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

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

Behind The Scenes Interesting

The Sound of Gravity

Skip Lievsay on the Sound of Gravity

The sound of Gravity is a crucial element of the film and in this Soundworks video director Alfonso Cuaron and Re-recording Mixer Skip Lievsay discuss how they (and the sound teams) created the dramatic soundscape of outer space.

SoundWorks Collection: The Sound of Gravity from Michael Coleman on Vimeo.

Gravity opens in the UK on November 8th

> Official site
> LFF 2013 review

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

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

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

DVD & Blu-ray

DVD & Blu-ray Picks: October 2013

DVD and Blu-ray Picks October 2013


> DVD & Blu-ray Picks for September 2013
> The Best DVD & Blu-rays of 2012

Behind The Scenes

Paddy Chayefsky on Network

Paddy Chayefsky on Network

The late screenwriter describes the culture that led him to write one of the classic films of the 1970s.

When Paddy Chayevsky wrote Network (1976) even the poster said it was “outrageous”, perhaps anticipating the critics who felt it went too far in its depiction of the TV industry and the wider culture.

Directed by Sidney Lumet, it was to become an astonishingly prescient satire, anticipating the descent of network TV into a ratings obsessed monster.

Here on Dinah Shore‘s daytime show he discusses the film:

> Network at the IMDb
> Interactive NYT feature on Chayefsky’s script


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.


  • 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.


  • 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).


  • 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.

> LFF Official site, Facebook page and Twitter
> Previous coverage of the LFF

Directors Interesting

John Landis on The Talking Room

John Landis on The Talking Room

The director John Landis recently sat down with Adam Savage of the Talking Room to discuss his life and career.

Over the course of an hour they discuss:

  • His break as a production assistant on Kelly’s Heroes (1978)
  • Working on Spaghetti Westerns in Spain
  • An American Werewolf in London (1981)
  • Animal House (1978)
  • Three Amigos (1987)
  • Make-up maestro Rick Baker
  • Meeting Stanley Kubrick
  • Paul McCartney’s song for Spies Like Us (1985)
  • Changes to the movie business

> John Landis at the IMDb
> Tested

DVD & Blu-ray

DVD & Blu-ray Picks: September 2013

DVD and Blu-ray September 2013


> DVD & Blu-ray Picks for August 2013
> The Best DVD & Blu-rays of 2012

Cinema Reviews Thoughts

Upstream Color

Upstream Color

The long-awaited second film from Shane Carruth is a mind-bending puzzle filled with striking images and sounds.

Back in 2004 Carruth startled audiences at Sundance with his ultra low-budget time travel drama Primer, which has since become a significant cult film.

He quickly became something of an enigma – apparently one long cherished project was stuck in development hell – prompting questions about when and what his new film would be.

But earlier this year he was back at Sundance (nine years after his debut film) with Upstream Color, which prompted eager anticipation.

Suffice to say, Carruth has lived up to expectations with a film that is both absorbing and uncompromising.

When a young woman (Amy Seimetz) is involved in a bizarre series of events after being drugged, she forms a connection with a man (Carruth) who has had similarly surreal experiences.

Although that is a very basic outline of the story, part of the pleasure is seeing how it veers into surreal realms encompassing roundworms, pigs, flowers and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.

Just trying to describe the film in words feels futile as this is one that should be experienced on a audio-visual level.

The sound design by Pete Horner and Chad Chance is a huge part of the film and the seemingly omnipresent synth score is hypnotic.

The visuals too have a strange, sinister beauty as most of the time Carruth and his co-editor David Lowery cut in an interesting way, cramming a kaleidoscope of images into the 96 minute running time.

Such specificity of vision is probably due to Carruth’s array of talents: he serves as actor-writer-director-producer, cinematographer, composer, co-editor and one of the camera operators.

In a time where too much information is poured out before a film’s release, he has been refreshingly enigmatic in interviews promoting it.

What is it really about?

You could say the film is about recovery and reconnection, but it is intentionally ambiguous and presented with a sense of mystery at almost every turn.

The way images, both urban and rural, are blended with sound is hypnotic, putting us into an almost trance-like state.

Because the film is so unconventional in its approach, some might dismiss it as pretentious or incoherent.

It isn’t a mainstream film by any means, but in an era of manufactured franchises it is heartening to see such singularity of vision in US cinema.

Like Memento (2000) and Mulholland Drive (2001) it keeps the audience in a state of suspense at what may happen in the next sequence, which is quite a feat in an era noted for its adherence to more rigid forms of storytelling.

If Primer explored time travel and engineering, Upstream Color delves deep into the mysteries of identity and human connection.

The best compliment I can pay it is that as the final credits rolled in the cinema, I immediately wanted to experience it all over again.

> Official site
> Reviews of the film at Metacritic

Documentaries Interesting

The March (1963)

MLK at March on Washington

To mark the 50th anniversary of the The March for Jobs and Freedom, the US National Archives have posted a digitally restored version of James Blue’s famous documentary.

You can watch it here:

> Find more about the US Civil Rights Movement at Wikipedia
> Civil Rights Roundtable 1963 involving Charlton Heston, Harry Belafonte and Marlon Brando

Cinema DVD & Blu-ray Reviews Thoughts

Plein Soleil (Purple Noon)

Alain Delon in Plein Soleil

Although later adapted in 1999 by Anthony Minghella, the first film version of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley was a French adaptation, directed by Rene Clement.

It follows the adventures of Tom Ripley (Alain Delon), hired by the father of rich playboy Phillipe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet), with instructions to bring his wayward son home from Italy.

But Phillipe, his fiancee Marge (Marie Laforet) and Tom decide to stay in the Mediterranean, divisions start to arise.

Clement made his name as a director just after World War II, with Beyond the Gates (1949) and Forbidden Games (1952), both of which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

Plein Soleil a.k.a Purple Noon (1960) came at an interesting point in world cinema, just as the French New Wave was taking the world by storm with Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959) and Godard’s Breathless (1960).

Some of the younger directors were critics who had derided Clement, most famously Truffaut in his famous diatribe “A Certain Tendency in French Cinema“.

Although at that time he was seen as part of the establishment, this could be seen as something of a bridge between the old guard and the up and coming autuers.

Ironically, Plein Soleil was enriched by cinematographer Henri Decae, who had shot Truffaut’s landmark debut film the year before.

Here he basks in the vivid colours of the Mediterranean and visually the film is a treat, with Bella Clement’s ultra-stylish costumes adding to the mix.

But the really big deal with this film was that it cemented the arrival of Alain Delon as a bona fide movie star, with his smooth charm and young good looks.

He would swiftly become an icon of European cinema with appearances in Visconti’s The Leopard (1963), Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (1962), and Melville’s Le Samourai (1967).

The comparison with Anthony Minghella’s 1999 version is fascinating because although Clement arguably captures the spirit of Highsmith’s novel better, he fudges the ending (Minghella’s was more ambiguous), incurring Highsmith’s displeasure.

That said, there is much to feast on here and this UK disc features some notable extras.


  • Interview with Alain Delon: A new interview wih the French actor in which he discusses working with Clement and the importance of Plein Soleil in establishing his career. (19 mins)
  • Rene Clement at the Heart of the New Wave: A documentary by Dominique Maillet focusing on Clement and his legacy featuring interviews with director Jean-Charles Tacchella (Cousin Cousine), actress Brigitte Fossey (Forbidden Games), Alain Delon, film historian Aldo Tassone, director and producer Dominique Delouche (L’homme de désir), assistant cameraman Jean-Paul Schwartz (Purple Noon), producer Renzo Rossellini (Don Giovanni, Death Watch), and costume designer Piero Tosi (The Leopard, The Damned). (67 min).
  • The Restoration: A short video showing selected scenes in split screen comparing the old footage alongside the new 4K restoration. (5 min).

Plein Soleil is re-released at selected UK cinemas from Friday 30th August and is out on DVD & Blu-ray on Monday 16th September

> Pre-order the Blu-ray at Amazon UK
> Get local showtimes via Google Movies

Directors Interesting

The Future of Movies (1990)

The Future of Movies in 1990

Back in 1990 the late Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel hosted a TV special which featured directors Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese discussing the future of movies.

Spielberg and Lucas made headlines earlier this summer by predicting the implosion of Hollywood’s current economic model, but what did they feel 23 years ago?

The answer lies in this programme – recently discovered by Cinephilia and Beyond – where they not only discuss the future of movies but also their careers and a good deal else beside, including:

  • The possibility of a sequel to E.T. (1982)
  • Spielberg’s interest in a Howard Hughes project
  • Lucas on the Star Wars prequels
  • Scorsese on Goodfellas (1990) and commercial success
  • The sex scene in Don’t Look Now (1973)
  • HD television
  • Film preservation

You can watch the full programme here (along with the fast-forwarded ads):

> Find out about 1990 on film at Wikipedia

DVD & Blu-ray Thoughts

Blu-ray: Pi

Sean Gullette in Pi

Darren Aronofsky’s debut feature about a troubled mathematician is a reminder of his precocious gifts as a writer-director.

Shot in black and white on location in New York, it made a big impact at the Sundance Film Festival in 1998 and fifteen years on still holds up very well.

When the obsessive maths genius Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) becomes involved with a numerical pattern which may or may not explain the patterns of the stock market, he soon attracts the attention of a shady Wall Street firm and a Kabbalah sect, both of whom take an interest in his work.

But his frequent headaches, obsessive nature and paranoia all conspire to drive him to the brink of madness despite the best efforts of his former professor (Mark Margolis) to reign him back.

Made for just $60,000, it heralded the arrival of a precocious talent, who would go on to direct Requiem for a Dream (2000), The Fountain (2006), The Wrestler (2008) and Black Swan (2010).

But there is something special about Pi in the way it completely rejects indie movie clichés to create something distinct and memorable as the protagonist pursues the meaning of an elusive number rather than a one dimensional villain.

It isn’t everyday you see a film featuring the Fibonacci sequence and the board game Go, but whilst the subject matter is unusual the film is successful blend of genres (Wikipedia describes it as a “surrealist psychological thriller”) which Aronofsky somehow ties together.

Mixing black and white film stocks, unorthodox angles and camera rigs, as well as an excellent sound design by Brian Emrich, we are plunged into Max’s neurotic world of migraines, computers and numbers.

The urgency of Clint Mansell’s high-tempo electronic score is also brilliantly effective and would mark the start of a long collaboration with the director.

As for the acting, it is on par with the fine work behind the camera: Sean Gullette manages to capture the magnificently tortured soul of Max – a man whose brilliance is only equalled by his mental and physical torment.

In key supporting roles, Mark Margolis as his mentor and Ben Shenkman as a rabbi stand out, whilst Aronofsky makes clever use of extras in exterior locations – especially Chinatown and the New York Subway.

It won the Directing Award at Sundance in 1998 and during the following summer grossed over $3 million, more than making its money back.

More importantly it established Aronofsky firmly on the filmmaking map, although he has kept mainstream Hollywood at an intriguing arms length.

Despite being attached to big studio tentpoles such as Batman: Year Zero (which eventually became Batman Begins) and The Wolverine (later taken over by James Mangold), he has always been drawn back to passion projects like The Wrestler and Black Swan.

Whilst studios such as Fox Searchlight have distributed his recent films films, he has always retained a degree of control on the fringes of the system (his upcoming biblical film about Noah will be interesting as it is co-financed by Paramount, perhaps the most cautious of the major studios).

The roots of that creative defiance can be seen in this 15th anniversary release of his first film, which combines unconventional ideas with technical flair.


  • Commentary with Darren Aronofsky: A very detailed audio commentary which describes many aspects of the production from set design, camera moves and a whole host behind the scenes info.
  • Commentary with Sean Gullette: A more considered audio commentary from the lead actor, describing his role and the experience of playing the tortured Max Cohen.
  • Deleted Scenes: Include a scene where Max gets confronted outside his apartment and one with a slinky that ironically became one of the press images despite the scene not making the final cut.
  • Behind the scenes montage: An 8-minute featurette shot in colour showing how some scenes were filmed, including one inside Max’s apartment and another with the Hasidic Jews, as well as some footage from Sundance 1998.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Original Trailer
  • Music Video

> Buy Pi on Blu-ray at Amazon UK
> Official site from 1998
> Darren Aronofsky at the IMDb

Behind The Scenes Interesting

Writing With Light

Writing With Light

A 1992 documentary about cinematographer Vittorio Storaro provides a fascinating insight into his working life.

Best known for his work with Bernardo Bertolucci, Francis Ford Coppola and Warren Beatty, he is one of the greatest of his era.

This 55 minute programme features interviews with the man himself and his collaborators, interspersed with footage of him working on several films.

Amongst other things it features him talking about:

  • The qualities of magic hour
  • His Oscar wins
  • The Conformist (1970)
  • Apocalypse Now (1979)
  • His theory of colour
  • One from the Heart (1982)
  • Dick Tracy (1990)
  • The Sheltering Sky (1990)
  • His use of hi-def video in 1983
  • Imago Urbis (1992)

> Official website
> Vittorio Storaro at the IMDb
> More posts on cinematography

DVD & Blu-ray

DVD: The Gatekeepers

The Gatekeepers

An absorbing study of Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet paints a sombre picture of the nation’s conflict with the Palestinians.

Combining interviews with six former heads of the secretive organisation, archival footage and animation, it explores their emergence after the Six-Day War in 1967 and the subsequent occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Structured into seven parts, it is filled with startling revelations ranging from the Bus 300 affair, the internal turmoil following the Oslo Accords, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Second Intifada in 2000 and some piercing reflections of over 40 years of sustained conflict.

The real coup here is in getting such a range of key individuals to speak so freely about what were probably classified operations.

Not only does this shed valuable light on the details of particular events, but also paints a surprisingly balanced view of what is a fiercely intractable conflict.

Right from the beginning we see Israeli military joy at victory in the Six-Day War tempered by the realisation that the occupation of one million Palestinians was never going to have a happy ending, and instead would trigger a seemingly endless cycle of revenge attacks lasting up until the present day.

As some of the Shin Bet admit, despite the fact that they became a highly effective military force, they could never control the central problem of occupation and the resentment and violence it triggered.

Indeed, the ‘better’ the operations were – such as killing a leading terrorist via a mobile phone in 1996 – the more vicious the response, which again highlights the limits of even the most advanced tools of modern warfare.

Intercut with the main interview and archive footage are computer graphics of television monitors showing a bird’s eye view from a helicopter.

At one sobering point, one of the interviewee’s describes having the power of life or death over a suspected terrorist on the ground and the difficulty of making the decision to blow him up. (It is worth noting that the complicity of Palestinian spies is freely admitted at certain points).

As the film progresses we see a range of ideas and emotions, from the belligerent Avraham Shalom (head from 1980-86) to the more conciliatory Ami Ayalon (1996-2000), but perhaps the most memorable is in the section titled ‘Our Own Flesh and Blood’.

The phrase was originally used by Palestinians to describe their willingness to sacrifice suicide bombers, but here it gains a tragic irony with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, who Shin Bet were assigned to protect.

The late Israeli prime minister was of course shot in 1995 by an ultra-conservative Jewish extremist, who felt that the 1993 Oslo Accords were a shameful sell out, showing that a whole political process could be undone by a single assassin.

It could be argued that the road to peace was irretrievably shattered from this point on, as the subsequent major peace talks of 2000 were soon followed by the Second Intifada and a renewed cycle of violence.

The Shin Bet interviewees by the end of the film feel like a perfect metaphor for the wider conflict: worn down by years of killing and violence they seem to be struggling with themselves as much as their Arab neighbours.

Director Dror Moreh doesn’t refrain from exploring the darkest corners of intelligence operations and in the process has crafted an hauntingly ambiguous portrait of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

> Official site
> Buy the DVD at Amazon UK

DVD & Blu-ray

DVD & Blu-ray Picks: August 2013

DVD and BR Picks AUGUST 2013


> DVD & Blu-ray Picks for July 2013
> The Best DVD & Blu-rays of 2012

Behind The Scenes Interesting

The (Extended) Making of The Shining

Extended Staircases to Nowhere

The full version of The Elstree Project‘s documentary about The Shining is now available online.

Stanley Kubrick’s famous horror was originally documented in a 17 minute short film, as part of the project designed to document the famous studios of Elstree and Borehamwood.

But now they have released a much longer version lasting 55 minutes with contributions from:

  • Brian Cook – 1st AD
  • Jan Harlan – Producer
  • Christiane Kubrick – Wife of Stanley Kubrick
  • Mick Mason – Camera Technician
  • Ray Merrin – Post-Production Sound
  • Doug Milsome – 1st AC and Second Unit Camera
  • Kelvin Pike – Camera Operator
  • Ron Punter – Scenic Artist
  • June Randall – Continuity
  • Julian Senior – Warner Bros. Publicity

They discuss many aspects of the film including the 2nd Unit footage shot in America, the different stages at Elstree, the use of Steadicam, the fire on set, and what Kubrick was like to work with.

> The Elstree Project
> Buy The Stanley Kubrick Boxset from Amazon UK
> Previous Stanley Kubrick Posts

DVD & Blu-ray Thoughts

Blu-ray: Dressed to Kill

Dressed to Kill Title

One of the best and most controversial films of Brian De Palma’s career is this macabre erotic thriller.

When a sexually frustrated housewife (Angie Dickinson) meets a tall, dark stranger in a museum, she sets off a series of events which involve a prostitute (Nancy Allen), her psychiatrist (Michael Caine) and her son (Keith Gordon).

Throughout his career De Palma was often accused of misogynistic violence and ripping off Hitchcock and this probably represents the apex of that period.

The debts to Hitchcock are clear: the shower scenes and narrative owe a debt to Psycho (1960) and the museum sequence is a straight homage to Vertigo (1958).

Despite this, I’ve long held the view that De Palma, at his best, is much more than just a Hitchcock imitator.

Although he channels the master of suspense, he adds his own signature touches and – at his best – the end result was different enough to justify accusations of mere imitation.

There are several memorable scenes: the bravura dialogue-free scene in the museum, a murder in an elevator, and a cat-and-mouse chase in a subway all provide ample evidence of the director’s skill.

He also manages to elicit some fine performances from his cast: Dickinson brings a glamorous, flawed grace to her part, Caine is suitably enigmatic, Gordon has a geeky, sly charm and Allen is excellent in what could have been a token prostitute role.

The only supporting performance that rings a little false is Dennis Franz (a De Palma regular at this time) as the seen-it-all New York detective, but even his character has an enjoyable twist.

This new UK release from Arrow Video is the full uncut version, which means the graphic opening showering scene and some of the violence and offending language is back in.

Although this was De Palma’s intended cut you can see why it triggered controversy at the time, principally amongst feminists and the gay community, as the film is a provocative mix of sex, killing and suspense that is artfully rendered.

When it was released in the UK it had the misfortune to open around the time of the Yorkshire Ripper killings, thereby increasing the backlash against it.

It still has a lurid atmosphere, though not a creepy one, and the stylised cityscape and shadowy interiors are all part of the way in which De Palma pushes the buttons of an audience. For some he pushed too hard.

Pino Donaggio’s lush score adds a rich texture to the film, with strings and piano cleverly offsetting some of the sleazy horrors on screen.

Dressed to Kill in some ways is the quintessential De Palma film: full of carefully constructed suspense, Hitchcock references and a sly gallows humour (what long time devotee Pauline Kael called the “alligator grin” in his work).

Although he would continue in this vein with Blow Out (1981) and Body Double (1984), he opted for larger scale crime dramas such as Scarface (1983) and The Untouchables (1987).

But there remains something distinct about this point in his career when he was allowed the creative freedom to put his vision on screen.


  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the feature.
  • Optional original uncompressed Mono 2.0 Audio and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround Sound.
  • Symphony of Fear: Producer George Litto discusses his working relationship with Brian De Palma.
  • Dressed in White: Star Angie Dickinson on her role in the film.
  • Dressed in Purple: Star Nancy Allen discusses her role in the film.
  • Lessons in Filmmaking: Actor Keith Gordon discusses Dressed to Kill.
  • The Making of a Thriller – A documentary on the making of Dressed to Kill featuring writer-director Brian De Palma, George Litto, stars Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen and Dennis Franz.
  • Unrated, R-Rated, and TV-Rated Comparison Featurette.
  • Slashing Dressed to Kill – Brian De Palma and stars Nancy Allen and Keith Gordon discuss the changes that had to be made to avoid an X-rating.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer.
  • Gallery of behind-the-scenes images.
  • Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanael Marsh.
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic and author Maitland McDonagh, and a new interview with poster designer Stephen Sayadian by Daniel Bird, illustrated with original archive stills and promotional material.

Dressed to Kill is out today from Arrow Video

> Buy it on Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> Brian De Palma at the IMDb and Wikipedia


Gordon Willis Craft Truck Interview

Legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis recently sat down with Craft Truck for a lengthy interview about his career.

In the first video he discusses his work on such films as The Godfather (1972), Klute (1971), Manhattan (1979) and Annie Hall (1977).

Plus, he also talks about his thoughts on editing, the importance of simplicity and ‘dump truck directing’.

In the second, he talks about Stardust Memories (1980), The Godfather II (1974), lenses, Francis Ford Coppola, All the President’s Men (1976), Interiors (1978) and The Devil’s Own (1997).

> Find out more about Gordon Willis at Wikipedia
> Craft Truck

DVD & Blu-ray Thoughts

The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation on DVD

One of the landmark films in cinema history is D.W. Griffith’s controversial Civil War epic, which still has the power to startle and shock nearly 100 years since it was made.

As cinema crawled out of the era of novelty and nickelodeons at the turn of the 20th century, it gradually began to embrace more sophisticated visual techniques.

One of the foremost pioneers of these new techniques such as the close-up and the pan, was D.W Griffith, whose film Judith of Bethulia (1914) was one of the earliest features ever to be produced in America.

But it was with his next film, an adaptation of Thomas Dixon’s play and novel The Clansmen and the result was a three hour epic set during the US Civil War.

Depicting the relationship between two families, the Stonemans of the North and the Camerons of the South, it explores the bitter divides that opened up during the abolition of slavery and the subsequent era of Reconstruction.

The film itself has continued to generate controversy: the use of white actors in blackface, the presentation of the Ku Klux Klan as heroic and the Northern armies as villains (remember they were the ones against slavery) looked appalling then and now.

Added to this was the real life rise in KKK membership and lynchings in the South due to the film’s massive box office success. (Another strange bit of trivia is that director John Ford made a cameo as a Klansman.)

So given all this horrendous back story, why should you see it?

The principle reason is that, despite all its odious qualities, the film dared to imagine that cinema could be something other than moving pictures on a screen.

More than that, Griffith managed to synthesise visual techniques into a coherent whole.

Like that other great pioneer Sergei Eisenstein, who directed cinemas’ next great landmark Battleship Potemkin (1925), he managed to lay the foundation for what we regard as modern cinema.

With the famed Russian director we got the power of editing to elicit emotion, but it was built on the tracks laid down by Griffith.

It is ironic that two cornerstones of the film industry were either racist (The Birth of a Nation) or communist propaganda (Battleship Potemkin) when it is associated with Hollywood and a global industry worth billions of dollars.

The Director’s Guild of America for a long time named their prestigious honourary award after Griffith, but in 1999 changed it because it had “helped foster intolerable racial stereotypes”.

One of the last winners of the award under Griffith’s name was Stanley Kubrick in 1997, who mentioned him in this speech:

The phrase ‘inspiring and intriguing legacy’ is an apt one.

Despite being lauded by directors such as Welles, Renoir and Hitchcock he ended up dying alone in a hotel, shunned by the industry he had partly helped create.

The Birth of a Nation retains that curious duality: it is a film that has to be seen despite itself.

> Buy The Birth of a Nation on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> Find out more about D.W. Griffith at Wikipedia
> The Birth of a Nation at the IMDb

Behind The Scenes Interesting

Operation Dirty Dozen

Operation Dirty Dozen

An old behind-the-scenes featurette for The Dirty Dozen offers a glimpse in how movies were marketed in a bygone era.

Long before DVDs, the internet and viral marketing, there were making of featurettes which were used to plug forthcoming films.

In a sense they were like short films, using B-roll footage and scripted voice-overs to describe the stars and production.

They seem like a long way from how movies are pushed to audiences now, with fans at Comic-Con lapping up news of projects yet to be made.

The Dirty Dozen remains one of the ultimate ‘guys on a mission’ film, a huge hit in 1967 that spawned numerous imitators such as Kelly’s Heroes (1970) and was a big influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009).

Below you can see Lee Marvin filming the opening sequence and also grooving in 1960s London, along with Donald Sutherland, John Cassavetes and Jim Brown.

N.B. Aldbury was the location of the first school I ever went to.

> The Dirty Dozen at Wikipedia
> The Making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

DVD & Blu-ray

Blu-ray: Runaway Train

Runaway Train

The best film to emerge from Cannon in the 1980s was this tense thriller about two prisoners who escape from an Alaskan high-security jail.

For those who don’t remember Cannon, they were the studio who gained something of a reputation as schlockmeisters, under the leadership of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.

An over-abundance of Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson action films along with such films as Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and Tough Guys Don’t Dance soured their reputation.

However, the great exception was Runaway Train directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, and loosely based on a screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, it is a compelling mixture of the brutal and beautiful.

The three central characters are all deeply unpleasant: Manny (Jon Voight), a hardened bank robber; Buck (Eric Roberts), convicted of rape; and Warden Ranken (John P. Ryan), who at times seems as crazy as his prisoners.

But the performances are first-rate, with Voight giving one of the best of his career: seeing him struggle with the forces of nature – when his character Manny is a force of nature – is the central pull of the film.

Eric Roberts is also impressive as the younger convict and Rebecca De Mornay has a surprising role as a railway worker, which was decidedly different from her breakout role in Risky Business (1983).

The chemistry between Voight, Roberts and De Mornay as they are stuck in the claustrophobic train cabin is one of the highlights and the blending of sound stage work and location shooting is pretty seamless for a film with no CGI.

This was Konchalovsky’s second film in America and it remains his best, with its masterful blend of spectacle and tension set against the backdrop of some stunning locations.

Sadly, his mainstream career suffered a setback when he was fired from Tango and Cash (1989), the action-comedy starring Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, and he retreated to the world of theatre and opera.

But the new Blu-ray is a reminder of his talent and comes with the following extras:

  • High Definition transfer of the film prepared by MGM for the 2010 Cannes Film Festival premiere.
  • High Definition Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the film.
  • Optional English SDH Subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
  • Running on Empty – An Interview with director Andrei Konchalovsky.
  • From Thespian to Fugitive – Star Jon Voight shares his memories of his Academy Award-nominated role.
  • Sweet and Savage: Eric Roberts recalls his Academy Award-nominated performance.
  • The Calm Before the Chaos – Co-star Kyle T. Heffner remembers Runaway Train.
  • Trailer with commentary by Rod Lurie.
  • Original Trailer.
  • Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Michael Brooke, a new interview with Runaway Train’s Production Designer Stephen Marsh conducted by Calum Waddell and the original Life Magazine article that inspired the film, illustrated with rare behind-the-scenes production images.

> Buy Runaway Train on Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> Runaway Train at the IMDb

Directors Interesting

Ridley Scott Omnibus

Ridley Scott on Omnibus in 1992

Director Ridley Scott was the subject of BBC arts programme Omnibus in 1992.

Titled Eye of the Storm, it was first shown on UK television around the release of 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992).

Although there is a certain irony that Scott’s career suffered a dip soon after (until his renaissance with Gladiator in 2000), it is a solid profile filled with various collaborators, including David Carradine, Sigourney Weaver, Mimi Rogers, Michael Douglas and his two sons Jake and Luke.

Amongst the things discussed are:

> More on Ridley Scott at Wikipedia
> Sundance Labs interview with Ridley Scott from 2002

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews Thoughts VOD

VOD: Arbitrage

Richard Gere in Arbitrage

A highly impressive drama about a rich hedge fund manager explores many unpleasant truths about the nature of Wall Street.

In a clever twist on ‘the wronged man’ genre, writer-director Nicholas Jarecki depicts the struggles of Robert Miller (Richard Gere), a billionaire head of a company on the brink of bankruptcy.

Only a trusted few know the truth and matters escalate when his daughter and chief accountant (Brit Marling) begins to suspect wrongdoing.

Things get worse when he flees from the scene of a car crash involving his mistress (Laetitia Casta) and is pursued by a dogged detective (Tim Roth).

In Hitchcock films such as Saboteur (1942) and The Wrong Man (1956), innocent protagonists struggle to clear their name after they are wrongly declared guilty of something.

Jarecki inverts that trope here by making his character guilty of many things (infidelity, fraud and perverting the course of justice) and still making us root for him as his tries to extricate himself from crisis upon crisis.

The casting of Gere was clever: in what is his best screen performance in years, he somehow manages to elicit our sympathy whilst engaging in some despicable acts.

But the cold truths this story digs into have any number of real life parallels in the US financial sector over the last few years.

The basic theme is that for the super-rich denizens of Wall Street anything is a deal that can be negotiated, even if that comes at a heavy cost for others.

Complicit are investors ignoring false accounting and his wife (Susan Sarandon), who ignores her husband’s mistress in exchange for an opulent lifestyle.

In the wrong hands, Arbitrage could either be a ponderous, moralising drama or an overblown thriller, but Jarecki gets the balance just right.

He is aided by some fine supporting performances from Marling (following her impressive writing and acting turns in Another Earth and The Sound of My Voice) and Nate Parker, who excels in a key supporting role.

For his first feature Jarecki has wisely recruited some solid behind-the-scenes talent: composer Cliff Martinez lends the film a tense, atmospheric score and cinematographer Yorick Le Saux gives the film a highly impressive visual sheen.

Shot on a budget of just $12 million, it has currently has made close to $50 million with a pioneering simultaneous release on cinema and VOD.

Although not the first film to take this approach, its substantial earnings on multiple platforms may be seen as a landmark, as the new release model for mid-budget indie films like this takes shape.

In the UK, it was available on iTunes two weeks before the DVD and Blu-ray, suggesting that Apple and the distributor (Koch Films) were monitoring this as the kind of canary in the coal mine.

If the US video-on-demand performance ($12 million) is anything to go by, then things look promising.

Arbitrage is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and iTunes

> Official site
> Reviews of Arbitrage at Metacritic
> Richard Gere talks to Thompson on Hollywood about the film

DVD & Blu-ray

Blu-ray: Possession


Andrzej Zulawski‘s intense 1981 psychodrama is still a puzzling and disturbing work.

Set in a bleak, sparsely populated Berlin, it depicts the gradual meltdown of a married couple: Mark (Sam Neill) and Anna (Isabelle Adjani), the latter of whom wants a divorce.

But words only tell part of the story with Possession, as it combines many different elements including horror, politics and psychological breakdown into a unique mix.

Imagine if David Cronenberg, Lars Von Trier and David Lynch teamed up for a remake of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and you get an inkling of the kind of territory Zulawski is exploring.

The director may have been exorcising his own personal and professional demons: he was going through a messy divorce and his two previous films saw him effectively blacklisted as a filmmaker in his native Poland.

This may indeed have contributed to the extreme acts we see on-screen: characters scream at each other, seem to hallucinate and engage in strange acts of violent and sexual behaviour.

Adjani is given the most difficult role – having to portray a convincingly hysterical woman for most of the film.

Although at times it threatens to descend into comedy, she manages to make a strong impression with one unsettling sequence inside a subway the highlight.

Sam Neill provides a good foil for her, even if some of the scenes suffer because of the limited technical resources such as the post-synced audio. (The film was a French-German co-production).

Cinematographer Bruno Nuytten‘s use of wide-angle lenses and Zulawski’s direction make good use of interior space (the film is mostly set inside), whilst Andrzej Korzynski’s electronic score complements the action well.

Possession is a hard film to figure out, both on a plot level and a genre level. It contains elements of horror (a creature designed by Carlo Rimbaldi) but also seems to be expressing a link between personal and social breakdown.

The Berlin Wall features prominently in the background (at one point the camera zooms back from a watch tower) and one wonders if Zuwalski was expressing a connection between Cold War divisions and the inner torment of a married couple.

It is an ambiguous film and this approach has seen it acclaimed at Cannes, where Adjani won Best Actress, and banned in the UK as a ‘Video Nasty’, almost certainly making it unique in achieving these two feats.

Second Sight have done a fine job on the Region 2 UK Blu-ray, with a wealth of extras included.


  • The Other Side of the Wall – The Making of Possession
  • Audio Commentary with co-writer Frederic Tuten and Daniel Bird
  • Repossessed – A short feature showing the film’s UK and US reception, the ‘video nasties’ furore and the US recut
  • A Divided City – The Berlin locations
  • The Sounds of Possession – An exclusive interview with composer Andrzej Korzynski about his working relationship with Andrzej Zulawski
  • Our Friend in the West – An exclusive interview with legendary producer Christian Ferry
  • Basha – A new featurette on Polish artist Barbara ‘Basha’ Baranowska, who created the famed poster for Possession.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Andrzej Zulawski Interview

Possession is released in the UK on July 29th by Second Sight

> Buy Possession from Amazon UK
> Possession at the IMDb

Documentaries Interviews Podcast

Interview: Alex Gibney on We Steal Secrets

Julian Assange in We Steal Secrets

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks is the new documentary from director Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Darkside, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God) and explores the organization started in 2006 by Julian Assange.

It then charts the various people involved in the leaking of secret information, including hackers, journalists and activists who during 2009-2010, leaked information about the the Icelandic financial collapseSwiss banks evading tax and toxic-waste dumping.

It then focuses on the case of Bradley Manning, the army private who leaked an enormous amount of classified information about the Afghan and Iraq wars, as well as over 250,000 diplomatic cables.

Since the film premiered at Sundance in January, Manning has pleaded guilty and could face the death penalty, some Wikileaks supporters have taken issue with the film and Assange remains holed up in diplomatic limbo at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Added to this, another leak of seismic proportions rocked the US government in early June when a new whistle-blower named Edward Snowden released details of PRISM, a top-secret global spying program of unprecedented scope and size.

At the time of writing, Snowden is in diplomatic limbo at Moscow airport, but although some of the events and issues raised in the film are ongoing, there was much to chew on when I spoke with Gibney at the end of June.

Have a listen to the interview here:

You can also download the podcast via iTunes or get the MP3 directly.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks opens in the UK on Friday 12th July

> Alex Gibney on Twitter and the IMDb
> Get local showtimes via Google Movies
> Find out more about Wikileaks and Edward Snowden at Wikipedia

DVD & Blu-ray

DVD & Blu-ray Picks: July 2013

July 2013 DVD Blu-ray Picks


> DVD & Blu-ray Picks for June 2013
> The Best DVD & Blu-rays of 2012


William Goldman WGF Interview

William Goldman Interview

In 2010, screenwriter William Goldman sat down with the Writers Guild Foundation for a lengthy chat.

Famous for writing such films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Marathon Man (1976), All the President’s Men (1976) and The Princess Bride (1987).

He’s also known for coining the phrase ‘nobody knows anything’ and his two books about his experiences in Hollywood, Adventures in the Screen Trade (1982) and Which Lie Did I Tell? (2000), are essential reading.

Amongst other things, he talks about:

  • His first screenplay
  • The changes in the business since the 1960s
  • His background and early life
  • Military service
  • Getting his first novel was published
  • His early education in movies
  • The importance of Cliff Robertson to his career
  • Differences between the Hollywood of yesteryear and today
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
  • His time at Princeton
  • The Great Waldo Pepper
  • Why he never wanted to direct
  • The one film he regrets not writing
  • Marathon Man (1976)
  • Agents
  • His time in the ‘wilderness’
  • The pirate movie he wrote that never got made
  • Working with Clint Eastwood

Watch the full 93 minute interview here:

> Buy Adventures in the Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell? at Amazon UK
> William Goldman at the IMDb
> Writers Guild Foundation


The Legacy of All the President’s Men

Redford Woodward Bernstein

Back in April 2001 Robert Redford, Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein recognised the 35th anniversary of All the President’s Men at the LBJ Presidential Library.

The three sat down for a lengthy discussion (around 80 minutes) and shared numerous anecdotes about Watergate and the subsequent film, including:

  • How Redford first heard about the affair in 1972.
  • Why the differences between Woodward and Bernstein appealed to Redford.
  • The reason the film focused on just a part of the investigation.
  • The book actually came out before Nixon resigned.
  • Redford becoming ‘obsessed’ with the material.
  • How Jason Robards was eventually cast as editor Ben Bradlee after his initial reluctance.
  • The reaction of the journalist duo when they finally saw the film.

You can watch the full discussion here:

> Buy the Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> Find out more about the Watergate scandal at Wikipedia


The East

Brit Marling in The East

An intriguing thriller about the penetration of an eco-terrorist group provides a reminder that interesting ideas realised on a lower budget can be highly effective.

It also marks another auspicious development in the partnership between writer-director Zal Batmanglij and co-writer/star Brit Marling, whose previous collaboration – The Sound of My Voice (2011) – explored similar themes.

Whilst that film revolved around a cult, this one is set amongst a secretive organisation of eco-activists called ‘The East’, who stage disruptive events (or ‘jams’ as they call them) as payback for companies who dump toxic waste or other damaging environmental activity.

In a prologue we see a mysterious masked gang break in to the house of an oil executive and stage their own oil spill, as punishment for his company’s activity.

The focus then shifts to Sarah (Brit Marling), an eager operative working for a private intelligence firm as she has to convince her skeptical boss (Patricia Clarkson) to allow her to go deep undercover and penetrate The East.

After slowly gaining their trust, she finds a new home amongst the group who include a skeptical Izzy (Ellen Page), a medical student (Toby Kebbell) and the de facto leader Benji (Alexander Skarsgard). Slowly she begins to find out more about their philosophy and activities.

These early sequences are the most effective as they are genuinely unpredictable and intriguing: we see a highly unusual communal meal, the gripping infiltration of a drinks party and the ever-growing tension that Sarah might go native with the group she is investigating.

Although it shows its hand a little too early, the narrative is filled with satisfying twists and turns demonstrating again the screenwriting chemistry between Marling and Batmanglij, more than fulfilling the promise of their auspicious debut.

Marling’s performance demonstrates her undeniable screen presence that she established in both Sound of My Voice (2010) and Another Earth (2010) which may have been partly down to her own writing contributions, which mark her out amongst her contemporaries.

In some ways this is a reverse of Batmanglij’s first film in which Marling played the cult leader, whereas here she plays the outsider trying to get in to a cult-like organisation.

The political issues are blended in cleverly with the plot: in one sequence we see how tensions and ethical dilemmas run deep within the protagonist and also the wider group.

It is also executed with considerable technical panache: Roman Vasyanov’s widescreen visuals and the editing by Andrew Weisblum and Bill Pankow give the film an extra polish often absent in films on this kind of budget (reportedly around the $6m mark).

The icing on the cake is Halli Cauthery’s score (working from themes by Harry Gregson-Williams), which lends the film more layers of mood and tension.

Over the last few years studios have shied away from mid-budget films like this by making a few blockbusters and lame comedies. (Credit to Fox Searchlight for making this with Ridley Scott’s production company, Scott Free).

The film’s tagline “Spy on us. We’ll spy on you” is eerily prescient in light of the recent NSA revelations and it may well be that in years to come this is a film people will see as emblematic of the Occupy Wall Street era.

> Official site
> Reviews of The East at Metacritic

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews Thoughts

DVD: Mea Maxima Culpa – Silence in the House of God

Mea Maxima Culpa

A haunting and frequently shocking expose of child abuse in the Catholic Church, Alex Gibney’s latest film explores an insidious web of corruption and cover up.

Gibney has explored corruption in institutions before (e.g. Enron, the US military) and here he examines the story of four deaf men who were abused by priests in the 1960s before travelling higher up the church.

Interweaving it with other stories, a devastating portrait quickly emerges of a bankrupt institution that has not only shattered people’s lives, but actively sought to conceal wrongdoing at the highest levels.

Intriguingly, Pope Benedict XVI stood down in February around the UK theatrical release and in doing so he became the first Pope to resign in 600 years. Many have speculated that the abuse scandals (that this film partly explores) gave him a good reason to retire.

When he took over in 2005, he immediately had to deal with a situation that led to an explosion of abuse claims and law suits against the church and accusations that the Vatican was complicit in the cover up.

Although films such as Deliver Us From Evil (2006) have covered this subject by focusing on a single figure, Gibney’s film adopts an unusual approach in starting out with Father Lawrence Murphy abusing his pupils at the St John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

It then gradually follows the trail of abuse into the wider world, which included Tony Walsh, the notorious Irish priest who was also an Elvis personator, Father Marcial Maciel, who was ‘punished’ by being sent out to Florida, and on to the Vatican.

Perhaps worst of all is that the Church not only denied and covered-up many of the cases, it also delayed in punishing paedophile priests and even adopted the policy of posting them to other communities.

At one point there is the utterly surreal revelation that at one point the Vatican suggested putting all the offending priests on a dedicated island.

Despite the dark subject matter, this is an important historical work and has a interesting stylistic touch: whilst watching the deaf interviewees, we hear actors such as Chris Cooper and Ethan Hawke voice their words.

Although such a device may have sprung from necessity, it adds an extra layer to their testimony, literally giving them the voice they were denied as young boys.

There is also some remarkably powerful home video footage towards the end of the film as it comes full circle back to St John’s School for the Deaf.

An important document of a massive scandal, it is also a stark reminder of the emotional destruction wrought by a large, unaccountable institution.

> Buy the DVD at Amazon UK
> More on the film at the IMDb

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews Thoughts

Blu-ray: To the Wonder

Ben Affleck and Rachel Adams

Terrence Malick’s latest film premiered last Autumn to largely mixed reviews but whilst it is the most extreme film he has made in his trademark style, it has a refreshing boldness to it along with some beautiful sequences.

Malick’s work has frequently eschewed conventional notions of filmmaking with their sparse dialogue, dreamy visuals and obsession with nature.

This has been amplified since his return to Hollywood in 1998 after a self-imposed 20 year exile, where films such as The Thin Red Line (2005), The New World (2005) and The Tree of Life (2011) have gone even further than his earlier work Badlands (1973) and Days of Heaven (1978).

He has never been afraid to tackle big themes such as love, death, nature or even the creation of life itself.

In doing so he has also established certain stylistic flourishes: hushed interior monologues; shots of plants; and use of classical music.

With To the Wonder he has taken his trademark elements and turned them up to the nth degree, but whilst the end result falls short of his best films, it is by no means the unintentional work of self-parody that some have suggested.

The story centres on a man (Ben Affleck) torn between two women: Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a European he has met in Paris who comes back to the United States with him, and Jane (Rachel McAdams), the old lover he reconnects with from his hometown in Oklahoma.

In addition, there is a priest (Javier Bardem) struggling with his faith and lack of hope in the world.

They are the basic building blocks of the story but Malick does something much more radical with the narrative, stitching together what appears to be highly improvised sequences in which characters say little or no conventional dialogue.

If this was any other director then we could be in serious trouble, but with Malick he somehow manages to keep things interesting as the characters thoughts and actions wash over us in a kind of cinematic reverie.

It helps that he is one of the great visual stylists in the history of cinema and aided by his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, puts some remarkable imagery on-screen.

As the characters walk around, often tracked by a seemingly ever-present Steadicam, we get to see them engage in a loose and fluid way that not only suits the narrative approach but after a while becomes hypnotic, seeming imitating the pace of everyday existence.

There is also Malick’s trademark use of magic hour, stunning use of natural light and interesting use of locations, which include Paris, Normandy and Bartlesville, Oklahoma.

Plenty of viewers will balk at the methods of To the Wonder but the sheer audacity of the execution is something to behold.

> Official site
> Buy the Blu-ray or DVD at Amazon UK
> Reviews of To the Wonder at Metacritic

Cinema Reviews Thoughts

World War Z

Brad Pitt in World War Z

The buzz surrounding this expensive zombie-apocalypse movie has been largely negative but it turns out to be agreeable genre fare, laced with some spectacular set-pieces.

Brad Pitt plays a UN troubleshooter who has to escort his family to safety after a virus turns Philadelphia (and the rest of the world) into bloodthirsty, rampaging zombies.

From there he is recruited to find the source of the disease and his journey takes him to South Korea, Israel and Wales, all the while avoiding infection himself.

Although this is essentially a big budget, apocalyptic disaster movie – reworking elements of 28 Weeks Later (2007), Contagion (2011) and Independence Day (1996) – Pitt has the screen presence to keep our attention hold as the film shifts rapidly around the world.

At times it moves too fast, but the action is competently handled and there are some interesting ideas laced amidst the chaos, notably the real world hotspots such as South Korea and Israel making their way into the mix.

Though those traces remain the novel upon which it was based was apparently much more political (exploring the issues from a global perspective and having the disease begin in China), which meant they were trimmed for the demands of the global marketplace.

Whilst this is a shame, the central set piece set in Israel is visually stunning: when crazed zombie hordes attack a walled Jerusalem, they resemble a biblical plague of insects.

The false safety the Israeli survivors feel perhaps reflects real world anxieties and the visual effects are blended in well with the live action.

Just before Pitt lands in Israel we see a nuclear explosion in the distance and when he lands his contact there seems to have too much faith in the city wall keeping the zombies out.

It is left up to the audience to decide what these images might mean by audiences can infer parallels with contemporary strife in the Holy Land.

The film’s final third has been the subject of much speculation, with reported rewrites and re-shoots ballooning the budget, but whatever the cost it just about works.

A scene involving a drinks machine is the only jarring moment in a tense climax in which Forster and his sound editors load on the tension.

The casting of relatively unknown actors in supporting roles (Mireille Enos as Pitt’s wife and Daniella Kertesz as an Israeli soldier) is also a nice touch for a film of this scale.

Ultimately it may not make a huge profit for Paramount and its multitude of producers, but for a summer blockbuster it is refreshing to see one not based on a comic book.

World War Z opens in the UK on June 21st

> Official site
> Reviews of World War Z at Metacritic

Amusing Random

Citizen Steve

Citizen Steve 1987

For his 40th birthday Steven Spielberg‘s friends made him this short film based on Citizen Kane (1941) about his life and career up to that point.

With a March of Time segment voiced by Dan Ackroyd, John Candy plays the reporter who is assigned the task of uncovering the famed director.

Keep a look out for previous Spielberg collaborators such as Dennis Weaver (Duel), Allen Daviau (E.T.), Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale (1941) and Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall (longtime producers).

You wonder how this stuff ends up online but I’m glad it did.

> Steven Spielberg at the IMDb
> More on Citizen Kane at Wikipedia


Interview: Kleber Mendonca Filho on Neighbouring Sounds

A scene from Neighbouring Sounds

Neighbouring Sounds is the first full length feature from Brazilian director Kleber Mendonca Filho and explores life in a middle-class neighbourhood in Recife, Brazil.

With its fine acting, steady pace and distinctive visual style, it is one of the most impressive films to emerge from South America in years.

I spoke with him recently about the film and you can listen to that here:

You can also download the podcast via iTunes or get the MP3 directly.

Neighbouring Sounds is out on DVD and Blu-ray from Monday 24th June

> Kleber Mendonca Filho at the IMDb
> Pre-order the DVD at Amazon UK

Cinema Reviews

Man of Steel

Henry Cavill as Superman in Man of Steel

The latest incarnation of Superman sees Warner Bros recruit two of their star directors in an attempt to revitalise the character after the huge success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

In a sense, this was to be to Superman what Batman Begins (2005) was to the other DC Comics superhero. The relative failure of the previous reboot, Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006), led the studio to the key players behind Batman’s recent success: writer-director Christopher Nolan and co-writer David Goyer.

They in turn recruited Zack Snyder to direct and assist them with bringing a fresh angle to the material and whilst some of the approach is interesting, the end result ultimately becomes an indigestible dish of CGI-fuelled set pieces.

Although Singer’s vision was criticised for being too respectful to Richard Donner’s 1978 film (it was an ‘unofficial sequel’), Man of Steel opens with the destruction of Superman’s home planet Krypton as his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) sends him to Earth.

Then it takes a slightly different take by exploring Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) in flashback as he learns of his real identity and has to defend himself from a sceptical Earth and the evil General Zod (Michael Shannon), whilst dealing with intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams).

To their credit the filmmakers have tried to establish a new universe for this iconic character: Alex McDowell’s production design is a striking mix of Dune (1984) and Alien (1979), the main actors perform well in their roles (quite a feat given some of the dialogue) and there are some nice touches put in for the fans.

Perhaps the most radical and refreshing of all is Hans Zimmer’s score, which jettisons the famous John Williams one and brings a more sombre feeling to the action on-screen.

But despite the presence of Nolan as producer, this DC adaptation fails where Batman Begins (2005) largely succeeded.

With the Batman origin film Nolan managed to convey the struggles that inspired Batman, but here Snyder squeezes way too much story into the mix.

The most interesting parts of the film are when the younger Clark is struggling to cope with his powers but he (and presumably the studio) couldn’t resist the temptation to wreak digital carnage on the screen.

For the first two-thirds of the film this just about works but when the climax begins the battle between Superman’s allies and Zod’s army becomes almost incoherent. Snyder’s sickly, desaturated visuals and shaky, handheld camera work also don’t help.

The visuals of skyscrapers collapsing during the Metropolis sequence also feel like a cheap reference to 9/11 and a way to darken up the material.

At times it feels as if this film was directed by game controller, with Superman and Zod smashing through buildings and leaving a mass of destruction in their wake. Perhaps if two characters with those powers did fight then they would cause mass destruction, but the way it is done here is pure overkill.

Superman has always been a problematic character, with his almost invincibility and lack of worthy villains (Zod excepted) making him less interesting than Batman or some of the Marvel characters (Iron Man, Hulk, X-Men etc).

Although the attempt to dig in to his Krypton heritage is welcome, ultimately it isn’t enough with the film descending into a swamp of CGI when the focus shifts to Earth and specifically Metropolis.

Perhaps someone will one day do for Superman what Nolan’s films did for the Batman character.

But when Nolan himself is part of the team behind this attempt, one wonders if Hollywood is just beating a dead horse.

> Official site
> Reviews for Man of Steel at Metacritic

DVD & Blu-ray

DVD & Blu-Ray Picks: June 2013

June 2013 DVD Blu-ray Picks


The Best DVD & Blu-rays of 2012
> DVD & Blu-ray Picks for May 2013