could make this an unlikely cross over hit with open-minded audiences.

Cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman, production designer Laurence Bennett and costume designer Mark Bridges all combine to impressively recreate the 1920s, even if they slightly hold back on certain elements for effect.

Shot in the Academy ratio of 1:33, the use of music and inter-titles give it an authentic feel, but Hazanavicius has a lot of fun with this world, sprinkling sequences with a sophisticated but heartfelt humour.

There’s also lots of lovely touches such as spinning newspapers, exaggerated facial expressions and even a dog who seems to have a natural gift for comedy.

The lead performances are outstanding: Dujardin is every inch the silent matinee idol (heavily modelled on Douglas Fairbanks), whilst Bejos makes a charming foil.

Without using their voices – one of the essential tools of modern acting – their physical expression through their bodies and faces works beautifully and blends seamlessly with the intricately crafted world of the film and – even better – the films within the film.

In supporting roles, Goodman and Cromwell especially stand out, although special mention must go to Uggie (trained on set by Sarah Clifford and his owner Omar Muller), who is the most memorable screen dog since Flike in Umberto D. (he even won this year’s Palme Dog award).

There is so much intelligence and charm packed into The Artist that I’m reluctant to reveal too much, but I will say that sequences involving a movie premiere, a nightmare and a house fire provide more satisfaction and humour than most contemporary comedies do in their whole running time.

It doesn’t just riff on the silent era but also appears to have many references to classical Hollywood movies: Citizen Kane, A Star is Born and Vertigo are just some of the many movie easter eggs that discerning audience members will delight in spotting.

There is also the ingenious conceit that lies at the heart of the project: the film both is a recreation and pastiche of a silent-era melodrama, with much of the film mirroring both the classical style of the period and the actual film-within-a-film scenes.

If all this sounds a bit too clever for its own good, don’t be alarmed – it blends this sophistication with a suprisingly light touch and injects plenty of inventive physical humour into almost every sequence.

Hazanavicius is best known for his spy pastiches OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio but this film marks a new chapter for him as a director, even though he is using familiar elements (Dujardin and Bejo both worked in his previous films).

Whilst it shares the cunning craftsmanship and wry humour of his previous work there is something more audacious here in venturing to Hollywood in order to remind it of the wonder of cinema, which France invented and America exported around the world.

A contemporary French production baked in its love of older American movies, it is an unusual beast: sophisticated but accessible; nostalgic yet contemporary – the end result is almost a filmic representation of those two cultures shared passion for the movies.

There are many fascinating parallels with the present day: as Hollywood undergoes a painful but necessary transition to digital technology, roughly equivalent to the advent of sound, the film may have an unexpected resonance with contemporary filmmakers and audiences.

The fact that the economic difficulties of the Great Depression closely mirror those of the current climate will only add to its lustre, following in footsteps of silent icons like Chaplin and Keaton.

A late addition to this year’s lineup at Cannes, I can now see why Parisian sales company Wild Bunch and The Weinstein Company (who acquired distribution rights for several territories back in May) were so bullish about this film: on paper it sounds eccentric, but in front of an audience it works like magic.

Although it lost out on the Palme d’Or, Harvey Weinstein must surely be rubbing his hands with glee.

Not only does this film resemble last year’s unexpected hit The King’s Speech (a well crafted, feel-good period film) but it is also the kind of foreign language title he excelled in marketing to Oscar voters back in the 1990s heyday of Miramax (Il Postino and Life is Beautiful are just two titles which spring to mind).

Veteran Academy members and actors (the largest voting branch) will find much to feast on.

Not only is it an inventive, loving tribute to their industry and town, but it also deals with the fears and hopes of performers in the same way that an Oscar favourite like All About Eve managed to do (although that used Broadway as a substitute for Hollywood).

The main challenge will be getting audiences outside of the art-house realm to see it, but the word of mouth on this could potentially spread like wildfire once people experience the film’s heady charms for themselves.

Not only does the genuinely uplifting mood and sparkling invention make it attractive to audiences in depressing times, but the silent movie aspect means it could potentially translate across several continents and cultures.

A glorious and highly inventive tribute to cinema, its playful cleverness and uplifting tone often hide the considerable invention it took to craft what is easily one of the best films of 2011.

The Artist screens at the London Film Festival tonight (Tues 18th) and Saturday (22nd) before opening in the US on November 23rd. The UK release date is TBC

> Official site
> Collected reviews of The Artist at MUBi
> Find out more about the silent era of Hollywood at Wikipedia

Categories
Cinema Festivals London Film Festival Reviews

LFF 2011: Shame

Steve McQueen‘s second feature is a stunning depiction of sexual compulsion.

Set in contemporary New York, it explores the life of an advertising executive (Michael Fassbender) who is struggling to cope with an addiction to sex and a needy sister (Carey Mulligan) who has just arrived to stay.

Like his astonishing debut, Hunger, this is bold filmmaking centred around an incredible central performance from Fassbender who manages to convey the pleasure and pain of a man in the throes of an all-consuming impulse.

Essentially a portrait of an addict enabled by the modern world (e.g. promiscuity, internet porn) the main character comes across as an unlikely combination of George Clooney in Up in the Air (surface charm hiding an inner emptiness) and Robert De Niro in Raging Bull (inner rage finding an expression through physical activity), with a dash of Christian Bale in American Psycho (only without the blood).

Fassbender manages to balance the fleshy demands of the role (which go near the boundaries of what is accepted in mainstream cinema) with an impeccable surface charm and is completely believable as a modern day sexual vampire.

Mulligan provides a compelling counterweight as a messy, needy sibling and the carefully calibrated chemistry between them hints at a dark past, which may (or may not) explain their present behaviour.

It says a lot that despite their strange, unusual actions, these characters feel utterly authentic and their worlds utterly defined.

Visually, Shame is almost a companion piece to Hunger as McQueen and his cinematographer Sean Bobbit fill the screen with some stunning widescreen imagery.

Not only is there impeccable framing and the now signature long takes, including a breathtaking street sequence, but the use of lighting is also unusual – one night-time scene goes to the very limits of lighting and photography to great effect.

Despite the innate heaviness of the subject matter, there is also a surprising amount of charm and humour – after all the protagonist is someone who is necessarily seductive – and separate scenes involving a restaurant and an infected computer provide some clever light relief.

McQueen and Abi Morgan have written a screenplay which feels like a blue-print for a more visual style of storytelling, although some sequences – especially a telling, claustrophobic argument – are sharply scripted and allow the images on screen to say much more than words ever could.

The use of music is appropriately sombre and simultaneously epic, with Harry Escott‘s score channeling Hans Zimmer’s music to the The Thin Red Line (1998) – one signature piece is very reminiscent of Journey to the Line – whilst the use of Bach in places is restrained but highly effective.

New York provides an interesting metropolitan backdrop, as McQueen deliberately downplays the usual visual cliches (Empire State building, Statue of Liberty etc) to depict an urban environment which could actually be any modern city.

Apparently the filmmakers chose the Big Apple over London because it was easier to research sex addiction there, but it also provides a hauntingly sterile backdrop.

Production designer Judy Becker helps create interiors which match the emptiness of the characters, whilst the location filming brilliantly utilises trains, nightclubs and streets: all of the highs and lows of city living are displayed, with a visual attention to detail that is often jaw-dropping.

In the same way that Hunger used the 1981 IRA hunger strike to indirectly comment on modern day torture and incarceration, Shame could be seen as a telling metaphor for the soulless nature of urban living, fuelled by a self-destructive brand of capitalism.

In a month which has seen part of the city occupied by a younger generation puzzled and appalled by a global financial crisis partly engineered by their Baby Boomer parents.

Shame is a curiously timely film, even if its makers didn’t intend it to be.

There has already been considerable buzz about it on the festival circuit, due to the graphic sexual content and sheer quality of the acting and direction but, again like Hunger, it seems unlikely that this will break out of the urban art-house realm.

That being said, Fox Searchlight have acquired it (major kudos and respect to them) and are likely to make a big push for Best Actor for Fassbender.

Make no mistake, this is a performance that actors (the biggest voting block in the Academy) will be dazzled by.

After his breakthrough roles in Hunger and Inglourious Basterds, he has already demonstrated a remarkable command of screen acting: his physicality, voice and presence are something to behold.

Even if he doesn’t become a major A-list star that producers and agents clearly want him to be, who cares when he gives performances like this?

Older Oscar members might have a coronary at some of the sex scenes and those explicit, but never gratuitous, sequences are likely to pose an interesting dilemma for the distributor and the MPAA ratings board – many have predicted an NC-17 for this film in the US as the racier scenes are difficult to edit around, due to the way they have been shot.

Given that NC-17 spells commercial death for a film (it means reduced mainstream advertising and refusal of some multiplex chains to screen it) maybe it is time the ratings board grew up and gave this an R with no cuts?

After all, we live in an age when the most sadistic, violent junk is given the green light by the US ratings board but shots of a naked body are deemed to be immoral or unacceptable.

Or we would know this for sure if the MPAA was an open, accountable body, rather than the secretive shambles it currently is.

Despite the American setting, it is interesting to note that this is a home grown British production, with See-Saw Films teaming up with Film4 and some funding from the now defunct UK Film Council.

It is interesting to note that homegrown British films have undergone something of a renaissance in a terrible economic climate since 2008, compared to the Lottery funded disasters of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Is it an uncomfortable truth that bad social times lead to risk-taking directors with something to say?

Where Steve McQueen goes from here career wise is hard to call because I doubt he wants to take on the next big studio comic-book franchise, but if he can keep making films like this then discerning audiences will have much to be grateful for.

Shame screens tonight (Friday 14th) and tomorrow (Sat 15th) at the London Film Festival, opens in the US on December 2nd and in the UK on January 13th

> Shame on Twitter
> Reviews from Venice, Telluride and Toronto at MUBi

Categories
Festivals London Film Festival News

54th London Film Festival Lineup

The London Film Festival announced its 2011 lineup today with the usual mix of British premieres and acclaimed films from the festival circuit.

Running from October 12th-27th, it opens with Fernando Meirelles’ 360 and closes with Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea.

One of the advantages of the festival is that it usually cherry picks the most buzzed about titles from the year’s major festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Telluride and Toronto.

This means that although there isn’t usually the kind of excitement that surrounds a world premiere (such as The Tree of Life in Cannes this year), it can act as a useful filter for the festival hits and misses that year.

After scouring through the schedule here are those I’m most interesting in seeing this year, divided up into Absolute Must Sees, Definitely Worth Checking Out and Mildly Intrigued.

ABSOLUTE MUST SEES

Shame (Dir. Steve McQueen): The director’s follow up to Hunger (2008) is the study of a thirty something man (Michael Fassbender) in New York with an unhealthy sexual compulsion who is visited by his sister (Carey Mulligan). Reviews out of Venice and Telluride were very strong and given that his debut was one of the best films of the last decade, cinephiles will be eagerly awaiting this.

The Artist (Dir. Michel Hazanavicius): This love letter to the days of silent cinema was (along with The Tree of Life) the most buzzed about film at Cannes this year. Set in 1927, it depicts a movie star (Jean Dujardin) threatened by the advent of talkies and the actress (Bérénice Bejo) he has recently discovered. Likely to be the first Oscar contender in years to be shot in black and white and feature minimal dialogue. With The Weinstein Company releasing in the US, parallels to The King’s Speech are not far off the mark (i.e. heartfelt, old fashioned film storms in from leftfield to become a critical and commercial hit).

Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life (Dir. Werner Herzog): A Herzog documentary is automatically an event but when the German auteur explores violence and capital punishment through interviews with Death Row inmates, it automatically becomes a must-see. Raves at Telluride already suggest something special.

The Descendants (Dir. Alexander Payne): Payne’s first feature since Sideways (2004) is a comedy-drama about a father (George Clooney) living in Hawaii who is forced to cope with unexpected family issues. Strong reviews out of Telluride would suggest this is already an early Oscar frontrunner.

Alps (Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos): The second feature from the director of the remarkable arthouse hit Dogtooth (2009) has attracted raves out of Venice, although some reccommend that you should know as little about it as possible. Intrigued? Me too.

DEFINITELY WORTH CHECKING OUT

Michael (Dir. Markus Schleinzer): Austrian film about a mysterious 35 year old man and his relationship with a ten year old boy. The tough subject matter – which seems to be inspired by real life cases in Austria – will make this a tough sell for even the arthouse audiences, but it has already drawn high praise after its debut in Cannes.

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Dir. Sean Durkin): One of the most buzzed about films at Sundance deals with a seemingly pleasant commune in the Catskills, which slowly reveals a different side. Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Brady Corbet and Hugh Dancy it is likely to send urban tastemakers into fits of cultural rapture.

Snowtown (Dir. Justin Kurzel): Australian serial killer drama that freaked some audiences out at Cannes back in May. The film adaptation of Australia’s most notorious serial killer case has been described as ‘horrific’ and ‘incredible’. It even topped a Cannes 2011 Abuse Checklist, which this year is really saying something.

The Ides of March (Dir. George Clooney): The ‘other’ Clooney film at the festival (shades of 2009?) is an adaptation of Farragut North, the play which was loosely based on Howard Dean‘s 2004 presidential campaign. Starring Ryan Gosling as an ambitious press spokesman for a Democratic candidate (Clooney), it boasts an impressive supporting cast (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti) and reviews out of Venice were (mostly) solid.

Like Crazy (Dir. Drake Doremus): The winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance was this tale of a young couple (Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones) who find themselves stuck on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Quickly acquired by Paramount after wowing critics and buyers in Utah, agents and casting directors are already obsessed with Felicity Jones and the studio have big expectations for this. The use of a Twitter hashtag in the trailer suggests they already think it will tap into the zeitgeist.

Anonymous (Dir. Roland Emmerich): This might seem like the strangest film project in years as the director of apocalyptic blockbusters uses the Shakespeare authorship question to explore political intrigue in Elizabethan England. I’ve already seen it (but can’t talk about it yet as there is a review embargo) but it may surprise people when it debuts in Toronto and London.

The Deep Blue Sea (Dir. Terence Davies): The fact that Davis has actually been given money to make a film is cause for celebration, but an adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play makes for added excitement. A tale of relationship problems in the 1950s, the combination of Davies, Rattigan and two fine leads (Rachel Weisz and Simon Russell Beale) could make for something interesting.

Coriolanus (Dir. Ralph Fiennes): The directorial debut of Fiennes is a modern day update of Shakespeare’s rarely filmed play and stars Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain and Vanessa Redgrave. Film fans may be excited about the presence of cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (who shot The Hurt Locker and United 93).

MILDLY INTRIGUED

Wuthering Heights (Dir. Andrea Arnold): In a year which has seen another Bronte adaptation (Cary Fukanaga’s Jane Eyre), director Andrea Arnold takes on this novel with what promises to be a radical adaptation. After the richley deserved acclaim of Fish Tank (2009) it will be interesting to see Arnold tackle the realm of corsets and country houses.

Trishna (Dir. Michael Winterbottom): Winterbottom can be a bit hit-or-miss but he’s undeniably one of the most prolific andtalented directors of his generation. Here he returns to Thomas Hardy – after Jude (1996) – for an ambitious adaptation of Tess of the d’Urbervilles which is set in modern day India with Freida Pinto in the lead role.

This Must Be the Place (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino): Although reviews were mixed out of Cannes this story of a retired rock star (Sean Penn) on a road trip across the USA has must-see value for both the star (in what seems a strange role even for him) and the director, who made the modern classic Il Divo (2008).

360 (Dir. Fernando Meirelles): His last film – Blindness (2008) – was a bit underwhelming but this is one of the few world premieres at the festival. Boasting a stellar cast (Jude Law, Rachel Weisz and Anthony Hopkins) and a screenplay by Peter Morgan, it is modern update of Arthur Schnitzlerís play La Ronde.

We Need To Talk About Kevin (Dir. Lynne Ramsay, 1999): Adapted from Lionel Shriver’s novel this sees Ramsay’s long-awaited return to the big screen after Ratcatcher (1999) and Morvern Callar (2002). The story of an American woman (Tilda Swinton), with a rather troublesome teenage son (Ezra Miller) probes into some dark areas and got mostly positive reviews out of Cannes.

50/50 (Dir. Jonathan Levine): The story of a writer coping with cancer (inspired by screenwriter Will Reiser’s own experiences) this stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role and features a strong supporting cast which includes Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Anjelica Huston and Philip Baker Hall.

Dark Horse (Dir. Todd Solondz): Solondz may have recovered from a mid-career dip with this dark comedy about two dysfunctional thirtysomethings (Jordan Gelber and Selma Blair) planning to marry. Solid supporting cast includes Mia Farrow and Christopher Walken.

Any others you are looking forward to?

> LFF Official site, Facebook page and Twitter
> Last year’s LFF posts

Categories
Awards Season Festivals

The Tree of Life wins the Palme d’Or

Will the Cannes win for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life boost its box office and awards season chances?

Despite being the most eagerly awaited film at this year’s festival, it divided critical opinion after screening last Monday and tonight’s win was, for some pundits, something of a surprise.

Can a film as bold and out there as Malick’s film is reported to be, really click with modern upscale audiences?

Some might pour cold water on the idea of this film being an Oscar contender and an arthouse hit, as it seems to take the usual ingredients of Malick’s films and takes them to new levels of sheer Malickness.

Take this paragraph from Todd McCarthy’s review of the film for the Hollywood Reporter:

“Brandishing an ambition it’s likely no film, including this one, could entirely fulfil, The Tree of Life is nonetheless a singular work, an impressionistic metaphysical inquiry into mankind’s place in the grand scheme of things that releases waves of insights amid its narrative imprecisions. This fifth feature in Terrence Malick’s eccentric four-decade career is a beauteous creation that ponders the imponderables, asks the questions that religious and thoughtful people have posed for millennia and provokes expansive philosophical musings along with intense personal introspection”

Somehow I don’t think this quote is going on the poster.

Let’s also not forget the very existence of this film in 2011 is something of a miracle.

Malick apparently approached Bill Pohlad, the head of production company River Road, several years ago with the basic idea for the project.

Filming began in 2008 and over the course of three years Malick shot and refined the film which features an extended sequence showing the birth of human existence (!); a family in 1950s Texas (starring Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain); and present day scenes of a man (Sean Penn) reflecting on his childhood.

Over the course of the last four years, the distribution company set up by Pohlad and Bob Berney (the now ironically named Apparition) came and went, whilst the film’s release was delayed from 2009 until 2010, when some expected it to play at that year’s Cannes festival.

A few months after that didn’t happen, Fox Searchlight eventually stepped in as US distributor, there were rumoured grumblings from exhibition folk that the film was too esoteric, and UK distributor Icon got in to a fight with international sales agent Summit over the release date (which means the UK opening is currently in limbo).

When the film was finally unveiled at Cannes last week, the divided responses were perhaps predictable, but the feverish anticipation before it screened and the added kick of a Palme d’Or win might actually say something powerful about the state of cinema in 2011.

In the same weekend that a movie based on a fairground ride dominates the global box office, could there be actually be an upscale hunger for a maverick auteur like Terrence Malick?

Fox Searchlight are past masters at releasing awards season bait (even if they only have one Best Picture win) but

At the moment, it seems like Win Win and The Descendants would be their most likely shots at Oscar glory.

Could it be that this upscale movie breaks out of the die-hard cineaste realm to become a respectable arthouse success?

Not only is there the unusualness of the project (I can’t think of anything remotely similar in recent memory), but also the selling point of its reclusive, poet-genius director.

I’m sure he has sincere reasons for doing zero press, but whether intentional or not, it just stokes the aura surrounding his already legendary status to levels that must leave PR professionals gasping in awe.

Could it be possible that the unusual and ‘uncommercial’ qualities of The Tree of Life and its director become a strength rather than a weakness?

> Official site and Tumblr
> Terrence Malick at Wikipedia
> Reviews of The Tree of Life from Cannes 2011

Categories
Cannes Festivals News

Cannes 2011 Winners

Here is a full list of winners at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, which saw the Palme d’Or awarded to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life.

A trophy of leaves going to a film about a tree, how appropriate for a Malick film.

OFFICIAL COMPETITION

  • Palme d’OrThe Tree of Life (Dir. Terrence Malick)
  • Grand PrixOnce Upon a Time in Anatolia (Dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan) and The Kid with a Bike (Dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
  • Best Director – Nicolas Winding Refn for Drive
  • Grand PrixFootnote (Dir. Joseph Cedar)
  • Jury PrizePolisse by Maiwenn
  • Best Actor Jean Dujardin for The Artist
  • Best Actress – Kirsten Dunst for Melancholia
  • Camera d’OrLas Acacias (Dir. Pablo Giorgelli)

UN CERTAIN REGARD

  • Prize of Un Certain RegardArirang (Dir. Kim Ki-duk) and Stopped on Track (Dir. Andreas Dresen)
  • Special Jury Prize – Elena by Andrey Zvyagintsev
  • Directing Prize – Mohammad Rasoulov for Goodbye

CINEFONDATION

  • 1st PrizeThe Letter (Dir. Doroteya Droumeva)
  • 2nd PrizeDrari (Dir. Kamal Nazraq)
  • 3rd PrizeFly (Dir. Night by Son Tae-gyum)

INDEPENDENT SECTIONS

Critics’ Week

  • Grand Prix NespressoTake Shelter (Dir. Jeff Nichols)
  • Special Mention from the Jury PresidentSnowtown (Dir. Justin Kurzel)
  • Prix SACD – Take Shelter by Jeff Nichols
  • ACID/CCAS Prize – Les Acacias (Dir. Pablo Giorgelli)
  • Very Young Critics Prize – Les Acacias (Dir. Pablo Giorgelli)

FIPRESCI Awards

  • In CompetitionLe Havre (Dir. Aki Kaurismäki)
  • Un Certain Regard – The Minister by Pierre Schöller
  • Critics’ Week or Directors’ FortnightTake Shelter (Dir. Jeff Nichols)

Ecumenical Jury

  • Prize of the Ecumenical JuryThis Must Be the Place (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino)
  • Special MentionLe Havre (Dir. Aki Kaurismäki)
  • Special MentionWhere Do We Go Now? (Dir. Nadine Labaki)

Palm Dog

  • Palm Dog Award – Uggy for The Artist
  • Special Jury Prize – Laika for Le Havre

> Official site
> Links and more Cannes 2011 coverage at MUBi

Categories
Cannes Festivals News

The Lars Von Trier Nazi Controversy

Director Lars Von Trier caused controversy by making jokes about Hitler at the Cannes press conference for his latest film.

Melancholia is a “psychological disaster drama” about the dispute between two sisters (played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg) as a rogue planet hurtles towards Earth.

It screened for the press this morning and whilst the Danish director usually divides opinion, it got some of the more positive notices of his recent career.

When Von Trier turned up at the press conference with the word ‘fuck’ printed on his hand it may have seemed like his usual provocative behaviour.

For about 20 minutes, the press conference passed by with the usual questions from the foreign press to the filmmaker and actors.

It should be noted that questions during press conferences at Cannes can be unbelievably tedious and anodyne, which is why Von Trier perhaps decided to stir things up around the 20 minute mark.

He claimed he was making an explicit porn film with Kirsten Dunst, which elicited nervous laughter from the actress and journalists, and how it would be connected with the Church (this really has to be heard for the full effect).

So far, it was Von Trier playing his usual games, which I suspect he does to confuse, annoy and create publicity at the world’s biggest film festival.

But 3 minutes towards the end Von Trier proceeded to make, even by his own standards, some pretty inflammatory remarks.

When asked by Kate Muir of The Times about a previous comment he made regarding his interest in ‘Nazi asthetic’ in his films Von Trier said:

“I thought I was a Jew for a long time and was very happy being a Jew. Then later on came Susanne Bier [Jewish and Danish director] and then suddenly I wasn’t so happy about being a Jew. No, that was a joke, sorry. But it turned out I was not a Jew but even if I’d been a Jew I would be kind of a second rate Jew because there is kind of a hierarchy in the Jewish population. But anyway, I really wanted to be a Jew and then I found out I was really a Nazi, you know, because my family was German … which also gave me some pleasure. What can I say? I understand Hitler. I think he did some wrong things, yes absolutely, but I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end”

At this point Dunst (sitting next to him) seemed physically uncomfortable, prompting Von Trier to say that there would be a point to his jokey ramblings.

“I think I understand the man. He’s not what you would call a good guy, but I understand much about him and I sympathize with him a little bit. But come on, I’m not for the Second World War, and I’m not against Jews. I am of course very much for Jews. No, not too much because Israel is a pain in the ass. But still, …how can I get out of this sentence?”

He then expressed admiration for Nazi architect Albert Speer before ending another rambling sentence with:

“OK, I’m a Nazi.”

Peter Howell of the Toronto Sun then asked whether he would make a movie even bigger in scale than Melancholia:

“Yeah, that’s what we Nazis … we have a tendency to try to do things on a greater scale. Yeah, may be you could persuade me …the final solution with journalists.”

I don’t think any sane person would take Von Trier’s comments literally but many around the world would certainly take offence at his flippant joking about the mass murder and genocide of World War II.

The festival were quick to issue a press release:

“The Festival de Cannes was disturbed about the statements made by Lars von Trier in his press conference this morning in Cannes. Therefore the festival asked him to provide an explanation for his comments. The director states that he let himself be egged on by a provocation. He presents his apology. The direction of the festival acknowledges this and is passing on Lars von Trier’s apology. The festival is adamant that it would never allow the event to become the forum for such pronouncements on such subjects.

Then followed an apology from Von Trier’s official apology:

“If I have hurt someone this morning by the words I said at the press conference, I sincerely apologise. I am not anti-semitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a Nazi.”

Although this will undoubtedly get Von Trier and his latest film a lot of worldwide press, how it affects his career will be an open question.

A lot of people in the film world will dismiss this as the usual provocative statement that Von Trier is fond of making.

He angered some US critics with his trilogy about America – Dancer in the Dark (2000), Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005) – as they presented an ironic flipside of the American dream and the director proudly claimed he had never been to the country.

In 2009, Antichrist scandalised some of the audience in Cannes with scenes of explicit sex and violence, whilst the ensuing press conference became rather heated.

Although a talented director, he remains a cinematic prankster who seems to revel in the publicity he gets for making provocative films and statements.

But this time he has made comments which, although intended as some kind of joke, will reverberate around the world.

Given that Mel Gibson was in Cannes last night maybe they should team up for a project?

> Reviews of Melancholia at Cannes 2011
> Lars Von Trier at Wikipedia

Categories
Cannes Festivals

Tree of Life Cannes Reactions

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life finally premiered in Cannes today, but how was it received by the world’s critics?

The basic deal seems to be that the film is Malick turned up to 11 (heavy themes treated with a stunning visual sense) and that it’s going to divide people.

A new Malick film with Brad Pitt is already a must see for cinephiles around the globe and the positive trade reviews from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter perhaps indicate that however crazy it gets, discerning audiences are going to have a lot to absorb and discuss.

Whether it can crossover into the glare of the awards season remains a big question but this is already an event that has gone down in recent Cannes lore and Malick’s usual refusal to do any publicity has just stoked the must-see vibes around this film.

Here’s some brief snapshots of reactions from various critics:

POSITIVE

MIXED

NEGATIVE

Here are some of the reactions in image form.

> Check out more reviews on The Tree of Life from Cannes at MUBi
> Watch the trailer

Categories
Cannes Festivals

Cannes 2011 Lineup

The lineup for this year’s Cannes film Festival has been announced and includes films by directors such as Terrence Malick, The Dardenne Brothers, Pedro Almodovar, Takashi Miike, Paolo Sorrentino, Lars Von Trier, Lynne Ramsay, Nanni Moretti and Nicolas Winding Refn.

COMPETITION

  • La Piel Que Habito (Dir. Pedro Almodovar)
  • L’Apollonide (Dir. Bertrand Bonello)
  • Parter (Dir. Alain Cavalier)
  • Footnote (Dir. Joseph Cedar)
  • Once Upon A Time in Anatolia (Dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
  • The Kid With The Bike (Dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
  • Le Havre (Dir. Aki Kaurismäki)
  • Hanezu No Tsuki (Dir. Naomi Kawase)
  • Sleeping Beauty (Dir. Julia Leigh)
  • Polisse (Dir. Maiwenn)
  • The Tree of Life (Dir. Terrence Malick)
  • La source des femmes (Dir. Radu Mihaileanu)
  • Ichimei (Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai) (Dir. Takashi Miike)
  • We Have a Pope (Dir. Nanni Moretti)
  • We Need To Talk About Kevin (Dir. Lynne Ramsay)
  • This Must Be The Place (Dir. Paolo Sorrentino)
  • Michael (Dir. Markus Schleinzer)
  • Melancholia (Dir. Lars Von Trier)
  • Drive (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)

OUT OF COMPETITION

  • The Beaver (Dir. Jodie Foster)
  • La conquête (Dir. Xavier Durringer)
  • The Artist (Dir. Michel Hazanavicius)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Dir. Rob Marshall)
  • Kung Fu Panda 2 (Dir. Jennifer Yuh)

MIDNIGHT SCREENINGS

  • Wu Xia (Dir. Chan Peter Ho-Sun)
  • Dias de Gracia (Dir. Everado Gout)

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

  • Labrador (Dir. Frederikke Aspöck)
  • Le maître des forges de l’enfer (Dir. Rithy Panh)
  • Michel Petrucciani (Dir. Michael Radford)
  • Tous au Larzac (Dir. Christian Rouaud)

UN CERTAIN REGARD

  • The Hunter (Dir. Bakur Bakuradze)
  • Halt auf freier Strecke (Dir. Andreas Dresen)
  • Hors Satan (Dir. Bruno Dumont)
  • Martha Marcy May Marlene (Dir. Sean Durkin)
  • Les neiges du Kilimandjaro (Dir. Robert Guédiguian)
  • Skoonheid (Dir. Oliver Hermanus)
  • The Day He Arrives (Dir. Hong Sang-Soo)
  • Bonsaï (Dir. Christian Jimenez)
  • Tatsumi (Dir. Eric Khoo)
  • Arirang (Dir. Kim Ki-Duk)
  • Et maintenant on va où? (Dir. Nadine Labaki)
  • Loverboy (Dir. Catalin Mitulescu)
  • Yellow Sea (Dir. Na Hong-jin)
  • Miss Bala (Dir. Gerardo Naranjo)
  • Trabalhar Cansa (Dir. Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra)
  • L’Exercice de L’Etat (Dir. Pierre Schoeller)
  • Restless (Dir. Gus Van Sant)
  • Toomelah (Dir. Ivan Sen)
  • Oslo August 31st (Dir. Joachim Trier)

> Official site
> More on Cannes 2011 at MUBi

Categories
Cannes Festivals

Cannes 2011 Poster

The poster for the 64th Cannes film festival has been unveiled and it features a stylish retro image of Faye Dunaway.

Here is the portrait version:

The poster was designed by the Paris-based design agency H5, which is also providing the graphics for this year’s festival.

A marked improvement on last year’s depiction of Juliette Binoche with a magic paintbrush, the Dunaway image was originally taken by Jerry Schatzberg in 1970.

He is the US photographer and filmmaker who also shot the iconic cover for Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde (1966) album.

As a director Schatzberg is probably best known for Scarecrow (1973), the film with Al Pacino and Gene Hackman that shared the Grand Jury prize at Cannes.

Dunaway and Schatzberg will both be attending the festival this year for a screening of their 1970 film Puzzle of a Downfall Child, in a restored presentation that is guaranteed to look better than this YouTube clip:

In this short interview on Vimeo (posted by Antonin74) he describes how he met Dunaway and their collaboration on the film:

He went on to direct The Panic in Needle Park (1971), a drama about heroin use in New York that also won acclaim at Cannes and was a breakout film for Al Pacino.

This year’s festival takes place from May 11th-22nd.

> Cannes 2011
> Coverage of Cannes at indieWIRE
> Jerry Schatzberg

Categories
Festivals News

South By Southwest 2011 Film Lineup

The annual South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival starts next week and more details have emerged of the full program.

Part of a broader annual event that takes in music and interactive, the festivals and conferences take place every spring in Austin, Texas.

The film festival runs relatively independently from the music and tech events, but in recent years it has become a place to watch for breakout films such as Monsters, Tiny Furniture, various Judd Apatow-produced comedies (Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and for being the spiritual home of the mumblecore movement.

This year, some of the films to look out for include:

  • Source Code (Dir. Duncan Jones): The new sci-fi film from Duncan Jones (who directed Moon) starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan.
  • The Beaver (Dir. Jodie Foster): Drama starring Mel Gibson as a depressed toy executive who talks to people via a hand puppet, co-starring Foster, Jennifer Lawrence and Anton Yelchin.
  • Win Win (Dir. Tom McCarthy): Latest drama from Tom McCarthy (who made The Station Agent and The Visitor) starring Paul Giamatti and Melanie Lynskey.
  • Attack The Block (Dir. Joe Cornish): The new UK horror-comedy about London teenagers defending their tower block from an alien invasion.

There are also numerous panels at the Austin Convention Center featuring filmmakers, journalists, bloggers – for more details check out the online schedule.

Here are details of the major film strands:

HEADLINERS

  • 13 Assassins (Director: Takashi Miike, Writers: Shoichirou Ikemiya & Daisuke Tengan): Distressed by the Lord’s murderous rampage, top Shogun official Sir Doi secretly calls on esteemed samurai Shinzaemon Shimada to assassinate the evil Naritsugu. Outraged by Lord Naritsugu’s vile acts, Shinzaemon willingly accepts the dangerous mission. Cast: Koji Yakusho, Takayuki Yamada, Yusuke Iseya, Goro Inagaki, Masachika Ichimura
  • Ain’t It Cool News 15th Anniversary Screening: Harry Knowles will curate a surprise screening in honor of the 15th Anniversary of his popular cult website Ain’t it Cool News.
  • The Beaver (Director: Jodie Foster, Writer: Kyle Killen): Two-time Academy Award® winner Jodie Foster directs and co-stars with two-time Academy Award® winner Mel Gibson in an emotional story about a man on a journey to re-discover his family and re- start his life. Plagued by his own demons, Walter Black was once a successful toy executive and family man who now suffers from depression. No matter what he tries, Walter can’t seem to get himself back on track…until a beaver hand puppet enters his life. Cast: Cast: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Cherry Jones (World Premiere)
  • Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (Director: Rodman Flender): Did Conan O’Brien go on tour to connect with his fans or fill a void within himself? Rodman Flender’s documentary captures an artist trained in improvisation at the most improvisational time of his career. (World Premiere)
  • The King of Luck (Director: Billy Bob Thornton): This is a documentary about Willie Nelson: the man, the songwriter, the friend, the father, legendary performer and champion of the family farmer. (World Premiere)
  • Paul (Director: Greg Mottola, Writers: Simon Pegg & Nick Frost): Simon Pegg and Nick Frost reunite as two geeks who meet an alien named Paul (Seth Rogen) on a pilgrimage to America’s UFO heartland. Their road trip will alter our universe forever. Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Blythe Danner, John Carroll Lynch, with Sigourney Weaver, and Seth Rogen as Paul (North American Premiere)
  • Source Code (Director: Duncan Jones, Writer: Ben Ripley): When soldier Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) wakes up in the body of an unknown man, he discovers he’s part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train. In an assignment unlike any he’s ever known, he learns he’s part of a government experiment called the “Source Code,” a computer program that enables him to cross over into another man’s identity in the last 8 minutes of his life. Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright (World Premiere)
  • Super (Director & Writer: James Gunn): In this outlandish dark comedy, James Gunn has created what is perhaps the definitive take on self-reflexive superheroes. Cast: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Michael Rooker (U.S. Premiere)
  • Win Win (Director: Tom McCarthy, Writers: Tom McCarthy & Joe Tiboni): Tom McCarthy, acclaimed writer/director of The Visitor and The Station Agent, once again explores the depths and nuances of human relationships in his new film about the allegiances and bonds between unlikely characters. Cast: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young, Melanie Lynskey, Alex Schaffer, Margo Martindale, David Thompson

NARRATIVE FEATURE COMPETITION

  • 96 Minutes (Director & Writer: Aimée Lagos): Four young lives. One night. One terrifying event. These 96 minutes will change everything. Cast: Brittany Snow, Evan Ross, Christian Serratos, J. Michael Trautmann, and David Oyelowo (World Premiere)
  • A Year in Mooring (Director: Chris Eyre, Writer: Peter Vanderwall): In his first leading dramatic role, Josh Lucas walks an isolated line between solitude and redemption. This quiet cinematic journey tells a of tale grief, solace and peace. Cast: Josh Lucas, Ayelet Zurer, James Cromwell, Jon Tenney, Taylor Nichols (World Premiere)
  • American Animal (Director & Writer: Matt D’Elia): Jimmy – eccentric, delusional, dying – feels betrayed when roommate James gets a job. During one night of drinks, drugs and women, a classic battle of wills ensues as James prepares for work and Jimmy goes mad. Cast: Matt D’Elia, Brendan Fletcher, Mircea Monroe, Angela Sarafyan (World Premiere)
  • Charlie Casanova (Director & Writer: Terry McMahon): A ruling class sociopath knocks down a working class girl in a hit-and-run and uses a deck of playing cards to determine his fate. Cast: Emmett J. Scanlan, Leigh Arnold, Damien Hannaway, Ruth McIntyre, Tony Murphy (World Premiere)
  • Fly Away (Director & Writer: Janet Grillo): A poignant yet humor filled story about a single mother of a teenager with autism, confronting her child’s future. What will sustain her daughter, and herself? A parent/child love story, when love means letting go. Cast: Beth Broderick, Ashley Rickards, Greg Germann, JR Bourne, Reno (World Premiere)
  • Happy New Year (Director & Writer: K. Lorrel Manning): A war torn marine returns home to face his fiercest battle yet — the one against himself. Cast: Michael Cuomo, JD Williams, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Tina Sloan, Alan Dale (World Premiere)
  • Natural Selection (Director and Screenwriter: Robbie Pickering): When a dutiful, albeit barren, housewife discovers that her ailing husband has an illegitimate son, she sets out to find the young man and reunite him with her husband before he dies. Cast: Rachael Harris, Matt O’Leary, Jon Gries, John Diehl (World Premiere)
  • Small, Beautifully Moving Parts (Directors & Writers: Annie J. Howell & Lisa Robinson): Technology-obsessed Sarah Sparks is pregnant and ambivalent, afraid she relates better to machines than to people. Looking for answers, she hits the road in search of her estranged mother, now living off the grid. Cast: Anna Margaret Hollyman, André Holland, Sarah Rafferty, Susan Kelechi Watson, Mary Beth Peil (World Premiere)

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE COMPETITION

  • Better This World (Directors: Katie Galloway & Kelly Duane de la Vega): Two boyhood friends from Midland, Texas cross a line that radically changes their lives. The result: eight homemade bombs, multiple domestic terrorism charges and a high stakes entrapment defense hinging on a controversial FBI informant. (World Premiere)
  • The City Dark (Director: Ian Cheney): The film chronicles the disappearance of darkness, following astronomers, cancer researchers, ecologists and philosophers in a quest to understand what is lost in the glare of city lights. (World Premiere)
  • Dragonslayer (Director: Tristan Patterson): Killer Films presents the transmissions of a lost kid, falling in love, in the suburbs of Fullerton, California. Featuring skateboarding, the usual drugs, and stray glimpses of unusual beauty. (World Premiere)
  • Fightville (Directors: Michael Tucker & Petra Epperlein): A documentary about the art and sport of fighting: a microcosm of life, a physical manifestation of that other brutal contest called the American Dream. (World Premiere)
  • Kumaré (Director: Vikram Gandhi): A documentary about a man who impersonates a wise Indian Guru and builds a following in Arizona. (World Premiere)
  • Last Days Here (Directors: Don Argott & Demian Fenton): The film follows middle-aged rocker Bobby Liebling, lead singer of the cult hard rock/heavy metal band Pentagram, as he leaves his parents’ basement in search of the life he never lived. (World Premiere)
  • A Matter of Taste (Director: Sally Rowe): Considered a rising star of haute cuisine, Paul Liebrandt found his career stalled in New York’s austere environment post 9/11. Paul struggles over the next decade as he tries to make his way back to the top. (World Premiere)
  • Where Soldiers Come From (Director: Heather Courtney): From a snowy small town in Northern Michigan to the mountains of Afghanistan and back, the film follows the four-year journey of childhood friends and their town, forever changed by a faraway war. (World Premiere)

MIDNIGHTERS

  • Attack The Block (Director: Joe Cornish): A funny, frightening action adventure movie that pits a teen gang against an invasion of alien monsters. It turns a tower block into a sci-fi playground. It’s inner city versus outer space. (World Premiere)
  • The Divide (Director: Xavier Gens, Writers: Karl Mueller & Eron Sheean): To survive the end of the world…you must first survive each other. Cast: Michael Biehn, Milo Ventimiglia, Lauren German, Rosanna Arquette, Courtney B. Vance (World Premiere)
  • Hobo With a Shotgun (Director: Jason Eisner, Writer: John Davies): A Hobo finds himself in an urban hell. When he witnesses a brutal robbery, he realizes the only way to deliver justice is with a shotgun. Cast: Rutger Hauer, Gregory Smith, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Nick Bateman.
  • Insidious (Director: James Wan, Writer: Leigh Whannell): Dark spirits have possessed the home of a family whose son has fallen into a coma. Trying to save him, the family moves only to realize that it was not their house that was haunted. Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey (U.S. Premiere)
  • Phase 7 / Fase 7 (Director & Writer: Nicolas Goldbart): Coco just moved to his new apartment with 7-month pregnant wife. When the building is in quarantined for a deadly flue. The neighbors became unexpected enemies. Cast: Daniel Hendler, Federico Luppi, Jazmin Stuart, Jose “Yayo” Guridi (North American Premiere)

You can check out other strands at the festival which include: Spotlight PremieresEmerging VisionsLone Star States24 Beats Per SecondSXGlobalSXFantasticFestival Favorites and Special Events.

> SXSW 2011
> Find out more about the history of the festival at Wikipedia

Categories
Festivals Short Films

The Story Beyond The Still

Video sharing site Vimeo and Canon recently held a user-generated contest called The Story Beyond The Still with the aim of helping photographers becoming filmmakers.

The project was crowd-sourced as several shorts, or chapters, and then combined into this 38-minute final version, which was screened at the Sundance Film Festival a couple of weeks ago:

The Story Beyond the Still – All Chapters – FINAL COLLABORATIVE FILM from Vincent Laforet on Vimeo.

> Beyond The Still at Vimeo
> Vimeo blog post about the competition

Categories
Festivals News

Sundance 2011 Winners

Here are all the winners at this year’s Sundance film festival, which included Like Crazy and How to Die in Oregon.

Keep an eye out for some of these films over the next year.

JURY PRIZES

  • Grand Jury Prize: Documentary – How to Die in Oregon
  • Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic – Like Crazy
  • World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary – Hell and Back Again
  • World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic – Happy, Happy

AUDIENCE AWARDS

  • Audience Award: Documentary – U
  • Audience Award: Dramatic – Circumstance
  • World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary – Senna
  • World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic – Kinyarwanda
  • Best of NEXT!: Audience Award – to.get.her

DIRECTING & SCREENWRITING

  • Directing Award: Documentary – Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles
  • Directing Award: Dramatic – Martha Marcy May Marlene
  • World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary – Project Nim
  • World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic – Tyrannosaur
  • Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award – Another Happy Day
  • World Cinema Screenwriting Award – Restoration

EDITING & CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Documentary Editing Award – Matthew Hamachek and Marshall Curry and directed by Marshall Curry.
  • World Cinema Documentary Editing Award – The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
  • Excellence in Cinematography Award: Documentary – The Redemption of General Butt Naked
  • Excellence in Cinematography Award: Dramatic – Pariah
  • World Cinema Cinematography Award: Documentary – Hell and Back Again
  • World Cinema Cinematography Award: Dramatic – All Your Dead Ones

SPECIAL JURY PRIZES

  • Two World Cinema Special Jury Prizes: Dramatic for Breakout Performances Olivia Colman and Peter Mullan in Tyrannosaur
  • World Cinema Special Jury Prize: Documentary – Position Among the Stars
  • Special Jury Prize: Documentary – Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
  • Special Jury Prize: Dramatic – Another Earth
  • Special Jury Prize: Dramatic – Felicity Jones for her role in Like Crazy
  • Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking – Brick Novax pt 1 and 2
  • International Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking – Deeper Than Yesterday

HONOURABLE MENTIONS IN SHORT FILMMAKING

  • Choke / Canada (Director and screenwriter: Michelle Latimer)
  • Diarchy / Italy (Director and screenwriter: Ferdinando Cito Filomarino)
  • The External World / Germany, Ireland (Director and screenwriter: David O’Reilly)
  • The Legend of Beaver Dam / Canada (Director: Jerome Sable, screenwriters: Jerome Sable and Eli Batalion)
  • Out of Reach / Poland (Director and screenwriter: Jakub Stozek)
  • Protoparticles / Spain (Director and screenwriter: Chema García Ibarra).

INAUGURAL SUNDANCE INSTITUTE/MAHINDRA GLOBAL FILMMAKING AWARD

  • Bogdan Mustata, Wolf from Romania
  • Ernesto Contreras, I Dream in Another Language from Mexico
  • Seng Tat Liew, In What City Does It Live? from Malaysia
  • Talya Lavie, Zero Motivation from Israel.

OTHER

  • Cherien Dabis, director of May in the Summer, as the winner of the Sundance Institute/NHK Award.
  • Another Earth, written and directed by Mike Cahill, is the recipient of this year’s Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize.

> Sundance Film Festival
> Previous Sundance winners 1985-2010

Categories
Festivals Short Films

YouTube Shorts at Sundance

The official YouTube channel of the Sundance Film Festival is currently screening plenty of shorts, including Gowanus, Brooklyn, which was expanded in to the 2006 feature Half Nelson.

It won the Short Filmmaking Award in 2004 and led to director Ryan Fleck and writer-producer Anna Boden going on to make their debut feature.

> Half Nelson at Wikipedia and IMDb
> Interview with Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden about Half Nelson from 2007

Categories
Festivals News

Kevin Smith plans to self-distribute Red State

Kevin Smith managed to get a lot of attention for the world premiere of his latest film at the Sundance Film Festival.

After the critical mauling of his last film, the studio comedy Cop Out, and his various Twitter rants about critics, he returned to to his indie roots with the $4m horror film Red State.

The build up to the premiere was cleverly stoked by Smith himself who has an army of fans online who follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

The festival guide described the plot of Red State:

“Three horny high school boys come across an online personal ad from an older woman looking for a gang bang, and boys being boys, they hit the road to satisfy their libidinal urges. What begins as a fantasy, however, takes a dark turn as they come face-to-face with a terrifying fundamentalist “holy” force with a fatal agenda”

Shot last summer, Smith announced that it would screen out of competition at Sundance and over the last couple of months he has released teaser posters and built up buzz for the film via his Twitter account (@thatkevinsmith).

This was the offical trailer, released just before Christmas along with two “teaser” websites, coopersdell.com and goddamnsusa.com:

There was speculation that Smith would stage an auction for the distribution rights after the first screening at Sundance, which some viewed as a cheap publicity ploy.

The build up was marked by protests against the film as one of the villians is loosely based on a stern, religious figure along the lines of Fred Phelps.

Then Smith and other festival-goers protested against the protests, although was this hype staged?

Smith denied rumours that the film had already been pre-sold to a distributor by tweeting the following:

Via @CAmcKy “the media says ur full of s— and have sold RedState already and ur just being a showman” Who you gonna believe: me or them? The “full of s—” part is opinion, so it doesn’t matter. But the “already sold” part? 100% untrue. For those of you not just tuning in to the story, you guys can vouch that I’ve done everything I said I was gonna do thus far, correct? So why lie now? Folks can tell themselves whatever they want if it makes ’em feel better about watching the Jets. Honestly: I understand team passion. If you’re on the fence about seeing RedState or watching the game, I understand completely. No worries, no offense. But I promise you: though we’ve heard a few sight-unseen preemptive bids, THIS MOVIE HAS NOT ALREADY BEEN SOLD. After the screening, THEN we’ll pick the distributor.

Buzz was further fuelled by a mostly sceptical batch of film writers who seemed both repelled and excited by the P.T. Barnum-style event the screening had become.

Dave Chen of /Film posted this AudioBoo as he headed into the screening:

The situation was a win-win for Smith: whatever people thought of the film, he had got awareness, publicity and created one of the hot tickets at Sundance.

After the screening was over the director revealed to a packed Eccles Theatre that the expected ‘auction’ was little more than a gag, as he brought up the film’s producer, Jonathan Gordon, to the stage to open the bidding and after Smith offered $20, it was proclaimed ‘sold’.

The stunt was there to highlight his actual plans to bypass the traditional model of distribution, with its traditional costs of marketing and prints.

Smith will essentially distribute the film himself, taking it on a nationwide tour that begins on March 5th, before self releasing it in cinemas on October 19th

He clearly feels that he can at least break even with his loyal nationwide fan base:

“It’s indie film 2.0 and in indie film 2.0 we sell our films ourselves”

Reactions so far from critics have been mixed, with some praising Smith for doing something different whilst others were not so hot on the film.

Here are some reactions:

“I would say this is the best film he’s made since Chasing Amy. In this film, Smith has become something more than a comedy director — he shows real skill presenting action sequences which are both thrilling and well shot” – Peter Sciretta of /Film

“Messy, overwritten, visually stylish, but kind of a bore. More like Kevin Smith than it looks because nobody ever stops talking” – Katey Rich of Cinema Blend

“Red State: Bloody, violent, random, preachy. I dug it, but didn’t love it”. – Erik Davis of Cinematical

“Nasty fundamentalist caricatures vs nasty law enforcement ones. Literally and figuratively preachy”. Alison Willmore of IFC

“‘Red State’ was good, and also not what I expected at all”. – Matt Dentler of IndieWire

“It’s nice to contemplate how Kevin Smith wants to make films that aren’t comedies. Too bad he tried to make all of them at once”. – James Rocchi

My guess is that Smith is going to find it tough making a financial success out of this but many people in the indie film world, regardless of their opinion on the film, will be curious to see how it works out.

Although this isn’t the first time self-distribution has been tried, its rare to see a filmmaker with profile of Smith try something like this.

Time will tell if it works out or not.

> Sundance 2011
> Red State at IMDb

Categories
Amusing Festivals Interviews

Errol Morris and Joyce McKinney at DOC NY 2010

Tabloid recently screened at the New York Documentary Film Festival and its subject Joyce McKinney joined director Errol Morris on stage.

One of the best documentaries of the year, it tells the story of McKinney and the tabloid feeding frenzy she was involved in back in the 1970s.

When it screened at this year’s London Film Festival the producer Mark Lipson hinted to the audience that Joyce was more than a little upset with how the film portrayed her.

It seemed there would be an ongoing rift until someone had the brilliant idea of reuniting Joyce and Morris on stage at the New York Documentary Festival last night.

The following video of their post-screening Q&A is priceless:

Notice how Joyce can’t stop talking, the look of bemused delight on Morris’ face and a hilarious climax provided by her dog.

There is also this video of McKinney after the screening:

I suspect that both with be included on the DVD extras.

As an aside, this website was one of many that received a comment threatening legal action against the London Film Festival, the filmmakers and anyone who didn’t take a basic description of the film down from their site.

Was Joyce doing blog searches and trying to ‘correct’ the image presented of her in the film?

[via The DailyMUBI]

> New York Documentary Film Festival
> Follow DOC NY on Twitter
> Errol Morris
> My review of Tabloid at the London Film Festival
Reviews of Tabloid via MUBi

Categories
Cinema Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2010: 127 Hours

Director Danny Boyle returns from the success of Slumdog Millionaire with a vibrant depiction of man versus nature.

The story here is of Aaron Ralston (played by James Franco), the outdoor enthusiast who in 2003 was stranded under a boulder after falling into a remote canyon in Utah.

Beginning with an extended opening section, Boyle uses a variety of techniques (including split screen, weird angles, quick edits) to express Ralston’s energetic lifestyle as he ventures into a situation that would become ominously static.

He meets two women (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) before parting with them and climbing across an isolated canyon where he becomes trapped for the next 127 hours (look out for a killer title card).

Although it was a widely publicised news story at the time, there is a dilemma when discussing the events of this film.

Some will go in knowing what happened, whilst others will not.

For the benefit of the latter, I’ll refrain from revealing the full details but it is worth noting that the film is not a gory exploration of Ralston’s distress and audiences might be surprised at the overall tone of the film, which is far from gloomy.

An unusual project, in that so much of it revolves around a central location, Boyle contrasts the vital specifics of Ralston’s confinement in the canyon with his interior thoughts as it becomes an increasingly desperate experience.

The details of the situation are expertly realised as a penknife, water bottle, climbing rope and digital camera all assume a vital importance with a large chunk of the film feeling like an existential prison drama.

This gives it a slightly unusual vibe, as the audience is effectively trapped with Ralston in a claustrophobic way.

Using two cinematographers (Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chedia) working in tandem, the ordeal is powerfully realised using a bag of visual tricks to delve deep into his physical and emotional trauma.

Before we get to the canyon, the sun filled landscapes of Utah are shot and edited with a vibrancy and panache recalling some of Boyle’s earlier work, notably Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire.

There are also some poetic details that enrich the atmosphere: the distant planes above cutting through the blue sky, insects nonchalantly roaming free and the colour of the rocks themselves which look startling in the sunlight.

Once he actually becomes trapped, a variety of different shots and perspectives help give the situation different visual flavours: the interior of his water bottle, the bone inside his arm and video diary footage on his personal camera, become important in breaking up the gruelling monotony of his predicament.

His interior thoughts are brought to life with memories, flashbacks and hallucinations: a break-up with a girlfriend (Clemence Poesy); visions of his family and childhood; a strange chat-show monologue with himself and a flash flood.

There are times when it feels the filmmakers are over-compensating for the limitations they chose, and more doses of stillness would have been welcome, but overall the visual and audio design helps us get inside Ralston’s physical and emotional situation with clarity and empathy.

But the most brilliant decision of all was the casting of James Franco. His surface charms and hidden depths as an actor provide a perfect fit for the role, as he impressively navigates the emotional ride of his character.

With an unusual amount of screen time he hits all the notes required: exuberant daring as he cycles across Utah; determined ingenuity as he tries to escape the canyon; and the desperate, haunted pain as he stares into the face of death.

A.R. Rahman’s score is a bit looser than his work on Slumdog Millionaire, but it makes for an emotional backdrop to the events on screen and Boyle’s use of songs (notably Free Blood’s ‘Never Hear Surf Music Again’) is effective in cutting together with the images on screen.

Although 127 Hours feels longer than its 93 minute running time (well, it wouldn’t it?), this is actually a sign that Boyle’s gamble in dramatising this material has actually worked.

It is an unusual project in all sorts of ways, eschewing narrative conventions and revelling in its creative rough edges, as it focuses relentlessly on one man’s physical and mental struggle.

There is something in Ralston’s struggle that is both primal and fascinating. Inevitably we ask what we ourselves would have done in the same situation.

But this film version is not just a technical exercise in outdoor survival. It is a reminder of the basic need to survive in the darkest of circumstances.

By the end 127 Hours becomes a transcendent film about the power of life in the face of death.

127 Hours closed the LFF last night and goes on US release on Friday 5th November and in the UK on Friday 7th January.

> 127 Hours at the LFF
> Official website
> Reviews from Telluride and TIFF via MUBi